Short Skirt, Long Jacket

I have a lot of hair. It has quite a bit of curl. It tends to get frizzy. It took me years to figure out how to take care of it and it’s still kind of tricky. At one point that involved a hairdryer on low with a diffuser. I bought a couple of electrical adapters suited for Eastern Europe and packed them into my luggage. It will come as no surprise to anyone with a little knowledge about voltage and electricity that an adapter isn’t going to save a hairdryer. However as a young missionary I lacked this knowledge and the thing blew the first or second time I turned it on.

Hairdryers weren’t easy to find in Moscow in 1994, and they weren’t cheap. My companions and I found a store where five hairdryers were laid neatly in a row beneath glass. I looked at all the prices and with no money to spare picked the red one, the smallest and the cheapest. It seemed good enough.  The next morning I plugged it in below the 12 inch diameter mirror the three of us shared. There was a sudden yank at the back of my head. I tugged back.  The pull was only stronger and then the smell of burning hair, smoke, and a crackling sound before I ripped the cord from the wall.

I managed to untangle the thing without losing too much hair, and opted to mostly wash my hair in the evenings instead, pulling the covers over my head at night during the winter. It was mostly dry by the time I left the house the next day.  The first time I saw an Elder from my MTC group I wasn’t having a good hair day, and he wasn’t kind about it. Needless to say, I didn’t feel like my hair met the missionary dress guidelines for sisters.

When I served a mission the instructions were a little different than they are today. But they were new then, too. They had just started asking sisters to not wear prints and cheery colors, but instead wear dark colors and longer hemlines. Rumor has it such drab attire scares away female investigators who are afraid they too would have to dress so drab after baptism; hence the change back to bright colors sixteen years later. The instruction I received with my call didn’t mention things like “modest” bras (I’m not at all sure what that means, just that it says to only wear modest ones) or request they be cream or white colored. We had to wear nylons back then, at least in the MTC. My sister didn’t have to wear them in Alabama, and my sister in Ecuador was actually asked not to wear them, just like my sister-in-law in the Philippines, who wore dark skirts and white button up shirts, at least to meetings. The new instructions encourage shoes that aren’t made for walking (by the looks of them), be “colorful”, or at least dress that way, unless you’re a senior sister serving with her husband, in which case the instructions are the exact opposite. “Conservative colors are preferred,” they read (banned are multi-colored sweaters!).  Mid-calf to ankle length hemlines are requested, while younger sisters are given more room for shorter hemlines.  For senior sisters bras are not discussed with the same stipulations.

I can guess at rationale for the discrepancies, but mostly it seems kind of random, like my stake missionary prep teacher who had recently returned from serving as mission president, worked for the missionary department in Salt Lake and said sisters should not wear button up shirts and jackets. His reason was that they were too masculine and sisters should instead wear blouses (flowery); this at the very time the mission department was mailing out instructions to sisters to adopt precisely that “masculine” attire. Or the mission president in Missouri who instructed the sisters to always wear lipstick, or the complaint from the  mission president in Ecuador, Guayaquil North mission to the mission president in Ecuador, Guayaquil South  that the sisters in the South mission looked terrible, and shouldn’t wear sandals, when they had been instructed by the mission nurse to wear only sandals.  The recommended straight skirts weren’t worn there either, because how would they climb up and down a ladder to get in and out of their apartment?

I realize that in a world-wide church some standard needs to be maintained. I like the idea of missionaries looking professional, they are ambassadors of the Church, and of God. Despite the idea by some that the more bedraggled you look, the harder you must be working, sisters need to look presentable. But somewhere there is a disconnect. Sure, my sister who served in Wisconsin dressed precisely in the dark professional attire depicted in the guidelines she received in the mail. Meanwhile her twin in Alabama was asked to dress more colorfully long before the new guidelines arrived last fall. She also had the option of color coordination classes and fashion instruction, along with makeup application classes if she liked. But I, with my blow-dryer-eaten hair, purchased Chinese face powder that made me look like a Geisha from an old lady on the street, and tried to smooth fly aways when I took the fur hat off my head.

Frank Bruno, the father of two returned sister missionaries points out,

“When their missionary call comes they will receive specific instructions from their mission president on what is appropriate clothing attire. In some missions they dress casually and in others there are specific cultural differences. Some mission presidents allow light blues, browns, or grays while others insist on ultra-conservative attire.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that at least one of his daughters drew too much attention. While she followed the missionary guidelines with great care, was asked to…(you’ll just have to read it).

A close friend of mine serving with her husband, who is Mission President, was unsettled when the wife of an area authority recently visited and criticized the sisters in her mission for not looking good enough. She complained that some were not wearing makeup, or their hair wasn’t pretty enough; while saying nothing about their love, obedience, hard work and effective teaching. I’m not sure where the extra preparation day and extra money come in for the hair salon in that  foreign country, or what meeting with an investigator will be cut out to allow for all the extra primping. I’m certain the critical sister did not understand the limited resources the sister missionaries are working with. In the pictures my friend sends me, the Elders and Sisters all appear well groomed.

My point is most sisters do their best to look nice and do their job. They teach the gospel of Jesus Christ with the power of the Spirit and with and love. They get into houses two men dressed in dark suits can’t. They’re ok with telling investigators they can wear shorter skirts than sister missionaries do after they get baptized (or they could say that until the shorter hemline rule appeared). People aren’t afraid of them.

I’m not sure what the answer is. The subjective decisions in different missions regarding proper attire and grooming for sisters suggests that if guidelines were sent out only by mission offices, there could be more confusion. However the depicted attire for sisters now is for those serving in places with a western standard of living. There’s an old missionary saying: The harder you work, the prettier your wife will be. The unwritten words to sisters seem to be, “The prettier you are the more effective you’ll be,” tempered by, “but not too pretty.”

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    That Dr. B story was fascinating and perplexing. If BiV bought her daughter missionary appropriate clothing, I wonder how it was, short of wrapping her with an ace bandage or something, that the missionary clothing police felt they were able to cure her well endowed state with different clothing?

    This is a whole world of concern with sister missionary clothing that I didn’t even know existed; thanks for the very interesting glimpse into this alternate universe.

  2. Thomas Parkin says:

    *deletes entire response*

    *shakes it off*

  3. American (or other) popular culture is always changing. Fashion and what is considered appropriate clothing is always changing to. It doesn’t surprise me that every once in a while the church changes the standard for missionaries (slightly).
    I think it is a good thing that they let mission presidents have some input for their own mission. Obviously local customs and weather play into it.
    I’m not sure what was going on in the individual circumstances mentioned above. But all women know that no two women look the same in the same article of clothing.
    I also have to add that my teen daughter wears clothing that I wouldn’t have worn at that age because styles have changed. She would make an entirely different “first impression” if she went back in time and showed up in my junior high in her current clothing.
    I think all the “guidelines” either by the church or by more local leaders are trying to balance the different goals of: representing the church, comfort, attractiveness, looking not too out of place yet distinct, efficiancy, cost, etc.

  4. Give me a break.

  5. Jennifer in GA says:

    Reason #468 Why I Would Make a Terrible Missionary: I can’t stand the idea of having a dress code dictated to me without a nod to common sense. The sisters in our mission (south Georgia) have to wear nylons ten months out of the year- they are “allowed” to go without in July and August. I’d like to see someone make the reasonable argument that I’m incapable of teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in 95 degree weather and 99% humidity because I’m not wearing pantyhose.

  6. Don’t worry; While the Elders have different things told to them, they pretty much receive the same conflicting messages.

    aka… just smile and move on.

  7. 6- Really? Was your mission president concerned with the modesty of your jock strap on p-day? I find it odd that the church is telling sisters what bras to wear.

    Also can somebody please tell me what makes for an immodest bra?

  8. And how can ANY bra, combined with G’s, be immodest?

  9. Sounds like girlfriend needs a little pep talk from GP:
    “A great time saver is to have a weekly blow out.”
    [language warning] http://thehairpin.com/2011/01/gwyneth-paltrow-enlists-rich-overacheivers-to-share-tips-on-being-the-best/

  10. Does “modest bra” mean, like, leave the animal prints and neon bras at home?

    I don’t recall having a whole lot of guidance on my Brazilian mission clothes — light-colored, cotton, sandals OK, no need for hose. I dressed very frumpy in comparison to my Brazilian companions, who always looked dressed to the nines with high heels.

    If I could do it again, I’d buy different clothes.

  11. Last Lemming says:

    I like the idea of missionaries looking professional

    Me too. But not like professional prison guards, which is what the sisters at the DC visitor’s center have looked like every time I visit. (Through no fault of their own, I hasten to add.)

  12. To be fair, I knew elders on my mission whose undergarments were not anything like white or cream colored.

  13. JKS-
    I agree, fashion does change and adjusting guidelines to help sisters look their best is not a bad idea (it’s important), nor is letting mission presidents adjust the standards to the circumstances. The problem arises when sisters are being critiqued unnecessarily for not looking good enough, based on unrealstic expectations; and when that is the focus on improving missionary work as far as sisters are concerned, which sometimes it seems to be.

    Jennifer in Georgia,
    The new guidlines are reasonable about nylons. Unless the mission president feels otherwise (which of course he could), sisters don’t have to wear them.

    Is there a better way to issue guidelines for sisters? Or is the current way it is done the best way? If so many sisters around the globe find the clothing guidelines unworkable where they serve (for instance my sister-in-law who served in Brazil and wore Chacos like all the other sisters), then is there a better way to do it? Sometimes sisters don’t get information from the mission field about what adjustments might need to be made for the area where they will serve. They show up with clothing that isn’t practical because they followed the guidelines.

    Frankly, where I served the new guidelines would have been ok with some adjustments (shoes, for one). But there could still be unrealistic expectations at times about things like hair.

    On another note, sometimes I’m not sure looking professional is the best way to be approachable in certain places either. As a SAHM, I’d rather have someone teach me dressed nicely in my home, but more casually than business attire. A farmer or poor villager in a foreign country could be put off by formal business attire. Maybe more color will help that. I realize this type of scenario affects Elders too.

  14. We rode bikes for four months…there is NO modest way to bike in a skirt. none.

    Our mission president’s wife didn’t believe in nylons. We were also counseled to buy a cheap ring and wear it to hopefully reduce propositions…it sure didn’t eliminatre the problem.

  15. Britt,
    The new guidelines suggest bike shorts under the skirt, and longer, fuller skirts than used to be allowed. It seems the last set of guidelines were the impractical ones.

  16. I was struck by the overwelming use of the word modest for the sisters…the go to word for Elders? conservative.

  17. “Is there a better way to issue guidelines for sisters?”

    There’s always the possibility of treating 21-year-old women who have enough faith and devotion to volunteer for missions as ADULTS, able to dress themselves, at the very least to choose their own underwear.

    Just a thought.

  18. Jennifer in GA says:

    “Is there a better way to issue guidelines for sisters?”

    There’s always the possibility of treating 21-year-old women who have enough faith and devotion to volunteer for missions as ADULTS, able to dress themselves, at the very least to choose their own underwear.

    Just a thought.

    THIS is exactly what I wanted say but didn’t. Thank you, Kristine.

  19. Cynthia L. says:

    “White or cream” for bras seems less applicable to women with dark skin. (in terms of modesty and not creating such a contrast with the skin that it would show through clothing)

  20. Cynthia L. says:

    Amen, Kristine.

  21. mmiles, I wore a full skirt and bike shorts…it’s not modest. It’s fine in a movie when they take 200 takes and have the fans blowing the right way…but in the real world it’s a lot of of bike shorts. I know it was against the “party line” when I went, but you cannot physically bike in a business suit.

    why not say neutral bra colors…or conservative? the only time youshould talk to a woman about bra colors is before baptism

  22. Cynthia L. says:

    We need to ask ourselves if it would really be the end of the world if a sister wore a leopard print bra. I invoke the “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears, does it make a sound?” Principle to say NO.

  23. I think the real problem here is that the world has a difficult time measuring up the discrepancy between what it teaches (strong, independent, women and avoidance of sexism) and the realities of appearance and its effect on men and women. It’s a world problem, not just a church problem. It’s only exasperated by the fact that we’re adding “representing the church” to the mix.
    (and then add the fact that not everyone, including me, has much understanding of fashion.)

  24. As female representatives of the church, sister missionaries are caught in the crossfire of femininity. On the one hand, young women are hammered with modesty lessons that are often three hair’s-breadths away from lessons in body shame. But on the other, we make it clear that young women are _supposed_ to be attractive and repudiate dowdy sister-mish stereotypes and–horrors!–the FLDS in their braids and pioneer dresses. (Not US! We rush to assure the world. We’re hip! Sort of! We’re modern! We’re attractive! BUT we’re modest. AND although we’ve adopted professional business attire to proselytize, we also believe in gender roles, and we’re very fuzzy on precisely to what extent women are permitted to inhabit what’s basically a masculine role and thus don masculine attire.) Dressing to fulfill all these requirements is downright impossible, even with the largest pocketbook and the best goodwill.

    The other sordid fact of feminine life that a mission rips the bloody band-aid off of is that beauty takes time, and it takes money. Sister missionaries have little of either. When you’re proselytizing sixty hours a week or whatever it comes to, it’s very hard, often impossible, to keep up the kind of beauty regimen that some of these visiting women authorities want to require. Furthermore, mission life is conducted largely outdoors in all sorts of weather. Hard to stay fresh and feminine and modest and even clean when you’re biking around and climbing over fences and riding dirty buses and sweating or freezing all day.

    By the end of my mission, my clothes all looked as if they’d been through a trash compactor. As did most of my companions’.

  25. Britt, I’m not saying it’s modest or immodest. I’m just stating the current guidelines.

    As someone who had her bra stolen and given to the mission president by another sister because it was blue when there was not bra color rule, believe me I think telling the sisters what color of underwear to wear is absurd.

    But for arguments sake, my sis-in-law said where she served the local sisters called to serve had a habit of wearing bras showing–and colorful bras. I still don’t think that gives good reason to say to wear white bras. Saying your bra shouldn’t be noticably visible would make more sense; or using common sense to tell another sister, “Dude, don’t wear that together, your bra is showing.”

    But is it really fair to expect absolutely not guidelines for sisters’ attire?

  26. ZD Eve
    Exactly!

  27. How about: “You are servants of God and you represent the Church. Dress accordingly.”

    If 6 years of incessant lectures on “modesty” (by which we mean insanely contradictory cultural notions about gender and sexuality that we want to work out on women’s bodies) haven’t conveyed some sense of propriety, I really doubt that any list of rules is going to help much.

  28. Kristine,
    While I tend to agree, what about Elders? Should they have a dress code?

  29. Natalie B. says:

    There’s always the possibility of treating 21-year-old women who have enough faith and devotion to volunteer for missions as ADULTS, able to dress themselves, at the very least to choose their own underwear.

    I second this. Well said.

    Missionary guidelines for sisters seem to produce approachable, feminine women, but I’ve often been puzzled that their look is described as professional. I think that professional dress typically refers to what a woman would wear in a business setting, and that generally involves dress slacks or shorter, knee length skirts for most women their age. Sister missionaries wear neither. Perhaps this is another example of the identity struggle going on here.

  30. Mark Brown says:

    Elders’ clothing is more like a uniform than a dress code. The only choices our young men on missions need to make in the morning involve socks and neckties.

  31. Cynthia L. says:

    Wow. Outstanding comment, ZDEve.

  32. Mark Brown says:

    I should add that I took ten identical pairs of black socks, so that choice made itself. And with neckties, I only had to choose between the ugly red one and the ugly blue one.

  33. The amount of attention paid to sisters’ overall appearance is disconcerting for me simply because it serves to reinforce the notion that a woman’s greatest asset/downfall is her looks. It reduces us to either eye candy or something to be disregarded based on inability to attract the eye. The double message of being pretty enough to be appealing, yet not so pretty as to draw unwanted attention is both impossible and completely misguided in that it (again) makes the woman responsible for the responses of those who see her.

    Or, as my husband said, “Don’t be walking pornography. Except, do it a little bit.”

  34. Natalie,
    Knee length skirts are now allowed, and perhaps will be the norm. Slacks would be much better for bicycles.

  35. Cynthia L. says:

    “Missionary guidelines for sisters seem to produce approachable, feminine women, but I’ve often been puzzled that their look is described as professional”

    The new pictures seem to be going for a look that is suited to a professional environment, but as someone who is not the professional. In other words, like you work in a lawyer’s office, but as the receptionist, not the lawyer.

  36. incognito says:

    What about the fact that the Sisters’ guidelines make a point of reminding women to shower every day and wear deodorant. There’s nothing like that in the Elders’ guidelines.

    I remember being called into a meeting with all the other new Sisters on the first or second night I was in the MTC so that we could be lectured about basic hygiene: “And don’t forget to brush your teeth every day and clean your nails regularly.” Talk about patronizing and offensive.

  37. We may feel like it’s condescending, but the reality is there are plenty of Elders and Sisters who don’t know to bathe daily. Really.

    There are also plenty of new members who leave on a mission fast and still haven’t quite grasped modesty.

    It would be great if we could trust us all to go out into the world without training or manuals and teach by the spirit perfectly, but that’s not reality.
    It would be great if we all instinctively knew how to dress well, but that is also not reality.

    I don’t think we can expect to the Church to have great PR, great websites, use marketing and focus groups to sell the Church, expecting the best– but then expect when it comes to missionaries there shouldn’t be standards of any sort–that missionaries by way of testimony will somehow just get it.

    It’s nice to say it’s all the message that matters (and in the very end, that’s the truth) but I’m afraid it’s not just the missionary guidelines that expect women to look and dress a certain way. It’s not just the Church. There needs to be a balance.

  38. A few reactions:

    1–I think pictures only would be a better way to provide guidelines. Look at all you guys arguing about the use of the word modest vs. conservative. Who cares? You get the idea. More pictures of practical useful staples.
    2–Considering that all endowed members already accept considerable guidance on their underwear, I am surprised at the strong reaction about bras.
    3–When my bishop asked if I had any questions at our last papers meeting, I asked if I had to wear make-up. Although I realize he was not the decision-maker, he told me “no” and I ran with it.
    4–The guidelines have, since I served in 96-97, moved women away from long and flowy toward more tailored. I approve. The men who serve have a very regimented uniform, and I think this is an effort to “match” them. Face it: women have a lot more latitude to go wrong, hence they get more guidance.
    5–I think the women who serve in my mission look fine and I am often surprised at how stylish they are. It is a mission with lots of “site” sisters, though.
    6–Many of the current recommendations would work fine for sisters who drive and a little less well for sisters who walk. I, and all the sisters in Japan, bike full-time and they just don’t make skirts or dresses for that.
    7–The most valuable part of my missionary wardrobe was my split slip. If I were in charge of the guidelines, that is what I would recommend.
    8–As an MTC teacher, I had the unfortunate responsibility to talk to a young woman in my class about her wardrobe. No one official had said anything, but we her teachers were concerned that she didn’t have clothing she could function in once she hit the field. Very hard, but the girl knew immediately what we were talking about and, if memory serves, she got a magic pass to hit the mall and pick up a few skirts she could bike in.

    Long way of saying: lighten up. I would have welcomed more guidance when I was mission shopping–anyone who shops outside of the Mormon corridor has their work cut out for them.

  39. The amount of attention paid to sisters’ overall appearance is disconcerting for me simply because it serves to reinforce the notion that a woman’s greatest asset/downfall is her looks.

    Or another way to look at it is that it just reinforces that it’s harder to present what “clearly identifying” clothing looks like for missionaries when there are so many possible options for women that are allowed — there’s a lot of room for personality given there that the elders simply don’t have. But there’s a lot of garbage out there in women’s fashion and a lot of casualness that has crept in, so I understand the desire for more detail there.

    I also want to say that in my world as a mentor for students preparing for the professional world, we give young adults this age guidelines on how to dress for an interview. Too often, they are ignorantly caught up in cultural trendiness rather than professionalism. If we’ll help guide them for their careers, why not for representing the Lord?

    I also think that if missionaries do it right, they are, imo, a force that runs counter to the objectification of women that we see so much in our culture. Modesty is a powerful principle and our missionaries show that you can dress with style and personality and be respected as an individual, not as a sex object.

    So I think it’s cool that the Church gives our young sisters room to have some freedom, but I think the guidelines are a logical partner to that freedom.

  40. I also think that if missionaries do it right, they are, imo, a force that runs counter to the objectification of women that we see so much in our culture. Modesty is a powerful principle and our missionaries show that you can dress with style and personality and be respected as an individual, not as a sex object.

    michelle, ESo,
    No one is saying sister shouldn’t be modest. We are simply questioning what a “modest bra” is. I was under the impression that a covered bra is a modest one. It’s underwear. Why is there a guideline for something not visible? It feels icky.

    michelle,
    If we do it wrong, we’re still objectifying women by saying they have to look cute, but not too cute. They also have to look feminine according to someone’s objective opinion. Is it that much better? Guidelines are fine, saying they don’t look nice enough without makeup, which happens, isn’t.

  41. Good comment Michelle.

    My wife had some weird rules when she was a missionary in East Berlin right after the wall fell, but with time the rules came to make a lot of sense. Mission presidents and their wives often have a much better idea than the 21-year-old woman arriving from the U.S. what is appropriate for the mission field.

  42. Face it: women have a lot more latitude to go wrong, hence they get more guidance.

    Obviously my comment came w/o seeing this one.

    mmiles,

    “If we do it wrong” to me can include worrying too much about the anecdotes or what could happen instead of trusting most leaders to handle things ok. Yeah, some leaders may goof, but who doesn’t? I think most of the time, things are handled fine and the sisters take the guidelines and do their best and the work gets done. I think we need to remember that our leaders and others involved in creating and encouraging these guidelines are doing their best, too.

    On a personal note, I looked at my missionary letter recently and realized that I really missed the guidelines (I had too many clothes that were too casual). Never once did I hear anything from anyone, in the MTC or in the field. So there’s a positive anecdote to add to the mix, or just another evidence that sometimes young adults really can benefit from the guidelines. I didn’t have enough life experience until grad school to know what professional looked like. I still look to my mentors for help in that area, actually.

  43. It does bother me that there is a mention of bathing daily and deoderant for the sisters and not the elders. The bra thing does weird me out a little. There is even counsel to the older sister missionaries bras and slips Perhaps they are just insuring against the inevitable occassion that the neck line shifts or a button inadvertently comes undone, better a neutral bra strap be momentarily visiable than a hot pink one. So I guess I can see a small bit of justification in the counsel. The inequity in the hygiene recommendations does bother me and there is no getting around that one.

  44. Ok. It is late and am going out on a limb here. I am going to address the bra issue. Apparently, some of you have not spent any time with a Victoria Secret or a Fredrick’s of Hollywood catalog. I can give a witness, there is such thing as a immodest bra! It does not matter whether anyone can see it or not; or while wearing garments. A racy bra gives one attitude that is not conducive to the missionary spirit!

    The guidelines our leaders give us are based on experience. There is a reason for the rule. Of course, there are antidotal examples of what have you, but my experience tells me they are usually right.

    Michelle #39 Well said.

  45. Ok! This is embarrassing, but the last one on this computer to comment at BCC was one of my kids. #43 is Tex’s mama JA Benson and not TEX. Darn it! He will be mortified!

  46. “A racy bra gives one attitude that is not conducive to the missionary spirit!”

    Then may I respectfully suggest you stop wearing one? Tex, I guarantee that seeing you in a racy bra would be “antidotal” to any missionary work urges I might otherwise feel in that moment. It would probably extinguish any and all missionary position urges also.

  47. I’m still cracking up at the poor mission president who received the blue bra. how does that interview go down? seriously..that’s a problem?

    I do see the need for guidelines…especially after seeing a loving sister pack for her mission…she was leaving asmall branch in which NO ONE was temple worthy. She hadn’t been to the temple, she was going to go on the way to her mission. Much of what she was packing wasn’t appropriate…I’m so glad we happened by. She was compeltely not prepared for the temple either.

  48. britt k–I can totally identify with your example. Most of my time in Brazil I had Brazilian companions, most of whom had not been to the temple before leaving for the MTC. Many of them arrived in the mission field without much clothing that could actually be worn with garments and I went several times to the bishop’s storehouse with companions to help them find more appropriate clothing. Since I served in southern Brazil where it was also quite cold in the winter, I actually also spent some time sewing & knitting warm clothing for companions who came from areas around the equator & lacked any ability to buy such clothes. Which also prompted me to leave most of my clothes at the mission office for incoming sisters when I returned home.

    Apparently, white/cream/neutral colored bras are NOT the norm in Brazil. And when you are wearing a flimsy blouse & get caught in a sudden downpour, it can quickly become obvious that someone is wearing a hot pink leopard print bra. So I guess I can understand that guideline.

    When I got my call in 95, the dress guidelines for sisters were mostly just pictures, if I recall correctly. I got written instructions specific to my mission (sandals OK, longer, fuller skirts for biking/walking but no peasant style skirts, absolutely no dry clean only clothing, etc.). I ended up waiting for my visa in Maryland for 4 months, and that experience helped me understand even more which clothes would & wouldn’t work in Brazil, while still allowing me the opportunity to send stuff home & purchase some more sturdy, easier care clothing. My mission president in Maryland was very understanding about my slightly different wardrobe. He just told me to make sure my clothes were ironed and looked neat and not to worry about it.

  49. He just told me to make sure my clothes were ironed and looked neat and not to worry about it.

    Which should be all the counsel that any respectable mission president or his wife should see himself or herself as ever needing to give to our sister missionaries.

  50. Michelle, #39 & #41 great comments!

  51. As for the guidelines about bathing daily, etc., that sentence appears to be pulled verbatim from the white missionary handbook, that my mission required all missionaries to read at least once per week. I wonder if they just quoted the grooming section from that handbook & then added the parts about hair, nails, etc. I had a few companions who definitely needed to be informed that their hair,nails, & makeup would need to be low maintenance while they were serving as missionaries. Since my beauty regimen was & still is just sunblock & chapstick, it was kind of a non-issue for me.

  52. Looks like the folks at UBS have been reading the missionary dress guidelines:

    http://www.rr.com/news/topic/article/rr/9000/32395212/Swiss_bank_UBS_changes_much-mocked_dress_code

  53. It is a major cause for concern to think that some mission presidents, their wives, or some area authority or even general authority wives are telling our sister missionaries that they aren’t “pretty enough” or “cute enough”.

  54. Adam Greenwood says:

    The human person isn’t a spirit wearing a body. Its both. The body is us.

    Similarly, what is on the outside is is literally superficial, but it isn’t unimportant. Appearance matters. Especially with women, whether that suits you or not. “Pretty, but not too pretty” is probably just about right.

  55. How about we don’t pass judgment on who/what is pretty and we value the actual work that they are doing in preaching the Gospel. Making the amount of make-up they wear or whether they have a hair-style or wardrobe consistent with upper middle class American suburban housewives the touchstone of a determination about whether they are successfully/effectively representing the Lord and/or the Church fails at placing appropriate emphasis on the susbtance of their missionary work, and of their testimonies.

    How can they be too pretty? If they respect themselves and have a “strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness” (Moroni 7:30) then not only are they in the pool of candidates for receiving the ministration of angels as chosen vessels of the Lord (see Moroni 7:31) but they will also be pretty in the only way that truly matters to the Lord. In that state, their outward appearance will reflect this automatically, unaided by any make-up or wardrobe requirements imposed by a mission president or his wife or from afar by an area authority’s wife who passes judgement and says missionaries in a certain mission are not doing their make-up right.

  56. #54 Adam, I think the sister missionaries at the Arizona Temple Visitors Center are the perfect example of well-dressed sister missionaries. I’m biased, of course. I am also always impressed with the sisters at the SLC Visitors Center.

  57. I say “wardrobe consistent with upper middle class American suburban housewives” because if we actually expected the sister missionaries to dress like “professionals” then they would be wearing serious suits (both those consisting of skirt + jacket and those with trousers + jacket) as they go about their work, as is regularly seen in all offices in all developed countries.

    If there is some kind of cultural issue against a woman at church, or a sister missionary, wearing a conservative business suit, then we need to ask what could possibly truly justify such an aversion. Even assuming all the gender roles prescribed by current Wasatch front/Church culture, why should any of that weigh against women wearing a business suit to proselyte in (or to attend church in), especially considering that is exactly what is required of Elder missionaries (or men at Church generally): a business suit.

    If it’s about business (which dressing in a business suit implies), then both men and women should be wearing a business suit. Not just the men.

  58. how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet…doesn’t refer to the dainty pedicure and good genes…it’s that love and devotion and the spirit make for a beautiful person. As if a young woman can control if someone else thinks she’s too pretty or not pretty enough.

  59. living in zion says:

    My daughter is on a mission now, in Portland OR. We didn’t have too much trouble finding her clothes at regular stores (we don’t live in Utah, AZ or Idaho) but when she got to the MTC she wrote asking for more blouses that were colorful because, “We aren’t supposed to look like Amish people.” I was so confused because the pictures we were send as examples were all beige, black, grey with white blouses. I spent another round of money buying 7 colorful shirts (not t-shirts, not too many decorative touches, yet not Amish) and hoped they fit. I wanted to just say, “Ya know what? If you don’t like what my 21 year old daughter is wearing at the MTC, why don’t YOU take her to the mall and dress her your way.” Good thing I didn’t say that. I would have ended up with a much bigger bill.

  60. As if a young woman can control if someone else thinks she’s too pretty or not pretty enough

    Bingo. Adam G’s “too pretty” might well be far too frumpy for an area authority’s wife . . . .

  61. It is hard enough to be an ugly girl in this world without someone telling you that your looks are a reflection of your righteousness. These rules aren’t just silly–they’re terribly, perhaps eternally, damaging.

  62. Bruce Nielson says:

    “If we do it wrong, we’re still objectifying women by saying they have to look cute, but not too cute. They also have to look feminine according to someone’s objective opinion. Is it that much better? Guidelines are fine, saying they don’t look nice enough without makeup, which happens, isn’t.”

    Not being a woman, I guess I have no stories to tell about this topic. So it’s hard for me to really tell how I’d feel.

    But I suspect I’d be of the opinion that having guidelines make sense and that someone is going to be offended no matter what. And I do not feel it logically follows that existence of guidelines therefore means “look cute, but not too cute.” This seems a bit forced to me. (And how does that idea differ from “look professional, but not sexually provocative?” which when said that way, makes a great deal of sense for a missionary, doesn’t it?)

    Asking the sisters to wear make up? Maybe that is going too far. But I can certainly see why some local leader might want to encourage the missionaries to look their best and be presentable and I can see how ‘wear makeup’ might seem like a natural extension to this thought at first. Especially if that local leader were, say, the mission president’s wife and felt she was helping some of the younger women along through mentoring. (Seems like this did happen in my mission at least once — well intentioned, but not necessarily well received. Perhaps a bit more thought should have been given.)

    But in the end, I have to agree with this sentiment:
    “Yeah, some leaders may goof, but who doesn’t?”

    It seems wrong to get too worried about every imperfection.

  63. StillConfused says:

    When my daughter started working on her paperwork to go on a mission, she was flat out told that she was too pretty and would be a distraction. They told her that it would be extremely unlikely that she would get to serve oversees. So she changed her mind.

  64. Well said, Kristine.

  65. Who told her that?

  66. Stillconfused,
    Who told her that? A Bishop? It’s complete garbage. A Bishop could reccomend sending her state side for lots of reasons and even suggest she would not do well overseas, but because she’s too pretty? Nope.

  67. I just really think we need pantsuits. Any sister missionary who rode a bike would most likely agree. The first time I wore the loose billowy skirt recommended, my skirt blew up above my head, and covered my eyes. Not only was I “immodest,” but I was in danger too. The stretchy ones were less dangerous, but still modesty was a difficult thing to maintain, or rather impossible.

  68. mmiles–it doesn’t have to be true. As long as it’s remotely plausible, it has the same effect.

  69. Kristine,
    The Bishop’s (or whoever’s) comment does have the same (damaging) effect. But a comment that claims a policy that is untrue also has a damaging affect.

  70. sure. I didn’t read such a claim, just assumed it was obvious that there’s no actual policy that inane. But given the rest of the conversation, it would appear that inanity is no guarantee of non-existence :)

  71. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  72. Cynthia L. says:

    And it is plausible.

    While I sympathize with all the people in this thread saying, “Come on, there have to be dress and grooming guidelines. Kids can be idiots when it comes to that stuff! And any job, even at Radio Shack, will do the same thing.” This is very true, and I don’t dispute it. The problem is that in the church there is so much baggage with respect to infantilizing treatment of women, women’s ability to fulfill fundamental requirements of eternity (i.e. marrying a high-quality spouse) being directly and primarily tied to their attractiveness, women’s roles being defined as in the home and not in the workplace, societal expectations that don’t even have anything to do with the church specifically, etc, etc, that we can’t just analyze these guidelines in a vacuum. In a way, I feel really sorry for whoever wrote these guidelines because there is no way that they weren’t going to step in landmines. But that pity doesn’t mean we can ignore that these guidelines have triggered landmines. Our missionary sisters deserve respect. It cannot be implied that your “attractiveness” will impact your effectiveness as a missionary without doing damage. Though 21 is awfully young to be getting married these days, it is still unfortunately the case that many sisters going on missions feel like they are doing so because they failed to get married already, and they are likely to internalize that as having to do with their appearance. To pile on that sense of having failed in a substantive, eternally-significant way because they aren’t cute enough, by saying, “oh, here’s another way that your service to the Lord is substandard because of the face you were born with!” is unconscionable.

  73. anon pissed off lady says:

    Can we PLEASE get over the cultural thing that women aren’t supposed to look business-like at church? Don’t tell me it doesn’t exist. My own husband counseled me not 6 months ago against wearing my professional suits (with *skirts* mind you) to church, because “it doesn’t look like you’re going to church, it looks like you’re going to work.” To which I of course replied, “Uh, you mean, UNLIKE what you’re wearing?!!” He retreated and tried to explain that he was just trying to be helpful and point out what others would think. Yeah, it was lame, and made me feel like rubbish. But he had a point in that I think he was correctly representing the general trend at church: women should look “churchy” and for them that is not the same as “business-like.” I demand a revolution!

  74. love #72!

  75. I mean #73, but I like 72 as well.

  76. But he had a point in that I think he was correctly representing the general trend at church: women should look “churchy” and for them that is not the same as “business-like.” I demand a revolution!

    (An odd goal, as multiple threads in the bloggernacle have called for a revolution against men wearing the uniform of corporate America…)

  77. Yes, the expectation that “church clothes” for men means dressing like an IBM executive circa 1950 is a separate issue that has been discussed a lot.

    Maybe none of us should be dressing like we’re going to work when we go to church?

  78. (Unless of course we are to see it as a business and, in that case, both men and women should be wearing business suits and not just men, it seems.)

  79. (not that I have any problem with corporate America, really…)

  80. A lot of great things have been said, and I concur with many of them (e.g. ZD eve).

    mmiles, I think you nailed it here (perhaps unknowingly).

    I realize that in a world-wide church some standard needs to be maintained. I like the idea of missionaries looking professional, they are ambassadors of the Church, and of God.

    Note the order of your statement. Ambassadors of the church (1st) and God (2nd). I’m not reading into this per se, only to point out that I think this is part of the problem (not that you intended it this way). I also don’t intend to be critical. However, I think our dress guidelines really do typify the corporate look and feel, not so much a “Christ-like” look and feel (whatever that would be). I think the real solution will come if we continue to follow the mormon.org-esque shift and start to focus on individuals and their relationship with God, rather than their membership in the church. As long as we make the Church (TM) and membership therein the goal of missionary work we will need to have standards like these. As long as we represent the Church (TM) first, and God second, we will have these kinds of problems.

    I really believe as we move to a more individualistic model (and I think we are) we will see the focus on dress, and image subside (as it should). We need missionaries who know how to speak to people, relate to people, and help people come to God. If that means they join our church, that’s great. If not, that’s great too.

    1 Samuel 16:7 comes to mind

    But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.

  81. Researcher says:

    My favorite outfit for riding a bike and tracting in a German winter was a dark blue, mid-calf, pleated skirt made out of a fairly heavy fabric with long johns and sweats underneath and wool socks and a pair of fairly stylish low-heeled, black leather, knee-height boots with lamb’s wool insoles. Add several layers on top and a long coat, scarf, and gloves, and it kept me just barely warm enough when we spent the entire day outside. My outfit sure didn’t look like any of the pictures in the guidelines, but all of those sisters would have frozen solid in ten seconds flat.

    On the other hand, one of my college roommates was a missionary in Sicily, and they had to wear full-length nylons, which was an actual health hazard in the heat, so I’m glad to hear that that requirement has changed.

  82. JMB275.

    Well said.

  83. @61 – That seems really made up. If you watch or read Elder Rasband’s talk from the April 2010 Priesthood Session of conference and understand the spirit in which a mission call is to go out, as well as the Pres. Monson’s repeated calls for more missionaries, I have a hard time imagining any of these brethren, even in jest, making such a comment or giving such a reason. (for the talk click here: http://lds.org/general-conference/2010/04/the-divine-call-of-a-missionary?lang=eng)

    On the post:
    The spirit of these dress standards to is to remember that the message, NOT THE MESSENGER, is the important thing to consider. If it is a sacrifice to not wear a leopard print bra, then you will be blessed for that sacrifice. If it isn’t, then your heart is probably in a fine place to begin with. Either way, if the church see’s fit to restrict leopard print bras, just do it. If no one is going to be seeing them or be looking at them, then all the more reason to not even worry about having one in the first place.

    It would seem that fashion is being used by the adversary, again, to keep people off the purpose of this life and our mission.

    For the record, there were sisters in our mission that wore skin tight often more revealing clothes than should be worn (period) let alone as a missionary on P-Days, and at one of our outdoor zone conferences. Remember, you should not draw undue attention to yourself, both Elder and Sister. Your dress reflects the reverence you have for your call and the service that you are offering. (It’s not a tryout for the men on a mission calendar.)

    In case my rant so far isn’t enough, try and see the spirit of this quote from Elder Oaks, “How we dress is an important indicator of our attitude and preparation for any activity in which we engage. The same should be true of how we dress when we are to participate in the ordinance of the sacrament. It is like going to the temple. Our manner of dress indicates the degree to which we understand and honor the ordinance in which we will participate” (Ensign, November 2008, p. 18)

  84. Adam Greenwood says:

    but they will also be pretty in the only way that truly matters to the Lord

    The Lord is already converted. Its not the Lord you’re trying to bring the gospel to.

    The idea that the purity of our hearts is all that matters and we can ignore the icky secular stuff like, say, marketing and appearances is a fantasy that I thought the Saints had gotten over as far back as the failure of Zion’s camp. Make friends of the Mammon of unrighteousness.

    That said, I’m not condoning simply telling people that they’re ugly, not that I believe that actually happens much. There’s just no point to that.

  85. Adam Greenwood says:

    When I had to do my lingerie inspections as a district leader on my mission, I spent a lot of time obsessing over the dividing line between polka-dot bras and leapord-print bras. I think I would have been a better missionary if someone had taken me aside and told me worry less about the letter of the underwear and focus more on what’s underneath, which is what really matters.

  86. Sorry, I meant @ comment 63. It seems the number change so fast :)

  87. James Numark,
    So what you’re saying is that there were some pretty hot sisters that were distracting you. You couldn’t help it, it was the way they were dressed.
    Thanks for illustrating so well the problems and the complicated reasons we dictate too closely how sisters should dress.

  88. #85 – Was that gst commenting as Adam?

  89. James Numark,

    The spirit of these dress standards to is to remember that the message, NOT THE MESSENGER, is the important thing to consider.

    I encourage you to read this coverage of the change, and tell me if you still think that your message is the one that is being heard. For example, from the link: “People who would listen before will still listen, but lots of people who’ve written the [sisters] off thinking, ‘here are two people who want me to join their drab-looking religion,’ will instead think, ‘here are two cute people who want to share some bright message with me,’” Blackburn said.”

    Not exactly “all about the message,” there, is it? In fact, it’s all about the messenger. I’m not going to say that your message isn’t the one intended by the Church–it’s just not the only message that can be received, as Ms. Blackburn demonstrates.

  90. All I know is that when two people come to my door trying to sell me something, I don’t care how they’re dressed. I just want them to go away.

  91. Thomas Parkin says:

    “The spirit of these dress standards to is to remember that the message, NOT THE MESSENGER, is the important thing to consider.”

    So much concentration on the messenger is a strange way to teach that the important consideration is NOT the messenger. I suppose if the purpose of the standards were to make the sisters invisible, or to in some way take them out of the equation, then that would be something like what you’re talking about. Message over messenger. But, that clearly isn’t the case. We are trying to make a point about the church through those who are “representing it.” The church is trying to draw attention both to its lovely (but not too lovely) sisters, and to itself, as the organization that produce such wonderful young women. The messengers are the message, at least a significant part of it – if they weren’t, less effort would be put into controlling what they are messaging. It is marketing as Adam says. I wonder who the target audience is.

  92. @ comment 87 mmiles:

    I am not saying they were hot. Dressing a certain way, does not make a person hot per se. But dressing a certain way does illicit a message to those who see you. As a missionary you should not be a walking chastity temptation while simultaneously trying to teach the laws importance. That is hypocrisy and is NOT the message we should be sharing. We cannot control the way other people will react to how we look, but we can control the intentions of the message we are presenting in the way we look. For the record, this is not just missionary handbook stuff, this is For the Strength of Youth level stuff too. Is dressing modestly is a problem, then your heart is not in the right place and perhaps you shouldn’t be serving a mission.

    @89 Scott B:

    ENCOURAGING colors is not exactly earth shattering to me. However, the idea that brighter colors has nothing to do with the message sounds like you have not taken a marketing class. Simply put, if we look like drab, dull, 1980′s communists from Russian, the message is not welcoming, it is not inviting, it is not showcasing a message of glad tidings of great joy.

    NEWS FLASH: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a living church with new revelations daily. A change in the dress code has a reason and a purpose and it is not to crush individuality. I see these changes as a way of embracing the message in the way that it is best or most efficiently shared. Yes, dress and appearance do matter when presenting the message. If your heart is in the right place, then you will dress how they ask. If you went to the temple, then have already covenanted to make sacrifices for the gospel. Perhaps our fashion is just one of the really, really, small ones that we should be expected to make.

    Funny how pharisee this whole post and its commentary is starting to sound….

    I am grateful that we have sister missionaries, and that they are willing to serve where and how the Lord calls them to serve. I’m not grateful for people who wish to crap on the church for encouraging a different color of clothes. Seems pretty petty to me.

    @91 Thomas Parkin – The message is only about the messenger to the point that they are to not distract or take away from the message. It seems to me, all this bickering about a color change is overstepping that line towards too much on the messenger.

  93. James #92,
    If you think that the primary concern of this post or the comments is that the existence of dress standards is stifling individuality, you need to seriously improve your reading comprehension skills.

    And not for nothing, but your invocation of the phrase “walking chastity temptation” speaks volumes about the degree to which our insistence at treating female bodies primarily in terms of their function as objects of a collective male gaze has been internalized by even our most righteously self-aware ex-missionaries. That your perspective likely reflects the thinking of most of our fellow LDS is cause for profound grief.

  94. Brad @ 93,

    So what you are saying is that all this modesty and chastity talk from the prophets is wrong? It is better if we are not modest?

  95. Yes, James, that is what I’m saying. Nice job improving your reading comprehension skills, btw.

  96. Nice dodge…. answer the question.

  97. Mmiles, re-reading your original post, it seems to me that the Church is basically doing what you suggest, ie, allowing mission presidents discretion in setting grooming standards for sister missionaries based on their experience and knowledge of the area, which would be greater than a person from another area traveling there. I am not really sure what you beef is (or if you even have one). I am probably missing something.

  98. Okay, I’ll answer it: that’s not what I’m saying. Now you go work on your reading comp before you ask more stupid and irrelevant questions.

  99. James, there’s nothing in this post or comments that leads to the conclusion in #94.

    Nothing. Period. Full stop.

  100. Sorry, Brad. Looks like we cross-posted.

  101. Brad said that he felt that we placed too much emphasis on the female body as an object. Part of that emphasis then, naturally, is the reason to protect it, to keep it covered or sacred. He felt that I was drawing a conclusion in #93 that my commentary that we should dress modestly is to not be a walking chastity temptation. His voice was a dissenting voice on that position. So, naturally, my feeling was that he must not find value then in the counsel to be modest in our dress – that is if our focus is misplaced on the physical importance of the female body. So, while you may feel my reading comprehension is low, there is a reason – just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Your insult to my intelligence has not found seed – for the record.

    So, Brad, if that is not what you are saying, then why find fault with my comment in #92 about the way people dress and its relation to the law of chastity? There is a reason for the counsel from the prophet on modest dress and the reason has been clearly related back to chastity. If the body is a temple (as the bible states) and we are to dress according to our respect for that body, this gift, what then is incongruent about dressing modestly for ourselves and to not temp others into improper thoughts?

  102. I’d welcome gst right about now. Bottom line, sisters want to do their job, not be the right amount of eye candy–and they want to keep their underwear private.

  103. James, it’s not your fault, but you’ve dredged up a somewhat related debate that we’ve had over and over here. You probably don’t want to get into it with Brad. You may want to read this post http://bycommonconsent.com/2008/04/09/modesty-and-adornment-spring-fashion-issues/ and the comments to get some sense of the issues at stake.

  104. gst? Not familiar…

  105. Thomas Parkin says:

    “The message is only about the messenger to the point that they are to not distract or take away from the message.”

    Well, if that is true, then ok. But that is an open question. Do I trust that the leadership of the church will get it right … yeah, eventually, they will get it right. Do I think they will do a better job than we will? Well, it isn’t, ultimately, our place to make the decisions. But we might be worth hearing out.

    “It seems to me, all this bickering about a color change is overstepping that line towards too much on the messenger.”

    You mean that WE are concentrating too much on the messenger by even talking about it. Of course, the messenger may be our daughters or sister or ourselves, so there is some interest on our part. Also, we may actually want the church to have success in its missionary efforts, and having some first hand of experience of it, may have different views that are worth hearing out.

    By the way, “crap” is a bad word. You’ve kinda got a hot head, yeah?

  106. James,
    The problem is it relates to men’s chastity. It has nothing to do with women’s chastity. Why is the way I dress responsible for other’s temptations?

  107. I don’t know where the idea was pulled that sister missionaries get told to bathe daily, but Elders don’t, but I call BS. Elders are told how to cut their toenails, I’m sure we were told to bathe daily, and probably in more than just one form of media.

    There aren’t nearly as many “double standards” as this thread would imply.

    There’s always the possibility of treating 21-year-old women who have enough faith and devotion to volunteer for missions as ADULTS, able to dress themselves, at the very least to choose their own underwear.

    There is that possibility, but if you think it would turn up roses, you and I have had very different experiences. Unfortunately many of these things need to be written to the lowest common denominator, and Faith and devotion =/= (even a modicum of) ability to dress onesself well. Especially when, as has been pointed out, many sisters and elders come from other countries where fashion and modesty are completely different standards, and then shipped to another area with a third standard of fashion and modesty. Some basic guidelines are necessary.

    As to the blue bra being sent to the MP, that to me sounds more like a ridiculous story and an example of overzealousness, than it does an example of bad/damaging policy. Same thing goes for many of the anecdotes shared so far. You can have the most perfect standards on Earth, but you can’t regulate crazy.

    Finally, to the “too pretty to be sent overseas” comment, I don’t know about being a “distraction”, but I can see some validity to the idea. I served a mission in a place where it was far more likely that you would be robbed at gunpoint/knifepoint at sometime, than not. I, being 6’2″ and at the time 190lbs, towered over 90% of the population. I was still robbed once. When I left my first area, the replacing Elder (5’6″ and a buck twenty if anything) was robbed four times, the last they were even robbed of their clothes and had to walk home shoeless – in their garments (another possible reason for the bra rule . . . ). The smaller weaker looking got preyed on. Also, Elders usually got proposed to once or twice during the mission, for sisters it was usually a much higher number. Very attractive/non-latin women were not sent to my mission. I love a couple of the sisters that I got to know on the mission, they are truly amazing women and they have my respect, but they weren’t headturners. I would be scared to death if I had an attractive (particularly blonde) daughter and she was sent to my mission. I realize missionaries are protected by a higher power, but common sense still needs to be used. IMO safety > lack-of-apparent-sexism.
    That being said, there were many missions in Argentina where I don’t think it’d be an issue (neuquen or mendoza come to mind) so the idea that they couldn’t go overseas seems wrong too.

  108. You can choose to dress modestly because you accept that the female form is inherently pornographic, tempting, &c, or because you reject such nonsense. The body is a temple, and should not be treated as living pornography or a walking chastity temptation. This post is not about the value of dressing modestly. Rather, it treats that value as axiomatic. It is about whether or not it is appropriate to tell full-grown women, women trusted to preach the gospel, what kinds of bras they should or should not wear beneath their appropriately modest clothes, and about whether or not they should be asked to treat their bodies as potential inducements (because attractive and attractively–but not TOO attractively–displayed) for non-members listen to a message about the Restoration.

    I have no problem with modest dress. I have no problem with strict, uniform standards for missionaries. But I do have a problem that we tend to approach the issue of modesty in female dress from a perspective that accepts rather than rejects the inherently pornographic, tempting, sexually problematic nature of the female body. And I have a problem when the missionary dress standards for sisters reflect our obsession with protecting male eyes from the corrupting effects of female bodies, while simultaneously encouraging women to use their bodily gifts modestly, to please men and manipulate them into paths of righteousness, but not please them so much that they’ll be slutty.

  109. James, if you are interested in my thoughts on the general topic, read the following – and particularly the comment thread. It is the comment thread that deals with how I view the idea of modesty – which I support – and how I believe it has been distorted by incorrect applications of Elder Oaks’ April 2005 General Conference talk.

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2010/07/charity-thinketh-no-evil-pornography-vs.html

  110. I started writing my comment 106 at 10:30, and posted it at 1. Since posting it I got to read James’ comments . . . I don’t want to appear to be on his side, so just out of that fact alone, pretend I wrote the opposite of what I did. =)

  111. @ 105 MMiles: That is a good and fair question. I don’t claim to be the authority on all things chastity. But as a father of five girls, I am keenly in tune with some aspects of apparent conundrum that I might not otherwise have experience without being in this position.

    I suppose chastity has many different levels or aspects. But if I can answer your statement this way of how one persons dress effects another’s thoughts I will try it this way. Saying that the way a woman dresses has no effect on their own chastity is like driving on the freeway and saying that the speed I drive at has no effect on the people on the freeway. I suppose if no one is on the freeway you can drive as fast as you want without fear of harming someone else. But if there are other drivers, than you have to be aware of the way your actions effect others. That doesn’t mean that you will hit someone driving fast, but that they might more likely hit you as a result of your speed.

    From my reading of Mosiah 3:19, part of this mortal or natural existence is that we will have inclinations that are not inline with the way God would have us live if we are to return to live with him again. This principle does change based on the source of the inclination. It does not say that if you feel aroused because you saw a scantily clad woman in a magazine that is wrong, but if a sister missionary shows up showing some cleavage spilling out of her leopard print bra, it is different. The temptation is still there, and therefore the potential for evil is still there. The point is to not be the source of any potential evil.

    And in 1 corinthians 2:14 I interpret that to mean that many of the natural man consider the things of God to be foolishness.

    If we believe that the Prophet’s counsel to dress modestly, or to follow a dress code for sister missionaries, and that counsel came from God through the prophet, then it is the natural man who would consider such to be foolishness.

  112. James, I am the father of four girls, for what it’s worth to you. It’s just that, again, nobody is arguing that we should not dress modestly or that there shouldn’t be a dress code for sister missionaries.

    Having said that, I personally don’t think God dictated all the details of the current dress code for missionaries – male or female. I don’t think He’s ever dictated that kind of detail – but I admit I might be wrong. I doubt it strongly in this case, but I might be.

  113. Mark Brown says:

    #56, Brian Duffin –

    Brian, are you aware that the sisters in the SLC temple square mission are screened for looks? Because they are. Think about that for a minute. Then consider that someday you might have a daughter who is passed over for service on Temple square.

    Those are the stakes here.

  114. James, how about this: Do you see a difference between saying

    a) dress modestly because your body is pornographic and tempting and might cause others to sin, best to keep it covered.

    b) dress modestly because your body is a sacred temple and while it can offer joy and intimacy with the person you fall in love with, you should keep it sacred and covered in other contexts.

    If you do see a difference, which one is better, and why?

    If you don’t see a difference, well I’m sorry for your daughters. I married one of the daughters of a man who had four daughters, and I’ve seen the damage that your being “keenly in tune with some aspects of apparent conundrum” can do when not kept in check.

  115. Option B is more important and better, but I do not believe that are mutually exclusive; that one is no good and the other one is good. They both have value, I just think B has more value and is a healthier outlook. However, to act like option A doesn’t have some truth to it is misleading. The way an individual does dress sends a message, and in some cases that message is, “Chastity is not important to me.” To the world our message is most assuredly, Chastity is important, and therefore the way we dress is important.”

  116. Cynthia L. says:

    James emphasizes two principles: that the sisters clothing and physical appearance should attract investigators, and the possibly contradictory idea that it should appear that the “intentions” are chaste and not trying to attract attention in that way. If that is the case, society has already designed a perfect motif for doing this: all sisters should dress as coyly sexy Catholic schoolgirls. The polo like shirt is a nice compromise of polish and rugged practicality. Plaid pleat skirt is great for bike riding with some boy shorts under. Problems solved!!

  117. James, Serious question:

    Would you really tell your daughters that the reason for modesty is that their bodies are pornographic?

    Maybe I am misreading your response, and I don’t want to do that. I’m asking because I really want to know if you would say that to them – or to any woman, for that matter.

  118. I think James raises some interesting issues to consider.

  119. Which points raised by James do you think are interesting and worthy of consideration, Geoff? And which have not been given adequate consideration or been addressed in either the original post or in recent comments?

  120. I didn’t say pornographic, those are B Russ’s words. All I meant to say is that the truth of the statement is that our bodies, or at least the way we present them are sometimes designed to be attractive, and pleasant. Some do dress hoping to draw out a physical or sexual reaction to what they are wearing; others may not. I am not saying that sister missionaries do or do not do this. I am speaking generally.

    If the way one dresses, male or female, is done so with the object of encouraging a sexual or physical attraction or arousal, then it might not be pornography, but it could also very well be or it can lead to the same end. But ONE of the reasons (not the main reason) to dress modestly is to not encourage unchaste feelings in others. If that is the spirit in which we present ourselves, then I find no fault. We should be about doing good, but we should also not be encouraging evil.

    Proverbs 1:10 and Alma 11:23 combine to show that it is a sinners position and of the devil to be a temptation. Not that the way sister missionaries dress is the sin, but that we should avoid being such to others. I am sure that this is also only a portion of why the church has the dress code the way they do.

    I do not intend for this “we are pornography” argument to be the focus, or even an example of how I HAVE approached this issue with my daughters. Please don’t find over emphasis on that side of things because that is not my intention.

    I think there is ample evidence enough to see that option A, at least in the spirit of not being a temptation to others is a small portion of the truth that the prophets counsel was intended to embrace. To call someone pornography is detrimental and counter productive. But to say that women are beautiful and can best honor that beauty through modesty and in following inspired counsel on dress and appearance is much more appropriate.

  121. Bruce Nielson says:

    Ray, Am I missing something? I can’t find where James said woman had pornographic bodies. I did a search and still can’t find it. It looks like Brad and B.Russ said that.

    Oh, good to see you online, Ray! It’s been forever.

    I don’t think what James said was so bad if you don’t immediately assume that what he meant was that women’s bodies are pornographic. (If he did say that somewhere and I missed it, then I will openly disagree with James.)

    Personally, I feel like turning a complex issue like this into a mere “men need to control themselves” vs. “women’s bodies are inherently pornographic” seems like a massive oversimplification.

  122. Agreed Bruce…and I never said they were pornographic. That was an attempt at a straw man argument being placed on me.

  123. Bruce Nielson says:

    James,

    Thanks for the clarification.

  124. If porn=visual stimulus designed to arouse, and you think women’s dress makes them that, then I don’t think it matters whether you actually use the word “pornographic.” And it’s hardly a strawman–Elder Oaks used this terminology, so it’s clear that the culture supports this belief.

  125. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 115
    If that’s what you’re going for, Japanese school uniforms are an even better model:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wikipe-tan_sailor_fuku.png

  126. It’s not a strawman, James. Even if you didn’t use that specific term, you described sister missionaries wearing what you deemed to be too-tight clothing as “walking chastity temptations.”

  127. I didn’t say pornographic, those are B Russ’s words.

    That’s true, your words were:

    As a missionary you should not be a walking chastity temptation while simultaneously trying to teach the laws importance.

    But I’m not entirely sure what the difference between “pornographic” and “walking chastity temptation” would be. It still redirects the value of the person in question to the beholder. This is the definition of “objectify”. It subtly places the importance of the person in how their seen, not who they are. That is the perniciousness of Option A, even if it is said with nicer words.

  128. Jinx, B. Russ.

  129. Bruce Nielson says:

    Kristine,

    An honest question. The LDS church does teach that women should wear modest clothes. I would have thought saying that women should assist their brothers in the Gospel on Gospel standards would be above suspicion. But I’m sensing this isn’t the case for yourself and many others here. Am I understanding wrong? Please explain a bit further.

  130. Women are not responsible for men’s thoughts about their bodies. Full stop.

  131. Bruce Nielson says:

    So you are of the opinion that modesty has no place in the LDS church outside of women should treat their bodies like temples?

  132. So you are of the opinion that modesty has no place in the LDS church outside of women should treat their bodies like temples?

    Isn’t that enough? Do they have to be told that they evoke uncontrollable desires in men before they’ll dress modestly? Why are the thoughts of others an issue, when the sacred nature of the body is reason enough to dress modestly?

  133. Peter LLC says:

    Maybe Bruce Nielson would like a hedge about the law?

  134. Bruce, I am of the opinion that modesty is a far more extensive and far more important ideal than its current iteration in Mormon culture, which amounts to little more than crude policing of women’s sexuality.

  135. Bruce Nielson says:

    No reason to get mean guys. It was an honest question.

    I am just wondering if you honestly believe that the LDS church policy was not, at least in some small part (say 0.01%), motivated in wanting to create a society and culture where we look out for each other in terms of Gospel standards. I’m virtually certain that was part of the leader’s motivation. Do you really believe it wasn’t? Or are you merely trying to bludgeon me into submission to not admit that is probably the case?

  136. Bruce Nielson says:

    “Bruce, I am of the opinion that modesty is a far more extensive and far more important ideal than its current iteration in Mormon culture, which amounts to little more than crude policing of women’s sexuality.”

    Kristine,

    Thanks for the honest answer. It would seem you agree with me, but wish it wasn’t that way. That is to say, you agree with the standard of modesty, but disagree with with some of the Church’s reasons for doing it.

  137. Bruce–go read the post I linked to if you sincerely want to know what I think. It’s unproductive for me to keep trying to briefly answer your pointed questions.

  138. James Numakr says:

    To be pornographic implies intent to seduce. Some people dress this way. A couple of sister missionaries, at least in my mission, did fit this and they were appropriately talked to about it.

    Just remember, while we cannot control the thoughts of others, we do influence them. We can influence them for good or we can influence them for evil. Only the individual and God knows the real intention of our actions for which we will be judged. But, when the church had a dress code, we should choose to follow it.

    I am going to be done here. I think the longer I comment the more people will misinterpret even the spirit of the comments I am making. I hope we try to embrace the goodness in the counsel of the missionary program and not dissect and malign it.

  139. “Women are not responsible for men’s thoughts about their bodies”

    This makes about as much sense as saying someone’s not responsible for pissing you off if he/she carelessly cuts you off in traffic or even intentionally insults you to your face. Because you choose whether you get angry or not.

    I completely agree with #135, but preceding it with #130 detracts from it.

    It’s obviously very difficult to give young women missionaries guidelines on how they should dress without infantilizing them. I’m glad my mission companions bathed and used deodorant. Otherwise, I think I’d have wanted it in the guidelines.

  140. Martin, cutting someone off in traffic or insulting someone is wrong. Having a female body is not.

  141. Bruce, I should have said “please” in that request. Sorry to be rude.

  142. Nothing wrong with with having a car either. It’s what you do with it. #130 sounds like a political talking point. It’s a great sound bite. Nobody can argue with it. Except it misses the point.

  143. Bruce Nielson says:

    Kristine,

    I read your post. It looks like you are agreeing with me, but you’re adding several other reasons as well.

    I feel your pain, Kristine. I hope my daughters will have very different experiences with modesty. But I think a hard fast rule of “Women are not responsible for men’s thoughts about their bodies” is probably going too far the other way, since clearly it *is* possible for a women to be intentionally provocative as well. No man or woman is an island in this manner and it’s a mistake to avoid the truth. But I am sympathetic to the pains you talk about. I would not like to be treated in that way either. Thanks for the food for thought.

  144. That’s just it, Martin. In the discourse that says women bear responsibility for controlling men’s lust by the way they dress, it’s not at all what a woman _does_, it’s merely how she looks. It is literally impossible, short of wearing a burka, for a woman not to risk arousing some man’s lust–a flash of ankle is more than enough in some times and cultures, a little bit of skin on the neck with a provocative little curl… If arousing a man’s desire is a sin, then having a female body makes one guilty.

    (And, as others have pointed out, there are plenty of contexts in which we _encourage_ women to dress in ways that attract the “right” kind of desire.)

  145. Bruce Nielson says:

    Kristine,

    I read “please” in my mind and didn’t think you were being rude. (It was others that were being rude, but not you.)

  146. Steve Evans says:

    Bruce, I don’t think there’s any way for you to possibly know Kristine’s pain. That’s a pretty condescending little pat on the head you just gave her. Have you considered the possibility that as an empowered male, you have absolutely no way of really knowing what a woman has to endure when she’s told that she is a potential trap for men, that she must continually cover herself and make herself unattractive so that men might not be tempted?

    Seriously, you’re just being insulting at this point, though I am sure you feel you are justified in your views and have what seems to you to be a clear line of logic in your thoughts.

  147. 143 – the analogy falls short because cutting people off in traffic is always rude. The naked (or adorned, or whatever) female body is in some contexts not only not sinful, we would say it is good.

    The analogy doesn’t leave room for the nuance that a female body, unlike cutting someone off in traffic, isn’t by nature sinful.

    Similarly the same argument is made in a number of militant Islamic countries for why women should show no skin except their eyes. We would call that ridiculous, but they would claim that seeing their wrists or ankles is provocative and men can’t control themselves.
    Women aren’t responsible for men’s thoughts because there is no way to control men’s thoughts. Some men will always be aroused no matter what efforts are taken. That being a given, it creates a moving goalline and only has the end-result of causing confusion and frustration on the part of the girl (with the added bonus of giving blame and shame to the (what is the statistic 1 in 3??) girls that will be raped during the course of their life. Even if no one says it, they still remember the lesson they got that what they wear causes men to lust, did they wear something too revealing the night they got raped?)

  148. #107 – I don’t really see the, uh, sexual nature of the female body as ‘problematic.’ May my life always be cursed with such problems.
    This whole dialogue makes very little sense to me. The individual words y’all use make sense, but at the end of the comment I still can’t figure out why you think its bad to admit a pretty face and a nice smile will open doors. Even if you sorta made sense, I’m pretty sure the Gods of the Copybook Headings don’t care what you think is unfair.

    #113
    In other words, there are no stakes here. Whether my daughters are ‘eligible’ to be Temple Square missionaries doesn’t concern me at all. I don’t know anybody else who cares either. I can’t decide whether caring would be more shallow than it is random, or vice versa.

    #114
    Those kinds of false expressions of concerns for someone’s daughter, which you and everybody else understand to be an attack on your interlocutor’s parenting style, are out of place. If arguing in this thread is so important that you want to insult the guy you are arguing with, do it without dragging his children into it. That’s just appalling.

    #116
    Great idea. Also the sexy librarian look. I look forward to your future career as a mission president’s wife with much interest.

    #135
    Crude policing of women’s sexuality sounds fun. Can I play the cop?

    —-

    In the unlikely event that I ever get called as a mission president, I will be sure to instruct my sister missionaries to dress like frumps, or vamps, or none of the above male missionaries. Bras will be strictly forbidden, along with breasts and menstruation. Farting will be encouraged.

  149. OK, Steve E. Bruce N. is being insulting by trying to be sympathetic, but some guy saying he’s sorry for James N.’s kids isn’t? You need to recalibrate your orwellometer.

  150. “It is literally impossible, short of wearing a burka, for a woman not to risk arousing some man’s lust”

    Yes, and even though you may frequently have this problem no matter what you wear, it is generally true that dress can affect how much lust is inspired. It’s considerate to moderate that, and it’s cultural as to how much effort should be expended in being considerate. Thus, the effect of women’s dress on men is relevant to a discussion on modesty.

  151. James, if you still are reading, the reason for my question is that #113 asked a pretty pointed question about which of two options is better – and your answer said that there is validity in the first, even though the second is better. The first was that “your body is pornographic and tempting and might cause others to sin”.

    I didn’t mean anything in my question other than to ascertain if you really did mean that there is validity in the idea that women should cover their bodies because they are “pornographic” – since that is the direct conclusion of saying there is validity in the first option listed in #113. Women’s bodies are not pornographic, so I reject completely that phrasing. I was surprised you didn’t and simply wanted to make sure I wasn’t mis-reading your response.

    Let’s be very clear here. Immodesty isn’t pornographic in and of itself – and neither is full nudity. It’s how those things are presented and/or viewed that makes them pornographic. Iow, some is, but some isn’t. There’s lots of porn that is more clothed than what isn’t porn.

    Of course, we should be sensitive to the messages we send by how we dress. However, I believe much of this is about an unfortunate, terribly distorted, incorrect view of what is meant by “abstain from all appearance of evil” that has woven itself into the fabric of our church culture – which is another post entirely.

  152. Those kinds of false expressions of concerns for someone’s daughter, which you and everybody else understand to be an attack on your interlocutor’s parenting style, are out of place. If arguing in this thread is so important that you want to insult the guy you are arguing with, do it without dragging his children into it. That’s just appalling.

    My concern for his daughters’, or more appropriately for the daughters of a man who sees the female body as pornographic, are real. And while I don’t believe James to be this kind of man, I do believe that some of comments he made would have the same damaging effect, regardless of intent.

    Its not an attack on his parenting style, it was an attack on his rhetoric, the thoughts that likely lie behind the rhetoric, and the profound damage that they can cause. I don’t know what his parenting style is, I truly hope that it is as he suggested and he finds more value in option B.

    Also, FWIW, I didn’t “drag his children into it”. He used them as a point of authority. I challenged that authority.

    That being said, to the extent that the comment was over the line, I’m sorry.

    Also, being told my comments are appalling, by someone who’s idea of humor parallels Family Guy, is ridiculous.

  153. Bruce Nielson says:

    I gather Steve was looking for a fight.

    If it helps, I give you permission, Steve, to modify my original comment and have it instead say “I didn’t realize this was so painful for you. I can see that it is.” Which, of course, was my original meaning.

  154. Good to see you, also, Bruce.

  155. Bruce Nielson says:

    “It’s considerate to moderate that, and it’s cultural as to how much effort should be expended in being considerate. Thus, the effect of women’s dress on men is relevant to a discussion on modesty.”

    You put this well, Martin. I note that this does not imply that it needs to be the most important point of discussion. I’d rather concentrate on the “body is a temple” aspects.

    Hey, Martin, do you blog anywhere? Have we bumped into each other before?

  156. MikeInWeHo says:

    Somewhere, on the other side of the planet in the Meccanacle, a group of Muslims is having this same conversation regarding the great burqa/niqab/hijab debate:

    http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/mehdi-hasan/2010/01/burka-niqab-ban-french-france

  157. Really, Bruce, either way, I’d prefer to have you pay attention to my ideas rather than my emotional state–if it seemed like I was so pained, I must not have written very well. I’m far more concerned with the problem in the abstract than in any way that relates to me personally. (I’ve always been plain and shy about it, so modesty was kind of a default for me. I suppose you could read ugly girl bitterness in there somewhere…)

  158. I’m pretty sure they call it the blogihad. Or at least they should. Meccanacle makes no sense. =)

  159. I would just like to say that this hypothetical is the best sentence in the whole thread:

    #111: “…but if a sister missionary shows up showing some cleavage spilling out of her leopard print bra, it is different.”

    Hellaz glad the new guidelines are around to prevent that otherwise inevitable problem!

  160. Mike, I’m sure their keen foresight regarding the tempting nature of the female form has largely prevented an epidemic of female missionaries trolloping around publicly with cleavage busting out of leopard bras.

  161. B. Russ,
    I applaud you for your demi-semi-hemi apology. That’s more than most people would have done. I also applaud you for your real concern for James N.’s daughters, whom you are trying to help by sneering at their father. I also congratulate you on your lively sense of the ridiculous–be careful, though, you might accidentally use it on yourself someday.
    Incidentally, I don’t feel sorry for your daughters, who appear to be in good hands. My theory is that wasting time on sterile blog argument is key to good parenting, or why would my own daughters be turning out so well? I expect yours are also.

  162. #161
    “trolloping around” is good. Very good. If the female form can inspire a gem of a phrase like that, perhaps its not wholly evil.

  163. Bruce, no, I don’t blog anywhere. I don’t think I’ve bumped into you…

    The only hang-up I have with Kristine’s #130 (since I don’t disagree with much else she’s said, actually), is that everything we do affects someone else, and therefore should calculate into our decision to do it, including how we dress. Since there are trade-offs in everything, it’s fine to argue that proposed accommodations are unreasonable for reasons x, y, and z, but it’s not fine to simply say “tough, I have absolutely no responsibility for that, it’s his problem, not mine”, as #130 seems to imply.

  164. Bruce Nielson says:

    Kristine,

    I don’t read bitterness. I read honest concern.

    You should read me (and seem to be) the same way.

    We don’t have to agree on how to approach the same concern to be allies.

  165. Oh, and I knew Kristine when she was a teen. And she was kind of cute, actually.

  166. Bruce Nielson says:

    Oh, Kristine,

    Don’t overlook the importance of emotion. Ideas are meaningless without them.

    “Pain” and “Concern” mean much the same to me, so I’ll go with “concern” and avoid any hint of suggesting you are bitter. (It honestly didn’t seem that way to me.)

  167. My reference to horribly botched interpretations of “abstain from all appearance of evil” was in regard to the following in #111:

    “The point is to not be the source of any potential evil.”

    I just couldn’t disagree more with that statement. There is a HUGE difference between being the source of evil and the source of “potential” evil – and that difference is the heart of the disagreement, imo.

  168. I have a question about number 113, where Mark Brown writes: “Brian, are you aware that the sisters in the SLC temple square mission are screened for looks? Because they are.” I was just curious how you knew that; I’ve always heard that as a rumor, but would be interested to hear a firmer source regarding appearance and Temple Square missions. Thanks.

  169. Martin, being cognizant that your actions have consequences in the lives of others is different from taking responsibility for the actions of others.

    It is very possible that political pundits words had an effect on Jared Loughner and the ensuing events. At the same time, they are IMO in no way “responsible”. There is a distinction that should be made.

    I don’t know where the line should be drawn. Do I think that we should tell our daughters that how they dress will have no effect on how others see them? No, I think that would be a lie. But I do think the distinction should be made somewhere in there that it isn’t their responsibility or burden, even if they should be aware of the fact.

  170. Martin,

    :P

    And I almost agree with you. In this case, though, there’s virtually no predicting what the effect will be, and the extreme form of the women-should-calibrate-male-response argument is that women who dress provocatively shouldn’t complain about being raped. I don’t see an unproblematic way to tell girls to “help” the boys manage their desires, especially since this approach fails to teach them how to manage their own desire, and, in fact, implicitly denies it, which is a powerful form of shaming.

    Moreover, I don’t think it’s actually male desire we’re so worried about–I think it’s that if we acknowledge the reasons a woman might dress provocatively, we have to consider female desire. Mormon culture has some weird commitments to women’s “natural” purity and spirituality, and men’s uncontrollable sexual natures, and I think our current discourse on modesty (and, on the other side, about porn) simply performs those commitments.

  171. B. Russ,
    I don’t think its at all likely, but if the pundits’ words did have that effect, and predictably so, then in a sense they were responsible.
    In general I think that Mormons put too much emphasis on choice, and therefore on disclaiming responsibility for other people. We can definitely have responsibilities for other people, whether its fair or not. This isn’t really an argument about modesty per se, though it might apply there.

  172. Believe it or not, it is possible for women to treat their bodies responsibly, in full awareness that the female figure is capable of inducing sexual attraction in others, without completely reducing their bodies to that inducement. You don’t have to internalize the logic of living pornography or walking chastity temptations to care about the effects that your dress might have on others—effects which encompass much more than sexual lust or its absence. Modest clothing and demeanor can be a way of treating your own body as inherently pornographic, or of completely rejecting that logic.

    And let’s remember—a big part of the problem here is that some sister missionaries (and women in the Church more generally) are being taught that they should use their potentially (if not inherently) pornographic bodies to attract the attention of men, but just not too much. In effect, they’re taught that the power to attract males is the only real power they have in the adult social world, but that they can’t use it (except just a little bit, about as much as the men really in charge say is okay).

  173. One of the hidden, underlying motivations beneath the Mormon discourse on female modesty is an unconscious fear, on the part of men, that open expressions of female sexuality may overturn the balance of power currently enjoyed by men in the authority and hierarchy structures of the Church. And once that balance of power has been skewed in the direction of women, men fear the very unpredictability of the consequences. In the absence of any accumulated Mormon wisdom on the relations between the sexes, is it any wonder that men do not have the imagination or resources or equilibrium to look female sexuality directly in the face?

  174. Eric Russell says:

    I’m not interested in getting involved in this modesty conversation, so I will insist that the following has absolutely no application towards the topic of modesty and constitutes a pure threadjack.

    But I think a strong case can be made that there is something we might call moral responsibility that is different than legal responsibility. While the fractions of legal responsibility add up to 100%, moral responsibility will go over. One can be responsible for the actions of another person while that person is simultaneously fully responsible for his or her own actions. It is this sense of moral responsibility, I believe, that Dostoyevsky is referring to when he says that “We are all responsible for all.”

    So I disagree with Adam’s claim that Mormons put too much emphasis on choice (IMO, we still don’t place enough) but agree with the latter point about disclaiming responsibility for others.

  175. One can be responsible for the actions of another person while that person is simultaneously fully responsible for his or her own actions. It is this sense of moral responsibility, I believe, that Dostoyevsky is referring to when he says that “We are all responsible for all.”

    What of Joseph Smith’s claim that “man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam’s transgression”? Outside of being a rebuke of Catholic teaching of original sin, I was always taught that this also means that I am responsible for what I do, not what my neighbor does.

    Speaking of moral responsibility, will we one day stand before the judgement bar of God and be told “Lisa, your skirt was too short, and so Phillip went mad and sacrificed ten puppies on the altar of Baal. You are 10% responsible, you will suffer for the life of one puppy.”

    If not, what does it mean to be morally responsible, more than being cognizant that our actions affect others. Being cautioned to not be a rock of stumbling, is not the same as taking responsibility for our brother’s stumbling.

  176. B. Russ, “lust” isn’t an action either, at least not initially. It’s a circumstance. I think young women should know they can contribute to creating that circumstance, and feel responsible for moderating their contribution. That’s not the same as taking responsibility for a man’s lust, or for how he reacts to his lust.

    I wasn’t really trying to draw a line as to how much YW women should worry about it, either, but telling them they have no responsibility and that it has nothing to do with modesty just isn’t right.

  177. @ Ray 150. I hope my previous comments clarified my position on the whole option A thing. I don’t find argument in your position and I thank you for your genuine interest in my opinion. I did not take offense to your question, nor was any offense intended in my response.

    With that being said, your statement, “Let’s be very clear here. Immodesty isn’t pornographic in and of itself – and neither is full nudity” is interesting.

    Modesty, in my opinion, is the expression of the individual but in someways is also reliant on the interpretation of that message. Sure some cultures view the human body differently. And not all men will be able to control themselves in front of even a national geographic “african tribes” issue. So in that I think we can see eye to eye. Immodesty, in my opinion, is the responsibility of both the sender of “the body image message” and with the individual interpreting that message.

    However, the standards of the gospel exceed in importance the standards of culture. Where there is conflict, we simply and without boasting live a different, albeit higher standard. I feel that the adjustments throughout the world to these changes is a reflection of a prudent policy that reflects reverence for the body and the culture in a way that does not offend either the laws of God, or the culture in which they serve.

    With respect to sister missionaries, as with all mission rules, there is a higher degree of obedience that is expected for those that choose to serve. People go without music and movies for two years, I think the sister missionaries can go without leopard print bras for two years as well. No one is forcing them to go on missions. If they go, they sign up for the standards, whatever they may be. The contract here is not to wear a certain length dress, it is to wear what they ask of you, even if that shifts from time to time and remains equal to the everyday standards of modest attire.

    Maybe we have forgotten, but men do have a very strict dress standard too. No facial jewelry, or tattoo’s, and let us not forget the side burn length, hair styles, the conservative nature of ties, and suit styles. Women are not being picked on here although it seems to have turned into that. Its missionary work, not a fashion show.

  178. I think I would advise male bloggers to generally stay away from modesty discussions unless they are interested in potentially causing a flame war.

    As for my mission exp I have no memories of any issues with modesty whatsoever with sister missionaries. If there were any issues with modesty I would not want to have anything to do with it. Neither am I now interested in attempting to police female modesty. Usually my exp in the church is that if there is a modesty issue it is brought up by female leaders and they usually handle it. Older adult males should generally speaking stay away from this simply out of the creepy factor.

    Unless its a bunch of YM strutting around that I can handle.

  179. Eric Russell says:

    B.Russ, your first two paragraphs respond to what I’ve called legal responsibility. But the question of how we might define moral responsibility is a good one, and I think being cognizant that our actions affect others is a good starting place. I think it’s stronger than that, though. It’s the obligation to actually see others as ourselves and thus take their burdens and failings upon ourselves as well.

  180. Nathan @ 174 – I can’t speak for the whole church, but from my opinion, as a male priesthood holder, you could not be more wrong. If women don’t want to be known or identified by their sexuality, then why put it in the forefront? Why make immodesty and sexuality so present?

    Your assumption is completely without merit and I think you should be embarrassed for even writing it. James out – it has been fun guys.

  181. I think it’s stronger than that, though. It’s the obligation to actually see others as ourselves and thus take their burdens and failings upon ourselves as well.

    If thats the case, then coming back to the discussion at hand, shouldn’t the men in the church recognize the burdens of being a female, and all the baggage that goes with the modesty conversation? Shouldn’t we take upon ourselves their occasional failings in dressing modestly? Wouldn’t it require of us men to see the occasional sister who dresses less modestly not as “a walking chastity temptation”, but as a woman with burdens, and take those burdens on ourselves without judgment?

    I realize that you wanted to stay out of the modesty conversation, but I think if the discussion is about having responsiblity for others, it can easily become a copout and a blameshifting technique. And in this particular case it seems to be a one way street.

  182. Eric Russell says:

    B.Russ, my comment was a repudiation of all blameshifting, except towards ourselves, all of us.

  183. Cynthia L. says:

    Very well said, BRuss!!

  184. James @ 181: Why do you argue that women don’t want to be identified by their sexuality? In fact this is precisely the kind of manifestation of the current balance of power that I referred to. It tends to be proscriptive and negating, as opposed to affirmative. And nothing healthy can come from that in the long run. I would amend your assertion and say that what women really don’t want is to be “reduced” to their sexuality. That doesn’t mean that they can’t express it in ways they feel comfortable with, and, obviously, that is within reasonable spiritual boundaries. Let women play a defining role in defining what those boundaries are. But I’m not arguing for making sexuality “so present.” I’m just arguing for a better way to include expressions of female sexuality in that balance of power. It’s equilibrium we should strive for, and I don’t think our current arrangement allows for that.

  185. Kristine, I just can’t see how my argument could be used to justify blaming a victim for being raped, no matter how she’s dressed. Would my argument blame a victim of a road-rage shooting because he’d cut the guy off? I don’t think so.

    “Mormon culture has some weird commitments to women’s “natural” purity and spirituality, and men’s uncontrollable sexual natures”

    Hah. So true. But I don’t think we should replace one distortion with another.

  186. I jsut want to come clean that my only source of power has been my sexy body, and undoubtedly that colors my views in this thread. Sorry, all, and good night.

  187. Mark Brown says:

    Brave words, Adam G. May you never have a daughter who is rejected for missionary service at temple square because she isn’t attractive enough. Also, it’s great that you are willing to speak on her behalf, being the patriarch of the house and all, but it is very possible that her opinion about that rejection might differ from yours.

    And speaking of Orwellian, let’s remember, this conversation is taking place in the context of sister missionaries, for crying out loud. It isn’t like they are wearing hot pants and Hooter’s t-shirts. Read that link in the original post where a sister in the MTC had a bustline which was deemed to be too distracting to the elders in her district, even under her missionary clothing. It is unbelievable to me that the fault was placed on her. The MTC MP should have called those elders into his office individually and explained the facts of life in the bluntest of terms. In a few weeks those poor little elders are going to be giving a discussion in a part of the world where it is customary for a woman to lift her shirt and nurse her baby. If their adolescent horniness is so great that they cannot be big enough to control their thoughts under those circumstances, they are worthless in the mission field, and the MP should have offered to send every one of them home immediately, and only allowed they back after they had done some growing up.

    This conversation is a mind-boggling as it is depressing.

  188. 181,

    James out

    Seacrest out!

  189. #188 – Amen with regard to the MTC situation. The issue was the Elders’ and only the Elders’.

  190. Eric, obviously in the abstract I see value in what you’re saying. I think we even mostly agree, except that I still think responsibility is the wrong word, notwithstanding your attempt to differentiate “legal responsibility” from “moral responsibility”, I just don’t think that word means what you are trying to force it to mean. But it doesn’t really matter, in spirit, I think we’re mostly on the same page.

    However, you are making the arguement on the comment thread of an issue where this “responsibility” has been used to the detriment of the self-worth of many women, and used as a tactic for blameshifting. So yes I understand that in the abstract your opinion would repudiate blameshifting, however when it is brought back into the context of reality, that is exactly what your arguement tends to be used for. And it is never used for the points I brought up in 180.

    So, in sum, I (mostly) agree with you in the overarching scheme of things, but in the context of this one conversation, I disagree with you.

  191. Mommie Dearest says:

    @#181

    There is not a woman alive who doesn’t want to be known for her sexuality, especially young women. Most of us would amend it to “appropriate sexuality” (in the right context with the right person, etc.) and would also prefer that it not be the only thing we are known for. I think men would want this too. Wouldn’t they?

  192. I know it’s ordinarily my responsibility to bring an end to these proceedings, but I love this thread, and I hope it never ends. I particularly want to hear more about the screening process for temple square missionaries.

  193. And speaking of Orwellian, let’s remember, this conversation is taking place in the context of sister missionaries, for crying out loud. It isn’t like they are wearing hot pants and Hooter’s t-shirts.

    Amen, Mark. Everyone who was castigating Kristine’s #130 for lacking the pages of caveats they deemed appropriate needs to think about this and feel ashamed: this conversation is in the context of sister missionaries, wearing their garments, and wearing something over those garments that is that sister’s attempt at being an appropriately dressed missionary for the Lord.

    However misguided that attempt, however large her tracts of land, however overdone her makeup, if any of you can look at any sister in such a context–in her covered garments!!–and find that the vision of her compels you to impure thoughts, that is your problem and your problem alone.

    Sure, we can manufacture some extreme scenarios where a woman’s dress might all but remove your agency in the matter—if there were a sister prancing around in a Fredrick’s of Hollywood teddy and garter and fishnet tights. But if you think that could ever happen in any universe, regardless of what dress and grooming guidelines exist or don’t exist, again, that is your problem and your problem alone. There is no need for Kristine to include such utter nonsense as an explicitly provided caveat.

  194. Eric Russell says:

    “in the context of this one conversation, I disagree with you.”

    I swear I’ve no idea what you’re disagreeing with me about. I’ve not read the rest of the thread, but if there are people out there who use the idea of not placing blame on others in order to place blame on others, then they are quite wrong. Obviously.

  195. To be clear, I think there is such a thing as a very plausible, very poor choice in missionary wardrobe, that would require correcting by MTC or mission president. I just don’t think any of those plausibly poor choices includes anything that would constitute an exception to Kristine’s #130.

  196. Gee, Cynthia, since I was the one who attacked #130 directly, I assume your rant was directed at me. #130 was given as an axiom of absolute truth — “full stop”. Kind of transcended the thread, don’t you think?

    If you’re angry at me particularly rather than the conversation in general, please re-read what I said and don’t conflate it with anything else. I’m not ashamed of any of it.

  197. I wasn’t paying attention to commenters’ names, and it seemed to me there were several different comments taking exception to the lack of exceptions. Not because they (or you) are sickos, but because they seemed to lose sight of what this conversation is about.

    The losing sight is a big problem though. It comes up every time modesty discussion takes place. Women say, “this particular instance/wording/whatever needlessly made me feel bad or was overzealous or misguided in its promotion of modesty.” Then a bunch of men say, “but you can’t just assert stuff without caveat!! oh noes! what if women are falling out of their leopard print bras in Sacrament meeting!” And then all these absurd, disconnected from reality scenarios are brought up, and, whatever the intention, the effect is to distract from reality, shut up women, and shut down conversations about when it’s time for the modesty police to back off.

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