Posts Tagged ‘modesty’

modestyWe may need a new word for whatever we are trying to describe when we talk about modesty.

At lunch the other day in our office, I was eating with our mostly female staff and one of them started talking about how some of the women dressed at the church where she attends, that is, how immodest they were.

I, playing the devil’s advocate, started asking questions, trying to suggest that modesty is a very difficult concept to define at any particular time.

I remember the story my grandfather told me many years ago. He was born in Kansas in 1883, played basketball when they still used peach baskets for goals and was a cowboy in Arizona before it became a state.

He told me once that when he was a school boy, he would drop a pencil on the floor, so that he could lean down below the desks and get a look at a girl’s ankles. Not excusing my Granddad for his own responsibility for his thoughts, but does that mean that skirts that came up above the ankles might have been considered immodest?

Have you ever been in the art museums and wondered why all the women captured in portraits during the 17th and 18th centuries had high foreheads and large eyes?  I asked our tour guide once, and she told me that women then plucked their foreheads back because high foreheads were considered beautiful.  The large eyes were probably the artist “touching up” the pictures to beautify the woman as well.

Now many of these same women in these portraits also are showing a good bit of cleavage.  Sherrylee’s mother used to say with great principle: “Cleavage . . . (emotional pause for emphasis) is for the bedroom!”

So, which is more immodest—too much forehead or too much cleavage??  Too much ankle or too much thigh?

I was in an antique store the other day and they were playing “oldies.”  Purple People Eater has that sexy little musical insert of girls singing:  “Who wears short shorts? / We wear short shorts!” thrown into the middle of a pretty ridiculous song, but it did make me think the other day that what in 1958 were short shorts are pretty standard wear today.

If someone came up to you and suggested that any girl or woman in your family was dressing immodestly, I suspect everyone reading this would be first shocked, then offended!

So, here are my two questions: does anyone know what anyone else means by modest –and, perhaps more pertinent, does anyone really care about modesty anymore?

To underline my point challenging modest as a viable word, I suspect most Christians will be surprised to discover that every dictionary’s list of synonyms for the word modest as : humble, unassuming, unpretentious, along with the actions that accompany these adjectives.  None of these synonyms addresses directly the idea of how little or how much clothing someone is wearing.  Well, then what do Christians mean when they talk about modesty?

Dressing to be stylish?  Dressing to be attractive?  Dressing to be sexy? (Is there a difference between attractive and sexy?)  Dressing to be suggestive (for me at least, a step further than being sexy, i.e., like a street prostitute—and, yes, I’ve seen these all over Europe.)?

And how much does modesty have to do with appropriateness?   One of the first arguments Sherrylee and I had when we were dating was over her comment about a modest swimsuit. I argued that there was no such thing.  My understanding of modesty at the time had everything to do with how much clothing covered how much skin and nothing to do with intent, nothing to do with context, and nothing to do with appropriateness.

What word could we use that would include intent, context, and appropriateness

I’ve thought about chaste, but chastity seems to be forever tied to virginity.  I’ve thought about purity or perhaps even holy, and while those words speak to intent, they don’t really seem to address context or appropriateness.

Well, as you can see, I don’t have the answer, but I do think we have to have a conversation because there is a virtue here that needs to be described.

Hey, what do you think about virtuous?  

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