Wearing faith on (or under) our sleeves

The following summary of a study on Mormons and beards recently appeared in The Atlantic’s “Quick Studies” page.

Although Brigham Young wore a beard, today’s Mormon leaders insist that a clean-shaven face shows piety and obedience. But some bearded Mormons are resisting: they say they feel shame and resentment when told to shave, because their beards express “deeply felt, even intimate, identities.” Appearance is a “highly charged” marker of loyalty in the church, and growing a beard is increasingly becoming “a serious breach that sets in play a uniquely Mormon social drama.”

“Men’s Grooming in the Latter-Day Saints Church: A Qualitative Study of Norm Violation,” Mental Health, Religion & Culture

Whether it is through social pressures to shave or the visibility of garments underneath clothes, Mormons routinely wear their religion quite literally on or, in the case of garments, under their sleeves.  How does the visibility of our faith on our bodies reflect how we live our religion?  Do we experience pressures to conform to certain standards of dress as intrusions on privacy, as welcome opportunities to express a shared identity, or as something else?  Does our awareness that our religion is often visible to even strangers (through the garment lines that bulge under clothes) change how we interact with others and how we publicly present ourselves?  Can we use decisions to, for example, grow a beard as a means of silently attempting to communicate concerns to other Mormons?  Do we judge other Mormons when we can tell by their clothes, for example, that they are not endowed?  What are the consequences of making faith so visible?  Discuss.

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Comments

  1. I have always conformed to the approved appearance of Mormon males, but I have to wonder why more of us don’t see 1 Sam. 16:7 as a way to become more Christlike.

  2. Yet Another John says:

    I think that garments, clean-shaven faces, white shirts and ties, etc. are all part of the “uniform” currently strongly suggested by our Mormon culture. Well, the garments might be in a slightly different category, but the rest are cultural things that have developed over time.
    Uniforms are common, even required among many different groups. Armed forces, Boy Scouts, athletes, service industries, government agencies, highway workers, etc. all wear distinctive uniforms that identify them as belonging to a particular group. Gang memebers, high school kids, rabid fans of a particular team,. and skinheads all present identifying clothes and images. When we see or wear a “uniform” I think we tend to think and act a certain way. It may not be justified, be we do. Boy Scouts in uniform generally have a more successful program going on that those troops who don’t require the uniform. We expect a policeman to act and behave a certain way when he is in uniform. Cops go “undercover” by ditching the uniform so the opposite effect is acheived.
    So I guess what I’m trying to say in a rambling way, is yes, by wearing our faith on our sleeve, it is a reminder to act and behave a certain way more consistant with our principles. “Be a good example” as my mom would say. Are all parts of the uniform necessary? Of course not, and as trends in clothing and hair grooming change, we’ll see some changes in our attire also.
    As to the question of “what are the consequences of making faith so visible?” we ought to ask our Orthodox Jewish friends or our burkha-wearing sisters in Islam that question.

  3. I live in a conservative, well heeled stake where men in leadership positions are expected to dress missionary standards — suits, white shirts, etc. Hair grooming, including facial, also seems to follow the same missionary standards. I have lived in stakes in the past where the leadership was more moderate and didn’t see the need to dictate appearance. Men in leadership positions were expected to dress appropriately for their position, white shirts, ties, but sport coats were tolerated as well as facial hair. It has been my experience that there is absolute norm, but varieties of basic principles of good, appropriate grooming based upon the position a priesthood leader holds.

  4. Having facial hair in my Provo ward isn’t frowned upon in the least. It is expected that if you are called to the bishopric or high council that you will be asked to shave, but other than that it really isn’t a big deal. Many men in the ward will wear a colored shirt as often as a white shirt.

    Having said that, one of the things that I am trying to teach my children is that there are no “non-messages”; in other words we are constantly communicating with others even if we don’t speak to them. The choices we make in our appearance and demeanor are communicating for us, and we cannot control other people’s reference points, so they may misinterpret what we are communicating. I try to teach my kids to try and communicate openness and respect through their appearance.

  5. I think, at least in the case of garments, WE are more aware of those lines than anyone not of our faith. Before I (adult convert) was baptized, I was completely unaware of the Mormon grooming and dress standards, as well as the garments. Once I learned about the G’s, I began to notice the lines, and as I progressed in the church, I did notice people checking me out- but only in church/church oriented situations. I was a member for more than five years before I was endowed, and had plenty of opportunity to notice.

    But I do think it’s our own insular communities/social circles which notice these things. The world at large, unless they live near/have friends/ are family to Mormons, neither know nor care.

    Our subtle G lines and our often clean shaven faces are not nearly the badge of our religion we may think they are… As far as faith made visible? We aren’t in the same ballpark with Orthodox Jews or the veiled women of Islam.

  6. I had a mustache and longer hair in college, but I’ve been clean-shaven for decades. However, when I think about it while shaving, it strikes me that spending so much time fussing over my face in the mirror every morning involves some degree of vanity.

    So I am conflicted.

  7. #5 tracy: But I do think it’s our own insular communities/social circles which notice these things. The world at large, unless they live near/have friends/ are family to Mormons, neither know nor care.

    Very true. I never knew about garments before I began studying Mormonism and never would have known to look for garment lines. Even now I only notice them if they’re horribly obvious. I sometimes look for them if I’m dealing with a very annoying female Mormon so I can make a mental note that I look much better in my underwear than she does. Yes, I’m petty like that.

    BTW, white shirts & garments? When the garment neckline is so obvious under the white shirt, it looks really tacky. Seriously, wear a second undershirt or something.

  8. Natalie B. says:

    Yeah, I agree that we mostly notice garments on other Mormons. Sometimes I find myself looking for the lines in order to decide if someone is Mormon or not or to decide if that person is endowed.

    But, they are a pain when you need to wear a white shirt. I feel totally embarrassed in that situation, because while the men have a nice cut now for Oxford shirts, women still don’t have a good choice to wear under the white dress shirt.

  9. Cynthia L. says:

    #3–I have also noticed the level of conformance to the norms vary greatly from ward to ward that I’ve been in. It tracks very closely with class in my experience. The least financially secure wards I’ve been in had much less conformity, then I spent several years in professional-class wards (doctors, lawyers, accountants) that had super-conformity. Now I’m in an upper class ward (family money, CEOs, etc) and we’re back to much more diversity in appearance, especially among the women. I thought I would feel very out of place in this ward due to my (not upper class) appearance and frankly didn’t want to be in it (our boundaries were changed). But I’ve found the non-conformity to be so liberating compared to the professional-class ward I was in, that even though it better matched my own class level, I feel more at home in this new ward.

  10. I am not so sure that non-Mormons are oblivious to our wearing of garments. I have heard stories of non-Mormon faculty at the University of Utah being savvy enough to discriminate against Mormon applying for faculty positions, all because they noticed they were wearing garments. Who is to say that this kind of job discrimination doesn’t happen with other non-Mormon employers in Salt Lake City?

  11. I find it alternately comical and annoying (depending on how behind I am in classes) when I see things like that Atlantic article. They’re catching on to compelling issues in Mormonism just as they become less significant. Twenty years ago, that was a really compelling issues. But in the time between then and now the Church has become a truly global church that doesn’t really concern itself with the the micromanagement of its members. I can guarantee you that no one in my Philadelphia Ward (hardly remote to Salt Lake though membership density is as low here as it is in many other parts of the world) cares whether men wear beards or not. Heck, the last Young Men President had an earring and neither I nor anyone else really thought of it. I didn’t even think to notice it was kind of odd until the other week when a friend pointed it out.

    Maybe this is still salient in Utah, Idaho , Orange County, etc… (Maybe even some of the suburban wards of the Northeast for all I know) but talking about social pressure to shave as a “uniquely Mormon social drama” reflects a rather elementary — even dated — understanding of Mormonism.

  12. I’m reminded of a summer evening at the Opera in the Park in New York. But it wasn’t Central park where everybody goes simply to be seen. It was Marine Park in Brooklyn, miles from Manhattan, where only die-hard opera lovers dare to go. We had a whole mob of our children and some of their friends and were enjoying our picnic dinner before the opera began. Then the folks behind us asked if we would take their pictures, and after that was over and we were handing them back their camera, they said, “Excuse me, are you Mormons?”

    I thought, gee, we’re succeeding. They could see the innate goodness in our lives, the glow of the Spirit, the love in our family, etc. etc.

    But, alas, it was not so. When I asked a little later, the guy said “I noticed the garment lines . . .”

  13. One other note: I tracked down the article that was referred to in the Atlantic (which my sharp-eyed wife saw as soon as our issue arrived the other day. One of the authors, a professor at Georgia Southern University is a graduate of Southern Utah University, and has much more hair on his face than on top of his head. The other author, who ironically is both white and named White and teaches at Spelman College, appears to be beardless but his vitae suggests that he too is LDS.

    The question it raised in my mind: don’t these guys have anything to think or write about?

  14. I knew a stake president who wouldn’t allow men to receive callings if they wore facial hair. I don’t know the full story, but I have to wonder if the bishops in his stake were inspired to issue callings to these bearded- and mustached-men but the stake president was vetoing their decisions. So maybe this is still a compelling issue in some corners of the kingdom.

  15. I’m with those who say non-issue. In my current ward, I can think of at least a half dozen bearded men (myself included) who are active and have callings. Men are as likely to wear non-white shirts as they are to wear white shirts.

    I notice when I visit my parents’ ward that all (well, the vast majority) of the men are clean-shaven and wear white shirts, but as best I can tell, it’s more a function of age than anything. My parents’ ward is much older than my current ward.

  16. I’ve had a beard for most (though not all) of the time since I graduated from BYU 30+ years ago, and have had one almost continuously for the past 20 years. Among my callings while having a beard: Seventy president (stake level, back when we had such things); counselor in a bishopric (twice); ward/branch mission leader (several times); young men’s president, counselor, and advisor.

    My favorite moment was some years back when I was branch mission leader in the DC Branch. I shaved off my beard one morning (I do that every now and then, sometimes to remind myself how much better I look with a beard, but mostly out of boredom) and kept it off for a few weeks. Early one Sunday morning, while still clean-shaven, I attended a monthly mission leaders meeting with the Washington DC North Mission President. He looked at me and said, “You know, Bro. Webster, you just don’t look the same without your beard.”

    I started growing it back that same day. :-) ..bruce..

  17. All I can do is laugh when I read the above summary. Oh the DRAMA! Guys, are any of you truly stricken with such “shame and resentment” over these supposed Mormon grooming standards?

  18. What would you suggest that Mormons who study the psychology of religion do for research? Publish or perish.

  19. #10, as far as U of U faculty goes I think they are poor representatives of most non-Mormons in this case, since the LDS/non-LDS schism there seems to be fairly well pronounced (from what I’ve heard…no first hand experience, so I could be wrong). Regardless, it seems logical to assume they would generally be far more aware of garments than your average non-Mormon out of state.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    I probably wouldn’t wear a beard if I hadn’t gone to BYU. It probably never would have occurred to me to grow one. But in my married student ward, at least half of the guys wouldn’t shave over Xmas break, and then would only shave again right before class. I did that my last Xmas break, and my wife really liked the beard. So as soon as I graduated, I grew it back and I’ve worn it ever since, over a quarter century later.

    I wish it were a talisman against callings (I’d be very happy not to have a calling at all), but alas, it doesn’t work that way out here in the hinterlands. No one particularly cares.

    I will say that if someone called me to something and made the calling conditional upon me shaving, I wouldn’t do it. If President Monson himself asked me to shave, I wouldn’t do it. I would inform him that on this matter he is of lesser authority than my wife. As she is the one who has to find me attractive (no small task that), she holds the keys to the kingdom as to whether I wear a beard or not.

  21. #20 Kevin: If President Monson himself asked me to shave, I wouldn’t do it. I would inform him that on this matter he is of lesser authority than my wife. As she is the one who has to find me attractive (no small task that), she holds the keys to the kingdom as to whether I wear a beard or not.

    LOL!

  22. I don’t find this (facial hair) to be an issue at all. Whoever wrote the above article is really out of touch.

  23. I didn’t mean Natalie, but the writer she quotes.

  24. Kevin, that’s good to hear. A few years ago we came to church and found that 90% of the men in our ward who had previously had facial hair were now clean-shaven, per the (then-)Stake President’s request (or strong suggestion–I wasn’t at the secret meeting where this occurred). Most of these men had had beards as long as their wives had known them, and the wives HATED that they’d shaved them off. I think only one man in our ward still had his beard, but because no one really knew why everyone else had shaved because even the wives who hated the shaving wouldn’t talk about the context in which their husbands had decided to shave (until after the SP’s release), I couldn’t help wondering if he just hadn’t gotten the memo or if he was deliberately defying it. I wanted to believe he was deliberately defying it–and I’m not terribly impressed with deliberate defiance, generally speaking, but I was REALLY unimpressed with the SP instituting this quasi-policy on the down low. My husband (who looks awful in facial hair) was going to grow a mustache as a joke (long story) but decided not to after every man in the stake started shaving. As much as I would have hated a mustache on my husband, I hated even more that he felt compelled to follow a policy he didn’t even know for sure was a policy and which he hadn’t even been specifically requested to do. LAME.

    I do have to roll my eyes at one’s beard expressing a “deeply felt, even intimate, identity.” I would have deep misgivings about my husband’s masculinity if he said something like that to me. It’s just hair, dude. It shouldn’t matter, okay, just leave it at that.

  25. StillConfused says:

    I am not a huge fan of the ‘stache. And the soul-patch is just full on retarded. I also think that scruffy three day beard look is lame. But I say to each his own. I know shaving must be a huge hassle and judging by how often I shave my legs, if I were a man, I would definitely have a beard.

  26. #24: If you sisters had been more clever, you all could have grown mustaches. I’m sure the SP would have enjoyed that one.

  27. Michael Nielsen says:

    I happened upon the discussion here, and thought I’d say hello. The research Daryl and I conducted was one way to investigate social norms, something that interests social psychologists (me) and anthropologists (Daryl).

    Some of the people we interviewed were relatively nonchalant about their beards, and shaved without much of a thought when asked to by a church leader. Others described being deeply affected. In a nutshell, their beards were part of their self-concept; they were trying to be faithful to their God and Church, but a person they believed to be God’s representative said, in so many words, that they were not being faithful in a very basic way that went beyond deeds.

    E (17), I agree that the summary on The Atlantic site is more sensational than it need be. It certainly isn’t how I would have written it. At the same time, I understand that one of the men we interviewed hasn’t attended church for several years now as a result of the conflict he experienced.

    Mark B (13), you asked, “The question it raised in my mind: don’t these guys have anything to think or write about?”

    One of my research interests is in how people understand and deal with religious conflict. That’s the context from which I approach such things as beards, norms, and so forth. I spend my time thinking about lots of things, including how a person is affected by being told that a norm violation signifies disharmony with God. That makes for fascinating stuff, in my book, but of course different people may disagree.

  28. Welcome to one of the authors. Have you looked at full-time CES employees in these contexts? I imagine the white shirts, suits, and clean-shaven faces are a part of their self-concept. And aren’t they told that God will no longer want them to teach if they violate these norms?

  29. Kevin, count me with your wife- my husband would be in deep water if he shaved his beard.

  30. #27, thanks for the response; I hope my comment didn’t seem insulting to you. I’m sure if I were to read your actual research it would be interesting and I don’t mean to imply that it isn’t a worthwhile topic.

  31. I had a friend who felt very unwelcome at church because he wore a beard (he was in one of those wards mentioned above where it mattered). He drifted away from the church eventually, not just for this, but it was a contributing factor. He was asked by a leader to shave it once. He didn’t do it. That did not help his feelings of alienation.

    I think the NT gives some very specific guidance on outward markers of righteousness. That ought to be our guide.

  32. Michael Nielsen says:

    Hi Sterling (28). We didn’t interview CES employees. In general, I’d expect that different dynamics would be in place, as they go into the situation knowing that dress & grooming standards are a condition of employment. Maybe people are willing to do things for money that they aren’t willing to do for salvation? ;-)
    No, just kidding. I suspect that a more important factor is whether the men understand the rules to be changing arbitrarily, so to speak. That was a theme that came up in our interviews, particularly with the men who reacted more negatively to the experience.

  33. When I see Mormons who don’t wear garments, I feel a pang of jealousy, and then…nothing.

  34. Michael Nielsen says:

    Thanks, E (30).

    SteveP (31), your comment reminds me of one of something one of our interviewees said — that relying on external factors to judge spiritual matters is appealing, but inevitably too simple.

  35. Natalie B. says:

    Thanks, Michael, for joining the conversation! I think it is very exciting to see scholarship about Mormons in The Atlantic.

  36. One of the older women in our branch only wore her garments on Sundays or to the temple as she didn’t want anyone to question her about them. I have never had a question about them, even here in the NE. Not even from doctors who tell you to strip down to your undies for a physical.

  37. several commenters have suggested that this topic is outdated – that the LDS culture is past this issue and that it simply isn’t a big deal. I wish I could agree with you. I continue to hear my priesthood leaders teaching that white shirts, short hair, and no beard is preferable to the alternatives. I’d also like to believe that my Minneapolis Ward is just behind the times – that church members elsewhere aren’t hearing the same things on Sundays, but I just don’t think it’s true. I think the social stigmas associated with beards or long hair are still alive and well.

    … and that’s forgetting the institutionalized ban on beards that applies to all General Authorities & missionaries, as well as all students, teachers, and employees at every church owned university.

  38. It is so interesting to read comments describing wards where facial hair is not an issue. I think it depends a great deal on the stake presidency and bishops. Beards are very common here in Montana, especially in the winter time, but LDS men in our area are asked to shave if called to leadership positions. We have a very conservative stake presidency who simply don’t tolerate facial hair of any kind. I think that facial hair (or any hair) is such a personal thing that it’s totally out of line for anyone to ask someone to cut it off. DH and I had such an argument about this a few months ago, that it is now a taboo topic in our home (he’s in the stake presidency).

  39. It’s issues like these that make many people believe we belong to a cult. To the extent that it still exists, this idiotic attitude has to end. There’s nothing remotely countercultural or permissive about facial hair anymore. In a time where we struggle to retain members into activity, I can’t think of a worse thing to do, both because it reinforces the idea that Mormons are superficial and because it’s an unnecessary weakening of our unity as saints.

  40. Jeremy–I feel your irritation with this issue in the larger context of who we are as Mormons and saints on a pathway to God. These are things that are so obviously cultural and social that it is frustrating to talk of things of the spirit and God at the same time as talking about a beard.

    Years ago I had an aunt who wouldn’t kiss or hug me with a beard on. That really bothered me at the time when I was still youjng and shaping my concept of the world. That someone who should love me since we’re family–would use that love as a social enforcer.

    You know, BYU used to have beard-growing contest every year for Homecoming that is documented from the 1920’s up until about 1965 during the anti-beatnik crusades of Ernst L. Wilkinson.

    I remember the big hoopla when BYU asked the artist who painted a lovely and historically accurate portrait of Karl G. Maesar for the cover of its Student Directory back in the 1980’s to repaint it removing the beard. No one really even cared or realized anything until a BYU PR guy, in an interview about the new student directory sort of volunteered the information, like they were proud of their diligence on this issue. He said that they were afraid someone would raise a question about beards.

    This is why people do think Mormons are crazy or why Mormons from other parts of the world roll their eyes at Utah Mormons.

    Do we just create little rules like this so we can have something to live up to and then we can say hey, look at us, we’re different from the world? Because in the end, I don’t think “the world” is that impressed or even cares. I don’t think God does either for that matter.

  41. Now I’m riled up–another thought anyways. I teach high school and I get the whole thing about the messages we send with everything we do. That’s a part of what I teach my students. But, what exactly is the message we’re trying to send with this petty obssesion with male facial hair grooming, etc? And what is the message we’re actually sending?

  42. Eveningsun says:

    Homer, as someone outside the Church I can tell you the message I’ve long gotten: that the Church is petty and authoritarian.

    When a friend and I graduated from high school many years ago I helped him move to Provo, where he was to start at BYU. At some point he took off to register for classes and came back disappointed–he had to get his hair cut first. He’d actually gotten it before we left LA for Provo and it was already pretty short (especially for the 1970s), but apparently it was not quite as clean off the collar as it needed to be.

    Anyway, at that time I had this rather romantic notion of college as a great intellectual adventure where you grappled with and debated the great and profound ideas, and I remember thinking how idiotic I thought it was to deny someone admission to that great adventure because their hair was an quarter of an inch too long. Could Moses, Socrates, Jesus, Darwin, and, yes, Brigham Young have been so wrong?

    My own theory is that the Church’s grooming standards derive in part from the shifting tides of conservative fashion–basically, the Church don’t want no d*mned hippies–in part from an unconscious identification with the American founders, who just happened to have lived at a time when beards were out, and in part from an obsession with and insecurity about masculinity (an obsession betrayed by the almost comic exaggerations of the Friberg paintings in the BoM).

    But the message it sends is basically that the Church is too image-conscious to be theologically serious.

  43. Thanks for calling attention to this interesting little bit.

  44. My husband was recently called to a leadership position, The Stake President recommended that he shave his beard of 15+ years. My husband asked if this were official policy. The SP response was no, it’s a personal choice and that my dh would probably feel uncomfortable at the stake meetings being the only bearded fellow. Needless to say he wasn’t uncomfortable, the thing that amazed my dh was that this was a mtg after work and when he got there all the men were in white shirts, ties, etc. The question being did they come home from their jobs and change or are they wearing white shirts and ties to their respected job? If they are wearing white shirts and ties to a job, I would presume that this shouts out Mormon more so than garment lines–who wears that stuff in the workplace anymore? Unless MadMen is bringing the 50s back in vogue.

  45. While I think the emphasis on hair length and existence of facial hair is unnecessary today (it might have had minor significance in a day when hair length and facial hair was a political or cultural statement rather than a sartorial decision), remarks like this always make me understand the scriptural injunction against stiffneckedness:

    I remember thinking how idiotic I thought it was to deny someone admission to that great adventure because their hair was an quarter of an inch too long.

    How idiotic would it be for someone who wants to gain admission to that great adventure to deny himself that opportunity because he insisted on wearing his hair a quarter of an inch too long?

    No doubt in my mind who the greater idiot would be.

  46. Though refusing to conform is may be MORE stupid, that relatively greater stupidity does not make the original request reasonable or acceptable.

  47. Peter LLC says:

    How idiotic would it be for someone who wants to gain admission to that great adventure to deny himself that opportunity because he insisted on wearing his hair a quarter of an inch too long?

    Sure, blame the victim.

  48. NoOneInParticular says:

    Dr. Nielsen: Grooming standards seems like a great choice for this sort of study. I’d also be interested to see how this stuff plays out internationally and interculturally across the Church. (The discussion of your article that I can find online doesn’t sound like that’s the direction you took things, but I haven’t read the article.) Is your article available in any of the big online databases, or do I have to hunt down a print copy/pay in order to read it?

    Word of Wisdom interpretation and practical application* would be another interesting dimension, internationally at least. I’m not thinking of general consensus stuff alcohol and tobacco (though those can be interesting, too); I’m thinking of the margins: coke/caffeine, iced tea and iced coffee drinks, other hot drinks like mate, non-alcoholic beer, exercise and dietary applications, and specific food items. Some specific food items I’ve heard occasionally proscribed by members in Central America include chile, certain unripe fruits (not a ‘fruit in its season’), and excessive cumin, though none of these is even close to being a widely-held belief (and the latter two maybe more or less ideosyncratic). I’m sure other places must have their own regional variations on this stuff, too.

  49. “today’s Mormon leaders insist that a clean-shaven face shows piety and obedience. ”

    Really? Where? Sure, there’s a strong cultural tradition that it’s preferable to be clean-shaven, but I’ve never seen anyone suggest let alone “insist” that bearded men represent impiety and disobedience.

  50. As a BYU-aged male in Provo, I watched the Youtube video

    about the asterisk that is the sanctioned mustache, flash across campus like wildfire.

    Well, relatively speaking, since BYU has effectively banned YouTube on campus.

  51. esodhiambo says:

    There is a man in my ward for one year only–he is from UT and will return in a few months. He sports a Brigham Young style beard–the kind with no mustache–and I definitely judge him for it. It makes me believe, and his comments in Sunday School help me right along, that he is on the edge of fundamentalism and he is pretty sure the rest of us are headed to hell.

    As far as I can tell, it is the temple presidency asking veil-workers to shave around here, not a stake presidency. I think it is silly (especially considering who veil workers represent, and the way we generally think of Him looking). But since I am neither bearded nor a veil-worker, I don’t worry too much about it.

    Lots of men around here grow beards in the spring for (the Hill Cumorah) pageant. Even the stake president.

    I have been judged by Mormons, sure. I have a visible tattoo and many people are surprised to learn I grew up in the Church, served a mission, etc. That said, when people actually know me and realize I am a pretty straight arrow, I don’t think anyone has ever held my tattoo against me. Or better yet, maybe it is keeping me from being called as the YW president, and for that alone, it is entirely worth it.

  52. Michael Nielsen says:

    Ben (49), the quote was The Atlantic’s summary of my article. I wouldn’t use such global language. The interviews Daryl and I conducted consisted of all of the men known to have worn facial hair in a single ward. The ward was in a stake in which all men in leadership positions were instructed by the stake president to not wear a beard. They either complied, or were released.

    NoOneInParticular (48), I don’t think the article is available through any online databases but I may have an electronic copy I can send you. Email me. mnielsen /at/ georgiasouthern /dot/ edu Include your mailing address so that, if I don’t have an electronic copy, I can send a printed copy the old-fashioned way.
    I like your observation that there are many different ways the margins might be investigated. Where did you hear about cumin being off-limits? (It is one of my favorite seasonings!)

  53. Michael Nielsen says:

    esodhiambo (51), the injunction against beards was a general church policy instituted several years ago. (Maybe 8? 12? something like that.) It prohibited temple workers from having beards, and included volunteers such as veil workers, but not men doing endowments or other ordinances as proxies for the dead.

    Your experience with a visible tattoo possibly keeping you from serving as YW president would be consistent with one of my interviewees’ experience with facial hair. The stake president required he and other men serving in YM callings shave when they were called. The SP made it clear that it was a condition of their calling. At least, that was the impression of the man I interviewed, and consistent with other men’s experiences in that unit.

  54. Eveningsun – thanks for your comments. “But the message it sends is basically that the Church is too image-conscious to be theologically serious.”

    That is a very real concern as we grapple with defining our religion under an increasingly focused mainstream spotlight (Big Love, Presdiential politics, Harvard girl, Bushman interview, etc.) This isn’t the time of Sonia Johnson and the Osmond’s. If we want to be taken seriously, we need to focus on faith and gospel, not image, culture wars and social conformity.

    I don’t want to get too melodramatic but this is the essence of the impasse between Jesus and the Pharisees, who seemed more concerned with preserving a way of life than accepting a higher law. Healing on the Sabbath? What a violation of the Honor code by the Lord of the Sabbath himself!

    BTW, I too was sent away from a BYU registration on account of my hair–ironically I had already gotten it cut that day at the Wilkinson Center, according to standards!

  55. Never having lived in the Mormon corridor, or attended BYU, I have never been particularly sensitized to facial hair in the Church (other than my mission I guess).

    IMO, there is a point when a beard becomes a mask and hides the wearer. Add sunglasses, ala ZZ Top, and one might as well be wearing a burka, the person is completely hidden.

  56. Eveningsun says:

    MAC, it’s just as easy to hide behind a clean-shaven mug. Bernie Madoff never wore a beard.

  57. Eveningsun says:

    Homer, I agree that “this is the essence of the impasse between Jesus and the Pharisees, who seemed more concerned with preserving a way of life than accepting a higher law.” But then, many churches start out with prophecy and decline into bureaucracy. It’s hard to see this as a “decline” when membership is growing–but then, sheer numbers is not the right metric when we’re talking religion….

  58. Years ago, at least 20, they had a “grow a beard” contest for the 24th of July in my Southern California ward. After the contest, they passed around Bic razors to the entrants with the expectation that they would be clean shaven on Sunday.

    Also, my Bishop wore a pink shirt to church last week. I now live in Utah. Of course, he’s the Bishop that has basically banished any Prop 8 talk, saying “This is not an issue here.” “Or Sister so and so has worked very hard preparing the lesson. Let’s get back on topic.”

    When my mom’s ward got a new bishop, we correctly guessed who had been called because he had a fresh haircut and had a suit on.

    As for garments and being judged. I had an awful pregnancy. Had a C-section. Had a baby in the NICU. Was pumping breast milk. Had all the accompanying soreness and surgical incisions to go along with this. Basically, the nursing garments I had bought in preparation, were painful as the markings and hem seems to excerbate every single sore spot on my body. (Note to sisters… These are a VERY bad design. Never buy them. Just get the chemise style and stretch the necks. SRSLY… embroidery right over the spot where new nursing moms hurt the most on nursing garments? Use screenprinting, just like on my husbands military garments, much nicer to tender and sore nipples.) I mention this to a NICU nurse I noticed wearing garments, and she told me about getting the chemise and getting the long tops so the hem is no where near my incision.

    So I go to Beehive Clothing. Don’t have a current temple recommend. Select the tops recommended for me. I don’t have a garment top on. I have on a light weight white blouse with embroidery. You can clearly see I’m not wearing a top. I was treated rather rudely by the sister checking me out. Put me in my post baby state into tears. Made a great impression on my non-member friend who drove me to get garments.

  59. I’m not in the Corridor, but our stake seems to have similar ‘clean-shaven’ guidelines, but they don’t seem to have the weight of commandment yet. In an interview with a member of the stake presidency a year ago, I was asked (in substance), “How would you feel about shaving off your beard if we asked you to do it for a calling?” I responded with two concerns: It visibly distinguishes me from the youth I work around, and it covers a scar. The first is important to me; the second, not so much.

    It didn’t work; they issued the calling anyway, and my ward has to put up with a bearded financial clerk.

  60. (Old post, but it’s interesting to note that I’ve had a goatee and/or beard for almost 13 years, and I’ve never once been asked to shave.)

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