Modesty and Beach Volleyball

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.

23 Replies to “Modesty and Beach Volleyball”

  1. Thank you, Father. You are spot on. Modesty is almost completely lost in our modern world. And it certainly isn’t limited to bikinis.

    The bare wedding gowns so popular invite men to ogle the bride and make a total mockery of the veil which is supposed to emphasize her innocence and virginity. I tell all my granddaughters that they should dress so that the young men’s attention is focused on their eyes, the window of the soul rather on parts of their body that encourage them to lust after them as if they are pieces of meat.

    Thank you for addressing this issue and please don’t stop. I know it’s not popular. Even some of my children argue that times have changed and fashions are no big deal. But if modesty is the defender of chastity, it is a big deal.

  2. You are absolutely right – There appears to be no reason for the volleyball players to wear bikinis in order to be successful. As you said – mutual charity and concern should be the goal.

    Thank you for the lovely quote from the Catechism on modesty. It sums it up quite nicely.

  3. Thank you for writing this post, Father. Our Lady of Fatima warned us in no uncertain terms of fashions that would come that would deeply offend Our Lord. The message of Fatima doesn’t age or change. I’m sure men out there are more interested in watching these women for the wrong reason, not because they want to watch the sport. We also have these so called Sports magazines to blame as they portray famous sports figures in immodest attire, or lack of it.

  4. Father,

    This post is appreciated. I believe we all notice this, and wonder why no one objects to women being so objectified by these outfits.

    Yes, if the men can play volley ball in shorts and loose tank tops, so can women. Same with tennis. Notice that the men get to wear shorts and sleeves, and women wear sleeveless tight dresses that are so short their panties continually show.

    I do not think we can excuse the female outfits during the gymnastics competitions. When these girls practice back home before competition, their practice outfits provide much better coverage. Clearly they are more comfortable and can and do perform without those revealing bathing-suit type of outfits. The male gymnasts wear long looser pants, or shorts. Clearly going nearly naked for women gymnastics is not necessary. Same with ice-skating: the men wear long pants and can do their triply lutzes no problem, but the women have to wear outfits that show their panties.

    It isn’t just in the Olympics or in professional sports, either. Several years ago I noticed that throughout the country Girls’ High School Volleyball and Basketball teams suddenly (it seemed) were all now wearing the tiniest and tightest of shorts. At the same time, male basketball players (from High School to the pros) were wearing loose basketball shorts that went down to their knees and could almost appear to be skirts! If the pros can play in long baggy shorts, why are girls forced to play in their short-shorts?!

    There’s an ulterior motive, and it has been planned to bring about the decline in our culture by destroying true femininity in women and making it harder for men to keep chaste. Old Scratch is behind this.

    BUT where are the Feminists? What these female athletes have to wear is real sexism going on. I don’t know why these girls and women don’t stand up against this. So much for the feminist movement.

  5. Thank you Monseigneur.
    I was thinking about the same thing as I glanced at the TV during this competition. I expressed my dismay to my husband and young son who were watching. I’m glad I’m not the only person that questions the necessity of the skimpy choice of”uniform”.
    God bless you Monseigneur.

  6. It certainly is telling that in beach volleyball what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. Why would the women not compete in sleeveless shirts and loose shorts that fall to the mid-thigh? Or why do the men not compete in Speedos?

  7. Kudos Father for continuing to speak on the subject!
    I second everyting Mary Ann K said.

    I’ll say also that I was surprised by attire of the Egyptian team in the video, as I found the tights “alone”, rather than tights + shorts, or just shorts, so revealing and inappropriate in this sport. And I don’t consider myself a prudish woman.

  8. Thank you for your thoughtful commentary. One of my male atheist friends blogged about this for the same reason you say: it detracts from the athleticism of the participants. The sport is downgraded when it is become about looking at the human physical form, rather the form of the sport.

    I noticed a similar situation in track where men aren’t showing off their abs like women. The only place I’ve seen the reverse is in diving. I understand the idea is to show the long line from hip to toe, but I wish there were some way for it happen without the men being in bikinis (which they seem to have to pull up after every dive).

  9. We decided to turn off the TV, or watch a different sport when Women’s beach volleyball came on. Attire is not suitable for young uns to see. Spoils a good sport. As reading from Ezekial said one day last week, ‘avoid all occasions of sin!’

  10. I admire your courage in writing this article. Your point is particularly hard for modern people, including Catholics, to accept without lashing out at the messenger. So, it is needes all the more.

  11. When my older son was about 10 years old, he asked me, “Mom, why do when girls get older they wear less and less clothes?”


  12. I’m so glad to read your article about this Msgr., and the comments here as well. I thought I was the only one bothered by the dress of the women competing in beach volleyball. I actually turned it off rather than watch. Too bad, because I enjoy watching that sport.

  13. Thank you. I watched one of the beach volleyball games with my sons and my daughter. I was stunned and embarrassed with the outfits. I couldn’t watch the game b/c my mind was bouncing back & forth between “turn it off”, “make a comment” and “sit & watch”. I choose to make a comment….then turn it off…

    As a mom – I struggle every day with trying to get my daughter to understand modesty. No matter where you go – grocery store, shopping, practices, movies, tv, internet …yes and even church…. young girls (AND women) are dressed inappropriately. It is hard to teach our daughters modesty when modesty seems to have been drop kicked to the curb in today’s world. I have heard other mom’s say – “God gave her a beautiful body – let her show it off – I think she looks great”… God gave her his son – Jesus Christ – Take her to church, teach her to pray the rosary, help her get to heaven – that is beautiful!

  14. It is sad, but our culture has become very pagan and many worship at the altar of the body. When our mornings should begin with Our God, people rush out to the gym in hopes of prolonging the health of the body rather than thinking of the soul. It is no surprise that the culture frowns on modesty and chastity. It is hard work to be a true christian in our country, but there are many of us out there struggling to do so. It is as it has always been and we are called to do it, with peace and joy one pray at a time, one witness to truth at a time, one encouraging word at a time, knowing always that we do not witness alone, that we strive to be faithful and God does the rest of the work.

  15. During the 2012 Olympics I was watching a show about beach volleyball, and it was said that some women objected to the bikinis, but they were required to wear them. Presumably because of TV ratings. I have seen some teams, this time around, wearing outfits like sweats, I assume because of the weather, while their opponents had on bikinis. So I don’t know what the true story is.

    1. Interesting that the Network said yesterday that Women’s Beach Volleyball has the highest ratings. Thus they gave 2 hours and 15 minutes to that overall. Mens’ Beach volley ball got 36 seconds of coverage. Wowza.

  16. I’m a woman on my late 30’s and was very thin and fit for most of my life, until recent pregnancies. I think these women probably feel good about their bodies and don’t give it much thought. I wore bikinis on beaches growing up and didn’t think much of it.

    Now that I’m more mature spiritually, I see that perhaps ego and lack of care/charity for others played a role. Women may seek approval and being “liked” by their clothes. Fashion too is a factor.

    One legit reason for bikinis is that tall women fit bikinis better (tall women have trouble with whole suits bc the front is way too low and the back pulls up). Also, it’s exceeding hard to find modest swim wear. Ice resorted to wearing very short gym shorts and a uv block shirt.

    As for the Olympic competitors, I read in a few articles that they like their bodies and its tradition. Also, the mentioned sand in their suits.

    I don’t play volleyball professionally obviously but I admit that if I did- I might play best in those sport bra tops and form-fitting bottoms. Who knows though?

    The sport bras don’t look sexual to me if the woman is athletic bc most athletic women don’t have much adipose tissue/large breasts. The skimpy bottoms seem silly and likely a distraction for men. As a woman, it’s not distracting, instead I imagine the personal grooming that’s required to don such clothes on global tv.

    I think many young women would dress more modestly if simply clued in more. I dressed according to fashion as a young woman so during the grunge era- I was extremely modest w many layers and flannels and loose clothes. Same w the preppy era and rap era. I missed most of the more skimpy trend in the 2000s.

    I wish someone would have clued me in as a teen and early 20s woman- in hindsight there’s a few outfits I wouldn’t have worn.

  17. Thank you, Monsignor, for this thoughtful article. Some of my modest female friends have pointed out that bikinis often cover less than underwear and bras. Yet few people would argue going out in public in just underclothes. Why the double standard?


  19. Msgr. Pope,

    As always a great post. I will admit that as a man who enjoys watching both men’s and women’s beach volleyball, the tiny bikini is very distracting. These women are incredibly athletic, and I have always wondered why the micro-kinis? The female indoor players don’t wear them? Is it today’s culture / message that whenever a woman steps on beach sand she immediately has to strip down to nothing? But then look at the fodder-shots the Olympics coverage provided of the Brazilian women on the surrounding beaches. No modesty there, that’s for sure. I wonder if women realize how uncomfortable men can be amidst their scantily clad bodies? I don’t care how worldly, or stud-ly or cool a man thinks he is, deep-down he is still embarrassed for a woman who places all her self-esteem and confidence amidst the form of her body. I wonder though how many ‘real’ would admit that. Honestly, I’d rather look into a woman’s eyes, her face than feel the discomfort in trying to avoid seeing areas of her body I am not privileged to see. Women, the world over, shouldn’t wonder why they are taken for granted, and I say this in their defense. You continue to allow the world to be dominated by men who have no respect for the real power of a woman. Anyone who prefers to discuss this further, feel free to email: [email protected]

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