We Need This Book More Than Ever!

Book cover for A Return to Modesty, Discovering the Lost Virtue, by Wendy Shalit

A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit, originally published in hardcover by Free Press, 1999, now available in Kindle and paperback. (Link is for Amazon Affiliate.)

One of the awful results of this awful election is that so much vulgarity has been normalized in the media, even before the release of the “Access Hollywood” tapes. It has been interesting, and horrifying, to watch as the already-low level of public discourse has been dragged even lower.

So it’s great to know that this book, which I read back when it first came out, is back in a 15th-anniversary edition with a new preface by the author. I plan to re-read it but wanted to go ahead and write a post about it now.

We tend to think of two ideas when we hear the word “modesty”: wearing a certain type of clothing and being self-deprecating about one’s accomplishments. Both of those ideas are true.

But there’s much more to it.

Shalit was only 23 years old when this book was published, but she had started writing it at an even younger age, while she was still in college. She was outraged by the same-sex bathrooms at her college (but I haven’t been able to find what she wrote) and went on from there. The book created quite a stir then, with all the predictable bashing about her “hangups” that followed. That’s why it’s so encouraging that it’s been re-issued and is still being discussed in college classrooms.

Although Shalit is indeed focusing on sexual modesty, especially female, the roots of this virtue are found in dignity and discretion. So a truly modest person would say: I don’t need to tell you everything, and I don’t need to show you everything. I am my own person. I get to choose what I reveal, and I get to choose what I give. My personal life is personal.

Those statements aren’t repressive; they are liberating. I am so very sad for so many young and not-so-young women today who have been sold a total bill of goods about themselves. They think that they’re missing out if they don’t hook up; as someone has said, “Nowadays we don’t save ourselves for Mr. Right; we practice up for him.”

Human dignity is taking a royal bashing nowadays. Let’s all cultivate a little mystery, shall we? This book is a good place to start.

“Modesty is the highest elegance.” Coco Chanel

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