Tag Archives: modesty

What is so attractive about the opposite of modesty?

9 Dec

Modesty miniskirt high school


I’d like to share some thoughts on a topic often considered inappropriate, even offensive. That topic is modesty.


Decades ago, modesty was a common word and part of a common discussion. It was considered a good quality, something advocated by parents, teachers and others who sought to guide and instruct.


Today, it has become a pejorative. The reasons for this include:


  • Our present adversarial relations with Muslims, whose women often wear headscarves and sometimes cover up completely.


  • The belief that to advocate for modesty is to imply that a female’s manner of dress is at fault for a man’s assault or victimization of her.


  • The fact that current styles make it almost impossible for women to dress modestly and be fashionable at the same time.



The modesty issue first confronted me in high school, in the 60s, when the miniskirt was popular. That tiny article of clothing made it difficult for a young woman to sit down without revealing much of herself. There was a lot of pulling at the skirt in an attempt to cover up, but this was mostly ineffective. I recall wondering if my female classmates knew what was in clear view. They must have. They must have seen each other. The exposure was so common that a male friend had a name for it. He called it “having your picture taken.”


I felt sorry and embarrassed for the women wearing these skirts, thinking how totally ashamed I would be if, for example, I were caught walking the halls with my zipper down. I wanted to say something but lacked the nerve.


Men in high school, frankly, seemed more modest than females. But to this day I don’t know why. The swimming coach at school once told me it was difficult to get men on the team because they had to wear those tiny Speedos, which showed masculine protrusions. This I understood. So why didn’t women have a similar concern with the miniskirt?


Out of high school and college and into an office environment, I had an unexpected and really surprised warning from an older male colleague about my own modesty. It was a hot summer day and I wore a short-sleeve shirt.


“That’s not professional,” he said. “You’re supposed to wear long sleeves. Always long sleeves. You don’t show your arms at work.”

Modesty minnie-driver

I had never heard this rule and took heed of his counsel. The next day also was hot, but I wore a long-sleeve shirt. In a meeting that day, I noticed the women were showing an assortment of arms, legs, shoulders, cleavage, even toes. Not fair, I thought, and questioned how this double standard came to be. Would the women in the office accept me if I were showing my chest or toes? I was certain they would not, and that everyone would believe I had lost my mind.


These little stories are not to suggest that modesty is alien to all women. I dated a woman once who, while not overtly modest, had a disdain for showy fashion and sexy clothes. Her common attire was jeans and a shirt. She wore a dress only when it was called for, and never used make up or styled her hair.


She made an exception at a Halloween party. As a costume, she put on heavy makeup, fixed her hair and wore a provocative dress. She looked totally different, very enticing. I raved about her appearance and told her to do it again sometime. As long as I knew her, she never did.


I respected and admired that.


Earlier I mentioned Muslim women. Years ago, I had one as a friend. She was Indonesian. Pretty hip, fashionable and not at all religious. We were both living abroad in an international community. After a harsh winter, spring broke out to our great relief. On a warm bright day, I told my friend, “You know what I want to do? I want to make a picnic lunch, take a blanket outside and lay in the sun. Would you do that with me?”


She said she would, but after a minute on the blanket she got up and said, “I’m sorry. I can’t do this. I know you just want to enjoy the day and don’t mean anything by it. But I’m a Muslim woman and I can’t lay out on a blanket in public with a man. I just can’t.”


I assured her I understood. We packed up and went to a restaurant. I felt horrible for not realizing what I had asked her to do. I had been totally blind to it.


This might have been more about dignity than modesty, but the two actually meld.


Clearly, there is some trace of a belief that says modesty has its place and that it can be adopted by choice and without compromise or surrender of rights. With fashion the way it is today, with so many women going out confidently in pants that are nothing more than a second layer of skin, and at a time when so many men are being exposed as sexual predators and uninvited Lotharios, why doesn’t a modesty movement – a small one – take hold?


To help me better understand this, I need women to explain the issue to me, mainly why even a modest amount of modesty is moderately objectionable. So please comment here. More important, what is the strong attraction to modesty’s inverse?  Why the other extreme? That’s the even bigger question.


This is what has truly confounded me, ever since those high school days when young boys, uncaring about the dignity of their female friends, regularly got their pictures taken.


One final note. I know a man who became a woman. After the change, she seemed obsessed not by womanhood and all that it can and should be, but rather by the superficial — jewelry, clothing and appearance. Something there seemed missing or wrong.


Can it be the same with the modesty issue?


Lanny Morgnanesi


Shakespeare’s time – when the great were modest and didn’t “high five.”

29 Jun

Humility is a lost art.

Polite modesty about one’s self has been replaced by end zone dances and their equivalent.

But once upon a time, humility was deriguer.

Here is an incredible passage to prove it. Below we have the greatest writer in the history of the English language artfully apologizing to the nobleman to whom he has dedicated the poem Venus and Adonis.

Exercising my own modesty, I will reveal that while I read this passage I did not read the poem. My loss.

Written to the Right Honourable Henry Wriothesly

Earl of Southampton and Baron of Tichefield.

Right Honourable,

            I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden: only if your honour seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour ….

Your honour’s in all duty,

William Shakespeare  

To show or not to show … that should be a choice

15 Jun


Also comfortable

By Lanny Morgnanesi.

In high school I had a recurring nightmare that I’d be in class with my pajamas on. It was a horrifying thought.

Today, students wear pajamas to class by choice.

In the office, a man, unlike some woman, would feel awkward in a sleeveless shirt with a low neckline.

I’m not sure about necklines, but an old girlfriend, quite progressive, refused to wear short dresses at the height of their popularity. She preferred to hide what others preferred to show.

Modesty clearly is a relative thing.  It’s about individual comfort and peace of mind.

Knowing this, I’m willing to accept that many (not all) Muslim women choose and are not forced to wear head scarves and even burkas. I believe they feel comfortable in their modesty.

Yet today, those in the west often see the scarves and burkas as repressive, and the women as victims. I think the women would have been victims if they had been force to wear pajamas to school.

This stuff shouldn’t be so foreign to us because the modesty and decorum exhibited in the Muslim world has great parallels in the world of conservative Christians. Both show reserve and good judgment and a concern about how things might appear, avoiding even the appearance of questionable conduct. Similarly, I believe a single Hasidic Jewish woman cannot be alone with a man after dark. Or should I say “doesn’t want to be”?

Some things just don’t seem right to some people, so they don’t do them — Muslims, Christians, Jews and my atheist girlfriend.

Why is it that people who are strong advocates of freedom often want to cheat those who choose restraint? Is that fair? Is that even logical?

I would love to hear your comments.

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