On Being Modest

Glamor, popularity, and bad logic are poor foundations for good decision-making. When it comes to modesty, however, logic is often an orphan. A New York-based fitness club hired fashion photographer Steven Klein for a series of provocative ads to dispel the idea that public breastfeeding is shameful.

One of the ads depicts model Lydia Hearst as a mother “unapologetically breastfeeding” a pair of twins as she sits in an upscale restaurant, decked out in over-the-top diamond earrings and a designer gown perfect for nursing. If a patron walking past her caused one of the twins to look up, there would be nothing left for the imagination. To suggest Miss Hearst excuse herself to the ladies room or use a light covering over the children as they nurse is likely to be met with the charge that there is nothing shameful about the act.Lydia Hearst

Public breastfeeding certainly is not shameful. Many people mistook a nursing child for a sleeping baby when my wife nursed in public. They would ask, “May I peek?” and my wife would smile and say, “He’s nursing”. They could not recognize the difference because he (and she) was covered with a lightweight shawl they interpreted as keeping the light out of a sleeping child’s eyes. The difference between both women who were “unapologetically breastfeeding” is modesty.

CiaraAfter Ciara sang the national anthem before Monday night’s College Football Playoff Championship game a firestorm of tweets erupted in response to a lone reporter sounding off about Ciara’s ‘revealing’ dress. @BonnieBernstein “Dear Ciara. You’re stunning. But this is a National Championship Game. Kids are watching. Cover up.” Charges of racism, prudery, and thought policing quickly followed.

At issue in both examples is whether or not their actions were immodest. The responses, however, were illogical. None of them dealt with the real issue.   No definition was offered explaining what is modest, what it is not, and why.

Modesty has been described as limited or moderate in amount and extent. Also, it may mean freedom from vanity and egotism. Personal value need not be demonstrated through clothing, cars, or speech. Consequently, there is no need for great pretensions.

In the case of Miss Hearst publically breastfeeding, the fallacy of logic was one of generalization. Regardless of how modest or immodest the breastfeeding of a child was, to object was to consider it shameful. Such a sweeping generalization evades the real issue and consequently any effort at genuine dialogue. The diamond earrings and designer gown sought to appeal to the desire to stand out from the rest of the crowd. There is nothing wrong with a little snob appeal, but it has nothing to do with logic or making good decisions.

Those who sought to kill the reporter’s encouragement for Ciara to cover up exaggerated Bernstein’s position. They sought to build a straw man that would be easier to refute. Real life issues such as these often claim correctness based on the number of people who agree with it. An appeal to popularity, however, hardly demonstrates any real facts or authority. Attacking an opponent’s character or motives for believing something, instead of disproving her argument, should be rejected categorically. Sadly, such Ad Hominem Attack’s are both frequent and effective.

The tweet, “The irony, of course, is that Bernstein wouldn’t have riled up a bunch of people if she didn’t feel the need to make a non-issue into an issue”, gets at the heart of the matter. Was the plunging neckline and sheer material a breach of modesty? “Having or showing regard for the decencies of behavior, speech, dress, etc.” is another aspect of modest.

God says in 1 Corinthians 12 to treat the unpresentable parts of the body “with greater modesty”. This makes them special. Nursing is more than a biological function. It is a symbol of motherhood and women who are more concerned for the welfare of others, in this case their children, than their own. It is one of the most valued symbols of sacrifice over self. My wife is beautiful and she has gifted me and me only with her beauty. WHAT a gift!

Modesty recognizes some things are unsuitable or forbidden for public display or as a topic of conversation. It increases their value through special honor, respect, and grace. Modesty keeps the main thing the main thing.

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