Saturday, February 18, 2012

On modesty

So on Valentines, at BYU, some guy gave this girl a note saying she was dressed immodestly (click here for the story). The note is completely ridiculous no matter what the girl was wearing, but! she was dressed absolutely appropriately.

I actually agree with my brother that the note was probably a prank, which I think makes the whole incident worse (but that is a different post). Anyways, I wasn't going to write about it, but I've been wanting to talk about modesty anyways because of a couple incidents.
  • One includes helping a student with an essay where she was working through the reasons for modesty. Her main question being, I don't get why I'm asked to do something just so some guy can keep control of his thoughts. 
  • The other being a general discussion of modesty and religion in a few articles I've read.  You can read one here.
  • I guess my other reason for modesty is linked to my interest in the pornography issue (which needs about 5 posts right now). I guess because I hear a lot of women naively say, when asked what women can do to support men in this issue, Well, girls should know they need to dress modestly. (This answer shows a fundamental misunderstanding of addiction, and more egregiously: shifts the blame of someone's problem onto an innocent bystander).
The short version of this blog post:
Men and women should be taught any facet of modesty or any other commandment in terms of their relationship with God—not in terms of their relationship with any other person.

I plan of teaching my kids to be honest because they love God, and then that honesty has the power to influence & help people around them.
And the long version...

Many of you may be thinking: modesty blah blah blah. I don't care. I guess the purpose of this post is to help you care. We live in a society were women are told by many people: you are equal to men. But then every day in a hundred thousand ways, women (meaning your daughters, sisters) are shown that their power only comes from their ability to be sexually appealing to men. And men (meaning your sons, brothers) are shown everyday that women should only be valued because of their ability to be sexually appealing.

This is sexual objectification. Sexual objectification is sad for many reasons, but mainly because it cuts both men and women off from being able to see each other as God sees them. And sexual objectification can limit the ability to love on any level (friendship, romantic, familial, etc.)

If you believe in God and you're trying to teach your daughter or son about individual worth, divine nature, integrity, virtue—all of these principles are being directly opposed every time your son or daughter watches commercials on TV, a music video, or drives anywhere and looks at the myriad of billboards on the freeway.

So what does modesty have to do with divine nature, individual worth, virtue, integrity? When taught correctly, it helps bolster all of these ideas and directly oppose ideas of sexual objectification. And if taught correctly, it can influence the way a person understands divine nature & individual worth (principles that directly influence how we understand the nature of God).

When you teach a girl or a boy that women should dress modestly because it helps men keep their minds pure—what is this actually teaching them? It's most likely teaching a girl to dress herself out of fear & guilt. And a boy, to feel like women are responsible for his sins—we don't believe in this kind of principle in the Mormon church (see the second Article of Faith).  Mostly, it reinforces from the opposite direction (from what a brittany spears video teaches) that a woman's body is, first, a sexual object.

But, if we teach that like any other commandment,  the principle of modesty should be followed out of love for God—then the principle becomes what it should be: something which is about our relationship with God.

When this happens, it's easy to teach that bodies are a gift from God, and that he has asked us to dress them in a way that shows respect to Him—for the gift. In that way, modesty becomes a form of worship, instead of a form of censorship or restriction. Dress becomes a source of empowerment instead of a source of guilt. A woman who chooses to wear a dress with cap sleeves is doing so out of her agency & love of God, instead out of fear for what others around her may fantasize when she walks past. Do you see which reason holds the most truth? Someone may think that wearing long shorts out of love of God is stupid or restricting, but to the person following the principle out of worship—there is learning.

I think girls should know how guys' minds work. But, that discussion goes under a completely different topic. First, the topic of male psychology; then, the topic of how there are some principles (for example, modesty, honesty, generosity) that when followed help assist and strengthen others around you.

But, the principle of modesty should always be taught first in terms of relationship with God.

Why is this a big deal:
We live in a pornographic society. So in an effort to battle the immodesty inherent in pornography, many leaders teach the principle of modesty in terms of pornography. This isn't always helpful (because it can still encourage sexual objectification). So if you're a mom, or a sister, or a youth leader I hope this helped you. Or if your husband is a leader of youth, please send this to him.  I think it's something that has the power to really make discussions on modesty more about the sacredness of the body & divinity & worship rather than: well, we're Mormon so we don't wear mini-skirts. 


  1. You've hit the nail on the head! Thank you.

  2. You are amazing. Thanks for articulating this.

  3. YES! You said it perfectly Emily. Gosh I sure love you!

  4. Thank you for this, I needed a reminder lesson!


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