Monday, January 25, 2010

How do you define modesty?

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Last year I was doing some consultant work for apparel companies in Utah, USA. Utah is well known for being the location of the worldwide headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The members of the church recognize their bodies as being sacred gifts from God and thus do all they can to take care of their bodies. This includes no drugs, smoking, alcohol, avoiding caffeine products, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, etc.-hmm, those guidelines sound like a healthy lifestyle a doctor would prescribe today. Not only are they careful about what they put into their bodies but they also take care for the presentation of themselves. For example, you don't find members getting lots of tattoos or piercings (except those who belong to cultures where this is a normal tradition), practicing good grooming habits, and dressing appropriately for occasions.

Speaking of dress they also believe in being modest. When they go to the temple or church they dress simply but appropriately-they don’t get caught up trying to impress others with designer clothing and expensive jewelry. I really like there down to earth and simple attitude in that way. They also make sure their bodies are covered up-another way of being modest in dress. It is not to the extreme as found here in Saudi Arabia with the abayas and thobes. But rather it is a healthy balance. For example, they don’t wear jeans so low that their underwear can easily be seen. Men keep their shirts on while playing sports. They wear swimsuits; for women if it is a two piece usually it is a tank top with shorts or skirt, so there stomach and backs and a good part of there legs are not exposed.

They wear regular clothing and styles found in retail stores across the world. They just choose carefully or make adjustments to their wardrobe (e.g., wearing undershirts is a big strategy to make sure everything stays covered if a fashionable top has no sleeves or is low cut in the front/back). Other than when they are swimming-an activity where you really can’t have movement restrained by clothing, they generally are covered from knees to shoulders in their regular daily activities.

I know members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are not the only ones that have religion based proscriptions for modesty in dress. Religious throughout the world have given guidelines to their members on what is appropriate dress. For example, just think about women covering their hair as a practice in Judaism and Islam, to the iconic images of certain Christian sects where they are fully covered from head to toe. What was interesting for me to observe in the Muslim world is even though women are fully covered while in public and/or among men, the boundaries of modesty often seem to be on the other extreme when it is just women in a private area. I must admit I’ve been to some events where I was embarrassed by the amount of skin exposed.

Even in the secular world there are variances on what is considered modest dress. For instance, in some cultures /nations partial-nudity at the beach is completely acceptable whereas at other locations in the world it is considered indecent exposure and grounds for arrest. That said, I think most of us realize going into public without clothes is not acceptable. Obviously all of us wear clothing for a reason-the most commonly acknowledge reason is to be modest. Though we inherently realize the need to be modest with the use of clothing, the definition of dressing modest has numerous interpretations. But in short, I would say if what you wear makes you and those around you feel uncomfortable it’s time to cover up!