The Psychology of Modesty

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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

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