Musings on Modesty & Mormonism

guestMormon 45 Comments

Today’s guest post is from Reuben Collins who also blogs at Single Speed.

The 2001 version of the For The Strength of Youth pamplet distributed to all LDS teens says the following regarding modesty:

…Never lower your dress standards for any occasion. Doing so sends the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval and that modesty is important only when it is convenient.

Immodest clothing includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and other revealing attire. Young women should wear clothing that covers the shoulder and avoid clothing that is low-cut in the front or the back or revealing in any other manner. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance….

I’ve always bristled at this proscriptive, specific list of directions on how to dress modestly. Partially because I happen to LIKE women in short shorts & skirts, but also because it seems to ignore the fact that modesty is a moving target that varies based on context. What’s modest now wasn’t modest 100 years ago, and what’s modest on the beach isn’t modest in the chapel or at work. These guidelines always seemed rather arbitrary to me while I was a teenager – and I’m sure todays teenagers are similarly perplexed. Why are the young women specifically instructed to cover their shoulders but the young men aren’t? Why is it culturally acceptable for the young men to wear swim suits that reveal their stomachs, but that would be considered immodest for the young women? With the definition of modesty changing over time and depending on where you are or what you’re doing, the obvious questions become: why is modesty important, or is it important? Why are such specific guidelines given?

God doesn’t seem to have given any specific commandments like “Thou shalt always cover your thighs at all times and all places.” The closest we’ve got is 1 Timothy 2:9-10 which says “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;” But this passage seems to be more about avoiding expensive or pretentious clothing than making sure we cover specific body parts. The lack of specific guidance from God leads me to believe that He expects us to determine our own definition of what is modest and what isn’t – perhaps even that God isn’t particularly concerned about what parts of our body we cover and what parts we don’t.

So if God doesn’t command it, why are we modest? Part of me believes that modesty is something we do out of respect for ourselves. I believe we should treat our bodies with respect and take good care of them, but it’s not clear to me that covering our bodies is necessarily a sign of respect – or that not covering our bodies is a sign of disrespect. Rather than discussing modesty in terms of coverage, it seems more appropriate to discuss our intentions when deciding to cover or not cover certain parts of our body, and the extent to which our desires effectively objectify or dehumanize ourselves. In this respect, the act of wearing revealing clothing may be insignificant, but our intentions may be questionable.

Ultimately, I believe that the principle of modesty is primarily about having respect for each other – that society has constructed a set of cultural norms and expectations for what people should wear at various times and places, and that we should dress modestly according to what those around us are wearing, or what they expect us to wear. So I believe we should dress modestly, but not necessarily for God, because I’m not sure He cares. Rather, we should dress modestly out of mutual respect for each other. Jesus taught that we should love our neighbors, and part of loving our neighbors is agreeing to live reasonably within societal expectations. We aren’t loving our neighbors if we choose to wear clothing that we know will offend someone else.

Based on my understanding, modesty has much more to do with context than anything else. It’s inappropriate to wear revealing clothing within a context where it will be unexpected or unappreciated. Of course, by adopting this understanding, I’m also acknowleging that it may be appropriate to wear revealing clothing within certain contexts – provided that our intentions aren’t to objectify ourselves. But I believe that individuals are best suited to decide for themselves what is appropriate and what isn’t for every occasion – while allowing societal expectations to inform their decisions.

So how should we interpret the proscriptive instructions given in the FTSOY pamphlet? One option is to believe that I am wrong, and that these are universal guidelines that should apply to all persons at all times in all places. If that’s the case, then The Church has some explaining to do regarding those little shorts the BYU Women’s volleyball players wear (I’m just sayin’…). The better option, in my opinion, is to believe that The Church is simply establishing the arbitrary dress code that will be required of the youth attending church-sponsored activities – a dress code that doesn’t apply to non-church-sponsored activities – and a dress code that all members of the Church should feel comfortable deviating from any time they are not participating in a church-sponsored activity.
I am aware that the pamphlet says, “Show respect for the Lord and for yourself by dressing appropriately for Church meetings and activities, whether on Sunday or during the week,” which seems to imply the opposite – that these are guidelines to be followed regardless of where you are or what you’re doing. I choose to interpret this statement very literally, however, and I believe that we should dress appropriately regardless of what we’re doing. I just believe that it’s our responsibility to determine what’s appropriate and what isn’t.

DISCLAIMER: The exception to the rule is that parents have the right to determine for their dependent children what is appropriate and what isn’t – and within this context, parents have the right to be as arbitrary as they please in setting rules for their children.

Comments 45

  1. Well, we can always dress like Moroni, in loose robes that allow others to see we aren’t wearing anything at all …

    Or, we can learn to respect context. Guidelines can help us understand that a little better some times. Of course some people don’t need fashion advice, but generally that seems to be just one more part of education.

  2. Ah, down the relativistic morality slippery slope. Next thing you’ll tell me is that a cup of coffee might be OK if I’m driving late at night and I’m really, really tired.

    I mean this is a little ridiculous, like the time they wouldn’t let us wear “jeans” at BYU — I’m old enough to remember that proscription. Or maybe I had to shave before they would give me my activity card. The rules are almost as ridiculous as the morality of modesty discussion.

    Ultimately this is about controlling the sexual urge, because any religion woth its salt trys to maintain some tight reigns on the sexual habits of its believers. Keeping women modest helps the sexually repressed male survive from the overwhelming shock and desire that stems from seeing volleyball players in short shorts or a bare shoulder or belly. You should probably get all the commentors on Romantic Paternalism on this post, because it is the same issue, same romantic paternalism, just dressed up in shorter shorts.

  3. Modesty is a very cultural thing. What is “modest” seems to be what the current 60-90 year old generation thinks is “modest”. Examples:

    – Even the most modest swimsuit that any Church leader would wear today would have been considered grossly immoral at an earlier point, when swimsuits went down to ankles and wrists.

    – Garments. They are terribly inconvenient for women (not as much so for men, as many would often wear a T-shirt or something like that) There have apparently been proposals about making the woman’s top more like a camisole, with straps instead of the “cap sleeves”. It would serve the same purpose re: marks, etc. And in reality, removing the 2 inches of fabric from the shoulders is MUCH less than prior modifications that removed 1-2 feet from the arms since they were first presented by JS. But this has apparently been shot down over concerns for “modesty”.

    – Everything at BYU. Pants on women. Jeans. Not wearing socks. No beards (despite its namesake having a beard). BYU is a bastion of illogical rules for the sake of “modesty”.

    Why can’t we teach correct principles and let the people govern themselves?

  4. I am pretty sure the direction the Church issues on how we should react to changing modesty standards falls under “why we have a prophet of God on the Earth today” clause. If you are deluded into thinking there is something in the “For Strength of Youth” pamphlet that is counter to TSM’s wishes, go ahead and dress any way you wish. As for me and my house, I am going to take the radical step of following the pamplet, which I am convinced portrays the sentiment of the prophet. Sometimes it is not bad just to follow directions, even if it isn’t fun, or fashioable.

    As to your putting a picture of the BYU volleyball team. I personally think they are over the line, and the University should put them in loose fitting longer shorts, they look like a bunch of hussies out there in that spandex. I don’t care if that style is a traditional volleyball look, it is traditional to play Rugby on Sundays, but the BYU team never does, they are willing to stand up for their standards.. VB should do the same.

    And dont get me started on the trashy stuff Marie Osmond is wearing now days!

  5. We know what modesty is when we see it. We know what immodesty is when we see it. That people choose to not be modest is another issue. Listing what is/is not acceptable clothing is as dumb as letting the world know one earring is okay, two excessive. Such guidelines belong in the Old Testament.

  6. Wow. I mean…WOW. Once again the comments on an MM post veer toward the periphery of the discussion rather than the real issue (as stated quite pointedly by Ulysseus.)

    The issue isn’t modesty, respect for your fellow men and women who (heaven forbid) we might offend, or Marie Osmond’s dress (btw, #4, does the word ‘judgmental’ ring a bell for you? Didn’t think so.) The issue is about control over others and sexuality. This isn’t a Mormon Church issue alone; this is a pervasive cultural double standard. But we’ll keep it to Mormon Matters…

    Just as there are rules and regulations involving sexual conduct in the Church, there are rules and regulations for dress…why? Because if we dress promiscuously, then we must BE promiscuous, right? So let’s avoid the very appearance of evil, despite the phenomenon of ‘soaking’ at BYU and weekend marriages and oral sex debates.

    Sexual sin was and is the biggest joke in Christendom. It’s the classic example of projection from a group of people who can’t handle their own ‘unrighteous desires’, so they try and control everyone else’s lives. I have a pierced nose and guess what? I’m married and I don’t participate in sex with animals. That should shock the Gold Toe socks off of the GA’s, eh?

    My point is this: the focus of the debate should not be on the volleyball team (shame on you again ‘any’ for your ‘hussies’ comment. Just because you have repressed sexuality going on doesn’t mean those aren’t all fine, upstanding young women working really hard rather than commenting on a discussion board) or garments being made into cammies. This discussion ought to be about why modesty is even an issue in what calls itself an advanced society, and we need to ask ourselves what we’re so scared of…. their shorts, or ourselves?

  7. JulieAnn – not sure I would call commenter ‘any’ a mainstream MM viewpoint. The difference is that MM doesn’t censor commentary like other sites in the b’nacle do.

    any – Once when Pres. Hinckley was viewing a parade, an older church member clucked to him about the “inappropriate dress” of the performers who were wearing drill team uniforms. Pres. Hinckley admonished this member that what was inappropriate in sacrament meeting might be appropriate for a parade performance. Marie Osmond is a performer! I notice you didn’t single out Donny for his celebrated turn as Joseph in which he appeared topless for the majority of the performance. I’ll cut you slack and state that perhaps you weren’t thinking of that because it’s not as recent or maybe you consider musical theater a place where costumes are justified but other types of shows should not have this exemption.

    The undue emphasis on female modesty is the slippery slope, IMO – and is very nearly a justification to blame the victim for violent crimes committed against women. Elsewise, why no similar proscription for men? Simply put, because men are typically physically larger than women, are the ones brimming with seven times the testosterone and are visually aroused by women in a way that women are not by men. Women very seldom commit violent sexual crimes against men. Society talking about modesty feels like a roundabout way to blame the victims of crimes.

    Church talking about modesty feels like a way to keep sexual urges at bay, and once again, it’s the men we are trying to keep on a short leash. It doesn’t feel quite right that the limits to keep men at bay are all applied to women. Men and women should simply exert self-control and dress appropriately to the activity. Shorts for volleyball are totally appropriate to the activity.

  8. JulieAnn: I love you! Common sense regarding modesty! Whoohoo. I don’t think those girls look like hussies at all and Marie Osmond. Puhlease, Any, what is wrong with you. Wow, I jog in a tank top that shows my tummy and shorts. I even go to the beach and (gasp!) show my STOMACH. OMG. Bad, evil me.

  9. #9…no, I quite literally meant that the majority of the comments are not about the real, underlying issue at hand. I’ve hung around MM long enough to see some masterful diversionary tactics to avoid the real scope of an issue. Except your comment. Slippery slope indeed. I like the social commentary, something I avoided (ask AdamF why :0)

    Ulysseus: Oh shut up.

    Lulubelle: I love you too, but that’s a whole other blog post, I would assume. Where do you jog? 😉

  10. Lest anyone misunderstand – I think the BYU volleyball players are quite appropriately dressed – that’s sort of the point of the post.

    #4 any – if I understand you correctly, you’re arguing that my statement “God doesn’t seem to have given any specific commandments….” is false, that He HAS given commandments, and that they are contained within the FTSOY pamplet. This is a valid argument, I just have a hard time believing it in light of how modesty standards have evolved over time.

  11. I never said the BYU volleyball team are hussies, I said they “look” like hussies, something they presumably have not control over, as coaches, admin’s make decisions on uniforms I presume. I am just saying it would be nice to not have them on the court displaying their labial folds… that’s all.

    And modesty/imodesty is a wondful thing, it gives those with a juvenile rebelious streak something to complain about, and a “suggestion” to break, so maybe they can avoid breaking an actual “commandment”

    Drop your pride sister.. as your post drips of it.

  12. any – “I am just saying it would be nice to not have them on the court displaying their labial folds… that’s all.” What??? They are playing volleyball. With little or no make-up. And pony tails. These are women behaving as athletes, not sex objects. They are not “displaying” themselves or any part of themselves in a sexual manner. Your comment is offensive and pervy. Please remember that these girls you have just sexually objectified are daughters of god. They are not the cause of your lack of self-control. Reuben, good thing you didn’t show the swim team.

  13. Once when Pres. Hinckley was viewing a parade, an older church member clucked to him about the “inappropriate dress” of the performers who were wearing drill team uniforms. Pres. Hinckley admonished this member that what was inappropriate in sacrament meeting might be appropriate for a parade performance.

    Hmmm. I heard that same story about President McKay back in the early 70s. In Seminary even.

  14. Somethings in life are really simple. I don’t think we need to over intellectualize modesty.

    Follow the standards you find to be good and true and don’t worry about what other people are wearing.

  15. You know this conversation is interesting. I’ve watched shows like “The Mission” where aborigines have no tops on and not once was I “aroused.” OTOH, some women walking down the street with a mildly low-cut dress are enough to trigger the hormones (just sayin’).

    Context is everything!!

    I agree that the real issue here is objectification of women (by men) and respect for one’s sexual purity (by women). In the grand scheme of things, humans seem to derive psychological benefit from holding things sacred. Maybe it’s the oxytocin!! In either case, modesty, for women, can help produce transcendence as they hold to their purity. For men I think it helps us respect women around us (okay okay, really it just keeps our hormones in check). Since generally women don’t have quite the same problem that men have (men are the sexually violent ones) the reverse doesn’t apply quite at the same level.

    I agree with hawk that it is a slippery slope. But this:

    It doesn’t feel quite right that the limits to keep men at bay are all applied to women.

    I don’t quite see. Almost every conference men get lectured about keeping porn at bay, being worthy priesthood holders, keeping our thoughts pure, etc. I think it is a fairly balanced message. The message I get is – women, please dress modestly for your own sake and the sake of the men, and men, please try to control your thoughts and don’t debase yourselves as worthy priesthood holders (think “mind is a stage” talk by Packer).

    From my perspective (being male) I do appreciate a dose of modesty by women at the right times. When I’m at work, school, church, etc. I like not being distracted by a beautiful woman in revealing attire. It’s not that I can’t “control” myself, but the automatic processes in my mind are very powerful!! OTOH, when I’m watching a swim meet, I’m not the least bit bothered by the swimsuits as it suits the activity.

  16. You miss my point entirely.. I said I would rather NOT see their lady parts outlined in spandex. Can’t you read? I didn’t objectify them, whoever dressed them in skin tight immodest clothing is doing a fine job of that. I have never actually seen the BYU volleyball team, and I am using hyperboyle to make my point. They should be in modest athletic shorts, not those skin tight numbers.

    Oh, ya, someone got up my grill about judging Marie Osmond, re-read the scripture.. it says don’t judge “unrighteously”. I would very much prefer to teach my daughters modesty without having to explain why the highest profile LDS woman in the last has skirts on that go up mid-thigh on TV (not talking about her dancing costumes, I am talking about when she is sitting on the couch on the set of Entertainment Tonight).

  17. #9 Hawkgrrrl &
    #20 jmb275 – I wonder if we don’t unintentionally perpetuate our sexist society when we assume that teachings about modesty serve different purposes for members of separate genders. At least one recent blockbuster movie (which will not be named) demonstrates the popularity of attractive men wearing little clothing. I agree with jmb275 that while Men aren’t necessarily getting modesty talks all the time, they’re getting their own set of porn talks, but just the fact that we’re teaching different ideas to each gender seems like we may be unwittingly creating part of the problem we’re hoping to solve.

  18. #19 – Tacy Marie
    “Follow the standards you find to be good and true and don’t worry about what other people are wearing.”
    Fair enough – but what happens when you show up somewhere in the outfit you find to be good and true and someone in authority politely asks you not to wear it again?

    In other words, I might be fine and happy not worrying about what other people are wearing, but I just wish they’d stop worrying about what I’m wearing.

  19. any,

    The problem is that there’s a picture, and in that picture there are no visible “labial folds.” Which means it took considerable imagination to get from the picture to visualizing labia. Which makes you sound like a creeper.

  20. Nothing like modesty to bring out the silliness in people.

    #17 Hawkgrll: “because men are typically physically larger than women, are the ones brimming with seven times the testosterone and are visually aroused by women in a way that women are not by men.” Oh please. Sexual stereotyping at its most sexist. Imagine the outrage if I wrote that women are physically inferior because they have too much estrogen coursing through their veins and it makes them all cold fishes in the sack. I wouldn’t say that of course, because that would be sexist and sexism is a two edged blade.

    Any: You may need psychological help. Labial folds? You are the example I was speaking of in my original post, which every one always ignores — par for the course — but the religion is all about trying to control your sexuality. You are obviously conflicted, given your labial meditations. You don’t want to see them, but you do. What should you do now? Sing a hymn Elder, sing a hymn. Might I suggest page 221 of the hymnal, “Dear To the Heart of the Shepard” it has great lyrics about getting the sheep back into the “fold.”

    #20 Sexism day here at MM. Why would modesty only “help produce transcendence as they hold to their purity” for women? Once again, fear of female sexuality abounds. Why is it so important to box (pun intended) up female sexuality? Probably because it is more powerful than a male’s — longer lasting, potentially more insatiable and more powerful. Don’t believe me — compare the sexual strength of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter. It also was a lot better about making my point on religion and sexuality. I know you all were supposed to read the book in high school, if not look it up a synopsis on Wikipedia.

  21. #20 Sexism day here at MM. Why would modesty only “help produce transcendence as they hold to their purity” for women? Once again, fear of female sexuality abounds. Why is it so important to box (pun intended) up female sexuality?

    Ulysses, I think you have misunderstood (or I didn’t properly convey it). I was speaking specifically about women in this context as the discussion is revolving around women’s modesty. I did not intend (although I may have inadvertently implied it) that the same was not true for men.

    In the FSOY pamphlet the bulk of advice is to women (or so it seems), as is clearly described in the post. I am simply explaining why it (women’s modesty) might be useful in a way other than to ward off men. The same might be true of men, but I suspect that many men likely have other things in their “purity” priority queue than covering up their body.

    There is no fear in sexuality (at least not for me). But that doesn’t mean we can’t hold it sacred. Holding something sacred is a psychological trick that seems to increase happiness in people. It’s not that the object itself is actually sacred (it may or may not be), but the act of revering something as “pure,” “holy”, or undefiled is useful. When women (and men) in Mormonism, cover themselves (as prescribed by the church) they are reverencing something they hold sacred, leading to transcendence of the self.

    Sorry for the confusion.

  22. I wonder if I’m the only one who finds it ironic that by encouraging women to cover up, we seek to diminish a woman’s evolutionarily-developed talent for attracting potential mates, and find ourselves with a surplus of nice, unmarried women in their 30s, whose dedication to _not_ expressing their sexuality has sadly been so effective that no one HAS been attracted to them. Before everyone gets their dander up (or dandruff, if you prefer ;-)), I’m not advocating a position that encourages the sexual objectification of women, or one that argues that since men are attracted to physical beauty, women should spend all their time on improving their looks. Far from it. I’m just contextualizing what has already been noted about the dangers of repressed sexuality and the counter-productive effects it has on some members of our religious community as it is wielded by those in power.

    For me, if I’m looking at the phenomenon of romantic attraction as scientifically and objectively as possible, the physical attributes that “modesty” seeks to hide from the world (in women, large breasts, hourglass figure, full lips, shapely butt or calves or thighs or whatever; in men, broad shoulders, visible musculature, strong jaw, facial hair, etc.) are those that have been programmed through natural selection to help us notice those who would be ideal mates and ensure the survival of the species. The reason why the concept of the “sweet spirit” is so comical is that everyone secretly knows that despite everything we try to teach about valuing testimony and good works over physical attraction, nobody really buys it. We still seek someone uses his or her physical attributes in combination with other personality traits to exhibit their romantic interest to us. I wouldn’t be married to my wife today if she hadn’t shown me over the course of our courtship that she was not only interested in me for my “testimony” and “career potential”, but also because she desired me sexually. She didn’t have to wear revealing clothing to communicate that, but she did have to acknowledge and express her sexuality to entice me toward a future time when the full expression of that attraction could be consummated. And I don’t see anything wrong with that.

    So taking away a woman’s ability to express her sexuality through the way she looks is another example of that romantic paternalism that is perpetuated in the church. And while it preserves the virginity of many a young LDS woman, it also creates a large number of lonely unmarried women who overextend the “laws” of modesty and never learn to appropriately communicate their sexual attraction to potential mates.

  23. Kuri,

    You are right, the terminology is not the problem. The problem is that BYU puts those poor athletes in skin tight spandex short shorts. Blame me for noticing if you want.. but I am not the problem.

  24. Ulysseus, I’m confused. Where did Hawkgrll write that men were sexually inferior? I believe she pointed out that they are different than women. Are you saying that male and female sexuality isn’t different?

    Hawkgrll did get one thing wrong. Men don’t have seven times more, they have forty to SIXTY times more testosterone.

    I didn’t find her remarks sexist in the least. I found them to be accurate. Shall we see how many strip clubs there are in our town featuring men? Why, there aren’t any? But how could that BE?? There’s such a HUGE DEMAND for it…women, picketing all across Main Street, asking to see half-naked males wriggling their junk in a speedo!

    Tell me, if what she said isn’t true, then men aren’t biologically predisposed to act like pigs at said strip clubs. It must be all behavioral then. How interesting and sad. I guess, in my 41 years on Earth, I am just a sexist, too.

    In terms of your response to ‘Any’, I say kudos.

    THEN you start spouting off about ‘the awesome power of female sexuality!’

    “Oh please”.

    (Pssstt…The Scarlett Letter was fiction, and you might think that fiction is an accurate representation of the human condition, but it isn’t; it only shows one small facet of one small percentage of the human condition.)

    Power is a tricky subject and one for another time. The bottom line is this: we agree on religions exacting control of it’s members veiled under the guise of ‘purity’ and repressed sexuality…and SPEAKING of repressed sexuality…

    #22 & #27 ‘Any’…I don’t even know what to say to someone like you. I feel so sorry for your daughters all I can do is pray for them and hope they have a good lock on their bathroom door. The women in the picture are athletes. HOW YOU GOT THE VISUAL YOU DID IS JUST PLAIN SICK AND WRONG. (sorry for yelling, everyone). You remind me of the guy who protests and fights loud and hard about pornography, only to be busted with boxes and boxes of it in his garage. Creeper indeed. Oh, and I’d rather be prideful than so submerged in my own self loathing that I have to project my desires out onto the rest of the world. Thanks.

  25. any:

    please stop. please. BYU also puts football players, swimmers, gymnasts, track and field athletes, cross country runners, dancers, Cougarettes, softball and baseball players, and lots of other people in athletic and expressive uniforms or costumes. These uniforms and costumes are appropriate for the physical activities in which they are participating. Students and faculty no longer have to wear BYU issue clothing when they exercise on campus, so guess what I wear when I go running at the SFH? That’s right, spandex. I’ll bet all the people who see me running around down there aren’t thinking “aw man I can see the shape of that guy’s butt!” These athletes and performers don’t sexualize themselves, its people like you who do it. Its your problem, not theirs. And you become part of the problem of all those who do see these uniforms and costumes as sexually prurient as you write letters to the university trying to use shame or guilt to cause change through your narrow interpretation of “modesty”.

    Please, please stop.

  26. any,

    The problem is that BYU puts those poor athletes in skin tight spandex short shorts. Blame me for noticing if you want.. but I am not the problem.

    The problem is that you “noticed” things that aren’t even in the picture. That’s what makes you sound weird and creepy.

  27. To the dirty-minded everything is dirty. I think there is an un-healthy obsession with supposed modesty as of late. Many put up hedges around the law, like the pharisees on what is acceptable and what is not. I have heard well meaning, but in opinion mistaken individuals state that a girl with less than loose clothes is walking porn. My goodnessthat just is extreme and unreasonable in most circumstances.

  28. SteveS – I’ll make sure I start avoiding the SFH while you are running, or at least if I see someone running in spandex, I’ll know it’s you and get a bit of a chuckle because the girls running behind you can see the shape of your butt.

    For the one exercise science class that I’m taking this semester, not everyone even abides by the dress code on the syllabus. Does this objectify some and not others, in my mind no, but then again I’m sweating and stinky….I’m not in the gym to attract a mate…outside of the gym, that’s another story. So let me wear what is comfortable when I’m exercising and let us realize that Reuben is right, modesty is defined by the situation.

    As a side note, since it is rivalry week here at BYU, Brigham Young and the cougar are dressed in plastic wrap (many things are actually wrapped up). Normally I would say that wearing something like that is inappropriate, but drastic times call for drastic measures. Go Cougars!!!!

  29. Though I like this post, only one comment do I wonder about…

    “Rather, we should dress modestly out of mutual respect for each other. Jesus taught that we should love our neighbors, and part of loving our neighbors is agreeing to live reasonably within societal expectations. We aren’t loving our neighbors if we choose to wear clothing that we know will offend someone else.”

    As far as modesty is concerned I think you are right, as for other societal issues, I’m more among the group that will stand out in defiance. Though I think love is a missing trait on our society today, to what extent should we try to show love and when should we offend someone? So my question to Reuben is, should we live within societal expectations to show love in all things we do or just things that are more trivial like modesty? (Sorry I just don’t think modesty is as important in the grand scheme of things as compared to other societal problems.)

  30. #40 BYU Agnostic – It’s a little bit of a non-issue with modesty, because I’ve largely over-simplified in suggesting that there can ever be a single set of cultural expectations for any occasion. No matter where you go or what you wear, somebody will probably find it inappropriate. From a practical standpoint, we can’t possibly dress to please all the people all the time. Our task, as followers of Christ, is to draw the line wherever we think is the most appropriate, knowing that some individuals will find it inappropriate.

  31. I would just like to say, I love Mormons! Well, I actually really LOVE that you can have these debates, hold all these different viewpoints, and really take a hard look at the things that define your faith. Great reading all the comments that advocate for women’s equality and less fear of women’s sexuality. I’ve been investigating the church for over a year, and it is reading posts like this that keep me inching towards the font. Wonderful!

  32. Cultural norms change, standards of modesty do not and should not.  While we all need to adjust our clothing styles to not stand out of time and place and look too odd … we need to hold to standards that don’t expose those parts of the body that should only be revealed to our spouses. As far as legs and upper arms … those areas are to be covered so that the more private areas aren’t vulnerable to exposure.  It’s rare to be able to wear a sleeveless blouse that doesn’t gape in the arm holes thus exposing the upper body / undergarment area … or if the arm holes are to be tighter to avoid that problem, that ends up making the whole blouse tight across the bust line, another problem for those wishing to not draw undue attention to their bodies.

  33. I appreciate the well written thoughts, however, I have to disagree.  It is timeless to emphasize being free from vanity and to emphasize that women can be beautiful without being sexualized.

    The definition of the word Modesty is having or showing a moderate or humble estimate of
    one’s merits, importance, etc.; free from vanity, egotism, boastfulness,
    or great pretensions.  So, however the LDS use it culturally, the word modest is as much about thoughts and intents as about physical appearance.

    I just came across your article as I am looking for what LDS standards are for youth, that trying to teach my own children not to follow every standard for obedience sake, but to understand why God does care about how we treat our bodies. 

    There is truth in this article by Sylvia Allred.

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