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June 17, 2010


Ann Washburn

the fact that you are wondering on this issue makes me think that perhaps you need to rename your blog. women posing naked is not modest, and if you are a true modest woman, there is no need to wonder whether these women are being duped or being empowered or admiring the human form.

Melissa May


I appreciate your feedback.

While I do consider myself to be a modest woman, I don't consider myself to have all the answers or to be the final word on what is or isn't modest.

This question of art and nudity is one that has popped up here at Modestly Yours before, with the question provoking a number of interesting and challenging responses from various perspectives.

I am married to the son of a professional artist. I myself considered attending art school. I like art! And while I'm often not impressed (disgusted is more accurate) with what passes as art these days, I am not arrogant enough to believe that the age of great art is over and gone.

Michaelangelo's David, The Birth of Venus, The Greek Slave....these all use nudity as part of the story-telling. Are they immodest? Or is there ever a circumstance in which nudity is acceptable as part of the expression of ideas? And if so, how do you tell the difference?

I shared this post because I was curious what others have to say.

I thank you for your participation and hope that you'll continue to join in the discussions here at Modestly Yours.



I think this was a very interesting post. This reminds me of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, which is such a rich body of work. He talked a lot about the human body and its beauty and is actually credited with saying "the problem with pornography is not that is shows too much, but that it shows too little." Now, he was definitely not advocating for nude photos all over. He was referring to the way in which things like pornography objectify humans, reducing them to objects for our pleasure. I had the chance a few years ago to hear Fr. Thomas Loya, a Byzantine Catholic priest, expert on Theology of the Body, and trained artist, speak. He showed pictures of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and demonstrated how Michaelangelo keeps your eyes moving throughout that work of art. Then he showed a picture of a woman from a shoe ad, fully clothed, sitting in such a way that your attention was only directed to (ahem) a few select areas. Not having seen this magazine feature, I can't make a judgement one way or the other. I think you have brought up a wonderful point that the purpose of modesty is not just to cover everything up or make us not look like women, but takes into account our dignity and our femininity.


I love your honesty and the respectful manner in which you express yourself!
I believe that there is obviously inherent beauty in the human form at all ages and stages of life.
However in accordance with my views on modesty I believe that appreciation for it should be in a private because as Katie so eloquently quoted it then "shows too little".
Nudity seen out of the context of the whole human being inherently runs the risk of objectifying that human being.
I don't know of a venue that would be an exception to this rule.

Melissa May


That is a very good way of putting it. This question has always posed a dilemma for me and I know I am not alone in that. I've always been able to see both sides of the argument, but not clearly enough to know which side was in the right and to which side I leaned.

You've put it quite concisely and it is helpful to see how your understanding of modesty gives you a clear boundary, even when it comes to something that can be problematic for many modest-minded folks like myself, like nudity in the arts.


I've heard of the book you mentioned but have never read it. It's going on my (ever-growing) list of need-to-read books.

I greatly appreciate everyone's feedback, not only for my own benefit but the benefit of our readers.

Thanks so much for your responses!

-Melissa May


I understand where Ann is coming from but I respectfully disagree. I think the open, conversational way in which Melissa approaches these questions is much more likely to help people come to appreciate modesty than a heavy-handed, judgmental approach. I think most people prefer honesty over ideology.


Yes this is why I am interested in this blog, because it's about the 'why' of modesty and not just telling people what to do.


I was thinking more about this subject and pondering how nudity in animals and even in our own infants is not something that tends to bother our sense of modesty.
Based on Torah teachings the need for clothing arose from choosing to make the world a more complicated moral battleground. Hence when we look at a human body, we cannot simple see the person's soul expressed through their physical attributes.

This complication does not arise with animals and infants who are primarily if not completely physical beings. Animals obviously operate based on reflexes and primitive instincts, whilst human infants are just a (very cute and lovable) bundle of physical needs that they want met immediately if not sooner.
They typify that which is not complicated and thus we see what we are getting. The body is what they are right now.

However, infants unlike animals, have the innate potential to grow up to be rational and moral beings. Hence even with infants I would also believe that one should not expose their fully unclad bodies unnecessarily to any non-familial eyes.

Thank you for stimulating such an interesting discussion!


Ann said: "women posing naked is not modest"

And Tirtsa Said: "Nudity seen out of the context of the whole human being inherently runs the risk of objectifying that human being."

I believe that modesty depends on the context.Posing nude in public where people may be offended is certainly immodest behaviour. However posing as these women did in a magazine is not immodest. No one need be offended by their posing, and by being asked to describe their motivations and feelings they are certainly being humanized and not at all objectified.

There is nothing about nudity per se that objectifies or runs the risk of objectifying a human being any more than any depiction, clothed or not, does.


Melissa said: "...the myth (the one they are presumably trying to dispel) that says, "If you're naked, you're beautiful..."


If we believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then how can you call the above statement a "myth"?

Your statement may be true a priori, but certainly there are many people who could relate that empirically they see beauty in the naked human form.

Melissa May


You make a good point.

In hindsight, I'm not sure if my statement (that you mentioned) conveyed exactly what I was intending.

What I mean by "the myth that if you're naked you're beautiful" is that it seems as though women are constantly being assaulted with the idea that if they are comfortable with their bodies, they'll be willing to reveal their bodies to anyone who might want a glimpse. It happens on t.v. (How to Look Good Naked is a prime example, in my opinion), in advertising, in clothing shops and in print media.

The idea that women must be willing to show off everything, both physically and emotionally (as in celebrities constantly revealing every thought, opinion, emotion, etc. for public consumption) to prove that they are in control is a myth, in my opinion.

Women who are truly comfortable with their bodies don't have to prove anything to anyone, and they know it. They understand that their value doesn't come from other people's acceptance, but from their own. The women who are most in control of their bodies, I believe, are the ones who don't have to make any apologies for withholding something from others.

Of course, when it comes to a willingness to participate in the arts, when nudity is involved, then there arises a question of whether or not these women are being manipulated or not. That is what I wanted to understand. If there is artistic value in nudity, then when you see a picture showcasing nudity, how do you know when you're seeing the real thing (someone who has made a conscious choice to reveal something intimate for the sake of an idea and understands the possible consequences and implications of that choice) and not some cheap imitation designed to be provocative (for the sake of being provocative and nothing more) and sell magazines? Is it possible to know whether or not the subject is in charge of the revelation or not? There are so many examples of women being used and manipulated into taking off their clothes for public entertainment, it's very confusing (at least to me) to know if every time a body is unclothed, as in an artistic piece, whether or not the art is pure or not.



I think it is ludicrous to think that an intelligent, mature, "in control" woman would believe that if she is comfortable with her body she should be willing to reveal it to anyone, no matter how much she is assaulted by the "media" to do so. Being comfortable with one's body has nothing to do with desire to reveal it. You are correct when you say that women who are truly comfortable with their bodies don't have to prove anything to anyone. However, the inverse is also true: women who are comfortable with their bodies can also choose to reveal their bodies. While "comfort" does not demand "revealing", "revealing" does not connote "discomfort".

I'm sure that we all find it very reprehensible that anyone would manipulate a woman to take off her clothes. I must assume that when we see nudity in the arts, we are seeing an intelligent, mature, "in control" person who has made a conscious decision to reveal his/her body for either the sake of art, or for the sake of compensation or for other personal reasons (such as feeling liberated). A woman may even choose to reveal herself to manipulate a man's desire. I assume in the magazine article referenced, they were not manipulated into doing so. Surely, it would be highly immoral for anyone to participate in manipulative behaviour and that includes those doing the viewing.

Melissa May


I agree with your first paragraph. I think I expressed that in my last comment.

I have to disagree with the idea that it's safe to assume that nudity in the arts always implies that we are seeing someone who is intelligent and in-control revealing themselves by their own choice. Perhaps it depends on what your definition of "the arts" is, though.

I regularly see television shows, magazine spreads, internet articles, etc... in which women have quite obviously bought into the idea that by taking it off and baring their bodies and souls, they are proving themselves to be in control, and in charge. And I'm sure the producers of such pieces believe that they are creating art, though usually the term "art" just seems like a flimsy excuse for producing something provocative to gain attention or money. I mean, trashy music videos are "art". Girly mags are creative expression, and therefor "art". When anything provocative counts as "art", we lose perspective of what art truly is and is not. And what I mean by manipulation, is that the young women who participate in these sort of endeavors don't really understand the consequences of their participation and are simply being sold as a commodity for public consumption, at a very high cost...their own privacy and self respect.

That's not art.

So how do we define true art that may include nudity from nudity that is trying to be passed off as art? If these two are not one in the same, then what yard stick do we use to measure them by? How do we determine the difference?


I am not a particularly modest woman, I dress fairly average, I show the occasional cleavage, my skirts hit an inch above the knee at most in public, my shoulders are covered for work but I have no qualms about wearing tank tops at other times. And I have posed for an artistic nude. It was one of the best decisions of my life. It reaffirmed that my body is my own, how it is presented, how much is revealed, is my choosing. It reaffirmed how beautiful it is, and that its beauty is not just a sexual kind. I don't think posing is for everyone, and I fully respect those who feel their nudity is something to be shared only with their intimate partner. But for me, it was very liberating to pose nude, and I'd do it again.

As far as the naked vs nude and how that fits into art, well, there really is no yardstick. It comes down to the individual piece, and message of that piece. To further complicate it, like all art, some will see trash where others see art.

Sadly some people are manipulated into nudity and more (Terry Richardson may you get sued and die penniless, Roman Polanski, please just go to jail already) As a society we need to do more to educate and prevent people from profiting from the manipulation of others.

Peter Walden

First of all modern art is looked at as merely subjective, according to Thomas Aquanis its objective and subjective, it real resides in objectivity. All art today looks at everything at sensual.


What is interesting Robert, is that what it reveals is not that they are in "control" but they insecure.

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