The Psychology of Modesty

When I was in graduate school at the University of Florida I did a lot of work with children who had disruptive and extreme attention seeking behaviors. One thing we taught parents is that when children try to get their parents’ attention through negative attention seeking behaviors they are to be ignored. Once the child tries to get their parent’s attention through appropriate means they are again given attention. Normally when a child is ignored in this fashion the first thing they do is escalate the negative behaviors. They scream louder, bang the toy harder, etc. I wondered if this was only true in children or if there were ways adults exhibited these behaviors as well.

What does this have to do with modesty? Let me tell you a story that will bring the two together. One day I was at the grocery store in Gainesville. I stepped into line and the two ladies in front of me were both wearing spandex from head to toe. It was pretty revealing and an obvious attempt to get some male attention. I decided to put my training into action. I put my items on the conveyor belt with my back turned to them. Then I turned and looked down the aisles of the store with my back fully toward them – a very strange thing to do in a check out line (I guess this brings new meaning to that term). As my items were being checked out and my back still toward them they didn’t leave. They had paid and everything but they just stood there. As my items were being scanned and bagged they were commenting on the items I was purchasing. I just couldn’t believe it. It was escalation. By their actions they were saying, “we are going to stand here and not let you by until we get what we want – for you to give us some attention.”

It was at that moment it dawned on me. Immodesty is an attention issue that women get reinforced to do by the men who stare at them. The cure? Ignore it. Don’t pay attention to those who are inappropriately dressed. Don’t stare at them. Don’t talk to them. Just don’t give them what they want and maybe that will send the right message. Realize that it is a childish game that has moved into an adult area and that just makes the issue that much more important to deal with appropriately.

I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl. For what is man’s lot from God above, his heritage from the Almighty on high? Is it not ruin for the wicked, disaster for those who do wrong? Does he not see my ways and count my every step? “If I have walked in falsehood or my foot has hurried after deceit–let God weigh me in honest scales and he will know that I am blameless–if my steps have turned from the path, if my heart has been led by my eyes, or if my hands have been defiled, then may others eat what I have sown, and may my crops be uprooted. “If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have lurked at my neighbor’s door, then may my wife grind another man’s grain, and may other men sleep with her. For that would have been shameful, a sin to be judged. It is a fire that burns to Destruction ; it would have uprooted my harvest.

Job 31:1-12

0 Responses to The Psychology of Modesty

  1. psychcentral says:

    We’re getting ready to go into the Learning chapter next week in my General Psychology classes, and I’m going to mention this scenario to my students when we begin looking at Operant Conditioning. I’m also going to suggest that they try it, and I’ll let you know what they report. Should be interesting.

  2. Matt, that was an interesting experiment. It makes one wonder what is missing in these women’s lives, so that they crave such attention.

  3. darqlyte says:

    Yes, we shouldn’t stare at immodestly dressed people, as Psalm 101:3 states, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; [it] shall not cleave to me.”

    However, just because you ignore evil does not mean people will stop doing it. The answer can’t be to ignore it, because Ephesians 5:11 says, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove [them].”

    Immodesty is an unfruitful work of darkness, and should be reproved. Now these women were most likely not saved, so it’s not as if they’ll know how to dress anyway, but you can use opportunities like this to witness to them! Ask them if they are saved, show them what sin is, that they are sinners and need to repent from their evil works, turn to a holy God, and call upon the name of Jesus Christ.

    And so far as proper discipline of children, here’s what Provebs has to say:

    “Foolishness [is] bound in the heart of a child; [but] the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” -Proverbs 22:15

    “Withhold not correction from the child: for [if] thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. ” -Proverbs 23:13

    “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left [to himself] bringeth his mother to shame. ” -Proverbs 29:15

    Sincerely,

  4. mattdabbs says:

    I agree. We do need to talk to our brothers and sisters in Christ about this issue. How to talk to an immodestly dressed non-Christians would take an awful lot of tact.

  5. Mo says:

    I had no idea you had a blog! How fun.

    About immodesty: my experience has been that there is so much of it -young women’s fashion has utterly disappeared – that most people are even now immune to a sense of what is appropriate and not. I’ve found that living in the Middle East, even I have reactions coming back to the United States and seeing what is in fashion. Some of it is relief, because not everyone is wearing black as the women do in the Gulf countries with their abayas; some of it is horror, because as I’ve always said, I like to have a few secrets.

    There is something about the freedom to choose, however, that makes life, and the Christian experience so beautiful.

    Muslim women and Christian women are surrounded by communities who sort of ‘police’ what they wear: Did you see Mary? Did you see Fatma? In this sense it’s hard to tell if they are really ‘choosing’ modesty, or if its just easier to go with the flow. Are those who display themselves indepdent of such communities? Or are they a type of community of their own?

    The real issue might be something Matt touched on: male/individual responsibility. Job says turn away, Matt turned away at the grocery store. However, some communities take choice away from women in order to ‘protect’ which also keeps from holding men accountable. Was it what she wore that led to assualt? Or was it the condition of the heart?

    In some ways there are parallels to the ways various traditions treat the body, particularly the female body – Christanity, Islam, even Hinduism – all deal with this issue with different effects.

    The urge to look, either male or female, says just as much about the individual looking as the one enticing the gaze.

  6. mattdabbs says:

    Hey!

    So glad you stopped by and left a comment! I really value your friendship and hope you will stop by more often!

    I think what you said is really good. There is responsibility across the board and the answer is not to slam women in such a way as to remove any and all responsibility from the men. It is a heart issue as you said. Great points! Hope you are doing well over there. Missy sends her greetings. God bless,

    Matt & Missy

  7. greenup says:

    I think better courses of action might be to either TRULY ignore them, (treat them as grocery carts in your way) or to somehow directly engage them in a way that showed love for them, but still indicated your disapproval of their actions. As a father of very young children, I am still working on developing the skills for #2, so I’d probably have to use #1.

    By ACTIVELY trying to “ignore” them, you were probably giving them negative attention, which, while not as useful as positive attention, still partly satisfies the urge.

    It is a difficult situation; Just because you manage the correct response doesn’t mean they can’t feed their habit from any of a thousand other sources who don’t care about enabling bad habits, or are unable to figure out the correct response for their particular behavior.

    Unsurprisingly, the same people are well-known online, too. They’re called “Trolls”. These people take STRONG positions on unpopular sides of debates, frequently with internal logical inconsisencies and contradictions. Because in a place as big as the internet, there actually ARE people that hold positions like that, frequently can’t tell if they’re a troll until their second mission. They are also hard to distinguish from sarcasm.

    They are a HUGE problem on some discussion boards, because censorship is worse than trolls, and anonyminity makes it easy for them to “play”.

    “Don’t feed the Trolls”. Don’t respond to them, don’t even say “Oh, Look, a Troll”. You just have to walk away, and hope everybody else does too. (If they don’t, you might have to resort to “Oh, Look, a Troll”)

    The Christian response to the two women you encountered is tough. Treating them like grocery carts (objects to navigate around) isn’t really the correct style, but people are complex, and wading in where you don’t know the terrain is a hazardous mission. I guess I’d have to pray for more faith and God’s leading, because from a human perspective, trying simultaneously show love for them while disapproving of their actions, in the small available timeframe, place, and context of a grocery-store checkout line seems like “Commission Impossible”

  8. fhamilton says:

    It does not appear that you considered the possibility that the women in question had a very different sense style than you. Nothing more complicated than that, just a sense of style. Your attention may or may not have been their goal. They may have liked the way they looked and not been thinking about you at all.

  9. mattdabbs says:

    Hamilton,

    Sure that is a possibility and probably true in some percentage of cases just like some percentage of the time women wear things to get attention. What do you think would be the percentage of each?

    I would venture to say a large percentage of women wear things wondering what others will think about it. Would it stand to reason that some of their concern would be what men would think? Would it also stand to reason that when they get double takes by men when they wear something a little more provocative that there is a percentage of women in the world who liked the attention and would end up dressing that way more in the future? I think so. How about you?

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