I feel like sometimes we are painting ourselves into a corner with all this modesty stuff.
We’re at a point where women’s underwear and bathing suit ads are considered pornography by some (because that is apparently where many men’s problems with pornography start? Nevermind that it could actually start because a woman’s body,
self abuse masturbation, and all things sexual are forbidden and secret sacred).
Are we really at a point where we have to worry about our husbands and sons seeing women in underwear or a bikini? Where we shame and un-friend teenage girls for not upholding to your standards of dress; for wearing bikinis and towels without a bra?
And now we paint clothing on Barbies so that our children don’t ever have to see a naked plastic toy body, let alone actually play with a Barbie while it is naked.
Our primary aged daughters are gossiping about how immodestly dressed their peers are, creating an idea of “we’re good because we make good choices and they aren’t as good because they aren’t making good choices” in their minds which they then reinforce in their peer groups in a classic mean girl scenario.
I am so tired of it all. It kills me whenever I see modesty lauded and taught to young girls in the name of “starting early” or ensuring that such “standards” have always been the standard so there is never any question of modest dress standards when they are teenagers.
It’s creating hypersexuality and awareness of a child’s body that they should not and do not need to have.
It is of my own opinion (of which many others would agree), that we are doing this to ourselves.
A few weeks ago a friend told me about her four year old playing Barbies. She decided they all needed to go swimming, but there were not enough swimming suits, or she just didn’t think to look for them, or they were hard to put on.
All this four year old knew is that you don’t go swimming in clothing, especially not dresses like most of the Barbies are dressed in, so she proceeded to remove their clothing and have them head to the beach.
Now, this mom carefully weighed the situation as the modesty rhetoric she had been taught all her life started to ring in her head. Should she insist that all Barbies be clothed at all times like so many other moms enforce in their house? Should she use this moment as a time to teach modesty and hold Barbies to the same standards that some people (and most definitely Mormon people) hold? To her blissfully unaware four year old?
While she certainly could have done any of those things, she stepped back and just let her child remain blissfully unaware and let her remain in her happy pretend world that is totally normal for a four year old. No mention of nakedness or the need to wear clothes. Not a big deal.
Years ago we lived in Texas and our community had a pool. As I spent days at the pool I noticed women of all shapes and sizes comfortable in their bikinis and no men ogling them. It was so refreshing to realize that these women owned their bodies and wore what they wanted to wear with no concern over what men would think about them along with the men not even batting an eye.
And so I wore a bikini (I’m sure some members of my family are gasping in horror!). My husband initially expressed his concern over other men looking at me and quickly realized that their behavior didn’t matter. Of course they might look, but it wasn’t his job to make sure I was dressed to maintain their virtue, nor my job to dress to accommodate them. Frankly, they would have been looking if I was in a one piece bathing suit too.
It’s up to them to see me as a person or a sexual object, the same way I have to decide to look at a shirtless “Hey girl” meme of Ryan Gosling and not objectify him.
Sure some guys looked, but they do not matter when I decide what I wear each day. I do not plan my attire thinking about what others will think of me. I wear what makes me feel good about myself. And what do you know, I walked around that pool deck in my bikini and no one ogled nor did I notice any stares, and I realized that the world outside of Utah and LDS culture is normal. Wearing a bikini is not shocking nor does it cause men to lust after you or lose control of their thoughts. Women do not need to refrain from “immodest” dress out of consideration of men around them
Recently a friend posted a picture of “sexy” bras and underwear for pregnant and nursing mothers on her Facebook wall. She was met with a response to think of the boys and men that would be seeing that and that she was worried about her own sons and husband seeing such an image.
What are we doing to our children? To our sons, and even our husbands?
We teach our children starting from age 3 (and younger!) that this and that way of dress is modest (yay! good!) and that this and that way of dress is immodest (boo! shame!).
In the Young Women program modesty is brought up on a regular basis. We have fashion shows where “modest” (according to the “rules” spelled out in a standards pamphlet for youth) fashions are showcased and lauded, thus making anything unlike them “immodest”. We start feeding our youth defined lines of modesty in order to have a “standard” which then becomes hyper-focused on. Those standards become a measuring stick. People not conforming are not as righteous or have some kind of issue because they aren’t “following the prophet” or living the “standards” that the church has spelled out and reiterated time and time again.What a girl is wearing is a visual way to measure their level of righteousness.
Suddenly our young women are required to wear pants and swim in t-shirts and shorts at girls camp where there are ONLY GIRLS because we are so into enforcing modesty. Dress ups and tank tops are worn with shirts under them, skirts with leggings, exercise wear is limited to shirts with sleeves, pants, and long shorts. Modest is Hottest is the phrase of choice and suddenly we have whole clothing companies catering to the modesty and layering so that everything remains covered.
We’ve started applying the standards of garments to our children and young women in the name of “well, they are going to wear them eventually, so we choose to adhere to those standards to make the transition easier”.
Why don’t we just make a child’s version of garments? We pretty much have the equivalent of the top in the classic tight fitting cap sleeved shirt that is worn under almost everything, all we need is long biking shorts.
Oh, right, garments aren’t there to enforce modesty. Or at least that was not their intent. Sadly, I often feel that this is what they have become.
As adults, people are known to subtly check for garments. I know. I used to do it. “GASP! I don’t think so and so is wearing garments! WTH?” Some cases are obvious and it’s easy to pass judgement on someone who you feel should be wearing garments who obviously are not. Some cases are not as obvious and you wonder in your mind and try to determine if they really are or aren’t and then wonder why they aren’t wearing garments or how they could possibly wear garments with what they are wearing. We saw a lot of this with Ann Romney and her clothing choices. The Mormon world was in a fit over her skirt length and sheer sleeves. Never mind that she was dressed modestly and dressed well.
Onto teenage boys. They hear the same message: that girls need to cover up because boys (them) will have sexual thoughts about a girls body if they don’t. If you’re told that looking at women and having sexual thoughts is just what boys/men do, then why do you have reason to believe otherwise? How does that teach our sons and husbands to have any accountability for their own actions? Even if we are teaching that boys are responsible for their own thoughts, we can’t continue to lay out a standard of dress. By doing so, we teach all of our youth that anyone not conforming to the standard is immodest. Our boys hear this and are lost at what to do when their friend or date shows up in a tank top or shorts or a strapless dress. They are awkward as missionaries when they encounter females in “immodest” clothing. Any showing of shoulders or cleavage or general attractiveness becomes titillating because it was always covered and forbidden and sacred. Shoulders. Thighs. Normal parts of women that are not intended to be sexual, but become so because so much emphasis is placed on covering them and being modest that those places they rarely see become arousing.
One community leader involved in protecting children from “indecency” (according to her standards which she sees as LDS standards and thus believes that her community would all hold the same standards), “recounts a typical encounter with someone who has seen the light after “porn has turned his life upside down.” … When I hear this, I always congratulate the person, then ask, `How did it start?’ she writes. “Invariably, he replies, `Swimsuit pictures, stuff like that; sometimes the lingerie section of a catalog.’ For some it began with National Geographic.”
Robert Weiss, clinical director of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles, dismissed this view as “propaganda, not science.” Pornography might contribute to a sex addiction, Dr. Weiss said, but only the way a glass of Champagne might lead to alcoholism or a round of poker might lead to a gambling addiction.” source
Amelia over at the Exponent says what I’m trying to say far better. Also, please go read her post in it’s entirety!
The Mormon emphasis on external, clothing-oriented modesty is just another form of sexualization. We attempt to negate the sexualization of young girls’ and women’s bodies by covering them up and locking them behind the door called Chastity. But when the female body is taboo because of its inherent sexuality (a sexuality so powerful that a woman literally turns herself into pornography for some men by dressing immodestly, according to that canard advanced by Dallin Oaks), and when women are celebrated almost exclusively because of their potential as breeders and nurturers of children, then we successfully sexualize the female body every bit as much as pushing heels, padded bras, plunging necklines, and miniskirts for pre-teens does. The invisibility of the female body, or of the attributes of the female body that stand for Sex, does not mean we have refused to grant the female body a sexualized status.
According to the APA, “sexualization occurs when:
- a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
- a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
- a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making;
- and/or sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.”
And we are widening this scope of hyper-modesty beyond our church walls to our community.
There are countless other links on how the modesty rhetoric can actually be damaging to a person’s self image.
We have blinders over magazines that may have the word sex written on them or partially (and mostly!) dressed woman (I do recognize that for some magazines, blinder use makes sense) and people painting clothes on “immodest” displays. There are people who are declaring lingerie stores and ads as soft-core pornography (What soft-core pornography actually is) and rallying the community to get involved. While I understand the intent of groups to be involved in maintaining a community standard and generally agree that public involvement is a good thing, it can be seen as an extreme view to others. These types of groups are not a new thing. The National Legion of Decency upheld standards in the motion picture industry in accordance to the Roman Catholic Church in the United States’ point of view beginning in 1933.
Like I mentioned above, in so many ways, we are doing this to ourselves. So many of the issues that our members have with sex, body image,pornography, and feeling unable to control their thoughts after exposure to a model in an underwear ad can probably, in my personal and unprofessional opinion, be tied in some way to our hyper focus on modesty.
By emphasizing the need to cover up children in the name of maintaining virtue, we are sexualizing them. By constantly emphasizing modesty lines with our youth and by creating a garment that people interpret as The Church’s (aka The Lord’s) standard lines of modesty are creating a culture where the focus is on lines of righteousness instead of intent of the heart and spirit.
To all of you perpetuating this damaging culture, I say,
For some further good reading, check out the following.
In the link to The Exponent above, Amelia references a couple of blog posts including a four part piece on modesty at FMH, so be sure to check those out.
“How Modesty Made Me Hate My Body”
“Men, Sex, and Modesty“|
Hyper Modesty in a bible church
“Mormon Beauty, Modesty, and Shame“
Thank you, Carrie, for a well-written and right-on essay. My husband and I raised four boys and one daughter, who is the youngest. She is 22 years old now, and I remember having the conversation with her in high school about “appropriate” prom dresses–we live in a fairly small, conservative California Central Valley town. The decision was made that she would wear dresses with some semblance of a sleeve because if she did not, I knew she would be black-listed by YW leaders and YW themselves. We have a backyard pool and a bikini was always fine–unless it was the annual ward swimming party, then we covered up. The message I gave her was always the same: This is what we do to avoid the gossip, judgements, and mean-spirited rhetoric spewed the direction of any YW who doesn’t “comply.” As a college student-athlete, she was judged for wearing her track shorts if she was not on the track practicing (NOT at a church school, but in Utah). It was nuts!!
Interestingly, several years ago I had a discussion with the stake YW President because the girls camp rule one summer was 1-piece swimming suits ONLY. At camp, a 14-year-old girl was pulled out of the lake and not allowed to swim because she was wearing a tankini (two-piece swimsuit that covers the abdomen) AND had a t-shirt over that. But the rule was 1-piece only, so she was called out of the lake, embarrassed, shamed for not following the rules, and left alone in front of her peers. The stake YW president was impossible to reason with. I brought up publicly humiliating our girls who are not dressed to the rules (even with a t-shirt on!!), the modesty that many tankinis have over some 1-piece suits, the expense of finding modest suits–eventually I played the “Strength of Youth” card (nowhere in that booklet does it say anything about a 1-piece ONLY swimming suit for YW), and her response to me? “Well, the pamphlet does not discuss coke, either.” GRRRRR.
I give up. BUT there is good news: One of our boys and his wife refuse to play the modesty game (as decided upon by others) with their 11-year-old daughter, and they have grave concerns about gender inequality within the church. Another of our boys is raising three girls in Utah, and constantly struggles to reconcile The Church with how he views his daughters’ well-being, their sense of self, and their futures. He and his wife have conversations at home to counter the lessons at church which include: 1) A career outside of the home is selfish or 2) Support the priesthood and dress modestly. If my boys and their wives are reframing for their children, then I am hopeful! That’s progress.
Thank you again, Carrie.
“This is what we do to avoid the gossip, judgements, and mean-spirited rhetoric spewed the direction of any YW who doesn’t “comply.””
This! Yes! People want to say that it doesn’t exist and that we are teaching our daughters to be kind to everyone and not judge those who make different choices, but with how we teach modesty, it is so easy that it comes naturally for our youth and primary aged kids to look at their peers and wonder why they are’t “choosing the right” (because modesty as defined by the church is the “right”).
For something that is so subjective (much like drinking coke), I don’t think it’s fair to have lessons on what we should/shouldn’t wear. Not in youth programs and DEFINITELY NOT IN PRIMARY.
In some ways I agree with you. The body is a beautiful thing and making things taboo (naked barbies) is taking it too far. And no one should judge a person by the way they dress. However, the effects on a man/boy are different when they see a girl in a modest suit compared to a tiny bikini. Sorry. I feel like you are rationalizing your desire to be more like the world. We are supposed to be different.
Glad you found some points you agreed with. I think a big part of changing things is recognizing that there is a problem.
I was wondering if you read this link that I included at the end of my post?
My question is, what is “the world”? And why do we have to follow predefined lines (literally) of being different?
I like to think that my difference, and the difference that matters and that God cares about, is in my countenance and what I do as a PERSON and not how I look or how I dress my body.
I respect my body and dress accordingly. That doesn’t mean that I have to conform to a set of standards and predefined lines that some believe to be the best and then preach as the “standard”.
You can argue that their lines come from God, but in my heart, I don’t really feel like God cares so much about sleeves and thighs as he does the content of my heart.
Another good read talking about the “Us” vs. “The World” mentality:
Carrie, the problem with the predefined lines is that they are not eternal; they have moved over the years. the 1965 version of FTSOY doesn’t look like the recent versions and the reasons for no spaghetti straps or strapless gowns back then are not because “the body is a gift from our HF and we show respect by covering it up,” it ‘s because most girls’ backs are ungainly or unattractive. There was no mention of covering shoulders either.
Exactly. They have moved and become more focused on. I feel they have moved in a way that has potential to be, along with proven to be for many, a harmful problem.
Carrie, it seems you are judging those who you say judge. Everyone wants to be “right”, it helps them feel good about themselves and their choices. That is why people judge–to feel better about themselves. So, they aren’t perfect yet either. I agree that judging is wrong, completely wrong. The gospel tent is wide and should include many diverse people. We are all sinners and should all be patient, and love ALL wherever they are in their journey, even if they don’t appear to be on the path. There is only One who will judge righteously, the One who knows our hearts. We should accept ALL at whatever level of living the gospel they are, which again, is not for us to judge. Too lazy to look this one up, but didn’t some prophet or other church leader say that our sacrament meetings should smell of smoke? We are all there to learn and be better. I grew up in a part member family and my father smoked. I went to church and school smelling of smoke many times and everyone was kind to me and welcomed me.
Don’t you think that those mothers who paint their daughter’s Barbies are just trying to do what they think is right? Really, we all have to decide that everyone is just doing the best they can. We need to support one another and try our best to be understanding.
Could it also be that our leaders have said what they have said to stay ahead of this highly sexualized society we live in? All that being said, maybe what we need to teach is the higher principle–just who are we trying to please with what we wear? Are we trying to draw attention to ourselves and our bodies? One LDS mother I know said she allowed her daughters to wear whatever they wanted because, “if you’ve got, flaunt it.” That sounds so self serving and I don’t agree, but I love her and her family immensely. Or do we try to please our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ and do what we believe they would have us do.
There is room under the gospel tent for everyone and luckily, most of us have a lifetime to figure things out. The atonement is for everyone.
I guess for me it’s more that I am voicing frustration over what I see as harmful teaching and a harmful environment for my children that is unnecessary. The hyper modesty rhetoric is widely perpetuated by our LDS communities. I don’t care if their interpretation is what they choose for their family. I do care when their standards are then pushed as THE standard or as a higher ideal and it effects me and my children.
I’m not sure the best way to find a solution other than to draw attention to it so that people will recognize that there is a problem.
You definitely got it right with asking if we are trying to please our Heavenly Father (and I would add Mother) and the Savior.
My point is that dressing to please our Heavenly Parents is different for everyone and each person should be able to determine that for themselves without having to conform to lines that other have determined to be right (especially when those were not always the lines). They should be free to do so without the fear of what others will think. Sadly, that is what is happening in the name of having a “clear standard”.
Imagine more lessons on loving and serving and being Christlike and feeling the spirit instead of making feeling the spirit conditional upon what you or others are wearing. I just don’t think it’s something that we need to focus so much on, and especially not on predefined lines.
You must live in Utah. Not that I am judging all Utahns–or any for that matter. I have lived outside of Utah for most of my life and am grateful for the many different members I have met. Thank you for clarifying. Maybe these “clear” lines that you speak of are like the wording in the Word of Wisdom–for the weakest of the weak. Yes, ultimately we will be judged by the most righteous One on our hearts and our intent. I guess it is your right to grind your axe as you see fit. On we go living the gospel. Best of luck, Carrie.
I realize this article is several years old, but the message is still very much needed! I want to add one thought: There is no part of the body that is inherently sexual. Apparently some cultures have sexualized only the feet, or only the face of women.
Even the body parts we consider sexual are purely cultural. People who regularly encounter non-sexual nudity of both genders are far more able to see a naked person and not experience sexual thoughts because the imagination can’t even get started when there is no mystery.
With that mindset, body shame and the association of clothing with “modesty” all but evaporates.