There’s much a stir in cyber space about the word ‘modesty’ these days. The antics from both sides of the fence, from all over the map, blare loudly across social media and the blogosphere. Whilst most everywhere you look, the mainstream media smears images and catch phrases that scream the exact opposite of what any sensible person would describe as modesty, the more conservative classes are battling back, trying to bring a true understanding of the word, but often going too far. From either side of the rhetoric, I think there are a staggering number of people who don’t really get what modesty is.
When I first sat down to write about modesty, I thought I had this article pretty much outlined in my head. I spoke with a few women who gave me some inspiring thoughts on what modesty really is, encouraging me to put it under a microscope and expose it in all of its beauty and grace. Then, during a trip to the basement to find some ribbon, I found a bunch of old pictures of me. A different me. A younger me. A clueless me. I am always smiling but if you look close- at my posture, my attire, at the expression in my eyes- you don’t see a young woman clothed in modesty. And I realized that writing this article was going to be an even greater feat than I thought at first. Not just because the person in those old photographs was guilting me straight from the past, but also because I realized that a great loss of modesty has been creeping into the world for such a long time, and that blaring reality is a hard pill to swallow…. Especially when you wish you could go back to your own past, tell your younger self some wise words, and hope she’ll actually listen.
Growing up, my siblings and I were taught the usual morals and values of a decent Christian family. But we were also immersed in the world through various avenues, and often teetered somewhere on the fringes of diving head-long into complete forever rejection of those morals and values. One thing we were never taught was the true meaning of modesty. Back then, modesty was mostly a word that you thought of in regards to proper attire. The understanding of it beyond that was severely lacking, and this narrow view only served to scorch the morals we had been taught, especially during the teenage and early adult years.
So, what IS modesty anyway?
Before we go into what modesty is, let’s look at what modesty isn’t. Modesty isn’t about gender. What’s that you say? Modesty isn’t directed solely at women? Nope. And that’s the truth. Modesty is for men, too. Men are expected to have the same sense of self-value as women do, as well as the same moderation in one’s actions, thoughts and words. You might like to call it chivalry. The actions of a man in his daily life mirror his own self-respect and sense of virtue. One of the things I love about the truth of modesty is that it lays a foundation for both women and men to come to an understanding of mutual respect; of tailoring our lives to display a sense of self-worth and value- one which encompasses far more than wearing the correct clothes.
Modesty isn’t dead. Though as a society we are proud to be more tolerant of that-which-is-outside-the-box, the truth is, modesty still fits in the box. In many ways, modesty is the box. It creates a standard and serves as guidelines for how to behave as human beings when interacting and communicating with other human beings. Though we have made huge leaps as a society in things like recognizing women as actual people with thoughts and feelings about world matters, and ridding our society of things like slavery and a general sense of racism, we really messed up here with our attempts to rid the world of its sense of modesty. All we have to do is turn on the TV or open a magazine to see famous people rubbing in our faces the general lack of modesty of the world. But make no mistake, though it’s severely diminished, modesty is far from dead.
Modesty isn’t the archaic form of control feminists would have us believe our grandmother’s were “forced” to live under. Really. Despite the “modernistic” ideals of this- the 21st century, and despite the raging voices of hard-core feminists, modesty is not archaic and it is not controlling. Women who know and understand the point of modesty will agree. That’s partially what new-feminism is about: the choice to moderate ourselves because we believe the truth of our self-worth and purpose; not all the lies the world would have us believe. A woman who has a sense of modesty is easy to spot. She doesn’t look like a caged bird. She is the one who is free.
These three significant ideas of what modesty isn’t stand in stark contrast to what so many people today believe about modesty. But let’s be clear here: Modesty in its truest form is the height of honesty. When one speaks and behaves with a modest temperament, and yes, even when one dresses modestly, and treats oneself and others with respect, there is nothing to question. What you see is what you get. You see beauty in such a person, as well as virtue and innocence. There are no games to play to figure out one’s stance on oneself or others. One’s honest and true self shines forth.
Modesty is beautiful. It materializes in the form of honesty and grace. It isn’t held to the particulars of a dusty, time-worn ideal; it is as vital to world in 2013 as it was in 1913. It applies to both genders – male and female – lending each one the ability to follow a moral trajectory through the grit and darkness of the world. We need to take back the true meaning of modesty and start living it. If not for ourselves now, for our younger selves who are stranded in old photographs, brandishing our lack of modesty for all eternity. Or for our future generations. To show them that to be strong individuals, full of thoughts, ideas and abilities does not have to be the opposite of modest. That the two can co-exist and complement each other without having to sacrifice one for the other.
I’d like to close with Lord Byron’s poem, She Walks in Beauty. I have always loved this poem but have never really considered it long enough to understand that it is a message declaring the beauty of modesty. It is inspiring, encouraging, and something I wish I had really pondered long ago when I first had the privilege to read it.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Writer’s Note: The world is not a friend of modesty, and truer now than ever before is that it’s an arduous task for a woman or man to truly understand what modesty is about when it comes to their place within the confines of such a world. I realize that there are many women and men walking around who don’t understand. So my disclaimer here is just this: we are all called to live out our lives to our fullest potential, our truest purpose. Modesty lays the foundation for unraveling the mysteries of both women and men without depleting us of our autonomy, dignity or integrity. If you haven’t come to an understanding of this truth, believe me, I know where you are. I am not judging you. So take what I say with a grain of salt and do your own soul searching.
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