The Harmful Misconceptions of Modesty

How was modesty taught to you?
A slight change or distortion in doctrine may seem insignificant. Some may say that a few poorly-taught lessons are harmless. However, the sisters of the Church have grown into adulthood, and are still being negatively affected by modesty lessons taught to them in their youth. There is a trend of false doctrines that are still lingering within the young women’s program. After brief interviews and discussions on the topic, it has come to my attention that false doctrine is being taught to the women on a church-wide level. The topic of modesty will continue to be taught incorrectly, until we are able to step back and realign ourselves with true doctrine. 

We were taught that dressing modestly was to help the men keep their thoughts pure. Many members of the Church continue to teach this, not knowing the damage that it has caused to both men and women. 

 First, this idea has no relation to why God commanded us to be modest. Heavenly Father has told us that our bodies are sacred, and He compares them to a temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The claim that women have stewardship over another man’s thoughts is nowhere to be found in the scriptures. In Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk To Young Women, there was no mention of young men depending on the women to keep them clean. Instead, he reminds the young women that the way we dress should give us confidence in our divine identity. The talk is Christ-centered and is a perfect example of how modesty should be presented to the young women of the Church. It is a reaffirmation of our sacred identity, a reminder that our bodies are gifts from God, and there is no discussion of keeping men clean. So why do we continue to teach this as doctrine without proper verification from the scriptures? If it is not true, it has no place being taught to our young women as the truth. 

Second, what happened to Mosiah 3:19? I distinctly remember sitting in church and hearing my young women leaders say: “They’re just teenage boys; they can’t help it if they have a dirty mind,” or, “It is natural for young men to think about sex on a regular basis.” If this is true, then we need to review the concept that the natural man is an enemy to God (Mosiah 3:19) and not put a ridiculous responsibility on the women. And if young men are constantly thinking about sex, it would be essential to remind them to bridle their passions (Alma 38:12). The general authorities recognize that these passions are sacred and a crucial part of the plan of salvation. However, if these natural tendencies turn into snowballs of lust, there is an issue here — and it isn’t the clothes. The issue is the young man or young woman who is unable to control themselves. To clarify, the thought that someone is “cute” or “handsome” is not impure. It is impure when the thought is irreverent to the body, or is against the law of chastity and the sacredness of procreation.  

I don’t think we can fully comprehend how much we offend God when we approach perverted minds with unaccountability, and excuse them as something natural or biological. It is explicitly written that even our natural tendencies (which are probably fueled by movies, music, and pornography) are an enemy to God. He has asked us countless times to control and “bridle” our passions. Yet, we find our church leaders teaching that young men are constantly lusting after women, with the connotation that there isn’t anything they can do about it. Christ teaches quite the opposite in the New Testament. We read the following in Matthew 5:27-29:

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 

Jesus is talking directly to the individual who has the impure thoughts. Those who lust after another commit adultery spiritually, regardless of whether a sexual encounter takes place. The very thought condemns the individual to sin. In the 29th verse, we read just how serious Christ is about disposing of impure thoughts and obtaining self-control. Can’t keep your thoughts clean? Remove your eye from the socket and throw it away. 

Not once does Jesus say that the person being lusted after is held responsible. Not once does Jesus instruct his followers to approach poorly-dressed individuals, and tell them to go change. Jesus clearly tells us to focus on our own issues and take accountability for the thoughts that we allow within our minds.

We were taught that modesty is a woman’s issue. Although modesty may be taught within the young men’s program, it is typically emphasized more for the young women. Even pamphlets and handbooks mention modesty exclusively to the women. Why is that? One of the most common arguments is that women “struggle” with modesty more than the men do, or that women’s fashion is typically more immodest. These types of responses show us that we are connecting modesty to the amount of surface area being covered by fabric. Although that connection is coming from truth, it has completely omitted a critical part of modesty. Dressing modestly is partially about what we are wearing, but has more to do with why we are wearing it. 

The direct definition of modesty varies among sources, but they all have the same characteristics in regard to one’s character. Synonyms for modesty are humility, lack of vanity, moderation, lowliness, and meekness. The opposite of modesty is arrogance, conceitedness, superiority, and pridefulness. Someone could be wearing clothes that cover the body completely, but still be immodest in their heart. 

Men and women can be immodest just by wearing (or not wearing) clothing with intentions that contradict our representation of the divine. When I was serving a mission in Bulgaria, the Elders were immodest more often than the Sisters were. The Elders started to get their suits tailored tighter in the bicep and thigh area. Their conversations were centered on workout routines rather than the work that they had been called to do. This concerned my mission president, and he brought it up in our leadership meeting. He literally used the term “immodest” to describe the Elders’ new fashion choices and behaviors. He tactfully reminded us that we are representatives of the Savior, and that our clothing, behavior, and conversations need to be in line with Him. From this experience, I realized that men are just as susceptible to being immodest as women are. 

An attitude of pride, arrogance, and superiority is immodesty. With this in mind, can men be arrogant or prideful in the way that they dress? Yes, of course they can. 

 We were taught that it is acceptable to tell people what to wear. To be frank, what other people wear is none of our business. Yet, we have developed a sense of obligation to point out any indication of a young woman dressing immodestly. Leaders might consider themselves a hero for “helping” a young woman see where she went wrong. This typically does more harm than good and is not a responsibility within their calling. Consequently, the bad example of “dress coding” our young women has become a trend. We (men and women) are quick to point out when someone’s dress is too short or neckline is too deep. I have heard my own girlfriends bring others down by saying, “She wore that to the pool? She is obviously looking for attention.” Young men are frequently dress coding the young women, and young women are frequently dress coding each other. I personally experienced this when I was in high school.

 I was being picked up by a group of friends to go to a concert. I was wearing a Victoria’s Secret PINK shirt that I had considered to be modest. This was a shirt that I could have worn garments underneath without any exposure. It was loose-fitting, and my entire chest, stomach, and shoulders were covered. One of my guy friends waited for me at the front door. Once I took a step out of the house, he looked at me and said, “Are you sure you want to wear that? Your shirt is immodest.” I was confused and asked how it was immodest. My friend said, “The logo on your shirt is going to make the guys uncomfortable.” I immediately went back into my room and changed. I was so embarrassed that I threw the shirt away, and couldn’t take my mind off of it for the rest of the evening. 

Unfortunately, sometimes members of the Church expect people outside of our faith to follow our modesty standards. One of my good friends (we’ll call her Sarah) grew up in a different religion than I did. When we got to high school, Sarah was asked to junior prom by a member of the Church. Sarah sent a picture of the dress to her date so that he could get a matching tie. Even though her dress was floor-length, it didn’t completely cover her shoulders. Sarah’s date responded with an ultimatum, “You either get a modest dress, or I’m not going to prom with you.” Sarah was completely caught off-guard. Keep in mind that Sarah is outside of our faith. She has no idea what modesty means, or why we consider it to be important. If you’re going to ask someone from another faith on a date, wouldn’t it be implied that she/he may not have the same idea of modesty as you?

Parents are highly encouraged to give their children specific guidance on clothing that is appropriate to wear. Mission presidents are also encouraged to set dressing standards according to the missionary handbook, and the climate/culture of the country. For example, missions with a lower socioeconomic status might have discouraged fine jewelry or anything that could make missionaries a target for robbers. Some missions have discouraged thick, winter boots, and others have encouraged them due to extremely cold climates. 

Yes, there are a few moments when it is appropriate to tell an individual that what they are wearing is inappropriate. If that individual is not your child, missionary, or employee, it would be wise to refrain from giving correction.

We were taught that our priesthood leaders are attracted to the young women. It isn’t unusual for this principle to be taught; especially at girls camp. One summer, I was at a girls camp for all of the young women in the stake. I remember the leaders giving us our daily agenda. One woman said, “We will eat dinner while we present our skits, and then we will be blessed to hear from Brother _____ from the bishopric, so please be sure to wear modest clothing.”

Weeks prior to the camping trip, a different young women’s leader was giving a lesson on modesty. She said, “Just remember that when you wear immodest clothing, it isn’t just the boys at school that can have impure thoughts. It’s also the 30-year-olds, 40-year-olds, 50-year-olds, etc.” All of us were squirming in our chairs at the idea of adult men lusting after us. After all, we were only in middle school.

Fast forward to girls camp, and we are being reminded to dress modestly for the bishopric. There are two main issues with this situation. First of all, we shouldn’t be dressing modestly for anyone but ourselves and Heavenly Father. Second of all, we are taught that adult men are aroused by the sight of an innocent middle schooler’s body, and we are asked to cover up because “the priesthood leaders are coming.” Suddenly we have labeled the priesthood leaders as pedophilic and dangerous. Yes, we should be aware that our church is not an exception to sexual predators. Yes, there have been situations where bishops or mission presidents have sexually abused our sisters. However, teaching that every adult man, including the ones in leadership positions, are stimulated by a 12-year-old? Yikes. 

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If it be some other way it is not of God. Members of the Church are familiar with the doctrine that the Spirit can only testify of truth. The Spirit cannot validate any doctrine that has been twisted or is incorrect. Likewise, the Spirit cannot reside in a lesson where leaders are teaching false doctrines and principles to the youth.
In Doctrine and Covenants 50, Joseph Smith commands the elders of the Church to teach by the Spirit. In verses 17-20, we read the following:

17 Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

18 And if it be by some other way it is not of God.

19 And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

20 If it be some other way it is not of God.

We were motivated by fear to be modest, not because we understood our divine identity or the sacredness of our body. There is someone who thrives off of inflicting anxiety and fear on the members of the Church. Unfortunately, we have allowed him to turn modesty into a topic that evokes unaccountability for sinful behavior, pedophilic church leaders, and shame. The destroyer is pleased when we allow false doctrine to creep into our church meetings.

How do we know if we are teaching modesty correctly? Let it be known that no one is perfect. The Lord does not require us to be experts in scripture. He knows that learning the gospel will take more than a lifetime to achieve. However, teachers do need to be held accountable for preparing lessons that are free from false doctrine. Fortunately, the Lord has given us all of the resources that we need to teach correctly and effectively. 

Hartman Rector, Jr. was the President of the Seventy and gave the talk You Shall Receive the Spirit in 1974. He said the following (with added emphasis):

The Lord specifically spells out what he wants preached and taught—the principles of the gospel—and further what he wants his servants to use as source materials—the standard works of the Church...

From this it is plain that we are not called to preach the philosophies of men mingled with scripture or our own ideas or the mysteries of the kingdom, nor are we called to bring forth new doctrine. The president of the Church will do that. But we are to stick to the basic fundamental principles of the gospel. 

Hartman Rector, Jr. encourages us to teach the basic principles that are found within the standard works of the Church. According to lds.org, the term “standard works” is defined as volumes of scripture that are officially accepted by the Church. These volumes include the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Members must turn to the scriptures to verify the truthfulness of a doctrine or principle. If a claim cannot be supported by scripture, or perhaps a recent general conference talk: don’t teach it. 

 Learning about modesty should be seen as an opportunity for members to feel empowered. The Spirit testifies to us that we are children of God and that we have a divine identity. We represent the Savior in the way that we dress, think, and behave. Modesty teaches us who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. There is something special when young men and young women hear their leaders testifying of true, eternal principles. Somewhere along the way, the simple but fundamental principles of modesty have been demoted to “the philosophies of men mingled with scripture.” Consequently, our lessons have taught the youth that women are responsible for men’s impure thoughts, that modesty was a commandment exclusively for women, that the priesthood leaders are pedophilic, and that we must dress code one another. 

Women of the church are still being negatively affected by modesty lessons that had been taught to them in their youth. I know that we must recognize how far off these incorrect principles are or there will be no change. As simple as it sounds, I firmly believe that learning true doctrine will decrease the spread of false doctrine. Change starts with us learning how to tactfully and lovingly make necessary corrections. I encourage men and women to testify and to bring modesty back to its Christ-centered roots. I encourage men and women to speak up and out about what it truly means to be modest.

“I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”
– Joseph Smith

59 thoughts on “The Harmful Misconceptions of Modesty

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  1. Beautifully put forth. I would add one thing about including Charity in choosing how we speak, act, or dress regarding its influence on others. Paul gives a great example in 1 Corinthians 8 about an issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Although he fully recognizes that there is no issue of eating the meat, he says that if this causes “my brother [or sister] to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother [or sister] to offend.”
    As you (and God) have stated, we are accountable for our own actions, words, and thoughts. In recognizing that truth, Charity for others will help us to more completely keep the two great commandments.
    Great job Lindsay!

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    1. I thoroughly enjoyed this message, it was well written and the content very inspiring. I live in Guyana and we do have the problem of modestly being taught incorrectly. Thank you for sharing

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    2. This article literally brought tears to my eyes. The kind, informative way you laid out this issue, drawing from the scriptures and spiritual insights was wonderful to hear. I’m so glad that the women (and men) of the church are starting to talk about this and recognize the dangerous errors we have allowed to creep in.

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      1. Thank you so much. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading it! It really is something that we all need to talk about more!

        Thanks again! 🙂

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  2. I applaud this careful argument on the purpose of modesty! It’s well thought out and carefully supported. I am saddened that your experience as a teenager was so difficult. I hope it is an uncommon circumstance. I have never heard it taught that men would look at me strangely by my dress! I was taught that yes, it’s easy to draw young men’s attention with less clothing, but that wasn’t the kind of attention I wanted. I do remember being counselled that immodest dress made it difficult for the young men to focus on anything but our skimpy clothes. On some level, I believe I felt it was cruel to put them through such torment.

    As much as we’d like to separate the responsibility of men and women, the truth is, men are hardwired to be visually stimulated. Women know it, and young women particularly are aware the affect of their dress on young men. Are their thoughts impure because God wired them to be attracted to young women? No, I don’t believe so. But they have to be diligent in schooling those thoughts. Young women can go a long way toward helping them do so. But, I believe the way you were taught is rather manipulative and I would be sad to hear my daughter taught modesty in such a way.

    In truth, the example confident women can set with their appropriate dress is followed through generations. As women, we need to set a powerful example of modesty as well as confidence in and care for our bodies. I’ve seen a disregard for modesty in fashion choice and coverage in my area among many sisters. I’ve also seen modesty set aside by many young women as a result of this example. As sisters set an example of wearing attractive modest clothing, I believe the young women will confidently follow.

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    1. Thank you for reading this!

      I do think there is a fine line between being attracted to someone, and having an impure thought about them. Like you said, God does wire us to be attracted to people. I am SO grateful my husband is both emotionally, spiritually, and physically attracted to me and vise versa! Thinking that someone is attractive is not impure. I mentioned in my article that the distinction of impure thought is a thought that is irreverent to the body, law of chastity, or procreation. I do agree with the statement that young women should be be examples. I also feel like there is a double standard in that idea, and I hope that the young men are taught that they need to strive to be examples for the young women, too. However, it is wrong to impose a responsibility on the young women to keep men pure.

      Although men might biologically be more stimulated visually, I still think that concept is inappropriate to teach in a church setting.

      These are great thoughts, and I really appreciate you taking the time to express yourself. I love being able to have discussions from different perspectives. Talking about this alone is so important so we can teach modesty in a healthy, correct way.

      Thank you! 🙂

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  3. Thank you!!! These are things I’ve thinking and saying for years! And I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall with both men and women. I’ve printed this out, saved it on my phone and forwarded this to all my young women in my ward. 😘

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      1. I really appreciate this article as it hits on many points I’ve been thinking about recently as I’m parenting my 14 year old daughter. I kid you not, we had a parents meeting about YW camp a few months ago and the topic of leggings came up (as it always does) and one parent said “perhaps we allow the girls to wear leggings, just not when the bishopric visit”. Honestly it’s just insulting to the men.
        Ironically I’m about to be called as the YW president in my ward, so this article is even more timely for me. What are your thoughts when it comes to enforcing (I don’t like that word, but can’t come up with a better one) the dress standards in For the Strength of Youth at church/YW activities? I personally feel it’s the parents responsibility, but at the same time is it OK to just let it go if a YW is consistently wearing inappropriate clothing. I really struggle with where the line is.

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      2. First of all, I’m so glad you read this at such a timely manner! It’ll be a great thing to consider as you go about your calling. You will do a great job, I am sure!
        Second, I think you are right when you say that it is the parents responsibility. If I were in your shoes, (which doesn’t mean I’m right, either) I would just let it go. What a woman wears shouldn’t be more important than her feeling welcome, The Spirit, and getting a close relationship to God. IF it becomes a big problem, I would pray to see if you should directly talk to the parents. Parents should be talked to before the young woman herself. That is just my opinion. Obviously the Spirit is really important in making these decisions and you’ve been called to be their leader!

        As For the Strength of Youth, I see that pamphlet as a guideline that one can refer to, inorder to avoid ever coming close to breaking the commandments. In my opinion, the section on Dress and Appearance (Modesty) does make modesty seem like a woman’s issue and I think if they were to reword it so that modesty also applies to the men, it would go a long way. There are several sentences telling the women what they shouldn’t wear, and then it ends with “young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance.” I hope that one day it can be rewritten to clarify that those standards are also for the men, too. I think when you do refer to For the Strength of Youth, just know ahead of time that the wording in that section can rub women the wrong way. We aren’t the prophet so perhaps that won’t be rewritten for a while, or ever, but we can be leaders who are their friend, and can keep an atmosphere of openness and love. 🙂

        You’re going to do great!

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      3. Dallin H. Oaks said “And young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who you see.“ – April 2005.

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      4. Hi,
        I already addressed this is one of my comments. Dallin H. Oaks gives a talk on pornography and still mentions that men are responsible for their own purity. Context is everything.

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      5. JH,
        Recently I was talking with a group of people including a member of the stake presidency. He said something interesting. We live in an area with enough members that there are often dances for multiple stakes. Apparently our stake is known as the “dance stake,” because attendance is so much higher than in surrounding stakes. The difference, he said, is that our stake isn’t policing modesty. Their belief is that whatever the kids are wearing, they are better off at church activities. Having been in a stake before where there was some shaming occurring when girls wore dresses that didn’t meet modesty guidelines, I was thrilled to hear this about my current stake.

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      6. JH – I’m not a fan of “dress codes” – except to give the FTSOY information and try to “re-give” it when the opportunity arises.

        I read something this summer that hit me like a brick. A woman posted on a FB feed that basically read: “When have you ever seen an advertisement for an upcoming RS meeting that included how long a skirt or pants could be? And, if a woman showed up in a tank top, would we send her home?”.

        So, I don’t know why we feel it our “duty” to mandate a dress code for our YW activities. When I saw a post about a “Mormon Prom” which required dress approval (including pictures of the dress) from the Stake president, I about lost my mind.

        IMO – there is just as much of a problem with modest, sloppy dress & appearance in our church gatherings as immodesty. I don’t think it shows respect for our Father in Heaven’s house either – and, yes, I’d rather have them there than stay home. But I wish we’d talk about that aspect of dress & appearance more often.

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      7. Lindsay – I hope one day the FTSOY simply puts “temple appropriate” as the dress standard. After all, that is one of the key goals in teaching youth the standard of modesty – to prepare for temple covenants. It would prevent YM from wearing less-than-appropriate slogans on their T-shirts; YW from purchasing things that they could not comfortably wear with garments.

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      1. Teaching youth / members of the church should only derive from doctrinal sources. This is not one of those sources.

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  4. Thank you! I was at a young women’s camp within the past 5 years. The evening that stake leaders came up, we were told all day, remember the men are coming, no v-neck shirts are allowed.

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  5. Hi Lindsay! Thanks for the article. This is a difficult subject to teach well. I’m curious your thoughts about this quote from Elder Oaks: “Young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are… becoming pornography to some of the men who see you” (Ensign, April 2005). I would guess it probably makes you and others feel uncomfortable because it goes back to the “dress modestly to help young men” thing, right? Yet I feel that it’s hard to dismiss or ignore coming from a living apostle of Jesus Christ. I also heard an interview with Elder Oaks on the Mormon Channel where he talked about this and said explicitly that this particular line was given to him directly from heaven. Do you think there is any truth to this? Are you open to it? Thanks again for your thought-provoking article!

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    1. Hi!
      Okay, so I probably still need to think this over but let me show you some pointers from what I have found so far.

      First and foremost, Elder Oaks is an apostle and we must respect and trust that what he says is by the Spirit. I would never want to make it seem like I am trying to discredit or ignore that type of counsel.

      Second, we have to look at the context that the quote is coming from to really understand what he meant by it. When specific sentences are taken out of context, it can create a different connotation.
      That quote comes from his talk “Pornography” from April 2005 general conference. This talk is mostly addressed to the young men. Interestingly enough, Elder Oaks uses and teaches the same principles that I mentioned in this article. He used the example of “he that lust after a woman already commit adultery in his heart.” He also used the example of Joseph from Egypt when he literally ran away from temptation/Potiphar’s wife.
      Elder Oaks is clearly mentioning that it IS the young man’s responsibility to keep themselves clean. Only once does he encourage the young women to dress modestly, as to avoid fueling the demand for pornography.

      Third, when he says “dress immodestly” I don’t think he’s talking about the track and field athletes at practice. I don’t think he’s talking about girls who wear swimsuits to the pool, or maybe even talk tops to the gym. I have a strong feeling that Elder Oaks is addressing the women who choose to wear (or not wear) clothing with the INTENTION to get praise, attention, and arouse those feelings in men. Women can most definitely fuel pornography when they post immodest pictures of themselves to get more likes, followers, etc. We know that is immodesty. That kind of behavior definitely “magnifies” the problem.

      Fourth, I like how he uses “some” men. Because when I was taught modesty as a YW, it was with the connotation that ALL men see women as walking pornography. I love how Elder Oaks doesn’t say, “All men constantly think about is pornography/sex” like a lot of YW leaders do. He says that SOME men will see us in an impure way.

      What Elder Oaks is saying is true. We just have to know under what context he is saying it in.
      Does that make sense?
      I probably still need to think about it some more because I could also be wrong.
      Hope this helps!

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  6. I really have mixed feelings about your article. While I do believe A LOT of the points you made were spot on, I’m baffled that women in leadership positions are asking you for advice on standards. What the prophet wrote in the pamphlets is what is expected by our Father in Heaven. If there is question talk to the people who have stewardship over you. Or ask in prayer being led by the spirit in what is best. When we start saying we need to reword things, you sound as if you’re saying you know better than our Heavenly Father. While I do agree that being modest should be because we first follow our Savior Jesus Christ’s teachings,( because we love and respect our bodies), being modest to allow others to feel safe and comfortable is actually being a disciple of Christ. Why wouldn’t we help others come unto Christ by example? Don’t forget our whole reason for being here is to bring to pass the immortality of man. We are all in this together. We are here to help each other return to our Heavenly Father. I wouldn’t feel comfortable standing in front of the Savior and say, “Not my problem that guy couldn’t stop staring at my chest at church and then fell into pornography” He shouldn’t have let his mind wander.” That’s like putting a drink in front of an alcoholic. Putting off the natural man is the whole reason we are here and to over come our evil and fallen state is life’s greatest challenge. If we could just simply do that we wouldn’t even be here or need the Atonement. It takes time to overcome life’s weaknesses. You unfortunately had a bad experience with your shirt that said, “PINK” on it and that was wrong. But wearing clothes that don’t meet church standards as far as covering the body is not following the standards God has in place for us. We are a peculiar people for a reason. People who chose to be offended when asked to change are unfortunately being prideful. Though I do agree it should be a matter of the YW’s leader going to the mother of the child, tactfully. When we sustain people into callings we are giving permission to those people to have stewardship over the group their called to. I also don’t agree with the use of “pedophile” in this article. That’s a pretty strong word. I’d be careful throwing that around. Especially if YW read this article. You just gave them fuel to use this for anyone who disagrees with them. For example, there was a recent combined water activity for one of the stakes in our area. The parents were told time and time again a MODEST one piece swimsuit. A YW decided against the counsel and wore a tiny bikini. The stake president asked the YW leader to get her a t-shirt to cover up. Her mother was so angry she told everyone the stake president made her daughter cover up because “he couldn’t keep his pedophile eyes to himself.” Which was not the case. She and her family left the church. It’s so sad, but that’s not the Stake Presidents fault. The standards were made clear for the activity. She chose not to follow them. Being prideful made them leave the church, not the stake president. No way was the stake presidency lusting after teenagers in this situation, it’s a problem because people not dressing modestly takes the focus away from the church activity. When someone isn’t dressed modestly it’s hard for ANYONE not to look, That doesn’t make them a pedophile or lustful. I took my boys age 5 and 7 to get shave ice and a girl was wearing a thong bikini in front of us. My little boys were like, why is that girl not wearing clothes on her bottom? It was so horribly uncomfortable for my boys and everyone else standing in line, I could see it on their faces. My kids are still at an innocent age and aren’t capable of sexual feelings yet and they couldn’t look away. And I can assure you my little boys are not pedophiles. It’s the natural man in all of us to look. And as the youth have sexual content shoved down their throats every waking day, it’s their greatest challenge to combat this and control their minds to not wander. That is so much easier said then done. So in all this yes, you’re right in the fact that we can’t be held accountable for anyone’s thoughts and actions after seeing something immodest. And if leaders are teaching youth that as doctorine, that’s wrong. But parents/families who are of our faith should be the ones doing the teaching at home. Not the leaders. They are just enforcing what is being taught in the home. So if by accident lessons come across that way at church, youth should know what is right and what is not. Modesty standards are not scripture but the scriptures do say, whether I say it or my servants, it is the same. I know I’ve heard counsel on swimsuits and wearing modest clothing. The pamphlets are spot on and we should be following them until we receive new revelation through the prophet. Otherwise, we start to have blurred lines on what’s appropriate for church and church functions and what’s not. Everyone would be able to justify their clothing choices. The church has never been about adjusting standards to make people feel comfortable. You either learn/teach the youth to follow the church guidelines/pamphlets etc or you don’t, and you choose to be asked to cover up, and potentially become offended. In addition to our personal relationship with Heavenly Father and loving and respecting our bodies, there should be a focus on doing our best to help everyone to put off the natural man by the way we dress as women. It’s a great responsibility and I do believe we should do our part.

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    1. Hi, Anne.

      Let’s be clear, women in leadership positions aren’t asking me for advice on standards. They are trying to get a perspective from a young woman to see what would be the best way to approach it. If you reread my comment, I mentioned that I could be wrong and that the leaders should pray and see what the Spirit tells them. There is nothing wrong in that.

      As for your other instances/stories that you mentioned, I think you and I read a different article because I would agree with most of what you’re saying.
      I was simply stating that modesty lessons need to be Christ-centered, and from many sisters’ experiences, it wasn’t Christ-centered.

      In regards to For the Strength of Youth, I wasn’t saying that the standards should be lowered or changed. I’m saying that it could be reworded as to not seem that modesty is a woman’s issue. FtSoY has been rewritten and continues to be rewritten constantly. It used to say that women couldn’t wear pants, and it used to say that women couldn’t go out in public with curlers in their hair. Those pamphlets do change, and I will patiently wait and see if there is a change made. That was also my personal opinion, and I recognize that I could be wrong. I still support the leaders of the church and understand that it isn’t my place to say what should be written and what should not be written. Again, it’s all my personal opinion and you don’t have to agree with it.

      Thanks for reading it though!

      Like

  7. I might have misunderstood some of your article., And I apologize if I did, I meant no ill-will. I like a good discussion about church topics. I really did love alot of your ideas in your article that are so important to remember! It has sparked a lot of conversation in my family and it’s good to have these conversations! Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, no. I totally appreciate all discussions and welcome them to the table. I appreciate your comments and thoughts, really! I’m glad it has sparked conversation, that is really important for us to stay unified and really educate ourselves on these topics.

      Thank you, you too! 🙂

      Like

    1. Leaders have been given the responsibility to teach correct doctrine. This includes teaching them that short shorts are immodest. Are you saying we shouldn’t teach doctrine that would offend someone?
      Yes, it’s 2019, but when the Prophet speaks, we need to follow.

      Like

  8. I could not agree more! I have felt this way about the modesty conversations for years but felt like my opinion was falling on deaf ears. It’s nice to see other people who understand my perspective! I personally have heard every single example you listed throughout my time in Young Women’s, and it was really confusing and uncomfortable to me as a teenager. I was also in dance and more than once my dance outfits and rehearsal clothing were a topic of remark amongst older female members (even though my clothes adhered to the BYU competition dance standards). It made me feel like my worth to other members was tied into my appearance, which in my opinion is the opposite of what a conversation on modesty should do. I always go back to how modesty is discussed in the Book of Mormon and how it’s focused on their vanities and flamboyance and the rich materials of their clothing, never about their skin showing. I definitely think shifting the conversations to focus on modesty of heart and a Christ centered conversation would do wonders.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Agree with everything you said. I’ve read a lot of these arguments, but I’m still left wondering why we should be modest if modesty is equivalent to covering up. You said we should be modest because our bodies are sacred temples and how we dress should represent our divine identity, but I think equating that to covering up is a subjective interpretation, and the connection isn’t totally clear for me. I’m not an anti-mormon troll, I’m an active member or annesley seeking for a good true reason to dress modestly / cover up. Some more thoughts on this where some experts elaborate on the issue you brought up- https://www.positive-nutrition.com/single-post/2019/03/18/145-bodies-and-modesty

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Two thoughts after reading your excellent article:

    1. A good rule of thumb with the YW (or any member really) is “Would I treat an investigator this way?” If the answer is no, then don’t do it. Would you send away an investigator from church because of what they were wearing? Then don’t do it to a Mia Maid.

    2. Telling YW that how they are dressed will affect the mind of a 30-year-old, 40-year-old, 50-year-old man is setting them up to be victims of sexual abuse. If a priesthood leader or another male were to start grooming them and then abuse them, they would imagine in their mind that it was their “fault” because of how they are dressed. This then would prevent them from wanting to tell somebody because of how ashamed they would feel.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Here’s my issue with your article. I feel that it comes from a place of hurt, which I am sorry for, but becuase of this, it has a tone of justification for dressing immodestly and not supporting church standards. I guarantee you no leader was ever told to teach about men’s thoughts, pedophilia etc. I think the main issue is that the whole article assumes these things you were taught were taught church wide, which they are not. By stating that as a youth “we” were taught, it makes it sound like the church supported this. However, that was the leaders choice and their opinions….which we all need to be careful about sharing…just as you do with this article… because it causes a mob mentality talking trash about sacred doctrine, which is wrong and not helpful.
    Unfortunately, it has started a fire storm on facebok of justification for short shorts, tight clothing and choosing to be offended and therefore justifying their own immodesty. The ONLY thing that should be taught to our youth or supported as modesty doctrine is what is in the “for the strength of youth”, which clearly states short shorts, tight and revealing clothing are not modest. I do not care what anyone else wears, but I do care about the negative outcome, perhaps unintentionally, of opinions shared here.
    Nothing here is productive, just talking bad about church leaders and how they said something wrong and offended you. Everyone knows we should not teach anything but pure doctrine. By stating all of the wrong things you were taught, it gives a false representation of the church and causes more harm than good- for individuals as well as the “church” as a whole. I have had friends choose to post this article today as backing for their rants about how the church is too strict and they felt shamed and offended when they chose not to follow the very clear standards of dress.
    If anyone has been taught something against pure doctrine, it should be dealt with on a local level.
    I do agree, and feel that it may be what you were trying to convey, that modesty is more than how we dress. But I don’t feel like you believe that the way we dress, and following the church standards, is important- which is what bothers me most and is being used as ammo for those wanting it.
    I’m hoping this was not the intention you had when writing this article, if that is the case, please consider editing or removing it. Unfortunately, the comments shared show me that this is what the majority are hearing as well.

    Like

    1. Hi Anne,
      I’m sorry you read it in the tone that I was not intending.
      If people are taking my article, and using it as ammo to justify immodesty, that is on them. I am in no way justifying immodesty in my article.

      When you said, “But I don’t feel like you believe that the way we dress, and following the church standards, is important- which is what bothers me most…” It became very clear that you missed some points in my article. If you read it, you will see that modesty is very important to me and I view it as a beautiful doctrine. So I’m not sure where you thought that I view modesty as unimportant.

      I would consider taking a deep breath and rereading it with a friend or family member. 🙂
      Thanks for reading it though!

      Like

      1. I reread your article. 🙂 The main topic of this article is that you were taught wrong and you want to make it known that “the church” is wrong. “…our lessons have taught the youth that women are responsible for men’s impure thoughts, that modesty was a commandment exclusively for women, that the priesthood leaders are pedophilic, and that we must dress code one another.”
        This in itself is false doctrine. I believe you were taught wrong, but assuming, and claiming “the church” did it is not true doctrine either. You are contradicting everything you claim about not spreading false doctrine.
        No where in your article did you speak about following the “for the strength of youth”, so that is what is giving people ammo. …so yes, it is kinda on you to fix it.
        I love that you understand modesty in thought in action are important. But, by ignoring modesty in the way we dress as outlined specifically and clearly in the “for the strength of youth” it has given readers the backing that it is not important as long as they “feel” modest inside.

        Like

      2. Okay, let me clarify for you then.

        I write about the church’s stance on why we dress modestly, and I clearly write that we (a lot of members/leaders) don’t teach it in that way. Our bodies are temples, and sacred gifts from God.
        I am not assuming that the church believes in teaching modesty as keeping the men (and priesthood leaders) pure. I KNOW that’s not why God commanded us to be modest. Yet, that false doctrine finds its way into our lessons. I feel like you and I agree on the same things, there is just a misunderstanding within the text.

        I appreciate your input, but I disagree with you. It is not “kinda on me” to fix it. My article will remain the way that it is.

        If you would like to write your opinion in article, that’s also a possibility. 🙂

        Thanks, Anne!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow–not sure where you were raised or how, but I was NOT taught modesty this way. I was raised in SLC by a terrific mom and dad that taught me that how I look on the outside is a reflection of my own heart and my feeiings about the gift of a body. Yes, my dad would comment if he thought something I was wearing was sending the wrong message, but it was a lesson for ME to learn and define how I wanted to be observed and treated. Boys were never given a “pass” for being “boys.”

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you so much for this article. I was taught, it seems, in the same manner as you were about modesty. I even remember the stake young women’s president telling us that if we wear short skirts, we will be raped and it will be our own faults. It wouldn’t have happened if our skirts were longer. It always seemed to absolve the men of responsibility for their thoughts and actions.
    I have a ten year old daughter and, living in Phoenix, I let her wear sleeveless dresses to church when she was small. For goodness sakes, it’s 110 outside. I was chastised by other mothers that I was dressing my toddler immodestly. It always seemed funny to me, if someone was seeing a three year old as a sex symbol, the issue was more their problem.
    I really appreciate you view on modesty, how it’s the intention. I would like to share this with my daughter, is there a way I could print it out? Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Thank you for this. I’ve had many of the same experiences as you as a leader and a youth. But I started to really get frustrated when I started to read about primary leaders chastising three and four year olds for being immodest. If a Sunbeam in a sundress is cause for concern, we have bigger problems in our church than we realize.

    We had a “modesty” debate on a Young Women Camp Facebook site recently.

    One of the women commented that never ever is there a “dress code” for Relief Society activities. No one runs around checking out hem lengths or how tight something fits. A woman would never be sent home to change from a RS meeting for wearing a tank top. That hit my like a brick.

    I believe strongly in modesty. But I have seen it turn into from a foundational stone into a stone members use to cast at young women.

    I wish we as a church worried as much about what YW watch or listen to. Or if they bring their scriptures and journals to camp instead of the kind of T-shirt.

    I hope for the day the FTSOY simple states “temple standards”.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. The way I think of it is that modesty is a commandment from God, isn’t that enough reason? Too often we get caught up in the “why?” and we don’t always go to the Lord to get the answer to that question, and instead we get our own ideas that could end up being false doctrine. Obedience to God and respecting the bodies he has given us in all the ways that we possibly can should be reason enough to follow this commandment! I don’t need any more “whys?” than that! I wish that respecting the Lord had been the focus of these lessons instead. Too often it becomes a judgment party of who looks less worthy and we end up putting that beam in our own eye.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beautifully said!! The gospel is simple and so beautiful by itself. 🙂 If I know that my body is sacred and God has asked me to respect it, that’s all we should need!

      Like

  16. Hi, wow, I have so many thoughts about what you’ve said, and many more about the various comments that have been left. First of all, I think it is powerful to express opinions in a way that is respectful, which I think you managed to do. Though I disagree with some of what you said, I respect that you have the opinions you do and that you felt inclined to share them.

    Based on some context clues, I gather that you and I are close to the same age and exposed to similar trends when it comes to modesty. One commenter mentioned how the FtSoY has been revised multiple times, and I imagine you and I were given an edition with the same revisions, at least at some point.

    I have had some of these things said to me in lessons, however, I feel like one of two things happened: 1) I completely misinterpreted what my leaders were saying and gave them too much of the benefit of the doubt, or 2) I hit the nail on the head with what they were trying to say and their intentions may have been a little less degrading than the intentions of your leaders. I’m in no way trying to be hostile with this comment, just clarifying that my understanding of some of your examples is different.

    For example, I do think it’s wrong to leave it up to the women/YW to direct the thoughts of the men/YM based on the way they dress. I also think that out of respect for the men, for Christ, and for ourselves, it is a noble thing for women to dress modestly. Ultimately, modesty should come from within, as you said. I also think that if the way I dress can negatively impact the men (or women) around me, I can take the higher road and make a point to dress in a way that makes things easier for them. That being said, I want the men around me to show me the same respect. An example was given of some elders who were tailoring their clothes “immodestly.” I think that was an appropriate description. Though those elders’ sense of modesty should have come from within, I feel more respected and valued when men make the effort to be modest around me, in all ways including dress. This paragraph is largely in reference to the unfortunate experience that several people have mentioned about “covering up” at girls’ camp.

    As a woman who has spent time in locker rooms and with roommates who have varying degrees of what they term modest, I can say that I find myself uncomfortable around other women whose dress standards are less than modest on a regular basis. One commenter pointed out that people just look. I try to divert my eyes, but ultimately the most flamboyant person, object, outfit, etc. in any social setting is probably going to get most of my visual attention; this is true regardless of whether the object is male, female, or neutral.

    I think my biggest concern was what you said about YW being taught that older men are lusting after them. One commenter said this sets them up with a higher likelihood to be victims of abuse, and I agree with that. If this is true, that the older men are lusting after the younger women, yes, this is wrong. But if there is appreciation for someone who is “pretty” or “handsome” that is not altogether a bad thing, even when skipping generations. I think it’s sweet when my dad or my grandpa gives me a compliment on my appearance. That compliment doesn’t equal a pedophilic thought, and I agree, it’s wrong to teach the YW that it does. Perhaps the way you were taught this gave the impression of pedophiles; I was also taught to be modest around those in other generations, but for reasons similar to respect, as I mentioned earlier.

    Here’s one experience of my own:
    I distinctly remember one lesson on modest when I was fairly new to YW. The leaders were very careful about the way they were talking and left it up to the YW to fuel the discussion and give their opinions. I think this was a wise approach because it allowed leaders’ opinions to largely stay out of something that is personal, since everyone has a different thought about what is/isn’t modest. There was one YW who shared her personal standards for the length of shorts and skirts. She expressed that if she lets her hand hand down by her sides, her shorts should reach at least to the end of her middle finger; she said that her skirts should go to her knees. Being young and not having parents who made much effort to give specific suggestions for my choice of dress, I thought this was reasonable, at least for her. What left an imprint in my mind, thought, was that when the YW stood up at the end of the lesson, the skirt she was wearing was shorter than she said shorts should be. My concern wasn’t about what she said, or even what she was wearing–it was about the fact that she so blatantly did something that I saw as hypocritical (probably before I even knew what hypocrisy was). This experience I had is not to condemn her, because I know we’re all imperfect. My point is, I lost a lot of respect for her that day. If her opinion had matched what she was actually wearing, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. More importantly than speaking our opinions is living within our values.

    So, mostly I agree.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Lex!

      First, let me just say that I love the way you expressed your opinion, even when you didn’t fully agree on somethings. I have some serious respect for how maturely you articulated yourself.

      Let me clarify a few things, because I agree with everything you said.
      I definitely agree with it being a noble thing that women dress modestly, I feel like it’s also noble for men to do the same. Of course you mentioned that you hope that men strive to show you the same respect. It makes me wonder how young men are taught modesty. I’m sure the approaches to modesty lessons for the young men all vary, but I sure hope they deem it to be just as important for them to be modest in their dress.

      I totally agree with a compliment, even between generations, not being the same thing as pedophilic behavior. Totally 100% agree. I did use the example that my YW leader said that I can give the 40 year olds, 50 year olds, etc. impure thoughts. That is on a much different scale and is definitely inappropriate, especially in a church setting.

      In regards to your personal experience, I can see how that is upsetting. What is important, is that we focus on mistakes and hypocrisies that we have made ourselves, rather than looking at the people around us to see how they are doing. Good thing the Lord is in charge and only He can be the judge of everyone’s character. 🙂

      Thank you for this! I appreciate your respectful approach to it. I wish there were more people like you!

      Like

  17. I wholeheartedly agree with 98% of what you said in your amazing post. I grew up in the 80’s and I cannot tell you how warped my mind, my bff’s mind, and my cousin’s mind were once it was time for us to wed. We felt guilt over everything, and weren’t comfortable with our bodies or our own right to have pleasure from our bodies with our lawful husbands. We had had the modesty, chastity, “licked-toast” lessons from Yw leaders so many times that a transition to normal marital relations took many years. And yes, we were told to cover up more at camp when the Elders arrived, and on a beach trip we put on t-shirts over our one-piece modest bathing suits before we walked down the beach. Our YW leader bore her testimony on how “wonderful and proud” that made her feel. Things like that stuck with me. I did not my own daughter to receive the same emotional baggage I had taken into my marriage so I raised her to be freer than I had been, and not personally held responsible for the personal trials of all the males in her ward. I think Yw leaders who read this and listen to us are doing themselves a huge favor!
    The only thing I disagree with you on is regarding Matthew 5:28- wasn’t Jesus talking about adultery? Not a teenager imagining what might happen with another teenager they’re attracted to? The two don’t equate in my mind, even though we ought to control our thoughts whether they’re biologically driven or not- because thoughts become actions, as we were taught. Thank you so much for your brave statements!

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  18. Yay for taking to task some misconceptions. Having been an active member for over 50 years, taught 4 beautiful children, been YW president, RS president, and everything else there is, I would like to re-define a few things, if I may. No where is anyone accountable for anyone else. That is error. However, a man or woman who knowingly misuses their body to sexually tempt others will be guilty for that, regardless of outcome. Our Heavenly Father and Mother use their bodies for exactly the purpose they were designed for, and using their intimate gender charm power on those who are not their spouses is not what they do, because it is a misuse of their bodies, and a lie as well. (If you aren’t going to have sex, don’t flaunt the sex parts.) Young women do not yet (hopefully) understand what effect a woman’s body parts have visually on men. And we want our men to be visually attracted to us. This is a good thing. It is one power intended to help keep marriages alive. For those who believe in monogamy, modesty is an unspoken contract between adults that we will keep our sexual parts and powers between husband and wife as part of the law of chastity. I would love to see you take on some other misconceptions like the idea that modesty equals frumpy, or that prudery equals chastity. This could save some marriages. For reference, please read the best book on chastity I have read outside the scriptures, conference talks, and “Purity and Passion” by Wendy Watson. It is “Kosher Sex” by Jewish rabbi Shmuley Boteach. I Ignore a few ‘off’ things’ including the monthly schedule (although maybe some people are into that) but a good portion of it is beautiful and should have been written by a member of the church. And definitely should be read by pre-marriage youth.

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  19. I’m 50. I’ve been a member of the church for 30 years. I’ve been a Young Women’s leader and a Relief Society leader for the better part of those 30 years. I’m a mother of two grown daughters, and I have never taught modesty correctly or effectively. I have the bad habit of needing to demonstrate temporal blessings related to keeping the commandments.That has led me down the wrong path more than once. Some commandments and counsel we obey simply because we love God.
    Recently it donned on me that, as an investigator, the modesty of the members of the church had an important impact on the way I felt about them and the Church. It was not what I heard about modesty. I never sat through a lesson about modesty that moved or inspired, or enlightened me. But the example of modesty in the members made a deep impression on my soul. I didn’t know their motivation for being modest, but that didn’t change the impact their dress and behavior had on me.
    When I joined the church I was wearing tank tops and mini skirts and no one ever demeaned me for it. What I sensed in the members of the ward was humility – they dressed in a way that was respectful both to God and to others. Amongst many other things, their modest dress helped (at least in my mind) identify them as people more concerned with the things of God and heaven than with the trends and the praise of the world.
    In time, I stopped worrying whether what I was wearing was “cute” or “in style” and became more concerned with whether what I was wearing was appropriate and respectful. In short, I recognized that as a Christian, not only during Church activities, but in all of life, I should seek for the glory of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and that I should not seek for others to focus on, or in any way, glorify (or desire) me. True modesty is a matter of the heart. Choosing faith over fashion is just one facet of the multifaceted jewel that is conversion. It took over two decades for me to stop missing my short skirts. That’s how conversion is sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thank you for being clear, concise and eloquent with this article. My sister shared this with me and I was relieved to know that there are members who share your sentiments. In the past, I have cringed when a non-member/investigator attends a youth activity and the leadership asks her to leave, and then, come back when she is “more appropriately dressed”.
    I have always believed that what is in your heart is infinitely more important than what is on your body.
    I am reminded of a young woman, Al Fox-Carraway, who is covered in tattoos. Should we have shunned her because her appearance was offensive to some members?
    As a collective membership, we need to remember that a testimony of Gospel principles has to be nurtured and developed through love and patience.
    As a side note, that young lady who was investigating the Church (and attended the church dance) is my son’s best friend, and she did not come back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love this! Thank you for sharing and I hope that young woman can find a desire to come back. It’s important to be modest, but modesty is an outer reflection of what could be happening on the inside. If only we considered other, bigger needs that a young woman may have before dress coding her.
      It reminds me of the quote from Thomas S. Monson, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”

      Like

  21. Excellent article! I was never in the young women’s program as a teenager, so I didn’t hear all of those “incorrect” teachings. I wish I had been able to use this article when raising my girls and am glad they have it now.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I love this because it speaks truth. The doctrine is just this, that our bodies are temples and as such should be treated sacred. Some of us as members of the church have accidentally slipped into the worldly notion of sexualizing people. We need to stop making everything sexual! That includes men and women, to ourselves and to eachother. I love how you put modesty into it’s true meaning, which, as you said, goes way beyond simply what we wear. It’s what we do, the way we speak, the way we treat and view others. It’s not trying to seek praise or attention, nor is it trying to objectify and idolize. Thank you again for putting this out there!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I luckily was NOT taught to be modest because of boys. I was taught to be modest to respect myself and Heavenly Father. Some are being taught the way you mentioned which is not okay, but we need to make sure we know it isn’t only being taught like that. There are some great young women leaders teaching it correctly. And now it is even more so the parents responsibility to help girls understand this.

    Like

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