There is an interesting parallel, obvious open reflection, between modesty and sense of self. It occurred to me on one particularly lazy Saturday as I sat on a friend’s couch and watched a “real” housewife “find” herself relearning the art of striptease (Sorry for the excessive quotation marks, but I can’t help but feel they are necessary). As her male friends looked on and handed over dollar bills, she boasted that she was finally feeling like herself again. Now, I don’t know what exactly this woman was experiencing, but it is hard to believe it was anything like an actual sense of self. For one who has not felt her soul for a long time, the external validation of her exposed body seemed an ample substitute. And just like that, I felt like I understood pop-culture.
Modesty is a pretty well-forgotten virtue. The word itself feels prudish and outdated, something to be considered for your grandmother’s sake at family gatherings. Even in a religious subculture that intends to value it, it has, to most, come to refer simply to how much fabric you have managed to put on yourself or knowing when not to mention your own accomplishments. But as I watched this sad woman complete her empty quest for self-esteem, I wondered if we had entirely forgotten the virtue of real modesty.
Between secular culture’s complete ignorance of the subject, and religious people relegating the idea to necklines and hems, we seem to have lost modesty’s true value. Some virtues are good onto themselves, but modesty is a mean to an end (or several). Though we often talk of how it protects others from lust, annoyance, or envy, we forget that one’s modesty is actually much better at protecting oneself. Modesty is, at its core, the protection of what is personal and private. This is true as much of one’s internal world as it is of one’s body. In protecting yourself through the exercise of modesty, you say, “God and I know who I am and what I am worth, and that judgment is enough.”
Modesty has the power to harbor your dreams and goals until their fruition, keeping them from death through over-exposure, bad counsel, or malice. It keeps your body protected and preserved for its proper use in family life, as well as providing you with a tangible sense that you belong only to those whom you have expressly devoted yourself to.
As I developed this idea in my mind I became convicted of how sorely and extremely we are missing it. A modest culture could support few reality TV shows, for one. There could be no Jersey Shore, where people seem to exist entirely for the amount of exposure they can conger. Books would need to be about ideas and stories again, rather than whose face is on the cover and what sordid details of their life we have yet to learn. Some clothing lines would cease to exist entirely if teenagers weren’t seeking to expose themselves, whole cable networks would no longer have programming, and celebrity magazines would have little to print—in fact, our idea of celebrity would probably have to be fundamentally changed.
At the core of this change would be an elimination of a whole lot of noise. With less of the external validation that can come from over-exposure, we might just be forced to look inward, endeavoring to see ourselves as we are before God, the actual self behind what we choose to display. And many—like the housewife-cum-stripper—would find nothing there.