Islam’s emphasis on female modesty is increasingly familiar to Americans
observing Muslim neighbors wearing headscarves and, during the Olympics,
some nations’ limitations of women’s participation in sports such as
archery. Similarly, strictly observant Orthodox Jewish women wear wigs or
kerchiefs in public.

Many Christians’ beliefs about modesty are also continually at odds with
current dictates of fashion and the mass media.

Consider observations about the Miss America pageant, that fading icon of
respectability, from Erin Curry, who monitors cultural trends for Baptist
Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Southerners often excel at beauty contests and the new Miss America,
Alabama’s Deidre Downs, graduated from Baptist-related Samford University
in Birmingham and attends a local Baptist church.

Instead of cheering, Curry felt uncomfortable, writing that changes in this
year’s pageant “implied the emphasis had been moved from scholarship to sex
appeal to gain viewers” in response to declining TV ratings.

One change was shortening ABC’s telecast by limiting the talent competition
to two brief acts.

Speaking of brief, seven years ago the pageant began permitting two-piece
swimsuits. This year, 42 contestants wore the string bikinis supplied by
the pageant, courtesy of a sponsor. Some refused…

Religions’ teachings about female modesty have deep and authoritative roots.

In Islam, the Quran (24:31) directs women, “Let them drape their bosoms
with their veils and not show their finery” except to specified relatives,
servants or children.

Muslims vary in applying those words. Some simply avoid revealing garb.
Muslim schoolgirls might shun shorts in gym classes. Others believe women
should expose only their faces and hands. And Afghans don all-enveloping
burkas with mesh eyeholes..


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