it is the hottest, after all

One of my friends was asked to give a modesty lesson to the Young Women in her ward. (No-Mo translation: Give a speech to the female youth of the congregation on dressing appropriately.)

She asked me for tips (Because I teach High Schoolers, I'm a teen whisperer...)and I wasn't very helpful. At all. She asked me if I remembered any good modesty lessons from my youth, and, even though I had a bunch of great YW leaders growing up, I don't remember any modesty lessons that really stirred my soul. Let's face it, it's hard to feel spiritual about long shorts and one piece swimsuits.

Furthermore, while the cynic in me could not identify any awesome lessons, I could identify some that fell into the following categories:

a. Unnecessary.

b. Offensive.

c. Ineffective.

Let's start with the beginning.

a. Unnecessary: I was never one to wear bum-cheek-hanging-out-the-back shorts, or boobalicious prom gowns. I'd nod and smile, and maybe read an excerpt from the Strength of Youth (No Mo translation: A teen handbook that helps you end up on a mission/not knocked up), and leave totally unaffected.

I just don't feel the spirit when I'm being told what not to do. I mean, I'll not do it, but I probably won't experience a great spiritual awakening every time I buy a besleeved formal dress.

I imagine a lot of youth feel the same way. Teach me about how to receive answers to prayers, and you just might impact me. Teach me not to look like Katy Perry and I will nod and smile. I wasn't going to dress like that. Still won't. Thanks.

Plus, give an already modest girl too many lessons on Modesty, and it might turn into....

b. Offensive. Sometimes, after the billionth lesson on SLEEVES SLEEVES SLEEVES, I'd start to get a little annoyed. Do you think I'm secretly slutty? Dumb? On the verge of a sexual rebellion? I get it. SLEEVES.

Even worse though, are the horror-story lessons from Mormon mythology. The lessons about how it's important to dress modestly, because if you don't, a boy might look at you! And think lustful thoughts! And when he gets addicted to porn and can't go on a mission IT WILL BE ALL YOUR FAULT.

Because teaching girls that their god-given bodies are evil is a GREAT way to bring them closer to Heavenly Father.

And lastly, there were those lessons that were just...

c. Ineffective. I've already covered the fact that I've never owned a pair of daisy dukes. But I knew girls who did, and I'm pretty sure their Laurel leader telling them not to did jack squat after the lesson ended. Why? Because it isn't the Laurel leader buying their clothes/ letting them out of the house. If their parents think tank tops and short skirts are okay, (and these could even be, gasp, good parents,) then the girl is going to wear them. Especially when modesty, despite the guidelines in the Strength of Youth, still harbors a whole lot of gray.

What does it mean to cover the shoulders? Don't tank tops cover the shoulder? Or, if you're like one of my friend's parents, does covering the shoulder mean only t-shirt style sleeves and beyond? (Seriously. Girl was not even allowed a cap sleeve.) If Sally down-the-street thinks tanks are okay, is she immodest just because her Laurel Leader has made a business sewing sleeves onto spaghetti strap cocktail dresses?

Can't we just talk about Jesus at church?

Apparently not. So, e-audience, you tell me.

How do we teach our girls to be modest?

(Or, if you have tips on What Not to Say/Horror Stories from Your Youth, I would be happy to hear those too. I'm nothing if not equal opportunity.)


The Boob Nazi said...

My first day of Relief Society, aka my first day of church at BYU, we got a lesson on HOW TO SIT PROPERLY WHILE AT CHURCH. Seriously. Like, not wearing nylons is offensive, and you should tuck your skirt under your legs so guys can't see up it.

And people wonder why I'm inactive and hate RS.

Azúcar said...

I wrote a post for Segullah about terrible, horrible modesty object lessons. The comments were rife with equally terrible lessons and some good examples, too.

MJ said...

I am in total agreement with everything you wrote in this post, ESPECIALLY the part about the making girls ashamed of their bodies. ARGH.

I take huge issue with expecting someone to cover garments they aren't WEARING, because they haven't gone through the TEMPLE. I think as long as you can't see your bra or butt cheeks, and you aren't endowed, you're cool. Tank tops are fun to wear when you don't have that awesome "bingo arm" happening.

Tank tops can be modest. I'd rather see someone's arms than breast-esses hanging out of their shirt. Just sayin'.

jnyfritz said...

i think teaching young people to respect themselves goes hand in hand with being modest, i am not Mormon but man catholic guilt and Mormon guilt seem to be cut from the same cloth!!

Alyosha said...

I think it's weird that there's not more emphasis on TIGHT clothing, especially shirts. I think a loose fitting tank is way more modest than a skin- tight capsleeve.

As an adult, I was horrified when my husband mentioned specific clothing items I wore during our courtship that turned him on. I felt like a slut for doing that to him.

Ask the girls how they would feel about a boy they know masturbating to a picture of them in their immodest clothing. Sure, they're not making him do it, and he'll probably do it anyway, but at least he wontbe thinking of you. Ick.

Feel free to edit this comment before posting.

MamaBear said...

i completely agree with you that it's the parents' job. if mom thinks booby shirts (skin tight, clinging to the girls) are fine, miniskirts, and sexy attire, the girl's going to wear it.

my SIL is this way. and her daughter had a baby at 20 - without a husband. do i think it's SIL's fault? no. do i think raising the girl with a little more modesty and maybe not telling her the stories of YOUR youthful escapades could have made a difference? yes.

Reuben said...

This is probably one of the best posts on modesty I've ever read. (I have my google reader configured to alert me any time it finds the words modest and hottest on the same page in case you're wondering how I landed on your site today). I posted some of my own thoughts about modesty here.

I'm a big fan of modesty at many times and in many places. But I also generally feel like a lot of Mormons would be well-served with a little less modesty once in a while. I've known several LDS women who I consider to have an unhealthy commitment to modesty.

So to answer your question about how to teach modesty to young women? Well, frankly, I'd prefer to leave God and commandments out of it altogether, and just make sure that they YW understand on a very practical level about the social expectations of what is appropriate dress for occasions like church, school, job interviews, etc. I'd be completely frank about how modesty is a moving target - that dress standards change over time and depend heavily on where you are, who you're with, and what you're doing. I'd skip teaching any "rules" like "shorts to the knees", "no sleeveles shirts/dresses", "no two-piece bathing suits," because these are all completely arbitrary.

I'm also not a big believer in the whole "dress modestly out of respect for yourself" idea.

Cynthia said...

I agree that it has to start with the parents. If the parents are not going to stop their child from buying clothes that they probably should not be wearing then all the lessons on modesty in the world will not change anything. I also hated these lesson, and tended to ignore them. My mother is who kept me dressing modest, if the clothing did not pass her test then we did not get it. And trust me, we tried to sneak in non modest clothing.

It starts in the home - no where else.

So-Sew Seamstress said...

All I remember from modesty lessons is option #2. It was MY fault that boys had bad thoughts, and I remember wanting to be REALLY immodest just because I was angry that I was expected to control the thoughts of others. Mormons don't even believe in telepathy, except maybe in heaven, or mind control. In fact, I could be mistaken here, but don't we believe in the ability to choose? Isn't that they whole reason we are here? Just sayin.

Brandon said...

Awww...the problem with dressing for church. It's not just a female thing you know. I was always told that if I was not wearing a white shirt I was not able to pass the sacrament. I guess there is something about color not being proper attire for blessing Wonderbread and water? This happened to work in my favor as I hated having to pass sacrament. I was always terrified I’d drop the tray, or say the blessing wrong and have to start over. Also, don't you dare try to wear sandals to church. Even though Jesus wore sandals, they are inappropriate for the meeting house. I was the rebellious child, who when told not to wear something, would always ask, “Does Jesus really care what I wear to church if I’m a good person?” No matter which teacher, leader, spiritual advisor I asked I never got a straight answer. The best answer they could give me was, “You dress to show your respect.” Well, personally I think it is more respectful to be wearing a smoking hot baby blue shirt and killer tie from Banana Republic (not that labels matter, I was just stylish) than a white TJ Maxx dress shirt with yellow pit stains that you’ve had so long your nipples show through…even with your garments on underneath. But hey…color is not allowed so just follow the rules. Recently I had a coworker (who was not raised LDS) ask me about the whole sleeveless thing. Her granddaughter was getting baptized, and when she showed the dress she had so kindly picked out and purchased for her big day, he son-in-law quickly informed her that she would not be allowed to wear that to church. When the co-worker asked why not, she was told that it was sleeveless. Now, I understand the conflict between older girls wearing sleeveless tanks and driving the Jr. High boys crazy, but do the 8 year olds really have to start thinking about their modesty? It’s not like she was putting her in a spaghetti strapped cocktail dress. I agree that there are bigger issues to worry about in church, and many, many, many more important lesson that should be given.

Nemesis said...

The only way I really know to teach that so that the focus is still on Christ is to talk about the temple, and about preparing to go there and to make those covenants, some of which will relate to modesty. And about how you will be dressing so that you can wear the temple garment (which is a symbol of the Atonement and bringer of blessings). And so on. So it might be better to look forward to the temple as "continuation of things I'm already doing" as opposed to "end of fun and my cute wardrobe." Good luck with that!

Sheans said...

My leaders tried too. i thought it would be more effective to just say "if you dress like a slut, everyone will think you're a slut. So don't, ok?"

Jess said...

For me, teaching girls to be modest needs to be less about "don't wear tank tops, don't wear short shorts, bleh bleh" and more about how our bodies are sacred, and should be treated as sacred.

Meaning, your body isn't bad, or immoral, or pornographic. It is good, moral, and when you are married, a good thing to show off.

I think if we taught more about positive body images, and the importance of being attractive in more than just physical ways, (aka, have more to talk about than the bachelor*).

*please note that I said MORE to talk about than the bachelor- because heaven knows I like to talk about that show. The important thing is to be able to talk about other, real life things.

Ru said...

The best modesty advice is probably just practical advice. Don't buy a dress you can't dance in, you won't have any fun. Not judgy, just true.

Forget about "modesty," no one likes that word. Think about the word "classy." Shorts are ok, but not if your butt is hanging out. A skirt is ok if you're not showing off your whole world. You can get away with showing more skin in one area if you cover it up in another. (That may have been more of a sorority lesson than a church lesson ... but still true. Tank top and jeans? OK. Tank top and short-shorts? Questionable.)

I wish more YW leaders had ended modesty lessons with a reminder to be good Christians. Just because you think a shirt might be "immodest" does not give you license to think of someone as a "slut." To this day I remember being in seminary after prom and hearing a girl tell our teacher that someone was at the dance dressed like a "street walker." I knew exactly who she was talking about - the girl who showed up to prom when her somewhat geeky neighbor was stood up by his real date an hour before, wearing a miniskirt and halter top because she obviously hadn't had time to buy a dress. It was like a freaking Ensign story! (Except for the miniskirt part ...)

Ugh. Ladies, your ability to sew hideous sleeves on a cute dress does not excuse your totally unladylike and unchristian judgment of others.

PS - Your story about the girl with T-shirt sleeves may be one of the saddest things I've ever heard.

Megan said...

I honestly don't remember many modesty talks as a young woman. I remember a big push for modesty from the first presidency years ago, but by the time I was out of young womens it was rarely discussed anymore.

Since I've been out of that program the styles have changed a lot. Skin tight clothes, short skirts and tank tops are in (thank you 70's and 80's throwbacks)and frankly I think most girls are tired of trying to find something modest.

Because of the style changes I think leaders are afraid they will offend their girls by giving them "the modesty talk." They get worried that they're telling the girls to be modest when to them it seems impossible. However, young women need to know that it isn't impossible. They need to know how special and important their roles as daughters of God are. My knowledge of that is what makes me want to keep finding modest clothing in a world where it doesn't seem possible.

Sarah said...

I think immodesty tends to stem from poor self esteem and not knowing any better. So give the YW a message on respecting themselves and how important they are individually and save the modesty lesson for their mothers.

Brooke said...

Totally agree with Nemesis ... find a way to make modesty about Christ and the gospel instead of turning the gospel into a bunch of modesty rules. It happens so often with any principle ... suddenly fasting/temple attendance/modesty/geneaology is a measure of your faithfulness and becomes the whole point of the gospel instead of Christ being the point and all those other methods ways to deepen your faith in the Savior. Good luck to your friend!

Azúcar said...

p.s. I'm with Ru. It's less about being modest as it is about having taste and class in what I choose to wear. I'd hope it was the same for the girls. I know, I know, that's arbitrary, but few things that we'd term as immodest actually flatter the body. Daisy dukes and a tank? Sweetheart. No.

p.p.s. here's the link to the Segullah post, the object lessons are hilarious.

Azúcar said...

Aaand I see now that you posted on that Segullah post with a link back to your own blog. Heeheehee. This amuses me.

Stephanie said...

yeah, i remember that post azucar, but wasn't it on chastity? like the don't-have-sex-you-dirty-smut?

or just all terrible yw lessons in general.

why i am typing this when i can look it up.


Sarah E. Reynolds said...

I didn't read all of these comments, and I'm sure that someone has already jotted down the following sentiments, but ah well, I'm a lazy reader and an over eager commentator right now, so....

I was once asked by a Laurel advisor when I was 18 what she should teach her class. I had just finished the last summer before I began college, and was a freshly minted Relief Society goer, so it was nice to reflect on the things I wanted to be taught when I was younger. I told her to teach the girls how to listen to the Spirit-- because everything falls into place if you have that down. If you can tell if you're living by the Spirit, then prom dresses and booty shorts are a concern that is far outweighed by the benefits of being empowered by the presence of the Spirit. Case in point: If you feel the Holy Ghost approving of your choices, that's where the Laurel Advisor's authority ends. Modesty becomes something you have to think less about. I wish I'd had more lessons like that. Spirit of the Law vs. Letter of the Law... we need more of the former.

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ssh said...

i was one of those daisy duke-super-sleeveless, and all other clothing-wearing girls. grew up, served a mission and i'm still active. not only did i choose to wear what i did because of the swealtering heat, my yw leaders made me feel so spiteful because of their 'be modest or else....' approach. can't say i'll make my daughters wear sleeves and one-piece swimming suites. members of the church need to mind their own damn business, especially about what other people are wearing.

sue said...

The best modesty lesson I had was as a young single adult. The teacher pretty much turned it into an episode of What Not to Wear and talked about what styles looked good on different body types.Some of the examples I can think of are shoe types, skirt lengths, neck line cuts, jewelry, you get the idea. Instead of "don't do this" it was "do this instead".

sue said...

The best modesty lesson I had was as a young single adult. The teacher pretty much turned it into an episode of What Not to Wear and talked about what styles looked good on different body types.Some of the examples I can think of are shoe types, skirt lengths, neck line cuts, jewelry, you get the idea. Instead of "don't do this" it was "do this instead".

Rachel said...

This reminds me of a lesson I had a few weeks ago in Relief Society. Our RS President started out by talking about how we should be kind, and not judge others.

Somehow, though, she'd forgotten this advice by the end of her lesson. (It was a lesson on respect.) She opened up magazines and had us judge the women inside: "What does this picture make you think of this woman?"

" makes me think she's going to the Oscar's, and that's a pretty dress."

As if that wasn't bad enough, we then got onto the "what to wear to church" debate. One sister raised her hand to say, "This is just a personal thing, so no offense to anyone, but I'd feel like way uncomfortable if I ever showed up to church in flip-flops. Those are just shoes you wear to the beach, not the chapel."

While I kind of agree with her (meaning that I don't wear flip-flops, ever), it was such an insensitive comment to make, especially at the ward I attend, which is in an inner-city and full of converts and less actives. A girl across the row from me raised her legs up self-consciously to show that she was wearing flip-flops. Luckily she was able to laugh about it, but plenty of people wouldn't, so why invite that kind of atmosphere into church?

It was foolish of me to think that lessons like these would end when I left Young Women's.

Melinda said...

To the Boob Nazi-

When you find yourself in RS having to sit facing women of a certain mature age who don't cross their legs or tuck their skirts (it's way to hot in AZ for nylons!) you find yourself wishing that someone had taught them that particular lesson...

Stevo & Kels said...

I would say that if you wouldn't wear what you are wearing in front of your dad, or an older gentleman, or maybe an apostle?
Also, if your goal for later in life is to go to the temple and wear the garments, maybe not wear the tank tops and short shorts that you can't wear the garments with. If that isn't your goal, then wear whatever you want!
And when you go to church you're supposed to wear your best. Which means not the $1 dollar flip flops you got from old navy. It also doesn't mean you have to spend $500 dollars on a dress and shoes. Wear something that you don't wear everyday, or what you wear to the beach.

Mrs. Clark said...

Ugh. What a difficult subject. I agree with the commentors who have suggested that the lesson be more on the Spirit than the clothes. That said, I raised two daughters, who dressed modestly while in my home, and one quit the minute she left for college. She even wore short-shorts to work--which I told her was totally inappropriate (even though she was working in a call center and nobody saw her except her co-workers).

I did cave in for prom dresses. As long as they were reasonably modest, I let that one go. My girls wore bikinis, but I did not buy them-they used their own money, and I kept my mouth shut.

The older one was married in the temple, and the younger one says she wants to be, but she's enjoying her un-endowed body first. Hey, I tried.

As a wardrobe and image consultant for many years, I have to comment on the other issues. While I don't say anything in a church meeting, when I've addressed a church group in that capacity I have emphasized that denim skirts, flip flops, and t-shirts are not church attire. After all, the bishop and his counselors are not wearing khaki shorts, polo shirts, and sandals up there on the stand. Women's and kids' clothing should be of a similar standard.

in love said...

I don't like the arguement that boys will be turned on if you don't wear modest clothes. They will be turned on anyway regardless of what you wear so that's not really the point.

I agree that what your parents say have a big influence (maybe they should give this lesson to them). My parents were in-active for much of their teenaged years and encouraged me to buy sleevless/backless prom dresses. I did but felt totally uncomfortable visiting my date's parents when everyone else was covered up. When I went to college I started being more consistant in my modesty.

I wish my parents had been more consistant with the teachings of the church because it was confusing to me when I went to seminary and they taught one thing and my parents said it was only a suggestion.

I do think that youth leaders could be a little more loving to students who might have a problem conforming to all of the church standards. They're just kids and you aren't their parents. Everyone needs to feel loved at church. The testimony of all the principles may come later.

They generally know this stuff already so you could probably just ask them what they think they should wear without the lecture.

Kourtney said...

This is SO true! I just found your blog and wasn't sure what to think by the title alone but I have to say, it's refreshing to see someone poke fun at the oddities in Mormon culture. I agree with the thought that we should teach more about Jesus in church. Also, I think we should be teaching the WHY behind all the "rules." You know, WHY do we dress modestly? WHY do we not drink alochol? It's really not about "rules" but ultimately about being closer to the Savior. I think a sad majority of our Sunday lessons miss the mark.

McGee said...

WAY Johnny come lately, but I'm new and catching up. Have you seen this article yet? I spent my growing up years and then my 20's in the church. Not so much these days but this theory made PERFECT sense!!!