Enhancing Nature

March 10, 2004 | 41 comments
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At first blush, this may not seem like a serious entry, but it is. (Well, mostly serious anyway.) The other night, I was watching television just before midnight. I don’t remember the program for sure, but since I have a limited palate, it must have been Law & Order, Monk, or a college baskeball game. In other words, nothing that would have signalled to me that I should be especially cautious about the commercials. Suddenly, I was assaulted by a commercial featuring a woman talking about “that special part of a man’s body.” I could not believe what I was watching! And, of course, like a gawker by an accident, I could not change the channel. I just sat there, slack-jawed. She kept saying that phrase over and over, using her tone to put it into italics.

This followed a week in which my other blog was spammed with messages from a firm that promised similar “enhancements.” Then last night, I saw another commercial with a goofy looking man (all smiles) negotiating with Japanese counterparts, who pretended to be commenting on his negotiating posture, but were using phrases with transparent double entendres. For reasons unknown to me, this business niche seems to have developed overnight.

Women have been in the enhancement business for much longer. In one of our prior wards, we were acquainted with two cosmetic surgeons who made a very nice living working primarily with women, some of whom were members of the ward. In some instances, these operations were restorative, but most were motivated by a desire to improve what nature had provided.

As far as I know, enhancing one’s natural endowments does not violate any express commandments, though preoccupation with one’s physical attributes certainly can become unhealthy. The problem, of course, is locating the line between acceptable attention to appearance and excessive asorption with self. I am not hoping for bright-line rules, but does anyone have any tips about how to think about this? Sometimes when I find myself with questions like these, I ask, “How would I advise my teenaged children?” Frankly, this one stumps me.

Many forms of physical enhancement that would find disfavor with the puritanical are now mainstream acceptable: cosmetics (makeup), earrings, jewelry, hair coloring … even tanning salons. Moreover, we embrace pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements, herbs, and (many) dietary supplements as generally acceptable methods of changing or maintaining physical appearance. Cosmetic sugery takes the commitment to a new level, but I have never heard a Church authority suggest that it falls on the “excessive” side of the line. Are there any limits here? If there are, how should we articulate them?

P.S. I am not asking permission … just curious.

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41 Responses to Enhancing Nature

  1. Kaimi on March 10, 2004 at 11:49 pm

    Gordon,

    I would wager it was the basketball. Sports advertising has gotten really bad lately. There’s been some press about how Viagra ran ads in the last Super Bowl. I subscribe to Sports Illustrated, and there are print ads as well, with pro athletes and coaches (the two I’ve seen are Rafael Palmeiro and Mike Ditka) providing, err, testimonials that are more than a little disturbing. They seem to typically be couched in wierd, euphemistic language as well, which makes them all the more creepy.

  2. Jan on March 11, 2004 at 8:55 am

    Since cosmetic surgery is becoming the norm for women (and is really the only way to achieve the type of beauty society demands of women), I suppose it was only a matter of time before men became bombarded by it too. I wrote about the ridiculous demands society makes on us regarding beauty last month.

    http://www.janlynn.us/archives/2004/02/29makeover_xtreme.html

    I think the key to dealing with the issue as it relates to children is to teach them that they are beautiful they way they are. More importantly, see to it that they have a sense of self worth that isn’t dependant on their physical appearance.

  3. Adam Greenwood on March 11, 2004 at 10:05 am

    I like watching college football and basketball with my girls but the ads have gotten unreal. Viagra and its competitors were disgusting enough but just last night, watching Notre Dame play in the Big East tournament, I had to cover Betsey’s eyes for two separate ads. The first showed a women dancing/writhing in silhouette. She appeared to be unclothed. The second was a thirty-second slow scan of a bikini-wearing woman’s body. It began at the breasts and ended at the thighs. I don’t want my daughter seeing things like that.

  4. Nate Oman on March 11, 2004 at 11:28 am

    The language of euphemism in the advertising is interesting. The Viagra ads remind me a lot of tampon commercials. I have always been curious as to the source of this language. Tampon ads seem to have settled into a vocabulary of “freshness” and “security.” I have always imagined some guy (it is always a guy) sitting in an office on Madison Avenue. His superviser comes in and says, “We really liked the ads you did on the Mack Truck account. We have a new assignment for you.” The manager plops down a package of tampons and says, “Figure out a way of talking about these on TV.”

    I am convinced that some of the most talented and creative people in America work in advertising.

  5. cooper on March 11, 2004 at 11:55 am

    After seeing far too many of these commercials recently, I have only one word to say: TiVo. Gone are ALL commercials! Yay Yay!

  6. Melissa on March 11, 2004 at 1:11 pm

    Gordon asks “are there any limits here?”

    My unequivocal answer is yes, yes, yes!!

    Cosmetic surgery has gotten entirely out of hand in our society.

    Mormon women are not exempt. In fact, I think that Mormon women are among those who spend the most time and money on appearance because of our culture’s obsession with dating and marriage. I was once in a family ward where more than a third of the women had had major cosmetic surgery (mostly breast enlargement, although lots of face lifts and tummy tucks had been done too). There were also many women in my BYU wards who had had similar types of cosmetic surgery.

    Besides the fact that these surgeries are appallingly expensive and thus wasteful, the message that is sent to women is terribly damaging. First, you are your body (not your mind, your heart, your spirit, your wisdom, your experience, your compassion, your education, your goodness, your relationships, your decisions . . . ) Second, not only are you your body, but your body isn’t acceptable the way it is. To send the message to girls and women that in order for them to be valued, loved, worthy, and beauitful they have to surgically remove or artificially add something is not only demeaning but it borders on the grotesque.

    To the extent that we believe that bodies are sacred and belong to us eternally then I think we also have to believe that they are not to be tampered with in this way. In my opinion to subject one’s body to this kind of surgery is to express a form of hatred towards one’s body/oneself that reflects emotional disorder.

    Having said all of that, it is true that we live in a world where impressions are made by appearance (I think this has to do with the move in the early twentieth century from valuing “character” to valuing “personality” and all that went along with that shift). Despite the inconsistency of this, I do have to admit that I am glad that I wore braces as a kid even though the straightness of my teeth is purely aesthetic.

    Lest I’m misunderstood—I don’t think cosmetic surgery is “evil” as much as tragic.

  7. Gordon Smith on March 11, 2004 at 1:45 pm

    After reading Jan’s blog and Melissa’ comments, I am tempted to conclude that this is a cultural issue, not a spiritual or religious issue. As Melissa concluded, “I don’t think cosmetic surgery is ‘evil’ as much as tragic.” On further reflection, however, I am reminded of a word I learned during the Clinton Presidency: “compartmentalization.” In my view, a person of spiritual integrity (by definition) cannot practice compartmentalization. Stated another way, all things are spiritual. Cf. D&C 29:34. I will add that my wife has expressed similar sentiments to those expressed by Jan and Melissa. My intuition is that this issue is part of a larger discussion about pride, but there may be more to it than that. Under the pride rubric, drawing lines between braces and breast implants is done by reference to motive, and as with so many pride-referenced discussions, the lines are inevitably blurry.

  8. lyle on March 11, 2004 at 1:49 pm

    Which is why I always praise women, and compliment them, on all things other than how they look.

    However, my trying to be counter-cultural doesn’t seem to work when I state that women look better w/o any makeup. I guess I’d rather see the ‘real’ person; and not the chemicals, etc. added on to ‘touch’ the person up a la photo shoppe.

  9. clark on March 11, 2004 at 2:12 pm

    I think I can buy the argument that it is wasteful. But I think the rest is a bit of overreaction.

    Regarding the commercials – good. Now women can know how embarrassed we men get during all those “feminine needs” commercials. (grin) But I actually think impotence can’t be considered akin to plastic surgery. I mean those products are designed to fix a rather major biological function most of us care a great deal about…

    Regarding others I don’t think it as big a deal as most do. I think breast implants tend to be silly because I’m convinced most men care far less about it than women think. But if it gives someone confidence they didn’t have, so be it. While I can understand the waste, is it that much worse than getting a slightly more expensive car? No, not really. And about on par for price. I’d be more concerned about side effects and pain that some women with them have complained about.

    But I think making yourself look good is fine. I’ve put on quite a bit of weight since I got married. It’s bothered me quite a bit so I’ve started working out about two hours a day again. It’ll probably take me a few months to get back where I was. But even though my wife says she doesn’t care, I care quite a bit. And gym memberships aren’t cheap, not including things like protein supplements and so forth.

    When I was single and found some hair growing in inappropriate places I had that taken off with a laser as well. A few hundred dollars but it was worth it to me.

    The comment about body vs. mind or heart seems a bit off. The thing I love about LDS theology is that our soul is *all* of us. If we are concerned about improving our mind we ought not forget our body either.

  10. Melissa on March 11, 2004 at 3:06 pm

    Clark,

    Perhaps my comment seems like an overreaction to you because we live different lives. You say that you think most men don’t care as much as women think they do. But, I wonder how many men you have dated in the last 6 weeks, how about the last 6 years? How many young women do you counsel, talk to, teach? How many friends have you watched struggle with anorexia or bulimia?

    I fully support getting enough exercise to stay healthy. But, working out is *very* different than getting breast implants or liposuction. This issue isn’t really about “making yourself look good,” it is about our submitting to our culture’s aesthetic judgments. Where do they come from, who decides what is beautiful, to what lengths are we willing to go to fit in with a media-controlled version of beauty? Cornel West (one of my favorites) has written an interesting piece on resisting culturally influenced standards of beauty.

    You write, “The comment about body vs. mind or heart seems a bit off. The thing I love about LDS theology is that our soul is *all* of us. If we are concerned about improving our mind we ought not forget our body either.”

    Of course our soul includes our body, but that only strengthens my argument. Do you think that a resurrected body is going to be resurrected with breast implants/tummy tuck/etc or as an immortal and glorified version of body that was actually created? You talk about the need to improve the body as well as the mind, but I would strongly contest the idea that cosmetic surgery is an “improvement.”

    You are right that cosmetic surgery doesn’t cost more than a “slightly more expensive car” (say 5,000 to 15,000 depending on what you’re having done) but I think spending that much more on a car unnecessarily would be wasteful (and perhaps blameworthy) too.

  11. Gordon Smith on March 11, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    “But I actually think impotence can’t be considered akin to plastic surgery. I mean those products are designed to fix a rather major biological function most of us care a great deal about…”

    Clark, I obviously was not explicit enough. The main commercial I was describing is not about impotency. It was about, hmm, how shall I say it … feelings of inadequacy?

  12. cooper on March 11, 2004 at 4:20 pm

    Until one has worked in an emergency room in a retirement community, can one truly understand the complete and utter silliness of certain types of enhancement surgeries.

    Tragic indeed.

  13. clark on March 11, 2004 at 4:41 pm

    Melissa, I think that gyms are appropriate. It simply isn’t “natural” to have a six pack and the related beach muscle. Even “manly” men of the 50′s didn’t have such physiques. Yet women expect them. Women now also expect clean chests, so I knew many men who removed their chest hair.

    Now it isn’t surgery, I agree. But I don’t see that as the issue. To me surgery is questionable because of the complications, but not because it is intrinsically bad to change ones appearance.

    And yes, I lived at Belmont in Provo when it was the trendy place to live. Probably at least half the women in my ward had breast implants. But I also know that it wasn’t as important to guys as say a slender athletic physique. And I heard a lot of what guys discussed.

    I agree we can submit too much to our culture’s aesthetic judgments. But on the other hand simply ignoring that one is a part of ones culture is problematic as well. To say that this isn’t about “looking good” seems a mistake. The fact of life is that some people are less attractive than others. If you can make yourself attractive safely, then what is the problem? Critiquing it because it has some elements of cultural subjectivity seems to miss the point. It can improve self-confident and the fact is that in our culture attractive people get more benefits. Especially when you are single.

    You contest whether cosmetic surgery is an improvement, but I disagree. If someone hypothetically had a very ugly nose which affected them in their social interactions, exactly how would in *not* be an improvement to fix it?

    Regarding waste, I think we’ll just agree to disagree there. I don’t think a $30,000 car is a sin. We’ve discussed that elsewhere.

    Gordon, my mistake. The commercials I’d seen on football were mostly about impotence. But impotence drugs are targeting those with less severe cases of impotency. This is somewhat unfortunate. However most stuff for size don’t work and are just herb scams. But I agree that such concerns about size are the male equivalent of breast size worry. Without getting explicit though, I can understand why some men might find this a valid concern.

  14. Grasshopper on March 11, 2004 at 6:15 pm

    Suppose some physical enhancements could be achieved through a priesthood blessing. Would our attitudes about seeking them change?

  15. Kaimi on March 11, 2004 at 6:21 pm

    I recall reading somewhere that most or all of the “enhancement” products are a scam, and that the rip-off artists do very well with them, with one major factor being that people are too embarrassed to go to the cops over the fraud.
    “Officer, he defrauded me when I bought a product from him!”
    “All right, what kind of product was it?”
    “Umm, nevermind.”

  16. clark goble on March 11, 2004 at 6:33 pm

    The problem is that most of these enhancements are marketed as herbal supplements. Unless they make outright claims, it technically isn’t fraud. (Just like most of the stuff at your local health food store are equally effective but health food stores rarely get accused of fraud)

    The issue of regulating herbal supplments the way medicine is tends to be a complicated business. I think there is a lot of deceit in all this. Sadly Utah has a disproportionate number of these sorts of companies. From talking to many working at them they are often not the most honest of people. (I’ll not mention any names so as to avoid libel laws)

    Now that I would characterize as waste. But at least we can say that plastic surgery actually works. I’d question whether people using things like Botox are actually making themselves look better. And certainly they can be abused by the emotionally troubled, like Michael Jackson. But we don’t judge things by their abuse by the mentally ill and shouldn’t treat beauty in those terms either. (I’d not judge makeup by Tammy Fae Baker, for instance)

  17. Kim Siever on March 11, 2004 at 6:37 pm

    “…these surgeries are appallingly expensive and thus wasteful…”

    Interesting.

    “Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy.” (2 Ne 9:51)

  18. Ben on March 11, 2004 at 6:41 pm

    Ah, but as the lawyers can tell you, worth is relative. Apparently, old pieces of paper with the right pictures on them (Baseball cards) are worth millions. At what price self-esteem? (Putting aside the debate over the “quality” of self-esteem gained via surgery.)

  19. clarkgoble on March 11, 2004 at 6:49 pm

    Even ignoring the somewhat “vague” self-worth issue, I think value can be more explicit in this. Research shows time and time again that, unfair as it is, attractive people get treated better than unattractive people. They get promoted faster. They get gifts more frequently. It may be due to our fallen nature, but people simply reward those they find attractive more.

    Because of that one could easily argue that there are very tangible benefits to making oneself more attractive.

    The issue to me isn’t surgery, but rather whether the surgery would really work. (i.e. is the surgery in question really making a difference?) I think with a lot it doesn’t but that doesn’t somehow invalidate those for whom it does.

  20. Adam Greenwood on March 11, 2004 at 6:55 pm

    Grasshopper,
    Is there any reason that physical enhancements couldn’t be achieved through priesthood blessings? Surely the power of God isn’t constrained. But he won’t let us use his power for reasons of vanity, pride, and so on, which I think we all suspect is implicated in most cases of physical enhancement. Note that when we’re talking about breast enhancement, the vanity and pride involved may not be entirely on the part of the woman.

  21. Melissa on March 11, 2004 at 7:14 pm

    Clark,

    We fundamentally disagree on this issue and your recent post demonstrates that our differences go all the way down. In your example of someone who has a very ugly nose you fail to recognize that that statement itself is a purely subjective statement. Who decides if the nose is ugly? Who decides what would be an improvement? I have never suggested “ignoring that one is a part of one’s culture.” Rather, I suggest working hard to reform aspects of the culture that are damaging, unhealthy, or in error. On another thread someone talked about resisting the evils of wealth by refusing to honor with higher status those who show-off their wealth in various ways. This issue is parallel in my mind. By resisting the tendency we might have to give “benefits” to attractive people we can help to influence culture against this inclincation. I don’t admire acquiescing to culture that is demeaning just because doing so will increase one’s (my) benefits.

    I am happy to report that no such obsession with personal appearance manifests itself among college students on the three east coast campuses that I haunt (perhaps because someone/some group stopped buying into a false paradigm at some point?). BYU stands out as the college campus (in my own experience) where girls feel the most insecure and most feel the need to drastically alter their bodies. I think this insecurity is not about being ugly or being less attractive or not “looking good.” I think it stems directly from enormous amounts of pressure to look a particular way. I also think that the widespread agreement with views like Clark’s among Mormon men is causally related to the experience of Mormon women. (hence, I think they are pernicious)

    By the way, no woman I know “expects” a six-pack. I must admit my own appearance-bias against six-packs, in fact. I always wonder what responsibilities these men were regularly shirking in order to obtain such a physique, not to mention the obsessive self-interest that it represents. Further, I am absolutely indifference to clean-chestedness.

    I won’t argue with you about the sinfulness of owning a 30,000 dollar car lest this post start to look like an ad hom, but obviously I disagree with you here too.

  22. Adam Greenwood on March 11, 2004 at 9:35 pm

    Melissa,
    I’m generally on your side, but are you trying to argue that there’s no such thing as personal beauty, that it is entirely subjective? If so, you’re going too far. Because some of us are unattractive is no reason to tear down the entire concept of beauty and visual aesthetics. The problem isn’t the beautiful, its the undue emphasis placed on it and the way the beautiful has been distorted.

  23. Clark Goble on March 11, 2004 at 10:38 pm

    “Who decides what would be an improvement?”

    Presumably the person making the choice. I don’t see how its subjective nature matters. Is studying philosophy improving ones mind? Or is only studying useful things improvement? I think a lot of improvements are subjective. However there is a more “objective” aspect in terms of what society finds an improvement. One can, of course, disagree with society.

    (I actually do think, however, there is a lot of genetic component to what we find attractive – generally associated with the evolution of protecting, nurturing and giving birth)

    As to college campuses – I actually think BYU isn’t that bad with regards to such matters. I’ve been at numerous colleges which were far worse.

    Now the bit about “reforming society” is interesting. I’d probably agree to a point. But I personally love beauty in all things. Architecture, paintings, and so forth. I think we can do the same with ourselves. To me the problem isn’t focus on beauty but, as Adam pointed out, *undue* focus on beauty.

  24. Renee on March 11, 2004 at 11:02 pm

    For me, this issue comes down to a subtle line that is obviously in a different place for everyone. On one side of the line is vanity, on the other is looking modestly presentable.

    If a person gets in an accident, reconstructive surgery to make them look “normal” would not be frowned upon. Ergo, I can’t look down on someone who, due to genetics, wants a more common nose. In essence, these are cases where someone wants to simply fit it and *not* draw attention to themselves. It’s not really motivated by pride but by a desire to *not* make some aspect of them a focus of other people because it is unusual.

    However, I have a different view of people who want to turn back the clock, undergoing surgery to look 30 when they are 60. Surgery to go from AA to DD cup. Surgery to go from average looking to Barbie and Ken dolls. These things, just like spending 4 hours a day everyday at the gym for the 6 pack and the cut figure are about vanity. If people want to do them, go for it. Just don’t pretend that it’s about anything but pride.

    This is very much related to the material wealth thread. In the ideal Zion, people are concerned with equality. I doubt we’ll ever get there in this life, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it.

  25. lyle on March 11, 2004 at 11:21 pm

    Melissa mentioned: I am happy to report that no such obsession with personal appearance manifests itself among college students on the three east coast campuses that I haunt (perhaps because someone/some group stopped buying into a false paradigm at some point?).

    Lyle: Maybe so; but seems like an unfair comparison. Perhaps if we controlled for alot more variables, some type of comparison could be made; i.e. SAT scores, family wealth, personal happiness, whether or not they have any morals, beliefs, values, etc. I’m not 100% dogging on ‘eastern’ schools…just pointing out that a strait across the bow comparison saying “BYU women are more physically insecure than ‘eastern college’ women” doesn’t really seem to say very much…but maybe that was your point.

    Final: So…how come no one is challenging my “no make-up” suggestion? rats…

  26. Kaimi on March 11, 2004 at 11:59 pm

    Melissa wrote:

    “I am happy to report that no such obsession with personal appearance manifests itself among college students on the three east coast campuses that I haunt.”

    I’m not sure I agree with that statement; I’m certain I disagree with the implication that East Coast campuses are generally not appearance-obsessed. I attended undergrad in the West and law school in New York. I did not notice a sudden absence of the obsession with appearance. In fact, if you go to the 116th street station on a nice summer day and walk across the lawns at Columbia, you’ll see that widespread obsession with physical appearance is quite manifest.

    At school and now at work, I have had (and continue to have) daily contact with a large number of East-Coast-educated folk — recent graduates of Columbia, Harvard, Yale, NYU, Penn, Georgetown (and yes, even a few Brown alumni here and there). I can’t say that they have been devoid of obsession with appearance.

    It may be true that East Coasters are a little less obsessed with appearance than westerners. It’s true that the skimpy clothes isn’t worn quite as often — but I attribute that to the weather. (There’s a reason why so many plastic surgeons set up shop in New York — and it’s not because the rents are good).

    In any case, I find it hard to believe that students at _any_ campus have “no such obsession with personal appearance.”

  27. Kaimi on March 12, 2004 at 12:06 am

    A comic moment that no one will see –

    Just after I posted (above), we got hit by a spammer. The spammer was advertising (you guessed it) — umm, physical enhancements.

    I deleted the spam comment, of course (and banned the IP address), but the comic timing of it all was pretty funny to me.

  28. Kristine on March 12, 2004 at 12:22 am

    Um, yeah, Melissa, having been involved in a couple of eating disorders therapy groups on one of those campuses, I can attest that East Coast women are susceptible to at least some of the appearance pressures felt at BYU.

    Maybe the difference is just that at Harvard and Brown, they ALSO feel bad about not being smart enough to have read the complete works of Hegel ;>) Dividing time equally between several sets of insecurities reduces the amount of neurotic energy available for any one of them.

  29. VeritasLiberat on March 12, 2004 at 1:31 am

    “Is there any reason that physical enhancements couldn’t be achieved through priesthood blessings?”

    Well, the “laying on of hands” part might get awkward.

    :ducks:

  30. Clark Goble on March 12, 2004 at 4:38 am

    It’s interesting how perceptions are. We were talking about appearances the other day and almost all my friends thought easterners were far more concerned about appearance and Europeans spending the most concern. They thought westerners, especially BYU students, were fairly slovenly in their dress. I must admit that when I’m in New York people seem much more dressed up while in the west people are far more likely to be dressed casually. I’ve rarely seen people dressed up to eat out, for instance, even in nice restaurants. In the east it is very common to dress up for dinner, even if it is just an evening jacket.

    I’m not about to generalize from this. I recognize that anecdotal evidence typically isn’t telling. But it is interesting how different our experiences are. (I’m from the east coast, btw)

  31. Melissa on March 12, 2004 at 9:38 am

    Let me clarify—at Yale, Brown and Harvard the undergraduate women do not spend time doing their hair. They do not wear make-up. They do not normally get breast implants or feel the need to get veneers. For the most part they do not fuss over designer clothes. Do they succumb to eating disorders? Yes. Do they wear skimpy clothing? Yes. Are they body obsessed? To a degree, but not in the same way that BYU women are. Their conversations revolve around things other than appearance and dating. I am not saying that BYU women are not bright and focused (I was a BYU woman!:)) but BYU women also take seriously the goal of attracting a mate. As a result I do think there is more preening in Provo than elsewhere.

    Perhaps Lyle is right in saying that SAT scores, etc. have some effect on this issue. If one can find her identity in being smart or being funny, etc. then she probably feels less need to emphasize being beautiful. In my opinion this merely strengthens my argument.

    I have some friends who were known for their beauty in high school—that was their defining trait—now that they are in their 30′s with children, and their looks have changed, they’ve struggled with to maintain their sense of identity (probably for other reasons too) This kind of struggle tells me that their sense of identity was based on the wrong things in the first place.

    Of course, I think there is such a thing as personal beauty. (I personally take my own beauty very seriously, as those of you who know me will attest:)) However, I worry that many women feel that they are nothing but their beauty, or if they are not beautiful then they are not anything at all. Both of these extremes (which manifest the same error) are unhealthy emotionally, psychologically and spiritually for women.

    I remember a talk given by Elder Maxwell in which he said (paraphrasing) whatever needs work will get attention by which he meant that if we base our identity or our sense of worth on the wrong things–(i.e. I am the beautiful one, I am the smart one, I am the one with the perfect children, I am the successful lawyer etc.) life has a way (God has a way) of dissolving those false definitions of ourselves to teach us who we really are, why we are really of value to Him and why we should really value ourselves and each other.

    More to say, but I’ve got to run to teach my make-up less, stringy-haired, very bright students.

  32. lyle on March 12, 2004 at 10:13 am

    Melissa, glad I could help (yeah, for once I contribute! :)

    let me try again: U said:
    BYU women also take seriously the goal of attracting a mate.

    hm…so the EC women aren’t interested in marriage; right? Why? Because their cultural millieu says no marriage til after education (minimal) or into career (normal) or ever (maximal).

    So…while BYU women might be receiving “work” from the Lorde in the physical area; others might be receiving it in other areas…intelligence, grades, etc. The thought is that if family is the eternal goal, a universal goal, regardless of ‘current’ religious (or lack thereof) persuasion, then…

    not looking for a family is just as, or more seriously a deficiency, than focusing on outward beauty.

    y’all’s thoughts?

  33. Gordon Smith on March 12, 2004 at 10:56 am

    Apropos this topic, this morning in Seminary we read Isaiah 3, which will be familiar to many of you:

    Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet: Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will discover their secret parts. In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, the chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, the bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, the rings, and nose jewels, the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, the glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails. And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.

    Most non-Mormon Bible commentary reads this scripture to refer to all women of our time, but doesn’t the reference to “daughters of Zion” make the description more specific? We know that Zion has multiple meanings, but I don’t know that it ever means “the whole world.”

  34. Melissa on March 12, 2004 at 11:36 am

    Lyle,

    I disagree with almost all of what you said.

    For now I will simply say that it is certainly not a deficiency (serious or otherwise) for 19 and 20 year-old women not to be looking for marriage.

  35. lyle on March 12, 2004 at 11:47 am

    Gordon: Hm…I hadn’t thought of that. I wouldn’t want to delimit the scripture to apply solely to Latter-day Saints, yet…it should surely be received as a “warning shot” over the bow intended especially, not exclusively, for Latter-day Saints. And…while addressed to the “daughters” perhaps it would be fruitful to ponder what role the “sons” of Zion have in promoting/fighting this trend and/or if they have a related problem that somehow got left out of scripture due to chauvinistic scribes/translators. Hm…

    Melissa: Thank you for acknowledging a preceived disagreement. I suspect that there is alot that we, and others here, actually agree upon re: this subject. However…in all fairness I didn’t use the 19-20 year old number; nor do I find it relevant. Also, if we expand the definition of “looking for” to include “preparing for” that might cut out unnecessary dis.

    After all…It may be a fine line that divides prudent preparation for marriage from worldly priorities that improperly delay marriage. Nevertheless, there is a line.

    Priorities of money, education, career, and even “freedom to enjoy life” come perilously close to selfishness and pride. If a person’s first goals are self-serving, he or she inevitably will be cautious about marrying, because to marry is to become other-serving.

    This is what is so detrimental about misunderstanding what is meant by self-reliance. It is unwise to always delay marrying so one can reach a vocational or financial or emotional status of independence.

    There are no such mortal conditions as perfect self-reliance, independence, and freedom from need. Even the richest, most educated, most emotionally secure person must, in the gospel plan, invest himself in the well-being of others, the ultimate investment being in the family. This helps bring about a sense of personal security and self-worth through personal contribution to the welfare of others.

  36. Adam Greenwood on March 12, 2004 at 12:43 pm

    Lyle,
    Very well put.

  37. Gordon Smith on March 12, 2004 at 2:13 pm

    Melissa (or others inclined to answer): As a father of a teenage woman and a Seminary teacher, I wonder how you would advise young women in the Church about preparing for marriage. I find a lot to like in what Lyle just wrote.

    Although I want my daughters to prepare for marriage, that isn’t the only thing that I hope for them. Perhaps contrary to official Church policy, which treats missions for women as an afterthought, I have encouraged my daughters to plan for a mission. Also, we take a college education as a given, and many of our discussions about education include discussions about graduate school.

    As for the timing of marriage, however, I walk with less certitude. My main counsel for them is to date a lot of people before they decide on someone. (Someone once helpfully compared dating to making waffles: the first ones are throw-aways.) Sue and I were married after our missions, and we both have experience with family members who probably married too young, so I suspect that we emit some disdain for early marriages, though I don’t recall getting too explicit about it. One thing that makes me cautious in all of this is a recognition that the Lord can have plans for His children that are different than my plans for my children. I want their worldview to be flexible enough to account for that.

  38. clarkgoble on March 12, 2004 at 2:30 pm

    I’m not sure the issue is marriageability. Many of those who spend the most on clothing, makeup, and beauty treatments are those *least* interested in marriage. Those *most* interested in marriage tend to simply not be as focused on such material things. For reasons similiar to what Lyle and Gordon pointed out. I’d even say that if you want to see a bunch who are very appearance focused, go down to the local mall and see all the high school kids. I think the issue of marriage is a bit of a red herring.

    I can’t speak for Yale or Harvard. But lets be honest. Those are hardly typical colleges in the east. While BYU liked to consider itself the Harvard of the west we all recognize that it is really a totally different creature of a schoool. Same with western schools like Berkeley and so forth. They simply attract people with a very different class of interests.

  39. Kaimi on March 12, 2004 at 2:37 pm

    Gordon,

    That’s a subject I’ve thought about somewhat. I have known far too many LDS women who turn 18 and then start waiting for Prince Charming to show up and marry them. You get people who go to college, not to learn but to socialize with the RM’s at institute.

    Many of these young women do get married, and everything turns out well. On the other hand, many do not get married. The marriage market is extremely fickle — relatively high value is given to physical appearance; also, factors like timing can make it difficult to, umm, succeed in that market.

    It’s a tricky proposition. The typical LDS girl is conditioned that she should be ready to give up career, school, etc. for marriage. If they focus intensely on their education, they may end up married anyway, and being guilt-tripped that they should be home having babies. If they don’t focus intensely on education, they run a serious risk of being somewhat educated, careerless, unmarried, and adrift at age 25 or 30 or 35, still waiting for Prince Charming to show up.

    By the way, I’m aware that a number of highly intelligent LDS women go to school, some of them get married, without losing any focus. But there is a definite and sizable “waiting for Prince Charming” contingent that is a disaster waiting to happen.

  40. Renee on March 12, 2004 at 4:38 pm

    The “waiting for prince charming” crowd out here in the “mission field” has a habit of moving to Utah in hopes of more prospects. I can’t tell you how many times I was told after joining at age 25, “You should move to Utah. There’s so many nice LDS men.” Of course, all I heard from the ones who did move to Utah was that there were too many other women to compete with.

  41. Kris on June 11, 2005 at 6:11 pm

    I realize that this is an old discussion, but since I just found it while searching for information concerning cosmetic surgery, I will add my insight.
    There are many different reasons that someone may consider changing their physical appearance. While some changes may be for vain or foolish reasons, I do not feel that this is always the case. Some changes are modivated by something far deeper than a desire to look a certain way or impress certain people. We all have different things we struggle with. I have struggled my entire adolescent and adult life with deep and hurtful feelings connected to my body image. I have always loved and lived the gospel, and am a very conservative person in both behavior and appearance.
    I personally know and love several different individuals who have for what ever reasons chosen to have cosmetic surgery (including eye lid lift, nose job, breast reduction, ear tuck,and cosmetic dental work- I also have a friend that would like to have a tummy-tuck due to the lose of 150 lbs.). My feelings for these people have in no way been compromised. I admire them for being strong enough to edure the pain and do something to help them feel better about themselves. Yet somehow when a woman chooses to change her appearance by getting a breast augmentation she is veiwed by many as being immoral and immodest. I fully believe that it is possible to have plastic surgery and still live the gospel.
    While we have been counseled to avoid extremes in dress and appearance, we have also been counseled against judging one another. Remember “in the quiet heart is hidden, sorrow that the eye can’t see.” We might not understand someone elses reason for making a certain choice, we really don’t need to. Chances are it’s none of our business. We do however need to treat them with love and kindness.