Zelophehad’s Daughters

A Modest Bit of Data

Posted by Ziff

Over at Doves and Serpents, Heather Olsen Beal recently blogged about a Friend article in which a four year old girl learns the importance of not wearing clothes that show her shoulders. The article was also discussed at fMh, and Heather, Erin Hill, and Chelsea Fife were guests on a Mormon Matters podcast, where they used the article as a jumping off point for discussing how modesty is taught (and could be taught better) in the Church.

In the discussion, following Heather’s post, she raised the question of whether this focus has changed over time, whether the practice of drilling even prepubescent children on modesty of dress is a new thing:

I think the rhetoric we were getting from church leaders and publications 20 years ago was much more sane and reasonable. I feel like it’s gotten ratcheted up to the nth degree. It’s no longer a modest position; it’s extreme.

That modesty is being pushed harder and with more detail now than it used to be is my impression too, but I wondered whether I could find any data that would support or refute this conclusion.

In an attempt to give a (preliminary) answer to this question, I searched lds.org for uses of the word modesty in Church magazines since 1971. I quickly found that many of the uses were not what I was looking for because they were discussing lack of vanity or moderation or one of the broader definitions of modesty. To be sure I was getting only the clothing-related references, I checked each one, and included in my counts only those where it was clear that modesty of dress was what was being addressed.

Here’s a graph showing how many references to modesty of dress I found in the Ensign, the New Era, and the Friend by five year period since 1971. There are two details you might want to take note of. First, it appears that lds.org is indexing General Conference separately from magazines in its advanced search, so I believe the Ensign counts do not include General Conference talks (even though they are printed in the Ensign). Second, I put 2011 in with the 2006-2010 time period, but I also reduced the counts proportionally so they would still tell number of articles per five year period.

So it looks like Church leaders’ concern for modesty was higher in the 1970s, fell very low in the 1980s, recovered in the 1990s, and has been increasing recently. Particularly interesting, and by “interesting,” I mean distressing, is the dramatic increase in discussion of modesty of dress in the Friend. From a level of zero (which seems about right to me), the number of articles on modesty in the Friend has jumped to almost match the number in the New Era.

So, even with all the usual caveats like that I didn’t include General Conference or manuals, and that I didn’t look for different forms of the word (like modest, or immodest), these results certainly appear consistent with Heather’s assertion that modesty is being pushed harder now than it was 20 years ago. These data also suggest that modesty discussions are being targeted more to children than they used to be.

101 Responses to “A Modest Bit of Data”

  1. 1.

    I am truly baffled by the move to teach modesty in dress to Primary-aged children. What the heck is going on? Someone must have some idea of what has prompted this.

  2. 2.

    Great job on this. Very interesting indeed.

  3. 3.

    If society was the same now as it was 20 years ago, I too might be distressed that the church has changed its rhetoric to emphasize something so unpopular. But things have changed, not just in the church. Children are much more sexualized than they used to be. Beal’s article acknowledges this, but blames it on the church hypersexualizing children, rather than admitting that society has done so. I see the church’s reaction as a response, rather than a cause.

    The whole point of the restoration was to make a church that could respond to societal changes. To me, this just shows that the church is doing its job.

  4. 4.

    Would a graph about the sexualization of clothing for young children look roughly the same as the line for the Friend? I suspect it would, what with places like Abercrombie and Fitch selling padded bikinis for eight-year-olds and Suri Cruise dressing in high heels (to name two examples, among many, that my local newspaper has complained about recently). I wonder, comparing those two trends, how much the intention behind the modesty articles in the Friend is actually to teach four-year-olds to cover their shoulders and how much of it is just a panicked (and misplaced) reaction to a larger societal trend.

  5. 5.

    RecessionCone and I were clearly writing our similarly-themed comments at the same time.

    Unlike RecessionCone, though, I don’t really see this response as the Church doing a good job; while I’m glad the Church is reacting to increased sexualization of young children, I wish it would do so, by, say, encouraging age-appropriate clothing rather than simply discouraging bare shoulders.

  6. 6.

    So now you need to overlay this with the mentions of pornography in conference. Then we can extrapolate and make guesses about “getting kids to dress modestly before they turn 8 means they won’t become like walking pron to the men/boys who see them when they are 13″

    And does all the talk about responsibility for modesty fall on the shoulders (no pun intended) of the girls or should it be on the parents (or grandparents) who are buying the clothing in the first place?

    Kind of like talk of temples. The kids don’t have a lot of say in what their parents do (other than to pipe up and tell their parents how in church the kids learned that parents were wrong/right about such-and such).

    So, some interesting data to ponder and discuss. Thanks!

  7. 7.

    In response to Petra and RecessionCone, I don’t think ratcheting up the “cover up to be modest” rhetoric is an effective counter to the “show it all” version of sexualization you reference in our broader society. To the contrary, I think the “cover up to be modest” rhetoric contributes to the sexualization of girls’ bodies by reinforcing the notion that their bodies are inherently first and foremost sexual bodies and their value (both what attracts interest and what must be protected) lies in their sexual capacity. A much better response would be to teach appropriate dress and grooming for age and circumstances rather than ramming home the church’s rather black-and-white version of modesty of dress. I wrote about this more extensively at The Exponent in the spring if you’re interested in reading my more in-depth thoughts.

    I find these increases interesting. I’m not surprised the modesty rhetoric was relatively high in the early 70s in the New Era, given the counterculture revolution of the 60s and the ways it manifest in dress and grooming. I’d be really interested to see another 20-30 years further back, though I don’t know that the data would be easily accessible. My instinct is that modesty was addressed very differently in the 50s, at least based on the conversations I’ve had with my parents and others of their generation.

    I personally find emphasizing “modesty” (in quotes cause I don’t really buy the common Mormon definition thereof) for small children morally repugnant.

  8. 8.

    I see I misrepresented Petra’s stance. Sorry about that Petra. I agree with you that the emphasis should be on appropriateness, both age and situational. It’s a much better response to sexualization than a one-size-fits-all dress code. And I agree that this ratcheted rhetoric about modesty is likely a response to larger cultural trends towards sexualization via overtly revealing/sexy clothing.

  9. 9.

    I think that it’s significant in the Friend article that the offending sleeveless dress for the four year old was a gift from grandma. Since this makes grandma’s standards of modesty are obviously out of date, it fits nicely with the impression that what counts as modest and how that is taught have changed in the last two generations.

  10. 10.

    Thanks for doing the number crunching! I totally agree with those who say this is inappropriate. If we had women involved in higher leadership positions in the church, I think there would be a natural tendency for this sort of rhetoric to be toned way down. It’s men who see girls as potential “walking pornography”, for the most part, in my experience, though women do tend to reinforce society’s rules (whatever those are). Let’s desexualize children’s clothing and go back to the 1950s standard for older girls as well, when shorts to mid-thigh weren’t a problem. I’m adamantly opposed to the the talibanization of the church.

  11. 11.

    Well said, Ameila. I completely agree. I also think it would be interesting to think about how the focus on modesty corresponds to the power of women in society. In the 70s, you have the aftermath of the counterculture revolution, but you also have the battle over the ERA and general hand-wringing in the church over the roles of women. We’re now in a time where women are increasingly (not enough, but there is progress) in positions of power, more women are recieving higher education, etc., but the pressure of women to look a certain way — both in and out of the church — has never been higher.

  12. 12.

    Interesting. Wish you could do these fun stat posts full-time, Ziff. I would put you on comparing the different uses of the word “modesty.” It seems to me that in the Church the word has been preempted to almost solely mean manner of dress for females. You mentioned that you found early references for modesty used in different ways — I think its change in meaning has a lot to do with the overemphasis on girls’ clothing in the programs of the Church.

  13. 13.

    Enjoyable post.

    I’ve always assumed feminists would be in favour of modest dress. Is there a general view among feminists on this front?

    Men typically dress modestly and suffer no social consequences from doing so.

    I would have thought that part of the vision would be to achieve a world in which how women dress has no bearing on how they are perceived and how they perceive themselves; their personalities, qualities, style and capabilities being the foremost factors in how they are perceived by others.

    Or is this more of an objection to the MO that the church employs in this area?

  14. 14.

    I’ve always assumed feminists would be in favour of modest dress. Is there a general view among feminists on this front?

    I would have thought that part of the vision would be to achieve a world in which how women dress has no bearing on how they are perceived . . .

    Hagoth, you’ve just answered your own question. Feminists are in favor of women being treated as people instead of being reduced to sexual objects. The exploitation of women’s bodies on the cover of men’s magazines and the utter obsession with covering up women’s bodies in Church culture both signal that the most important aspect of being a woman is having a body that men approve of.

  15. 15.

    Thanks for another great post, Ziff. I second BiV’s request for an analysis of the use of the word “modesty” in church contexts through time.
    It’d also be interesting to see how we use the word “virtue” because I have a sense that our use of that word is increasingly narrow. It makes me wonder why they don’t just use the word “chastity” when that is what they clearly mean.

  16. 16.

    Why the growth in modesty talk geared toward children?

    Well, here’s one obvious answer.

    http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/04/19/granderson.children.dress/index.html
    For this who don’t do links, answer is because it is now necessary.

  17. 17.

    About 15 years ago (I think, I’m not totally sure) the Church created “My Gospel Standards” for the primary. One of them is “I will dress modestly to show respect for Heavenly Father and myself”. The standards are printed on the back of the Faith in God books that are used by Activity Days and Cub Scouts, and for a time were mostly emphasized for older kids working on their Faith in God awards. However, I have noticed that Sharing Time and other things for all ages has started to refer to and use My Gospel Standards much more frequently. This can be frustrating because it reflects one of the big challenges in Primary–there is a vast difference between the 4-year olds, the 9 year olds, and the 11 year olds. Yet we have to teach them all roughly the same thing and that is hard.

    I was frankly a little disappointed that the Friend published this particular story because it reflects a simplistic view of modesty and something that is more cultural than anything,. Publishing it in the Friend gives some ‘legitimacy’ to the idea that bare shoulders on all ages are wrong and immodest, and I’m not sure that’s always true. With my daughters I mostly emphasize age-appropriateness and comfort. My oldest is almost 8 and many of her skirts and shorts are not knee-length, but they are all appropriate for a young girl.

  18. 18.

    Hagoth, you’ve just answered your own question.

    Not at all Katya. I asked two questions.

    1) I’ve always assumed feminists would be in favour of modest dress. Is there a general view among feminists on this front?

    2) Or is this more of an objection to the MO that the church employs in this area?

    I’m interested in your thoughts on both.

  19. 19.

    but I wondered whether I could find any data that would support or refute this conclusion.

    Ziff, I love that your brain goes straight to the data questions :)

    Great information. It has me wondering what’s up with the dip in the 80s? Other than being the best decade ever to grow up in, was it the layering effect? The vests? The big hair fit nicely within Utah culture?

    Interesting post Ziff, as always!

  20. 20.

    Aside from critiquing the rhetoric that is used in Friend articles about modest dress, I welcome an increase in teaching modest dress to younger children with the advent of a marketplace that targets increasingly younger children with images of sexualized young girls.

    Walk down the toy isle of a Walmart or Target and take a look, or even just flip through the ad insert in your local newspaper. My 6 year old is assaulted with these images daily, and we do not even have television in our home (netfilx instant view on Wii, I love you…). She sees them on the T-shirts, backpacks, lunch pails, etc. of friends at school. They’re everywhere, and trying to shield her from them is not right answer. So we open a dialogue about it.

    I don’t try to tell my daughter that, for example, Ariel’s bikini top is immodest and therefore unattractive, but I do ask her if maybe there is another doll dressed more modestly that is just as pretty and fun to play with that she would rather have. If she really wants Ariel, she can have Ariel. I won’t harp on the topic any more than she seems interested in talking about it. And we talk about how beautiful our bodies are, and we’re not shy about showing our skin appropriately in the privacy of our own house. Plenty of mornings she’s in the bathroom when I get out of the shower and there’s no covering up.

    I’m glad for the Friend articles. Between those and the sexualized images she sees everyday, I think we’re striking solid ground in our home.

  21. 21.

    I’ve always assumed feminists would be in favour of modest dress. Is there a general view among feminists on this front?

    No. There is not a general view among feminists of what constitutes “modest dress.” And Katya was correct when she said you answered your own question with this:

    I would have thought that part of the vision would be to achieve a world in which how women dress has no bearing on how they are perceived and how they perceive themselves; their personalities, qualities, style and capabilities being the foremost factors in how they are perceived by others.

    What feminists emphasize is less about what the clothing looks like and what it does or does not cover, and more that regardless of what a woman is wearing she deserves to be recognized and respected for herself, not just her body (which is exactly what you said). As far as what clothing feminists get behind, you name it they’ve probably defended it or employed it for effect in pursuit of their cause (just take a look at the recent slut walk events in the U.S. for an example). What feminists are working for is radically different from what the LDS church is working for where clothing is concerned and most feminists would have serious reservations about LDS rhetoric about modesty. Where the LDS church is prescribing a certain approved image for women, feminists would reject any such effort and instead encourage self-realization and expression.

    Men typically dress modestly and suffer no social consequences from doing so.

    Of course they don’t. That’s because men are valued for more than their bodies. And because women don’t presume a right to male bodies in the same fashion in which men in our culture (both Mormon and non) presume the right to female bodies. The simple fact that a bunch of men dictate appropriate female dress is one indicator that men still feel the right to access and control female bodies.

    Or is this more of an objection to the MO that the church employs in this area?

    It’s an objection to MO, though that’s a little too loose to be a great explanation. MO implies that it’s about the way the standard is deployed and taught about, when the objection is not just to the methods of instruction but also to the content that’s being disseminated.

  22. 22.

    In re: Matt W #16:

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I agree with Granderson’s general point that parents need to be parents and establish and maintain appropriate rules about behavior, including dress. So yes, parents do need to do better at helping their children understand how to dress appropriately. But that is not the underlying problem. The underlying problem is that our society values girls and women first and foremost for their sexual and reproductive capacities. Until that changes, we won’t have successfully dealt with the sexualization of girls. And just pushing for more complete covering up won’t address that underlying problem, either, because too often the “just cover it all up” mentality is every bit as informed by viewing girls and women as primarily sexual/reproductive beings as the “flaunt it all” approach is.

  23. 23.

    Amelia,

    Help me out here.

    I spent the whole day today dressed in a suit. Covered from neck to toe. Only hands and head were uncovered. I didn’t feel that I was being viewed primarily for my sexual/reproductive value.

    Am I missing a trick?

  24. 24.

    Amelia,
    Help me out here.
    I spent the whole day today dressed in a suit. Covered from neck to toe. Only hands and head were uncovered. I didn’t feel that I was being viewed primarily for my sexual/reproductive value.
    Am I missing a trick?

    You can lead a horse to water…

  25. 25.

    Hagoth said:

    Am I missing a trick?”

    Amelia said:

    The underlying problem is that our society values GIRLS AND WOMEN first and foremost for their sexual and reproductive capacities.

    [emphasis added]

    I think that’s the trick.

  26. 26.

    I still have no idea why personal attacks are cool at ZD.

    Amelia,

    What feminists emphasize is less about what the clothing looks like and what it does or does not cover, and more that regardless of what a woman is wearing she deserves to be recognized and respected for herself, not just her body (which is exactly what you said).

    It don’t think it is exactly what I said.

    I would conclude from your statement quoted above that men’s attitudes towards women need to change before this issue can be resolved.

    I was trying to convey that behaviours and attitudes need to change among both men and women.

    I think we are drawing different conclusions about what I mean and whether I am answering my own questions because we are putting the emphasis in different places. By emphasis I mean the core of the paragraph, the key statement or central concept.

    Your emphasis, as I understand from the paragraph above and your assertion as to what I meant.

    I would have thought that part of the vision would be to achieve a world in which how women dress has no bearing on how they are perceived and how they perceive themselves; their personalities, qualities, style and capabilities being the foremost factors in how they are perceived by others.

    My emphasis:

    I would have thought that part of the vision would be to achieve a world in which how women dress has no bearing on how they are perceived and how they perceive themselves; their personalities, qualities, style and capabilities being the foremost factors in how they are perceived by others.

    I could add here that under emphasis B you should assume that how they are perceived by others is focused on the expectations of the person rather than the others doing the perceiving. After all, what affects us psychologically is what we think the world is like, rather than what the world is.

    Let’s say the first emphasis is A and the second is B.

    I think A flows from B, if women dress and think that their character is what matters then men will follow suit believe them.

    The first quote I’ve included above would appear to show that you think B flows from A. Your article, The Modesty Myth, would appear to support this conclusion.

    To be clear, it is because I disagree, and I think that discussing this area of disagreement would be fruitful that I am posting my comments.

  27. 27.

    The incongrous ‘behave’ above should be ‘change’.

    [Fixed. —Admin]

  28. 28.

    [Thanks Admin. :D]

  29. 29.

    You can perceive yourself any way you want to, but until society changes, it doesn’t really matter. Just because a woman might not feel she is being valued for her sexuality (or lack thereof) doesn’t mean she is correct in her assumptions.

    Many (if not most) feminists have already mastered the self-perception part of the puzzle and don’t need to dress up or down to recognize their value to society.

    Society, on the other hand, is still generally unable to get past the “females who look/dress one way are valuable/wanted and females who don’t comply are ‘less than’ in some way” phase.

    (And the reactions of Jill/Joe-on-the-street make it clear who is valued and who is not. How many suit-wearing women show up in ads for beer or cars or cheeseburgers? And how does that number compare to bikini-clad women? The message society sends is, sexy women are good and if you buy [whatever I'm selling] you’ll have access to sexy women. And the ads for women’s magazines aren’t any different – buy ___ and you’ll be sexy and he’ll love you for it.)

    So, (many) feminists want to create a change in society so that others view them the same way they view themselves (as sentient, multi-faceted beings, regardless of what they’re wearing).

    As long as females are covering/uncovering because of the whims of males (whether the covering is to attract, tempt, hide, or protect), modesty and immodesty remain tied to sexual objectification of girls and women.

  30. 30.

    I don’t understand why adults in the church don’t believe in the power of teaching by precept. My experience has been that when adults dress a certain way and are loving and kind, youth tend to follow their example. The youth who take a bit longer to follow along aren’t done figuring out who they really want to be. Labeling them as immodest is counter-productive.

    When we start making ridiculous statements about the link between a person’s clothing and God’s approval (as oppossed church-culture approval), we lose the critical-thinking teens. Faith and patience on the leaders’ part would be far more effective.

  31. 31.

    Sorry, i haven’t read all the comments yet; this is just responding to the first few about society’s hypersexualization of children. The only sane response to that phenomenon is to condemn/bully/shame/boycott the ADULTS who do it. Where is the encouragement for parents to write letters to companies that advertise spandex for babies? Where is the church’s public divestment of any of its stocks in companies that target tweens in their advertising? Where is the church’s injunction for parents not to enter their children in beauty pageants? Where are the church’s equal opportunity hiring practices to show they value women’s brains as well as their uteruses and breasts? Where is the encouragement for girls and young women to participate in sports (which has been abundantly shown to increase body confidence decrease risk of pregnancy and STDs and coincide with high scholastic achievement)? Where are the church’s high-profile contributions to programs like Girls for Change, WriteGirl, New Moon, Science Club for Girls? The ways to combat this problem are not a secret.

    In short, why the HELL do we think four-year-olds should solve the problems created by adults eager for titillation and profit by learning to be ashamed of their arms and shoulders?

  32. 32.

    LRC,

    Would you object if I suggested that you wear comfortable shoes, a long skirt or trousers and a buttoned blouse and jacket to work tomorrow, or an ensemble that covered just as effectively?

    If you would object, why would you object? What do you think would be different?

  33. 33.

    Er, and now that I’ve read the comments…

    What everyone else said.

  34. 34.

    Hagoth-

    My first question would be, “Why would you suggest I should wear something like that?”

    My second question would be, “What do you think I’m already wearing?”

  35. 35.

    LRC

    1 – Because I’m curious to know if dressing similarly to how men typically dress at work would be objectionable to a you and if so why you would find it objectionable.

    I have of course made that famous internet mistake of assuming that you are a woman. Shame on me.

    2 – I have no idea, we’ve never met. I didn’t think it was relevant to ask/guess.

  36. 36.

    Oh go on, I’ve answered your questions.

  37. 37.

    we expect our children to obey gospel standards from a young age. we take them to sacrament meeting, teach them to pray as soon as they can talk, count their pennies for tithing, etc. the principle of modesty is no different. if you want your 13 year old girl to dress modestly, i think starting to teach the principle at age 4 is entirely appropriate. just because little children aren’t baring cleavage yet doesn’t mean that you can’t start teaching the principle of modesty. waiting to live or teach a principle until the child entirely understands it or “needs it” will mean that you have waited too long.

    of course things need to be done in an age-appropriate way. when we teach the word of wisdom to 4 year olds, we’re probably talking about vegetables and getting sleep, not heroine abuse. with modesty, you can teach a 4 year old about covering her shoulders and later teach about the whys of modest dress, behavior and the law of chastity. covering the shoulders (and midriff) is a basic understanding of modest that a 4 year old can grasp.

    as for the point that the church’s stance on modesty has become too extreme … most of what children see today teaches them that modesty is not important and that they should wear revealing clothes and use their bodies for attention. the church teaches us to wear modest clothes. i would venture to say that our children hear the immodesty lesson from the world 99% of the time and the children’s friend magazine modesty lesson 1% of the time. a little more emphasis on the modesty side of things doesn’t over-do it or push the church’s standards to the extreme.

  38. 38.

    Amen.

  39. 39.

    Hagoth #23, I said women and girls are valued primarily for their sexual and reproductive value. Since you are neither a woman nor a girl, I have no comment on why it is you didn’t feel like you were reduced to that value other than to say that western culture has always valued men as complex human beings with more to offer than their penises and sperm so it’s no surprise that it continues to do so.

    in re: #26:

    I would conclude from your statement quoted above that men’s attitudes towards women need to change before this issue can be resolved.

    Which part of what I said implies that I think only men’s attitudes need to change? I think no such thing and I didn’t imply I did. Women’s attitudes are just as problematic as men’s and also need to change. If you’re going to participate in feminist forums, you should avoid falling into that very tired and very incorrect stereotype that all feminists think women are just hunky dory and all men are flawed creatures who need to change. It’s not true.

    As to emphasis, I was taking you at your grammatical face value. You used an additive conjunction between two parallel clauses, which implies them that they have equal weight. Had you wanted to give emphasis to one or the other, you should have used a grammatical structure that implied that emphasis. So the emphasis I read was

    has no bearing on how they are perceived and how they perceive themselves

    I read it with equal emphasis on both phrases because these things are intertwined. It’s impossible to change one in order to lead to changing the other; they’re too interdependent to take such a unidirectional approach. We need to change not only how women perceive themselves, but also how society and how men perceive women. Change all the way around.

    And you do realize that statements like:

    if women dress and think that their character is what matters then men will follow suit believe them.

    squarely places the blame for women being perceived as valuable primarily for their sexual bodies and their reproductive capacity back on women? That it blames exclusively those hurt by these social norms? That it (yet again) makes women responsible for men’s moral and ethical commitments and behaviors? Sorry. I don’t buy that for 2 seconds. We’re all in this together, male and female alike.

  40. 40.

    Would you object if I suggested that you wear comfortable shoes, a long skirt or trousers and a buttoned blouse and jacket to work tomorrow, or an ensemble that covered just as effectively?
    If you would object, why would you object? What do you think would be different?

    I’m not LRC but I’ll answer anyway. Yes I would object. I would object first because you have no right to make any suggestion to any adult about how they should dress without first being invited to do so. Second because I refuse to allow any man to dictate how I should dress.

    Also, your question implies that you’re unaware that women do regularly wear very similar clothes to those men wear. I often work in slacks and a button up shirt. I always wear comfortable shoes. As such, I’m not really sure what the value of posing such a question is. It also implies being unfamiliar with the history of modesty in dress for women. It has often been the case that women who dressed in men’s fashions or fashions similar to men’s were dubbed “immodest” while women who flashed a lot of flesh were not. This is less the case in our wider society today, but it remains the case in the LDS church, at least in the U.S. If I show up at church on Sunday in a nice suit (slacks and jacket) and a button up shirt, people would look askance at me. They probably wouldn’t use the word “immodest” but there would certainly be a contingent of people who found my behavior an unacceptable repudiation of “appropriate” female attire. The woman sitting next to me in her knee length skirt and tight fitting shirt with a v-neck and cap sleeves, on the other hand, wouldn’t make anyone bat an eyelash.

    At the end of the day all of this is beside the point. The point is that what women wear should not be such a determining factor in how they are valued, not to the extent it currently is in our society and in the church. I don’t care if a woman covers up every bit as much as a man or if she walks around in a scanty pair of shorts and a tank top, she is still a complex individual with a wealth of resources to offer her world and should be perceived and respected as such. So long as we continue to invest in modesty rhetoric that treats the female body as a sexual body that must be covered in order to protect both her and men from inappropriate sexual thoughts and activities, we will continue to contribute to the sexualization of girls and women and stymie the perception of women as complete, complex, wonderful human beings with more to offer than their sexual attractiveness and their reproductive capacity.

  41. 41.

    #37 It’s not the “little more emphasis on the modesty side of things” that seems to get people riled up. Not me anyway.

    It’s camp leaders sending out an email detailing what kind of sleepwear is appropriate for girls camp (knee-length shorts and t-shirts) or a YW presidency member telling my daughter that anything but a white bra is inappropriate or a ward member explaining to a group of swimmers that God gets angry when women expose a bare midriff.

    These are all examples of over-reach; something that more and more leaders in church feel comfortable doing since modesty has taken center stage.

    This narrow view of modesty isn’t a core value of Christian discipleship – it’s exclusivity. Good youth are leaving the church in droves and many of the youth who stay have an unhealthy intolerance for anyone who dresses or looks different.

  42. 42.

    Amelia, you’re smart.

  43. 43.

    And I feel outgunned, as ever. :D

    Second because I refuse to allow any man to dictate how I should dress.

    Amelia, are you saying that you would object to something another person said on the basis of their gender rather than the content of what they said?

  44. 44.

    I’m saying that I do not recognize the right of any man to dictate how I dress. My first statement of principle implicitly indicates that I don’t let women so dictate either (it was gender neutral–no adult should be telling other adults how to dress without the other adult first seeking their input). The reason I gendered my second statement is because there are many men who feel not only inclined but like they have the right to make dictates about appropriate behavior for women. I reject that notion categorically. And no, my doing so is not sexist, as you imply; it’s a recognition of an unfortunate historical and social reality and a refusal to perpetuate that unfortunate reality in my own life.

  45. 45.

    Thanks for this, Ziff, and Amelia for your efforts. Has there been a writing campaign to the Friend to express these concerns?

  46. 46.

    Amelia,

    Sorry, that sounds a bit like I am trying to pull you up on something which wasn’t my intent at all.

    Let me try to explain where I am coming from.

    You say that society already recognises men as complex beings whose value should be determined by a range of factors most of which are not related to how modestly they dress. I think I disagree.

    Also because women are less inclined to appropriate the bodies of men, and perhaps because women are less frequently in positions of power and authority over men there is less reason for a man to leverage their physical form.

    Given that men are unlikely to be devalued should they dress immodestly, because society has and is likely to continue to recognise them as complex beings and women are less inclined to appropriate their bodies one might think that there would naturally be a broad range in modesty levels in men’s dress according to the range of tastes among men. Some would prefer to dress immodestly and others modestly, yet in reality levels of modesty are very high. Most men cover most of their bodies for most activities exposing them only when utility dictates it, sports, heat and so on.

    It occurs to me that if men need not dress modestly but still do to a very high degree then is it not reasonable to suggest that the way men dress contributes to some extent to the way their bodies are perceived by those around them?

    I asked myself, how would my colleagues and manager react were I to go beyond high standards of grooming and start wearing immodest clothing to work or to church.

    This is complicated by the expectations of those around me. In a world where everyone wears a suit simply wearing something different would probably provoke a similar reaction. I thought about wearing a modest costume to work in place of a business suit. Say a paramedic’s uniform or a vampire style tuxedo.

    I could only imagine strong reactions from my colleagues under both circumstances. Indeed, only recently my boss asked if I would be wearing a tie tomorrow. A gentle reminder that open collar is inappropriate in the office I work in, I obliged him.

    This led me to conclude that actually the fact that men dress modestly and sensibly is essential to the way they are perceived by others. If I got to work in a mini-skirt I would expect to be turned away, the same might also apply if I showed up in shorts and a t-shirt. Even something as simple as wearing coloured nail polish would attract significant attention and I would expect to be asked to desist.

    So, I concluded from my little thought experiment that the way men dress is vital to how they are seen by those around them. Society regards them as complex individuals only when they are dressed modestly and appropriately. I then thought about the “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” signs I have seen at some beaches and other tourist spots.

    How men dress and cover themselves is actually so important in our society that you can and will be turned away from some businesses if you refuse to comply with expected standards.

    All of which led me to conclude that how you dress contributes extensively to how the people around you perceive and respond to you.

    I think it is reasonable to assume that a society that judges men very harshly by the way they dress might also be reasonably considered to judge women in the same way.

    Hence my next thought which is that if a woman were to dress in as asexual a way as a man in a suit then she too might be regarded as a complex person with something to contribute which extends well beyond her sexuality and capacity for child rearing.

    Men don’t object to being asked or expected to dress in a way that draws very little attention to their bodies. So I asked if women would and if they do then why they do.

    I understand that the root of the objection is that adults shouldn’t tell each other how to dress, which they do in my circles, unless asked, second that it is inherently objectionable for a man to suggest to a woman how she might dress.

    I think the first of these is technically accurate and pragmatically less useful. Adults very often do things which could be regarded as invasions of privacy in a strict sense.

    The second I don’t know about. I would prefer that the objection be if the request was unreasonable or unwarranted.

    In any case, I think that in a world where people respond powerfully to the way that men dress I think men are responsible for what their clothes say about them and their attitudes. I do not think it is unreasonable to think that the same would be true for the other gender.

    I do not think it is a non-sequitur to think it would be more effective for women to take responsibility for the effect of how they dress on how they are perceived. If it is objectionable for a man to say that then a woman should say it.

  47. 47.

    Amelia speaks my mind, and let me add that I understand dress codes at work and am happy to abide by them when I work at places where dress codes are enforced (even law firms around here are generally business casual so ties are rare for everyone).

    And if you think women don’t enforce dress codes among themselves, you haven’t spent any time around women. They are just as hard (if not harder) on keeping other women conforming to dress standards.

    I think the church would be better served by filling its children’s magazine with stories about love and honesty and service and Jesus and leave the modesty articles for the parents and grandparents who are buying the clothes in the first place.

    And I would TOTALLY love to see when the scales tipped from ‘modesty = not vain’ to ‘modesty = dress this way’. (My perception is that we rarely, if ever discuss modesty in any terms other than dress codes these days. I was actually surprised that you had to throw out some of the modesty references because they didn’t apply to clothing choices.)

    It’s interesting that the biggest change for the Friend is the past 5 years, going from 2 times to 12. Are the 2 times from 2001-2005 closer to 2005 than to 2001?

    I wonder when primary presidencies changed and if that has more of an effect on magazine content than changes between First Presidencies, as well.

  48. 48.

    Hagoth, that was a very, very long comment which essentially said one thing: it’s important to dress in a way appropriate to one’s circumstances; when one doesn’t, one will attract the wrong kind of attention and run the risk of being misunderstood. That’s a radically different phenomenon than requiring an unforgiving standard of modesty in dress regardless of age or life circumstances or situation, which is what I personally object to in the church’s approach. It is especially different given that the church’s one-size-fits-all version of “modesty” is aimed at creating the right image of girls’ and women’s bodies as sexual bodies, therefore reinforcing very problematic social and cultural reductions of women’s bodies to their sexual attractiveness and reinforcing the church’s own conclusion that women’s value lies primarily in reproductive capacity.

    The spike in references to modesty in clothing seems very clearly to be a reaction against social trends the church finds troubling. The cynic in me also sees it as an effort to keep women in their place. The church would never use that language (keeping women in their place), but that’s essentially what they’re trying to do, preserve the status quo. And I think this effort is doomed to fail, just as the increased emphasis on marriage and scolding men to just get over their selfishness and get married already is unlikely to help the church retain its young adult members. Unfortunately our leadership seems fixated on preserving the status quo as a means of solving social problems and how they affect the church, rather than recognizing that the status quo may be part of those problems and that there are underlying issues that the status quo not only does not address but to which that status quo often contributes.

  49. 49.

    And I would TOTALLY love to see when the scales tipped from ‘modesty = not vain’ to ‘modesty = dress this way’.

    I agree that such an analysis would be fascinating. But then I’m generally very interested in the contemporary church’s shift away from a more principles-based approach to teaching the gospel to a more prescriptive/behavior approach to teaching the gospel.

  50. 50.

    .

    Katie Clark Blakesley had an excellent article on this in Dialogue: https://dialoguejournal.com/archive/issue-details/?in=166

  51. 51.

    It is especially different given that the church’s one-size-fits-all version of “modesty” is aimed at creating the right image of girls’ and women’s bodies as sexual bodies, therefore reinforcing very problematic social and cultural reductions of women’s bodies to their sexual attractiveness and reinforcing the church’s own conclusion that women’s value lies primarily in reproductive capacity.

    Where does that idea come from and why don’t you think it applies to men?

  52. 52.

    It’s interesting that the biggest change for the Friend is the past 5 years, going from 2 times to 12. Are the 2 times from 2001-2005 closer to 2005 than to 2001?

    LRC, here are the counts from the Friend since 2001:
    2001: 0
    2002: 0
    2003: 0
    2004: 1
    2005: 1
    2006: 0
    2007: 2
    2008: 2
    2009: 4
    2010: 4
    2011: 1 (so far)

  53. 53.

    Hagoth, discussions of dress-related modesty in the Church are aimed almost exclusively at women and girls. I’ve only ever seen men and boys referred to in passing, with lip service comments along the lines of “Oh, and they should be modest too.” But it’s pretty clear from this balance that it’s women’s clothing choices that are being policed.

  54. 54.

    And Amelia and LRC and Kristine, great comments!

  55. 55.

    Hagoth, discussions of dress-related modesty in the Church are aimed almost exclusively at women and girls.

    That’s easy enough to test empirically. As a quick and dirty test, I found nine mentions of the word “modest” in General Conference in the years 2009 and 2010. Here’s how the usage worked out:

    Clothing-specific references:
    About or to women: 3
    About or to men: 0
    About or to both men and women: 0

    Other references (e.g., “modest home”):
    About or to women: 0
    About or to men: 2
    About or to both men and women: 4

  56. 56.

    Interesting, two come from the same member of the general young women’s presidency and all are delivered as part of talks aimed at sisters.

  57. 57.

    Mind you the one that comes from a priesthood holder is immediately followed by this quote which could almost be from Amelia.

    Popular culture today often makes women look silly, inconsequential, mindless, and powerless. It objectifies them and disrespects them and then suggests that they are able to leave their mark on mankind only by seduction—easily the most pervasively dangerous message the adversary sends to women about themselves.

  58. 58.

    Hagoth, we’ve been over this ground before. The problem is that if you are encouraging (requiring) girls to self-consciously construct themselves as objects of the male gaze, it really doesn’t matter if you’re telling them to be very sexy or just a little bit attractive. It’s very clear that both poles are part of the same problem in the popular slogan “modest is hottest.” “Modesty” is just a different variant of visual presentation of one’s sexuality. Either way, you’ve objectified women (or young women or (sickeningly) little girls), and once that’s done, you’ve destroyed the possibility of them maintaining a sense of themselves as whole and healthy beings rather than a visual phenomenon to be appreciated or condemned by standards they have no part in creating.

  59. 59.

    Hagoth, #51 – why does it not apply to men? Because modesty is not taught to men and boys the same way it is taught to women and girls.

    Lesson to boys on modesty: pull up your pants, tuck in your shirts, you don’t want to look like slobs because you hold the priesthood and have to set good example.

    Lesson to girls on modesty: don’t wear tight clothes, make sure your knees and shoulders are covered, don’t reveal too much cleavage because you tempt the boys when you dress that way and some people may see you as walking pornography. You are powerful, young women, and can influence the young men with what you are wearing, so influence them for good.

    Is it possible to teach children about modesty without invoking the “you are eye candy” rhetoric? Yes. Do we do it? Not nearly enough for young women.

  60. 60.

    I’m an exceptionally modest women- I’ve never worn a bikini though all of my LDS peers have. I believe in modesty- I was seriously disturbed by the friend article.

    I appreciate every post I read that points out how wrong the recent friend story is- on so many many levels.

  61. 61.

    Hagoth #57, I might say something like that but it would be in a context in which I also denounced contemporary church culture just as roundly for similarly sexualizing and minimizing women. I get sick of church leadership constantly harping on how terrible “the world” with its culture is while rarely turning a very critical eye on the church and its culture, especially where issues of sex and gender are concerned. I would also be sure to point out interesting and positive aspects of culture that do not sexualize women or which combat that sexualization. I’m not a big fan of the “oh how horrible and evil our world is! come to church where you’ll be safe” approach.

    As to your question in #51, my understanding of LDS modesty rhetoric comes from 36 years of being Mormon in several different geographic areas (including a stint in the UK) and paying attention to what’s being said combined with being particularly attuned to issues concerning women and what gives them “value” and “worth.” Combine the church’s definition of modesty with its emphasis on women’s value being primarily situated in their capacity to attract a man (get married) and reproduce (be mothers), consider overt statements about girls and women having a responsibility to dress modestly in order to not send the wrong sexual messages and to not tempt men and boys and to not present themselves as “walking pornography,” and it’s not too difficult to recognize the reality: the church largely discusses modesty in terms of women’s bodies as sexual bodies. It rather disgusts me, if you couldn’t tell.

  62. 62.

    Question: in 2 Sundays, the Sharing Time lesson in Primary is titled “Dressing modestly shows respect for Heavenly Father and myself.” The lesson focuses on 1 Cor 3:16, and the “My Gospel Standards.”

    Instructions for the lesson are as follows:
    “Discuss what dressing modestly means. Prepare several posters with “I will dress modestly by…” written at the top. Divide the children into groups, and ask each group to write their commitment to dress modestly or draw a picture of themselves in modest dress on one of the posters. Display the posters in the Primary room.”

    Here is the question: how would you teach this Sharing Time lesson?

    A month ago I had a 6 year old wearing a sleeveless dress come to me upset because her classmate told her she was dressed immodestly. I can see some potential problems during this upcoming lesson if a girl is wearing a sleeveless dress again (without a shirt underneath) and another girl points out that she’s been taught by her parents that this is immodest. Hmmm…

  63. 63.

    Kristine in #31 and #58 pretty much said it all.

  64. 64.

    [...] hand, are said to be practical, occasionally occupied with fact and reason”? Meanwhile, the data shows that they’re teaching modesty to younger and younger girls. And Daniel has a great follow-up [...]

  65. 65.

    Emory, what about morphing the topic a smidge? Take pictures of a variety of happy, smiling children dressed appropriately for different activities. For instance, kids in soccer clothes, kids in swimsuits, kids in PJs, kids in really fancy Halloween clothes, kids in tidy “Sunday Best” clothes (perhaps make a point of having one little girl in a sleeveless sundress, one with sleeves, boy in colored shirt or even (gasp!) dress shorts?)

    Show the pictures and ask what the kids think these people are dressed to do? Modesty in dress does have a component in being appropriately and tastefully dressed for the occasion… so let the kids get excited about being able to identify appropriate (modest) clothing for a variety of situations. Chances are, the kids will identify the “Sunday Best” image as “going to church”, and that gives you a chance to say, “Yes! All of these children are clean, neat, and ready to go to church.”

    If someone does bring up “sleeveless dresses are immodest”, I’d make one comment to the effect of: “Different people wear different clothing. We need to make sure our undergarments, or temple garments when we are grown-ups who have been to the temple, are covered when we sit, stand, or wiggle. Every family gets to choose whether shoulders should be bare or not. Some people wear sleeves so they don’t get sunburned!” and then keep going. The kids may not even notice, though.

    I’d have a hard time trying to get kids to analyze others for “righteous” signals based on clothing, myself. Using pictures of non-class-members gives a tiny bit of distance, and that can be helpful.

  66. 66.

    Liz, I love this idea. Thanks!

  67. 67.

    I’m clearly a bit late to the game here, but I agree with everything Amerlia has said. Amelia, you are speaking my language girl!

  68. 68.

    Wow, so you can’t even teach little girls the concept? We’ll just spring it on them when they get married… Where I live many members are converts, they aren’t familiar with the dressing side of modesty, there would be a practical reason to introduce them to these ideas in the Friend magazine.

    If you don’t introduce these concepts (or as some people here would say “have a man tell them how to dress”) why wouldn’t the young people dress like all the Katy Perry wannabes in their school. I taught a 16-17 year old Sun School class and when the girl walked in with the short skirt I immediately lost the attention of every boy in that room. The world teaches girls that they need to sell them selves and be sexy to be worth anything the moral to every movie and tv show that is popular today is that if you are sexy enough magical good things will happen to you. I see ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong about teaching them to dress modestly and seeing they can have a worthwhile life even if they are not acting the part of a piece of raw meat.

    P.S. We recently had the “modesty” class and we gave equal time to boys and girls. With boys we covered not showing boxers above pants, and at length looking appropriate for where you are. Maybe you just need to train teachers better. But the reason it’s more an issue for girls is that their popular fashions are more slutty than boys’ are, not really sinister, just reality. I’m really amazed that people can’t see the value in girls learning that their value is in who they are and what they do, not in the amount of skin they expose. They get told the opposite on at least a daily basis.

  69. 69.

    the value in girls learning that their value is in who they are and what they do, not in the amount of skin they expose.

    I don’t think anyone here disagrees that this is what we’d like girls, and women, to believe about themselves. The problem is, as many have articulated before me, that when the church obsesses about how girls and women present themselves physically, even if from the opposite position, they aren’t communicating that at all. What we end up learning is that what matters most is what men think when they see our bodies, which is hugely demeaning.

    What if, instead of fretting so much about women’s bodies as sexual objects, we just shifted most of our focused to how women’s value is in “who they are and what they do,” and teach appropriateness in dressing as the tiny tiny tiny aspect of this that it is?

    The world teaches girls that they need to sell them selves and be sexy to be worth anything

    Well, the Church teaches girls that they need to sell themselves and be sexually attractive to men to be worth anything. Guess we just can’t catch a break.

  70. 70.

    Why is covering a topic occaisionally ‘obsessing’ about it? Why is talking about dressing appropriately saying that “what matters most is what men think when they see our bodies”? It is saying that, contrary to every non-church message that you have ever received about dressing yourself, you don’t have to show off your body to be valued here. The church does not exist in a vacuum if you are with teens and preteens regularly you see the very young girls already adopting sexy clothes and sexy talk to get noticed. Even the NOW recently argued that taxing plastic surgery is discrimination to women because they need it for the business world. So the church should ignore this, even though it demeans the girls? It is out there… that’s what the church is addressing, not some twisted obsession with girl’s bodies.

    “Well, the Church teaches girls that they need to sell themselves and be sexually attractive to men to be worth anything. Guess we just can’t catch a break.” This is blatantly untrue. The YW lessons that I teach teach are about, Honesty, Goals, Heritage, Growing through Adversity– things that will be helpful to their self concept regardless of what the afterlife brings. I’m sure you are talking about is the church’ emphasis on marriage, but here, too, I think you are wrong. The lessons I teach about marriage are about assessing a young man’s character and if you have things in common with them– if you are teaching they need to be sexually attractive I’m sorry for your YW. That’s the message they get every day of the week. They don’t need it at church, too.

    The alternative that the teenagers have in the current world is the whole friends with benefits culture. “Shut up and do me” is the attitude I see/ hear everyday in other arenas. The girls dress as hookers used to in order to not be overlooked. If you don’t think this is true, you haven’t been around teenagers outside of the church for a while. Girls will always seek young men and their companionship. The church guides them in a way that keeps their selves whole.

    I think some people just always bristle at being “told what to do”. Maybe it’s just a valuable concept.

  71. 71.

    Is obsessed too strong a word? Perhaps. How about “disproportionately occupied with”?

    How’s this for a comparison? The terms “eating disorder,” “body image,” and “anorexia” occur, combined, a grand total of 16 times in all the archived Church magazine material. The term “sexual abuse” occurs 71 times. Sexual assault and disordered eating are far, far, far more pressing issues for women in today’s world than what they’re wearing.

    “Modest,” “immodest,” and “modesty” appear a combined 273 times in the Church magazine archive. And honestly, at the point that you’re worried about whether your four-year-old is wearing sleeves, yes, I think you’ve lopped on over into obsession. That’s like being so electrified-fence-around-the-hedge-around-the law about the word of wisdom that you won’t drink root beer because it has the word “beer” in it.

  72. 72.

    A few years ago I read Reviving Ophelia and discovered that a traditional home with standards actually is the best antidote for problems such as anorexia, body image, etc. Anecdotally, I have seen this as well when my non-LDS relatives and kids’ friends starve themselves (the rich kids are the worst in this area) to be the ideal stick thin Paris Hilton look alikes that the guys turn to over and over.

    I happen to think that the positive ideal “modesty” is the right way to go with this. It just fits in with kindness, service, Personal Progress, etc. that let them see that they are not the sum of their parts. Their actions, achievements, and simply divinity make them valuable people. It seems that the research would indicate that this approach is more effective than the straightforward negative approach of, “be careful of eating disorders.”

    Maybe the covering shoulders of a four year old is not necessary. (I admit my 4 year old have always worn whatever length of shorts, etc. that they want, but not to church.) But it’s just a concept and the editors found a chance to introduce it. The Friend operates from submissions (based on a true story…). I sub’ed for a primary class of five year olds yesterday and one of the girls had a sleeveless dress, which is super common here. Did anyone say anything to her? No. Was she treated any differently than anyone else? No. But the story just introduced the idea. Not a huge damaging concept, but the opposite, which they will be exposed to every other day of the week actually is a huge damaging concept.

    For someone based in the real world that I see around me I don’t get all the effort at outrage.

  73. 73.

    I just think that you are relying too much on an inherent distinction between men and women. Typically at ZD there’s a strong egalitarian theme and I’m surprised that on this topic you want women to be treated differently to men.

    Standards for men are more modest, or body-covering/concealing, than those for women. If how modest, or body-covering/concealing clothing is is connected with how much it sexualises the person wearing it then the church sexualises the bodies of men more than it does women.

    You appear to be saying that the standards for women should be different, or should be communicated differently. I think this is because you are, in part perhaps. bringing your own POV to how you read the articles. I’m not sure that’s fair.

    I feel like you are adding the text in italics to the statement in plain wherever it is addressed to a female.

    Dress modestly, because you are sexual creatures only good for physically attracting a man and having that man’s children.

    I don’t think you do the same when it is addressed to a male. I don’t see any valid reason as to why you shouldn’t. Why the huge distinction, in your view, between the genders on this issue?

    Let me put it another way.

    If a young man comes to church on Sunday wearing a short shirt that shows his abdomen do you think he would be asked to change it because he looked like a slob or because he was dressed immodestly and should cover himself?
    Or am I just neighing in the wind?

  74. 74.

    Hagoth, let me just clear up this straw man argument I keep seeing raised: I am generally quite pro-modesty, and I don’t think there’s any regular blogger on ZD who is not. I of course don’t deceive myself that the Church exists in a culture which radically over-value women for their sex appeal. The reduction of women to sexual objects raises my feminist hackles anywhere I see it. I believe it’s important to recognize clothes as social signifiers and think about how they communicate. I’m not advocating for women to dress immodestly. I’m just wondering why we care so much how women dress. (And, whatever the cause, yes, we are way more concerned about what women wear than men, which is why this gets raised as a feminist issue. I’d be delighted to see it more culturally acceptable for women to wear clothes as loose and covering as most men’s clothes are, but you’ll notice the Church doesn’t actually advocate that.)

    My concern isn’t with modesty; it’s with the rhetoric of modesty. That rhetoric is aimed much more squarely at young women than at men, and is most often coded in terms of how men react to them — either “don’t be immodest, because it makes men have bad thoughts,” or the converse, “be modest, because then the ‘right’ kind of boys will like you.” This, combined with the hard numerical overemphasis on modesty in church rhetoric, suggests that the Church is just as occupied with women’s bodies as sexual objects as the larger culture is.

    I’ve found that when women have a healthy self-respect and value themselves without regard for how the male gaze values them, modesty just isn’t an issue (i.e., their motives in dressing aren’t primarily to be sexually attractive). And when men are respectful of women as individuals and don’t allow themselves to become excessively occupied with what their bodies look like, immodesty isn’t an issue (i.e, they can have a conversation with a women wearing shorts and a tank top in a hot climate without drowning in their own lust, or even thinking much about it.)

    I’m not saying women dressing “like hookers,” as one commenter has so delicately phrased it, isn’t a problem. But it strikes me as a symptom of a much, much, much larger problem with the way that women are constructed as (sexual) accessories to men. That’s a problem that exists in the Church just as it does outside of it.

  75. 75.

    Maybe the covering shoulders of a four year old is not necessary. (I admit my 4 year old have always worn whatever length of shorts, etc. that they want, but not to church.) But it’s just a concept and the editors found a chance to introduce it. The Friend operates from submissions (based on a true story…). I sub’ed for a primary class of five year olds yesterday and one of the girls had a sleeveless dress, which is super common here. Did anyone say anything to her? No. Was she treated any differently than anyone else? No. But the story just introduced the idea. Not a huge damaging concept, but the opposite, which they will be exposed to every other day of the week actually is a huge damaging concept.

    Ann W, I would argue that the Friend article is going to have far more impact than a single, isolated incident. The purpose of stories in the Friend is to teach lessons to our children, and it will be shown to thousands to millions of children in the US, with the intent of saying this is how it should be, which, yes, I think is damaging. After all, why else do we have our children reading the Friend (and similarly, our teenagers reading the New Era and we as adults reading the Ensign) if we don’t want them learning from it?

    If a young man comes to church on Sunday wearing a short shirt that shows his abdomen do you think he would be asked to change it because he looked like a slob or because he was dressed immodestly and should cover himself?

    But are we asking him to cover up because the women can’t control the lustful urges when they look at him, or because we find the lack of modesty inappropriate for his own sake?

  76. 76.

    No one I know tells girls to cover up because of mens’ “lustful urges.” What world do you live in? I have never heard that or anything like that. If that’s what is being said in your ward you have a big problem. I think people are saying something else and that’s what you take it as. We talk in terms of valuing yourself and not thinking you need to use your body to catch a jerk. It’s a positive message honesty, kindness, modesty, etc. etc.

    Melyn, you say “I’m not talking about dressing like hookers”, but that is exactly what the cultural norms have moved to w/ out the church as a counter weight. My 9yo’s best friend regularly wears a tank top that comes down low and just spandex leggings. She loves Katy Perry. Her pop stars are why she thinks they are cute. That’s what they see, we’re just saying there is an alternative.

    You say, “I’d be delighted to see it be culturally acceptable…” That’s WHAT THIS is about. When I was in HS prom dresses had sleeves, now I see girls pulling up and pulling down and can barely cover their underwear. No girl is comfortable in those outfits. Now there are gradually a few (very few, mind you) cute ones on LDS websites. What’s wrong w/ a counterweight? If no one says anything it will naturally go to the cultural norms in which girls feel so exposed that it encourages BDD, etc. Peer pressure is a powerful thing most teenagers will go to what their friends/ idols do unless their is a reason not to.

    You ignored my Reviving Ophelia comment. Standards and expectations are good for a girls growing up experience.

    Amalthea, of course the Friend will have an impact. Good, (see above) are you not aware of what non-LDS fashions and life are like? Do you all live in UT or something? And BTW I am getting fairly good at controlling lustful urges but when I see butt crack or cleavage busting out of the top of a dress it definitely distracts from my interactions w/ a person and makes me want to get out of there. If you say that’s not what you’re talking about then, where is the line? What’s wrong w/ the church saying, to feel good about yourself you can help others, accomplish goals, Oh, and you don’t have to expose your body like the world says you have to in order to be valued.

    I think it just boils down to women being ticked off that anyone can tell them “what to do”. It’s just a good suggestion, no one’s going to go to jail or be stoned. Free will, but it’s a positive for LDS girls to hear a counter culture message in this area.

  77. 77.

    No one I know tells girls to cover up because of mens’ “lustful urges.” What world do you live in?

    One where women in the middle east are forced to wear clothes that entirely cover their bodies. You live in another perhaps?

  78. 78.

    Young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you.

  79. 79.

    Melyn, you say “I’m not talking about dressing like hookers”,

    Really, Ann? Where did I say that?

    If you’re going to use quotation marks, it’s advisable (not to say legal and ethical) practice to quote accurately.

    It’s also good practice in any discussion to respond to a person’s actual argument, rather than the overinflated straw feminist that seems to be hovering just above your view of the text. (Does a person have to be proudly displaying her (hip-length three-quarter-sleeved) I-Heart-Modesty t-shirt in order for you to hear that a critique of the rhetoric of modesty is different from a critique of modesty itself?)

    Further, your repeated insistence that we just don’t like to be “told what to do” is a little bit rude, and a lot bit irrelevant. I don’t drink coffee, I pray twice a day, I go to all three hours of church, and I even wear my regulation sacred underwear, all because, in effect, the Church tells me to. And, in fact, I think I’m a pretty modest dresser (especially given the aforementioned underwear). This is really, I promise, not about my secret desire to attend church in daisy dukes and a bustier. I actually am honestly concerned by the Church’s attitude towards women’s bodies, and I believe the rhetorical fixation on modesty is symptomatic of that problem. You are clearly not disturbed by this rhetoric, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t license you to waltz in here and slander my intentions as petty and rebellious.

  80. 80.

    @Dallin Thanks! Makes sense to me because when a boy wears his swim suit low and I can see all his curves going down into his shorts it def. makes me think about what’s under there. I could imagine it would be the same w/ guys when girls wear the barely there outfits that really accentuate rather than effectively covering their bodies.

  81. 81.

    Sorry, what you did say was, “I’m not saying women dressing “like hookers,” as one commenter has so delicately phrased it, isn’t a problem.” I thought it was a good summation. I’ll be more careful.

    I wasn’t intentionally creating a ‘straw feminist’, but my reading of your intense coverage of so many aspects of this topic was that people hear didn’t think young girls should be told what was appropriate to wear. So the argument I was trying to make was that if they don’t get that message from church, I think they would dress like I see most young people dress, so I was describing things I see often. It’s what’s actually out there, not a straw man. My experience w/ teenagers is that w/out standards they typically just try to fit in.

    I jumped in initially because I see the damage the hypersexual culture does to girls (the APA agrees with me, look it up). And I see the church as a valuable counterweight to that. But I have never seen any study or annecdotal evidence that people saying value yourself enough to not use your body for attention is damaging in any way. Instead I have seen girls eyes and lives light up when they capture the spirit of becoming instead of the ‘be sexy’ message they get many times a day. Saying the church tells girls to “sell themselves and be sexually attractive to men to be worth anything” is over the top and inaccurate to anything I have ever heard.

    If this is just a criticism of the rhetoric then I am curious that there isn’t an acknowledgement that there actually is a problem out there, or that their hearts are in the right place. If the rhetoric is so distasteful, how do we teach the girls not to emulate the friends and idols that actually would be a negative influence on healthy development?

  82. 82.

    @Amalthea, Pulling out sentences instead of addressing the whole issue makes me think you are trying to score points instead of enlighten me, but I’ll try one more time. I was, I guess unclearly, referring to the world as the church definition of extraspiritual influences around us. I don’t live in the middle east, and I’m quite sure you don’t, so I’m pretty sure that’s not the conversation that we’re having.

    I was questioning the “world” you guys live in because the experiences that I frequently have is that girls feeling like they need to be and act sexy is a bigger problem than the much quieter message that they should dress their bodies appropriately. Modesty as I teach it, and I have seen it taught, is a message of ‘you are divine and valuable, don’t feel like you have to show off your body to get attention from the people around you’. People make mistakes and sometimes could word thing differently, but one problem definitely is much more serious than the other.

  83. 83.

    when a boy wears his swim suit low and I can see all his curves going down into his shorts it def. makes me think about what’s under there.

    Ann, speaking of modesty, you do realize you’re displaying unseemly and provocative–not to mention extremely personal–habits of mind to an Apostle of the Lord?

    It’s always dangerous to take your brain out on the Internet in nothing but Daisy Dukes and a bustier.

  84. 84.

    No one I know tells girls to cover up because of mens’ “lustful urges.” What world do you live in? I have never heard that or anything like that.

    Yeah. I always fall asleep during Conference, too.

  85. 85.

    @Amalthea, Pulling out sentences instead of addressing the whole issue makes me think you are trying to score points instead of enlighten me,

    Fair enough. But it seems to me that if you really have never seen anything saying such that, among other things, you have skipped over reading a significant portion of this thread.

  86. 86.

    I thought it was a good summation.

    Actually, I objected because you kind of reversed my position.

    my reading of your intense coverage of so many aspects of this topic was that people hear didn’t think young girls should be told what was appropriate to wear.

    Yep, there’s that straw man argument.

    I see the damage the hypersexual culture does to girls

    As do we. For the very, very, very last time, we totally agree on that. In fact, I’m so deeply concerned about the hypersexualization of girls in the culture broadly, that it makes me even more concerned when I find the Church making covert contributions to that model of womanhood.

    I was questioning the “world” you guys live in because the experiences that I frequently have . . .

    It seems very clear that your experience, and your evaluation of that experience, has been different from mine. This is fine, and can lead to some interesting discussion, but it doesn’t mean that I live on another planet, or am a moron. Please note that being shrill and rude will get you bounced, moderated, and eventually banned.

  87. 87.

    Ann said:

    If this is just a criticism of the rhetoric then I am curious that there isn’t an acknowledgement that there actually is a problem out there

    Hmmm. Seven comments earlier:

    I’m not saying women dressing “like hookers,” as one commenter has so delicately phrased it, isn’t a problem

    And in comment 36:

    responding to the first few about society’s hypersexualization of children. The only sane response to that phenomenon is to condemn/bully/shame/boycott the ADULTS who do it.

    And in comment 22:

    I agree . . . that parents need to be parents and establish and maintain appropriate rules about behavior, including dress.

    Huh.

    . . .

    Ann said (comment 76):

    No one I know tells girls to cover up because of mens’ “lustful urges.” What world do you live in? I have never heard that or anything like that.

    Well. Dallin H. Oaks said (April Conference 2005):

    Young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you.

    The EFY video on dressing standards for young women said (http://ce.byu.edu/yp/efy/dressAppear.cfm):

    “Most good Priesthood holders . . . are looking for girls that [won't be] a distraction, when they’re dressed immodestly.”

    “If I could say something to all the young women of the church, it would be to be a good influence to all the young men by dressing modestly so they don’t get bad thoughts . . . “

    Huh.

  88. 88.

    Telling girls their bodies are pornography vis-a-vis the male gaze is a way of participating in the cultural hypersexualization of girls, not resisting it. The problem is that all too often Church discourse on modesty underscores women’s sexual value to men (and the need for men to control it). It fails to escape that problematic dynamic.

    We may not live in the Middle East, but as Mark Brown once put it so aptly (on a related issue), “It is nonetheless disturbing that our own version [of modesty] is simply [a] matter of degree, not of kind.” When it comes to women’s attire, our values mirror those of radical Islam—we just draw the line in a different place on the skin.

  89. 89.

    Standards for men are more modest, or body-covering/concealing, than those for women.

    The rules might be different in the UK. Where I live, I don’t see many girls playing Shirts and Skins at the park or swimming bare-chested in nothing but bathing trunks.

  90. 90.

    Melyngoch #74–brilliantly put. Also Kiskilili #88. And because it’s late and I need to get up in 5 short hours, that is all. That and my undying love for all ZDs.

  91. 91.

    ZD hearts Amelia.

  92. 92.

    Hmm.

    Are we, perhaps, at cross purposes? Are some of us talking about…
    1 – LDS rhetoric in our local units
    2 – some about global LDS rhetoric
    3 – some of us are discussing the quotes in 87 (which is a teeny bit late to reference them…)
    4 – while others are talking about appropriate standards of western modesty in 2011?

    Lastly, while I agree with much of the censure itself I’m not sure the treatment of Ann W is completely reasonable or “nice.”

    Let me participate in all of the above, in the order they appear.

    1 – My unit focuses on perception of self as reflected in the way you dress. We dress modestly according to our local standards because we know who we are and not how we look is what matters and that how we dress communicates that opinion to others.

    That’s a message we promulgate universally to all members regardless of age or gender.

    2 – If global rhetoric is directed towards the young women, or is adjusted for them in some way, or is communicated in the manner of the quotes in 87, then I don’t approve of that.

    3 – I also strongly object to the quotes in 87. This is a backwards way of looking at things. What the young man thinks is neither here nor there.

    4 – Finally, I think we live within our own cultural envelope which typically informs on what is appropriate dress in nearly all situations. By dressing slightly above the typical level of modesty in our area our physical appearance carries a powerful message that we are a peculiar people. This is a good thing it also varies according to your local culture.

    :D

  93. 93.

    I’m really amazed that people can’t see the value in girls learning that their value is in who they are and what they do, not in the amount of skin they expose. They get told the opposite on at least a daily basis.

    I think that the argument is that the rhetoric we see so frequently in discussions of modesty within the Church actually perpetuates this message: you can devalue yourself by showing too much skin, therefore, your self-worth is communicated in part by how much skin you choose to show. Whether this message is intentional or not is slightly beside the point. (For the record, I think it’s an unintentional side-effect of well-intentioned, but flawed, teaching…in most cases.)

    Personally, as a YW advisor, I don’t teach my girls any of the extreme (but apparently wide-spread) viewpoints that seem to be the target of most people’s angst in this thread – including my own. When we have marriage lessons, they hear that the traits we’ve discussed developing are about being a functional adult, not in pleasing some as-yet faceless RM. When we discuss modesty, they hear that the Lord gave them their agency and the Holy Ghost so that they can make their own decisions and find out if it’s what He wants for them to be happy.

    “It is nonetheless disturbing that our own version [of modesty] is simply [a] matter of degree, not of kind.” When it comes to women’s attire, our values mirror those of radical Islam—we just draw the line in a different place on the skin.

    I have to say I agree with this. When we make the well-intentioned mistake of insisting that women are somehow responsible for the thoughts men think about them, we risk endorsing an unhealthy degree of guilt in women, and an unhealthy lack of self-control in men. Yes, we should all love our neighbours as ourselves and should be sensitive to how difficult we may make it for another person to keep their covenants, but at the end of the day, don’t we still subscribe to the scripture that says that we won’t be tempted above what we’re able to handle? Or that we alone bear sole responsibility for how we use – or do not use – our agency to develop self-mastery?

    So yes, young women should know that their worth as a daughter of God is independent of how they dress, and that they needn’t reduce their appearance solely to their sexual attractiveness to feel good or attract attention. However, we in the Church need to be more careful about framing our discussion of those concepts in a way that doesn’t make our young people afraid of or ashamed of their sexual natures. Just because such harm can be inadvertently done in pursuit of a righteous goal (teaching the respect of one’s body and the need for informed and conscientious use of one’s agency), doesn’t make the harm done any less real or repugnant.

  94. 94.

    [...] not enough that I now feel like I have to screen The Friend before I pass it along to my children. It’s not enough that we had to skip sharing time [...]

  95. 95.

    [...] A Modest Bit of Data – Ziff [...]

  96. 96.

    [...] A Modest Bit of Data – Ziff [...]

  97. 97.

    No wonder I have such a problem with all of this crazy modesty talk. I was in high school from 1986 – 1990 and apparently didn’t get a big enough dose of modesty lectures!

    Hence I let my eight-year-old wear spaghetti straps and hike my own garments up to mid-thigh when I wear skirts above the knee. (Don’t even get me started on my double-pierced lobes.) If only I had been indoctrinated properly! Maybe this is why I only lasted one year in a YW calling.

  98. 98.

    I’m so late to post on this that probably nobody will ever read what I write. However, I think #17 is spot on. The Church is terrible at nuance and at acknowledging different standards for different circumstances. Chubby, little, four-year-old arms in spaghetti straps are not “alluring,” but the same style dress on a buxom 18-year-old might be. Likewise, the same dress on a flat-chested 18-year-old might not seem immodest. It all depends on how you “wear” the dress. Same goes for chastity. I think it is perfectly acceptable for two 30-year-olds to engage in more “adult” physical contact than for two 16-year-olds, especially if those 30-year-olds have been trying to remain chaste until marriage. However, the Church seems to hold the same expectations of its 30-year-old singles as its teenagers. Crazy, imho.

  99. 99.

    […] in modesty rhetoric in the Church in the past few years, or are we just imagining things? I wrote a post a few years ago to try to answer this question by counting articles in Church magazines by year […]

  100. 100.

    After I originally commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and
    now whenever a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the same comment.

    Perhaps there is a way you are able to remove me from that service?
    Thanks a lot!

  101. 101.

    […] what exactly is modesty? It’s really interesting, considering the increasing emphasis in the current church, that I wasn’t really able to find anything in the scriptures on the […]

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