As a teacher, not a year goes by without hearing about an incident at a school involving a dress code violation. Usually, the student in these scenarios are young women, who have been asked to change because their clothing does not meet the requirements the school has set forth. The article comments, if you ever read them, are full of supporters for these young women. Usually, these commenters are slashing the school and administration down by firing cliché neo-feminist arguments about the woman’s choice to wear what she desires, and that men need to be taught to control themselves. I could point out that these same people would put forth the same argument in regard to pornographic material, which ironically enough is one of the major reasons that young men are growing up without a healthy respect for their female counterpart. However, that is not the intention of this article.
Perhaps an interesting observation to make is that very rarely do these news stories involve young men who have been reprimanded for their clothing choices. This seems odd given that current cultural norms allow men to wear clothing that is anything but modest. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2521) states:
“Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate centre of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of the persons and their solidarity.”
The first statement is key. If purity requires modesty, we leave ourselves open to impure elements when we refuse to protect the intimate centres of ourselves as men. This is probably most evident in the fitness industry. I tend to spend a good deal of time in my local gym. Each day, there are numerous men, young and old, working on the hypertrophy of their musculature. This in itself is of course not necessarily wrong or sinful, unless the intent is vain. Often, these individuals are wearing tank tops, cut off t-shirts, or other clothing that emphasized or reveals their physique. One might say that they wear this type of clothing to provide extra ventilation due to the nature of the activity they are performing. This may be a valid point. However, the very obvious and intentional mirror glances might reveal otherwise. I had a conversation about this topic with Father Cristino Bouvette, one of our parish priests, and here is how he responded;
“The modesty we are called to emulate with our bodies flows not only from the demands of chastity but also humility. If you are “built” or “ripped”, flaunting that is an obvious source of arrogance and pride. If you resent not being built or ripped and you look around you at men who are with scorn or disdain, you are again ungrateful for who God made you to be and wish you were different. Another manifestation of pride.”
Once again, Father Bouvette is not articulating that those physical conditions are sinful. However, projecting it for everyone to see is, as the world has deemed this to be desirable, not God. We must understand that exercise in itself is a very good thing. It allows us to maintain our overall health and it can help to create discipline in denying ourselves things that are unhealthy, both physically and spiritually. But, in doing so, we must be aware of the adverse effects of the current fitness culture. In short, and although it is changing, this is a culture of “Fashion over Function.” This can be compared to spending an ample amount of time to get ready for mass, but not engaging in reverence and prayer when you get there. You might look presentable, but the intention and purpose for going to mass is not at the centre of your focus or presence.
I for one have not been immune to the temptation of the vain aesthetics of the body. It is a constant battle to remain humble and reverent. I can attribute this to the culture in which I grew up. Men, as much as women, are targeted in marketing to conform to a certain size, shape, and lifestyle. The male self-image is often displayed as requiring a competitive response to other men. In the most evident and obvious examples, we see a clear battle between God and worldly philosophy. For those, who God has not gifted with a large or muscular physical appearance, this can be quite a daunting task. Not in an intimidating way, but in a sense that these men feel compelled to be relentless in creating what they have been conditioned to think gives them value or dignity. This is something that I have witnessed often in young men in their teenage years. Referring back to Father Bouvette’s response, this train of thought ignores the innate dignity from the Lord, that every human is born with. It is not until we embrace the understanding that this dignity exists in us, regardless of our appearance, that we can grow closer in communion with God. Gentlemen, when we ourselves buy in to our own vanity, this can lead to grave consequences in regards to our soul.
“For through human vanity they entered the world, and therefore their speedy end has been planned.” Wisdom – 14:14
Let us prevent our souls from having a speedy end, but sustain them through discipline and humility to grow in faith and love for the Lord.
– Darren P.