Relative Modesty is a concept advanced by Lawrence Langner, who defined the term to suggest that erotic depictions in media are a function of what part of the world the product is exhibited in and the audience it is intended for. Langner's famous example is a compilation images that involves a continuum of three exposures: showgirl dancers who are topless for the French market, with pasties for the British, and more-covered halters for the Americans (LL5616). See Lawrence Langner's works in the bibliography for more details on his theories on exposures, which Bikini Science embraces.
The gradient of breast exposures--the Bikini Science TMB--is one where cultural variance is most evident. Different geographical regions, different languages--different cultures--treat topless exposures differently in their media. As in LL5616, the barebreasted in France is equivalenced to the pasted nipple in England and is equivalenced to the haltered in America. The constant across the three of these is the showgirl as depicted on film, sort of a clustering of the live dance hall and the movie theater. Thus the frame of the depiction is consistent; but the dance of the topless is different--more toward a continuous variable than a flip-flop.
During the late 1990s French newsstand and public advertising invoked topless; in England it appeared on page three of the Daily Tabloid, and in America it was nowhere in public space. So Langner's example has even more contemporary analogs. Topless beach is common in France, England and indeed all of Europe; but rare in America. Langner's "relative modesty."
This concept of relative modesty can also be applied to other body parts, language, time of day, and more tactical locations. These accents include navelage--display of the belly button, cleavage and leggage of course, and (in the world of Bikini Science certainly) rugage or cracking the ass, and the management of pubic hair. Thinness of fabric, tightness of fit, and many other aspects of Bikiniology play here as well. Two other examples of relative modesty is the vulgarity of language (swear words, cursing and insults), and a gradient of sex acts; in both cases controlled for the "publicness" of the media involved. For example kissing in the movies is taboo in India but languished upon in the Europe.
The remaining paragraphs of this section discuss various media themes relating to modesty, some launch directly from Langner's "relative by territory" whereas others deal with exposure progressions over time.
The Molting Theory
Exposures develop faster in specialty literature than in family literature, the movies and on the beach. An early example of this is seen shortly after the development of the picture postcard (and centralized postal systems) around 1900 concerns the uncovering of leg. Sometimes a single image can capture the gradient, as this collection of bathing beauties (NYC1900A), or this lineup of Mack Sennett bathing beauties from the late 1910 (KY1650). More on the molting of uncovering of leg can be found by examining the bathing dress shortsleeved and its related costumes.
Molting is exampled in later years by this cover of U.S. Camera that puts bikini-clad girls on its covers in 1947 (US5001), long before anybody mainstream would dare to wear a bikini on a real beach.
Stratification of Media Modesty
In an uncensored environment media stratify into layers that define a ranges of sexuality. For example the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is non-nude erotica, whereas Playboy features nudes and Penthouse explores more sexuallyexplicit situations. This is the concept of the stratification of media modesty: some publications are more modest than publications in a similar form-factor, and some publications are less modest than their form-factor peers. In other words media (e.g., magazines) segments from public media to family media to private media.
Thus molting tend to be first introduced into private, specialty media before, over time, they progress into family media.
This has tended to be true over and over again with each wave of new media, e.g.: words, pictures, zeotropes, stereo views, film, video, holography, the Internet.
Relative by Medium
The idea of exactly what exposure can be presented in a culture is also a function of the medium involved. In America example, underwear and lingerie advertising was widely published in family newspapers and magazines but not on TV, at least not until about 2000 and even after that rarely. In general mediums, which involve a static representation, tend to be more permissive than media, which involves movement, and during the past 100 years any particular censor is likely to break through in still media before in moving pictures. Possibly the reason is the very movement itself--that which moves may be interpreted to be more real, and closer psychologically to the original real action.
Relative to Motion
That censors tend to be more sensitive to motion than the still image is true not only for the dichotomy between the still photograph and the moving picture (film and video), but for media that evolved one hundred years previously.
One form of nudity on stage in Paris that emerges during 1800s is the tableau vivant. Tableau vivant, literally "living painting" (a.k.a. living sculptures), is a representation of a scene--often a Biblical or allegorical theme--by live, nude, motionless models. Tableaux vivants theater performances ((the plural), and the related anatomie vivante, or "living anatomy") in drawing rooms and nightclubs define the edge of permissible nudity by a live person in a public performance. The cultural dynamic forbids the actress to move when nude or semi-nude on stage but there is no restriction on standing still; this intrigues the public.
A tableau vivant approach to photography is developed by many early photographic pioneers, if only because the film emulsions of the mid 1800s require exposure times in the minutes, thus demanding a model, or cast, who could hold a pose. And of course in MuLuhanistic terms, the new media, photography, digests the old, theater. In 1904 Pathé and others bring tableau vivant to the newly emerging cinema; an ironic combination, given how cinema is all about recording action!
In more risqué tableau vivant performance the cast might move from one position to another very slowly, in accompany of music, and with the slow-motion choreographed. Topless showgirls in Paris emerge before the First World War and dance through it.
Hollywood introduces living statues in 1915: one of the first Hollywood actresses to appear nude--Andrea Munson in 1915--is herself an artist model who plays the role of a nude artist's model on film, again a motionless "action" (MU15-21). The following year Annette Kellerman embraces full motion nudity when she bathes nude in A Daughter of the Gods (AK1610). Naturalism comes to film; water can play a role. Clara Bow reprises it in the late 1920s (CB2755).
The point here is simply to note that nudity is sometimes introduced into a medium without motion, and only later is motion introduced. This is true even when the medium can already support motion, as can for example, the live stage.
Relative by Time
Modesty can also be relative to the time of day. In general, eveningwear can be more revealing than costumes worn during the daytime.
The Venue of Costume
Relative modesty also relates to the purpose of the costume: Underwear reveals the same amount of skin as a bikini, but is more immodest than a bikini on the beach. This idea is explored as the bikiniology theme Underwear as Swimwear.
Conversely, consider a bikini worn on the beach vs. the same bikini but worn on the city street. In Bikini Science this is a theme referred to as High Beach.
Relative modesty deals with variations in place and time.