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.