I posed a question on Facebook recently, namely “What should I blog about?”. The very first answer I received was from one of my guy friends, someone who I hold in the highest esteem, and who’s kindness, love and service to his wife and family, as well as to our country, cause me to respect him greatly. He suggested I blog about “being awesome while remaining modest”. At first I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. I mean, yes, I know what it means to be modest, in the Christianese sense of the word (hemlines that touch the floor when you stand on your knees, right??) But what about being awesome? Am I really awesome? And do people really think that?? Score!! Thanks dude J
Now, I’m pretty sure I’m not the most modest person I can think of (again, in the Christianese sense of the word that we can all easily define). I was rather flattered that someone I respect so much thought that of me, and had to ask myself, what have I done right in this area. Whether intentionally or unintentionally I have definitely worn some outfits that were probably a little too revealing. And that’s me sugar coating it for the sake of my ego. I can think of a (beloved) maxi dress, that I wore to my new niece’s birthday last summer. Some in-love-weight-gain meant that it was not fitting as well as it had when I first bought it. But it was supposed to be in the 90’s and we were going to be outside the whole time, so I went with it anyways. I think I was pulling that thing up to cover my chest the entire time we were there. I only pray no one saw me, but I’m sure if they weren’t looking at me pulling it up to cover myself, they were looking at me wishing I would. I’m embarrassed now, and can’t go back and change it, but I haven’t worn it since.
Also, recently, I had a true People of Wal-Mart experience. Without meaning to, I was completely immodest, and exposed a LOT more of myself than I ever meant to, at the one place on earth where people are not afraid to let it all hang out, quite literally. Again, let’s blame it on the weight gain (dang it!!). I have only been able to fit into a few of my pairs of jeans lately, and this past winter I threw on a pair of boyfriend jeans I hadn’t worn in a very long time. As the HH and I were leaving the house to go run a few errands, I slipped on the ice, and fell down, landing on my bottom in the driveway, so hard that I cried. I hate, more than anything, falling on the ice. I feel so clumsy and childish when I do. But I digress. After falling, I picked myself right back up, and got in the truck, and we ran up to Wal-Mart to do some banking and grocery shopping. HH and I walked from the outskirts of the parking lot into the store, and once in the store, to the bank, where I walked up to the ATM machine while HH waited in line to see a teller. All of a sudden, I felt him come up behind me, and wrap his coat around my shoulders, and tell me “Here honey, wear my coat.” I pushed it off, I actually wasn’t cold – I had on a warm sweater, and scarf, and hat, and my cute boyfriend jeans, after all. That’s when he told me “No, you need to wear my coat” and he leaned in and whispered “You have a hole in the butt of your jeans”. That’s when I turned my head around and discovered that when I fell on the ice in the driveway, apparently my pants split right up the butt, from waist to well, past my waist. My underwear were exposed for the whole world to see. I truly was a Person Of Wal Mart, with the exposed behind to prove it. Of course, I immediately took the HH’s jacket, put it on, and was positively mortified. As soon as we got home, I threw those stupid jeans out!! Modesty, no. Clumsiness, definitely.
Now here’s the thing – in both of those cases, my intent was never to attract attention to myself, to show off my, ummm, assets (?), or to send a mixed message about the type of person that I am. But that’s what modesty, or lack of it, does exactly. It’s not so much a statement about what you’ve got (though, immodesty definitely advertises that well enough), as much as who you think you are, and how you want the world around you to see you. I definitely did not want to be known to the people at my bank as “butt bearing jeans girl”, nor to my new family as a hoochie mama in my lowcut maxi dress (just because you can’t see my legs or ankles doesn’t make it modest). And fortunately I don’t think anyone at the bank or Wal-Mart, except for my adoring HH, noticed. The birthday party, well I’m hoping they love me just the same, nah, I know they do. But the message I was communicating about myself in both of those outfits was not that of a person who cares what other people think of her in a respectful way. It was the message of someone who just doesn’t care.
You see, modesty doesn’t have to just be about flaunting your body parts as an advertisement to “come and get it boys” (spoken in my best Moulin Rouge Nicole Kidman voice). Being immodest can send all kinds of signals. What it never spells out though is that the person being immodest cares enough about themself to care what other people think of her/himself. If you’re immodest, unfortunately the first thing I think of you is “whoah, self esteem issues”. Sorry, I know I judge, I do. (Eh, this post is full of awful confessions, is it not?)
So, in thinking about modesty, how I judge it, my own perilous struggle with it, why we should even bother with it, et all, this is what I came up with.
Modesty, by definition means “Freedom from vanity or boastfulness. Having or showing a moderate or humble estimate of one's merits, importance, etc. Having or showing regard for the decencies of behavior, speech, dress, etc. Limited or moderate in amount.” I think that pretty much sums it up well. The bible never clearly defines what modesty means, though it admonishes us to be modest. 1 Timothy 2:9 warns against showy appearance, too much jewelry, etc., “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles, or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.”, wrote Paul (italics mine). From what I found, that’s the closest the Bible comes to defining the term. Yet, our Christian culture has regarded it, in relation to women, as covering up one’s body parts, and not showing too much skin. Or as my old pastor, Pastor Tom, used to say “not leading men into Death Valley” (his personal euphemism for cleavage).
But, if the secular definition is correct, you can have a potato sack on, and have an immodest heart. Modestly means acting and dressing with propriety, showing a humble estimate of one’s self. Being moderate. Not wearing neon to a funeral, or white to someone else’s wedding. Scripture says that Jesus “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage” (Philipians 2:6) He was modest, in heart, and I’m sure always in appearance. Men had it easier even back then, with their robes and caftans and such.
Modesty isn’t about what we wear, or fail to wear, it’s about a heart attitude of thinking less of one’s self than what is proper. It’s a heart attitude, not a name brand. It’s the way you view yourself, in relation to the world and the people in it, and how you act accordingly. Immodesty wasn’t my torn jeans at the Wal-Mart – honestly, I was mortified. Maybe it was my low cut sundress at a family gathering, and in hindsight, I ought to be mortified and ashamed. You can be modest and stylish, you just have to respect yourself, no kidding.
I mean, think about it. If the Bible says that modesty means no elaborate hairstyles, gold or pearls or expensive clothes, then what are we to do with the fact that the Proverbs 31 woman wore fine linen and quality clothing, and made the same clothing for her family as well? What about Esther and her near year of beauty treatments (ohmygawd am I jealous!)? Does this mean I need to give up my quest to learn hair braiding, in an effort to braid my hair Swiss Miss style? What about the fact that I love to score really expensive designer items at places like TJMaxx, or online? What about those splurges I’ll make once a year or so, on an Anthropologie statement necklace or a costly new winter coat, knowing that I’ll wear it for more than a few years? Is quality immodest? Is spending more than the thrift-shop price on something immodest? Is pampering oneself in an effort to just feel pretty again immodest? I seriously hope, and think, not.
If you think about it, back when Paul wrote to Timothy, the women who were prostitutes adorned themselves with lots of jewelry, and fancy clothes in eye-popping colors and styles to attract the attention of men. What they wore sent a clear and deliberate signal about who they are and what they did/their profession. Just like the uniform of the Hooters girls today sends a clear and deliberate message – “I. Work. For. Hooters. Otherwise I wouldn’t be wearing this hideous orange belly shirt and short shorts with pantyhose.” A cop can be identified by his uniform, a fireman by his, and back in the day, a prostitute by hers. Nowadays some of the high end prostitutes have enviable wardrobes that are very business professional, so as to attract a certain high end clientele. And I am not talking about anyone who’s ever stood at that gas station on Penn and Dowling in fishnets and hooker platform boots, trust me. In biblical times, pearls, gold, and purple or red were as obvious a uniform as the camoflauge army fatigues of a soldier are now.
Recently, a friend of mine from high school, an earnest Mormon, posted a link to the website that his wife buys some of her clothing from. Though I cannot remember the name of the store, I do remember that the word MODESTY was in its title. Imagine, in this day and age, a store that advertises modesty! I was intrigued! After browsing their website, I realized I was in love with their style, and their products. There were very cute outfits, that were in line with today’s fashion trends, but much more modest. Think higher necklines, and longer hems, but cute ModCloth or Anthro styles to begin with. Let me tell you, if anyone has this whole modesty thing down, it’s those darn LDS girls! They are so cute!! Seriously, those gals from Utah, the cute stay at home moms, with their perfectly highlighted blond long bobs, and graphic designer/work from home careers really got it going on, and know how to do stylish modestly. In their religion, and culture, modesty is a way of life. It’s a heart attitude, and never a second thought, and they’ve learned to do it well.
I guess when I look back at my own struggles with modesty, I would have to say, the real turning point came as I was considering what was best for my career. Though I always tried to make sure I was dressing modestly, the actions were there but not always the heart attitude. I did it because it was what was “right” in Christian culture, not because of how I respected myself or others. But as I’ve grown older, and have looked to advance my career beyond an administrative level, I’ve realized that the old adage of “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have” is true. So I’ve started thinking about what the women who were in leadership, that I admired and wanted to be like, wore. Besides being stylish, professional and on trend without being a head to toe trend statement, the one unifying factor amongst them was that they all dressed modestly. Even if they weren’t professing Christians, they understood the value of modesty in the business place. Their message was “I’m current, I’m polished, I’m professional, and by golly, I sure as heck do respect myself, so you should respect me too.”
I also realized that love has made me modest, or at least falling in love has. I attribute this to the fact that for the first time in my life, I stopped trying to dress for a man, and started dressing for me, because that was who the man I loved wanted to be around. Gone were the times I’d wear something to be noticed (even if it wasn’t skin bearing, and was technically modest, that heart attitude of “notice me” wasn’t modest at all). I was thrilled with the fact that my HH loved me best in jeans and a tee shirt, or sweats and a tee shirt, clothing that he said made me look like I was comfortable. He loved me at ease, and relaxed, content and not tugging and pulling and yanking at my clothing. Not all gussied up and trying. That, is the heart attitude of a man who wants you to be happy! When I asked him, one time, about whether or not he preferred how I looked when I dressed up for work, or for date night, his reply surprised me. “No”, he said, “I prefer it when you look like you’re ready to sit on the sofa, and read a book, because that’s what makes you happy”. For my HH, modesty was equated with comfort. But not just being comfortable in jeans and a tee shirt – being comfortable in one’s own skin. Being in the frame of mind that wasn’t out to impress anyone, or draw attention to one’s self. It was a frame of mind, a heart attitude, was happy and content with who they were, and had stopped trying to draw attention through appearance. I’m not saying it was frumpy, or messy. It was the quiet peace of mind of relaxing, and enjoying life’s simple comforts.
I guess as I’ve grown older I’ve become a more modest person. But that transition hasn’t grown out of a dedication to pleasing the surrounding Christian culture, but out of a spiritual and personal maturity. With wanting to be professional, and be taken seriously, I’ve become more modest, or moderate, in my choices at work. From experiencing love, and the desire of someone else to see me happy, content and at peace, I’ve stopped trying to impress a certain man through my dress. Without turning towards frumpiness, because I believe it’s totally possible to be stylish and modest simultaneously, I’ve made some personal strides in this area. Am I saying I’ve got it all figured out? Well, as a certain winter’s day at Wal-Mart proved, far from it. But if anything, I have changed my thinking about how I want people to view me, and what it takes to get the right kind of attention. I have truly come to believe that in this world, you are perceived to be what you wear, and who I want to be at 27 is quite different than it was at 17 or even 27.
So, what is anyone supposed to take out of this post? That’s a great question, and as I’ve been writing it, one I’ve asked myself multiple times. There was a request that I write about modesty. And if I didn’t think it a worthwhile topic, I wouldn’t comply. But, in this world where so many mixed signals are sent, and so many role models are offered for young women to emulate, ranging from the vampy to the faux-intellectual (read, hipsters), and everywhere in between, maybe it’s worth saying at least SOMETHING on the topic. I can only share from personal experience, but if sharing my thoughts on this subject opens up the mind of one young women about how she views herself, and what image she presents to the outside world, then mission accomplished.
And yet in writing this, I want to make one thing clear – let it be said that I always want to be modest about being modest. Until my friend called me modest the other day, I would never have attributed that characteristic to myself. If modesty is a freedom from vanity or boastfulness, then I will always try to be modest in the area of modesty. That heart attitude is one I will always wish to cultivate, in the spirit of Paul, when writing to the Romans. In the fourteenth chapter he shares some of my favorite thoughts about how to approach interpsonal relationships, including how (loosely interpreted) to think about the issue of modesty.
Rom 14:7-19 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. …. Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. … For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
And that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.