I had a conversation with a new patient just yesterday regarding modesty. She was getting ready to change into a robe for a breast and body consult and she made reference to her inherent modesty. This topic is very relevant to me as a physician, specifically the kind of physician that requires new patients to bare themselves in a very intimate way to formulate a plan to address their concerns.

I just looked up the definition as I could not properly define the concept of modesty in my mind:

mod·es·ty  (mŏd′ĭ-stē)  n.

1. The state or quality of being moderate in the estimation of one's own abilities, accomplishments, or value.

2. Reserve or propriety in speech, dress, or behavior: Modesty prevented her from wearing that dress.

3. The state of being unostentatious or moderate in size, quantity, or range.

In the world of plastic surgery, or at least in my office, modesty is the protection of one’s exposure physically. It is not normal to meet a stranger, even if you’ve booked an appointment with that stranger to discuss your aesthetic concerns, and change into a robe and some delightful disposable panties. I know how I feel when I have my obligatory annual female exam…this terrorizes me dramatically as I cannot imagine how anyone could feel more exposed and vulnerable than during this experience. Because I am so traumatized by this, I am steadfast in my protection of the women, and the occasional men, that trust me with their concerns.

My modesty story starts about 46 and a half years ago. I am rather certain I was born into a fabric tube and have never once been unnecessarily exposed in my life. That is just how I am. Not right or wrong, just my way. This little insight into my psyche is riddled with one primary problem…I am only addressing one of three definitions of modesty.

Regarding the first definition:

The state or quality of being moderate in the estimation of one's own abilities, accomplishments, or value.

OK. I believe that I exhibit this quality. I would have described this a being humble, but I do understand how this is modesty. This behavior brings to mind how one reacts to a compliment. I do not field compliments well and I am not sure why. When someone is gracious enough to commend a performance, a gesture, a trait…there is no reason to not accept that. When you force feed your accomplishments down the throats of your peers seeking commendation that indeed does not reflect modesty. The pendulum in this case can clearly swing in the other direction which can be perceived as self-deprecation. Not good. Modesty is a positive trait in this case. Keep your pendulums in the middle.

Regarding the second definition, I think that has been addressed. Am I always dressed appropriately? Absolutely not. Is my behavior always demure and reserved? I think most that really know me know the answer to this. ‘Propriety in speech’? If that means avoidance of profanity and the occasional naughty innuendo….nope, not my reality. But for the most part I do believe that my average is, indeed, modesty in this definition.

The third definition: The state of being unostentatious or moderate in size, quantity, or range.

I interpret this as what some might call ‘even keeled’. Does this define me? I feel like it does but cannot articulate exactly why. I am a firm believer in less is more.  In my life as a plastic surgeon, I am very open in my passion for less filler, average sized implants, MODEST interventions. For the most part in my personal life, my demeanor is rather consistent. If you ignore bad days, mood swings, bouts of depression…I am very, very even keeled. Hey, I’m human. And it appears I am indeed a modest human, in three definitions of the word.

Why might this matter to me…to be defined as modest? Rarely a consult transpires that I don’t explain to a new patient my penchant for protecting my patients’ modesty. It is apparent to me now I might not have been using the word in an entirely appropriate form. But my intent and spirit are pure. I acknowledge without hesitation how surreal it is to be exposed, physically in the case of my daily professional life. Patients sometimes express their concerns for what might happen once they are under anesthesia in the operating room. What happens is that I remain my patient’s greatest advocate and fiercely protect their presence and, to continue the theme of this thought process, their modesty.

I have to get cleaned up now to go to the office. I went for a little jog this morning after years of not running regularly. You can compliment me on that endeavor and I will accept that….modestly. I will probably wear something comfortable to the office as it is a day of office procedures. My attire will surely be modest in the second definition of the word. I will strive today to remain unostentatious in my behaviors, whatever that might truly mean.

One final offering as your friendly local word smith to end this thought: I wish you a magnificent and unlimited day, full of self-confidence…all the opposite of modesty. Ironic?

Here’s up to it!


Emily MclaughlinComment