More Thoughts on Modesty

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A couple of weeks ago I posted a Thought Challenge on Modesty

I received this comment from a boyhood friend of S and thought it was detailed enough (and my reply long enough) that I should just make a new post.

From Timothy:

I suggest that the body really does matter. We all are at different levels of development of the art and form of our physical body. We learn where are bodies come in the pecking order of the human spectrum and we ultimately wear clothes more for accent than for cover. In public some of us actually look better with clothes on than with out. Just get a feel for what seems good and appropriate for your children and that will be what is the most “modest” for them.

I think modesty is ultimately determined by what is considered the most appropriate by yourself and your peers……

To me clothes accent those of us with less glamorous bodies, and modesty is the psychologic analog to clothes. It is very ingenious and way to appeal to etiquette and culture to compensate for what we don’t have physically. We can’t have pride in our bodies because we don’t have great form so we develop this alternate pride in our appropriate cover. In this light modesty is a very clever psychological invention. What we don’t have in physical form we make up in wit of culture.

My suggestion again would be teach them pride of body image, teach them stewardship of their bodies, so they maintain very appealing bodies. Then show off their bodies as much as you can and stay in good taste with your social community and you will have the ace in the hole. If this still requires wearing some clothes, say that it is for modesty’s sake…..

My Reply:

Timothy, here are a couple of thoughts:

1. There is no absolute definition of modesty. There are some defining guidelines but since cultures differ modesty will also differ from culture to culture. For the sake of this discussion I am looking at Western/North American ideas of modesty.

2. The body absolutely matters. As a Christian I believe that what God created he made good. Our interaction with that goodness is marred by sin, and the body may not be as perfect as he created it to be, but it is good, and it will be good at the restoration of all things. We have no indication at any time that our first parents were immodest in any way prior to the Fall.

3. Modesty then seems to be the balance that we strike between the goodness and beauty of the body as created, and the imperfections and marring of our bodies and our psyches/selves in how we interact with our own bodies and the bodies of others.  You are right; one of the primary functions of clothing (and the way we think about clothing) is as a cover for those parts of our bodies we consider less pleasing. We also use clothing to enhance certain parts and to preserve certain parts for certain people.  That is how we use modesty to interact with our own bodies.

The second part of the question is this: how do we as responsible community members (both male and female) interact with our bodies and each others’ bodies in appropriate ways and how does clothing/modesty enter in?  First, I have to say that we need to be careful not to think of this as a female responsibility, men have as much responsibility as women both to dress and think modestly. Secondly, I think that defining lust as any looking at any member of the opposite sex with any appreciation outside of marriage is ludicrous. We are made to appreciate beauty and we may appreciate beauty without inordinate desire (lust).  Within our particular culture then we need to decide how to manage the interaction between what makes me appreciate my body as a unique creation beautiful in the eyes of God, and what places too much emphasis on the body (body, mind and spirit in balance rather than body downplayed because it is somehow bad). If the world were unbroken this secondary consideration of appropriate interaction would be unnecessary, since we would have psyches that would be able to enjoy and appreciate beauty of the body, mind and spirit without lust/covetousness and our interactions would be appropriate without having to control ourselves. Sadly thought the world is broken and we therefore have both the task and the pleasure of participating in the healing of the world by the way we interact with our own bodies and the bodies of our fellow man.

I believe very strongly that modesty is as much about how we think about ourselves and the world around us as it is about a particular article of clothing or a particular quantity of exposure or covering of the body. I have seen people ( note: not just women) who were well covered who flaunted themselves and those who did not wear much but did not flaunt themselves.  The flaunters were not  considerate of the needs or mores of the community they interacted with and the non-flaunters were both aware of their community’s needs and mores and respectful of them and in the end that attitude more than anything else will determine who is modest.

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