Jewish World Review August 17, 2001 / 28 Menachem-Av, 5761

Lori Borgman

Lori Borgman
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Consumer Reports

Immodest proposals -- I ADMIT IT. In a futile attempt to stem the demise of modesty, I took a shirt from a shirt rack and deliberately hung it in front of a row of thong panties dangling from hangers. It was at one of those cool stores for guys and gals that blasts loud music and caters to the outdoor crowd wearing a lot of hair gel.

I was wandering down an aisle lined with jeans, when all of a sudden out pops a display of thong underwear. Don't get me wrong. I don't object to underwear. For the record, I'm very pro-underwear. I'm also pro-bathing, pro-shampooing and pro-pulling your pants up to somewhere in the vicinity of your waist.

What I object to is the message that an intimate article of clothing is no different from a pair of overalls. I object to acts of exploitation that trash young women's privacy and rob them of their mystique.

I object to graphic feminine hygiene product commercials blaring on television. I object to the vulgar FM radio commercials that confuse a plastic 7-Up pop bottle with latex used for contraceptives. At this moment, I even object to the Victoria's Secret models falling out of their bras in the store windows. Put on a robe, would you? Or at least post a warning: HAZARD - Falling Silicone.

I object to the thousands of underlying messages skillfully woven throughout culture and commerce that say an intimate part of the female body is the equivalent of a knee cap or a foot. If that were the case, Abercrombie and Fitch would market a nasty little catalog filled with alluring knees and naked feet.

I object to stores that purposely remove titillating female underwear from the section of the store set aside for young gals' sleepwear, socks and lingerie, and display them out front for all eyes to see.

When a young lady sees intimate female garments prominently on display in a store that also caters to young men her age, her initial response should be embarrassment. But the scene is now so familiar, she is embarrassed that she feels embarrassed. She thinks there's something wrong with her.

There's nothing wrong with her. Everything is right with her. What she feels is the blush of embarrassment and the tug of modesty. Modesty has been the gatekeeper to sexual vulnerability for centuries. Drop your modesty and you become sexually vulnerable. Have someone else strip you of your modesty (clothing retailers, tawdry Web sites, raunchy music videos, assorted creeps in the lunchroom) and you become sexually vulnerable against your will.

Repeatedly denying feelings of embarrassment leads to the decline of modesty, which breeds just the sort of desensitization that makes it oh so easy for a young female shopper to offer a cheery hi to a young male clerk as he unlocks the door to a changing room. "And, oh fella, I need this thong in a different size. Could you pick me up a medium? Red or black, whatever you think."

There's a reason modesty has stood as a virtue for centuries. A young lady knew that to reveal herself, to give her hand, her kiss, her body, was to give her heart. A modest young woman would wait for a man who would protect and defend her modesty, not strip her of it, shame her for it, merchandise it and market it.

In the insightful book, A Return to Modesty , author Wendy Shalit cites a Hebrew proverb: "Ein b'nos yisrael hefker." Translation: The daughters of Israel are not for public use.

Sadly, the daughters of America often are.

JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids. To comment, please click here.

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© 2001, Lori Borgman