Is this modest(y)?

Browsing around on the web, I came across this article, which is offering a critique of this website.  As of my writing, the website isthismodest.com is down, so for its contents I’m relying on what has been said elsewhere.

Apparently, on the website, women are able to post photographs of themselves, and have feedback from others about their level of modesty.  Also, photographs of women from elsewhere on the web can be posted and commented on.  In and of itself, that doesn’t sound too appalling (although I doubt I’d be interested to visit).  But apparently, the comments end up obsessing over things such as whether a girl should wear a top in a size bigger to disguise her curves, or whether or not her heels are too high.  It’s all a bit odd.  And I have to ask myself, is this really what modesty’s about?

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that sexuality is a vexed question for many, and that some of us take time and experience to find our own balance between wanting to look attractive and not wanting to look sexually available.  The feedback of trusted friends and family can be helpful in that process.  But is the barometer of a healthy modesty really whether or not a man looking at your photo on the Internet finds anything sexually appealing about what he sees?  I mean, you could wear burka but have bare feet, and a foot fetishist could be enraptured.

So I asked myself, what does the Bible say about modesty?  And the answer, perhaps surprisingly, is “not very much.”  Modesty is praised here and there, without it being spelled out what precisely makes one modest.  The only detailed comment I could find was in 1 Timothy 2:8-10: “Women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.”

Oh.  No guidance as to neckline or hemline there (or indeed the height of one’s heels).  What does seem to be in focus is the cost of clothing, and the place of a woman’s appearance in her priorities.  (Braided hair would be the work of a servant or slave, a mark of a life of prosperity and indolence).  So modesty might be more about what I pay for my jeans, and less about what cut they are?  Perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to think that the ethical production of clothes might be worth considering, too?

A modest woman, according to the author of that letter, is one who concerns herself more with doing good, than looking good.  One who chooses to invest her time and money in the kingdom of God, rather than in her wardrobe.  There’s a challenge in that for me; I love to shop as much as the next woman.  (And, as an aside, there’s a challenge for the church too.  I’m not sure there’s much modesty in a cassock which costs over a thousand dollars, no matter how devout its wearer!)

But I’m much more comfortable with that challenge, with its call to be fully engaged in life and in the mission of God for the world, than I am with the challenge of a website which seems to be something of a vicarious outlet for lust and misogyny, posing as concern for purity.

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