I checked Merriam-Webster's dictionary and found this definition:
1 : to give official authority or legal power to [empowered her attorney to act on her behalf]
2 : enable
3 : to promote the self-actualization or influence of [women's movement has been inspiring and empowering women — Ron Hansen]
Self-actualization is to realize one's full potential. And I'm all about women influencing the world for the better.
But when I look at this topsy-turvy world of ours, where right is judged wrong and evil is praised as good - I realize that Christian women have a great opportunity to speak of true empowerment and its relationship to modesty. (Small caveat: I still have not read any books on modesty by Catholic authors, so if I repeat certain themes, forgive the redundency.)
Can a woman realize her full potential if she continues to mainly present a sexualized identity? Can society view the many facets of womanhood if she is predominately objectified in a sexual way? How is manipulating one's sexuality consistent with the path toward self-actualization? And if one is a Christian, should such manipulation even be considered?
These are some questions I think about often. Especially when I see young women dressed immodestly or older women dressed inappropriately for their age. Unfortunately, some older women have fallen into the same trap as the younger ones - flaunting their sexuality in an attempt to be seen as "young and hip." I suspect they confuse the word "classy" with "boring."
I grew up with a father who used John T. Malloy's Dress for Success as a bible for appearance. He would check my outfit before I headed out for a special event to make sure that a) it was appropriate and b) no threads were hanging and nothing was torn or stained. I attended an all-girls Catholic high school where graduating seniors were told their white long gowns better cover the arms and decollatage - otherwise be prepared to wear a nun's white sweater over it. I learned at an early age that if I wanted to be respected, I needed to show that I respected myself.
Younger women seem to be changing their tune toward immodest clothing. A recent story about the Pure Fashion Show had young girls saying how nice it was to see attractive clothes that still made them feel comfortable. I realized how often these young girls probably feel marginalized for their preference for modest clothes. Centuries ago, it was the norm to dress modestly and those who didn't were on the outside of proper society. Today, it's almost the opposite. Those who want to be taken seriously for who they are, not what they wear , must fight against the current in our culture that says immodesty is "empowering" one's sexuality.
When a woman dresses modesty, several things occur. First, she shows respect to herself. She is telling herself and the culture that she is worth more than being sexually objectified. Secondly, she is promoting civility in a world that sorely needs it. When a woman dresses immodestly, it leads to a disrespect of women. When women are disrespected, they lose their voice to make a difference in their culture. It is very difficult for a man to feel influenced by the good of a woman if she has a plunging neckline that challenges him to think of her in any other light than as a sexual partner.
I would even extend that same thought to women. There have been occasions where it's been difficult for me to take a woman seriously because she was wearing a very low-cut top. If we want to influence others and realize our full potential, I firmly believe that dressing modestly is not only preferred, but required. As more women pursue modesty, I believe the conversation will be changed. No longer will it be about who is "cool" or "hot," but who is truly making a difference in the world by first, making a difference in their own life.