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December 15, 2010


Ben Woolridge

Indeed, I believe modesty should be presented as a better choice without aggressive enforcement.


i think in many muslim countries modesty is just an excuse for the oppression of women. It's totally different than the kind of voluntary boundary-setting we are referring to in North America.

Lisa Nash

Emily, I definitely agree. I think that forced modesty is an insult to the real spirit of modesty, which is a voluntary choice.

To me, part of the reason why this distinction is important is that there are different definitions of modesty, and we won't all agree. For example, a long sleeved high-neckline shirt and a skirt that hits mid-calf might seem modest in generic US society right now, but a hundred years ago it might have been scandalous. Likewise two well-intentioned people within the same time and place might view modesty as two very different things. Another example I can think of it relevant in my home state of Florida, because so often it is extremely hot, and if you spend the day at the beach, there are different definitions of modesty for when you are outdoors swimming and when you are, say, in the convenience store grabbing a soda. Propriety dictates that you throw on a shirt and pants, regardless of how modest or immodest your swimsuit might be. I think if we got in arguments about some objective definition of modesty, it would undermine the real message of the pro-modesty ideal, which is to choose to keep private that which is meant to be private, whatever that might mean. Thoughts?


Without the free exercise of agency, there is no righteousness or virtue.

Tirtsa Quinn

I believe modesty is beyond the mere definition of keeping private that which is private. I think it also means choosing to reveal only that which allows others to still view us in the context of a being with a soul.
And obviously behaving and dressing in a manner which reminds ourselves of that fact!
This does not necessarily effect the practical implementation of it, but it might.
For example we might even be able to be modest when alone, with no "observers".

Lisa Nash

Hmm... Tirtsa, I think I know what you mean, but I don't agree -- modesty seems to have everything to do with who is watching -- for example, I dress and behave in a very different way when I am alone with my husband than I ever would in public, and my private at-home behavior, in my view, is certainly not "immodest."

Although, of course, I would not argue with your right to interpret modesty in a more all-encompassing way than I would. Certainly the world could use more attention to modesty, in whatever way that might come about. Thanks for your comment! :)


Lisa,Thank you for your response. I think I need to clarify my position as your secenario clearly explains that there are different standards of modesty for different contexts, which I think is undeniable.
What I am positing is not that modesty is one-size-fits-all, for all people or all situations. Obviously there will be different behaviors and dress standards in different contexts, however, in all situations one can still be informed by the principle that "I am soul-body."
The external behavior may look the same but my thought processes/intentions will be different.
I think this is very significant for intimacy, for example, where my thoughts are a very important aspect of the relationship.
The external behavior my look different in the context of going to the beach. If I am informed by the "soul-body" principle I may choose to cover up a little more than what is typically done by the vast majority of beach-goers.


I think there can actually some value to enforced modesty, particularly when the cultural norm runs contrary. To use behavior standards, rather than modestly alone as an example, I went to a religious college where students were expected to maintain certain standards of personal conduct, which no ordinary college student would ever self-enforce. Many students did feel that those rules were an unnecessary burden and found them invasive. However, I think an equal or greater number would say that throughout their time at this college they grew to understand why those standards were in place and what benefit could be derived from them. That was my experience, and I think I am a more mature, self-assured and self-knowing person because of it, and I believe that enforced modesty works the same way.

I would also argue that social norms enforce modesty ever if there is no coercive authority involved. Sure anyone could choose to show up at work in a bikini (some work place besides Sports Illustrated, VS or playboy), but even if there was no official work dress code, the pressure of the community would make the person dressing that way feel uncomfortable, and that would likely be enough to make them change their habits if they desired to remain there.

Lisa Nash

Rocky, I hear what you are saying, but when I say "enforced" I am talking about modesty that is enforced on a governmental level, rules that must be followed just because someone is born into a particular political state. The enforcement of modesty standards within a college still involves an element of choice, because one can assume that students decide, on some level, whether or not to attend college and then whether or not to attend a college which requires such standards. We can assume that if a person has a big problem with the modesty standards, that s/he could attend a different institution. And of course I have different standards when someone is a child -- I can and will enforce/impose standards of modesty on my children while they are still children. I think my main point is that modesty as an adult means more if it is something chosen by the individual. I am curious to see if anyone disagrees.


To answer the question, yes, I believe that the CHOICE to be modest, a sincere choice, does mean more, than forced. Why? Because it is a heart issue. This is a loaded question though and has far reaching issues, very deep when you begin to think on it. It is one of beliefs, and IMHO it is one of beliefs in God.

For those who do not believe there is no real "choice" for modesty because the "standard" for modesty will always be what the world says is acceptable. It is an ever changing "standard" and those who believe that the world is the standard decider will go with it.

But for the Believer, there is a non-chaning standard, The Word of God. It does not change with times, mood, fashion, peoples ideas on what is or is not "modest", is acceptable or isn't, etc. The choice to be modest is an issue of being conformed to the likeness of Yeshua.

He says "Be holy because I am Holy". The issue of what is modest and what isn't becomes crystal clear. It isn't left up to man to decide, whose standard is always changing with his desires. Are we choosing to please God in everything we do, including our dress? Or, are we trying to please man, literally.

Growing up in this world I always though the bathing suit was ok in the beach setting, but like another poster, not in a restaurant etc. But when you look at it from the "Be Holy for I am Holy" perspective and committment to God the whole bathing suit issue starts looking less ok. Why? Example, ok on the beach, not ok to wear shopping, eating out, worship etc. Not ok to wear ones plunge bra and bikini panties out in public but ok to wear the same abount of fabric in a bathing suit?

How can it be ok to wear a certain item of clothing in one public situation and not in another? Is it acceptable in one situation and not another because man has decided it and not God? I have been pondering this question with prayer and study of His Word for some time now and for me it is a matter of compromise with the world to do so.

It is the same with going to worship in "less than your best", wearing what is comfortable which may not be our best, but the easiest, takes less time and effort, but not our "best". Some will say "God doesn't care what I wear, just as long as I show up". Does He care? What does He say in His Word about the subject? I have studied this question out and have been convicted of my own compromises with the world every time.

What does He say about bringing our "best" or does He accept a "lame" or "blemished" sacrifice? Who is the object of our worship, Him or our comfort. I am not taking the "suffer" to prove your love for God stance either. It is just that we as Believers can slip over to lukewarmness in our lives so easily by compromise. The world makes it so easy when we choose "what we think" over "what He says". Is it "what I think" or "what He Says". It is uncomforable to have to go against what society says is acceptable and ok to take a stance for what God's unchanging Ways are. He doesn't compromise, He doesn't change His Mind (if He did/does then what about that Promise of salvation that He gives in His Word? It wouldn't mean much would it)

And this is the basis for my long answer, an uncompromising choice to be committed to God's Ways whether it is pleasant for us or not. The unbeliever will not have an unpleasant choice to make for they will not choose to even look to see what God says about it or will justify it away. It says everything about our desire to please God first and only. We have to conform ourselves to God, not conform God to us or the world. That is the question behind the question.


You have reduced the issue to state imposed modesty or the free choice of the woman, without taking account of the society in which she lives. Many women in the west live in sub-cultures in which they would not have the free choice NOT to cover their faces were it not prohibited by the state.

An example of this is the "smiley": in Europe, Muslim men slash one side of the face of Muslim girls from ear to mouth who are not veiled. (They offer them the choice of that or being raped.

Their version of freedom of choice.

Kelly Izdihar

Uh, I'm sorry, but that story about Muslim girls getting slashed in the face for not wearing niqab (the face veil) is an urban legend. http://msgboard.snopes.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=92;t=001730;p=1

While there are some Muslim women who are pressured into wearing the hijab, many Muslim women (like myself) embraced it willing. Just look at what's taking place in Saudi Arabia, Iran, France and Turkey. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, many women want to get rid of the veil. While in countries like France and Turkey, Muslim women are fighting for their right to wear it.

So obviously, no woman wants to be forced to do anything against her will. Every woman should have the right to define her own standard of modesty. And out of the 52 majority Muslim countries in the world, only a handful impose mandatory veiling (Iran and Saudi Arabia come to mind) and most Muslim disagree with this position, prefering to let women make up their own minds about their manner of dress.

Many places like Morocco, Egypt, the UAE (where I live), Jordan, and Malaysia allow Muslim women to dress how they want without interference from the government. I see that this is a blog about modesty but unfortunately, when the subject of Muslim women comes up, the old chiches and stereotypes of oppressed, silent, covered woman rises to the surface. I see that you also do some entries on modest fashion, something Muslim women have been creating and designing for years. There are so many Muslim designers who are creating stylish modest clothing for Muslim men and women--clothing that is enjoyed by non-Muslims as well.

Check out Azizah Magazine and you'll see Muslim women who are modest in many ways but who are also devout, intelligent, ambitious women--a far cry for the woman draped in black that you see in the daily news. www.azizahmagazine.com

Lisa Nash

Kelly, thanks so much for your comment. I hope it came across in the original post that I am not equating "Muslim" with "oppressive toward women." I certainly did not mean to conflate those two ideas in any way. I am Catholic and I have had numerous people who have never set foot in a Catholic church, never sat through one hour of catechism class, come up and tell me I am being oppressed and all sorts of nonsense, based either on misunderstandings about my beliefs or just plain wrong information (for example, papal infallibility is a very different thing from what people tend to think -- the pope is not infallible in all things, just in a few very official, carefully considered statements that he may or may not make during his papacy). I am sorry that you feel that this sort of attitude is being expressed against Islam, and from reading the comment thread I can see how you would feel that Islam is not being represented fairly. Please keep coming and visiting the blog! :)


I didn't read the other comments so forgive me if this is redundant, but the importance of societal norms can't be overlooked. People should act virtuously from internal motives, BUT the culture can and should go a long way in enforcing the "good."

I am reminded of the book Age of Innocence in which the protagonist doesn't leave his wife because of the pressure of society to see a marriage survive. Many will disagree, but I read this as both a good thing, and something that Wharton saw was quickly eroding with the dawn of the "jazz age."

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