Vanity, What Is It Good For?

January 15, 2010 | 82 comments
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dress upSeveral months ago, I temporarily transfered from a place where personal vanity is refreshingly low (Vermont) to a place where it is remarkably high (Northern Virginia) and it has caused me to ponder the following question: is there such a thing as righteous vanity?

I should mention that I grew up in NoVA so what I found should not have been a total shock, but somehow it was. I noticed that other folk didn’t wear stained t-shirts and 10 year old jeans to pick up their well-heeled darlings from school in the afternoon. The other parents- and nannies- generally looked as though they have been to a business meeting or two before arriving at the playground. I could go on for hours about the beauty on display at church each Sunday. There is no age or gender restriction, either; everybody is dressed to the nines. Even the Relief Society room itself is decked out in fancy wallpaper, a mirror, crystal chandeliers and blue velvet chairs.

Despite knowing better, within a week of the move I felt an urgent need to run to the nearest clothing shop to update my wardrobe. I tried not to get sucked into the vortex of fashion even though anything I could possibly want to buy is now within a half hour’s drive. I went to the world’s most awesome second-hand store with my mom and sister. Amazing deals! But did I really need three skirts? Yes. And no. Maybe….

Back in Vermont, I could go to our branch in my finest attire or in my favorite “vintage” dress from college and they wouldn’t bat an eyelash but love me just the same. That environment provided a wonderful sense of freedom to let go of what the eye sees and get on with the business of the gospel. Here in Virginia, I stand before the Relief Society sisters once a month to facilitate a lesson. Does it matter how I look? During my first lesson, I brought an old hand-made sun bonnet as a prop. I joked, “If you knew me better, I’d put this on.” A friend called out, “We’d get to know you better if you did!” But I didn’t. Vanity kept me from donning it. I use church as one example, but this dilemma is an everyday event. Neither is this issue constrained to women. Upon our arrival, my husband acquired a fashionable new suit and a fistful of new ties in the name of his work wardrobe. It’s always been universal.

As I continued to struggle with the one-two punch of the piquing of my own vanity and sudden “material availability shock”, the mantra of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes kept going through my mind: ALL IS VANITY. In the scriptures, vanity often means “in vain” or “not worth the effort”. In fact, the footnote for vanity in the second verse of Ecclesiastes is “empty, fleeting, unsubstantial”, so the relationship to beauty-vanity is not exactly direct but still there. Could I turn to the scriptures when pondering the spiritual value of personal good looks?

I wandered through the Old Testament, where beauty is given both good and evil roles. The word beauty is barely mentioned in the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon’s and Doctrine and Covenants’ uses of the word beauty mirror its use in the Old Testament. When one looks at occurrences of the words raiment, clothing, and apparel, again they are on both sides of the line and the directions are not clear.

On the side for modesty and comeliness: Timothy 2:9 says “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array” (Paul had no problem being specific); likewise, D&C 42:40 reads “And again, thou shalt not be proud in thy heart; let all thy garments be plain, and their beauty the beauty of the work of thine own hands”, among other examples. From these I gather that our manner of dress is to be nothing special.

On the side for wearing nice things: in Proverbs 31:21-22 the virtuous woman wears tapestry, silk and purple while her household wears scarlet, D&C 49:19 talks about how we obtain raiment from the natural world in abundance, and D&C 133:46 reads “And it shall be said: Who is this that cometh down from God in heaven with dyed garments; yea, from the regions which are not known, clothed in his glorious apparel, traveling in the greatness of his strength?” (emphasis added).

Alma 1: 27-30 is a bit vague on whether silk and fine-twined linen are extra-fancy or can be categorized as “good homely cloth”. Even Matthew 6: 28-29 seems to take the side of modesty and yet extols the grand beauty of the lily.

However, it was the re-reading of Proverbs 31:10-31 that really surprised me. I had always read it as a superb model of how to be a virtuous woman, but suddenly I was aware of the fact that she and her household were all wearing luxury items. She may have made these herself and even sold them, but I’m not sure that’s a valid justification. Then a verse later it said that strength and honor are her clothing. What does that mean? Verse 30 put me in my place: favor is deceitful and beauty is vain so if you want praise then honor the Lord. However, it was not quite the clear direction for which I had been searching.

It’s tricky. One might argue that there’s a valid place for personal beautification while dating- and there’s certainly evidence elsewhere in God’s natural world to support that. All kinds of creatures use attractiveness to their benefit. But is that the sole purpose? I hope not. In the church we have a cultural norm of looking nice or dressing up and I have nothing against that per se. But what is allowable? What is modest (meaning not excessive)? What is righteous? Are pearls and gold, purple, silk and tapestry, and glorious apparel too much? Elder Holland’s and Sister Tanner’s October 2005 General Conference addresses were somewhat helpful even though I wasn’t part of the main target audience, but they didn’t spell it out. I suppose that’s for the best.

Perhaps the line should be drawn at happiness. “If you’re truly joyful and can feel the Spirit, then your appearance doesn’t really matter- in either direction.” With a few exceptions, maybe this is the answer- similar to our position on riches. We are fond of saying that it’s only the love of money- not money itself- that corrupts and is evil. So maybe it is only the love of looking good- and not beauty itself- that corrupts and causes pride. That’s a delicate distinction and it would be difficult to be consistent. Also, this kind of beauty is visible by definition while money is not necessarily so, making it harder to hide and remain humble about should one have an over-abundance thereof.

Sometimes I envy Buddhist monks. What a life, free from such troubles! And yet, I value my individuality and agency. Like most people, I want to feel special but not too conspicuous. I have choices to make in this life and I want to make good ones in order to show Heavenly Father my faithfulness. Where is the line?

It may be that this struggle lasts my whole life. When I return to Him, I wonder which of these three praises my choices will inspire, if any: “Congratulations, you appreciated and sought great beauty and did good to others because of it” or “Congratulations, your modest life was a balance of good things” or “Congratulations, you cared not for your appearance nor the glory of the world but only for righteousness”?

What is the purpose and value of personal vanity?

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82 Responses to Vanity, What Is It Good For?

  1. Kent Larsen on January 15, 2010 at 6:42 am

    I know exactly what you mean, but don’t have any answers. I wish I did. I have a 15-year-old daughter, and her best friend gave her a subscription to Seventeen — not exactly a bastion of modesty, in either sense (i.e., not showing too much skin, and not wearing clothes meant to show off how well dressed you are). My family’s life is also somewhat complicated by the fact that members of our ward and stake here in New York City work in the fashion industry.

    While it doesn’t exactly give a straight answer to your query, Alma 29 implies that it is possible to have vanity in what was clearly righteous service, which might imply that it is possible to be vain in something that is otherwise righteous — i.e., its possible to be vain in very modest (i.e., not showing too much skin) dress.

    OTOH, there is support for the idea that we should try to dress in our best for the Lord (going to Church & the Temple) and that we should keep our dress clean and neat (I’ll leave out the issue of the regular nudges men get to wear the Church uniform).

    The closest I can come to an answer is just my feeling that our culture today is way too focused on fashion and, well, vanity. [But even there, apparently, it could be worse — given the rates of plastic surgery in some Latin American countries, perhaps we aren’t the worst in this!!]

  2. Jared on January 15, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Salt Lake City was Forbes.com Vainest City in the Unites States in 2007.
    http://www.forbes.com/2007/11/29/plastic-health-surgery-forbeslife-cx_rr_1129health_slide_2.html

  3. MarenM on January 15, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Jared: Wow- I had no idea. I knew it was bad out there but not that bad. And those spending comparisons to Oklahoma City are very surprising.

  4. Stephanie on January 15, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Jared, that doesn’t surprise me at all. As an outsider (not living in Utah), I am a little shocked by the general materialism and keeping up with the Jonses and hair and make-up and dress when I visit Utah (BYU’s Women’s Conference, in particular).

    Re the OP, many scriptures in the BofM talk about pride manifesting itself in the wearing of costly apparel and members of the church feeling that they are better than others because of their costly apparel.

  5. Natalie on January 15, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Didn’t Brigham Young once say that he wanted the early Saints in Salt Lake to exhibit good taste and to value beauty? Walking through the Church History museum you can see how much he valued good workmanship and high quality materials. Or the Joseph Smith building in Salt Lake? Try going in there ad believing that modesty is best! Holy gilded ceiling, right? This is such a complicated issue, and it seems you could say we are on one side of it in practice and another side in thought. We’re taught that we are sons and daughters of a King, that we have this divine nature and destiny. Then we’re taught to be modest and not attract too much attention. Then we are taught that a city on a hill cannot be hid/do not hide your light under a bushel.

    For me I suppose the answer comes in balance? Wanting to celebrate our God-given beauty (which all of us have) versus wanting to show off beauty WE create and value that God does not create or value?

    I guess?

  6. bfwebster on January 15, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    My wife and I moved to Northern Virginia (Oakton) in 1996, then to Southern Maryland (Bethesda) in 1997, and then to Dallas in 1998. Finally, at the end of 1999, we moved back to Washington DC itself. Sandra said that as she was packing to move to DC, she was surprised how many tailored jackets and nice slacks she had in her closet and was a bit puzzled how she had ended up with so many. Then we got to DC and after a few days of being out and about, she remembered why.

    Didn’t affect me much, though. While I had to wear slacks and dress shirts while working at PricewaterhouseCoopers for the first two years we were in the District, I still wore jeans the rest of the time (and all of the time once I left PwC).

    But I did wear nicer shoes (Ecco) most of the time. Here in Colorado, I’m usually barefoot or in Birks (even during the winter). ..bruce..

  7. Raymond Takashi Swenson on January 15, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    I can understand that conforming to certain standards of dress is how one avoids negative attention in certain work environments. It’s a uniform, a way of affirming one’s belonging and not being a threat to others.

    On the other hand, I don’t think anyone in the Church has any business being the fashion police in an LDS ward. Outside of Utah (where wards tend to be smaller and entirely within a single socio-economic class) most LDS wards include both mansions and one bedroom apartments, millionaires and minimum wage divorced moms. No rich member has a right to expect poorer members to dress like him. Correspondingly, no poor member has a right to insist that a rich member not wear their usual clothes in order to not make the poor member feel jealous. Our outer apparel, beyond basic modesty and respect for God, is not relevant to our eternal destiny. It is all a passing condition.

    So when I go to church, I don’t worry about how expensive the Bishop’s suit is, or how many diamonds the Relief Society President is wearing. I am not at Sacrament Meeting to show off my new $200 shoes. Besides, for me there is no point; my wife tells me, and my own experience confirms, that no matter how dressed up I might try to be, people still think I am more likely to be a bus driver (like my Dad was) than an attorney.

    Two of my heroes are Hugh Nibley and Henry Eyring (the scientist). Both men were well known for not caring much about their clothes. Elder Eyring has said he thinks his dad only owned two pairs of shoes at any one time, and would travel to Europe for two weeks of scientific conferences with only one suit and a couple of shirts. Eyring grew up in material deprivation after his family was forced out of Mexico during the revolution. Nibley, on the other hand, was a son of a wealthy heir of Preston Nibley, a member of the First Presidency, but he truly placed things of the mind and spirit above those of material wealth.

    If Eyring or Nibley were attending a ward in Annandale, Virginia, I don’t think they would care whether the man sitting next to them was wearing an Armani suit or the sister on the other side had Manolo Blahnik shoes. If your work requires such accoutrements, to keep the residents of the Great & Spacious Building from wasting your time ridiculing you, you might as well get some use out of them at church, too. But no one at church should feel that you expect them to match your investment in apparel.

    When I lived in the Maryland suburbs of DC, we supported a dairy farm on the Eastern Shore as our welfare project. Building a cattle fence or shoveling cow manure was not an occasion for showing off one’s fancy clothes. The same goes for teaching Primary, where the Sunbeams don’t care how much you paid for your purse. The volunteer work we do in the Church, and the sacrifices we make (like tithing), are regular reminders of what is really important in life. Neither rich nor poor should be obsessed with material wealth.

    When you and your Northern Virginia LDS neighbors go to the Washington DC Temple, your fancy clothes get left in a locker as you practice entering God’s presence. The uniform clothing we wear in the temples is a promise to us that in the eternities our appearance will be correlated with our righteousness, not our wealth. That spiritual egalitarianism is carried home with us as we wear temple garments beneath our outer clothing.

    When we lived in Marin County, California, my son joked about all the BMWs his fellow students drove to school. More modest cars like ours could be spotted with bumper stickers saying “My other car is a Lexus.” When we see the variety of dress in our wards, we should imagine that each person is wearing a name tag that says “My other set of clothes is white,” reminding all of us that we have the same rich reward, an endowment of royal robes, treasured up for us in heaven.

  8. SLO Sapo on January 15, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Raymond, I’ve rarely agreed with you in the past and sometimes bristled at your comments, but lately I’ve gotta say that some of your stuff has resonated with me, particularly this post. Thanks.

  9. John Hamilton on January 15, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    I think this touches on the whole reason we’re here. We need to figure out how to be “in the world” but not “of the world.” We need to experience and appreciate beauty, but still not let it “go to our heads.” When you start to care more about how you will look in church than what you will learn or give there, then you’ve got a problem.

    Every area has it’s culture. It is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It’s how we deal with it. To someone from a third world country the people in Vermont would be dressed extravagantly and the ones in Northern Virginia would probably be considered obscene! I went to Northern Virginia on my mission and the bar is certainly set higher there. But, maybe it was because I was a missionary, I don’t know, but they were still accepting of the less well dressed investigator.

    Anyway, my Dad always said it is best to dress so the poor don’t envy you and the rich don’t despise you. In other words, do your best to look as good as you can and after that don’t care.

  10. Stephanie on January 15, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Science is a great field for not requiring expensive attire.

  11. Velska on January 15, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Well, what does it say, when among the BofM stories “fine apparel” is always associated with people becoming proud? Ahey would become so proud as to start despising those, who did not wear this fine apparel, either for not wanting to be vain and proud (vanity and pride always go together, and in the scriptures neither word is ever associated with anything good) or being unable to afford that fine apparel. And gold and jewels and stuff…

    Really, what does it say? Why do you feel uncomfortable among people, who have overdressed, but feel fine if you’re too? And why is it that so many LDS parents fail to teach their kids modesty, which here means sort of plainness as well as not being too revealing or suggesting?

    Why do so many people assume that the manner of dress tells what’s in someone’s heart? If it’s a universal human trait, fine. We should put away the natural man, and deny from ourselves all ungodliness.

    I put on my suit and tie for church, but that’s because I want to show respect to the Lord — and help others not to feel uncomfortable, as they would should I come in clothes I like to wear. But I don’t think that my white shirt & tie with a black suit make me righteous. My suit, by the way, cost 60 euro.

  12. John Hamilton on January 15, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Wow, Raymond. You said it well! You must have posted while I was writing my previous post. You said it all! Thanks.

  13. Alison Moore Smith on January 15, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    I was just about to defend Northern Virginia — because I hate the regional attack thing — only to read the comments and find more Utah bashing.

    Sheesh.

  14. Ellis on January 15, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    That doesn’t sound like any ward I have lived in in No. VA and I have been here for 38 years.

    I don’t doubt your account. If you were to visit in other wards you would find things are not the same all over. I have lived wonderfully diverse wards where you can see just about any kind of apparel there is available to see.

  15. Stephanie on January 15, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Sorry, Alison, but what I said is true. I am a little shocked when I go to Women’s Conference. My mom (who attended with me this last year and moved to UT after living in CA for all of her life and then TX for a couple of years) and I had a whole conversation just on the incredible attention we observed women putting into their appearance. Moreso than any other area we’ve lived in. That’s not Utah bashing. It’s making an objective observation.

  16. Reese Dixon on January 15, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    See, I get really torn on this issue. I’m someone who loves design in all it’s forms – particularly interior and fashion. I have my specific tastes and I pursue it as I would pursue any artform. I think fashion can be an artform and I hate to think that I can’t love it if I want to be a disciple of Christ.

    I think, like so many things in life, it comes down to motivation. We all dress the way we do because we want to be thought of a certain way. Is that way rich? Is it powerful in an inappropriate setting? Is it proud? OK, then you’d have a problem. But I dress the way I do because I’m enjoying beautiful things and I hate to think that people will look at me and decide I must be proud and show-offy when I’m just trying to wear what I enjoy.

    Which aren’t actually designer things because the budget wouldn’t allow it, but still. Like the average person can spot Armani without the label.

  17. Ken on January 15, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    Velska: “But I don’t think that my white shirt & tie with a black suit make me righteous. My suit, by the way, cost 60 euro.”

    Sixty euro? Given the exchange rate, though, that’s … what? … a thousand bucks?! ;D (Heh-heh!)

  18. Manuel on January 15, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    “I noticed that other folk didn’t wear stained t-shirts and 10 year old jeans to pick up their well-heeled darlings from school in the afternoon. The other parents- and nannies- generally looked as though they have been to a business meeting or two before arriving at the playground. I could go on for hours about the beauty on display at church each Sunday. There is no age or gender restriction, either; everybody is dressed to the nines.”

    That sounds really good.

    Why in the world would anyone wear stained tshirts in public? In contrast to what you are shocked with, I am often shocked with the opposite. Some places take a little too far the “look how relaxed we are” attitude and grooming. People sometimes look like they are homeless or like they haven’t showered in days. Guys with this “skater/surfer” scruffy look and their silly cargo pants or washed down pastels shirts and the jail uniform looking kakies.

    There was a trend here in UT a few years back that was depressing: overweight housewives with bob grandma-ish hairstyles; they went to church with no makeup, pastel t-shirts and long shapeless denim skirts (oh yeah, add the flip flops). I was surprised children were still being conceived here. Things have changed for the better I think.

    I know people tend demonize grooming in an attractive way as “materialistic,” and what not mumbo jumbo. I think they are just lazy people who feel so unattractive that they have given up. On the other hand, I think thoughtful grooming and looking one’s best reflects a healthy and positive attitude and outlook on life.

    My opinion is that the way we groom reflects the way we think and feel about ourselves. And I will dare to say nicely groomed people are happier; they feel better about themselves, they love themselves more.

    It is no surprise we specifically keep high grooming standards for our missionaries. They are the first impression many people will get from the Church, and it should be a good one. It also helps remind them who they are and what they represent.

    I love places where people care about the image they project in public. I keep in shape, I dress nicely every day, even if I am not going to go out. I always get compliments and people respect me and ask me for advice. I feel great about myself.

    I have witnessed in person that people that go from being out of shape and not caring about their appearance increased their health and their self esteem when they kept in better shape and started grooming in a more sophisticated way.

    In fact, I have a friend that for him, these changes may have brought the biggest effect on his eternal journey since he is now engaged, whereas back in the day when he was fat and clueless about how to dress, girls would not pay attention to him. For him, it meant the difference between having a chance to have a family and not having that chance…

  19. defender of northern va on January 15, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    I have been a member of 3 wards in No VA and have attended others. While some do dress nicely, I have not found sisters who are vain nor have I found those who look at church as a fashion show. I have found many sisters wholove Heavenly Father an strive to serve those around them.

    And I have found that similiarity in a sister who is married to millionaire, and brief encounters/observatinos of sisters married to top leaders of the nation, as well as in sisters who live in very humble circumstances (ie hourly workers and those who receive church support) — as well as a mulititude of sisters in between.

    And that’s all I have to say for now in defending the amazing sisters of this area of the world.

  20. Stephanie on January 15, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    I know people tend demonize grooming in an attractive way as “materialistic,” and what not mumbo jumbo. I think they are just lazy people who feel so unattractive that they have given up.

    So, is this a personal attack? Considering that I believe I am the only one who specifically used the term “materialism” in my comment related to UT? If so, wow, Manuel. [Biting my tongue excessively] You can have nice hair that is cut and groomed attractively without requiring $100 highlights every six weeks. You can have nice nails without requiring a french manicure. You can purchase clothes that look good on you and make you look and feel more attractive without them being name brand or costing a fortune. There’s spending a reasonable amount of time to look attractive and then there’s spending inordinate amounts of time and money at the expense of things that are more important. It is possible to “groom in an attractive way” without being “materialistic”. And noticing the difference does not make me so lazy that I have just given up on ever being attractive. Sheesh.

    I was surprised children were still being conceived here.

    Just biting my tongue some more . . . I’m pretty sure it says somewhere in the comment policy not to start calling names, right?

  21. ji on January 16, 2010 at 2:38 am

    From the original posting:
    “One might argue that there’s a valid place for personal beautification while dating…”

    If this is true, then surely there is a valid place for personal beautification after marriage.

    A woman can dress up without being prideful — or she can be prideful and mock her simply-clad neighbor. A woman can dress simply without being prideful — or she can be prideful in her self-abasement and scorn her well-dressed neighbor. The same goes for men. We all know which course is right.

    One can tell when he or she is over-dressed or under-dressed in comparison to others — sometimes one will be comfortable with being different; sometimes one will wish he or she had conformed. But in either case, the focus should be on one’s own dress, not his or her neighbor’s dress. It is reasonable to wonder how others are dressing so that I can fit in better, but I must not point the finger at others.

    By the way, President Hinckley wore very nice suits and shirts with french cuffs and cuff links. I don’t begrudge him dressing nicely. And if another general authority buys a suit off the rack and wears shirts with button cuffs, that’s okay, too. Each can choose his own style and still be welcome. And in our wards and branches, a sister can dress up for church meetings if she wants to, according to her own sense of style and beauty and propriety and modesty, and the culture where she is. There can be beauty in sameness, and there can be beauty in diversity.

    But back to my original point — if there is a valid reason for personal beautification while dating, as the original posting allows, then there must also remain a valid reason for personal beautification after marriage.

  22. Manuel on January 16, 2010 at 2:47 am

    Stephanie,

    A personal attack? In a blog? Seriously? I take it you are just being facetious. I am offering a very vocal opposing point of view so that the contributions are balanced and so that people like you get a clear idea of reasons why other people think the opposite way. At the end of the day, people who read this most likely already have made up their minds as to these matters, so again, I just want to share reasons why some of us may feel the opposite way. Take them for what they are, as well as all other comments here: opinions. If you cannot profit from that variety, I am sorry.

    By the way, I absolutely agree with your statements about the money, time and effort spent on grooming you mention in your comment (#20), yet you made no mention of these things in your previous comments, so I obviously couldn’t deduct you were referring to those particular things. I just get sick and tired of people with a lousy image try to bring down those who care about their appearance. It’s easy to call shallow people who work to look the way they do. It’s easier to be careless (about grooming and about anything).

    Nevertheless, to imply that women in UT do all those things you mentioned in that statement seems a bit exaggerated to me. I live in UT and I know many women you who take very good care about themselves and their image. None of them do any of the things you mentioned above. I don’t know, I don’t attend the wards of the millionaires, so I could be wrong. I don’t doubt there are women everywhere that do, but I am not sure it has to do with UT, or with VA or with the Church for that matter.

    But I’ll tell you what makes me really sick. There is a show on TV called “Toddlers in Tiaras.” Now, that is the type of vanity that I think is sick and obsessive.

  23. Manuel on January 16, 2010 at 2:52 am

    “…if there is a valid reason for personal beautification while dating, as the original posting allows, then there must also remain a valid reason for personal beautification after marriage.”

    Absolutely! Even more valid reasons! Somebody needs to post that with bold letters.

  24. MarenM on January 16, 2010 at 6:23 am

    Raymond Takashi Swenson:
    “I don’t think anyone in the Church has any business being the fashion police in an LDS ward. …No rich member has a right to expect poorer members to dress like him. Correspondingly, no poor member has a right to insist that a rich member not wear their usual clothes in order to not make the poor member feel jealous. Our outer apparel, beyond basic modesty and respect for God, is not relevant to our eternal destiny. It is all a passing condition.”

    I certainly hope never to find the members of a ward consciously making another person feel unwanted because of their attire. I’ve never experienced that myself and would feel awful if I observed it in the house of the Lord (or anywhere for that matter). I’m not as concerned about what other members think about my clothes (although clearly that’s an element of the dilemma) as I wonder what’s acceptable to the Lord. If it’s all a passing condition, then why bother with it at all? You say, “I can understand that conforming to certain standards of dress is how one avoids negative attention in certain work environments. It’s a uniform, a way of affirming one’s belonging and not being a threat to others.” and yet bring up the examples of Nibley/Eyring who didn’t care that much. (Nibley was famous for his mismatched socks.) Having enjoyed my time at BYU and at my former job at the Church Office Building, I understand about conforming to a dress standard. But that standard only sets a lower limit (in those jurisdictions). I’m also looking for guidance on the upper limit, if there is one.

    Reese Dixon:
    I’m glad you touched on that because I love well-designed things, too. I think they are in line with our divine creativity. That’s why I think God wants us to love, appreciate and celebrate beautiful things. Does that include expensive and worldly things? Reason says it might, but that makes me uncomfortable.

    defender of northern va:
    “I have found many sisters wholove Heavenly Father an strive to serve those around them.”

    I did not say that the my wonderful sisters here are kept from serving the Lord because of their manner of dress. I see many great and righteous things in my ward. I simply notice a difference between two places and wonder what the meaning of that difference is. Had I never moved away from home, I might not have noticed it at all. I use those two places as examples, but I don’t mean to imply that they are alone in these matters. From the comments (and from my own experience) I know that they are not. I don’t want to demean ANY particular location at all because it isn’t about location. The matter is about where the line of “excessive” should be drawn and whether that line is universal or not- none of which I have the answer to.

  25. MarenM on January 16, 2010 at 6:30 am

    Stephanie: Thanks for your restraint. I’m pretty sure Manuel’s intentions are good.

  26. Velska on January 16, 2010 at 6:58 am

    Beautiful and ostentatious are distinct, obviously.

    I remember one time, in the temple, we were sitting, waiting for the session to start. There was a brother (a very poor one, both materially and in spirit, I might add), who, sitting down and crossing his legs, his pants leg got hiked up some, exposed his socks all the way up. At the very top (about half way from the ankle) was a very thin light blue line. Someone brought him a pair of white socks and asked him to go change.

    I looked around me. There were green crocodiles visible, along with other signs of affluence like gold cuff links and such. Nobody brought them white shirts to go change. I was wondering for a long time why the thin light blue line, mostly invisible, was wrong, but not the green crocodile? It was the heyday of Lacoste’s popularity among the affluent in the 1980s, BTW.

    I dunno. You decide.

  27. Ray on January 16, 2010 at 7:29 am

    It’s great for toothpaste, eye drops…maybe some Q tips.

  28. Blake Messinger on January 16, 2010 at 8:19 am

    While driving from Los Angeles to my home in Palm Springs around 5 AM the day after Christmas, I heard an interview on NPR with Sheryl Crow. She mentioned that she seems to be happy now, less angry and sees “things” (life, politics perhaps?) different: more gray then just “Black & White”. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

    http://www.wbur.org/npr/121925844

    SCOTT SIMON, NPR: How you doing now?

    Ms. CROW: I am so great. I am – you know, I’ve entered a really beautiful, serene phase of my life. Unfortunately, you get – you let go of sort of that us against them. And some of your edge goes away, which I think – we’ve watched a lot of our young, fiery artists become adults and we go well, they don’t write the great stuff anymore. But there is just something wonderful about getting older, you know? There is something wonderful about living in the gray instead of the black and white.

    She went on to credit part of this change to her two and a half year old son. I liked what I heard and have pondered “living in the gray” for the past week.

    With the baby boomers squandering almost every advantage given them from natural resources to a lot of hard work by their previous generations, the generations fallowing the baby boomers for the first time in this countries history have less prospects looking at them and will face a much less stable future. We are less likely to have a real job with real benefits, to continuing wars, a planet warming and resources going at remarkable rates that can’t be replenished and a future looks bleaker.

    I recall books I have read in the past telling me that once I get older I too will become less “liberal” and more conservative, the common refrain being the older you get the wiser. Perhaps the later part of that statement is true, but I’m happy this prediction was incorrect.

    Anger can be a hot and consuming flame. And as our bodies grow feebler; our joints tire and we start having the pressures of offspring or jobs or many other issues facing adults, many start to move away from the heat and settle in. And with our capitalistic-atomized society more and more attention is given to the job or family in the final attempt to keep some kind of community around us.

    Many marginalized people in this country and around the world are angry, and most of them don’t seem to understand why that might be. It seems to me that they pick apart around the margins with less prospects, many cling to what they have in hope of following their baby boomer folk’s philosophy, a real “head-in-the-sand” philosophy. They often fight the rear guard actions in hopes of keeping what they got, at the expense of vast majority in this world that have so much less. Too deny our affluence, to a great extent, is based on consumption of other people resources is a real head-in-the-sand ignorance nobody likes to acknowledge.

    Instead of building “Victory Gardens” like they did in WWII and paying for over half the war as it was fought with War Bonds, most conservatives and some liberals are happy with status quo shopping and damning their own children with all the war debt. Instead of using their affluence and putting solar panels on their houses, they are happy to replace a couple of light bulbs with energy efficient bulbs. No real solutions for the problems of the world just quick fixes, sounds like the American political system way of solving problems don’t you think?

    The only good news that I can see is that there are many “youth” who are living more modestly, trying not to buy into the run-a-way capitalism of their parents. Mostly, I suspect, because they pay attention to the news reports of job lost, a real lack of corporate concern for them and environmental woes. They have seen that both Clinton and Obama are the best hope, if hope means center-right corporate polices and continuous wars. They see the pressures and hopefully will continue to try something else then the failed modeling of their parents.

    So anger is a tricky thing. No one can sustain it continuously. But calling things “gray” when their truly are black and white issues is the real ultimate cop-out of the previous generation and those who have affluence now. So there in lies the conundrum, I still like the idea of “living in the gray”. After living 50 years in what I see as a rather remarkable life, I would like to think I know what degree of “change” worth fighting for. For me I am resolved that part of the fight includes peace of mind, and I now chose to focus on the body and mind and how best to take care of it, in an attempt to live in the gray with some influence to the world I am a part of. It won’t be easy but I will give it all it takes and hopefully good “change” will follow in some small way, by living in the gray.

  29. MarenM on January 16, 2010 at 9:05 am

    Blake Messinger: Thanks for your thoughts. They might be just as applicable in the “Welcome, Angry People” comment thread. I’m not sure of your intended link to the idea of personal vanity, etc.

  30. MarenM on January 16, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Ray: :)

  31. Blake Messinger on January 16, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Hi Maren,

    I did mispost but am so embarrased I do not want to repost it….

  32. MarenM on January 16, 2010 at 10:28 am

    No worries, Blake.

  33. Joe on January 16, 2010 at 11:26 am

    “One might argue that there’s a valid place for personal beautification while dating.”

    That’s a recipe for disaster. Just ask any spouse, male or female, whose partner decided to stop caring about their appearance after getting married.

  34. jimbob on January 16, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    I think most people in my ward are just happy I show up with *any* clothes on.

  35. Geary Younce on January 16, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    “One might argue that there’s a valid place for personal beautification while dating.”

    I’m all for that … but on the other hand … I saw my future wife in all stages of appearance and over the whole spectrum of feelings: Dressed up (we dated a lot, and not all of them were “dress-up” dates) for a date, working, first thing in the morning, sick, exhausted, perky, morose, and in the widest possible range of clothing. In every case, however, no matter what she was wearing, or how she looked, I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Some people just CAN’T not be beautiful, and there is really no point in trying to. I happen to have daughters who fall into this category.

    On the other hand, I remember going to pick up a girl I has asked to a dance, only to find that she had dressed and made herself up to look really special, just for me. I was absolutely blown away and have never forgotten the pleasure that gave me, even though our relationship didn’t last.

    I think it is not the material goods, but rather the motive, that counts the most. When I was in high school, we had a saying that, “Beauty is skin deep, … but ugliness goes clear to the bone.” The point being that it is not the appearance but the motive that makes a person ugly or beautiful. Appearance helps, of course, but it can’t make up for the lack of a beautiful personality.

  36. Stephanie on January 16, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Manuel, what exactly is “people like you”? What kind of person am I?

  37. Manuel on January 16, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Stephanie,

    The kind of person that makes wide brush remarks such as this:

    “Jared, that doesn’t surprise me at all. As an outsider (not living in Utah), I am a little shocked by the general materialism and keeping up with the Jonses and hair and make-up and dress when I visit Utah (BYU’s Women’s Conference, in particular).”

    Blah.

  38. Stephanie on January 16, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Um, what about people who make wide brush remarks like this? What do you call “those people”?

    Some places take a little too far the “look how relaxed we are” attitude and grooming. People sometimes look like they are homeless or like they haven’t showered in days. Guys with this “skater/surfer” scruffy look and their silly cargo pants or washed down pastels shirts and the jail uniform looking kakies.

    There was a trend here in UT a few years back that was depressing: overweight housewives with bob grandma-ish hairstyles; they went to church with no makeup, pastel t-shirts and long shapeless denim skirts (oh yeah, add the flip flops). I was surprised children were still being conceived here. Things have changed for the better I think.

    I know people tend demonize grooming in an attractive way as “materialistic,” and what not mumbo jumbo. I think they are just lazy people who feel so unattractive that they have given up.

  39. Manuel on January 16, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Stephanie,

    I am making a contrasting remark to yours. You don’t have to like it. Stop making this a personal issue and stop playing the offended victim (it’s such a weak and coward position). This is not about you, so grow up and learn to take other view for what they are. Stop trying to pick fights.

    I don’t remember calling anyone names, although you are obviously instigating such attitudes by insisting on it.

    Grow up and drop it.

  40. Stephanie on January 16, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Manuel, I don’t think you get how your remarks come across. When you say things like I am offering a very vocal opposing point of view so that the contributions are balanced and so that people like you get a clear idea of reasons why other people think the opposite way. . . . Take them for what they are, as well as all other comments here: opinions. If you cannot profit from that variety, I am sorry., you are being rude and making this about me. So, if you don’t want me to take it that way, don’t say it that way. Sweet and simple.

  41. Manuel on January 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Stephanie,

    I don’t know what you are reading into “people like you.” By which I meant people with an opposing view to mine. I apologize if it came across in a particularly offensive way.

    I frankly don’t see anything wrong with the rest of the text you quoted. Your comment about “the general materialism in UT” is also rude. So, you may be tasting a bit of your own attitude, it’s just not the same being on the other side of the fence.

    I don’t expect people to agree with my statements. Like I said, you don’t need to agree nor like any of my comments/opinions. They are the thoughts that come to my mind when I hear criticism against people who care about their image. People often think these things but they just don’t say them. I am saying them because people who do such criticism may need to understand where the people who are being criticized are coming from.

  42. Tim on January 16, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    I think there’s a problem when Utah’s the number one state for plastic surgery–and certainly the problem with appearances doesn’t stop there. It’s a concern, perhaps mirroring the Nephites’ fine and costly apparel and Brigham Young’s concern about Utahn’s becoming too wealthy. Not to say that it doesn’t happen elsewhere, and not to say it’s everywhere in Utah, but we’re fools if we ignore it or brush it off as unimportant.
    Sure, neat appearances are nice. But, like the Nephites, we sometimes go way overboard.

  43. Stephanie on January 16, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Manuel, I agree that my initial comment about Utah was harsher than I intended. Not everyone in Utah is materialistic. My point with that comment was more that I wasn’t terribly surprised with the study Jared found based on my personal observations.

    I don’t really think my view is that much of an opposite to yours. I would sum my view up like this: Putting time, effort and money into appearance is important but not that important. At the point that appearance becomes more important than other things (like how we treat others), then it’s out of balance. I think that is a lot of what the BofM teaches us about pride and costly apparel.

    And I admit I even feel squeamish saying that when people in Haiti are dying. I have a hard time talking about spending money on things like my appearance when I know of such extreme poverty. But, I have to be honest and say that I am still too vain to stop spending money on my appearance. I just hope to keep it at a minimum while still looking appropriate for the occasion.

  44. Maren Mecham on January 16, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    MANUEL AND STEPHANIE: this will serve as your only warning. One more personal attack and your comments will be deleted. I do no tolerate comment s meant to put another person down. Cool it!

  45. Stephanie on January 16, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Sorry, Maren. I was not trying to put Manuel down. I am done now. Regional differences aside, I really identify with your OP about the tension between looking nice without being vain. I feel that tension (and am likely still feeling guilty for rushing out and buying $50 facial cream when I noticed wrinkles in my family portrait).

  46. Maren Mecham on January 16, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Stephanie: peace. (And I am likely to feel slightly guilty for photoshopping the wrinkles out of my family portrait.)

  47. Stephanie on January 16, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Don’t – it’s cheaper. :)

  48. Rick on January 17, 2010 at 2:13 am

    1.) This post struck close to home for me. I’ve had conflicting feelings about this subject for a long time. I’m in a singles ward, and looking good is a priority for everyone here. (Particularly the ones wanting to get out.) As a guy, it hasn’t impacted my habits as much as it impacts the women, but it does raise a question for me: Is it right to seek out physical beauty, or are such things always to be considered shallow or lustful or otherwise “bad”? Would it be (impermissibly) vain for me to refuse to date a girl because of her looks alone? Likewise, is it always wrong for someone who isn’t looking for a spouse to distinguish whether to have a relationship with them (even just a friendly one) based on their appearance?

    2.) For all the lessons that women in the church get about how “God sees all of His creations as beautiful,” or “He has a plan for everyone, even those who are not married,” there is a serious corresponding lack of teaching to men of the church about how, if we are to be like God, we need to be attracted to the cross-eyed girl because she is “beautiful” too. Guys are simply scolded by the GAs in their commentary that young men of the Church are not serious enough about dating. There would be no need for the admonitions if the men were around women who take their appearance as seriously as guys take a woman’s appearance– guys would do ANYTHING to go on dates because there would be an incentive. I guess this goes along with the admission from the OP that vanity is more excusable while dating, but I don’t see why the application of a gospel principle like this is supposed to change depending on familial status.

  49. Manuel on January 17, 2010 at 3:43 am

    “Is it right to seek out physical beauty, or are such things always to be considered shallow or lustful or otherwise “bad”? Would it be (impermissibly) vain for me to refuse to date a girl because of her looks alone?”

    The problem finding the right answer to the first question probably lies on how each individual defines physical beauty. Lust and shallowness may be tricky because as inherently divine beings, we are not completely lustful nor shallow, and seeking things that only satisfy those wants will result in hunger to nourish the other aspects that as divine beings we also long for: a true connection with a true companion.

    I believe it is right to seek out physical beauty, and I also believe physical beauty is within everyone’s reach. Physical beauty alone is not well rounded and will fail to provide nourishment for the other needs we have when it comes to companionship, but taking it completely out of the equation may be equally detrimental than focusing solely on it.

    As for the second question, I think the trick lies on the phrase “looks alone.” Because as rational beings, we probably never completely isolate “looks alone” from other inferences, since our natural need to psychoanalyze what we see will force us to ask ourselves why someone looks the way they look. Therefore, “looks alone” will never really be looks alone, but we will inevitably interpret those looks and conclude that they must reflect something deeper.

    There are many factors involved in human physical attraction, I ascribe to the mix of psychological/emotional and biological: living things that reproduce sexually usually choose mates that are the strongest and the healthiest, which is more often than not reflected by their physical appearance. Humans also tend to want to bond with other humans that are emotionally stable and that emotionally compliment their need for sociability and intimacy. That’s what we are attracted to.

    Whether it is the chicken or the egg first, I wouldn’t know, but one thing I have witnessed for sure. People who take care of themselves from a wellness perspective (they keep fit, clean, well groomed, etc) tend to be healthier and more emotionally stable: therefore more attractive from both biological and psychological stand points. This is probably the beauty that we seek out because of our divine nature.

    People who are emotionally mature will tend to look more “put together,” and act more self-confident, and appear to have less emotional baggage and anti-social attitudes. They won’t tend to look as if they don’t have any self love, or as if they are attention needy. Fit bodies also tend to be the norm when it comes to “popular beauty.” I believe firmly these are the type of people that most will be attracted to, and therefore, the type of people that will most likely find mates.

    Now, the after marriage issue… if these people were drawn to each other (physically, psychologically, emotionally) because of these characteristics; it simply doesn’t make sense to me that it is ok for them to stop caring about their wellness (and its resulting physical beauty/attractiveness) after marriage. I think to neglect these things would be detrimental to different levels in different people, but detrimental nonetheless. Of course our bodies age, begin to fail and eventually die, but the way I see this is not as an excuse but rather an incentive. Making the effort is usually what counts.

  50. Life is too short... on January 17, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Sorry to throw a wet blanket on this discussion, but i personally find it unproductive and not conducive to building up the kingdom to see that there are now 50 comments about how people choose to dress and present themselves. People — life is too short to be concerned about such trivial matters. I, for one, choose to focus on the purposes of the Church and enhancing my relationship with our Savior.

  51. MarenM on January 17, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Life is too short: You are, of course, allowed to believe that these are trivial matters. And most of the time, I might agree with that label. However, the choices I make in this life will impact my eternal progress. I want to get it right. The focus on personal beauty can lead to vanity/pride/spiritual destruction and I’d like to avoid that path ahead of time if possible. I’m not sure if it’s ok to always try to look my very, very best (because I am, after all, one of God’s creations and He made us all beautiful in our own way) or if that kind of focus will lead me into spiritual trouble.

    It’s true that this is not one of the weightier elements of the doctrines of salvation. But it’s an issue that’s been on my mind a lot and my own searching has not led to a satisfactory answer. I posted the question here to see if anyone else had helpful insights and opinions. Thank you to everyone who has been kind enough to add to our collective knowledge on this issue.

  52. Carly Simon on January 17, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    You prob’ly think this post is about you

  53. Manuel on January 17, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Life is too short,

    I agree that there are definitely weightier matters to worry about, especially in light of events such as the Haiti earthquake. I have to agree with Maren though. You would be surprised what difference these seemingly trivial things can make in the quality of lives of people. And because like you said, life is short, and our day to day quality of life also matters and also has an effect on how we feel about things, what choices we make and how we affect others around us (like our children or people that look up to us), they do become important to a certain extent and IMO worthy of being discussed. And to a certain extent, they do form part of how we build the Kingdom of God. They may not be the most important things to our salvation, but they are things that most definitely have to be adressed in life.

    These are not the only subjects available around though. You will find in the bloggernacle very interesting subjects that range from deep doctrines to well documented history articles. Feel free to enjoy other discussions.

  54. MarenM on January 17, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Carly Simon: That total eclipse in Nova Scotia was so worth the trip. :)

  55. Alison Moore Smith on January 17, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Seems to me that in order to accurately label any particular level of self-care as “vain” one must be able to divine things that I’m pretty sure none of us has access to.

    While I might have the intel to correctly judge my family members or close friends as “vain,” I’m thinking that I can’t even do so about the vast majority of women in my ward. Let alone the general attendees of a conference or residents of an entire state.

    I think we could easily have a discussion about vanity (or any other vice) without this kind of erroneous judgment.

  56. Geary on January 17, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    When I feel better about myself, I notice that I dress better (and vice versa). Is this because then I am vain? I don’t think so. I may have said it poorly before, but I continue to put motivation at the core of this discussion. When we are motivated by uplifting feelings, it is hard for me to even put vanity into the picture. A joyous person shines with a light of their own making, and looking good is part of the result.

    There was a time not so long ago that I would be able to predict, with perfect accuracy, which of the young married women in our ward was pregnant — well before their announcement — just because they looked like they were lit from within. They were at their most beautiful. Was this because of vanity? Gracious no! They were supremely satisfied with their condition, and it showed.

    But trying to fake this kind of joyous inner beauty is, I think, vain. Trying to look younger than you are (this is for older people — old enough for life’s experiences to begin to show) is trying to fake it, and this is vain in all the meanings of the word.

    The only way there is to be honestly beautiful is to BE beautiful — all the way to the core of your being.

  57. MarenM on January 17, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Alison Moore Smith: You’re right in saying that we cannot judge whether others are truly “vain” in an unrighteous sense. Perhaps it’s a problem of wording, but I truly was struck by a visible difference and vanity was the word I chose to describe it. It was not meant as a judgement. In fact, the crux of the issue for me is that I cannot tell whether it’s ok or not. It was such a difference that it affected me. I felt like wearing the local “uniform” mentioned in the first paragraph of comment #7 and this bothered me. I couldn’t tell whether it was really acceptable to suddenly ramp up my own “vanity” or sense of beauty or attempt at good looks or whatever it can be called.

    I do not mean to inflict a negative judgement on individuals, religious groups, regional areas, states or nations. I noticed a difference and I wonder about the meaning of that difference.

  58. defender of northern va on January 17, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    I like what you said Allison, “Seems to me that in order to accurately label any particular level of self-care as “vain” one must be able to divine things that I’m pretty sure none of us has access to.”

    when I was serving a mission, there was a sis missionary that other sisters said took 2 hours to get ready in the AM. Despite the common knowledge that this sister was diligent and dedicated, I remember feeling judgmental about the 2 hours..then one day I learned that as a child this sis had sustained a severe facial injury by an animal, thus leading ( as I understood) to her desire to spend extra time getting ready. Shame on me for having judged.

  59. Stephanie on January 18, 2010 at 12:34 am

    I am going to retract the use of the word “materialism” in comment 4. I just looked up the definition (“a desire for wealth and material possessions with little interest in ethical or spiritual matters”), and that’s not really what I was trying to convey. I was just trying to say that I can see that women in Utah put a lot of money into hair, make-up and clothes.

    Forbes.com declared Salt Lake City as “The Vainest City in America” based on the number of plastic surgeons per capita and the fact that Locals also spend more on cosmetics purchases at the grocery store than their peers in cities of similar size, according to Information Resources, a research company that tracks cosmetics and toiletries sales.

    Jared shared that fact, and I said I can see how that is true because I’ve been to UT and seen that, yes, women spend a lot on hair and make-up. And it’s been noticeable and shocking enough to me to warrant conversations with others over.

    So, Alison, what is it that you are taking issue with? The fact that Forbes.com called Salt Lake City the “Vainest City in America” based on data, the fact that Jared brought it into the discussion, or the fact that I said I had observed what the data says – women in Utah DO spend more money on hair and make-up?

  60. Stephanie on January 18, 2010 at 12:41 am

    And I agree with Maren that I think it’s a problem of wording. Vain has several definitions: prideful, to no avail, excessive concern over one’s appearance. I don’t know that “The Vainest City in America” really means any one of those based on the data being observed except maybe the last one about excessive concern over one’s appearance. Even then, it’s not a perfect word. But I can’t think of one that would be better right now.

  61. Clark on January 18, 2010 at 12:50 am

    (Note I’ve not read the comments yet)

    From the post, I’m a bit confused. Why is it vanity to dress nice? I have to admit that I dress a little slovenly at the moment. But I miss the times when I didn’t. Part of it right now is practical. (When you work in a factory with chocolate everywhere you quickly learn the clothes you wear to work won’t last long)

    Personally I wish people would dress up a bit more. It’s just something about self-respect.

    I just can’t see that as vanity – which to me is people going too far overboard.

  62. Stephanie on January 18, 2010 at 12:59 am

    I also think the concerns that Tim (and Maren) raise are valid. Assuming Utah represents “Zion” or Mormons, is it “okay” for our population to spend more per capita on plastic surgery and cosmetics? Does that spending then translate to vanity or pride? I personally don’t consider that to just be “Utah bashing”. I’m a member of that population (Mormon) who purchases department store cosmetics (and will likely highlight my hair when I feel I can justify the cost). I’m not interested in pointing out someone else’s “sins” but I am interested in using that data to evaluate myself and “my” population. Do we need to heed the warnings in the BofM and from Brigham Young more?

  63. Clark on January 18, 2010 at 2:46 am

    Why would it be acceptable to pay $15,000 for a kitchen remodel but not a tummy tuck?

    It seems to me that some people clearly go overboard (one singles ward I was in nearly half the women had had breast augmentation). However it seems to me some go too far the other way.

  64. MarenM on January 18, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Careful with the singling out of a particular location. I understand that it represents your experience, but please use caution as it easily offends individuals.

    Stephanie: “Do we need to heed the warnings in the BofM and from Brigham Young more?” Maybe. To which of Brigham Young’s warnings are you referring?

    Clark: It’s difficult to imagine how you might know that dubious fact about the sisters in your ward, but okay. As you mention, there’s a huge range of what people deem acceptable for themselves. And that’s the whole purpose of this discussion: not to make judgements about others but to talk about opinions and see if there’s a consensus about what might be right. As I suspected, it appears that consensus is still a ways off.

  65. Clark on January 18, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Women talk about their work pretty openly at times. Of the women I home taught 2/3 had augmentation and were pretty open about it.

  66. MarenM on January 18, 2010 at 9:42 am

    Whoa.

  67. Stephanie on January 18, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Maren, I was referring to this quote (which I am guessing is the same one Tim was referring to):

    The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greatest fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth.

    I got it off of this provident living page. There are a lot of great warnings from different church leaders on there. (But, note, I hesitate even bringing that into the discussion because the title of the page is “Materialism”. Still, here’s part of a quote from President Hinckley on the same page that I think is apropos: No matter our circumstances, we want to improve them. This, too, is good if it is not carried to an extreme.

  68. Bob on January 18, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I owe the first 20 years of my life to Salt Lake vanity! (This is just fun folks, no one have a cow).
    My ggmother and gmother made large Victorian hats in Moroni (near Manti). A lot were sent up to Salt Lake. But in the 1920s, it became clear the ‘Hairdo’ was replacing the large hats. Therfore, my aunts were sent to Beauty school in Salt Lake to learn the trade. My mother came down from Idaho also to learn the trade. Thereby meeting my father thru his sisters).
    All succumbed (being small town girls) to too much vanity in Salt Lake and moved on to California. But Salt Lake followed them.
    Mostly, my mom continued doing ‘hair’ in the ‘Salt Lake style’, for other Mormons who moved to the San Fernando Valley’ I was raised at her feet in her shop. A lot of my Mission costs were covered by a peach jar in her booth marked ‘Bob’s Mission tips’.

  69. Stephanie on January 18, 2010 at 11:34 am

    What is the purpose and value of personal vanity?

    To answer this question posed in the OP, for me, it comes down to this admonition in the scriptures: seek ye first the kingdom of God. If what I am doing is helping to further that goal (trying to look attractive to attract and keep happy a spouse, looking appropriate/professional to further career objectives, inviting the Spirit with a clean, nicely groomed body, etc.), then I feel comfortable with my “vanity”. If what I am doing is detracting from that goal (putting effort into one aspect of my appearance so that others will notice and comment or to one up my neighbore), then I don’t feel comfortable with my “vanity” because my motivation is not unity – it’s to distinguish myself. I think it all comes down to motivation, and no, as Alison points out, that is none of our business as it relates to anyone else but ourselves. It is not our job to try to judge the motivations of other individuals based on their appearance. However, I do think it is valuable to assess ourselves and our own motivations.

  70. Stephanie on January 18, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Another scripture I think of when I consider this topic is the one about fasting and prayer where the Savior says that those who do it to be seen of men “receive their reward”. If I put a lot into my appearance to be “seen of men”, then I’ll receive my reward: I’ll be seen and acknowledged by other people, and it will satisfy my motivation. But, am I doing that at the expense of a better reward?

  71. MarenM on January 18, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Bob: Great story!

    Stephanie: That’s the one I thought you meant and it’s a good one, However, this one can also be useful to the opposing argument:

    Let the sisters take care of themselves, and make themselves beautiful, and if any of you are so superstitious and ignorant as to say that this is pride, I can say that you are not informed as to the pride which is sinful before the Lord, you are also ignorant as to the excellency of the heavens, and of the beauty which dwells in the society of the Gods. Were you to see an angel, you would see a beautiful and lovely creature. Make yourselves like angels in goodness and beauty (DBY, 215).(As quoted in The Teachings of Brigham Young, page 134)

    I’m not sure he imagined how far this might go. I’ve never seen an angel, so I can’t say what they look like; it leaves it wide open to interpretation. However, I’m pretty sure that this quote isn’t going to get me very far in the final judgement if my heart has been in the wrong place and my intentions have been self-centered. But that’s why I wrote the first of the three hypothetical praises at the end of the OP. I think there might be some grounds for it and yet it makes me squirm a little. It’s a fine line- how is it done?

    In this idea, I see the seeds for one of the biggest differences between Jesus Christ and Satan: the ability to do truly grand, miraculous and amazing things and yet give the glory away without keeping any to adorn himself.

    I like you answer to the question of the OP. Thanks.

  72. MarenM on January 18, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Also, too bad BY doesn’t include the brethren. Hmm. Maybe it’s implied and the audience was only female?

  73. Stephanie on January 18, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    I’m pretty sure Brigham Young imagined how far it could go. He is the one who started the Retrenchment Association.

    The retrenchment movement, conceived in 1869 by President Brigham Young to encourage LDS women to “spend more time in moral, mental and spiritual cultivation, and less upon fashion and the vanities of the world”.

    I don’t really feel that I am arguing on either side of an opposing argument. I think moderation is the key.

    Excellent, excellent point on Christ vs. Satan.

  74. MarenM on January 18, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Ah, yes, Retrenchment. Good note. I know you’re being balanced, I just had to throw in that other quote for good measure. I have seen it used to excuse some pretty excessive behavior which was against its original intent, I’m sure.

  75. Clark on January 18, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Once again Stephanie, while I think there’s part of what you say that is true, I’m worried about how broad you are taking it. Certainly oneupmanship has no place in our lives. But distinguishing ourselves? What’s wrong with that? Surely you aren’t advocating conformity as the rule? (Something I think is a bigger problem in Utah than the number of plastic surgeons)

  76. Lawrence on January 18, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Great post Maren, definitely worth saving including the comments by RTS and GY.

  77. Stephanie on January 18, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Clark, I think it just goes back to motivation again. Pride can be at the root of either conforming or distinguishing ourselves. I am thinking of the temple. For unity, to be the “same”, we all wear white. But, we are not all required to wear the exact same thing, particularly as women. We can choose white clothes that flatter our own bodies and make us look and feel our best. But, even then, we can take it too far by wearing clothes so that our other ward members will notice how nice they are – so we will distinguish ourselves from them by how much better we look. I really, really like what Maren said in 71 about Christ and Satan. Christ told us to be a light unto the world, to let our light so shine. So we DO need to distinguish ourselves that way. Basically it comes down to this: are we distinguishing ourselves to give glory to God or to give glory to ourselves? Same with conforming, I think.

  78. Stephanie on January 18, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Incidentally, Clark, don’t you think conforming and a high number of plastic surgeons are essentially two sides of the same coin? I would think that one of the primary motivations for getting plastic surgery is to conform to a uniform standard of beauty.

  79. Clark on January 18, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    The Forbes article notes that the large number of plastic surgeons is partially due to the UoU having a special school there.

    As for the issue of conformity, I agree. But I think the problem is conformity and not vanity. That is the idea that you are only of worth when doing what everyone else is doing. So my critique was more that the focus was odd. Likewise Utah materialism (which is clearly present, but perhaps drastically exaggerated) seems not to be a problem of what they spend their money on but the mere fact their allocation of resources is so self-centered. It’s that self-centeredness that is the problem and not the clothes or so forth. Afterall it really is easy to dress in “expensive” clothes if you are careful where you buy them. In some cases its cheaper since nicer clothes last much, much longer. Yeah those clothes from Old Navy might be cheap – but often you have to buy them 3-4x as often.

    For the beauty standard, it’s a good question. I think a lot of beauty standards arise out of our DNA. That is it’s hard wired into our brains. But the anorexia Vogue look clearly is unnatural and people who follow it are doing it out of peer pressure and low self-esteem. (Although certainly some people naturally are that thin) Interestingly that look is rarely what men seem attracted to.

    I think though that we are social creatures and our idea of what is appropriate or beautiful will always have that social component. But if I decide my nose is too wide and want to allocate resources to that instead of a nicer car, I honestly don’t see what’s wrong with that. Even though there is a sense in which it is a decision arising out of my social environment I think one can make such choices more freely or not. As you said, it gets back to motivation.

    I just worry that rather than judge motivation we look at the outward appearance and that’s just as problematic. (IMO) For instance I can honestly say a lot of the women in that ward I mentioned were materialistic and superficial. But I could say that because there was a lot more going on than expensive dresses and cosmetic surgery.

  80. CarolY on January 18, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    A good story about how vanity works in the lives of both rich and poor is played out in the movie, ” Babette’s Feast”. It is beautifully filmed, has some interesing juxtapositions and tells a lovely story. I recommend it if you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it lately.

  81. Manuel on January 19, 2010 at 12:32 am

    Just to add to CarolY:

    Another good friendly source about the subject (for those with children) is “The Sneetches” by Dr. Seuss, available in children’s book “The Sneetches and Other Stories,” and in animated video “Dr. Seuss on the Loose.” AKA “The Star-Bellied Sneetches.”

    I think he addresses probably the main aspect of vanity… the division it creates by looking down on others. I think what we do to our appearance should uplift ourselves and others, not put down or make us look down on others.

  82. Geary on January 20, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Re #71, The quote includes the phrase: “Make yourselves like angels in goodness and beauty”, and I note in passing that it doesn’t say anything about copying their physical proportions, nor anything about additional accouterments such as clothing, jewelry, hairstyles, or other exterior elements.

    It also castigates those who are “so superstitious and ignorant as to say that this is pride”, which, I would think, would also apply to those who dumb down the meaning of “beauty” to the exterior only.