Columnists > Voices

Modesty ablaze

Author Wendy Shalit hopes to make modesty stylish

Issue: "Safe haven," Sept. 15, 2007

Social observers who are dismayed by Care Bear thong underwear, Bratz dolls, and chorus lines of booty-shaking 8-year-olds can take heart at the publication of Wendy Shalit's Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It's Not Bad To Be Good (Random House). Shalit wrote the book on modern modesty, literally, when she had barely graduated from Williams College. Return To Modesty, published in 1999, was a cry of the heart from one who read the wreckage of the sexual revolution in her own classmates. Feminism, she perceived, had sought to level the playing field by making sex an equal-opportunity sport. As a result, young women had thrown away their self-esteem with their virtue.

Girls Gone Mild reports that even while Bratz dolls and their tie-ins are encouraging 6-year-olds to dress hot, the tide may be turning. Indications are "True Love" campaigns on college campuses (as opposed to hookups), haute couture that dares not to bare, and young women who protest provocative T-shirts from Abercrombie & Fitch. There is also Wendy Shalit's own website,, featuring news, views, and a "Rebel of the Month." July's Rebel is Summer Bellessa, model and actress who just launched a magazine for the modest lifestyle called Eliza.

In other words, modesty is not just denim jumpers anymore.

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The reaction to Ms. Shalit's new book is revealing: Reviews in the Guardian and The Washington Post grudgingly grant a point or two. Yes, things may have gone too far when Kohl's is selling push-up bras for pre-teens. But-Ms. Shalit's evidence for the sexualization of little girls is mostly anecdotal, and standards of modesty differ, and who says that feminism means shedding your clothes at every opportunity? Objections include the inevitable fear, suggested on a feminist website, that setting standards of dress and behavior is but one step removed from insisting on a burqa.

Still, "Wendy Shalit made some sense this time around," admitted a reviewer on For years we've been told that women should be able to do what they want with their bodies. But we live in a world of other bodies, housing minds that are less than pure. Modesty has always been the biblical way of managing reality: making the best of a fallen situation and, in God's endlessly creative fashion, turning a negative result into a positive virtue. Wendy Shalit hopes to make modesty stylish. Let's hope it's not just a passing fad.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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