Is modesty an absolute truth or just part of a culture?

Is modesty an absolute truth? Or does it depend on what culture you are from? People can be tempted to impurity by seeing someone of the opposite gender (or even the same gender) in clothes that are revealing or show a lot of skin. I assume that clothing is different among different cultures, some show more and some show less skin than others. What do you all think?

Cultural. Can you add a poll?

I think it can be cultural to some extent. I also don’t think that it is an absolute truth. However as far as clothing goes, I think the main thing that makes certain designs immoral is that they accent a person’s sexuality. When we look at a person we should see a person made in the image and likeness of God. When someone wears clothes that accent sexual aspects of their body, they are detracting from their own personhood, and are drawing attention to only a certain aspect of themselves rather than the whole. I think you could even make the argument the same for complete nudity.

I remember watching a film on WWII that was showing people from the prison camps being marched around completely nude. Most people would find this to be uncomfortable not because they were nude, but rather they were treated as less than human. It’s kind of how it is presented, if it’s in a provocative manner intending to excite the viewer, than it’s immoral. The same could be said for doctors either in training manuals or in actual practice, it’s not immoral because it’s not presented that way. They are treating the person and not the sex.

Some clothing that covers the entire body is more immoral than other clothing that reveals some skin, because it is designed to be provocative and to excite the imagination.

I suspect there will be tons of differing views on this subject simply because it is not something that can be defined as simply as X amount of skin is wrong.

It’s an absolute. It is false to think it is purely cultural. Decade after decade, fashion designers in the West shave off a little more fabric on so-called “swimsuits” for women. They are degrading. They exploit women as “we command you to show as much skin as possible. You have our permission.” That’s a lie.

From the Catechism:


"2520 Baptism confers on its recipient the grace of purification from all sins. But the baptized must continue to struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires. With God’s grace he will prevail

  • by the virtue and gift of chastity, for chastity lets us love with upright and undivided heart;

  • by purity of intention which consists in seeking the true end of man: with simplicity of vision, the baptized person seeks to find and to fulfill God’s will in everything;313

  • by purity of vision, external and internal; by discipline of feelings and imagination; by refusing all complicity in impure thoughts that incline us to turn aside from the path of God’s commandments: “Appearance arouses yearning in fools”;314

  • by prayer:

    I thought that continence arose from one’s own powers, which I did not recognize in myself. I was foolish enough not to know . . . that no one can be continent unless you grant it. For you would surely have granted it if my inner groaning had reached your ears and I with firm faith had cast my cares on you.315

"2521 Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.

"2522 Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet.

"2523 There is a modesty of the feelings as well as of the body. It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies.

"2524 The forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another. Everywhere, however, modesty exists as an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man. It is born with the awakening consciousness of being a subject. Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person.

"2525 Christian purity requires a purification of the social climate. It requires of the communications media that their presentations show concern for respect and restraint. Purity of heart brings freedom from widespread eroticism and avoids entertainment inclined to voyeurism and illusion.

"2526 So called moral permissiveness rests on an erroneous conception of human freedom; the necessary precondition for the development of true freedom is to let oneself be educated in the moral law. Those in charge of education can reasonably be expected to give young people instruction respectful of the truth, the qualities of the heart, and the moral and spiritual dignity of man.

"2527 "The Good News of Christ continually renews the life and culture of fallen man; it combats and removes the error and evil which flow from the ever-present attraction of sin. It never ceases to purify and elevate the morality of peoples. It takes the spiritual qualities and endowments of every age and nation, and with supernatural riches it causes them to blossom, as it were, from within; it fortifies, completes, and restores them in Christ."316


"2528 “Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28).

"2529 The ninth commandment warns against lust or carnal concupiscence.

"2530 The struggle against carnal lust involves purifying the heart and practicing temperance.

"2531 Purity of heart will enable us to see God: it enables us even now to see things according to God.

"2532 Purification of the heart demands prayer, the practice of chastity, purity of intention and of vision.

“2533 Purity of heart requires the modesty which is patience, decency, and discretion. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person.”

Peace and God Bless,


Depending on the culture, a woman in a two piece swim suit canbe modese or very immodese in a barka. :smiley: :stuck_out_tongue: :eek:

Ed: A literal interpretation of your post would suggest that the only option for devout Catholics is to dress as is common in Muslim countries. After all, for a woman to not cover her head or to show her ankles or even an inch of her army would have been an abomination in first century Israel… to state that standards of modesty are absolute, would require all modern women to dress as Our Lady did (which would have been quite similar to a typical modern Muslim woman). I often see Catholics on this board state, for example, that a modest skirt or dress goes down to at least the knees. What makes it OK for a woman to display her calves but not her thighs? The answer to that is simple: cultural norms of sexuality. We no longer consider calves particularly arousing, but to show even that much would have been beyond the pale in the time and culture of Our Lady.

My intent was to show everyone what the Catechism states. It cannot be denied that over the decades, in the West, the desires of a small group of “fashion designers” was that ‘clothing’ should show a little more skin, followed by a little more, followed by a little more. To what end?


The OP asks** : “Is modesty an absolute truth? Or does it depend on what culture you are from?”
If you go to Saudi Arabia, you will notice that NO female is out on the street with ANY part of her entire body exposed to sight.
This is because they have a Law protecting the Modesty of its female population.
They have a whole force of real Fashion Police, who WILL arrest any female who is in violation of this Law.

To a Muslim in Saudi Arabia, this is an Absolute Truth.
However, to people in the West, this is a Cultural Truth.

They must have enormous vitamin D deficiencies!

The CCC suggests that, although modesty has its variances from culture to culture, there is still a level which cannot be passed without the inherent degradation of human dignity.

It has nothing (or at least, it has not entirely) to do with fetishism, or sexual arousal, or whatever. Those get lumped under cultural expectations. There is a level of modesty that is required beyond what society turns into a fetish, though.

It was said in some article, legit or not, that in places of the world where nude advertisements are common, the people are not generally aroused, and in the States for example, even straight women have an arousal to see a woman’s uncovered breasts (more than they do to see a naked man), due to the fetish we cause around it. Nevertheless, arousal or not, the exposure of a woman’s breasts violates a special dignity that she has. It doesn’t matter whether your view to them suggests that they are blasé or that they are highly erotic. A woman simply has that dignity due to her.

It depends on culture to me. There are natives in Africa that are mostly nude. To them it is normal, and the men seem to be able to control themselves. In Western civilization, men are trained to see women as sex objects. Naturally, that makes modesty very important for us. Western civilization has spread to the point that in most countries modesty is very important. In a better society, it might be not need to be as strict.

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