What Does It Mean To Be A Modest Person? (Explained)

In an age where pride and self affirmation are considered goods or virtues, many of us that understand true virtue know something has gone awry. What we are missing is the antecedent of the vice of pride which can be found in modesty. If we should follow its guidance and teach our kids to as well, what does it mean to be a modest person?

A modest person lives with the understanding that their dress and actions affect the people around them. Modesty involves upholding human dignity in the self and others by resisting sexual objectification. A modest person will even laud the accomplishments of others over their own.

This sense of the other before ourselves and becoming a help or servant to all in order to be considered great is what I will be discussing here today. This not only has ramifications for us in every aspect of our lives, but should inform us in how we perform our most important job of our lives… raising our kids.

Remember, they are watching what you do and only seldom listen to what you say.

What Does It Mean To Be A Modest Person?

When looking at what modest means in applied character and action, there are different categories that should be discussed. As with any virtue there are internal and external facets.

To be a modest person means to follow the virtue of temperance in regulating thoughts, actions, dress, and mannerisms within the boundaries of moderation. Modesty is not humbleness, but leads to it just like temperance leads to being a modest person.

Virtue is not something we can form ourselves and define on our own. It is intrinsic. It is something that is outside of us. We aspire to be like these virtues and then we turn and teach them to our children.

…the life of man requires to be regulated by the virtues with regard to everything.

St. Thomas Aquinas

Aquinas also pointed to the difference in temperance and modesty by stating that modesty is concerned with the easier issues whereas temperance is the virtue relied upon for the more difficult ones.

Aristotle claimed that moderation was a deprivation of sincerity, whereby the person would downplay his own strengths to the detriment of truth. Yet, Aquinas would argue that a modest person does not lie about accomplishments that rely on talents and skills that he was born with and did not choose.

These skills and the outflowing accomplishments are only powered by effort. This same effort can be seen in all with different results. The modest person understands that these talents are not created by the will but gifted.

Let’s now look at more tangible examples of what a modest person looks like.

Modesty As External Signs Of Character

As stated above, modesty has both external and internal components. Much of what modesty entails is a form of discipline that puts others first. Let’s look at how this can play out in real life.

The Modest Person Takes Dress Seriously

There are many that decry modern fashion with its bent toward sexualizing adults and children. Human dignity is harmed as the individual is showcased as an object rather than a person. This can be done willingly or unknowingly.

Today’s oversexualization of men and especially women has infiltrated almost every facet of dress. It is not unusual for a woman or a girl to think they have dress appropriately, while wearing spaghetti straps, a backless dress, or a hemline that is several inches above their knees.

The modest person attempts to keep veiled that which should be kept secret. Those that wear revealing clothing are not only advertising their intent for others to treat them as objects, they are also making it difficult for others to take them seriously.

Our daughter found this out first hand while attending scholarship meetings while choosing which college she would attend. Because we had taught her to dress professionally and modestly, she was shocked at the sun dresses, high hemlines, and inappropriate attire in general that many of the girls wore to these meetings.

She ultimately got the full scholarship she was competing for over these other children. She even had a chance to discuss the process with professors and other judges. Apart from her academic achievements, she found that one of the deciding factors for many of them was how the applicants carried themselves and dressed.

The Modest Person Takes Responsibility For Their Behavior

Modesty also takes the form of behavior that models moderation and concern for others. There can be two main aspects of action here.

  • Calling attention to the accomplishments of others

This also encompasses not emphasizing one’s own attributes. This can be taken too far of course and become a sort of pride as the person refuses to accept any accolades. Yet, because something can be misused does not mean it is invalid.

Pointing at the accomplishments and contributions of others while accepting this from others is a well formed modesty.

  • Like with dress, modest actions are guarded actions

If someone tries to dress modestly, but then allows actions like dancing, kissing, or affection to point toward sexualization, the actions become immodest.

There is an old saying my grandmother told me once,

Girls, watch how you dress. Boys, watch how you touch.

Lazona White (d. 2019 – You are missed Grandma.)

Though this can go both ways, it is true that men are affected by what they see and women are affected by what they feel. Men and boys should watch closeness and touching. This is encompassed in modesty.

Women and girls should watch what they wear and how they act. Whether you believe someone shouldn’t treat you as an object or not, how you display yourself sends the message loud and clear. A modest person helps those around them, while an immodest person revels in undesirable attention.

We need to teach our kids how to act and dress modestly. If it hasn’t been done to this point and they are older, things won’t change without a fight. The fight is worth it though. They are our prime reason for being on this earth. Without children, humanity dies out in one generation.

To read more great articles about teaching character, see some of ours here…

Modesty Through Internal Virtues

These outward signs of modesty mean nothing without the inward intentions. These intentions should be taught to children when they are young so they know how to be and what to aim for in becoming a positive influence on society.

To make sure they show these outward signs of being a modest person, these next inward virtues should be instructed.

Temperance Leads To Modesty

Temperance is when we put boundaries on our wills, desires, and ultimately actions. Aquinas states that temperance is the virtue that deals with the harder issues of restraining ourselves, whereas modesty handles the simpler ones.

Both of these come from the same set of intentions. They realize that our weakness that tends toward selfishness can lead to extremes in all areas of our lives and adversely affect those around us.

With a proper grasp on temperance, modesty is almost a foregone conclusion.

Modesty Leads To Humility

Modesty then will lead to putting others first and understanding that we did not earn the talents and intelligence that may put us ahead of others. We celebrate in humility the struggle of others to compete at something that may come easy to us.

This is not as Aristotle claims, a lack of sincerity. Modesty is in reality, more sincere by definition. It will not allow us to claim credit for our abilities since we were simply gifted them at birth.

There is something to be said for striving and dedication on our parts, but many others give the same effort with lessor results. The modest person understands this and acknowledges the struggles of others.

This is something we should teach our children through our words, but more importantly through our actions. Let them see you being strong enough to be humble and modest, and they will do likewise.

What Is A Modest Girl or Woman?

Now let’s look at specifics on how these types of ideals play out in everyday life. First, we will look at women and girls to see how they can show modesty.

A modest girl or woman will wear fashion that exemplifies here femininity without revealing parts of her body that evoke sexual desires in men. She watches her actions and speech, keeping in mind how overt flirtatiousness and closeness can cause her to be seen as an object.

This in no way blames a girl or woman if a man or boy treats here inapproprately. That is squarely on the shoulders of the man doing it.

Yet, a woman that is immodest in dress and action causes the weakness in some men to be displayed. Modesty is having the strength to consider others, even as it curtails your own desires and will.

What Is A Modest Boy Or Man?

Modesty in men and boys can follow along the same lines as women, only it has more to do with appropriate action around women than dress. Respectable dress is more about the professional outward appearance of men rather than its ability to illicit sexual desire.

Though this can happen as well, it is usually touch and closeness that affect women the most. A modest boy or man will keep themselves in check when women are around.

This means giving way to women and keeping appropriate distances in public settings. Placing hands on backs and shoulders is not being modest as is inappropriate comments about a woman’s appearance.

What Are Examples Of Modesty?

Here are some examples of what modesty looks like so that you can model it in your life and for your kids.

  • A woman wears a sweater or jacket over a sleeveless or strapped dress.
  • A father asks his teen daughter to change when she appears in a tank top when meeting friends.
  • A man wears a jacket to an outdoor business event in the heat of summer.
  • A man wears sweatpants over running shorts when others are around.
  • A boy looks the other way when an inappropriately dressed girl walks by.
  • After winning a race, a boy tells the second place runner how tough he made the race.
  • After a recital, a girl acknowledges that without her teacher she would never have been able to play as she did.
  • After a coworker receives a promotion, a man tells him that he was the best choice for the job.

If some of these sound like humbleness to you, your suspicions are correct. Humbleness is a form or even an outgrowth of modesty.

How Can You Tell If Someone Is Modest?

There can be some confusion when someone acts in an apparently modest way. When someone gives place or defers to someone else, many immediately are suspect. This has more to do with modesty being rarer than pride and selfishness in our society than the persons intentions.

Someone is being modest if they wear appropriate clothing, give credit where credit is due, and don’t make such a show of it that it turns attention to themselves. If someone is seeking accolades for being modest from others, then they are not being a truly modest person.

Usually it is easiest to tell if someone is being modest if they are trying not to let their actions be noticed. If they point to the fact that they are dressed appropriately or that they are giving accolades to others, this is false modesty.

True modesty many times goes unnoticed. It is done for the higher truth itself.

How To Have A Modest Personality

Like with any virtue, the conscience must be formed in a way that recognizes the good. Some things we think are inherent, actually come from what we learn from our parents.

To form a conscience, understanding what a virtue is and practicing it regularly is necessary.

In the case of modesty, it is important to consistently dress appropriately and treat the opposite sex with respect. The more this is done, the more the conscience will understand this is right and good habits will follow.

The personality of most anyone can be formed if enough effort is applied. Understanding that modesty is essentially looking out for others by guiding our own actions makes this infinitely easier.

The Modest Person Takeaway…

To be a modest person is to simply… be better. All virtues if followed make us better members of our families and societies.

Acknowledging the accomplishments of others, not overemphasizing our own traits we had nothing to do with in the first place, and guarding our appearance in the presence of others can do this for us.

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Mathew Booe

Mathew Booe is a father of four, husband to Jackie since 1994, retired international competitor with over 50 wins, an international seminar instructor, a master instructor of hundreds of Little Ninjas each week, and the one bringing you the great content like you just read. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about his upcoming books before they are released to the public.

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