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Is it wrong to wear a bikini?

Male college students at Princeton University recently took part in studies of how the male brain reacts to seeing people wearing different amounts of clothing. The test subjects were placed in a brain scanner and for a fraction of a second were shown photographs of women in bikinis, as well as men and women dressed modestly.

When the young men viewed the scantily clad women, the part of their brain associated with tool use lit up. Even though some of the images were shown for as little as two-tenths of a second, the most easily remembered photographs were of bikini-clad women whose heads were cropped off the photos!

The purpose of the research, according to Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology at Princeton University, was to examine ways in which people view others as a means to an end. The findings of the research were presented during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Chicago.

Researchers also discovered that when some of the men viewed scantily clad females, the men’s medial pre-frontal cortex was deactivated. This is the region of the brain associated with analyzing a person’s thoughts, intentions, and feelings. Fiske remarked, “It is as if they are reacting to these women as if they are not fully human.” She added, “It is a preliminary study but it is consistent with the idea that they are responding to these photographs as if they were responding to objects rather than people.”

She considered this discovery to be shocking, because “The lack of activation in this social cognition area is really odd, because it hardly ever happens.” Researchers have witnessed such a dehumanizing absence of brain activity only once before, during a study where people were shown images of drug addicts and homeless people.

Another study performed on undergraduate students at Princeton found that when men are shown images of women in bikinis, they associate the women with first-person verbs, such as I “push,” “handle,” and “grab.” When shown images of modestly dressed women, the men associated the images with the third-person forms of the verbs, such as she “pushes,” “handles,” and “grabs.” In other words, the fully-clothed women were seen as being in control of their own actions, whereas the immodest ones were to be acted upon.

Although scientists were surprised by these findings, they won’t come as a shock to those who know the origins of the bikini. Its inventor was a Frenchman named Louis Reard, who worked for his mom’s lingerie business. When he created the first two-piece bathing suit in 1946, he had to hire a stripper to debut the outfit, because no model was willing to wear it on the runway! After all, what kind of woman would wear her underwear in public, just because it became waterproof? Over half a century years ago, these French models took for granted what today’s scientists from Princeton find surprising.

Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand once remarked, “If little girls were made aware of the great mystery confided to them, their purity would be guaranteed. The very reverence which they would have toward their own bodies would inevitably be perceived by the other sex. Men are talented at reading women’s body language, and they are not likely to risk being humiliated when a refusal is certain. Perceiving women’s modesty, they would take their cue and, in return, approach the female sex with reverence.”

Just as bikinis cause some men’s brains to overlook a woman’s intentions and thoughts, modesty does just the opposite. It invites men to consider how much more a woman has to offer. If bikinis objectify women, modesty personalizes them. Therefore, women who wish to be taken seriously by men may want to reconsider the power of modesty. Its purpose is not to veil the woman’s body because it is bad. Quite the contrary! A modest woman is not hiding herself from men. She is revealing her dignity to them.

Nothing on earth approaches the beauty of the woman. For this reason, the question must be asked to women, “How will you use your beauty?” Pope John Paul II remarked that the dignity and balance of human life depends at every moment of history and in every place upon who man will be for women, and who women will be for men. So, who will you be for men?

If women have become objects in the minds of many men, what can be done to restore the hearts and minds of both? If the world is ever to see a resurgence of values, modesty, and chivalry, it will require both men and women to take an inventory of their own hearts, to examine who they have become for each other.