Modesty is one of those unavoidable topics that comes up when faith and femininity come around. The past three summers, I had the treat of having a modesty/dress code talk of sorts with staff at a Christian summer camp. The difficulty with modesty is that irregardless of what you've dressed your body in, the observer is also responsible for what they perceive. A man or woman could be completely covered and could still ogled by another with lustful intentions, and that sin belongs to the ogler alone.
With that that being said, we do owe our brothers and sisters in Christ support in our shared goals of a holy life. This means dressing and behaving in a modest manner that does not create unnecessary temptation for those around us.
It can tempting to take modesty to two extremes: pushing the blame entirely on the wearer or entirely on the observer. The wearer cannot be held responsible for the decisions made by another; whatever is being worn does not justify the observer's actions. We are each responsible for our own sinfulness. However, dressing with intention to lead another to sin has its own implications for the wearer. Intending to cause another to sin is a sin.
Modesty demands a middle ground. There is no sin in making an effort to look nice or to dress yourself in a way that is empowering. Wear that dress! Style your hair! But when the dress gets tugged down to show a little more cleavage or the shorts are chosen because they are just so short... we are allowing a master manipulator lead more than just ourselves astray. We may not be our brother's keepers but we are called to love and support them!
I was recently poking around YouTube and found a vlog made by a young, high school coupled entitled something along the lines of "Periods...Girls are Gross". Although the vlog was sponsored by a period tracking app, it still had over a million views and comments by young viewers expressing their shared disgust over periods. I could only handle about two minutes of the video, in which the words "gross", "disgusting", and "wrong" were used to describe a natural, healthy part of an adult woman's life. Fertility is not a burden; women are not ticking baby-bombs. There is no requirement for you to "manage" your fertility with a certain form of medication, especially ones that can put your mental and physical health at risk. Whether called to be a mommy or not, fertility and your menstrual cycles are not something to be ashamed of.
In the last two years, I've come to appreciate my cycle and fertility and respect its purpose. Hearing at 18 that I was unlikely to ever have a child naturally, my period easily became a source of negativity in my life on top of the negative image I had already been socialized with. Today, 36 weeks pregnant and starting to feel...uncomfortable, I can't deny that I'm excited for the day I have cramps again instead of Braxton Hicks. But more than that, when I did start to chart my cycle, I became mindful of how often I was drinking alcohol (which can effect your waking temperature), I realized how much processed foods impacted my PMS, and how much easier it was to process what I was feeling as I went through the various hormone shifts that come with each cycle phase. My cycle isn't my enemy.
But what does this have to do with my faith?
Starting at the very beginning, when Genesis tells us that God created us in God's "own image". Both men and women were made modeled after God, which means that all the functions that come with our respective bodies were created with great love and intention. Child birth may be painful as a result of the Adam and Eve's sin, but our cycle was created with purpose. Self-hate, even hating our periods, can lead to sinful thoughts and actions. We shouldn't be fighting against our bodies, but working with them! Each cycle brings different periods of high and low energy. It reminds us to slow down and rest, as well as giving us something to celebrate; our health and well-being. Beyond Genesis, we know that women bear an important role in God's greater plan for the redemption of humanity. If Ruth had not had Obed, there would have been no Jesse. If Mary and Martha had not believed in and supported Jesus, there would be no miracle for their brother.
Period shaming is real thing that is taught, encouraged, and reinforced by our media and society. We educate students about how avoid pregnancy but fail to teach young girls about their menstrual cycle, its phases and what they mean. Instead of teaching about the hormones and phases that come with them, girls are left to struggle to understand what their body is doing and why. PMS becomes a punchline and cramps are either an excuse to get out of P.E. or ignored because they make you seem weak. When in reality, if we educated and celebrated our healthy cycles, there would be less pressure to take a pill and shut down healthy reproductive systems.
What can I do about it?
Let's celebrate being women! Take the time to learn about your cycle. Whether you choose to use hormonal birth control for various reasons, are not sexually active, trying to conceive, or counting down until menopause, I think we can all admit to not knowing enough about our menstrual cycles and our health. The Catholic Church encourages using Natural Family Planning (NFP) or Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) once married as a form of birth control, but NFP/FAM offers so much more than just a means to "controlling" your fertility. By becoming more in tune and aware of your body, you can take better notice of health issues you may consider normal that aren't. You will have a higher awareness of your nutrition and water intake and the effects that has not only day to day, but cycle to cycle. Each period brings a new opportunity to take better care of your body, why not take advantage of that restart button? Tracking and charting with the sympto-thermal, just sympto, or just thermal method as used in NFP/FAM is one option. Just tracking with a period tracker to help keep track and stay prepared is another. Part of being female is our cycles, no matter how different they are from one woman to the next. What good does it do us to fight our body's natural rhythm? Nothing.
God created us exactly as was intended, menses all. Instead of cursing your body and fighting against it, try to be mindful of the purposes it serves. Each phase, each cycle offers us something to be mindful of; how blessed we are with good health, how powerful our bodies are, how unique we each are, the list goes on! We've used mindfulness to help us connect to our faith, let's try to connect our faith and our body.