Modesty and Beach Volleyball

By Msgr. Charles Pope, Community in Mission:

One of the less edifying aspects of the Summer Olympics in Rio is the attire of the women’s beach volleyball players from Western countries. Most of the women wear a tiny bikini with the bottom being especially tiny. (I do not show a picture here because I deem it immodest to do so. Instead, I show a picture of some of the men, whose attire I mention below.)

 

Frankly, playing volleyball in a tiny bikini seems quite unnecessary. I would argue that it detracts from the sport because it distracts from the sport. The attention doesn’t seem to be drawn to the ball, shall we say. I would further argue that the attire encourages the focus not even on the women, but on certain aspects of the women’s bodies.

I can understand that swimmers (male and female) wear tight and sometimes abbreviated swimsuits to lessen drag in the water. Gymnasts, too, often wear brief and/or tight clothing to improve their performance and maximize the mobility of their limbs. The clothing is thus at least somewhat performance related.

But I can see no performance enhancement brought about by the wearing of tiny bikinis. Some will point out that the bikini top in question acts as a sports bra. Fine, but men wear supportive attire, too; but they do so under their shorts, not out in the open.

 

The Egyptian women’s beach volleyball player shown in the above photo illustrates that it is possible to compete quite well without wearing a bikini. One could argue that having short sleeves and shorter leg coverings might be cooler for the players. The impact on performance of wearing the hijab is debatable, but it is worn tucked in and did not seem to bother the women who wore it. These women played and competed well in a sport that is relatively new to their country and region.

Men’s beach volleyball attire also illustrates that near nudity is not required to play the sport well. The men do not play wearing tiny swimwear. They wear ample shorts along with t-shirts or tank tops.

I realize that each time the question of modesty has come up on this blog there are some readers who want to dismiss such discussions and emphasize the right of people to dress as they please. They believe that any sexual temptation aroused is almost wholly the fault of the viewer, not the one wearing the attire.

Modesty should avoid excessively burdening people. It seeks a middle ground wherein the one who dresses and the other who sees share responsibility. The one wearing the attire should not be burdened with difficult requirements, nor should the viewer be burdened by facing undue temptation. Mutual charity and concern are the goals.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of modesty as protecting the mystery, chastity, and dignity of the human person.

Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. … 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. … 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 (CCC 2521-2522).

As always, comments are appreciated, but I have found in the past that discussions about modesty are often difficult to have in a way that is helpful or charitable. Reasonable people may differ on the details of modesty. Modesty does involve a range of options, influenced by circumstances and the sensibilities of cultures. I have articulated here that I see no need for tiny bikinis in this sport and that I think more modest attire is important. If you disagree, please explain the relationship you see of the brief bikini to the sport, considering that men in general and women from other cultures who compete do not see the need to wear so little. If you agree, please remember in your comments that the imputation of motives to individuals is a sketchy and usually uncharitable thing to do. Everyone, please use care when commenting.

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7 comments to Modesty and Beach Volleyball

  • James Bond

    Agree with Msgr Pope. Also felt he was spot on in his article about proper atire for Mass. Always find his writtings honest and much needed. God bless you and keep em coming!

  • Newby

    Seems as if modesty is an obsolete virtue. There is a happy medium. Wish families had education in the Theology of the Body. Females are not getting the respect they deserve but then they do no know they deserve it.
    With pornography as an epidemic I personally would not want to flaunt any sacred female body to the public.

  • Mariann

    Msgr. Pope, you are gem! This is so excellent…you have such Faith, and teach the “why or why not” with such clarity. Thank you.

    I’m almost 60 and lived when the bikini was introduced. Anyone who uses the [as you state], “…emphasize the right of people to dress as they please…” and “any sexual temptation aroused is almost wholly the fault of the viewer, not the one wearing the attire…” reasoning is reverting to the aging feminist argument. What utter nonsense. If we hired those women to walk through 4′ high prickly weeds, and it was excessively hot outside but they may dress as they please, it would be prudent to cover and protect their skin.

    You state what is good and true and beautiful, “Modesty should avoid excessively burdening people. It seeks a middle ground wherein the one who dresses and the other who sees share responsibility. The one wearing the attire should not be burdened with difficult requirements, nor should the viewer be burdened by facing undue temptation. Mutual charity and concern are the goals.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of modesty as protecting the mystery, chastity, and dignity of the human person.”

    And that is what our culture has degraded–the dignity of the human person. Men be men; guard your eyes, be honest with women letting them know if they wear something immodest, and desire your wife save intimate clothing for intimate moments alone, not in public. Women be women; protect your man, dress for him but do not tempt, save intimacy until he is your husband. The Catholic Church holds the treasury of Wisdom!

  • Andy O

    I agree wholeheartedly padre. A little more clothing/covering would be appreciated. For people who do not like the sport fine, but if I enjoy watching volleyball why must I be assaulted visually with “sexualization” of the players. It is the same reason I don’t watch “dancing with the stars” with my wife, because i object to a number of the “costumes”, or lack thereof, of some of the dancers.

  • NinaBG

    Beach volleyball, I would assume, originated on the beach – where women wear bathing suits, namely, bikinis. It would seem to me that this was a natural transition as to why the athletes would wear bikinis.

  • MarieTeresa

    I agree completely with you Father. I watched Olympic beach ball completion once and filed it in my ‘never again’ basket because of the immodesty which in this case seemed to detract from the dignity and the mysterious beauty of the human form as Our Lord created it.
    I am an artist who finds classic figure drawing inspiring and helpful to my skills. It is not vulgar or erotic. This is different. Our Lady of Fatima told one of the children that there would be fashions that would greatly displease the Lord. I think we have more than reached that point in our modern culture. Even though it is no longer preached much, I think we are all still obliged to consider “the occasion of sin” in our own actions and in how we may be an occasion of sin for others. Both are wrong. Still

  • Sue

    Thanks Msgr Pope. The women’s beach volleyball is the only sport that is off-limits in our home. We have four teen boys and as soon as women’s beach volleyball comes on, our TV is quickly shut off. There is no reason to purposefully show all that skin, and more! God bless you!!

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