The Way We Teach Our Children Modesty

July 26, 2012 | 94 comments
By

At the age of two, my daughter Axa could point out an immodest outfit in a shop window. At five, she added sleeves to the dress on the princess picture her babysitter had drawn for her. Although I don’t recall making any special effort to teach her about modesty, I was surprised and gratified that she understood the concept at such a young age.

However, lately I’ve been having disquieted feelings when she brings up modesty, as I realize that something in the nuance of what I’ve taught has gone awry. And then just a few weeks ago, something happened that disturbed me.

Axa (who’s now seven) was reading the Book of Mormon out loud to me. She hadn’t interjected a word until we came to this passage (from the Testimony of Joseph Smith, describing the appearance of the angel Moroni):

He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. His hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrists; so, also, were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open, so that I could see into his bosom.

My daughter looked up from her reading, raised an eyebrow, and said, “that’s not modest.”

I was taken aback. She didn’t notice the glory and mystery and wonder of an angelic visitation, or the awe that Moroni’s brilliant appearance must have evoked in a young boy. Her one reaction to the prophetic testimony of a miraculous event was that the messenger of God was dressed “immodestly.”

Now it’s possible that her attention was merely arrested by the unusual description, or the liberal use of the word “naked.” But the incident got me thinking, and upon further reflection I realize that I have, in some sense, failed my daughter. There are at least three crucial points that I (and her Primary teachers) have missed when we taught her about modesty:

1. Modesty is relative.

As someone who has committed embarrassing faux pas in more countries than I would care to admit, I am abundantly aware of the relativity of modesty to situation and culture.

For example, I was walking home from church along a street in Hammamet, Tunisia one Sunday, dressed as a paragon of Mormon modesty in a mid-calf-length skirt and elbow-length sleeved top, neither of them tight or in any other way revealing. Being a Sunday afternoon, the sidewalk cafés lining the street were full of people, and being Tunisia, all those people were young men (women have their own private cafés, which are too hidden-away to find unless you have inside connections). Although I was assiduously avoiding eye contact with anyone, I had the disconcerting impression (and my husband confirmed it afterward) that I was the focal point of an entire street full of leering men. It was obvious that only the presence of said husband kept my unwelcome audience silent in their seats, limiting their reaction to what a female friend who’d also visited Tunisia described as “violent eyes.” Had I been waltzing down the street wearing skanky lingerie, I don’t think I could possibly have attracted more unwanted male attention.

Why? Because the modesty standard to which I was conforming was different from the modesty standard in Tunisia, where floor-length skirts, figure-obscuring tunics, and covered hair tend to be the order of the day for “respectable” women. Was I dressed immodestly? Well, no. And yes.

In Italy, we tended to commit dress code violations of a different sort. People there are expected to expend considerable effort on their appearance, partially as a demonstration of respect and consideration for everyone else who has to look at them. Wearing baggy or excessively casual clothing, even to the grocery store, is considered rude, inconsiderate, and brutta figura (bad form), much in the same way that my HOA here thinks I’m ill-mannered if I neglect to cut my lawn.

I particularly noticed at church in our Italian branch that the men’s suits were much more form-fitting than I was used to members wearing back home. I was amused when we came back to the United States and my mother-in-law expressed her discomfort with the cut of my husband’s pants. I’ll be clear that his pants weren’t anywhere near skin-tight. In fact, they were looser than most American (even Mormon) women wear their pants. I thought he looked perfectly appropriate. Not to mention pretty darn hot. But his mother was scandalized. Was my husband dressed immodestly? Well, no. And yes.

Modesty is relative not only to place, but also to time. This was lost on the Mormon blogger who infamously posted a few weeks ago that the particulars of “the Lord’s standard for modesty” have been exactly the same since the beginning of time. Apparently oblivious to the irony, she proceeded to back up her assertion by posting a standard 20th century LDS portrayal of Adam and Eve, in which they are (predictably) dressed in coats of skins that carefully cover their shoulders and go exactly down to their knees.

I’m sure few of us would go so far as to presume to know the exact cut of Adam and Eve’s clothing. However, as we take care in our modesty lessons to emphasize minute particulars of length and coverage, we would do well to remember that by the standards of Joseph Smith’s day, our General Relief Society Presidency came to April General Conference in 2012 quite shockingly clad. Not to mention the troubling fact that the standards in heaven may also differ, as so ably pointed out  by my seven-year-old.

I mention all this only to illustrate that our standards of modest dress are largely dependent on our culture and time. A bare knee or shoulder is no more inherently provocative or immodest than a bare ankle or a bare face, although all of those bare body parts have been (and are) considered immodest in certain times and places. While modesty (especially in its more comprehensive sense as an antonym to pridefulness) may constitute an eternal gospel principle, knee-length shorts and cap sleeves do not.

Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed that even as “worldly” standards become looser, some elements within the church (and other conservative Christian churches) are promoting an increasingly restrictive standard of dress, especially for young children. When I went to girl’s camp twenty years ago, the rule was that our shorts had to go down at least to our fingertips when our hands were at our sides. On my leg, that’s about six inches above the top of the knee. My children (ages five and seven) were taught a few weeks ago in junior Primary that their shorts and dresses are immodest unless they go all the way down to their knees.

I fear that our increasing rigidity and specificity with regard to modest dress is converting it into a Pharisaical measuring stick, rather than an introspective desire to dress in a way that shows respect for God, our own bodies, and the cultural norms of the society in which we live.

2. Modesty is about you, not them.

Even worse, we are sometimes guilty of using that Pharisaical measuring stick on other people. Something that commonly crops up in lessons for our young women is that they need to dress modestly to keep the young men from having bad thoughts. Among the many unsavory consequences of this rhetoric is the phenomenon of the so-called “Mormon Modesty Police”; overzealous young men who take it upon themselves to tell young women that their clothing is causing men to have bad thoughts. I find this offensive on too many levels to count (not to mention creepily Taliban-ish), but I’ll give you the brief beginnings of a list.

Firstly, as I have learned when traveling in predominantly Muslim countries, the more women cover up, the more men tend to find any exposed area titillating. Where burqas and chadors are the norm, men find eyes and toenails just as alluring as Victorian men found ankles, or certain men at BYU find leggings, skinny jeans, or book-bag straps. Mandating more stringent dress codes for women is not and will never be a solution to male lust. Secondly, what this kind of thinking teaches men is that they are at the mercy of their own thoughts and other people’s bodies. Thirdly, it objectifies women. Fourthly, it is just plain wrong to be judging and preaching to other people in that way. And so on.

I hope (and pray!) that none of the reasoning about dressing modestly so we don’t give other people bad thoughts is making it into any of these Primary lessons. No innocent little girl should be exposed to the idea that other people might be looking at her body sexually. To say nothing of the horrifying damage it does to children who are victims of abuse to be taught at an early age that dressing in certain ways might somehow invite or encourage unwanted advances from adults.

Our double-edged standards for modesty can be used as an excuse to judge people in all sorts of other ways too. After all, it’s difficult to tell from the outside whether someone is paying tithing, drinking coffee at home, or being honest. Any infraction of the dress code, on the other hand, is open to instant and exacting analysis. Modes of dress can unfortunately become an easy way for members to speculate on and categorize the goodness or faithfulness of others.

I was substituting as the Primary pianist a month ago, and so was privy to a Sharing Time on modesty in which my children participated. After going through the particulars of which body parts ought to be covered, the teacher decided to expand into how we should judge people who dress differently from us. She told a story of taking her young granddaughter to the fabric store. Present at the store was a group of young people dressed inappropriately. After coming home, the little girl told her grandmother that she had made some new friends. The grandmother related to the Primary children how disappointed she had been that her granddaughter would choose to associate with people dressed in that way.

Then, she singled out a girl on the back row, and asked her what she would do if the friend sitting next to her came to church the next week dressed inappropriately. Following the obvious lead of her teacher, the girl announced confidently, “I wouldn’t even speak to her!”

Needless to say, my children received a second lesson from me on the way home, about the importance of not judging people, and being kind to them regardless of their physical appearance. I wonder sometimes how much the emphasis on our standards of dress has to do with the natural desire of any group to define its borders, distinguish itself, and find a means to decide whom to include and exclude.

Most people are sensitive on some level about how they look. When we make insensitive or judgmental comments about other people’s appearance, we risk hurting them, driving them away from the church, and making them feel that they are not “good enough” for us. Certainly, judging or shunning anyone because of what they wear is unworthy of us, and anyone who claims to follow Jesus Christ.

3. Modesty is not everything.

A final concern I have is the very frequency with which modest dress is mentioned and emphasized at church, even to young children like mine. Apparently, modest dress is now right up there with (and sometimes more talked about than) faith, hope, and charity. A few Sundays ago in my ward, a young woman was asked to give a talk in Sacrament Meeting based on the following Young Women Value: “Good Works–I will help others and build the kingdom through righteous service.” She opened her talk by saying that to her, the real meaning of good works is to dress modestly and be worthy to go to the temple. It is wonderful that she recognizes the importance of the temple and modest dress. But aren’t we missing something when a young woman’s first thought about good works is to twist it around into yet another injunction towards modest dress?

Going back to the beginning of all this, I can’t help but think that when all my daughter sees in the Angel Moroni is immodesty, something is wrong.

My hope, then, is that we can step back and take a good look at the messages we are sending our children by the way we choose to teach them about modesty. Are we discussing modesty in age-appropriate ways? Do we focus too much on rules and too little on principles? Do we sometimes send them the message that their outward appearance is the most important measure of their faithfulness? Are we inadvertently teaching them to judge other people? Are we (shudder) raising the next generation of BYU Modesty Police? What can we change individually or as a church to elevate our discourse about modesty?

94 Responses to The Way We Teach Our Children Modesty

  1. marta on July 26, 2012 at 7:56 am

    hooray! the answer to all the questions, save the last, in your final paragraph is yes, sadly. thank you for asking.

  2. DeeAnn on July 26, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Well, your daughter is only 7 and at that age kids see black and white. It’s not what you have taught or not taught her, or what people have taught her at church, it’s how she’s trying to make sense of the world. She’ll get it as she gets older.

  3. Michael H. on July 26, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Nice breakdown!

  4. Dave on July 26, 2012 at 8:44 am

    A very striking post, Sarah. I think the idea of age-appropriate comments on modesty could spur productive discussion in most wards. It seems like the age-inappropriate lessons that are sometimes being taught in Primary are rooted in adult anxieties rather than in what children should be taught about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Part of the problem is that we as LDS are typically hypersensitive to laxity in keeping the commandments but generally see little problem with overzealous obedience. This seems like a case where being overzealous may be getting out of control.

  5. Snyderman on July 26, 2012 at 8:51 am

    Amen.

  6. Julie M. Smith on July 26, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Excellent post.

    FWIW, here is what I think happened: a lot of people have been (rightly) horrified at clothing marketed to 5yos with the word “juicy” on the butt, and so we started hearing addresses to younger girls about modesty. That would have been fine, but other people heard this new emphasis on modesty, which was phrased generally, because no one is ever going to use the word “juicy” or “butt” in general conference, and assumed that it was about uncovered shoulders, etc. And now, it seems to have taken on a life of its own and is, I think, taught very poorly, particularly in Primary, as you point out.

  7. dangermom on July 26, 2012 at 9:04 am

    It’s difficult to teach a little kid with concrete thinking patterns about nuances. I see the same sort of thing in my kids with the Word of Wisdom. Kids like clear rules!

    I have very often tried to explain to my girls about the differing standards of modesty around the world and through time. History study is helpful, and it’s fun to shock the kids by explaining that for centuries in Europe, no woman would go out with her head uncovered any more than she would go out topless. I’ve also found Bollywood movies (the historical or family-friendly ones in particular) to be helpful, since they show a different method of modesty (a certain amount of midriff is perfectly respectable for every age, but notice the veils).

    My 12yo is well on her way to understanding this. My 9yo is still very concrete in her thinking.

    It seems that wider American standards of modesty for children have really changed too. 80 years ago, and right up through the 20th century, little girls wore extremely short skirts, and chubby little legs, or coltish long legs, were sweet and innocent. It seems to me that as women’s skirts got shorter, we reacted by lengthening little girls’ skirts and beginning to see short dresses on little ones as inappropriate. When an American 4-yo girl wears a tiny skirt now, we see that as sexualization. It happens all the time, but most people are not comfortable with it.

  8. Shannon on July 26, 2012 at 9:10 am

    The obtuseness of that sharing time (and others I have witnessed) is simply mind-boggling. I boggle.

  9. Janell on July 26, 2012 at 9:52 am

    In the Primary story, I would have been sorely tempted to start playing, “Jesus walked away from none. He gave his love to everyone, so I will. I will. I’ll walk with you. I’ll talk with you…”

  10. SilverRain on July 26, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Kids need to establish the rules before they can understand nuances, so it is healthy to let them go through that process.

    I like this post, but I do have to say that “expos[ing an innocent little girl] to the idea that other people might be looking at her body sexually,” is far less damaging than NOT being told that, and having to learn it the hard way.

    My daughter was sexually harassed by another little boy in kindergarten last year, and I thank heaven that I had taught her what to do in those situations BEFORE she had to face one.

  11. Lawrence on July 26, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Thanks for your post. As a teacher by profession, I see everday the sensitivity we need to take when approaching any subject we teach young children. Fundamentally if children learn to have a healthy love for themselves and to love others, then all issues of morality will be common sense to them. The Lord taught us to become as little children, not the other way around.

    Thanks again, these are conversations that need to be had.

  12. Ben S. on July 26, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Excellent post.
    “She opened her talk by saying that to her, the real meaning of good works is to dress modestly and be worthy to go to the temple. It is wonderful that she recognizes the importance of the temple and modest dress. But aren’t we missing something when a young woman’s first thought about good works is to twist it around into yet another injunction towards modest dress?”

    This in particular reminded me of Lowell Bennion’s “What it means to be a Latter-day Saint”, the third short essay here about reducing religion to a pattern.

  13. Carol on July 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    I taught my children that immodesty was anthing that called unncessary attention to our bodies or ourselves, I remember some years ago when shorter tops were popular. A young lady played a piano
    solo in church. Much of her backside became visible when she sat down.
    That might not have been significant in another situation. But the focus of attention in the room was not on the music or it’s spiritual value. It’s a complicated subject, but modesty is way more than just clothes. I think it’s an attitude, as well.

  14. Clint on July 26, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Bah ha ha, backpack straps. I loved BYU while I went to school there, but that kind of stuff just makes me laugh.

  15. Risa on July 26, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    I was substituting as the Primary pianist a month ago, and so was privy to a Sharing Time on modesty in which my children participated. After going through the particulars of which body parts ought to be covered, the teacher decided to expand into how we should judge people who dress differently from us. She told a story of taking her young granddaughter to the fabric store. Present at the store was a group of young people dressed inappropriately. After coming home, the little girl told her grandmother that she had made some new friends. The grandmother related to the Primary children how disappointed she had been that her granddaughter would choose to associate with people dressed in that way. Then, she singled out a girl on the back row, and asked her what she would do if the friend sitting next to her came to church the next week dressed inappropriately. Following the obvious lead of her teacher, the girl announced confidently, “I wouldn’t even speak to her!”

    I would be horrified if my children received this lesson in Primary. It is exactly the opposite of what Jesus has taught us in how we should treat others. Is “modesty” more important than the commandment to Love one Another? As followers of Christ we should be ashamed of ourselves if we are excluding others from our love and fellowship based on hemlines and fabric choices.

    Sarah Familia, this post is so perfect I wish I had written it. This is exactly how I feel but couldn’t articulate it without anger.

  16. OAK on July 26, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    The next thing you know the church will be clipping off angel wings and putting capsleeves on angels whose garments in a Bloch painting are not to standard….oh yeah, they already did that.

    Great post, on the money! Thank you.

  17. kaphor on July 26, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Now it’s possible that her attention was merely arrested by the unusual description, or the liberal use of the word “naked.”

    - Correct. Full stop. Seeing naked several times and then using the word “bosom” screams immodest in our modern vernacular.

    I won’t give it a try but I assume if you typed naked and bosom into google you won’t find glorious resurrected angels near the top 10,000,000 results.

  18. Emily Flinders on July 26, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    I makes me CRAZY when the conversation about modesty is consistently SOLELY about clothing. And often only the way women and girls dress. MODESTY by definition is a way of life, a lens and paradigm through which we ought to see the world. And if we are doing that – there is a good chance we will also be dressing in a way that shows respect to ourselves and others and is not intended to attract undue attention. Modesty ought to be far more about humility and self-respect than about hemlines. (my full rant is here: http://www.readyformycloseupmrdemille.com/2012/02/modest-violet.html)

  19. amanda on July 26, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    fantastically written. Even now, when I put my 6 mo. old son in sleeveless shirts I have to remind myself that it’s perfectly modest. I’m a perfect example of how difficult it can be to buck the years of conditioning that modesty is a very specific type of dress. Thanks for articulating this.

  20. michelle on July 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    “But aren’t we missing something when a young woman’s first thought about good works is to twist it around into yet another injunction towards modest dress?””

    I dunno. I think ‘we’ have to respect the individual’s personal experience and reflection. It’s no more ‘our’ job to analyze an individual’s talk than it is to analyze an individual’s dress. I think modesty can be a good work in our culture and maybe there was a more specific reason modesty meant something to this young woman. Maybe she had a missionary opportunity because of it, or maybe she has had a spiritual experience as she has thought about how the standards relate to the broader purpose of preparing for the temple.

    I also appreciated SilverRain’s comments. As others have said as well, it’s very normal for kids at the age of your daughter to be thinking in black and white. Don’t panic…just keep teaching in age-appropriate ways and they can eventually get the nuance. It takes years and years to develop that kind of ability to think and sort through things. Many adults aren’t even there yet.

    And ultimately, so what if someone teaches a lousy lesson at Church? If you are teaching them consistently with the Spirit at home, they’ll be able to learn to discern the difference. Expect that they’ll get ‘off’ lessons at Church or at school or with friends and help prepare them for it. That’s my approach. This is ultimately a parent’s job, not the Church’s. Because ultimately ‘we’ can’t change the culture. All we can do is do our best in our own spheres of influence, which is mostly at home.

  21. nate on July 26, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Sarah, that was an excellent posting. It’s very true that modesty is culturally relative. Great point that in Italy, dressing frumpy is considered immodest.

    Modesty is also about showing good taste and cultural sensitivity. I’ve noticed lately that the Ralph Lauren brand for women has an inordinate amount of garment-friendly clothing, far more than any other brand I can think of. Is it a coincidence that Ralph Lauren’s women’s brand is also better looking, better cut, more classic and enduring than any other brand? Too bad Mormons are too cheap for Ralph Lauren.

    I love Michelle Obama’s arms, and would love to see the shoulders of some of the Relief Society sisters, but I have to admit, there is wisdom in the standards of the church. While they may be a bit arbitrary, it’s all about being straight, decent, good, classic, and not embarrassing yourself by letting it all hang out.

  22. michelle on July 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    Sorry — that comment came across snarky. My bottom line point is this. I think it’s good to be aware of when and how modesty might be overdone, but when a 7-year-old responds as she does in a normal way, it’s really quite simple to help her see that we are given some directions for our day that may have been different from Moroni’s time. There are many lessons that can be taught when it seems that our kids are somehow ‘missing the mark.’ They repeatedly need our guidance, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the Church or our meager efforts at trying to teach our kids is ruining them. Just take it in stride. These kinds of opportunities are teaching blessings, not necessarily indicators that all is rotten in the state of the Church.

  23. Summer on July 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Michelle- number 20- thanks for saving me the time of writing everything you did. :) This author got offended and chose to judge a bunch of people. Yes- people need to learn. Nothing to “get sick” over. Many good points in the post. I was just turned off by the know-it-all tone I’m hearing from more and more people who have a problem with the church and people in it.

  24. michelle on July 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    “I love Michelle Obama’s arms, and would love to see the shoulders of some of the Relief Society sisters, ”

    Uh, this to me is an example of why modesty (including covering shoulders?) is a good thing. Women are not objects to be gawked at, sir.

  25. ZD Eve on July 26, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    Too bad Mormons are too cheap for Ralph Lauren.

    I love Michelle Obama’s arms, and would love to see the shoulders of some of the Relief Society sisters,

    In addition to the glaring problem Michelle mentions above, this charming combination of sentiments suggests the way modesty is currently being redefined in the church to encompass what used to be known as, well, immodesty.

  26. Rachel Whipple on July 26, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    I think standards should be used to dress appropriately for given situations (like knowing the dress code for a church dance so you can fit in and not feel out of place because of the cut of your clothing). They should uplift us and give us a quiet confidence. They should never be used to bully or demean others.

  27. Trevor on July 26, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    Yikes! If my children had a “modesty” lesson like that in primary while I was present, they certainly wouldn’t be waiting until after church to hear my thoughts about it. :D

    I’d have a really hard not saying something disruptive. If I gave myself time to say something more constructive, I’d probably interrupt and comment that judging someone based on their clothing is probably a much worse sin than actually wearing inappropriate clothing.

  28. nate on July 27, 2012 at 12:52 am

    “Women are not objects to be gawked at.”

    Michelle, there is a difference between gazing in rapturous wonderment at the beauty of God’s handiwork, masculine or feminine, and scoring cheap sexual thrills by ogling. I may never get to see the Relief Society President’s glistening white shoulders, bearing with such strength and majesty, the weight of the ward she loves. But if I were to have such a privilege, I would feast my eyes upon them in sacred gratitude. If I were out just get sexual kicks, heck, I couldn’t score anything off that old broad’s flabby shoulders.

    Put the hottest sister in the ward in a sleeveless dress, and she couldn’t even begin to compete with the kind of sexual hit a guy gets from seeing just one second of porn. And porn is everywhere! So yes, any talk of modesty protecting men from gawking is totally clueless.

    And ZDEve, Ralph Lauren is the opposite of immodesty, (unless you go for his horrid club wear with that ostentatious polo insignia.) It’s classic with amazing lines that bring out the beauty of real women. You deserve to go to the Polo outlet in Park City, spend $150 on a simple, classic RL dress, and feel amazing and beautiful. It’s better than Zoloft, believe me. The temple spends lots of money on flowers and flood lights to keep it looking glorious. Women shouldn’t balk at making the same investment in their own temple.

  29. christine on July 27, 2012 at 1:36 am

    i think it would be ok if Axa were told that bare wrists ankles and necks are OK

  30. christine on July 27, 2012 at 2:45 am

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOhexpZgG7M
    a little song from germany 1910 when it was immodest to expose your knee

  31. michelle on July 27, 2012 at 5:24 am

    “Michelle, there is a difference between gazing in rapturous wonderment at the beauty of God’s handiwork, masculine or feminine, and scoring cheap sexual thrills by ogling. I may never get to see the Relief Society President’s glistening white shoulders, bearing with such strength and majesty, the weight of the ward she loves. But if I were to have such a privilege, I would feast my eyes upon them in sacred gratitude.”

    Sorry, I still hold to what I said before. I am to the point of hoping you are joking, or that maybe you are getting a cut from RL for your comments or something. (haha) Imagine if this were turned around and women were somehow suggesting that we need bishops wearing tank tops at church so that we could appreciate their service on our behalf by feasting on their shoulders, or so that we can more fully appreciate God’s creation? It’s more than just a little weird to me.

    “So yes, any talk of modesty protecting men from gawking is totally clueless.”

    I don’t reduce modesty to only this, and never did so in my comment. I was simply commenting on your comment.

    “You deserve to go to the Polo outlet in Park City, spend $150 on a simple, classic RL dress, and feel amazing and beautiful. It’s better than Zoloft, believe me.”

    I’m trying not to get snarky here, but maybe you have never met someone with clinical depression? And sorry, but how would you as a man know what brand of clothing would be better for a woman’s well-being?

    Look, I get the whole dress to feel confident thing and to feel a sense of self-respect. The concept of ‘neat and comely’ is to me part of what modesty is about. And personally, I love the classic look in clothing.

    But your comments still leave me feeling squeamish. I’ll leave it at that.

  32. Sarah Familia on July 27, 2012 at 7:19 am

    Thanks for all the interesting comments.

    #20 Michelle, “As others have said as well, it’s very normal for kids at the age of your daughter to be thinking in black and white. Don’t panic…just keep teaching in age-appropriate ways and they can eventually get the nuance.”

    This is exactly my point. I was teaching the same way she was learning at church, and I realized that both at church and at home, we were missing the same nuance on a consistent basis. I have since corrected my mistake, and I now incorporate the points I’ve mentioned above when I talk to my children about modesty.

    “Because ultimately ‘we’ can’t change the culture. All we can do is do our best in our own spheres of influence, which is mostly at home.”

    My sphere of influence also includes the audience at Times & Seasons, so I’m throwing my thoughts out here, as well as at home. :)

  33. christine on July 27, 2012 at 10:13 am

    wait ! my wedding dress did not even cost 150 dollars. RL cannot be THAT good. it has been at least a year that I spent that kind of money on a piece of clothing, and it might be years again until the next. decades. I thought MOrmons are supposed to be frugal.

  34. SilverRain on July 27, 2012 at 10:26 am

    nate—Your comments make me want to wear a burka. Out of burlap. Maybe infused with lye soap and goat urine.

  35. Risa on July 27, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Too bad Mormons are too cheap for Ralph Lauren.

    I thought MOrmons are supposed to be frugal.

    You two must not know the same Mormons I do…

  36. YvonneS on July 27, 2012 at 10:38 am

    This is the most sensible discussion of modesty I have ever read.

  37. Michael on July 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Eric- You need to look over how and what you write. You come over as incredibly creepy and unhealthily obsessed with how women dress. As a man I’m uncomfortable with what you suggest and your reasons for suggesting it.

  38. nate on July 27, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    “bishops wearing tank tops,” hmm, good point Michelle. I concede, there may be a difference between the way men look at women and women look at men, even non-sexually. I hope my perspectives don’t come off as misogynist, but I really feel to rejoice at the sight of a woman’s body, even those society doesn’t deem “porn-worthy.” And society today deems disgusting all bodies who are not porn-worthy. LDS women could help combat this destructive lie by dressing confidently in ways that emphasized the beauty of their lines.

    Instead, Utah has some of the highest consumption of cosmetics and plastic surgery in the nation, pathetically chasing after the Gentile’s “porn-worthy” ideals, all the while wearing 2nd rate clothing that destroys their silhouette and screams modesty for modesty’s sake. An LDS woman can get a tummy-tuck, and be proud of the slender body she’s been given as a result of her apparent self-discipline, health, and blessed state of her righteousness. But no, she’s not vain, because she still shops at J.C. Penny.

    Christine, let’s go shopping together, the RL outlet will be a revelation I promise! You’ll find a dress that is reflects the beauty of your soul and experience the joy of being beautiful inside and out. And it will still be frugal if you find a $1,000 dress that is 75% off right? Mormons love a good deal!

  39. Michael on July 27, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Oops I meant to adress my last comment to Nate. Sorry if anyone named Eric felt unfairly singled out.

  40. nate on July 27, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Hi Michael, if I you think I seem creepy and unhealthily obsessed with women’s dress, don’t even get me started with how men dress. I like fashion OK? Love it actually.

  41. SilverRain on July 27, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    By jove, I think he’s serious.

  42. SilverRain on July 27, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    And we’re talking about the same Ralph Lauren that brought you this and this and this “natural beauty.”

    Oh, yes. Ralph Lauren is the place to go if you want to flatter your “real body.”

  43. rah on July 27, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Sarah,

    Thanks for the great post. It is in these common, everyday experiences you describe that we are influencing our daughters (and sons) notions of body image, self-confidence and worth. This stuff matters. I do think the current problem, culturally and institutionally is that until people start standing up against the craziness all the incentives are for the rhetoric to become more and more unhealthy. I admit had I been in primary I would have gotten up and taken my 7 year old daughter out of class immediately (I have 7 and 5 year-old daughters). I also hope that you talked to the primary president/cy and individual involved. I know we hate conflict in the church and the modus operandi is just to let it go, but this is damaging girls systematically. Unless we stand up against it when is it going to stop? These stories keep on coming and coming and coming from wards all over. I think we have to do more than give secondary lessons to our own children and start having respectful but candid discussions with the adults who are taking this too far.

  44. Hattusili on July 27, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Great post and discussion. I agree with others who say that modesty, when made into just a matter of cloth measurements, completely misses the point. I also spent time in the Middle East (Jordan) and talked with a couple Arab men about women who wear headscarves v. those who don’t (I’m also a man, fyi). They said they much prefer women who don’t wear headscarves, but they will only ever marry ones that wear them. It dawned on me that sure, men objectify immodest women, but men (and women) also judge modest women unfairly. So some girl gets some nice Ralph Lauren blouses and skirts that look good on her. What does that tell me? I don’t care what she is trying to say with it, the question is what do I as an admittedly sometimes shallow man think about her? First, good fitting clothes make me notice a girl’s body more (welcome to the scheming world of fashion). So I can tell that she wants to make her body look attractive (presumably to me, a male), but I can tell by the modest cut that she doesn’t want to break the commandments. Hey, she’s a nice girl. Since I, left to my imagination, am willing to bet she could get away with more skin, then I conclude that she is making a a sacrifice to tone down her sexuality, and she has obviously spent a lot of time, money, and attention to make sure she could show off her beauty modestly (sexual modesty?). Wow, now there is a righteous girl.

    My point is that when modest clothes become modesty, and modesty is the standard for determining a girl’s virtue, then women still end up objectified; just in a different way. Hey, modest is hottest ;-)

  45. MC on July 27, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    “the more women cover up, the more men tend to find any exposed area titillating.”

    THAT’S THE BEST PART!!!! I’m only half-joking. The Wahabis take it too far, but I love how incredibly hot my wife looks in her mid-thigh tennis shorts. Would I feel the same way if she dressed like that all the time? (I’m genuinely wondering)

  46. michelle on July 27, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    “My sphere of influence also includes the audience at Times & Seasons, so I’m throwing my thoughts out here, as well as at home. :)”

    :)

  47. michelle on July 27, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    ” I think we have to do more than give secondary lessons to our own children and start having respectful but candid discussions with the adults who are taking this too far.”

    I think the primary lessons should be taught at home and the Church stuff seen as secondary. I’m not suggesting never saying anything, I just think it’s a bit of an illusion that bringing it up at church will actually make a difference with how people who use modesty as a beating rod will approach this in the Church. Most people are doing the best they can with where they are and what they know.

  48. michelle on July 27, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    nate, I don’t disagree with the challenges of a culture that puts way too much emphasis on appearance and a false sense of beauty. But I don’t think shopping at a certain store will somehow change that.

    I also think you are minimizing the effect of men who objectify women as part of the problem. I suspect many of those women who are struggling to feel good about themselves are married to men with porn problems and are being bombarded in their own personal lives about their bodies.

    I think the solution is not to focus on more external things, but to instead keep talking doctrine of our worth (cuz addiction is also a ‘fill the hole in your life’ kind of problem, just like plastic surgery often is).

  49. christine on July 27, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    Nate. sigh, i have been to many rl outlets only to be bored.
    i am perhaps not modest but i am definitely not vain. i am really not into “looking great”. I just want freedom. At church sometimes people wear weird things, i am not saying i want to do that but if i wanted to i could and no one would say anything. that is some good measure of freedom compared to anything the Middle East has to offer.
    i can see the bishop in shorts at his own house.haha

  50. nate on July 28, 2012 at 12:22 am

    Let me see if I can dig myself out of this mess. Michelle and Christine, thanks for being at least mildly indulgent of my eccentricities and love of RL. Christine, I don’t judge anyone for their disinterest in “looking great.” It’s of course, not the most important thing in life.

    Hattutsili in #44 admits that men subject all women, both modest and immodest to a certain form of objectification. While that fact may not be helped, I don’t think women should dress with that fact in mind. Research suggests women don’t usually dress for men. They dress for other women.

    But of course, women should really just dress for themselves: what makes them feel comfortable and good about themselves, what reflects their values. I simply wanted to suggest that RL has excellent modest options that look amazing on all kinds of figures. True, as silverain notes, RL is “part of the problem” as far as their commercial advertizing, and I don’t blame anyone for boycotting for that reason, if they feel so inclined. But it should be noted that RL has a great line of plus-sizes, and I’ve been shopping with a variety of women of different sizes and seen how successful RL is compared to other brands. But that’s it for my thread-jack.

  51. Hattusili on July 28, 2012 at 3:15 am

    As an interesting side note, if garment dimensions are the standard of modesty for adult Mormons (as they are often taken to be), then Mormon men are actually held to a stricter standard of modesty than women. I noticed this one day when I was trying on v-neck shirts. It’s pretty hard to find one that doesn’t expose some garment (which, if nothing else, looks ridiculous), unless you wear only mesh, which is cut differently, or go up a size. Women, on the other hand, have a lot more leeway around the neck, shoulders and chest. Not to cry “double standard!” but it is something I’ve observed.

  52. christine on July 28, 2012 at 11:19 am

    and if a man purchases and wears a female garment that spells desaster ? sorry i do not have my CTR yet and no garments for myself. the description of Joseph Smith’s vision after reading it again does have some innuendo with the angel being scantily clad in only one thin layer of garment. And interesting that Joseph Smith noticed that and was able to list the body parts which remained exposed. obviously at the times of Joseph SMith the dress code was exceedingly modest and the exposure that manyd body parts was something extremely unusual.

    Nate: RL looks great on guys. My husband wears it all the time.I think they miss the mark with the female stuff. what are you a “what not to wear” consultant. hattutsili is talking about the middle east so we cannot take what he says as really relevant in the west. the point is, god wants us to dress modestly so i think we can do that. our dress could should not cause a stir the stuff should be clean. If you as a femal walk past a construction site and the workers there whistle you might go back to the drawing board.

  53. Hattusili on July 28, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Christine,

    My experience in the Middle East is what clued me into the fact that guys still make value-judgments about women whether they dress modestly or immodestly. If clothes are the absolute standard of modesty, then this is what you will get, no matter the culture. Also, womens’ garments are cut for women. It would be a little like a guy wearing a girl’s t-shirt. He could fit it, but the front may sag a bit…

  54. christine on July 28, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    hattusili maybe the front sagging a bit is something you personally can put up with to get that leeway around the neck you so crave…although if there is a locker room the other guys might make fun of you…
    btw I wear mens clothes all the time. mostly they are just better have more pockets and are more practical. especially ski jackets. at least you can wear some layers underneath. those womens jackets seem to be made to give a person warmth for the time it takes to go from your front door to your car.

  55. Lucy on July 29, 2012 at 1:07 am

    Here’s an etymology of the word “modesty” that might prove instructive:
    modesty (n.) 1530s, “freedom from exaggeration, self-control,” from M.Fr. modestie or directly from L. modestia “moderation, sense of honor, correctness of conduct,” from modestus “moderate, keeping measure, sober, gentle, temperate,” from modus “measure, manner” (see mode (n.1)). Meaning “quality of having a moderate opinion of oneself” is from 1550s; that of “womanly propriety” is from 1560s.

    To understand the antonym of this word, just visit http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/

    Rather than obsessing about outward appearances, why don’t we work on clothing ourselves and our children with charity and the full armor of God so that when the time comes, we can all wear garments of exceeding whiteness and lovingly gaze into each others radiant bosoms and be glad?

  56. Bob on July 29, 2012 at 2:07 am

    One should read the Post at BBC (Scars). How ‘modest’ are the ‘expectations’ many Mormons have as to how fine they are going to be looking in the afterlife? Isn’t this more vanity than modesty?
    ” I am going to have this perfect body due to the level of my righteousness I lived on earth”.

  57. christine on July 29, 2012 at 10:50 am

    my temperament is not really mormon, i am kind of tempestual. amazing that they would let me in. i try to dress reasonable at church, other than that all bets are off. but i do not dress like some young female friends, i am not into revealing lots of skin. I get severe sun burn so cannot afford to even if i wanted to. i do not care what other people are wearing but occasionally think that there are pedophiles out there who would love the spectacle. i do not think that an expectation of the perfect body is vanity, just the idea that body issues will cease to exists and one no longer has to fuss with acne meds, cough syrup, bathing, hair styling, stomach ulcers, cancer, artificial knees, the whole gamut simply swiped away. Bliss !!!!

  58. Geoff-A on July 30, 2012 at 3:12 am

    I’ve been wondering recently if we may not all be nude in the hereafter. Moroni in the original post didn’t seem too worried.

    Presumably there won’t be a sweat shop there to manufacture suitable clothing.

    Wouldn’that be a shock. Perhaps we’d refuse to live there.

    Last time we were in Germany we went to a spar for the evening. Swimming, water slide, sauna, and coffee lounge, for families all completely naked. You might meet the RS president or Bishop naked there along with their teenage children.

    Germany level of teenage pregnancy is 25% that of Utah. What is the end game of modesty to prevent teenage pregnancy?

  59. Wilfried on July 30, 2012 at 6:35 am

    Thanks, Geoff-A, for bringing up an international perspective. Some religions are obsessed with sex and immodesty as dangerous and sinful. Perhaps Mormonism in its American expression has taken over too much of puritan fixations and Victorian gender norms? This is not to say there should not be norms, but norms should be set by good sense, reasonableness, and intention. But when obsessions set it, some churches, parents, and innocent children may be on their way to some kind of talibanization.

    An interesting read is Nudity and Christianity edited by Jim C. Cunningham (2006). He quotes Pope John Paul II who said in Love and responsibility (1981, p. 176ff.)

    “Sexual modesty cannot then in any simple way be identified with the use of clothing, nor shamelessness with the absence of clothing and total or partial nakedness. There are circumstances in which nakedness is not immodest… nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness. Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person, when its aim is to arouse concupiscence, as a result of which the person is put in the position of an object of enjoyment. The human body is not in itself shameful… Dress is always a social question, a function of… social customs. In this matter there is no exact similarity in the behavior of particular people, even if they live in the same age and the same society. The principle of what is truly immodest is simple and obvious… If someone takes advantage of such an occasion to treat the person as an object of enjoyment (even if his action is purely internal) it is only he who is guilty of shamelessness… not the other.”

    I learned long ago, as a young and inexperienced branch president, that (im)modesty is something to handle with a fair dose of relativization.

  60. christine on July 30, 2012 at 10:38 am

    yes Wilfried, in Europe specifically Germany people have no compunction in sharing naked experiences such as sauna with the other gender. they are not particularly phased by it. it is really no big deal. many parks and pools permit females to bare their breasts.
    Some beaches are designated nudist beaches
    Nudist camps are part of the profile since before WWII.
    http://www.dans-nudism.com/history.htm
    I think it is something the British could never understand so equally was not transferred to their colonies.

    enjoyment factor can definitely be there, mostly those who enjoy being scantily dressed (young women) enjoy the beauty of their own body,,,which is a bit self indulgent but,,,part of life.

    In church one lady said in Relief Society that her teenage daughter wanted to dress a bit more provocatively and she told her that God did not want that. This might be true (this lady has been in the church a long time), and for young women’s own protection.

  61. nate on July 30, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Christine and Wilfried, I’m not a big fan of casual nudity. I think that in the Garden of Eden, there was no sexual arousal before they took the forbidden fruit and became ashamed of their nakedness. Shame and sexual arousal go hand in hand. A partially clothed women is much more arousing than an unclothed woman. Mormons are well positioned to have high-strung, intense sexual lives, because they are spoon fed shame since their birth.

    Or is this true? Do Europeans who frequent nudist beaches have more satisfying sex lives because they are less high-strung about sex and modesty? Or is it more dull and mundane because they live in a culture surrounded by frank nudity and blase attitudes towards the human body?

    Does a culture of modesty enhance and protect sexual expression among partners, or does it foster such an intense shame that cause fires to burn out of control, leading to sexual dysfunction in marriage, or porn addiction?

    I’ve always said that I think the only thing sacred about sex, is the taboos we assign to it. The taboos, (like modesty), heighten, sanctify, and ritualize sex into something special, sacred, forbidden, coveted. Otherwise, we are just animals screwing around.

  62. nate on July 30, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    As much as I appreciate the importance of modesty heightening shame and sexual desire, there is something beautiful about this quote from Khalil Ghibran:

    Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.
    And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy you may find in them a harness and a chain.
    Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your skin and less of your raiment,
    For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind.
    Some of you say, “It is the north wind who has woven the clothes to wear.”
    But shame was his loom, and the softening of the sinews was his thread.
    And when his work was done he laughed in the forest.
    Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean.
    And when the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling of the mind?
    And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.

  63. Wilfried on July 30, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Not easy to answer, Nate, and certainly no generalizations possible. Europeans do not form one cultural entity (and neither do Americans). In Scandinavian countries, overall, people may have different perceptions in relation to public nudity than in some South or East European countries. And within each country, there will a range of individual variations.

    However, I think I may say that for many people in Europe, because of esthetic education related to nude art (which is omnipresent, including in churches), there is no immediate connection between natural nudity and sex. It seems that in the U.S. religion tends to connect bare skin with immodesty and therefore with “sinful” sex. That, at least, is what our Mormon obsession with modesty seems to convey.

    Again, I recommend Nudity and Christianity edited by Jim C. Cunningham (2006). The link goes to reviews, which immediately give a good idea of the content of the book comprised of many articles by prominent Christians. Google.books gives a chance to browse through the content.

  64. christine on July 30, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    haha Nate, i second Wilfried another good european. Europeans who are not afraid of nudity (and not all Europeans are unafraid of their own and others’ nudity, mostly -and this will flummox you more perhaps- due to its potential unattractiveness) do not usually equate it with sexual arousal, just like in the garden of eden. they/we can be cool about it. i can imagine that this would be difficult to believe by someone who grew up influenced by puritan morals as most of…you.

  65. Geoff-A on July 31, 2012 at 2:49 am

    Modesty seems to come from the conservative Utah(US?) culture. I don’t believe it has anything to do with the Gospel.

    Adam and Eve could have had clothes from the beginning, but didn’t. Nate it was Satan who brought shame into their thinking. Moroni didn’t seem too worried about modesty. Presumably the Lord isn’t or he would have done thing differently?

    How would good conservative members cope with a naked afterlife?

    Wouldn’t it be great to see their faces when they first arrived?

  66. MC on July 31, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    “Modesty seems to come from the conservative Utah(US?) culture. I don’t believe it has anything to do with the Gospel.”

    Nothing? Don’t temple garments have just a wee bit to do with it?

  67. christine on July 31, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    modesty is way more prevalent in islam.,……

  68. jennifer Ruben on July 31, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Somehow a very important point has be lost in the comments. Modesty is much more than how you dress or what body parts show. It extends to the way you talk, move, and inter-act. Modesty is a lady or gentlemen is the best most complete sense of the words. Example is always the best teacher. Decorum , humility, and self-control are characteristics of a modest person.

  69. christine on July 31, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Jennifer Spot on, however does Moroni’s weird nighty fit the bill ?

  70. nate on July 31, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    Geoff-A says, “it was Satan who brought shame into their (Adam and Eve’s) thinking.”

    This sounds a bit like those anti-Mormons who say we worship Satan because Satan said, “you shall become as gods.” Yes, Satan told Adam and Eve to cover up, but again, in LDS doctrine, this was Satan facilitating God’s plan for Adam and Eve.

    The story of the forbidden fruit is the story of man separating himself from the animals and becoming like the gods. Animals are naked, and defecate and procreate without shame. When Adam was one of them, he and Eve strutted naked as the other beasts, pooped without shame, and perhaps they even had sex as animals do: raw, bestial, violent, public, whenever the urge to scratch the itch happened upon them.

    But after the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve became as gods, and were separated from the animals. Shame and guilt are instincts unique to men and gods. All this came with the forbidden fruit. The fruit explains why humans behave so differently than animals, why we wear clothing, why we are ashamed to “let it all hang out,” why we have so many sexual taboos.

    Moroni was hardly “letting it all hang out.” He was wearing a robe of exquisite whiteness covering his nakedness, as all the children of Adam have. He was protecting and keeping his sexual organs private from Joseph Smith, rather than behaving like a shameless beast.

    The nakedness and innocence of the animals is not the destiny of man. We are not trying to get back to the Garden of Eden. We left that state so we could become gods. We are beasts, becoming gods. We feel something within us (forbidden fruit) which teaches us shame, guilt, modesty, conscience, and these are the basic building blocks with which we create the sacred taboos which take sex out of the realm of animalistic indulgence, and ritualize and sanctify it. Modesty of dress, while culturally variable, is evidence of our divinity, our separation from the animals.

  71. christine on August 1, 2012 at 12:32 am

    i am just saying Moroni wore something unusual and Joseph used the word naked for body parts and the little girl astutely picked up on it

  72. Geoff-A on August 1, 2012 at 2:04 am

    So is the only alternative to excessive modesty total loss of control? As has been noted above, places where mormon style modesty is not required have not decended into whatever is described by Nate in 70.
    Part of the point I made above is that if modesty is to prevent teenage pregnancy (which might result from 70) why is the teenage pregnancy rate 4 times that of Germany? The abortion rate is also higher.

    As the original post suggests our pendulum has swung too far in one direction and still seems to be swinging that way, and it would be good to swing back some, but even the opposite end of the swing is not as Nate describes in 70. Without any talks on modesty society remains pretty civilised.

  73. Sarah Familia on August 1, 2012 at 6:20 am

    nate #70

    I don’t believe your assessment is likely accurate of humans reproducing in a “natural” state. In fact most animals don’t even reproduce in the fashion you describe.

    Mating rituals in the animal world often involve long journeys (like the salmon swimming up the river to spawn). For most animals mating only occurs during certain periods (such as gorillas, where mating is typically only initiated by the female during her monthly cycle, or emperor penguins, who reunite with their mate only once per year).

    Many animals also have beautiful mating rituals, (check out this lovely video of ducks performing a romantic mating dance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APRwRfhiSSY). A large percentage of birds mate for life, and show extraordinary tenderness toward their partners.

    Your characterization of animal reproduction says more about degenerate human ideas about sex than about the natural world.

  74. SilverRain on August 1, 2012 at 8:54 am

    I think most of you would be benefitted by thinking about the symbolism of clothing from a religious perspective, and the relativity of modesty in a positive sense.

    What we wear affects how we comport ourselves. Of course it is relative. Of course it can be taken too far and become obsession, just like every righteous principle. But don’t worry so much about the bathwater that you forget the baby.

  75. nate on August 1, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Sarah, you raise a good point, and some evolutionary scientists would also argue that monogamy is a natural trait of human sexuality. They try to use natural selection to explain all human behavior, including monogamy. But it seems to me that natural human sexuality would be more similar to primates, polygamous, violent, even homosexual, as in some of the most primitive human tribal cultures. Monogamy, though it can be found in some birds, is a cultural taboo which I believe has evolved because humans have divine characteristics, and we seek to find compromises between the mortal contradiction of animal flesh and divine spirit.

    But perhaps I am wrong. Is there a “nesting instinct” in humans which is natural, not divine? Perhaps. But because it doesn’t come instinctually to me, I choose to believe that it was a trait humans inherited from the gods (the forbidden fruit), not the animals.

  76. nate on August 1, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Geoff and Silverrain, I also think relativity with regards to modesty is important. Even in Europe, nudity is reserved for vacation and family, but certainly not the streets of Paris. So Europeans are also modest, just in different ways, and according to a different set of rules.

    But when people run up against a specific cultural taboo, (such as Mormon women deciding whether or not to hike their garments up a bit), they should recognize the value of that taboo in their particular culture, even though it is variable from culture to culture. If those same LDS women go to a nudist beach, they should recognize that wearing clothes is seen as indecent, and should thus take their clothes off, in order not to offend the natives. When you break a culture’s taboo, you are communicating an attitude of rebellion to the natives.

    The big problem for us, is that the LDS modesty taboo is in direct contradiction to the taboos of the “world.” This creates some great difficulties. The modesty of some conservative Mormons seems militant, confrontational, and so out of touch with the realities of the world around, that it’s puritanical attitudes might even backfire, perhaps leading to the dysfunctions Geoff mentioned. Maybe a bit of inoculation is needed. I know some LDS parents who don’t let their kids watch the women’s olympic volleyball because of the “immodesty.” This is a bad idea. You are setting up your kids to be too wound too tight, and they will break.

    So Silverrain is right, not to become obsessed, to somehow live in the world without being of the world, but not to be too confrontational. I also like her idea of clothes being symbolic, of affecting our comportment, our self-image.

  77. christine on August 1, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Nate you are really losing it. Angels are probably genital free or..have something alien.
    what we are really discussing here is whether a young girl from a different culture who would have understood Joseph Smith’s surprise at Moroni’s dress sense would have said something other than “not modest”. I would say a German kid would have said, “do Angel Men wear dresses ?”. (Cross Dressing is just as unusual there as it is here) If we had Angel Moroni Barbies fully equipped with an interesting white revealing shift young children would probably not stumble over the quote. The Angel Moronis on top of temples wear some kind of girded bath robe but impossible to tell if they wear anything underneath. In other words the fact that he did not is not represented. difficult to represent a negative…difficult to represent this in a statue which does not move.
    Geoff-A (72) the pregnancy rate in Germany is low because A – safe sex is practiced B- in 2009 there were 6% Muslims in the country who are high on virginity. they even have medical procedures in Tunesia where women can have their virginity “restored”.http://news.yahoo.com/video/world-15749633/tunisian-women-undergo-surgery-to-regain-their-virginity-29870020.html#crsl=%252Fvideo%252Fworld-15749633%252Ftunisian-women-undergo-surgery-to-regain-their-virginity-29870020.html

  78. christine on August 1, 2012 at 11:54 am

    p.s. in case you all forgot. Barbies have no genitals

  79. SilverRain on August 1, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    This is a very odd conversation.

  80. christine on August 1, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Silver Rain. Indeed how did it degenerate to this and where is the moderator who deletes the comments that go in the wrong direction

  81. Rachel Whipple on August 1, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Are you asking to get deleted, christine? :)

  82. christine on August 1, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    No Rachel but I have to admit I have odder thoughts than others and have seen a lot of different things in my life so if others do not like some of my thoughts I would not be offended. But I can EXPLAIN: For Instance, I have just seen on Facebook a photo of a naked Ken Doll mangled by a 6 year old girl (daughter of one of my dear irreverent Texan friends) who poked around the area where otherwise genitals would be and broke the legs off.

  83. small star on August 1, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    I hope that I can comment here. I grew up Mormon but left. I tried to have a relationship with my Mormon family after I stopped going to church. This included taking my children (all daughters) to visit my parents and my siblings and their kids whenever the opportunity arose. In spite of all I did,, now that they are older, my kids refuse to have anything to do with my family. Why? As far as I can tell, because my kids didn’t dress Mormon-appropriate at least once and were made to feel like little sluts.

    How dare the Mormon church, through my family, treat my dear daughters with such cruelty. Shame on all of you. Shame.

  84. Dave on August 1, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    I think you’re a little quick to blame your family problems on my church, small star. I think the proper formulation would be: “Shame on my family.”

  85. christine on August 1, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Sarah is clearly worried that her daughter might turn into someone who one day, if she keeps going in a straight line with these harsh modesty assessments of hers, will either be unrealistically fascinated with immodesty or will go the other way and ostracize even an innocent child about their inacceptable sleeveless shirt… (see BYU honor code).
    My brother, a poor neurotic soul has turned into someone who obsesses about how fat other people are. So I am saying I can see the modesty thing turning into an obsession. I am not saying the church is doing this, just some individuals tend to be sterner than others and it is not to their own benefit… Sarah, maybe it is OK to ask a specialist what their prognosis is and if there is a potential problem, how you can get your daughter to be more relaxed and relative in her modesty assessments….

  86. small star on August 1, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    But Dave, why else would my presumably loving family decide to treat my kids so harshly for wearing temperature-apropriate clothing if not for the teachings that they learned at church?

  87. Dave on August 1, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    Small star, I don’t know your family so I really can’t say. But there are many LDS families who receive the same talks and lessons and LDS culture as your family but who would react differently. One principle that is taught regularly in church is to not judge others. That runs contrary to our natural impulse, so it is not always followed, but that is what is taught. If some in your family did not live up to that principle and your daughters were offended, that is unfortunate. Of course, we all fall short in various ways, so I’m not suggesting your family is any more flawed than the rest of us.

  88. small star on August 1, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    From the OP : “Then, she singled out a girl on the back row, and asked her what she would do if the friend sitting next to her came to church the next week dressed inappropriately. Following the obvious lead of her teacher, the girl announced confidently, “I wouldn’t even speak to her!”

    It happens, Dave. It happens, presumably, because it is taught in church.

  89. Dave on August 2, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Small star, that’s an incomplete account of an exchange at one church meeting. If the teacher had replied to the little girl, “Yes, that’s right. We should shun those who dress inappropriately,” then you’d have a point. But that didn’t happen. The girl plainly overreacted to the point the teacher was trying to make to a group of children about how one dresses for church. The teacher was not advocating shunning, as I’m sure Sarah will confirm. There’s a difference between misunderstanding (what the little girl did) and advocacy of a point not made (the teacher was not teaching what the little girl misunderstood).

    If you are so upset by what you suppose (incorrectly) is taught at LDS church meetings, may I ask what it is you teach your own children? Note what Sarah, an LDS mother, teaches her children about modesty (from the post): “Needless to say, my children received a second lesson from me on the way home, about the importance of not judging people, and being kind to them regardless of their physical appearance.” Sarah wasn’t telling her children that LDS teachings about modesty were wrong and giving them different directives. She was telling her children that what they took away from the lesson, whether intended by the teacher or not, was incorrect, and then she taught them the proper LDS thinking on the subject. Do you teach your children something different than the LDS teaching that Sarah conveyed to her children?

  90. Sarah Familia on August 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Dave #89:

    The teacher actually WAS advocating shunning. The lesson went on in that vein for a few minutes, as I was formulating a response from behind the piano. Fortunately, my statement was rendered unnecessary when the Stake Primary President, who lives in our ward and happened to be substituting in Primary that week, finally jumped in and made a comment about the importance of loving everyone, no matter what they wear.

  91. Peter LLC on August 2, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    It happens, presumably, because it is taught in church.

    Even if the kind of shunning that encourages Mormons to make visitors feel like “little sluts” was actually taught in church, you can rest assured that most of us would have slept through it and the rest would have been too distracted by portable electronic devices to take note.

  92. Geoff-A on August 3, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    The last few comments are making light of a problem that small star has explained, where her daughters will have nothing to do with the church because they were shunned by “righteous/modest” mormon children.

    Christine, is it not likely that the same people who do not question extreme modest (as Sarah has) would also forbid their children from recieving sex education, and not provide it themselves? Thus creating the environment where the young people were incapable of safe sex, and consequently 4 times higher pregnancy rate. This is a counter intuitive result of the obcession with modesty.

    My wife came home from RS recently amused and frustrated by a lesson on modesty. No shunning was included, but the sisters were advised to stand in front of the mirror and bend in various directions to make sure nothing provocative was showing, before they left the house.

    Is there a relationship also between the extreme modesty and the lack of contact between married couples in church? When we had children we made a point of the parents sitting together and the children on either side. Now we sit close together/touching. Very few other couples do and especially the more modest ones.

    Does this mindset also affect the attitude to intimacy in a relationship? Even if it doesn’t wouldn’t lessons on being loving partners be more helpful than lessons on modesty for relief society ladies? I’m not aware of men having these lessons, either modesty or being loving partners.

  93. Tracy Hall Jr on August 4, 2012 at 11:14 am

    This thread brings to mind the speculations of C.S. Lewis in “The Great Divorce”

    “First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.

    I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer’s features as a lip or an eye.

    But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.

    “Is it?…is it?” I whispered to my guide.
    “Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”

    http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1215780-the-great-divorce

  94. christine on August 4, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Tracy, beautiful. i am abroads and cannot comment much.. I am glad this is being discussed, I think there is a great need.