Theology of the Hottie: What To Do When Teens Dress Immodestly At Mass

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Last month, the topic of children at Mass took the Catholic world by storm when Tommy Tighe (and subsequently Simcha Fisher and every other Catholic blogger) weighed in on whether or not fussy children in Mass should be celebrated or should be removed.

There’s just one thing — young kids aren’t the only distraction at Mass. What about when those young kids grow up and start experimenting with questionable secular fashion trends, complete with high heels and skin-tight everything?

Theology of the Hottie High Fashion at High Mass

Person Woman Eyes Face (2014) via Pexels, CC0.

Approximately three things go through my head when I see a teen dressed immodestly at Mass:

  1. How could you possibly let your teenager out of the house wearing that? I think I would actually leave my kid at home before I let them come to Mass dressed like that.
  2. Why would you even let your kid own that kind of clothing? If your teen wouldn’t look out of place on a street corner, she probably shouldn’t have it in her closet at home.
  3. Should I say something? I bet I should. But what if they yell at me for telling them how to raise their kid?

All of these thoughts reflect my have-at-it nature that sees something and has to respond. This is an impulse I try to turn off when I’m at mass in an effort to “Let go and let God,” and generally quiet myself into being a better person.

So, you can imagine my frustration when I saw a beautiful, long-haired 14-year-old cozy into the front row at Mass wearing nothing but 6-inch black suede platform stiletto heels and a short, tight, sleeveless red cocktail dress.

No stockings or leggings, no overcoat or cardigan. Just straight up “high fashion.”

Let me be clear: this kind of clothing has no place in Mass, or even outside of a club or bar (which hopefully is no place a 14-year-old is hanging out). But that is a problem solely for the teen herself and the teen’s parents.

Within reason (as in, I hope someone might talk to someone who walked into Mass wearing a bikini), it’s none of my business what other people wear. And if I find myself staring, fixating, or getting frustrated, it’s still just my problem.

Christ asks us to look beyond outside appearances. Not just beyond the poor to see Him, but beyond the inappropriately dressed or people from other cultures who may dress in a style (or a level of immodesty) that is normal for them yet uncomfortable for me.

This goes for immodestly-dressed teens, but also slovenly-dressed teens (I’m looking at you, basketball-uniform-wearing-dude with the messy hair) and jeans-wearers (I’m looking at myself, so I probably offend someone somewhere, too).

In some way — though perhaps for some of us it’s only internal — we have all done, worn, or said something inappropriate. And we’re at the Lamb’s Supper knowing we don’t deserve it. So whether we don’t deserve it for how we’re dressed or how judgmentally we’re reviewing the outfits of the teens around us, we’re equally as far from being worthy.

I don’t know if I can stop looking at outfits and getting frustrated, but I do know I can modify my behavior.

If I sit in the front row, it’s hard to see other people’s outfits.

If I close my eyes during Communion, I won’t be distracted.

If I am blessed with a daughter, I can raise her to dress modestly.

If I am blessed with a son, I can raise him to be authentically masculine.

And if I dig deep, I can pray for the teen for growing up in a society that sexualizes children, and I can get over my own preconceptions about what immodest clothing means.

Copyright 2016 Sarah Greesonbach

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About Author

Sarah Greesonbach is a writer living in Virginia and a "recovering Catholic" turned Theology of the Body enthusiast (is that a thing yet?). After growing up pretty darn secular, she writes about rebuilding a Catholic view of sexuality, marriage, and pregnancy at Life [Comma] Etc.

14 Comments

  1. Great post, Hannah. When there are crazy distractions during communion that I might be quick to judge, I also find that closing my eyes helps. You’re so right that we need to focus on ourselves first. 🙂

  2. I just thank God they are there. That goes for the noisy, misbehaving children, that guy whose a little bit crazy, and the old lady whose snores are shaking the pew. If one believes in the power of the Living Presence of God in Eucharist, then you know God is working with them.

    • Thank you, Margaret, I would love to hear what your group thinks about it! Especially at more established, formal churches, the topic of modesty at mass has got to be a hot one (no pun intended…).

  3. Even though I wanted to, i did not say anything to the teen who walked into Mass this past weekend in, what I honestly thought for a second, was her underwear! Turned out to be a cross country uniform for the local CATHOLIC high school!!

    • Oh, wow, I really feel you on this. I’ve definitely done some double-takes myself! I’ve learned to watch for things that make me feel anger right away and try to see if there’s something spiritual behind it. That’s a tough one, though…

  4. Dear Hannah. Greetings and continuing Easter graces. I put your article on my timeline. I was surprised at some of the reaction — most of which suggest not saying anything (couched in words about judging or not wanting to drive kids away from Church). Our politically correct culture doesn’t allow anyone to say anything. As a deacon processing up the aisle one time, I stopped and respectfully asked a man to remove his hat. Scowling, he walked out of Church. The same thing happened in a Colorado parish when my wife was sitting next to someone with his (cowboy) hat left on. He left too when an usher nicely asked him to remove it. In our parish, one of the people selected to bring the gifts forward had short short (get the idea?) jeans on. Very revealing. Very inappropriate. Yet there are those who say not to judge. Meaning – no standards any more. For anyone. ‘Tis sad. Dcn Tom

    • Hi Tom, Sorry for the delay! I completely agree with you. Increasingly it feels like no one can say anything to anyone about anything. In this case, I’m not sure I could direct others to dress more appropriately with love — I’d be doing it out of judgement. I think people who can comment with a clean heart (and it sounds like that’s you!) should feel free to do so, and I would totally support that. I also agree that anyone involved in the mass should be held to a strict dress code — I’ve had to turn my eyes away from the altar several times because the women wear such short skirts that I feel uncomfortable to keep looking.

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