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From ARTFL Project:
Webster Dictionary, 1913
Mod"es*ty (?), n.
From ARTFL Project: Webster Dictionary, 1913
Mod"est (?), a.
From ARTFL Project: Webster Dictionary, 1913
In*de"cen*cy (?), n.;
mod·es·ty -noun- [Pronunciation: \ mä-də-stē \ ], Date 1531
2: propriety in dress, speech, or conduct
From ARTFL Project: Webster Dictionary (1913 + 1828)
Vanity (Page: 1594)
Van"i*ty (?), n.;
Modesty comprises a set of culturally or religiously determined values that relate to the presentation of the self to others.
It can include:
Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary states: MOD'ESTY, n. [L. modestia.] That lowly temper which accompanies a moderate estimate of one's own worth and importance. This temper when natural, springs in some measure from timidity, and in young and inexperienced persons, is allied to bashfulness and diffidence. In persons who have seen the world, and lost their natural timidity, modesty springs no less from principle than from feeling, and is manifested by retiring, unobtrusive manners, assuming less to itself than others are willing to yield, and conceding to others all due honor and respect, or even more than they expect or require.
2. Modesty, as an act or series of acts, consists in humble, unobtrusive deportment, as opposed to extreme boldness, forwardness, arrogance, presumption, audacity or impudence. Thus we say, the petitioner urged his claims with modesty; the speaker addressed the audience with modesty.
3. Moderation; decency.
4. In females, modesty has the like character as in males; but the word is used also as synonymous with chastity, or purity of manners. In this sense, modesty results from purity of mind, or from the fear of disgrace and ignominy fortified by education and principle. Unaffected modesty is the sweetest charm of female excellence, the richest gem in the diadem of their honor.
Body modesty is the wish or requirement not to expose too much of the human body; this applies to the bare skin, but also to hair and to the display of undergarments, and especially to the intimate parts. It can involve not only covering body parts, but also obscuring their shape. It is accomplished by suitable clothing, special ways of changing clothes (see beach), closing or locking the door when changing or taking a shower, etc.; it varies according to who could see it, with categories such as
Some critics refer to this type of modesty as body shame or gymnophobia. Excessive modesty is called prudishness. Excessive immodesty is called exhibitionism. Proponents of modesty often see it as respect for their bodies and the feelings of themselves and others, and some people believe it may reduce sexual crimes. The specific practices of modesty vary widely across religions, cultures, occasions, and persons who are present.
Cultural traditions of modesty
Customs regarding body modesty vary greatly from culture to culture. Some such specific standards are examined below.
Generally accepted western norms
Western culture in general requires the intimate parts of the body to be covered in public places at all times. Exceptions are made for situations such as public changing rooms, which tend to be single-sex venues, and saunas, which tend to be mixed-sex venues.
Traditionally, there is an expectation that shirt and trousers or dress etc. be worn in public places. In particular, it is generally unacceptable to be shirtless in most public spaces, except places designated for bathing or in the vicinity of these places (such as beaches, and on deck near a pool). However, it is common for formal spaces like restaurants, etc., to overlook a beach or pool, in which case the boundary of modesty is spatial, but not visually segregated. For example, at a poolside or beachside outdoor patio restaurant, there is usually a railing. On one side of the railing, barefoot and shirtless people can converse with those dining on the other side, and may even be part of the same group. More recently, multi-use spaces such as urban beaches are beginning to emerge, washing away even the above mentioned boundaries between more and less modest space. Thus it is now, in many places, acceptable to sunbathe in beachwear next to waterplay fountains located in the heart of a city or business district.
In private homes, the rules may be more relaxed. For instance, nudity among immediate family members who are cohabitants of the home is sometimes permitted, especially in the bedroom and bathroom; or wearing undergarments casually, which would not be done outdoors. Elsewhere in the home, particularly when visitors are present, some simple casual clothing is expected like a bathrobe which can be quickly donned when full clothing is not required, or if it's unavailable nearby depending on convenience.
Nudists feel comfortable seeing other nude people, and being seen nude by other nudists. They may or may not also feel comfortable being seen nude by the general public.
The Finnish have the custom of the Finnish sauna, in which nudity is routinely tolerated. Sometimes, indeed, nudity is required in these circumstances. This is true even though some sort of swimsuit is generally required in pool areas. These saunas are quite common in modern Finland, where there is one sauna for every three people. It should be noted that men and women generally do not bathe together in the sauna unless they are related. Children normally stop going to the sauna with their parents by age six or seven though this age has sometimes been higher in the past and has varied regionally.
Indigenous African and Australian modesty
Other cultures, such as some African cultures and traditional Australian aboriginal culture have far less requirement for modesty, though how much exposure is acceptable varies greatly, from nothing for some women, to everything except the glans penis for men of some tribes (see foreskin). In other African cultures, body painting is used for body "coverage" as well and is considered by many an "attire."
Religious traditions of modesty
Religion also often has a very strong impact on practices concerning modesty. Some such religious traditions are examined below.
Some Islamic interpretations of the Hadeeth -a collection of quotations and testimony taken from first and second hand accounts observers made on the life of the prophet Muhammad , which describes his interpretations of the Qur'an and expounds on its teachings-, require a woman to cover everything with the exception of hands and face; the choice to extend this to the face and hands is voluntary and is an expression of greater "modesty and holiness" for many wearers. Many Muslim women wear the Islamic headscarf, or hijab, as a way of expressing modesty. Likewise, according to some Islamic interpretations of Hadith, men are required to cover everything from 'navel to knee'; with some men choosing to extend this to the traditional Islamic headcovering kufi, the male counterpart to hijab and closely resembles the Jewish yarmulke but is slightly larger in size. The kufi may vary in shape, size or color just as the hijab does, with many regional differences according to tradition and personal taste.
In some Islamic sub-cultures, women choose to wear the niqab, an all-encompassing garment intended to conceal every part of the body, sometimes including the eyes. Wearing a niqab (sometimes referred to as a burqa, although this term only technically applies to an Afghan all-in-one garment) is quite common in many countries in which Muslims make up the majority of the population. In most Muslim countries, such expressions of modesty are voluntary. In others, such as Afghanistan under the Taliban, they were enforced under the threat of severe physical punishment.
Orthodox Judaism requires men to wear a head covering, in the form of a yarmulke. However, a yarmulke (also called kipa) is not related to modesty in the fourth sense listed above; its function is as a religious physical reminder of God, to instill humility. Orthodox Judaism expects married women to cover their hair; this is achieved by scarves, hats, snoods, or — in many communities — wigs ("sheitel"). The Jewish "dress code" is referred to as Tzniut; this applies (with different rules) to both men and women, and is also seen as a way of drawing one's attention to the internal awareness of the Almighty while deemphasizing the physical.
In many countries, mainly although not exclusively outside of Europe, Jewish women traditionally covered their hair while at home, but when going out into public places they would place on top of the hair covering a much larger garment called a redheedh in Mishnaic Hebrew. This redheedh would cover the back and the sides of the woman's neck as well as the sides of her face. In some places the women would hold the sides of the redheedh together with their hands but leave their eyes, nose, and mouth exposed. However, in many places, until this past century, the women would wrap one side of the redheedh over one of the shoulders in a manner that covered up to their chin, mouth, or even their noses - much the way many Muslim women are still known to do in modern times. This practice among Jewish women no doubt predates Islam, being that the Mishna and other Talmudic literature make reference to the practice. In Hilkhoth Ishuth chapter 24, of the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides quotes the Talmudic literature as teaching that the covering of a woman's hair is Dat Moshe (originates from Moses' teaching), whereas use of the redheedh as a head-covering, covering more than just the hair, is Dat Yahudith (originates from the established practice of Jewish women). Even though it is no longer common to see a Jewish woman wearing a redheedh in modern Israel, excepting maybe the occasional sight of a very traditional Ethiopian Jew or Yemenite Jewish woman in a limited number of locations, nonetheless this practice is thoroughly documented as having been observed even up unto very recent times by large portions of the world-wide Jewish community in such books as Olamot shel Tohar (Worlds of Purity) and Israel and Ishmael.
Other aspects of Jewish modesty
In regard to a Jewish female, starting from the age of three, elbows and legs should be covered. Blouses must cover the collarbone. Sleeves must cover the elbows at all times, even when the hand is raised. Skirts must cover knees completely, even while sitting. Materials may not be see-through (caution must be taken with light summer shirts). Clothes may not be tight-fitting, provocative, loud in color, or display texts. All slits in skirts must be closed.
In regard to the Jewish male, it is taught in chapter 6 of Hilkhoth Deoth in the Mishneh Torah that a Hhakham, a 'man of wisdom,' is not supposed to reveal his head, and his garment should reach to his ankles, but not lower so as to drag on the ground like the arrogant. Additionally, it is written that the sleeves of his arms should come to the 'heads' of his fingers. His clothing should not be transparent, not rags like a man in destitute, and not overly elaborate like one full of pride. His clothing should be reflective of his way with others - modest and meek. Historically, the Jewish people have not limited the length of the garment or the use of some type of head covering to the 'man of wisdom' alone. Rather, Jews in all places, until fairly recent times, have traditionally worn a robe type garment with long sleeves - though the sleeves did not necessarily reach to the 'heads' of their fingers.
Trinitarian Christian modesty
The Catholic Church has stated that they expect Catholics to dress modestly, in accordance with their guidelines. There are no specific guidelines for modesty, nor have there ever been; however, some of the hierarchy, and even some popes, have given opinions on various matters. Pope Pius XII stated that women should cover their upper arms and shoulders, that their skirts should cover at least as far as the knee, and the neckline should not reveal anything. Giuseppe Cardinal Siri of Genoa stated that trousers were unacceptable dress for women; many traditional Catholic women have followed this advice, and some Catholics have attempted further philosophical justification of it. In all cases, clothing should not be overly tight because the Church condemns the wearing of clothes that flaunt one's body and make one into a sexual object.
The Church expects men to dress modestly as well, but the demands are not as strict for them as for women; this is largely because men are often thought to be more susceptible to sexual thoughts due to the function of their sexuality. None of these "guidelines" are binding on Catholics; however, many traditional-minded Catholics find them quite persuasive.
Despite this lack of official guidelines, tradition-minded Catholics often find modesty extremely important. Our Lady of Fatima said in 1917 that "Certain fashions will be introduced which will offend my Son (Jesus) very much." Some have even attempted to form cohesive theories of modesty; sometimes this is from a sociological perspective, while at other times it takes a more systematic, Thomistic approach, combined with the writings of the Church Fathers. Approaches arguing primarily from traditional practices and traditional authorities, such as the saints, can also be found.
Other Christian modesty
Latter-day Saint (Mormon) modesty
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued official statements on modest dress for its members. Clothing which can stimulate sexual desires, such as "short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, and shirts that do not cover the stomach" are suggested against, as well as extremes in clothing or hairstyles. Rules on modesty also include women being asked to wear no more than one pair of earrings.
In art, ways of reducing the depiction of nudity include:
In cartoons, even in cases where the genital area is not covered with clothing, genitals are often simply not drawn. In the film Barnyard, showing antropomorphized cattle of both sexes walking on two legs, instead of either showing genitals of male cattle or not showing them, the concept of a "male cow" was used, with an udder. In Underdog a partly animated anthropomorphized dog is shown with penis when a real dog is filmed, and without penis in the animated parts.
The two genders may face different expectations as to modesty. While both genders, in Western culture, are expected to keep their genitals covered at all times, the female is additionally expected to keep her breasts covered. On the other hand, by the dictates of fashion and societal norms, some body parts tend to be more covered in males than in females, e.g. the midriff and the upper part of the back. Also swimming pants are often larger for men than for women.
Compiled from many sources, some noted on Links page or
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Last Updated: 06/12/2012