(See definition #2)
Throughout literature, female modesty has been a defining characteristic of proper society- consider the women of Jane Austen’s time who dared not expose an ankle lest they ruin their reputation or, in contrast, the unfortunate Scarlett O’Hara and Anna Karenina who had no such reservations and suffered use and abuse by the men that they tempted. The classics make no doubt about it: modesty is essential to true female dignity, as well as keeping male minds focused on purity.
But what is modesty? Some might call it outdated, confining, un-feministic. I will not bother addressing these views at the moment. Instead, I would like to challenge those readers who nodded their heads throughout the first paragraph, those who think that they know what modesty truly is.
Most of the women that I know dress modestly and let me begin by saying thank you for taking this often-inconvenient step to protect our brothers and guy friends away from the sin of lust. However, I am concerned that there is a lack of true modesty beneath our layered camisoles and knee-length dresses; modesty is not all about what we are or are not wearing, how many layers we have on despite the heat, or even how much skin is showing. Certainly a decency of dress is one way in which we manifest modesty, but it is only one tiny aspect of this virtue.
The Merrium-Webster dictionary defines “modesty” as a “regard for decency of behavior, speech, and dress.” Notice that this definition mentions dress as only a part of this “regard” and the last part at that! Before it even mentions dress, modesty is said to be a guideline for behavior and speech.
So what does this mean? Does it mean that girls must never speak to boys? That we must always sit demure by our hearths with our eyes downcast and knitting in our laps? Certainly not! Modesty is respect, pure and simple. Just as the dictionary says, it is a regard for decency and thus a regard for others. I choose to dress modestly because I never want to be the object of a sinful thought; I do not want to distract and disrespect those around me. But as I said (well, as the dictionary said…) modesty goes beyond clothes. In the same way that I dress neatly to respect myself and others, I want to act modestly: properly, respectfully, and humbly. It baffles me that girls who cling so faithfully to their modest apparel often are the quickest to fall into flirtations. Granted, I am as guilty of this as anyone, for let’s face it, flirting and the attention it garners can be fun. However, I do not believe that this aggressive pursuit of boys (sorry, I will be blunt) is in line with complete modesty. To truly claim that I or you or any other woman out there (or man, but being a girl, I must address the females first) possess the virtue of modesty, we must strive to exhibit every aspect, not just the one most obvious to the observer.
Ultimately, I am just restating the age-old truth written in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control…with what is proper for women who profess godliness- good works.” This verse does not say “Thou shalt cover thy body and therefore be totally righteous.” Rather, it says that women should dress sensibly and decently and also practice self-control in work and word. For a woman or girl to effectively display the modesty she professes, she must demonstrate a modesty of speech and behavior in conjunction with dress; without these forgotten forms of modesty, which stem from a purity of heart and mind, all the sweaters and Capri pants in the word are no more than facades of faithfulness.