The Meaning of Modesty
Men and women are similar and different and they’re similar and different in all facets of their life. Men and women have different physical excellencies and one of the main physical excellencies of men is strength and women is beauty.
This is why you have whole beauty industries and beauty pageants. The first great epic, the Iliad, was written because of the beauty of the woman. You don’t have these things for men. They just naturally arose for women.
Now you might say, “wait, there’s like Mr. Universe that’s like a beauty pageant” well, no, and for two reasons. First, women aren’t really interested in it, they don’t see those men as extremely desirable like men do to women in say Miss America. And second, I said that one of the excellencies of men is strength and those competitions are essentially about strength, a strong physique.
Now none of what I’ve said up til now is terribly insightful, it’s been common sense for like the entirety of humanity. But it’s important to clearly communicate this because to understand the virtue of modesty you must first understand the virtue of feminine beauty. The reason why modesty is important is because women are so beautiful.
And one of the aspects of modesty is covering. But when we think about covering we often interpret it negatively. Like “hey, why are you covering something I want to see or something you want to show” as if the body is akin to a new toy like an iPhone, why would you cover it, don’t you want to show it off.
But the problem is partly in the language and partly in the image.
Let’s talk about language first. I had a friend who was an asian woman who I used to work with and on the tv in the room was a news program discussing a study of men and it found that men found Asian women most attractive.
She was aghast and said, “ugh that Asian fetish.” I was shocked and said, “you just discovered that you are part of the most desirable group of women and you’re just characterizing negatively be describing it as a ‘fetish’”
She took a good thing and made it bad by wrapping it in a negative word, fetish. Similarly we associate negative things with covering, we assume the worst kind of covering like a toddler hiding a toy from his sister. We assume, incorrectly, that we’re covering something up because the thing should not be seen or because it is bad. But the truth is the exact opposite. Women cover because they are so exquisitely beautiful.
And we cover things for all sorts of reasons: for protection, for surprise like presents, or for adornment like a home. And the covering that women wear is not a potato sack but a beautiful covering, beautiful clothing. And this is because the surface symbolizes the depth. The beautiful clothing symbolizes the beautiful body beneath.
From the beginning to the end of the Bible the beauty of the woman is displayed. The first words out of the mouth of man is a poem in praise of the beauty of his wife. And the conclusion of the Bible is the unveiling of the beauty of the bride of Christ.
But not only is physical beauty one of the virtues of women, that is not only is she beautiful, but that beauty is intense, beauty of the highest quantity. Beauty that makes men do anything to have it. They fight wars, work for years, compose great works of poetry, prose and music.
And it is for that reason that she covers, that she ought to cultivate modesty. Not because of her plainness but because of her excessive exquisiteness, her surfeit of loveliness. Her beauty is so prolific and powerful that when it is fully uncovered and consummated, it produces another person. And it’s because of this alluring power that it must be covered, held inside until it has a home.
And of course, every virtue of humans is firstly a virtue of God. And thus God is modest. God’s beauty is also so intense, that he must hide for fear that we are destroyed by its dazzlingness. This is Moses behind a rock, and all men before God in the Bible falling down and turning away, not because of his lack but because of his beauty. And once again, once we are ready for its full unveiling, God's beauty will be unveiled.
God also gave nature herself modesty. She hides her secrets, her chemical composition, her mathematical structures. We would not be able to understand all that a leaf or a hand has to offer if all her depth was on the surface. Remember what happens when the energy in an atom is released.
So don’t disparage modesty because it is the clothing of the highest beauty God has made.