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Color me confuzzled by this outcry over modesty

(Let me begin with a sort of apologetic caveat. I'm a big proponent of calling body parts by their proper names. But I'm also still a little gunshy due to the infestation of pervs after the whole "girls" thing. So, I'm going to sorta kinda use some euphemisms and hope you forgive me. Please understand that while I do know the proper names and am not afraid to say them out loud, even to my kids, who are definitely not afraid to say them out loud, even to their grandparents---I don't think Grandpa has recovered from being told he has a penis but no vagina---I am too afraid to use the actual words in my blog.)

Does it strike you that somewhere along the way---again? still?---some people got confused about the difference between modest and prudish? And who, what, when, where, why and how their ideas apply?

It strikes me that way, yes indeedy it does. It's been a sort of trend when I look back. I am going to call it the Mistaken Modesty Movement (MMM) because I like naming things.

And today I got cause to look back. I saw catalysts and causalities of the MMM in the US.

See, I have this dogpile gang theory of life.

Let me apply it specifically here to this modesty issue and show you what I mean.

Here is my very humble opinion:

Most people want to be a part of something larger than themselves. This is cool.

When they join a gang, it is not.

Most people find that by being a part of something larger than themselves, they can work towards a goal more powerfully and more effectively, with an increased likelihood of success. This is cool.

When they bully and trample other people and other people's rights to do this, it is not.

Many people enjoy being exposed to many ideas, theories, and pieces of information about life, and the pursuit of a good one.

Most people find that when they come together to discuss and explore these concepts, they gain a richer understanding, many points of view to ponder, and can then formulate a personal conclusion. This is cool.

When instead they come together and decide to group think, it is not.

The Mistaken Modesty Movement of which I speak is a gang of this “not cool” ilk. They are, I think, simply a vocal minority, who for some reason seem to have all sorts of people running scared, or worse, reacting. It’s a funny phenomenon that is going on right now: A vocal minority at the end of the spectrum managing to push through and achieve an extreme conservative agenda. I can only understand it by applying the dogpile gang theory of one person feeling emboldened by the feeling that they have a gang who will dogpile on an issue with them.

In turn, this makes the Person to Whom the Agenda is aimed at feel ganged up on, possibly even fearful. The person likely mistakes loudness, passion and implied "more people like me" to mean that the Agenda is bigger and more important than it really is, potentially creating an out of proportion reaction and response to the issue.

In this case, the Mistaken Modesty Movement wants to ensure that…well, goodness, I’m not sure.

Because I’m really confused by this erratic, and inconsistent recent outcry for modesty.

See, "modest" as a guideline is about as subjective as it gets in the world. The dictionary refers you to "decent," which refers you back to modest, but does concede that it probably involves some really individual idea of, "standards of propriety, good taste, or morality."

As a general rule, when out and about in public, we typically agree to have the Adam and Eve bits covered, even if only with Adam and Eve style minimalism (love those leafy covers). As I understand it, the rest is mainly up to you.

This empowers each of us individually to decide for ourselves what we perceive as modest and decent and appropriate---now here is where it gets tricky because the following phrase is key to me---for ourselves.

Let me say that again: for ourselves.

There is no Universal Standard of Decency that we've all agreed to, signed into law, and are obligated to follow as a condition of continued residency---other than out in public cover those Adams and Eves. In fact, the US is pretty open as far as clothing laws go. Indecent exposure is variable practically by decade. Its definition has changed at least twice in my lifetime alone.

One thing that is definitely not considered indecent exposure is breastfeeding. In fact, not only are there no laws or rules prohibiting breastfeeding, there are in fact rules and laws protecting a woman's right to breastfeed.

With her actual, attached to her body, lactating BREASTS. That is to say---to avoid those pervs---the sisters out in front.

As you know, the sisters out in front are not merely impediments to track and field, or ways to catch the eye of the boy at the bar. They have a real biological function called lactating. This means: make milk. With which to feed an infant.

Now, in the typical ingenuity of the multi-task female, not only do the sisters have an important biological function, but they also have a secondary business function. I think we all have heard the Boob Principle of Advertising: flash some and it will sell. This philosophy is Marketing 2000 B.C.

Therefore, it seems to be generally no cause for conversation when the sisters are in service to the God of Marketing, crying out Lust! Admire Me! BUY ME and I can be yours!

However, when the sisters are in service to---as my friend Halushki says---the Adorable Siphon, it seems to generate Large Cause for Concern.

Case in point:

This image---one I think you’ll agree is fairly typical/common, with the clothing or accessories strategically falling to hit that edge of allowable exposure--- graced a national magazine with no large outcry, and no demand for its removal from the shelf:

As you can see, the sisters out front are doing nothing more than holding up a beaded necklace---which in my humble opinion is fine. Hey, my sisters barely hold up anything, including themselves; in fact, every day they ask to be held up by a bra with substantial support. So perk? I admire thee. And fondly recall when my sisters out front were members of Club Perky. Now, they read retirement brochures, fantasizing about the day they are no longer called into service, and can actually legitimately reside southeast and southwest, respectively, as is their preference.

This image also graced a national magazine and did in fact generate a
large outcry, demanding its removal from the shelf:

Is it just me or does this really seem to be an inconsistent double-standard?

I don't understand it.

The first photo is ALL ABOUT SEX. You can hear the Pussycat Dolls purring, "Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?" in the background, can't you? The first photo is intended to arouse sexually.

The second photo of the infant and the little bit of flesh is meant to...well me? When I saw it? I immediately sighed, " stinking CUTE!" And I thought about how cute little suckling nurslings are, and about that milk-drunk baby face. Awwwwww. I was aroused to think fondly of my children.

So the outrage that would drive women to say things like this:

1. "I shredded it," said Gayle Ash, of Belton, Texas, in a telephone interview. "A breast is a breast — it's a sexual thing. He [her thirteen year old son] didn't need to see that."

2. "I was SHOCKED to see a giant breast on the cover of your magazine," one person wrote.

3. "I immediately turned the magazine face down," wrote another.

4. "Gross," said a third.

Astounding. Absolutely astounding.

I had no idea women were so confused as to the purpose of their breasts.

It leads me to wonder---don't you?---what other body parts are bogglign their minds.

And this all only applies to actual human beings.

Today I got an email link to this article about a teacher being suspended and a promise to not renew her contract, effectively firing her simply because she took a group of Dallas-area fifth grade schoolchildren on a school-approved field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art. Oh…yes…right. The whole story. Okay she took the kids, this teacher with an up-to-that-point exemplary teaching history of 28 years. A child from the class apparently told his/her parent that there were nude statues and artwork in the museum, which apparently so horrified the parent that he/she filed a complaint with the school. After that, the teacher received a criticism and threat of firing from the school principal.

As with most things, I suspect there is more to the story…and we simply don’t know.

But bottom line, a parent complained about his/her child being exposed to…art. Unclothed art. At a museum.

I have no idea if this is the actual objectionable art in question, but it is at the museum in question, in the sculpture garden and those are some damn perky sisters out front, so let’s just say this is the so-called problem right here:

Shocking, isn’t it? Just appalling. At least 15 traumatized 10 year old boys. Tsk tsk.

What I really want to ask is, “Seriously? Is this a joke?”

Has the parent ever, you know, been to a museum? Actually? An art one?

Because I’ve been to many, all over the world and to a one, they have Unclothed Art.


I’ve heard of books having tape placed over “immodest elements” and markers drawing out words and photos that are “immodest.” In private schools.

It sends a shudder down my spine, every time, this Mistaken Modesty Movement.

Puritanical times weren’t the good old days. They burned witches back then, for one thing.

I’m tempted to wear a Xena-style breastplate tomorrow, with a flap for breastfeeding, of course. What do you think?

By Julie Pippert
Artful Media Group
Museum Quality Digital Art and Photography
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© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

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Bea said…
The word "modesty" has a lot of references right now, even within the context of the mommy-blogosphere: on the one hand there is the absurd outcry over that breastfeeding photo in the name of modesty, but at the more reasonable end of the spectrum you have the "Moms for Modesty" movement (which may or may not actually be called that) which is trying to mobilize mothers against the sexualization of little girls as exemplified by the recent ads promoting padded "bras" for six-year-olds. That kind of modesty I can get on board with, though I agree with Veronica Mitchell (at Toddled Dredge) who wrote a very thoughtful explanation of why she prefers the term "dignity" to "modesty."
Thanks for linking this post to my post. I thought it was wonderful. I was shaking my head through the whole thing. It makes me so sad to hear of people so ignorant. It makes me want to rebel. It makes me want to move to the South of France and become a nudist just because it's so contrary to this place we call home. Sigh...
CJ said…
Want to get really scared? This Modesty meme is growing. I've watched it grow for the last 3 years. It seems it's hit the bigtime now:

Check out these links:

Here's a commentary on modest women who would take away our right to vote:

and finally, where it's all coming from:


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