In middle school, I had a Native American friend with long hair. I wanted long hair. My mom didn’t like the idea. My culture told me I shouldn’t—it was rebellious. Then I went to college and on a mission, and agreed during these times to dress a certain way. When I went to graduate school, I was finally ready to grow my hair out. Guess what—I liked it. I still do. Thankfully, it shows no sign of thinning, so I’m not going to embarrass my children when they are teenagers by going around with a ponytail hanging off of my bald fringe, so it looks like I’ll get to keep may hair a bit longer.
I’m sure you’re not curious, but I also found out I like a beard. If it didn’t annoy my wife, I’d probably let that grow long and bushy, too, and when my eyebrows get crazy, I would let them. I like hair. I like mine. I want to look like Gandalf when I’m old. I like other people’s hair—short, long, curly, straight, thick, thin, or absent. I’m a rather indiscriminate hair lover. But my love of hair is just background. As I started to break the Mormon mold, I became more aware of people who don’t fit the mold through no choice of their own. My hair didn’t start as a statement, but I came to use it that way.
One bishop chided me after a CES fireside about the counsel to not dress like “the world”. I told him, I’m not. I’m not dressing like an American businessman. In retrospect, that was a little mean as he dressed like a stereotypical American businessman, but I don’t think it hurt our strong relationship. I had discovered that I could use my position—active, outgoing, educated, overtly faithful, return missionary, priesthood holder/leader—to influence the culture of the ward. I fit. No one was questioning that. It was my ward as much as it was anyone else’s, and a lot more than many. But I didn’t fit, too. My hair was wrong. Later, my beard was wrong. Sometimes I wore a nice curta punjabi instead of a shirt and tie. Sometimes I wore my Hmong needlework jacket instead of a suit. I never wore a suit. I spouted Liberal ideas through the words of Hugh Nibley, proof-texting of early church leaders, and emphasizing messages of care, compassion, and fairness from the scriptures. And I fit. Completely. I did my Home Teaching. I magnified my callings. I was at all the activities. My cousin and I invited everyone over for dinner, games, music, or whatever, sometimes having more than 20 people crowding our apartment, and we asked lots of people on dates for fun.
In those same years, while channel surfing the radio I heard this song by Casting Crowns:
It’s crowded in a worship today
As she slips in
Trying to fade into the faces
The girls’ teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know
But if we are the body
Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Why aren’t His hands healing?
Why aren’t His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them
There is a way? There is a way.
The song hit home. Why did too many feel like they didn’t fit? Was I just a show off, wanting to stand out? Maybe. Maybe I still am. I fit on the inside. Mormonism was mine. I couldn’t fit on the outside, because I wanted so badly for other misfits to find a home in Mormonism. This world was mine. I couldn’t stand it that you felt it wasn’t yours.
I hope I still can’t.
Photo: Me (this year), with my youngest, wearing a hand embroidered vest I made during graduate school.
Thanks! I particularly like your take on dressing as the world and agree 100%. The only times in my adult life I have bot ad a beard was on my mission and during graduate school at BYU. My great grandfather was a bearded apostle I am simply carrying on that tradition and will not. I will not wear a tie or a suit to church. Sadly I do not have the creative alternatives you have. We have to creative diversity in what ever way we can!
Jonathan, I am proud of you!!! I live here in Utah and I can not stand this “fit” issue any more. I am starting my own “revolution” on my own by going to church with “pants”. We need to start ” cleaning” all this “false” standards that are creating a lot of emotional/psychological issues to the moral “spiritual” concerns of HUMAN beings. I am Colling “my revolution”: the Gods helpers of ” the dispensation of the times announced in D&C 112 were it SAIS that the Lord is going to start “cleaning/detoxing” from the inside of the church.
Yay. Thanks for this. I recently moved from NY –> UT and whew, I tell ya. I have to constantly tell myself, everyone is different. Each has his/her own story if I just take the time. Where I served smack dab in the middle of it all there, here I feel I’m viewed as a “fringe Mormon” (whatever that means.) And I wrestle between hoping to find more peeps who may not “fit the mold” or even serve merely as an example of a different way to be Mormon, and, frankly, being tired of feeling like I’m hitting a wall all the time with my views and opinions and speech and ways. But I’ll take courage from your post and keep up the fight for, as I believe, there must be room for us all.
Oh, p.s. My friend wrote this and I like it:
I have an ongoing discussion with my parents about wearing a white shirt on Sunday. My dad serves in a leadership position and feels obligated to wear one in case he is in a position where he is asked to sit on the stand or act in an official capacity. I am the local Scoutmaster who never sits on the stand and doesn’t participate in administering the Sacrament hence I don’t see the need to wear the uniform. I understand the desire for conformity and the comfort it brings to feeling a sense of community but at some point I think it veers into the realm of “vain traditions of our fathers”.
I love it! My husband also wears long hair and a beard. It suits him as well. I love your article. I no longer feel that “I fit” with mormonism. But I pray for peace! Thanks for you words!
Excellent post. It really doesn’t matter what we look like, does it? All we need is love.
I was wearing a white shirt once when a high councilor commented about the need to wear a white shirt. I have been careful ever since to wear my non-white shirts most Sundays. After all my wine coloured shirt reminds me of Christ’s blood and like they sing in Primary, “Blue is for truth in our thought and deed.”
Thanks for sharing and for creating space for the round pegs who don’t fit in the square holes. The obsession with appearance functions as an easy artificial tool to measure worthiness by authoritarian leaders. Wouldn’t this be something the Pharisee’s would’ve done? I think your heart is in the right place–keep it up!
I thought this article–“Proclamation of the Pantyhose” made some very good points:
Beautiful. I am glad your hair is long. I hope you do look like Gandalf someday. Gandalf is a far better role model for your kids than corporate America. I too tired of church dress standards long before I left the church. I began wearing pants…. not particularly as part of the feminist initiative at the time, but because that initiative got me reading about how Brigham Young tried to convince the women to wear the pants he designed for them…. but they rejected them because they weren’t feminine. And I live in Canada and it’s cold in the winter and they got to wear petticoats and I get stuck with panty hose in -20C. And ultimately, I thought about how being told what to wear wasn’t Jesus’ thing. At all. And I started to watch how differently I was treated because I didn’t wear skirts. And slowly, my testimony unravelled…. We are so much more important than our clothes, than our politics, than our bodies and our thoughts and our appearance and the things we’ve accomplished and our tithing status and our recommend status and our PT’s and our families and our parents and their relationships…. The things that make us who we are can’t be counted or quantified, as there is an infinity of circumstances and traits and genes and experiences that shapes us into the marvellous creatures that we are, that are so worthy of infinite love and kindness, and so very far beyond our collective tendencies to box each other in and suffocate and trap and mold and squander and control each other…. May God grant that I, too, never fit in.
Thank you all for your kind comments. So many are reaching out in every way they can. Some wear the “uniform”. Some don’t. It’s a blessing any time we can help someone feel loved.
You know how I stand on the subject. 🙂 I’d still have long hair if I had hair.
And I don’t wear white shirts. I’m not making a statement, I just don’t like white shirts. There are a few older members (well, one crazy one) who says I have no respect for tradition. I tell him that he’s right, I don’t, especially when it has a dogma-ish bent to it.
And this American businessman wears shorts and sandals almost every day.
Jonathan, I respect and celebrate your individuality. I believe individualism is not promoted in the Church, as it can be dangerous to the status quo. I loved your statement about not dressing like a businessman. I saw a picture a year or so ago of a clean-shaven Christ with short hair, wearing a white shirt, tie, and suit coat. Frankly it made me laugh. Do we really think he’ll care to dress in the Church’s uniform? I believe he’d praise members such as yourself for being your best you. He’d praise you for being unique and courageous enough to make others outside the Church feel like there may be a place for them, too.
I mostly dress in the “official” Mormon way, but I refuse to wear a suit to church unless it also makes sense for the weather outside. During summer my wife is always cold at church because the chapels (and many other public buildings) are excessively air conditioned. If the men who have the power to change thermostat settings dressed appropriately for the weather, we could turn up thermostats a few degrees, better care for the earth and save a few tithing dollars.
Darren, Yes and thank you. I learned from the best.
Q, I have had many of the same thoughts. Maybe if we politely bring it up enough times to leaders they will eventually think all on their own, “Why don’t I have us all take off our jackets and turn the air conditioning a little warmer? It would make the sisters more comfortable and save the church money.”