43: Healthy Approaches to Teaching Modesty

In today’s LDS youth programs, especially those for young women, modesty has become even more of an emphasis than in years and decades past. Of course modesty is important, but are some of the ways modesty is being taught today more harmful than helpful for youth who are undergoing important transitions in their lives? Is modesty being taught too often as an end in itself rather than as a fruit that flows from a life and self-image rooted in healthy spiritual, emotional, and physical confidence? Furthermore, is modesty being taught too early, becoming an emphasis far ahead of when it is healthy and appropriate to discuss, causing an unconscious sexualizing of even pre-pubescent girls and boys? Finally, are subtle and not-so-subtle messages being conveyed to our youth that modesty is just about sexuality, skin, and arousal, that their bodies are something to be ashamed of and covered? And especially for young women, are they being taught that it is primarily their responsibility to control whether or not boys or men have sexual thoughts?

Please join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Heather Olsen Beal, Chelsea Fife, and Erin Hill for a far-ranging discussion of this important issue. Can we as a church and a culture do a better job of teaching principles that will naturally lead toward a strong desire to be modest while still building healthy views about bodies, sexuality, and what it means to be—as our whole selves—daughters and sons of God? This panel answers this question with an emphatic “yes” and shares many thoughts that might contribute to these important goals.

After listening, we hope you will contributed to a spirited and constructive discussion in the comments section below!

Comments

comments

108 comments for “43: Healthy Approaches to Teaching Modesty

  1. Anonymous
    July 20, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Fourty fifty sixty seventy eighty year old men have been marrying twelve to sixteen year old girls for thousands of years. It still goes on today and only recently has been frowned upon in certain country’s. I lol when one of the ladies on the pod cast said she would be shocked and disgusted if her forty year old husband would ever find a sixteen year old girl attractive. Lol. Lots of sixteen year olds look like they r twenty one. Of course most man would never touch a teenager but most men don’t have a built in age reader.

    Men love beautiful women. For the average man this can occur from round thirteen to seventy without knowing her age. Sorry.

    • Chelsea Fife
      July 20, 2011 at 11:58 pm

      Point taken William. I don’t think anyone challenges the fact that men look at/check out women of all ages–that’s not the issue. The issue is whether we teach girls that their dress is responsible for said, checking out, or not. If men are checking out girls aged fourteen to seventy then clearly it’s not a girls clothing that is initiating the stares, but rather men’s wiring. And if wiring IS the reason, then why on earth are we telling girls they have the power and responsibility to control it.

      • Anonymous
        July 21, 2011 at 12:15 am

        i think we agree actually.  a really beautiful girl can not hide it no matter how modestly she dresses.  men will try and picture what she looks lilke naked.  the issue is more with more averege looking girls. i disagree with another comment one of the women made that they arent doing it for attention.  they are boy crazy and looking to fit in in any way possible.  teen age years are a rough time for girls and boys.  but one lady said boys arent  even in the picture for her daughter as there aint any boys worthy of her.  ignorance is bliss i guess.  her daughter doesnt tell her everything that goes on  in her life i can guarantee you that !

        • Heather Olson Beal
          July 21, 2011 at 1:48 am

          Oke-dokey, william_of_ockham.  You are very assured of your correctness on this issue.

          • Anonymous
            July 21, 2011 at 6:58 pm

            I have to side with this William of Ockham fella on this one.  But not entirely.  I think teenage girls want to dress in certain ways because it makes them appear older and more seductive, etc.  I don’t necessarily agree that it’s a conscious thing on their part.  So while their adolescent brain is subconsciously telling them they need to appeal to the opposite gender, all they really know is that they want to wear the cute clothes that they find stylish, etc.  I don’t think adolescent girls could give you a really insightful clear answer on their motives.  They’d probably just shrug and say, “I don’t know.  It’s cute.”  But really, it’s their biological development driving them to appeal to the opposite sex, as well as fit into their social circle and appear more grown up.

          • Jstew07
            May 17, 2012 at 10:51 am

            Well, I am definitely not speaking for anyone but myself here, but when I was a teenager, even as young as 13, if I tried to dress immodestly it was always with very conscious motivations to appeal to the opposite sex. I think we should be giving more credit to teenagers, male and female, for any choices they make in this department. But I agree, I feel like part of the reason I made some of the choices I did was out of rebellion and resentment towards how brainwashed I felt on that issue. If the focus had been on my confidence and my self worth rather than the sexual connotations my shoulders had, I might have dressed differently.

  2. Kevin
    July 20, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    I think that much of Mormonism’s increased emphasis on modesty is tied to the continuing decline of the religion’s isolation from the broader culture. Modesty (which appears in this context to be definable as the relative desexualization of women’s appearance and behavior) is a boundary-marking behavior intended to make Mormonism more distinctive. It’s the same role that was served by polygamy in the nineteenth century, and which was afterward served by the word of wisdom.

    • Chelsea Fife
      July 20, 2011 at 11:43 pm

      Very interesting thoughts Kevin. Do you think using modesty as a means to make Mormonism more distinctive is an intentional move on the part of the church or an unintentional byproduct?

      • Kevin
        July 21, 2011 at 2:43 am

        I doubt that it’s anything calculated. But I think that any distinctive way of dressing or other public behavior that says “I’m a member of the group, and I’m obeying the leaders” is likely to appeal to the leaders. Female modesty may be the equivalent of the whole white-shirts-and-short-hair-and-no-facial-hair expectation for males.

        • Erin Hill
          July 21, 2011 at 3:15 am

          I think you have a point, Kevin! I also think that the presence of boundary marking motivation, which people may or may not even be aware of, is one of the reasons our LISTED explanations/reasons for “modesty” feel … incomplete.  Until we acknowledge that we as a church culture do value certain dress standards just because they make us “peculiar” (in the *good* way) and not because the absence of those dress standards is inherently wrong, I think the explanations we do offer will always fall a little short.

    • cam
      July 24, 2011 at 9:00 pm

      I agree Kevin.  I also think that the Mormon  Leadership wants to project a wholesome image.  I think that the desire to maintain that image is a driving force behind the whole modesty issue.  At some time though, our cultural mores have changed or else we would all be wearing ankle length, long sleeved prairie dresses.  I think the real problem with such tight control over clothing, whether it is neckline or shirt color,  is that it teaches people that it is more important to look good than to be or do good.  Appearance seems to trump all.   Kids see through that.  They make friends who are not LDS, and these friends are good people despite wearing a sleeveless shirt.  I think this contributes to the exodus of the youth leaving the church.  Showing arms, clavicles, legs are really just not that big of an issue and the kids get this.  At some point all of the focus on modesty makes the church seem irrelevant.

    • Joanna Brooks
      July 26, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      agreed!  it’s the new word of wisdom.  orthodox jews call it “frum.”

  3. Anonymous
    July 20, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    Another one of the ladies also claims to know how boys express their sexuality. Banging their chest and making funny noises she says. Lol. Try masturbation and pornography. More like it.

    • MS.P
      July 21, 2011 at 12:21 am

      Ha! That’s true. I think she did mention she was joking though.

    • Erin Hill
      July 21, 2011 at 3:16 am

      I don’t think any of us claimed to “know” how every single boy expresses his sexuality. In fact, I think there is a real danger in painting with too broad a brush. I am not saying that boys don’t masturbate or look at porn, but I’m pretty sure that even with those behaviors, there is a spectrum of normal – some boys are more interested, some less.  I think we do a disservice to our YM and YW when we ‘beat the drum’ of boys’ uncontrollable urges. 

      • Anonymous
        July 21, 2011 at 3:24 am

        I take it you have never been a boy. If a person didn’t have the urge to drink water eat food and have sex the species would cease to exist. Same if being gay was biologicaly normal

        • Dan Wotherspoon
          July 21, 2011 at 12:46 pm

          Not sure you’re representing men (or the human species) in all that great a light, William, here or in several of your other comments. I believe and have experienced myself as more than just my biology and testosterone, as something more than simply a slave to my urges. And I don’t know quite what to do with your “biologically normal” line in light of research that many of us have exposed ourself to that suggests homosexuality is to a strong degree biologically driven. 

          Not sure if you are just in a “quick hit” or let’s just throw some ugly male stereotypes into the conversation mood, or if these are serious points you are trying to make. If the latter, I’d love to hear a much fuller presentation of your thoughts. As they sit here and in most (at least for me) of your other comments in this thread, you’ve failed to show up as someone who really wants to advance the discussion constructively.

    • Anonymous
      July 21, 2011 at 6:52 pm

      Expressing one’s sexuality is entirely different than USING one’s sexuality.  “Expression sexuality” basically means displaying oneself as a sexual being.  What you listed (masturbating and looking at porn) is USING one’s sexual drives.  It’s entirely different.  So saying that boys express their sexuality by “banging their chest and making funny noises” is saying that boys are trying (however ham-handed) to show off for girls and get their attention.  Just like girls dress up and act like giggly idiots to get boy’s attention (thus expressing their sexuality).  It’s a perfectly acceptable explanation. 

  4. July 21, 2011 at 12:02 am

    I was discussing this other day with a friend. (haven’t listened to the podcast yet though 🙂 I said in my mind modesty means being classy. Not wearing things that cover certain things. i.e. Kate Middleton – Modest/Classy I’ve seen her in strapless gown, backless gowns, low cut, sleeveless dresses and so on. But I’ve never thought to myself… uh yuck i can see her cleavage or her back!!! I just think she’s beautiful and classy!

    • DBC
      July 24, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      Thats because you are a female… when a male see’s all that skin, whether he likes it or not, often times his mind wanders to sexual matters.  Men ARE wired that way.  Women are not.

      That being said, just because men are wired to be stimulated by seeing beautiful women, skin, ext. does not make it ok for men to dwell on those things.

      Women’s dress DOES have an effect on men.  As a married man trying to do the right thing.  I appreciate it when other women dress modestly.

      • Patrick Darby
        August 8, 2011 at 4:04 am

        I disagree. Men and women are wired to notice beautiful people and beautiful parts of people. The objectification of those parts is purely a cultural creation. 

        I offer my personal experience as an example. I was a few years back on a beach in southern France where swimsuit tops for women were optional. I was sitting next to a group of high school age kids playing sand volleyball. The boys were playing and the girls were sitting on the sides talking. At one point, one of the girls took off her top, adjusted it, and put it back on. Her friend didn’t stop talking. The boys didn’t stop playing. I don’t think they even noticed. It was only me who was scandalized.  I thought to my high school days and how I would have reacted to a fellow classmate taking her top off at the beach. I tell you…I would have missed the volleyball serve and would have needed a sudden dip in the ocean in a hurry. The difference in reactions is purely cultural because I’m sure those french boys have the same hormones that mormon boys have.

        As my need to play the exact orthodox line as lessoned, I have found that I wish that my wife could wear those beautiful backless, sleeveless, even low cut dresses. She’s a beautiful woman. I guess my chest thumping includes wanting to show off my beautiful partner and I don’t think her shoulders & clavicles need to be hidden beneath a burka from other mens’ lecherous eyes. 

        • HomoErectus
          January 28, 2012 at 7:08 am

          Interesting thoughts. If I understand correctly, you hold that the example you gave where the French young men were unphased with the appearance of female bosoms    in their midst was a demonstration of their increased maturity – on the surface a justifiable conclusion. But could it not also be that this desensitization is the entire point, the raison d’etre for the principle of modesty? Might it not be that the sexual tension induced by chaste living is what brings about greater enjoyment of our sexual nature? 

        • Guest
          June 2, 2012 at 11:38 pm

          one sentence into this post of yours I just looked away.  I’m not interested in your pornographic story

  5. Hobbes
    July 21, 2011 at 12:14 am

    Thank you so much for this podcast! I could go on for quite some time about my experiences with modesty and the way it’s taught. I think you all hit the nail right on the head.

  6. July 21, 2011 at 2:19 am

    I just finished and really enjoyed your pov’s and thoughts. I don’t think I disagreed about anything. As growing up in YWs in 92-99 it was very strongly implied that modesty was how much skin you showed and that by showing certain amounts you would be turning boys on. If you turned boys on than they would turn to porn. etc… etc… You don’t just get over that weirdness just because you grow into an adult. Getting ready for Church I often feel worried and stressed that what I might be wearing (even though its garment covering) is too attractive/cute and if I feel cute/pretty/good than I’m only being that way to turn on men. I ask my husband a million times do you think this is okay??? and he’s like yeah you look fine. but I still feel worried/ashamed that it will turn on men and it will be my fault for wanting to feel attractive.

    • Anonymous
      July 21, 2011 at 3:01 am

      Lol. That’s pretty sick. Im not gonna shave. Or get a haircut cuz it might turn women on

    • Erin Hill
      July 21, 2011 at 3:19 am

      I have heard other LDS women express that kind of concern as well, Shellie – the dread that someone might notice. When we’re YW, we worry about what the boys might think. But for some of us, even reaching adulthood doesn’t remove that sense of being judged/watched, only the people doing the judging/watching changes. I hear some women say that they fear OTHER LDS women’s judgment, which seems the absolute anti-thesis of “Charity Never Faileth” and I hear other women say what you just said, that they worry adult men in the congregation will notice. Talk about detracting from the spirit at church!

    • Me
      August 2, 2011 at 6:27 pm

      I think grown women do need to think about what they’re wearing to church. An otherwise modest outfit can quickly become quite immodest when one bends over to pick up their kid.

    • Me
      August 2, 2011 at 6:27 pm

      I think grown women do need to think about what they’re wearing to church. An otherwise modest outfit can quickly become quite immodest when one bends over to pick up their kid.

      • Dan Wotherspoon
        August 3, 2011 at 3:15 pm

        Wow! Seriously? You go there AT CHURCH?

        • Patrick Darby
          August 8, 2011 at 3:35 am

          Please Dan…as a man, don’t pretend that you don’t notice nice cleavage anytime anywhere. It’s what men do. AND it’s ok. Noticing and appreciating is different than leering and ogling. 

          • Dan Wotherspoon
            August 8, 2011 at 4:50 am

            Given your other comment about reactions being culturally conditioned and something learned and able to be controlled (and men and even teens being able to overcome the habit of sexualizing female parts in non-sexual situations), it seems like we are closer in attitude than we’re looking like in this particular exchange.  I was responding to “Me” not just in this post about a woman bending over but in two others where he seems to me to be representing an adolescent’s view of women and the hormones raging through him and making it automatic that he’d think sexual thoughts–and doing so thinking he’s representing all men. Again, as you admit in your other comment, not everyone would “go there” in the situation he describes above.

  7. Mm67
    July 21, 2011 at 4:41 am

    Great podcast.  I appreciated the comments in particular about teaching modesty as a principle that informs the way we relate to others—including, among other things, how we dress and how we use our sexuality.  I do think there is so much (LDS) cultural anxiety about the body, particularly the female body, and this gets communicated to girls (sadly) through modesty lessons.  This cultural shame can be so inhibiting.  It is unfortunate that we don’t feel more permission to celebrate the beauty of our bodies–not as a way to have status or power over others–but as a way to own and celebrate our sexuality (which can co-exist completely with modesty, in my opinoin.)
    Thanks for the interesting and insightful discussion.

    • Anonymous
      July 21, 2011 at 6:10 am

      not to mention we are what god looks like.  he is but a holy man. we are made in his image. so why be ashamed of what god looks like.  ?  well , unless your female

      • Mm67
        July 22, 2011 at 5:39 am

        Hi william_of_ockham, Considering your comments throughout, you might want to seriously consider getting some help.  You like being provocative, apparently—At least I am hoping that is what you are trying to accomplish (rather than your comments being a true representation of how you think.)   You don’t flatter yourself.  I feel sorry for any individual(s) married or otherwise connected to you. 

  8. Gailfb
    July 21, 2011 at 10:35 am

    This is a great pod cast and you all have raised great points about how we teach modesty to our young women.  I think that we are teaching some things that are very wrong to our young men.  We are missing the opportunity to teach some great things to our young men.  I also think the way we are dealing with modesty have a huge effect on what is sexualized in our Mormon culture. 
     
    I am reminded of a conversation I read on a blog a few years ago among some gay Mormon men.  They talked about the dynamic in locker rooms when straight male church members knew they were gay.  These straight men after they knew someone was gay they would be embarrassed and would try to hid themselves.  The gay men were confused and perturbed by this.  They could not understand why these men would think they would be aroused by their nudity.  What I do not think these gay men understood and what I also did not understand until I read their words was how different things have been sexualized for me then for them. For me an adult straight man seeing a woman in any degree of undress would only happen in a sexual situation.  Were as for these gay men they have seen men their whole life in many stages of undress in many none sexual situations.  Male nudity was not automatically sexualized for them.  I think extreme focus on modesty over sexualizes  the female form for our young men and likely all our men.

    Also I believe this teaches our young men  many wrong things: sexual arousal is the problem, being pleased by the female form is a problem, if the environment is completely controled there will be no arousal,  control of their behavior is outside of themselves,  modesty is only something for young women to practice.  All of these lessons we are teaching our young men are false.

    We are missing the opportunity to teach our young men many wonderful things: it is modest to look a women in here eyes, how to touch a women with respect,  how to treat a women with respect, how to appreciatively and modestly deal with your arousal,  how to teat a woman like a person and find her sexually attractive. And many others.

    • Heather Olson Beal
      July 21, 2011 at 12:55 pm

       Lots of interesting thoughts here, Gailfb.  You’re right that we’re teaching that sexual arousal is a problem AND that we seem to be thinking we can prevent arousal from occurring.  Not gonna happen, so why put it out there as the ideal for YM or YW??

    • Di
      July 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm

      Ditto to this comment. I loved it.

  9. Ubik1967
    July 21, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Really good pod cast. Dan contributed just the right amount (little). The content was honest, relevant and coherent.

    It is interesting that recently gay thoughts are not considered a sin bit acting upon it is. This has some conflict with some scripture but I agree with it. If this thought could be extended to heterosexual youth perhaps the application can reduce guilt in the youth. I don’t think you can not think of something and the attempt to creates more obsession for the object of the thing you are not wanting to think of. If the kids understood that these thoughts are normal and not to fight them we may have heathier children.

  10. Geoff - A
    July 21, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    There seems to be an acceptance here and in the church generally that modesty is a gosple related principle.  Is it?  Christ said nothing about it.

    I am inclined to believe that modesty is nothing to do with the gospel, it is just part of the conservative culture that comes packaged with the church.

    I am happy with individual modesty, but when it’s part of a culture that also discourages sex education, birth control and places the responsibility for sexual behaviour on young women it is not healthy so how can it be part of the gospel?

    How would you measure the success or otherwise of modesty?  If the rate of teenage pregnancy in Utah were substantially less than less modest places would that be an indicator of success? 

     In Germany for example many small cities have a spa which includes a sauna, water slide, pool and coffee lounge, where whole families spend time together with their neighbours naked.  How do the rate of teenage pregnancy in Germany, where you will likely have seen the Bishops daughter naked, compare with Utah, where if you see her shoulder naked its exciting?

    Although we regularly hear talks from the pulpit about the requirement for modesty, I am not convinced it has anything to do with the gospel.

    • Heather Olson Beal
      July 21, 2011 at 12:58 pm

      I agree.  I don’t think it’s a principle of the gospel. I think Chelsea (in the podcast) said it’s a byproduct of other beliefs.  I like the YW values of Divine Nature and Individual Worth.  And I think modesty can be an expression of those beliefs.

      But I totally agree that for the most part, it’s simply a way to show to outsiders, “Hey, I’m a Mormon” and to other Mormons, “Look at me. I toe the line.”

      • cam
        July 24, 2011 at 9:21 pm

        Yes.  I completely agree.  It’s interesting that it’s the females who always need to be controlled.  In a convoluted way, does all of this focusing on modesty just further  sexualize women and girls?  I often read in the BYU newspaper letters from men chastising female students who they consider too immodest.  At some point a line is crossed between remaining modest and obedience to conservative rules.  Maybe there needs to be more of a focus on “judge not lest ye be judged.”  Isn’t judging God’s job anyway?

    • Chelsea Fife
      July 21, 2011 at 8:49 pm

      I totally-totally-totally agree!  Great points!

    • Me
      August 2, 2011 at 6:30 pm

      I believe it was Chist that said that he who looks upon someone with lust has already committed adultery in their heart. Modesty goes a long way towards helping people (both genders) control their lust.

  11. Kevin
    July 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    By the way, I love the graphic. Where did you find it? The woman in the background looks like she might be from Short Creek.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      July 21, 2011 at 3:01 pm

      Just google images, search for Modesty and Mormons or something like that. Discovered that there is a whole series of these “Be honest with yourself” posters featuring people from this same era, but I’m not 100 percent sure if they are really made for Mormons only. Anyway, I thought it was fun and glad you liked it to!

      Dan

    • don't know mo
      July 21, 2011 at 7:10 pm

      Ken Sanders Bookstore in downtown Salt Lake has several of this “be honest with yourself” series in poster size and mounted. They were produced by the church and are a really fun piece of nostalgia.

  12. Anonymous
    July 21, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    I’m only about 20 minutes in but something was said that bugged me so I wanted to comment about it.  The discussion was about girls at the lake at girl’s camp and having female lifeguards instead of making the girls swim in burkas (my exaggeration) so the male lifeguards wouldn’t feel uncomfortable if they had to rescue a drowning girl.  I find that solution to be just as creepy as telling girls they must cover up to protect the men’s thought life.  Gender segregation is another version of making women adhere to ridiculous modesty standards.

    • Chelsea Fife
      July 21, 2011 at 8:47 pm

      Heather_ME, that is actually a really good point—gender segregation. It would be just another way that we put the blame on girls for the reaction of men.  If men are uncomfortable helping a girl out of the water, it’s nobody’s problem but their own.

  13. RachelM
    July 21, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    I love the woman from east Texas and what she said about modesty being about demeanor.  I think she is 100% right.   I think there is an overreaction on the memberships part to what is taught and the bulk of responsibility lands on our girls.   It ranges from ridiculous to dangerous.   I wish I felt that the “extreme” examples presented were extreme and not common, but I think they are very common.   I have so many similar stories,  it is sad. 

    (BTW- I think the series referred to was called “Free to Choose”.  I think we referred to it as “Free to Snooze”)  I would like to point out that modesty in the scriptures more often refers to displaying pride through wealth and pomp than it does with displaying skin. I know members that insist on wearing labels so people know their clothes are designer or have made fun of people’s clothes for being out of date or shabby.   Are they really more modest than the girl in spaghetti straps?

  14. Anonymous
    July 21, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Testing, testing…

  15. Geoff - A
    July 22, 2011 at 6:13 am

    So at least some of you agree that modesty is nothing to do with the gospel.  How do we stop the incredible emphasis it gets so that the damage it does can stop?

    Should I aproach my bishop and ask him to stop assigning talks about it?  I already asked if he could reduce the number of militaristic hymns we sing (after we had 3 in one sacrament meeting).

    So what is modesty supposed to achieve?  Is it to prevent pre marital sex? Is it to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy?  Is it to keep women in their place – doing what men tell them?

    There are no figures for the amount of pre marital sex, but there are figures for teenage pregnancy.  Utah is about 30 per 1000 which is below the US rate of 39 (which is an all time low) but does not compare with western europe where the figures are 5 or 6 per 1000.

    From a moral perspective we would want to reduce the amount of pre marital sex- and whether modesty, which is often accompanied by innocence or ignorance, is helpful in this reguard is not measurable.

    Practically – a teenage pregnancy often sets a girl/woman up for a life of poverty and struggle.  If preventing teenage pregnancy is the purpose of modesty then it is counter productive.

    Its all very well talking about it but how do we stop it being a problem?  Is your local leader a place to start?  The bishop and stake pres are the only leaders we are likely to be able to express our concerns to – in interviews for example.

  16. Kevin
    July 22, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    I agree with the panelists who said that it’s all a matter of balance and appropriateness. As for encouraging modest dress among very young girls, the best advice is to be found in Celia Rivenbark’s book, “Stop Dressing Your Six-Year Old Like a Skank”: http://www.amazon.com/Stop-Dressing-Your-Six-Year-Old-Skank/dp/0312339941/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311342821&sr=1-6

    Hard to argue with that.

    • cam
      July 24, 2011 at 9:32 pm

      I’m not sure I get your point Kevin.  Are people in your ward dressing their daughters like skanks?  I live in New England where there are very few LDS members.  Even without the modesty rules, I don’t think I ever saw a skanky 6 year old.  There are miles between a girls’ sundress and “skank wear.”  Do you think that parents can’t figure it out without a rigid set of guidelines?

  17. RJ
    July 22, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    A thought that occurred to me as you all were discussing the way modesty can have more to do with “appropriateness” and ones attitude or demeanor, and moderation vs. extremes, rather than dress standards. I think in that sense you could say that the extreme focus on dress standards or sexual purity (the girls camp rules for example, or Heather’s daughter’s complaint that all they talk about in YW  is modesty) is not moderate and in a strange way immodest, as it is inappropriate. I really think that *hyper-focus* dress standards and sexual morality is intrinsically an immodest practice.

    • Heather Olson Beal
      July 22, 2011 at 6:32 pm

      Great point.  I agree.  Modesty, to me, has to do with moderation.  Not being extreme.  Our fixation on modesty is not modest.  

  18. CO
    July 22, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Growing up as a young woman in the church I had countless experiences with people making comments, or in more discrete ways making their opinions known to me about my “immodest” clothes. The thing is there are always going to be people now and then at church who say and do things that we find offensive or go against the values we are teaching our children.  In Relief Society, so often we get taking about how people are always, intentionally or unintentionally going to offend us and we shouldn’t let it affect our testimonies.  I think this idea could be applied in a way to our children and youth.   This of course is only addressing a small aspect of the extreme over emphasis of physical modesty.

  19. Jacob Brown
    July 23, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    I like the idea, but I’m still not sure I understand how to reframe modesty as being about something other than appearance. I guess it is too engrained in me. It is like when Mormons talk about morality they pretty much always mean sexual conduct while I think most people see morality is something much bigger than sex.

    If modesty is changed to a focus on speech, property, or spending, I don’t think it would be a new empahasis in Mormonism. Isn’t this stuff already addressed, just under a different name?

  20. ccmom
    July 23, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Thanks so much, ladies and Dan, for this very interesting and thoughtful discussion. As my daughters are grown (early 20’s and out of the church) I was not aware of the current “modesty” practices in the church. I know when they were YW, they were particularly bothered one day when of the their YW leaders taught them that they should only wear white underwear. I was dumb-struck, I had never heard such a thing in my life and I’d heard some pretty crazy modesty rules.

    I was a YW in the late 70’s. At that time, our stake pres. was so concerned about our modesty that he insisted that all girls wear long pants while playing stake sports. For every basketball, volleyball, dodgeball and softball game, we all donned our “levi’s”. I remember getting particularly hot and overheated during basketball games, as you can imagine. The boys in the stake were allowed to wear shorts. This was in Murray, UT to give you all a point of reference. It makes me angry to this day when I think about the insanity of this rule and the fact that the YM were allowed to wear game-appropriate athletic clothing. I still wonder what in the world was going on in the mind of that stake president.

    I thought those days were behind us until I listened to the podcast and the story about the clothing the girls were being asked to wear to camp, in the middle of summer, while swimming. It sounds like church leaders are taking a big leap backwards, about thirty years or so.  The irony is that when my mother was going to high school in the early 50’s, she wore gorgeous prom/ball dresses that either had straps or were strapless and were simply what everyone was wearing. I don’t think she ever felt any pressure not to wear those dresses.

    Thanks for the thoughtful discussion. I agreed with pretty much everything  you all said.

    • Heather Olson Beal
      July 25, 2011 at 3:55 pm

      I agree about the leap backwards.  And I’m never happy to see us moving in that direction . . . especially not when I’m so anxious for us to keep moving FORWARD, catching up, so to speak . . .

    • July 27, 2011 at 2:31 am

      I think it’s important to remember that so many of these “rules” come from bishops or stake presidents and not from Salt Lake. Priesthood leaders, as inspired as they may be, are still humans with their own personalities and beliefs. Those preferences and beliefs inevitably dictate their interpretation of gospel minutia.

  21. Patriarchal_gripe
    July 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Great podcast again with wonderful commentary and intelligent discussion. 

    A couple of thoughts that I had while listening.  First, one dark side effect of teaching young women that they can become porn to males by the way they dress is seeding the idea that every male is a potential lecher and pervert.  Suddenly every time a potbellied old man looks their way they see a potential rapist or abuser.  Not a healthy way to percieve the men in their lives.  I see this with young women in my community and my ward/stake.  It is totally taboo to talk to a young woman unless I have a specific calling or purpose to do so.  Otherwise, the YW in the ward have no interaction with any male unless they are a teacher or PH leader.

    Second, I hate the scripture procured by a panelist regarding “if a man looks upon a woman to lust after her then he has committed adultury already in his heart” or however it is worded.  One of the panelists commented that focusing on skirt length or covering shoulders is the path of least resistance and that we should focus more on YM and their thoughts.  Sooo, let’s blame the YM for not controlling their thoughts?  Pretty ugly to me.  I have two teenage boys and I don’t ever want them to internalize this pernicious, evil notion that their natural thoughts are sinful and should cause feelings of guilt, which would be about every 20 minutes in a normal, healthy, hormone crazed 17 year old.  Not saying that we shouldn’t teach YM to be respectful of women and girls, but do away with the guilt trip.  It is ugly and not helpful.  Thoughts are not evil.  They are the way we percieve and practice being human in our natural environment and are normal and healthy.  Boys check out girls.  Fact of life.  Let’s teach proper actions, manners, behaviors and boundaries.  Teach YM and YW to respect each other as equals and teach them what IS abnormal and unhealthy and socially unacceptable, but not thought control.

    • Heather Olson Beal
      July 25, 2011 at 3:56 pm

      Patriarchal_gripe, I’m pretty sure the panelist was being critical of that idea. I think she was saying that perhaps church leaders are using that rationale–not that she was agreeing with it.

      I’m with you–it’s unhealthy.

  22. Jenneology
    July 24, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Loved this episode! Thank you, Heather, for making it happen. I remember you asking for talking points before it happened but didn’t realize it was for this. The panel covered the topic well. Now its time to go back through it and make a written list of all the suggestions. There were some great take home points made and a starting point for a written resource. 

  23. Jenneology
    July 24, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    Thank goodness for Sabbath days! Otherwise, I would not have had the time in my busy to week to go back through the episode and made a list of the suggestions given to adults instructing youth about modesty. I’ll copy and paste here. Heather, Chelsea, Erin and Dan, please correct or rephrase anything you see needing it:  

    Respect the agency of individuals and let people make their own decisions in applying the principles taught to them.

    Modesty is not just about covering one’s body but it is also a principle in speech and mannerisms and actions. 

    Recognize the reasons behind why an individual is dressing immodestly. Becoming secure in one’s body as it changes through puberty, not being able to afford new or different clothing, trying to get attention of opposite sex, etc.

    Young adults are sexual beings and its natural for them to come to terms with that in different ways. Telling to young women to dress a certain way and that if they don’t it is evil and bad, essentially tells them that their sexuality is evil and bad.

    Men have the responsibility to control their own thoughts regardless of how a woman is dressed. Mathew 5:28 “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

    Teaching boys to remember the worth of a woman as a child of God, to master their thoughts, avoid objectifying women in their thoughts.

    Seeing immodestly dressed women does generally not trigger rape, sexual harassment and assault. Focus on telling young men and women what to do rather than focusing on what not to do. Focus on teaching the principles of the gospel, rather than offering prescriptive guidance on how to live that principle.Talk about modesty less.Teach that sexuality is a beautiful and important part of life and deserves to be protected rather than exposed, revered rather than demonized.Modesty is more than dressing to cover.Root children in the doctrines of the gospel.Focus on the most important aspects of the gospel “love God and love one another.”*end of list*Feel free to go back and add comments, description and explanation for the why’s of each of these suggestions. Like I said, I would love to see this become a resource for church members. One thing that came up for me both times I listened was during the discussion on why rape occurs. The statistics are very compelling to support your point that its not about men being tempted by exposed skin. There is also the tendency for some more conservative communities to fetishize modesty so that women dressing modestly become the targets of sexual predators. This further emphasizes the importance of teaching men are acceptable ways to think about, respond to and treat women’s bodies. 

    1.     ! 

    • Chelsea Fife
      July 25, 2011 at 3:07 am

      Wow! I think you’ve done a great job identifying the main points from the podcast.

  24. Jenneology
    July 25, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Well the formatting on that did work well.  Sorry! Feel free to message me on facebook (Jenne Erigero Alderks or email me at service@ldswave.org

  25. Guest
    July 25, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    The way the church teaches modesty is debilitating to young women.  If done in the right way, modesty should help a young women be confident and comfortable with their body.  Self esteem should be improved by teaching modesty in a healthy way.  

    My daughter is in the YW program right now.  She is basically instructed to dress like she already wears garments.  Almost knee length shorts, cap sleeves, only one piece swim suits etc.  All “active” girls in the ward must conform to this level of dress or be judged.  There is no choice.  There is no individual expression.  My daughter is not confident or comfortable with her body.  What is worse is that she does not CONTROL the decision regarding her body.  How could she?  In the church, her body is given to her from a God/Man for her to be a steward over.  Her body is a temple etc.  Her body serves the purpose to have babies etc.  See where I am going here?

    If the church were teaching modesty in the best interest of the girl, then it would be taught way differently.  The fact is the church teaches modesty to girls, not in the best interest of the girls, but in the best interest of the church.  Kevin is right, modesty is used by the church to mark and control their youth, health for the child be damned.

    And this is just a small part of a very large iceberg.  I remember at our young womens in excellence night and the bishop talking about how the girls need to essentially save themselves for a good RM boy with the kicker being that now, in high school, boys will be boys but when they come home off their mission, they will only really want a girl that is clean and pure.  No mention was made of the girls pursuing careers, education or CONTROLLING their life and living their own dreams.  No, it was all about them essentially just keeping themselves clean for a RM.  Their life was only defined as far as their life and body could serve the church……..the church wants to keep their girls covered and keep them ignorant just long enough to get married and start having kids.  I see this over and over again in our ward.  The graduating young women, many of whom get straight A’s, simply go up to the Utah/Idaho area for school and get married and start having kids.  Does this really serve the young woman?  Did she really have a choice in this matter?  Did she ever have control over her life and when did she lose it?  When will she ever control her life again?

    In my opinion, it does start with cap sleeves and knee length shorts and it is very scary as a parent who just wants his daughter to control her life, be proud and comfortable with her self and body and live her dreams, whatever they may be.

    Great podcast.

     

    • Joanna Brooks
      July 26, 2011 at 3:10 pm

      guest:  you sound like a great dad.  hang in there.  tell your daughter how you feel. she is lucky to have you as an ally.

      • Guest
        July 26, 2011 at 10:38 pm

        Thanks Joanna.  My daughter is 14 now and I have been talking to my wife about how modesty in the church is not healthy since she turned 12.  What is also scary is how my wife, who is the best ever, just turns our girl over to the church programs with no questions asked.  When your daughter is 14, tall, blond, fit and a competitive swimmer and is afraid to wear a tank top over her swimsuit………I mean there is a problem.  When she is uncomfortable showing her legs or walking around in her swimsuit, there is a problem.  When she is a straight A student who uses her babysitting money to get herself scuba certified and go to science camps in CA but has hang ups about showing her shoulders or wearing anything that has straps on her shoulders, there is a problem.  When she looks at other girls who do and likely judges them as wrong or misled or being immoral with low standards, without actually knowing the person, there is a problem.

        The tough one is that an otherwise smart and confident girl is being robbed of her ability to be confident and in control of her body.  I hope to have my wife listen to the podcast because believing members can’t see it.  In her mind, how can modesty as taught by the church be a bad thing?  It is a church program after all and much of the recommendations and instructions for young women come from prophets and apostles.  You know, literal prophets and apostles.  The irony is that my own wife is a college grad and very independent.  She is an incredible example for my daughter and yet this massive gap in healthy parenting exists with no end in sight.

        I do try to talk to her about it.  Here and there.  It is not easy.  She goes to church every week. She tries to be a good lds girl and advice from me, no matter how much I soften it, comes across as harsh and critical.

        What many kids like my daughter need are “alternative” type lds women mentors or at least examples of girls and women who clearly show that they have lived empowered lives where they have put their dreams and passions first and lived their life accordingly.  I am not bagging on the example of a stay at home mom who is tbm but when that model is the only option really shown or approved of, there is a problem.

        Yeah, I gotta hang in there.  BTW, she started seminary yesterday so here we go again.  That might make another great podcast.  

        I am a formerly super tbm guy who did all the right things, figured it out and now is trying to pick up the pieces and make it all work.  I have five friends so far that have figure the same thing out in their mid thirties and now it is a mess.  

        Also, if there is ever an alternative EFY thing that happens out in CA, I will be making sure my daughter goes.  She did EFY at BYU this summer and when asked how it was, my very sweet and kind daughter, who really does not get a lot of church negativity from me, described it as a prison.  My wife and I were stunned.

        Everything, the whole Mormon thing, it is just madness.

        • cam
          July 28, 2011 at 4:17 am

          I feel your pain.  The idea of coming to earth to get a body means that we are to fully experience our humanity.  To experience happiness, grief, humor.  To learn, to grow, to make mistakes, to learn wisdom.  To use our bodies to stretch, run, pray, swim, dance, to reproduce, comfort, feel pain, to experience joy.  The list is endless.  Why is sexuality the experience most emphasized?  When women are constantly hammered about modesty, it is difficult too feel much of anything but shame or discomfort about our bodies.   

    • July 27, 2011 at 2:37 am

      While I abhor those young women programs that seek to hone women as prospective baby factories, I have to ask, what is the “individual expression” you speak of? As a man in the Church, do you have the same gripe for we males? I can change my tie and that’s about it. I don’t particularly mind, because it’s not a big deal for me to wear a white shirt to church every Sunday. 

      I agree with a lot of your penultimate paragraph, though. There is this dangerous culture among many in the Church that people with a “past” or any other issues are somehow tainted or not worthy of consideration for marriage. Such a notion is terrible. We shouldn’t control people at all. However, I think so many of these issues come down to individual members and local leadership going beyond the mark as opposed to what actually comes out of Salt Lake. Yes, Church HQ talks pretty clearly about what the standards for modesty are, and I don’t think it’s fair how much of that falls on women, but the more draconian measures seem to come at the local level, sadly.

  26. Ashley Merback
    July 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Great podcast!  I’ve long wondered how to go about teaching modesty in the healthiest way since I too believe it is important.  You answered a lot of those questions for me, so thank you.  I particularly loved the mention that the word “modesty” is a way of being, acting and believing more than it is the clothes we wear.  The way we dress is a byproduct of that way of thinking and living.    

    The thing that gets under my skin the most about how modesty and sex is approached in ours and many other religious cultures is that the person that we are sexually (our sexual thoughts, desires and acts) becomes such a large defining part of who we are as a person.  Why are we giving sex that much credit…that much attention?  Sure it’s important, sure we need to discuss it but there are so many other facets, beliefs and desires that also make up who we are.   I just wish that girls in particular didn’t feel like it defined them so much, particularly those that are very sexual in nature.  

    • Ashleymerback
      July 26, 2011 at 9:25 pm

      And I just finished listening and realize that what I just said is basically how Heather closed!  So amen to Heather!  

    • Ashleymerback
      July 26, 2011 at 9:26 pm

      And I just finished listening and realize that what I just said is basically how Heather closed her thoughts!  So…amen to Heather!

  27. Heather Olson Beal
    July 28, 2011 at 4:40 am

    Ziff just did an AMAZING post about modesty in church magazines.  Check it out:

    http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2011/07/27/a-modest-bit-of-data/

    We have not been imagining this increased obsession with modesty!!

  28. July 28, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Modesty as a means of curtailing or eliminating male sexual fantasies about
    pretty females is futile, in my view. I believe that this goal is the primary
    motivator behind the Church’s emphasis on modesty. There are, however, other
    bases for principles of modesty which in my view are rational, worthwhile, and
    described below, but which do not justify the application of modesty as
    presently taught in the Church.

    Any normal, post-pubescent,
    pre-male-menapausal, healthy male will naturally have his brain flash erotic
    thoughts in his mind, consciously or subconsciously, when he sees an attractive
    woman. Granted, the fantasy is often more pleasurable or intense when the woman
    is dressed or made up in a way as to highlight her physical beauty (this is NOT
    just about clothes or showing skin- it includes things like hairdo, makeup,
    etc.). But cultural experimentation in extreme forms of modesty (women being
    forced to wear burkas comes to mind) have not at all yielded the desired results
    in reduced illicit sex. In fact, it seems they have made things worse- turning
    the view of a woman’s body into a kind of forbidden fruit seems to increase the
    likelihood of non-consensual sexual encounters, i.e., rape, which tends to be
    more prevalent in cultures with stricter cultural/religious standards of
    modesty. Compulsory modesty (whether enforced via cultural norms or religious
    dogma) also tends to have a disproportionately negative effect on women’s
    liberty and self expression. If it is for the protection of the woman, then why
    not let the woman choose what level of “protection” she desires.

    We
    must re-evaluate modesty by first tossing out the notion that sexual fantasizing
    about someone you’re not married to is sinful or wrong in and of itself. Why
    toss it out? For one thing, “illicit” sexual fantasies are extremely common,
    even among people who in real life have the discipline to refrain from having a
    real-life sexual encounter. (I happen to fit in that camp, so I can vouch for
    this on personal experience.) From this, we should learn that people have an
    often underestimated ability to separate fantasy from reality. Secondly, we must
    recognize the historical origins of American and LDS standards of modesty, which
    are largely derived from Puritanism- a religious philosophy which tends to shun
    physical pleasure as a bad thing in and of itself. I do not believe that a
    loving God would create our bodies and brains with a physiology so programmed
    for sexual pleasure, and particularly sexual arousal triggered by even
    non-sexual ordinary encounters with the opposite sex, while condemning us for
    having sexual fantasies and relieving the tension from those fantasies through
    masturbation. If you want to go ahead and believe that a loving god would so
    condemn us, go ahead, but I cannot in good conscience find that such a position
    is in the slightest bit reasonable.

    Once we have ditched the idea
    that modesty must be practiced for the sake of eliminating sexual fantasizing,
    we can begin to have a rational dialogue about what are the right principles to
    consider in formulating a doctrine or standard on appropriate modesty. Here is,
    in my view, a non-exhaustive list of reasonable justifications for modesty in
    certain situations:

    1. To temporarily avoid distractions (i.e., it
    would probably not be too workable for everyone to show up to sacrament meeting
    naked- I for one would likely have some difficulty concentrating on the
    ritual);

    2. To temporarily set a mood or focus on something less
    sexual (this is very similar to #1, and would include things like dressing
    professionally for a professional type of job, or military
    service);

    3. To send an unspoken message regarding a woman’s lack of
    interest in attracting men’s sexual interest;

    4. To reduce the
    likelihood that some wacko (who is unable to separate fantasy from reality and
    unable to reasonably control himself) will be so attracted to a woman that he
    can’t help himself and sexually assaults her. Note: this circumstance tends to
    be rather rare in a more sexually-liberal society, because the
    would-be-assailants generally have other outlets to relieve themselves- i.e.,
    masturbation, pornography, voluntary prostitution, etc., and also because the
    sight of flesh is not so unusual as to provoke an uncontrolable
    response;

    5. To maintain some barrier to sexual relations in order to
    preserve the uniqueness and special-ness of sexual relations.

    6. To
    resist social pressures for young girls to become sexually-oriented before they
    are ready.

    These, however, are not the only things to bear in mind
    when determining modesty standards. We must also consider: (1) that pleasure is
    in and of itself a worthwhile pursuit, and that while it must necessarily be
    constrained by bounds of reasonableness, we should not count it as nothing in
    the equation; (2) women should have the right to decide what amount of modesty
    is right for themselves; (3) too much emphasis on modesty, particularly when it
    is based upon Puritanical notions about sex and pleasure, can be highly damaging
    to self-esteem, and can send an improper message about bodies being evil or
    shameful.

    Based upon the foregoing principles, I personally do not
    consider it a problem if teenage girls, whether LDS or not, are wearing short
    shorts at a non-Sunday church activity, or wearing tops which show shoulders, a
    belly, or a low neckline. Let’s just accept from the outset that we men are
    going to get turned on, like it or not (for that matter, with or without
    modesty), but let’s have a little faith in our own self-discipline. If girls are
    concerned about the occasional wacko who might assault them, they can dress
    differently, and more importantly, make sure to associate with people they trust
    and stay out of dangerous situations. Frankly, I doubt we can reasonably blame
    the occasional sexual assault on manner of dress. For my own part, I tend to
    think that thongs should only be worn by women who are at least 18 years old.
    And I also deplore the idea of pre-pubescent girls wearing clothing with
    language like, “booty call,” and things of that nature. That is disgusting. But
    in the post-pubescent world, we have to carefully balance the need to reasonably
    protect a girl until she is mature enough to do so herself, and the likewise
    important need to avoid stifling sexuality and inducing self-hate.

  29. July 28, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    I think a “positive” alternative to “negative” modesty (as it emerges in current LDS culture) might be something like personal integrity.  Integrity means becoming aware of yourself as a moral being (with moral behavior including sex and a lot of other things).  You learn to see (1) what you do, (2) how it affects you and other people, and (3) how you can change for the better (meditation and hard work on something else seem more effective than reading scripture, listening to “authorities” preach, or confessing and being punished).  Integrity means recognizing what things seem truly excellent to you (what “better” means in your experience) and looking for ways to put those things in your life.  It means coming to terms with the fact that there is no absolute blueprint for your life, no easy road to perfect human morality that absolves you from creating and owning your own habits and character.  It means admitting your mistakes and using them (positively) as opportunities for learning.  It means accepting any bad things that happen to you that are not your fault and using those experiences (positively) as opportunities for learning.  It means putting guilt and fear aside by confronting them squarely and telling them off.  (While they might make you “modest,” they can never give you integrity, and so they have no place posing as a basis for healthy moral behavior.)

    Modesty is obsessed with appearances.  Integrity is about realities behind and beyond the superficial.  Modesty is one-size-fits-all.  Integrity is intensely individual.  Modesty can be imposed from without.  Integrity comes only from within.  Modesty can be measured, bought, and sold.  Integrity eludes overly precise definition and is never for sale.  Modesty offers no real safeguard against danger, no real consolation in suffering (of any kind).  Integrity is the best safeguard: the prisoner who has lost everything without losing this remains unbroken, his suffering transformed into a crown of glory (whether he is responsible for it in any way or not).  Modesty creates fear (that the illusion of righteousness will be shattered) and guilt (that the illusion is not real).  Integrity removes fear (people and circumstances may hurt me, even hurt me terribly, but they cannot change what I know about my innermost attachment to every kind of goodness) and guilt (if I am wrong, I will cease my hurtful behavior at once; if I am not, then I will continue on as I am doing; there is no guilt in doing the best one knows how and being constantly open to better).

    • July 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm

      One last thing.  Modesty too often means doing what everyone else is doing (without critical thought).  Integrity will not let you do this.  A “modest” person is righteous as long as he can exist in a naive, protective environment where his unexamined, uncontrolled emotions are not challenged.  A person with integrity is righteous (true to what is best in himself) no matter what.  He might wake up tomorrow in a world with no clothes, at all, and it would not make any difference.  He knows where he stands with respect to his sexuality, and that stance is not determined by random environmental factors (like whether people happen to be wearing clothes or not).

  30. Me
    August 2, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    A more fair panel would have contained at least one woman that disagreed with the others, and an honest male that would admit that men are attracted to women of all ages (ie: guys don’t quit looking at Playboy just because they turn 40 and the girls are 18). There is nothing wrong with teaching children to be modest from their youth – even age 4. There is nothing unhealthy about getting into the habit early. They’re going to be wearing garments for most of their life, so they might as well dress like it during their teen years when it’s probably most important anyway.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      August 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm

      So you can’t help “going there” in your mind with any attractive woman? You’re a slave to your hormones? I’m guessing you’ve managed to not sexualize any post-pubescent daughters or sisters you may have, so if you’ve managed to do that with them, you don’t think it’s possible to de-objectify other women as well? You are claiming that you really need teenager’s and women’s help to get this part of your inner life under control? Of course, occasional stray thoughts will show up. Acknowledge them and move on. Human beings, even male ones with surging testosterone, are more than just our biology. If you haven’t yet found a way to have a healthy relationship with your urges or manage to have non-sexually tinged relationships with women as subjects and whole people, I hope you will soon. But just because you haven’t doesn’t automatically mean others are dishonest when they say they have appreciated that process, including occasional setbacks, in their own lives.

  31. Gina Colvin
    August 2, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Great podcast – really interesting.  There is a bit of a racial double standard however!  What about the PCC in Hawaii where the expectation is that young Polynesian lads and lasses are required to get their gear off and wear the bear minimum.  Perhaps its OK to do it for money?

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      August 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm

      Fun comment, Gina, and I want to let it stand with proper cause for us to pause. Question, though (and, again, not that this is intended to overwhelm the critique that perhaps a sense of how skin sells is at least one factor in costume design at Polynesian cultural centers): When the Polynesian kids perform in native dress, is the context sexual? Are they wearing something close to authentic dress, and are the dances and other things they do designed to a strong or even medium degree to titillate? Do you feel the handsome men and women who are “getting their gear off” feel as if they are involved in provocative activities designed to make them feel like sexual objects during their performances? I understand that there will be some in the audience who WILL sexualize them, but that seems to me to be these audience members’ doing rather than it being a proper response to the performances and their intent. Would love a response! Thanks!

      • Gina Colvin
        August 4, 2011 at 11:04 pm

        Hey Dan – yep, its sexy!!!  The stance of the Maori Haka is intended to display the male genitalia to best effect and in days gone by this was done ‘commando’ with all parts ‘at attention’.   Many a Maori song is a bit bawdy and suggestive (even ones I have sung at the PCC- many years ago).  Yes, there is a kind of comical or come hither sexual content in many a polynesian musical tradition (including the hula, the sasa etc.).  I suppose the other problem is where young mormons like myself, who have been beautifully colonized and understand the church’s requirement for modesty, find themselves having to perform with barely a stitch on because we are ‘indigenous’ or Pacific Islanders.  The sense I made of it when I was 17 and on a scholarship at the PCC, was that somehow I was ‘cheaper’ than the virtuous white girls who had to keep their kit on.  That somehow I was a pleasing spectacle paraded for the consumption of white folk.  It sure did things with my head because at the same time I wondered if I there was a spiritual capacity or potential that I didn’t possess to make the compromise of my dress standards less of a cause for concern.  Anyway – I enjoy watching eager young missionaries perform the Haka – if only they knew….

        • Dan Wotherspoon
          August 5, 2011 at 2:33 pm

          Wow. Powerful, Gina. Thank you. 

          Have there been past attempts to reach church leaders and help them understand this disconnect between LDS ideals and what they are supporting, and also the psychological impact on the dancers that you describe? Any avenues for activism?

          • Anca Chitoi
            September 14, 2016 at 1:11 pm

            I have a comment to make. I was raised with strict parents especially my mom. Now I am 27 years old. The idea of modesty differs. In my country for example I come from romania it is ok if a woman wears a two piece bathing suits. It is normal because you are going to the beach to swim. It is normal. I was also raised in a christian country where it is not allowed for a woman to wear mini skirts where you are out in public or you will be catcalled. Apparently this leaves little to the imagination of men as to what you have underneath those clothes. It depends on where you were raised. I as a child had little familiarity with what it means as a woman to be sexual. I am quite shy to even approach the subject. I can speak about it but in my culture sex can only happen between married couples. It is a custom. I think for me later in life it will be a major problem if let’s say I would want to get married. I will feel uncomfortable.

        • Heather Olson Beal
          August 5, 2011 at 3:52 pm

           Dang, Gina!  I went to BYU Hawaii one summer so I know what you’re talking about in terms of the sexiness.  Also, when those women do the hula dancing, wow, that’s definitely sexy.  And when the Maori (I think that’s right – is that the Haka?), hello, that’s totally sexy.

          Have never even thought about the issue of “modesty” in this context.  Need to sit on that for a while.

  32. Julie
    August 3, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Excellent.  I also found this interesting in light of the fact that my daughter’s Girls’ Camp list was very different in that it was very general:  just no tank tops, no short shorts.  My daughter plans on bringing v-necked tees and rolling down her shorts.  Why such stark differences among the dress codes?  Does this mean my daughter’s Girl’s Camp dress code is not divinely inspired?  🙂

  33. Person
    August 6, 2011 at 5:33 am

    Dan, don’t let the women on the panel fool you, this is the lesson manual for young women.  It has so very little to do with Modesty.  I think the Brethren and the General Young Women board want our young women grow in every area.  I think in every discussion you should point out what the actually written by the church compared to what the members say or perceive.  A person can get led astray by listening to members of the church.

    I did appreciate so much the thoughts on agency.  I truly believe the principles of the church will save the people.  I believed in Joseph Smiths words, to teach correct principles and let people govern themselves.   This manual give a lot of great principles and again it says so very little about modesty.

    Lesson 1    A Daughter of God         
    Lesson 2    Jesus Christ, the Savior         
    Lesson 3    Following the Example of Jesus Christ         
    Lesson 4    Seeking the Companionship of the Holy Ghost         
    Lesson 5    Finding Joy in Our Divine Potential         
    Lesson 6    Finding Joy Now    
    Lesson 7    Homemaking     
    Lesson 8    Attitudes about Our Divine Roles
    Lesson 9    Honoring Parents    
    Lesson 10    Supporting Family Members    
    Lesson 11    Growing and Maturing in Self-reliance, Part 1         
    Lesson 12    Growing and Maturing in Self-reliance, Part 2     
    Lesson 13    Sustaining Priesthood Bearers         
    Lesson 14    Patriarchal Leadership in the Home         
    Lesson 15    The Melchizedek Priesthood     
    Lesson 16    Women and Priesthood Bearers         
    Lesson 17    The Purpose of Covenants and Ordinances    
    Lesson 18    Temple Marriage—Requirement for Eternal Family Life         
    Lesson 19    Personal Records     
    Lesson 20    Reach Out to Others     
    Lesson 21    A Righteous Example Influences Others         
    Lesson 22    Repentance     
    Lesson 23    Forgiveness         
    Lesson 24    Prayer and Meditation         
    Lesson 25    Sabbath Day     
    Lesson 26    Testimony         
    Lesson 27    Scripture Study     
    Lesson 28    Resisting Sin     
    Lesson 29    The Second Coming         
    Lesson 30    Service
    Lesson 31    Group Activities: A Basis for Wise Dating             
    Lesson 32    Personal Purity through Self-discipline     
    Lesson 33    Avoiding Degrading Media Influences     
    Lesson 34    Worthy Thoughts     
    Lesson 35    Living Righteously amid Pressures         
    Lesson 36    The Importance of Truth in Living a Virtuous Life         
    Lesson 37    Caring for Our Physical Bodies     
    Lesson 38    Nutrition and the Word of Wisdom     
    Lesson 39    Drug Abuse     
    Lesson 40    Health Care in the Home         
    Lesson 41    The Ability to Succeed         
    Lesson 42    Courage to Try    
    Lesson 43    Righteous Living     
    Lesson 44    Using Time Wisely    
    Lesson 45    The Value of Work         
    Lesson 46    The Purpose and Value of Education     
    Lesson 47    Encouraging the Development of Talents     
    Lesson 48    Short-Range Goals as Stepping Stones     
    Lesson 49    Delegating Responsibility to Others         
    Lesson 50    To the Young Women Adviser: Organizing Lessons from General Conference Addresses

    • albertinamel
      June 25, 2012 at 3:20 pm

      Whether or not the topics include the word “Modesty,” it is talked about almost weekly in YW (either at an activity or in class). That’s my experience this past year, anyway. I wish I could say it wasn’t so frequently, but I know it’s brought up at least 3x/month.  I’m glad to find out they’re moving me back to Primary. I feel much more at home there, as the lessons are far less objectionable to me.

      Your inclusion of the list of topics from the YW manual brings up a whole other point, which is the vast amount of time spent on preparing the girls to fulfill their lives’ missions as wives and mothers. I sat in on Lessons 5 – 9 in Laurels class recently, and all of them basically came back to this same point. Add to that Lessons 13 – 18 on priesthood and temple marriage, and it’s just too much.

      Add in the modesty overdose, and you see the Madonna-whore dichotomy is wildly prevalent in our church.  It made me sad to be in there. I saw so many talented girls in there who just didn’t question any of the traditional lines, like “Women have motherhood, which is far more valuable than the priesthood.” Of course, if you pointed out that men have fatherhood, so there still really isn’t an equal playing field, they wouldn’t know how to respond. Personally, I love being a mother, and I gave up a lucrative career to spend more time at home with my children. However, I am so glad I waited until my mid-30s to make a fully-informed choice on that important next phase in my life as a stay-at-home mom. Likewise, I left the door open to go back to work, should I ever want or need to. I wish we would level with the girls and acknowledge that some of them actually may not like (gasp!) being a stay-at-home-mother, and that’s OK. If they have a supportive husband, they can work outside the home and make things work for their family. Of course, such reasoning never makes its way into the manual.

  34. Lizanellb
    August 23, 2011 at 12:13 am

    Wow, going to have to go back and read all of this discussion when I have some time.  I do have to say, that this was my favorite Mormon Matters podcast so far… love this panel (although I miss Joanna!)

  35. John
    August 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    So I think we are missing the discussion on the nature of patriarchy and control in our culture. We seek to control the activities of women because whether consciously or subconsciously we tend to think of women as  property and subject to forms of social control because women are fallen and by nature deviant.

    • Jedvalson
      August 26, 2011 at 5:17 pm

      I am not stating this as a tendency that comes from vestiges of  patriarchal remnants in Western culture not necessarily Mormon culture.

  36. John
    August 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    *I am not stating this as a tendency that comes from just Mormon culture but rather is a vestige of 
    patriarchal remnants in Western culture.

  37. Beatrice
    August 27, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I recently wrote a blog post that is relevant to this discussion.
    http://gbbothsidesnow.blogspot.com/2011/08/what-about-bathsheba.html

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      August 29, 2011 at 3:05 pm

      Good post, Beatrice. Thanks for linking to it.

      If you haven’t ever read it or seen it when it was produced, I highly encourage you to check out the play, “The Plan,” by Eric Samuelsen, in which he re-imagines several OT stories, including David and Bathsheba (which you mention in your post). And in several of the vignettes, he really hits hard the complexities of the various women’s predicaments (Leah and her interaction with Jacob the day after their wedding; Ruth with Boaz as the two of them wake up in the morning; Rahab with Joshua as he wonders if he should keep his promise to this prostitute who aided his spies as they scouted Jericho). I think you’d really like it. Highly recommend!

      Here is a link to the Sunstone issue in which it appears:
      https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/issues/155.pdf

  38. Crapo007
    September 22, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Moot! Modesty, as taught by the LDS church, is only taught early so as to counter the pop cultures blast at our children. Sexual consciousness at pubescent ages is not our choice, but it is our challenge to counteract. It is like, when you have set foot in the mud, do you pretend it’s not there and proceed to enter your mothers house, or do you take a moment to wash it off. We can’t ignore the fiery darts of Beezelbub at all, and any longer.

  39. Keith
    October 15, 2011 at 5:33 am

    I was confused by one comment about not dressing like an emu. I have never seen people dress that, is it really a trend? I tried googling it and I can find lots of pictures of emus but no kids dressed like them. Did I hear wrong?

    • Heather
      December 23, 2011 at 7:31 am

      Keith,

      I’m not sure whether you’re joking or not, but I’ll take your bait.  Someone in the podcast (could’ve been me, not sure) said kids were dressing “emo.” 

      http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=emo

    • Anonymous
      January 26, 2012 at 12:13 am

      I think they meant “imam,” which is still ridiculous b/c an imam is always a man. 🙂

  40. Heather
    December 23, 2011 at 7:33 am

    I came here tonight because I just read this very sad article in the DesNews:

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705396310/Judge-weighing-whether-Mormon-bishop-should-stand-trial-for-failure-to-report-abuse.html?pg=1

    This comment reminded me of our conversation here:

    “During an interview with Tucker, the girl said Moon told her she didn’t
    need to contact police, should consider what her abuser was going
    through and also consider the potential harm her allegations could
    cause. She also said the bishop told her she should re-evaluate the way
    she dresses.”

    This idea that it’s the girl’s fault for the way she dresses is totally out of control. 

  41. Anonymous
    January 26, 2012 at 12:08 am

    I work in the YW organization in my ward, and I’m so sick of them beating the modestry drum I could scream. It’s overkill. I think it seriously comes down to a general unease with sex at all and a desire for men to place the responsibility for their own impure thoughts back on the Jezebel of a woman who dared to walk into the room wearing spaghetti straps. Personally, I think we need to teach our YW that it’s OK to embrace their sexuality. Your gender is a God-given part of who you are! You shouldn’t dress like a skank, but you also needn’t dress like a nun.  Personally, I wore sleeveless tops & tanks right up to the day before my endowment. (I was trying to get maximum benefit out of some of those cute clothes I ended up giving away.) I don’t think sleeveless is immodest in or out of the Church. Remember, garments used to go down to the wrists & ankles! Honestly, I just wish they would update them again and get rid of the cap sleeve altogether and make them with little lingerie straps like a camisole. My wardrobe would get a whole new lease on life!

    Seriously, though. I have met whole wards of 30-something and 40-something unmarried women who dress like sister missionaries and wonder why they haven’t been able to get any male attention. I think we’ve actually done these women a disservice by making them think that a truly righteous man won’t care that they exude zero sex appeal and will actually like them more for it. (It’s almost always the closted gay ones that don’t care, in my experience.) Of course a man, even a righteous man, will care if you are “hot.” People are, after all, animals, and we seek attractive mates. Just because you should learn to bridle your passions doesn’t mean you should ignore their existence.

    My motto: dress attractively to show off the best assets of your figure in an age-appropriate and situation-appropriate way.  If you’ve got great legs, then wear skirts above the knees. If you’ve got great arms & you haven’t been endowed, then show off your arms. If you’ve got a tiny waist, cinch a wide belt to highlight just how tiny it is. Whatever. You may turn a few heads, but in my experience that’s generally a good thing!

  42. Lpf
    February 1, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Could never understand why my granddaughter has to dress modestly and my teen age grandson can walk around in shorts and no shirt.  Modesty should apply to both sexes

  43. Ray
    March 6, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Could you please post a link to the podcast discussed in the second half of this one?  It went by too fast for me to get the info, and I am having difficulty finding the moment in the recording again, but I am very interested.  

    Thank you for the fascinating and important discussion!

  44. Anca Chitoi
    September 14, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    I am wondering the same thing. I grew up in a christian country. The whole idea was that you weren’t to show your cleavage or your backside. You were permitted to wear a swinsuit if you were to go swimming. My parents grew up teaching me that I have to cover up the essentials. ex cleavage or backside. That was what I was taught. It was ok to wear short shorts just not too short. The styles over the years have become more daring.

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