With All Due Modesty (NSFW)

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” — Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Modest is defined by Merriam-Webster as 1.) placing a moderate estimate on one’s abilities or worth; 2.) arising from or characteristic of a modest nature; 3.) observing the proprieties of dress and behavior; 4.) limited in size, amount, or scope.

Try telling Patricia Crowther about modesty and see what it gets you. I once had an ex-cop Alexandrian describe how quickly immodest people (people who behaved inappropriately) got snatched out of skyclad circles.

Modesty, especially when applied to dress, is a fun subject. The most modest garment in size and scope, a scanty thong for instance, may reveal an immodest nature. Yet a humble person in their birthday suit may exhibit more modesty than someone rocking a burqa. Having a modest estimate of yourself may cause you to hide your body, or to display it, in either case considering there’s nothing special to see. Many people adopt modest garments because their body is of an immodest size.

Melanie Moore is a really fabulous woman. She possesses her body with grace, confidence and style. She’s a bellydancer, a mother of a gajillion children and she even acts as her own midwife. She’s kind of like a tattooed Wonder Woman and a lady I’m proud to say I drank gin with at PSG. A few weeks ago she got a letter from one of the moms in her homeschooling group suggesting she dress more modestly. The result of which is one of my favorite blog posts of the year, which joyfully contains nudity.

You could title this sculpture "Shame." Foto Ad Meskens

I think the thing that cracks me up most is the site she was directed to for modest dress. Modesty is Pretty is the blog of a grown woman doing her best to look like Rachel Berry from Glee. Every day she takes a picture of herself in her latest get-up and posts it on the internet for everyone to see. Which is kind of the opposite of modesty: vanity. I’m fairly certain Melanie only spends a lot of time on her dress when she’s performing. Otherwise I’m fairly certain she pops into something comfortable each morning, pulls on her cowboy boots and begins the process of feeding, washing, teaching and otherwise caring for her small army of children.

She doesn't care about Kate Moss, modesty or your approval. She's comfortable. Henry Courtney Selous

See, if I were to feature women in Paganism who do embody modesty, Melanie would be one of them. She doesn’t display her body, she doesn’t hold it too precious to be seen, but treats it with respect and is not self-conscious. That’s something that people miss: being self-conscious is immodest. It’s self-absorption, self-centeredness, to think that your wrinkly pale pimpled butt is something too inflammatory or too hideous to be seen.

Norah Cedarwind Young and Selena Fox would also make my modest list. Both tend to wear long flowy dresses. If you measure modesty by how much skin is covered, these women are quite modest. Yet I view them as modest because again, they own their bodies, they use their bodies, they respect them and they carry themselves with confidence and grace.

Modesty is all fine and well, but this lady needs to be able to move her body like nature intended. Jean-Léon Gérôme

My friend Cara Schulz dresses very differently from many Pagans I know. She looks like your typical stylish modern woman. Nothing in her wardrobe remotely suggests she is a Pagan. Yet due to shower conditions at Pagan festivals, she and I have both seen more naked bodies than we would care to, including each other’s. When you can carry on a normal conversation while toweling off in a room full of naked people, that may be the epitome of modesty.

What these four women have in common is not how they dress, but how they carry themselves. These are women who are in full possession of themselves, who spend more time caring for their bodies and using them well than worrying over their appearance or how other’s view them. Anyone who suggests to them their appearance causes impure thoughts or discomfort in other’s would likely be told quickly they need to own their own issues, instead of pushing the responsibility off onto others.

Human beings are some of the homeliest creatures on the planet. We are mostly bald with a sprout of hair on our heads, wrinkly, pimpled, moley and when we do have a lot of body hair, it’s still far too scant to be pretty as fur. Our bodies are not nearly attractive as we think they are. If we are to be truly modest, we really need to get over this obsession with how our bodies look.

This is what women look like. Not exactly going to start a riot, are we? Paul Gauguin

I remember the days when I was obsessed with modesty. As a religious teenage girl trying to fit the role I felt Yahweh had given me, I wore long skirts, had long hair and even covered my head for awhile. Later after I had converted to Paganism, I fell for a Pentecostal man and tried to fit the holiness model his church prescribed for women. I was a little surprised at the amount of time these “modest” women spent on their hair, clothing and general appearance. Their striving for modesty seemed to have the opposite effect, instead producing a culture of religiously sanctioned vanity.

Modesty ain't no thing, just attitude, like this woman demonstrates. Roslan Tangah CC

One thing I have found interesting is that modest dress has a magical effect. By covering yourself in layers you create the mental impression of armor, of untouchability. Corsets and bodices, once considered modest and now associated with wenchery, provide the ultimate armor effect. While they may create pleasing, body-hugging curves and fantastic cleavage, the compression can actually be comforting. It can feel like armor, and once you consider how hard they are to get into and out of, they aren’t the sexiest garment. The romance novels have it wrong: Rambo couldn’t rip open a properly made corset or bodice to get to the body inside.

The robes my coven wears in circle are very modest. Not only do they not hug the curves of the body, or reveal a lot of skin, but in the dark of night, all black robes look alike. It’s hard to tell an expensive bought robe from a homemade one in the candlelight. Which is good. It shifts the focus to the work at hand.

Too hot to be seen. wim314 CC

There are other forms of modesty. Some Pagans cover their head in ritual, and I have seen this used by Steven Posch to great effect. When he covered his head at PSG, you knew he was engaged with sacred work. Ria Morrison recently wrote an interesting post about veiling her hair as a Pagan, and how it fits both her religious beliefs and helps her with anxiety. The ancients had myriad taboos regarding dress, the most famous being the Flamen Dialis, whose dress requirements were a pain long before stilettos were invented.

While tie-dye, sarongs, flowy garments and tattoos may seem to be standard Pagan dress, the Pagan attitude toward modesty seems to be pretty consistent: your body is human, holds no danger in it’s appearance, is to be respected, used well and not to be obsessed over. Modesty is the attitude the lies within your bones, and really has nothing to do with what covers, or doesn’t cover, your skin.

This is what a comfortable, confident woman looks like.
This is also what a comfortable, confident woman looks like. Mr. Nightshade CC

Here’s to the day when we stop obsessing about our appearance and focus on the work our hearts and hands can do!

*This topic was picked by FB poll. Falwell and Exum lost out. I focused on women in this post, but I’ve seen modest manly men in pink sarongs.

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