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Is Modesty Dead?

Finding modesty in U.S. society is becoming harder as Americans become more consumed with the rich, famous -- and vain.

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Webster's dictionary defines immodesty as offending against sexual mores in conduct or appearance; indecent; boastful, and arrogant. Think Donald Trump, or former Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens doing a dance after he makes a touchdown.

By contrast, the dictionary defines modesty as the lack of pretentiousness; simplicity and/or freedom from vanity or conceit. With shows like American Idol and The Apprentice that involve participants vying for attention and status, and role models like Trump and Owens, it's much easier to conjure up images of the immodest today than the modest.

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When we are told we need to have positive images of ourselves to feel good and we need to be promoting ourselves at work to be sure we are recognized, where does modesty fit in anyway? Is modesty dead? Does it even matter if it is?

Vanity Fair

"Vanity and conceit stem from feelings of inadequacy and insecurity," says Ellen Helman, MSW, a psychoanalyst in Miami Beach, Fla., and member of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Braggarts often "feel so inadequate within themselves that they need to [brag or show-off]. People who are really secure and accept themselves don't have the need to be so vain. Immodesty whether sexual, physical, or psychological, leads to an imbalance in life.

"There is a refusal to value the inside and an emphasis on being young, thin, beautiful, and rich," she says. "That's what's valued, not how you think and feel and what your dreams are and what your goals are."

Bringing Back Values

The onus to bring these values back is on parents, schools, and the entire community, she says.

"Within the home, patients need to be more protective of children and not allow them to be so exposed to overstimulation on TV, Internet, and games," she says. "This has to go on in schools and in communities to help kids develop a sense of what's really important in life in terms of feeling good about themselves. The bottom line is that you don't have to brag if you really like yourself and feel good about yourself."

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