In my fourth grade class, we read a book about Lou Gehrig, who was described as being a modest man. My teacher asked the class if any of us knew what modesty was. My little hand shot up and I said proudly something along the lines of, “It’s when you dress to cover up your body properly!” which was followed by uproarious laughter from my classmates, and even a little chuckle from the teacher. I had grown up hearing all about physical modesty at church but I didn’t have the slightest idea of what the real definition of modesty was.
I should have known, but all through my years as a member the LDS church, from sunbeams to young women’s, I only ever heard people say, “Modest is hottest!” While that's meant as a reinforcement of modesty for the young women of the church, it just made me uncomfortable. Our purpose on this earth is not to be supposedly “hot,” it is to be our best selves and to please the Lord so we can be with Him again, right?
Madelyn's Crash Course on the Definition of Modesty:
The dicitonary.com definition of modesty is "regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress, etc." Someone who refers to him or herself as "hot" is not a particularly modest person, as referring to yourself as hot may not be regarded as having decent behavior or speech. In fact, that type of person is more likely be described as self-important or self-righteous (and I think we all know what those mean).
One woman who has set a wonderful example for the young women of the church, including myself, for years is Elaine S. Dalton, former general young women’s president. She has probably never, in all her years, expressed to the young women that “modest is hottest.” In fact, she gave a speech at the 2004 Women’s Conference, in which she gives an extremely accurate and appropriate description of modesty:
Modesty is often talked of in terms of dress and appearance, but modesty encompasses much more than the outward appearance. It is a condition of the heart. It is an outward manifestation of an inner knowledge and commitment. It is an expression that we understand our identity as daughters of God. It is an expression that we know what He expects us to do. It is a declaration of our covenant keeping.So, while modesty does have to do with dress and appearance, it weighs more heavily on your speech and actions, including your love and kindness towards others, and maybe even limiting use of profanity. Last time I checked, declaring yourself as hot wasn’t a “declaration of our covenant keeping.”
Keep this in mind next time you try to tell someone what modesty is: it’s not about the way you look or the way you dress. It’s a condition of the heart. It’s not “Modest is hottest.” It’s “Modest is what’s right and it’s what will keep me on my path to eternal life with God.” Before you walk out the door, give yourself a look-over in the mirror. Not at your outfit. Look at yourself. Ask yourself “Am I living the way The Lord wants me to live?” Ask yourself this every day, and I can almost guarantee that you will be well on your way to true modesty.