Monday, May 1, 2006

Modesty: An Overlooked Definition

There's a topic I feel strongly about and am frequently reminded of, for one reason or another. The latest reason was attending an annual homeschool convention. The topic is modesty.

In my opinion, the homeschool community has been improving in that area. However, many people would disagree with me. Why? We have different definitions of the concept of modesty.

In the past, homeschool conventions and other events were dominated by a certain "look" - something along the lines of denim or homemade calico jumpers, dresses, and skirts. For women and girls, that is. Men and boys oddly enough always looked a lot more mainstream, but that's a side issue. In recent years though, there has been a gradual shift in female clothing styles toward trendier skirts, tops and even, Heaven forbid, pants and jeans. I have heard this change criticized as being "wordly" and "immodest." My view is that we're finally starting to dress modestly.

Modesty is a big issue -- and rightly so -- in homeschooling circles. It is the topic of many books and convention workshop speakers. I am not suggesting that it is not important and should not be emphasized. My point is that it's been incompletely taught and as a result, incorrectly embodied.

Modesty is primarily taught as a lust issue: women should dress "modestly," ie, not inviting lust from men, not causing a brother to stumble, etc. That is absolutely correct, but not the full definition of the word. A seldom-mentioned aspect of modesty and the truest definition of the word is not attracting attention to yourself. Yes, that includes not causing lust, but also means not attracting attention, period. As in, causing yourself to stand out. Which even goes beyond clothing itself, it emcompasses attitude, body languge, one's inner spirit. But my original topic pertains to clothing.

That's why I think the homeschool "look" misses the point of modesty. If you're walking through a store and repeatedly turning heads because of the outfits (often matching) that you are wearing, that is not by definition modest. It no doubt is successful at discouraging lust, but still makes one the target of prolonged and often negative attention. That's why I referred to homeschoolers' clothing style shifts as an improvement in modesty. While still maintaining appropriate coverage/concealment, more and more are turning to styles that are actually currently in style. And by style I'm not talking about the very latest fashions or anything copied from popular actresses and trendsetters. Just the basics of inobtrusive modern style, yet modest. Style and modesty: they don't have to be contradictory terms.

P.S. I still enjoy the occasional denim skirt. In fact, I wore one to the convention.