Thursday, January 23, 2014

Modesty Inside and Out

Modesty Inside and Out

“. . . and Anne an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste, and feeling.”
Isn’t this a lovely string of adjectives?

     It's Jane Austen’s description of 19-yr-old Anne Elliot of Persuasion

     In the setting of the story, however, Anne has reached her late twenties. She has supposedly lost the “bloom” of youth, and is likely past marrying age. If not youth, Anne has other fine qualities. Her inward beauty makes her exceptionally attractive to a certain honorable man who recognizes it, admires it, and loves her for it.  

     When we come across a young lady like Anne, who is refreshingly modest, we find that this quality exists only in a girl who is given to looking outside of herself. She is sensitive to the needs around her. Perhaps someone in her circle could use a word of cheer, a kind gesture of some gift of service, a few handpicked flowers, a handwritten note, or an hour of unhurried companionship.

     It is only in looking outside of herself that a girl can worship God. The beauty of nature does not escape her notice, either. Modest girls make the best daughters, the best sisters, the best wives, the best mothers, the best Christians, the best citizens.


     They are not full of themselves. Rather, they are un-self-conscious.*1

Little Children Are Not Self-conscious

     This is how little children are. They are not self-conscious. Unaware and unconcerned with what others think of them, they will emulate what they see around them because they are objective and curious to learn (by experience if they can) a great many “objects” outside of themselves.

The world is so full of a number of things
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
                                         R L Stevenson

My mother the flower girl, her mom in hat and gloves, dad sits in front, 1937
     Charlotte Mason says that parents can safeguard a child’s inborn lack of self-regard, by training. For instance, “Thoughtful parents are agreed that children’s meals should be so regularly pleasant and various that the child naturally eats with satisfaction and thinks little or nothing of what he is eating; that is, parents are careful that, in the matter of food, children shall not be self-regardful.”*2

     Just as it is good manners to talk about things at the table other than our plates of food, we needn’t call undue attention to our children’s clothing. Young children who give thanks and eat what is put before them are usually the same children who wear what is in the closet without comment.  

     The humble state of un-self-consciousness in childhood is the example given to us by our Lord Jesus when He said, “Unless you . . .become as little children you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” *3

     Miss Mason says that this humility is “a blessed state only now and then attained by us elders - but in which the children perpetually dwell, and in which it is the will of God that we should keep them.”*4

Modesty is Meek Not Weak
“Strength and honor are her clothing. . .” *5
     Do you like Anne of Persausion? I do. She has an open ear. Those around her come to confide in her. And she serves. This is “nicely symbolized by her piano playing. Instead of actually dancing, she plays the piano to enable others to dance." *6

     Breaking the code of society-etiquette her father is fiercely attached to, Anne associates with an old school friend. Mrs. Smith, once married to a wealthy man, was left little when he died, and is a poor widow suffering from rheumatism. In her friendship with Mrs. Smith, Anne sees a different sort of nobility – one of noble character. The friendship is a “gift of Heaven.” Anne does not look down her nose at Mrs. Smith, a woman who wears strength and kindness as her clothing. Mrs. Smith’s patient disposition and her ability to keep occupied “carried her out of herself.” The friendship opens Anne’s eyes, enabling her to have an “elastic” perspective of her own life and relationships.

     In the beginning of the book Anne is quiet (near silent). More and more she shows the courage of her opinion. “Her willingness to speak marks the final turning point in her love affair with Wentworth.” *7 

karen andreola - speaker
Karen at Wholehearted Mother Con, Beautiful Girlhood Club 1997

What Happened to “Ladylike?”

     Immodesty in young people is widespread. The thorough pre-occupation of self goes hand-in-hand with immodest clothing. Immodest girls seem to think boys are hormone-free. Revealing clothing creates an atmosphere of forced intimacy.

     Perhaps these girls have never had it explained to them that a man is designed by God to – in an atmosphere of intimacy – to take intoxicating pleasure in the roundness of the female form - in the woman he loves devotedly – his wife. Song of Solomon chapter seven will make a girl blush. But when read at the right time it has educational benefits.  
     The highest concern of some girls is up-to-the-minute fashion, to be competitively attractive, part of the in-crowd. With a real fear of appearing fat or dowdy they may choose an outfit that extends barely beyond the undergarments or one that is primarily spandex. My fingertips on the keyboard are poised to type a list of dos and don’ts (sigh). But I am stepping aside. I wish to be gracious, not over zealous. If the reader is a Christian she has the Holy Spirit. He is in the business of guiding every thoughtful and prayerful heart.

     As opinions go, I agree with Edith Head.

     Who is Edith Head? She was a costume designer for Paramount Pictures who won 8 Academy Awards - a favorite among leading female stars of the 1940 and 50s, such as Ginger Rogers, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Loretta Young. Not all the film stars she designed for, and the characters they played, were modest women. But Edith Head’s personal opinion was:

“Your dresses should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show you’re a lady.”

karen andreola
Karen fixing hair, Sunday morn, 1986, Grandma's House, NJ
Painfully Self-conscious

     I sat in the dentist chair. The hygienist was young, a natural blond, and cheerful. Her uniform was cheerful, too. Its pastels, cartoon characters and orange flowers seemed to match her personality. While she clipped the bib around my neck we shared some small talk. She probably asked me what I do. And I probably mentioned writing for home educators because our talk hopped onto the subject. 
     “I attended Catholic school until 8th grade,” she volunteered. Afterwards she entered the mega-size high school in the area.
     “How did that go?” I asked. It was the last thing I could say before I was required to hold my mouth ajar. 
     Deftly selecting a metal tool she said, “My biggest difficulty was trying to decide, each morning, what to wear.”
     “Uh,” I vocalized but could say no more. But I understood far more than my “uh,” let on. I surmised that the transition from her schooldays in uniform to freedom-of-choice was a sore trial. Why?

     How does a girl blend-in without compromising her modesty? Clothes-choice can be deeply emotionally trying to the coming-of-age Christian person. Peers impose the fashion status quo. Everything one does in the fish bowl of a government school is conspicuous. Nothing escapes notice. Any deviation from the status quo  – especially one that takes a step toward modesty - can all-too-easily be made the subject of a joke, condescension, ridicule or gossip. 

Blissfully Unaware

     This trial of self-consciousness is something we lived without. In our little home school I was able to keep my children un-self-conscious a little longer. On second thought, it was a lot longer than children today. In the rural Maine church most of their friends were home educated for high school and had siblings. Therefore their peers were of mixed ages. And most of them, thankfully, were modest inside and out. They were blissfully ignorant of the domineering pull of immodest fashion in the sub-culture of the teen-age world. *8
     I know the circumstance is different in large metropolitan churches. I see it sadly. It is one reason I have written this post.

     The writer seeks to:

Model modesty,
Make strength and honor her clothing,
Have the courage of her opinion (like Anne Elliot),
Look outside of herself to the needs and feelings of others,
Bloom beauty of character.   

"There should be as little merit in loving a woman for her beauty, as a man for his prosperity, both being subject to change." Alexander Pope

Thanks for visiting,
Karen Andreola

Sisters, Yolanda & Sophia, TN 1989
End Notes
*1 Philippians 4:12
*2 Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, page 284
*3  Mathew 18:3
*4 Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, page 284
*5 Proverbs 31:25
*6 and *7, Peter J. Leithart, Miniatures and Morals – the Christian Novels of Jane Austen, Canon     Press, page 182
*8 I Timothy 2: 9-10
Bible verses are from the New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.


  1. Very sweet post, Karen! Thanks for sharing these thoughts! I absolutely adore the first photo with the fish bowl!! :) Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen book...although Pride & Prejudice follows very closely behind. ;)

  2. I look forward to these posts so much. It's the sort of advice I crave - you have no idea. I wonder, do you think that children become self-conscious when they hear people talk about how cute they are or when mom recounts to dad all of the adorable things baby did today in his hearing? Despite my best intentions, I often do that and wonder if I'm developing an "affected" manner in my toddler.

  3. I love this post Karen.

    You shared your heart, kindly and gently and graciously. I agree with you. And with Edith Head.

    God made us women, we should enjoy being feminine without showing off every asset.

    Thanks for the quotes too.


  4. What an entirely thoughtful and beautifully written post. You hit on a subject very much on my mind lately. I have a 6 year old little girl and I can see the clothing in stores going from cute to immodest. I believe I will end up making a lot of things for her.

    Thank you again.


  5. Dear Karen,
    I look forward to your posts and am so excited when my inbox contains one from MWMC. Thank you for this thoughtful article--it was a blessing to me!
    Lisa Winton

  6. When our children were younger, I mail-ordered their clothing. They were so excited when the box arrived. This worked so very well that I kept it up as long as I could, trying to honor favorite colors, etc. in the process. When they were older, a dear friend from church gave me some wonderful advice about clothing. When shopping for clothing, BOTH the mother and the child have to like it, or don't buy it. This saved my children and me from much anguish and frustration. Interestingly, we didn't have to repeat this like some kind of mantra. The principle lived was much better than the principle discussed.

    I like this post, Karen! Thank you for your gentle, thoughtful words.


  7. This is my favorite thing you said: "My fingertips on the keyboard are poised to type a list of dos and don’ts (sigh). But I am stepping aside. I wish to be gracious, not over zealous. If the reader is a Christian she has the Holy Spirit. He is in the business of guiding every thoughtful and prayerful heart."

    I'm learning this more and more every day. This is the only thing that keeps one free of legalism and Phariseeism, which is so easy to fall into.

    You are always gracious and I so appreciate as a "younger" woman of 45 to be able to learn from you.

  8. This makes me want to watch our copy of Persuasion.
    I have 4 children, not home schooled. Two of them have high function autism spectrum disorders-
    oldest son and 3rd child ,daughter. This daughter will soon be 14. I try to guide her and her sister (will be 9 soon) towards modesty. I think so far we are doing well, "thank you Lord". I do have concerns when neither of them want to wear dresses on a Sunday. For now, I am trying to just go with the flow and simply require that they are dressed neatly and modestly. If they bring a doll , she has to be dressed appropriately too.
    Can you recommend a book I could give my girls to read about this ?

  9. Well said! Thank you for speaking the truth in love. As a mother of two daughters on the edge teen years I sadly witness the pull of the world on their peers. I also fret over the effect on my two sons when they begin to reach that age. Please advise!

  10. This is a much needed post. There is beauty and tranquility in modesty. Thank you for the gentle talk.

    As always, the pictures are lovely and calming!

    Mrs. White

  11. Hi Karen,
    I do so agree with all you've written and am glad you are a voice for godly living! ;-)
    Many Blessings to you,
    you are a DEAR LOVELY LADY!
    Warmly, Linnie

  12. This is a lovely and thoughtful post about such a difficult subject. I appreciate your modesty and grace in this and all of your writings. :) Jade

  13. Good to hear from you Ladies,

    There are some things out-of-our-control - actually a million things - one being what our children's peers wear but they are not necessarily out of our influence. One year I invited the ladies in the church to a Saturday breakfast at my house. After quiche, coffee cake and conversation I gave a talk in the family room about Mothering, addressed several topics (hopefully of relevant interest) - one was femininity and feeling at home in different expressions of it - such as the wearing of a skirt. Another breakfast at my house gave me the opportunity to share about "What to Give our Children." The talk was based on what I had learned from reading Charlotte Mason but I kept it general without referencing Miss Mason or homeschooling. Developing a trust with these mothers, I dropped seeds of ideas that later showed up, to my joyful notice, to make a difference in their lives - and possibly by now - their children. (I'm no longer at that church).

    Similar talks and hospitality can be shared with teens and young adults in a church or home setting. Youth leaders are usually happy to host a guest speaker.

    If living the life you imagine includes wearing a skirt - but you've been hesitant - please begin today. Consider styles. You, mom, are a model in your household - a model of whatever it is you happen to be wearing. If you'd like your daughters to feel more comfortable wearing skirts to church or anywhere else, wear them casually while doing the housework.

    A husband who finds it pleasing to see his wife in a skirt is a dad who would find it pleasant to see his daughters in one.

    A click on the book, "Beautiful Girlhood," in the side bar will take you to its review.

    Yes, a few comments of "absolutely adorable" to "Baby" will not hurt a bit - nor a dad complimenting his teenage daughters on how "Ladylike" they look in their new skirts. But I do remember giving more kisses to the chubby cheeks of my babies (during their nighttime feedings) than in any other time. I had a very jealous first born.

    Thank you for valuing the opinions of this older woman. Karen A.

  14. Another beautiful post dear Karen,that tuggs at my heartstrings. As a very young mother,I didn't have a mentor,nor any books to read on the subject,didn't have any idea who Charlotte Mason was,but I was a Christian and being led by the Holy Spirit, I taught my girls to be modest inside and out. Some thought me to be too strict or rigid,and suggested they would grow up totally opposite from what I was teaching,but I didn't listen to such talk and continued what I thought was the Lord's will.Now,that those girls are grown women... I can say I have seen fruit from the guidance I gave them as children and young women. I must read Jane Austens... Persuasion...sounds wonderful...blessings friend

  15. Karen, When one of your posts arrive I make a mental note to wait until I have some time to read and ponder your words. Today was the day. Always grateful for your wisdom and insight.

  16. Karen,
    (I sent a comment last week, and it somehow became lost in bloggerworld! So her goes a second time around...)

    I sense much thought and prayer in this post, You were gracious in your words and applications. I truly believe Spirit-filled women desire to be modest in speech, behavior and dress. Sadly, what is lacking in our culture are those ladies willing to give a voice of clear instruction. We must all lead by example, but words too are necessary to give noble directives.

    On another note, are you living in winter wonderland?

  17. What a lovely post, I appreciate your thoughts. This is a topic that has been on my mind very much lately (who knew it was so difficult to find maternity wear that is feminine, not a million dollars, and not a frump fest?) Modesty is a topic that is certainly on my mind as we are raising our daughter (and waiting to find out about our new little one on the way.)
    I am of the opinion that it is actually very important for a father to compliment the way that his daughter looks. My father always did, and this had a great impact on me especially during those awkward years. Knowing that my father saw value in me I think somehow lead me to make better choices with men. Does that make sense? Just something to think about. But I do find it particularly important to come from the father, not just mother.

  18. I was homeschooled my whole life and taught always to wear very modest clothing. I don't think it really did that much for me in the long term, to be honest. I am not a bitter, rebellious teenager. I am a well-adjusted 21-year-old doing well at a Christian college. I do think that modesty is important. However, I think there is a misplaced emphasis on outward modesty.

    I think other things are more important. Someone here mentioned that a father complimenting his daughter on her appearance is important. I agree. I can count on one hand the times my dad has praised my appearance. There were many, many other times were he criticized what I was wearing or teased me about it. Not on account of how modest it was... I really don't know why he never liked what I was wearing. I assumed it was because I was fat and ugly. I had an eating disorder as a teenager, even though I have never even been close to overweight.

    I believe it is because of this that I craved attention from men and to this day struggle with needing attention to validate me. This was only increased when, after turning eighteen, my parents still tried to control my clothing choices - even though they weren't paying for my clothes anymore.

    Thankfully, now, I have a boyfriend who does more than just validate my looks. He is helping me work through these problems, he protects me from my own misplaced desires, and he helps me to make my own decisions about modesty and looking feminine. He loves me in a skirt or a dress, which makes me want to wear those things to please him. But more than that, he loves me for who I am on the inside and encourages me to grow to be more Christ-like. I wish my parents had been less controlling about what I wore, especially after I turned eighteen and was buying my own clothes. I wish they had not been so concerned about sheltering me from outside worldly evils and had been more concerned about helping me grow to be who God wanted me to be - helping me to grow into an independent woman, capable of making my own decisions, confident in who I was, not craving validation.

    I personally felt sorely out of place and unprepared to be a light in the world and strongly tempted to give up everything I had been taught as a child to get what I had always desperately wanted. I am very thankful that the Lord saw my heart and protected me, despite the difficult situation. I want my [future children] to be modest as well... but I don't think I will worry about it as much as I will want to make sure they know what they are worth and how much they are valued by their parents and by God.

  19. Oh what fine lines we must walk upon.
    We parents err by being too strict or too lenient. I wish I could claim to be a parent who has always walked along the middle line in guiding my children.

    It is good to keep a sense of proportion.
    Jesus tells us, "Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. "

    For a father to take an interest in his daughter's gifts and talents, to attend her music recitals or read aloud to her, to be appreciative for the muffins she baked, to play a board game, etc. - to be a friend as well as a father - is a happy arrangement.

  20. Tough subject Karen. Yet, you have shared your heart, which I am so thankful for. Modesty is such a personal subject. As women, we are our own worst critics.

    But young women of today need our guidance without judgement...we need be examples without looking as if wearing modest clothing makes us unhappy... instead, our smiles, our own countenance should be of joy! to show our femininity without legalism.

    Thank you Karen for sharing your thoughts and gentle nudging.. m.

  21. Thank you Karen for your encouraging advice on this subject. It's always so delightful to visit your blog and read your gentle words again; it takes me back to my sweet days of homeschooling with your purple book's help.
    Thank you,

  22. A beautiful post with gentle reminders. Thank you.

  23. When my son was young, he wore a new pair of tennis shoes to a Wednesday evening Bible class. One of the men there asked him if those shoes were the kind that make you run faster or the kind that make you jump higher. My sweet son looked dumbfounded and said, "What?" How blissfully unaware, to use your term, Karen!

    Interestingly, this state of being is not without its difficulties. People often thought our family strange because of that very unaware bliss. Several years later, we still think it is far better than the alternative.


  24. I found a few quiet moments to try catching up on my blog reading and am quite glad I did after reading this, your latest dear Karen. With my youngest at 13, with the pull of fitting in fashion-wise at church, I have found that a few timely words from the Papa of the house have far more impact on my girl than any outside peer pressures. :) Than you for your carefully chosen words, ~Lisa

  25. I'm considering that this is one of the best posts you have written here.

    Full of biblical truth and value.

    I'm continuing to take notes and glean from these things.

    The thing that you've hit on so well here is that modesty is not only on the outside, but inside. And from where I stand with a view on this culture while raising my own little daughters, from one end, it's focused either too much on the outside either way, but hardly ever focused on the inside.

  26. Hi Karen! You handled this topic in a very gracious and kind way. Persuasion is my favourite Jane Austen book. I hope you are doing well and staying warm.

  27. This is a wonderful post, Karen. Thanks for stopping by my blog and for your comment. Also I was very moved by your Charlotte Mason post and the flower "you" left on her grave. How meaningful for you! Blessings, Bess

  28. Hello! We've been private schooling for a few years and have had the need to alter that. We are discovering home schooling now for the past 2 years and are currently diving into Charlotte Mason. I found your Charlotte Mason companion at the library a few months ago, was hooked and love it! I just discovered your blog and am very pleased with what you've written. Thank you for sharing your talent of writing and your gift of wisdom. I especially love this post on modesty. It is a rare treat to read something outside of my church literature from someone with such an able pen and true words with a gentle tone. What a gift! I love your thoughts on this and in turn will share some thoughts in a link if that is ok! Maybe so you know you are not alone, and obviously not, by all the comments. I am so glad to know I am not either. I have 4 daughters just on the cusp of teen years (oldest is already 13) and a boy aged 5. We are always looking for confirming and encouraging material for our religious and spiritual beliefs and it is nice to find them here. You speak the truth with your heart. Thank you! I hope you enjoy this confirming information as well! Thank you again!

  29. I have 2 beautiful daughters also. 19, snd 17. They both try very hard to be modest. When they were both little I mentioned to my mother in law that the 2 piece swimsuits for little girl's were cute. She gently told me, what you let them wear when they are little, is what they will wear when they grow up.. Enough said. I miss her dearly. Think of Ruth and Naomi. I now am raising 2 boys. 15 and 8. Both learning how to serve our father Jehovah and follow christs fine example. I enjoy reading here.