“Ask a Priest: What If I Think a School’s Sports Outfits Are Immodest?”

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Q: I just graduated college and got a job as a teacher at a Catholic high school, and am in charge of the yearbook. As a woman I’m worried because the cheerleaders and tennis and field hockey players wear short skirts, and pictures of the sports teams are supposed to go in the yearbook. That’s a major part of it. Am I committing a mortal sin by letting the kids photograph these teams and put them in the yearbook? Is it scandal? Do you think it’s wrong for teams to wear short skirts since Mary said that she is displeased with certain fashions of the day? I will tell the students that they can’t put immodest pictures of people from, say, a homecoming dance. But I don’t know that I can really do that for a sports team picture, since those are the uniforms. – M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your concern about the students and their modesty is admirable.

The practice of modesty seems to be on life-support in lots of areas of our culture. Sadly, lots of people don’t even think it’s a problem.

Indeed, the impact of decades of racy media and fashions haven’t spared Catholic institutions.

This doesn’t mean, however, that we should throw in the towel. Modesty is worth promoting, even if in modest increments, since souls could be at stake.

Ideally, the yearbook should reflect authentic Catholic values, and that includes modest dress.

However, it’s possible, maybe probable, that a lot of people at the school will see no problem with the short skirts.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t an objective problem. The way a 50-something principal or a 40-something mom views the yearbook will differ from the way a male teenager might. And the way young women dress on the field might influence the way they dress off the field.

So, what to do?

One suggestion is to look for ways to nudge the school to reconsider its dress codes. Here, you want to aim for realistic goals. Ankle-length skirts reminiscent of the Victorian era might be too much to hope for. Safely-below-the-knee outfits might be a better possibility.

You mention that you are new to the school. That might limit your clout, so it might be good to seek out like-minded staffers.

It would help your cause if you can find a few veteran teachers and administrators who share your concerns. You might begin by approaching those who dress the most modestly. Also, you might seek out the moms of students who share your outlook.

Together, you and the moms and the staffers could consider various proposals for how to make the case for modest uniforms. More-modest standards for outfits at the homecoming dance might be considered, too.

Then, at an opportune moment, the group might approach the principal or board, and offer suggestions and a realistic timetable for implementing the changes.

In the short run you personally might speak with your immediate supervisor and explain your qualms about the yearbook. Perhaps you could suggest using only above-the-waist photos in closeups.

If the school isn’t willing to do even that, you could ask to be excused from having to approve any photos that you deem immodest. Completely banning team photos might draw immediate pushback and leave you isolated. But doing what you can to detach from questionable photos would be a way of avoid any formal cooperation in something you think is immoral.

If your other efforts at lobbying the school fail, and if your suggestions about the photo are rejected, you might ask to be excused from the yearbook work in the future.

As a woman and teacher, you could certainly model your ideals through your own modest dress and comportment. And look for ways to talk up the value of modesty and the way it protects and reflects the dignity of young women.

It might also be worth searching the Internet for groups that promote modesty, and see what advice they offer. The school might consider hosting speakers from these groups.

In the meantime, it would be good to intensify your prayer about this issue. It’s a cause worth championing.

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