In this rough and tumble piece (not modest fare, to be sure) Kay Hymowitz goes a long way around to say what has been blatantly obvious to anyone who understands the mystery and lure of modesty. Using contemporary anecdotes (yes, our beloved Paris Hilton and Britney Spears) she shows that women have shot themselves in the foot by baring too much to strangers.
The problem with a Britney or a Bentley is not that they are floozies. It is rather that they are, paradoxical as it might seem, naive. They underestimate the magnetic force field created by intimate sexual information and violate the logic of privacy that should be all the more compelling in a media-driven age. People in the public eye always risk becoming objectified; they are watched by hordes of strangers who have only fragmentary information about them. When that information includes details that only their Brazilian waxers should know for sure, it's inevitable that, humans being the perverse creatures that they are, all other facts of identity will fall away. Instead of becoming freer, the exhibitionist becomes an object defined primarily by a narrow sexual datum.
Every publicist knows this. Even in the world of politics, the first question a candidate has to consider is whether he has "name recognition;" and secondly, for those who have it, is the name associated with "positives" or negatives."
Thus, in this modern, fast-paced world, people reduce public figures to bullet points: Monica = intern, blue dress; Arnold = body-builder, Terminator, Maria Shriver; Hillary = universal health care, Whitewater, constant makeovers. You get the drift. People make quick associations and move on -- and a public figure is happy to be on anyone's radar screen, even as a blip (go figure).
But even small town talk and high school memories end up with the same result. Sherry = athlete; Jessica = the brain; Carly = fast. These are probably unfair labels for complex people, but it's how a large world operates. In that sense, one has to carefully guard one's reputation because our fallen nature rarely gives us room to explain. Interestingly, Susan Sontag, it is presumed, understood this.
It was doubtless for this reason that Susan Sontag hesitated to write about her romantic relationship with the photographer Annie Leibovitz. After her death, many accused Sontag of cowardice and hypocrisy for avoiding the L-word, but this seems an unlikely charge. A woman who braved the brutes of Kosovo, Sontag was probably less fearful of having it known that she was in love with a woman than of having it become the defining trait of her public identity; she must have dreaded being boxed in as the "lesbian writer Susan Sontag."
She wanted to define herself, rather than be defined with a bullet point created by others. Thus for her, virtue was not the point, but "ownership" of her public personae was. That we could all be this wise.
The overall point is one of common sense, one that the Church has argued since her inception: women who are free with their bodies will be objectified, which is beneath their dignity. In living chastely in all states of life, a person is most respected as an integral being of depth, intrigue, and complexity.
Ironically, the more you show (physically), the less folks process. Cheap. Fast. Easy. With these bullet points attached to one's name, the face, the personality, the beauty of the soul are shot. Of course, our motherly hearts would never reduce anyone to this inhuman vision, right? When we see more in others -- especially their potential, we remind them of who they are called to be. Modesty says the body is so important, that less is so much more.