Children Can’t Dress Immodestly

f062The Mormon Church teaches little girls are immodest if they expose their shoulders. That is a scandal. Children can’t dress immodestly for the same reasons seven-year-olds can’t sin and twelve-year-olds can’t enter into contracts. They don’t have the knowledge and understanding that would give them the capacity. So as a father of two young children being raised in the Mormon faith, I was disappointed to see the article titled The Orange Shirt in the May 2013 issue of The Friend. I wasn’t the only one. The article “based on a true story” involves a young girl thinking of trying on a shirt with spaghetti straps, which the author labels as immodest. The story explains that the girl felt uncomfortable when she picked the shirt up and attributed her feeling to the Holy Ghost warning her that trying the shirt on was wrong. To teach children that their access to the Holy Spirit is dependent on their clothing choices is perverse.

For the last 50 years church’s teaching about modesty has connected exposed flesh with sexual temptation. Leaders have repeatedly discussed the effect women’s clothing choices have on men’s desires and counseled women to avoid revealing clothing. Unfortunately the connection between exposed flesh and sexual temptation has become so rooted in some quarters that all uncovered shoulders are considered immodest. Let’s be clear about this. The Mormon Church teaches little girls are immodest if they expose their shoulders because exposed shoulders have been linked to sexual temptation in the Mormon Church.

This is obviously stupid and harmful. Unfortunately no sooner is it pointed out than a line forms to explain why it isn’t so. We are told covering a child’s shoulders has nothing to do with sexual temptation but is a matter of correct training. Correct training for what?

The idea that small children should assume the burdens of adult sexuality because they will later become adults is repugnant. Our daughters in particular will doubtless get their share of shaming anytime they fail to conform to expectations soon enough—we hardly need to start them at six.

Unfortunately The Friend has been known to start them as young as four. In its June 2011 issue it published Hannah’s New Dress. That article, also “based on a true story” involved a four-year-old girl putting a T-shirt under a dress in order to make it “modest”. Who, pray tell, looks at a small child in a sleeveless dress and sees immodesty? Sees anything other than innocence? Who teaches a child to see herself that way? I mean other than the Mormon Church through its children’s publication The Friend? I am reminded of our first parents in the Garden who didn’t know they were naked until the serpent gave them knowledge and they were ashamed.

When Hannah’s New Dress appeared I wrote a letter to The Friend criticizing its publication. I received a response that defended the piece as best as it could—which wasn’t very well because the piece is indefensible. I didn’t respond, reasoning that it was hard to admit fault but easy to not reoffend. Unfortunately the lesson wasn’t learned and The Friend is again trying again to teach modest dress to children—this time by warning them that God denies his Spirit to children who consider trying on tank tops. You can’t make this stuff up. (Buries head in hands in despair (but comic despair because while The Friend did something dumb (again!), there are worse things and it is good to keep perspective)).

The Friend’s cover states it is “a children’s magazine published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. A children’s magazine. Here’s a tip for my co-religionists at The Friend next time they consider running an article about children dressing modestly: Go with the one about being kind instead.

Comments

  1. This is excellent, my FB friends are tiring of my sharing article and blog post antics but they are just going to have to put up with another one.

  2. Angela C says:

    Mathew: While some Mormons may think enforcing modesty on children is harmless, this post shows why it is harmful: http://www.71toes.com/2012/08/back-to-school.html

    The comments (those that weren’t deleted for their harshness) show Mormons publicly criticizing a disabled 6 year old girl for wearing a tank top in 115 degree weather. Non-Mormons who follow the blog are rightly aghast at these judgmental comments. Good luck trying to win converts while fostering – and failing to correct – this type of nonsense. Utterly indefensible.

  3. “The idea that small children should assume the burdens of adult sexuality because they will later become adults is repugnant. Our daughters in particular will doubtless get their share of shaming anytime they fail to conform to expectations soon enough—we hardly need to start them at six.”

    Or ever!!! I’ve been called a slut for wearing a two piece to the swimming pool by supposed well intended LDS women who live a “higher standard” and felt I needed their correction??? Women who actually believe they’re speaking God’s words to me???

    I thought the greatest commandment was to love one another.

    How has LDS culture and practice become so out of alignment? And why are LDS so slow to evolve???

  4. Amen!

  5. Angela, the comments on that piece are so appalling they really ought to be immediately escalated to the highest levels of the church so we can ponder what to do about it.

  6. Angela C.
    Wow! Blown away by the comments in that thread.

  7. maysee540 says:

    This is so incredibly well said. Thank you. I hope people continue to ask questions about the culture surrounding our doctrine.

  8. Thanks for writing this. Even in Saudi Arabia, the prepubescent girls don’t have to wear the abaya. My daughter in grade one, could wear sleeveless sundresses in public and to school where the adult administrators would coo over her appearance and then spit to ward off evil spirits because they were speaking of her beauty out loud.

  9. Marsha West McCullar says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with teaching our children at a young age about dressing modestly, so that they can enter the temple when they are older. I believe if we teach our children about modesty when they are young and being a good example as a parent, it will be instilled in our kids and there won’t be any questions about how they should dress, should they choose to buy their own clothes when they are older. I was taught this way and never had to question when I bought clothes, whether I could wear it to the temple, when the time came. And it was because I was taught this at a young age, just like the Word of Wisdom, etc.

  10. Mark Brown says:

    Thank you Mathew. Well said.

    Anyone who looks at a six year old in a sleeveless sundress and sees immodesty needs to get professional help immediately. That goes for all of us, including the people who write and edit The Friend.

  11. Mark Brown says:

    Marsha West McCullar,

    Please go take a look at that post which was referenced in the comment by Angela C.

    Then please reconsider your statement, “I don’t see anything wrong with teaching our children at a young age about dressing modestly…” Because there is a LOT that can go wrong with it, as the comments on that post demonstrate. We should all be outraged that there are adults who will judge a Primary age girl as slutty for wearing a tank top. There is a lot of downside here. A generation ago active LDS women wore sleeveless dresses before they were endowed, and the made the switch to garment-friendly dresses without undue stress. Training a girl for 15 years not to wear a tank top seems like overkill, and a really terrible, bogus excuse.

  12. I have to agree with Mark. A young person in Primary won’t be making their trip to the temple for around seven or eight years at the earliest. To teach that yes, this is a covenant you make in the temple and when the time comes, that may precipitate some changes in your clothing (b/c garments, etc.) is fine. To teach me that I have to dress for covenants I haven’t made yet (and imply that I would not be able to handle switching things over for my new status later) is inappropriate, at best. At worst, it leads to all of the unrighteous dominion and slut-shaming that is part and parcel of contemporary LDS modesty discourse.

  13. I think young girls not dressing modestly is a god blessed shame. Don’t these so called mothers know that Hell ain’t half full? There is one vote here for bringing back infant baptism. All I know is that as a mother I’m terrified, just plain terrified.

  14. Matthew….fantastic!!! Thank you!!

    Angela C…wow, those comments are so judgmental and extreme. If I was not lds I would have thought they were fake, being lds I know that those people meant every word.
    Talk about group public shaming and pressure to conform. So disturbing!

    Why does the church not realize what a dangerous path it is taking? This article expresses so well the issues this causes.

    Just the other day while picking up my nephew from school I overheard a little girl run up to another little girl an tell her she was “sinning” for wearing a tank top.The tank top girl burst into tears and ran off.

    Children are black and white thinkers. This sort of thing will either teach them to judge or feel shamed.

  15. Great post.

    One of the most common arguments I hear is “make sure you don’t have to throw out your whole wardrobe after you go to the temple.” Let’s all take a moment and realize that no 18-25+ year old woman going to the temple will still be trying to wear her dresses from when she was 7.

    The ridiculousness surrounding modesty in the LDS church is enough to make me scream. A few weeks ago in Sunday School, one woman proudly announced that she and her husband teach their children modesty by judging the clothing choices of people they see. ……..

    Yeah, that’s a healthy way to teach kids about loving and respecting the choices of others. ……. Oh, wait, nope. It’s not.

    /judgmental rant

  16. A fantastic post. File the Friend article under “SSD”: Seriously So Dumb.

  17. Thokozile says:

    I think this is just a symptom of upstream confusion about the purpose of modesty. We need look no further than For the Strength of Youth:

    “Your body is God’s sacred creation. Respect it as a gift from God, and do not defile it in any way. Through your dress and appearance, you can show the Lord that you know how precious your body is. You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ.

    Prophets of God have always counseled His children to dress modestly. The way you dress is a reflection of what you are on the inside. Your dress and grooming send messages about you to others and influence the way you and others act. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and can exercise a good influence on those around you.”

    First of all, if you take these statements at face value, the first paragraph gives a justification for modesty that is completely independent of sexual temptation. If a modest appearance is part of discipleship, it makes sense to teach children to act in this way, so I can’t fault the authors of the stories in the Friend for what they wrote.

    That being said, the statements in FTSY are repugnant! I would recommend the following revisions, and I have taken the bold measure of citing well-known scriptures to support my ideas:

    “Your body is God’s sacred creation. Respect it as a gift from God, and do not defile it in any way. By avoiding high fructose corn syrup, exercising, and flossing, you can show the Lord that you know how precious your body is. You can show that you know the importance of taking care of yourself.

    Prophets of God have always counseled His children to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 5:44, Moroni 7:45, D&C 88:124). The way you treat others is a reflection of what you are on the inside (1 Samuel 16:7). Your actions send messages about you to others (John 13:35) and influence the way you and others act (Mathew 5:16). When you look for opportunities to serve, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and can exercise a good influence on those around you (Monson, October 2012).”

  18. KerBearRN says:

    Amen and hallelujah. I have become increasingly frustrated by my children (well, my daughter more than my son) coming home from Primary with “modesty checklists”. And now my poor little 8 year old girl is obsessive about wearing t shirts under most dresses (and leggings too– she is a little tall so some of her dresses are knee length…I fear she got comments). And my son gets really anxious about church when he feels his hair is too long. I JUST WANT MY KIDS TO FEEL THAT CHURCH IS A SAFE, LOVING PLACE– not someplace that you have to worry about your every stray kneecap and shoulder.

    Sad, really, that “safe and nonjudgemental” are about the LAST words I would use to describe Mormon culture. It makes me weep that we have become so much about what is on the outside. I see young people leaving the church in large numbers. Is it any surprise? We teach charity but do not extend it to each other, and they are calling us on our hypocrisy.

    Grrrrrrrrrr.

  19. KerBearRN says:

    Thokozile. What he said. FTW.

  20. KerBearRN says:

    O.M.G. I am completely disgusted by some of the comments in that linked post. Especially the self-righteous little twit who bragged that her FOURTEEN MONTH OLD is made to wear tees under tank tops. Gobsmacked. Appalled. Speechless.

  21. Church44 says:

    Modesty is less about what you are wearing and more about why you are wearing it.

    No one complains about swimsuits at the pool side despite the amount of flesh shown. I find many things immodest £8000 watches, £100 ties and extravagant cars are all immodest.

    Whilst its important to look nice, when its taken to extremes and the way you look on the outside becomes more important than who you are on the inside, that is immodest.

  22. The other day I was driving in the car with my two daughters aged 12 and 6. The younger one complained that she was hot. I suggested she remove her sweater and she burst into tears that she couldn’t because then she would be immodest (she had a totally non-sexualized but sleeveless dress on underneath). The only other people in the car were myself and her sister. This has got to stop.

    I joined the church at 21 and was endowed and married at 24. When I got home from my honeymoon, I went through my wardrobe and tried on my clothes with my garments and gave away the things that wouldn’t cover them. It was really not a big deal. Following the logic of those who feel they need to train their daughters (and their sons) for wearing garments should lead us to not allow them to wear typical underwear and enforce wearing bike shorts with undershirts all year long as soon as they are out of diapers. In fact, maybe DB could market a garment style diaper so we can start training our babies from birth so they never have to question what clothes to wear. God forbid, they have a chance to exercise their agency!

  23. Mossbloom says:

    So many people I know act like there are two options: teach your daughters to dress as if they were wearing garments or teach them to dress like mini prostitutes. Yes, there are some parents who do the latter, but that is not actually the “wordly standard.” I live right next to an elementary school in California and I have yet to see any of the kids wear hyper sexualized clothing. But modesty advocates point to Toddlers and Tiaras as if that was the norm. I hear all the time how difficult it is to find modest clothes for girls, but i have a hard time understanding what they are talking about when I shop for my daughters. Even if I cared about their shoulders being covered, they would still have plenty of cute, age-appropriate, reasonably-priced options.

    I also always hear that you should teach your children to dress modestly while they are young. I agree. But I just don’t agree that means no tank tops or naked knees. I have talked with my girls about appropriate behavior and dress and how we do need to try to be aware of the nonverbal messages that we send, intentionally or unintentionally. But those lessons do not need to be sexualized whatsoever. Teaching them about protecting themselves from those with harmful intentions is a completely separate conversation.

  24. I’ve got news for you, kids under the age of 8 can lie, cheat, steal, and even dress modestly. If you don’t by that last part then I guess you are not too familiar with what goes down at some beauty pageants held for little girls and some of the T-shirt slogans floating around out there being marketed to little girls.

    While it is not counted against them as a sin, they are still capable of choosing those actions and there is nothing wrong with the church working to help instill better habits in them before they become accountable. That is the whole reason for there being that period of time, so they can have time to be taught and to learn before they become accountable.

    Start them off wearing things they should wear as teens and by the time they get to be teens you will be so used to seeing them in it and they will be so used to wearing them that it won’t seem immodest to them. And modesty isn’t about exercising some kind of control over male lust, it is about honoring and respecting the sacredness of the human body, and isn’t a child’s body every bit as sacred and honorable? Why teach them at a young age to disrespect it?

    And if the Holy Ghost prompts a little girl to not do something, and she goes and does it, then that rebellion is what will limit her access to the Holy Ghost in the future unless she repents. It doesn’t matter how trivial the subject of the prompting may seem to you, if you are not going to listen He is not going to bother prompting so much.

  25. Paul,
    There is no particular style of clothing that constitutes “disrespect for the body,” so far as I can tell. It is possible for ladies in a burka to be considered immodest and it is possible for ladies to wear a bikini modestly. Standards for modesty that limit themselves to clothing are always about the male (or female, I suppose) gaze. Since what we are discussing is a standard that has limited itself to clothing, then applying it to children, no matter how well-intentioned, is creepy. Even the Afghans and Saudis let their pre-teens run around in tank-tops.

  26. Rushing to tell our young children that they are naked and should sew proverbial fig leaves strikes me as really interesting advice, considering the original source or that advice.

  27. JamesM, BINGO.

    John C, “Even the Afghans and Saudis let their pre-teens run around in tank-tops.” Should give us pause.

    This is all utterly grotesque.

  28. As primary president, I don’t allow this sexualized version of modesty to be taught to our primary children. My counselors and other teachers and parents I’ve spoken to all share my same discomfort in teaching children that their bodies are sexual and can send improper messages. Children are incapable of that kind of immodesty, and shame on the adult who tries to teach them otherwise. Last year the Sharing Time outline had a lesson on modesty that focused entirely on covering our bodies appropriately (it even referenced the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, which just further drove home that it was a message for older kids). We learned about something else that day.

  29. Mark Brown says:

    “….lie, cheat, steal, and even [wear sleeveless dresses].”

    Paul, remember those IQ tests they gave you in high school? One of these things is not like the others……..

  30. Rachel,

    >”a lesson on modesty that focused entirely on covering our bodies appropriately”.

    Of course, by “our” we mostly mean “girls'”. The misogyny here is also grotesque.

  31. Mark Brown says:

    And the thing about this all that is positively infuriating and makes me want to punch a hole through a wall is that the cost of these adult neuroses and obsessive fixations will be borne by our young girls and Mutual young women. Shame on us.

  32. While I generally agree with the OP, doesn’t the beginning of Lisa’s post at FMH prove that there is a way for children to dress immodestly?

    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/2013/05/the-friend-and-the-orange-tank-top-the-difference-between-shaming-and-the-spirit/

  33. I don’t have anything to add. In fairness, notwithstanding the idiocy of the Friend story, I’ve never had anybody from the Church do anything but fawn over my daughters’ cuteness, whether it’s the middle of the winter and they’re bundled as heavily as I can convince them to dress or it’s the middle of summer and they’re in comfortable sundresses. (Which they will return to soon—the public school we’re meeting at for the time being apparently doesn’t have air conditioning.)

  34. It’s kinda funny— being raised in this hyper-modesty rhetoric led me to believe for the longest time that the ONLY reason for garments was to maintain modesty, instead of, you know, actual deep spiritual covenants. It wasn’t until my twenties that I realized the untruth of this.

  35. Mossbloom says:

    Mark Brown, exactly. My parents became obsessive about modesty when I turned 10 and it seriously gave me body issues that I have struggled with my whole life. I had no idea until I was older that they were attempting to protect me from the uncontrollable hormones of boys, I just thought that there must have been something repulsive about my body in particular that even my own parents thought should be covered up. I could not bring myself to wear swimsuits after that. I rarely even wear shorts again, especially if there was going to be boys around because I thought they would be so grossed out by my legs. And since I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my role in life without attracting a future husband, I had to keep them covered up. I would wear sweatpants to boat trips (not because my parents told me to, but because I thought I needed to). It was horrible. And it was so depressing to see my brothers running around with only swim trunks and still have girls fawning over them. I had no idea until I was married that my body could actually be considered attractive. The thing is, I had pretty great parents. They weren’t perfect, but they had no idea what kind of damage they were doing to my self esteem. My goal as a mother is to do my darnedest to help my kids love, respect, appreciate their bodies. Our modesty rhetoric does not teach that whatsoever.

  36. Modesty is about more than sexualization, just as garments are about more than modesty. And while most would argue that it’s hard for a 4 or 5 year old to be immodest (although still possible, IMO), a 9 or 10 year old (and older) certainly can be. So the title of this post is erroneous…Children CAN dress immodestly.

  37. @Mossbloom…I think your experience shows perfectly why modesty SHOULD be taught to younger children. Pulling it out all of the sudden once a kid hits 10 or 12 can then be confusing if it’s never been taught or addressed before. But of course, how you teach it is important. It should not be about over-sexing the opposite gender when teaching it to a 6 year old.

  38. I grew up in a house where modesty was enforced so that I “wouldn’t have an issue when I was endowed,” but honestly it made me feel disrespected and untrusted. While I probably would have set slightly different standards for myself, if allowed, I certainly wouldn’t have dressed provocatively.

    Now that I’m endowed, I still don’t believe that modesty is a commandment. I think it’s simply an enforced side effect of wearing garments. In fact I think the idea of modesty significantly cheapens the symbolism of the garment.

  39. dallonj says:

    “Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean.
    And when the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling of the mind?
    And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”

    http://ldsanarchy.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/body-modesty-is-not-a-principle-of-the-gospel/

  40. Thanks for the many great comments. To be clear, if a parent such as Marsha West McCullar wants to teach her children that they shouldn’t wear tank tops as she believes that is a good way to prepare her children to enter the temple, I certainly won’t object. I do object if the church organ or people in a church setting teach children they shouldn’t wear tank tops for the reasons stated in the post.

    Tim J., I think it is possible for adults to cause children to dress and do things that are ugly but in that case the adult is using a child for an evil purpose and the adult is responsible. A child who has been introduced to concepts of adult sexuality needs our care and protection. Children can not dress immodestly.

    DL, a 4 or 5 year old can not be immodest. A person can look at a four or five year old and attribute all sorts of inappropriate things to them. We usually try to protect our children from these kinds of people. Children can not dress immodestly

  41. dallonj says:

    should we no longer teach isaiah to our children since he spent years naked and barefoot with his buttocks uncovered? surely he couldn’t have the spirit since it would have left “hannah” for even trying on a tank top.

    At the same time spake the Lord by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot. And the Lord said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia; So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.

  42. Mossbloom says:

    DL, I was always taught modesty, it just got more strict when I got closer to puberty, which is pretty normal for Mormons. YW get it grilled into them much more intensely than Primary kids. It was not damaging because it was confusing.

  43. Someone’s comment around here about the minimalist movement has stuck with me: When you’re a minimalist obsessively paring down your possessions and bragging that you own only 17 items total, you’re as inappropriately focused on the the material and on ownership as any hoarder who owns 17 copies of everything she can buy.

    It’s another move that threatens my welcome here, I realize, but I’ll say it: The bloggernacle’s obsessive reaction, BCC’s in particular, against any Church lesson/article/talk on modesty or suitable dress is as inappropriate and unseemly as any pervert’s leer. Any one post may be reasonable, but every such post serves as a magnet to draw comments from readers who vie with each other to be more indignant and outraged than the last, more determined to top each other in their contempt for the way the Church handles this, that, or the other thing.

    It would be so refreshing if sometime you would offer a post that models the kind of story you think the Friend should carry that teaches respect for one’s body, and the appropriate way to teach and practice that ideal, one that doesn’t at the same time invite commenters to respond with “Yes, THIS is what we need, not what the Church currently does, which is … [complain, snark, hatespeak].”

  44. I was visiting friends a few months ago. Their daughter was two years and three months old, exactly one week older than my daughter. Their daughter had on a calf-length nightgown. As we sat down on the floor for evening prayers, their two year old daughter (who had a vocabulary of maybe 100 words) said very clearly, “Modest,” and she pulled her calf-length nightgown over her feet. Her parents were proud. I felt sick to my stomach. My daughter who is exactly the same age does not know what the word ‘modesty’ means, and I want her to continue in her childlike innocence and purity for as long as she is a child.

  45. Angela C says:

    Ardis – why should the Friend be doing any sort of teaching about bodies? Bodies are an adult obsession. I suppose we could talk about eating healthy and exercising, but I would think the stories in the Friend should be focused on the issues kids need help with to become more Christ-like: learning how to share, being kind, taking care of siblings and pets, helping around the house, telling the truth. Kids under age 10 are prone to be very selfish with temper tantrums when they don’t get their way, tattling on siblings, sometimes bullying and whining, and they are still developing empathy.

    That’s another reason why giving them a lesson on modesty is a bad idea. It combines with their lack of empathy and gives them a reason and method to judge and tattle on others. Some of them seem never to outgrow this tendency.

  46. I totally agree with the point the post is making. I do have one small concern here though…

    this time by warning them that God denies his Spirit to children who consider trying on tank tops.

    This sentiment was expressed a few times in the post…but I think it’s a reach. I guess I just don’t see, at least from this article, that we’re teaching that God “denies” his Spirit to children who try on tank tops. Strikes me as a bit hyperbolic. I think as Lisa over at FMH points out the real downside here is cultural shame and the impact on psychological health it has.

    Also, I suppose at least for me this is all about where we draw boundaries. These same sorts of cultural shaming techniques permeate our culture. Everything from premarital sex, masturbation, to beards and white shirts. My experience is that most times when one violates these cultural norms one feels varying levels of shame but can often still easily feel the Spirit contrary to what they’ve been taught. Just how many of these boundaries are arbitrary and ill-advised much like shaming young girls over “modesty” issues? What I see here is an increasing effort to surround the sacred cow of sex with as many buffering layers of nonsense as possible. But just as I’m about to jump down this idealistic rabbit hole I’m reminded that there are real practical implications, justified or not, for violating one’s conditioning. We’re pretty hell bent on preventing this shame and in the process drastically overreach and create more of it.

  47. Angela C- 100% agreed. An alternative would likely be just as problematic since the Friend ought not to contain the same sort of troublesome modesty rhetoric that we will soon deploy against the youth. This sort of response is completely appropriate IMO– the Church needs thoughtful and faithful critics. It already has sycophants aplenty.

  48. why should the Friend be doing any sort of teaching about bodies?

    This question leaves me [nearly] speechless. We believe, and *appropriately* teach children from a very young age, that one of the major reasons God created this world and sent us here to live was to gain, and gain mastery of, a physical body. There can hardly be a topic more fundamental to the gospel than bodies.

    The way you — and in this case I mean “you” as in writers of what I think are questionable posts — discuss bodies is certainly obsessive, and adult. To consider the entire topic of bodies as out-of-bounds for instruction of LDS children is absolutely flabbergasting.

  49. Peter LLC says:

    It would be so refreshing if sometime you would offer a post that models the kind of story you think the Friend should carry that teaches respect for one’s body, and the appropriate way to teach and practice that ideal

    Preach on. The low-hanging fruit has been plucked.

  50. Ardis:

    In order for change to happen, you can’t completely ignore something. Be threatened all you want, but if it’s discourse you want, then avoiding the issue and complaining about it is hardly the best course to take.

    In order for any change to happen, you have to create a movement to change that something. I – and hopefully countless others – am completely fed-up at the modesty discourse coming from Church. It’s harmful and wholly inappropriate. Instead of teaching kids love, kindness and patience, we’re teaching them (way TOO much) that their bodies are objects of everyone else’s gaze. Ignoring that and instead only focusing on other, more “positive” things simply won’t help. In fact, it’s harmful.

    Instead of getting on a soapbox about how “threatened” you feel by this discourse and the spotlight it’s receiving in the b-nacle, perhaps you can focus on the article at hand and discuss the merits of said article. Taking “light” away from that article in favor of focusing on what you want is rather selfish, in my opinion.

  51. My favorite anecdote about the church’s relatively recent emphasis on modesty for young children is the time my daughter told me that in Primary they sang songs about “touching your private parts.” Turns out the song in question was “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” Classic.

    Anyway, I just want to say that parents should decide for themselves what their children’s dress standards should be. Most parents with their heads on straight can be trusted with that particular task. Cover their shoulders from infancy or at puberty, but it doesn’t really make that much difference. I promise you that a girl who has heretofore worn sleeveless tops but is now maturing physically will not be confused by a new standard. Girls aren’t stupid. They know their bodies are changing. You should be more concerned with how she views her body and her sexuality than with applying a consistent standard of coverage from birth onward. Girls want to be attractive. That she happily wore t-shirts under her sundresses at 5 doesn’t guarantee that she won’t want to dress differently when her body becomes a woman’s body. Some girls will, others won’t. It will have more to do with her body image and attitude toward sexuality than it will with what she wore or didn’t wear when she was a child.

    Great post, Mathew.

  52. Modesty is based on the concept of moderation – in all things. While I agree with much of what is said in the OP, it is more than just a bit ironic to attack one version of modesty in an completely immodest manner. Using one inaccurate extreme (“Children can’t dress immodestly.”) to attack another inaccurate extreme (“Children who expose their shoulders are sluts.”) is no more modest than the extreme being attacked. It simply is the other extreme of the immodesty coin.

    Again, I agree with the concern about how modesty is taught in our culture, especially the obsession over narrowing it exclusively to clothing and females, but this post is no more modest than what it attacks. I would love to read a modest response to such an important issue.

  53. I for one am grateful that the commenters at 71 Toes are at the ramparts defending us all from on onslaught of jack Mormon slut-babies.

  54. In order for change to happen, you can’t completely ignore something. Be threatened all you want, but if it’s discourse you want, then avoiding the issue and complaining about it is hardly the best course to take.

    Hang on there a moment, Bob. It isn’t “threat” that I feel — it’s disappointment with my fellow bloggers. Nor am I “avoiding the issue” — I’m requesting that my fellow bloggers address the issue in a new and useful way, not in tired repetitions.

    You have no right to ascribe inappropriate emotions or motivations to my comments. Try not to do it again, yeah?

  55. There is a modest way to approach this issue, and it not only is possible, but it also is the best way to make the point to those who will reject out of hand the opposite extreme.

  56. Angela C says:

    Ardis: I certainly don’t disagree with teaching children the plan of salvation. It’s been a while since I’ve read the Friend magazine, but I thought the purpose was to supplement the doctrinal teachings they get at church with application based stories so that the kids feel they have a “friend” setting examples. I don’t think physical bodies or modesty (which is not age appropriate) are as necessary a topic as the ones I’ve listed above for children under age ten.

    I’m flabbergasted that your flabbergasted, and I am perplexed that you think I write questionable posts. I’m fairly new here at BCC, so thanks for enlightening me.

  57. Dave K. says:

    Mathew,

    I discussed this issue with my wife today after reading your post and the 71toes link from comment #2. I agree with the general premise that the church’s modesty instructions often miss the mark, such as in the Friend article. I also agree that some of the justifications of these teachings given by church members are downright harmful (e.g., anything treating a child as sexual object). For whatever reason, my reaction has not been to condemn the Friend editors, but to try to think of a charitable way to understand their motives. This is the best I could think of.

    First, the instinct to cover up children, particularly girls, is not unique to LDS culture. Just look at these recent Hijab propaganda posters at http://imgur.com/a/JqG1V Highlights include: “A woman modestly dressed is like a pearl in it’s shell” (eerily similar to Elizabeth Smart’s chewed gum analogy) and “In this blizzard of watchful eyes do not forget your umbrella”. Also note the posters comparing “good” women to “bad” based on clothing choices. That could have been cut/paste out of a YW manual.

    Second, I hear these teachings predominantly from female church leaders (both a general and local level). As a male church leader, I have to consider that maybe female leaders see something I don’t. That doesn’t mean I automatically agree with them, but I should try to understand their perspective better. This thought is part of a general critique I have for those of us (foremost myself) who outwardly say we want more female participation and leadership but then are quick to judge the female leaders we already have (i.e., “I’d love to have a female apostle, just not Elaine Dalton”).

    Third, most of the currents that underlie the trend to cover up children seem to derive from women’s mistrust of men. Unfortunately, the mistrust is often merited. We live in a porn-saturated world. Women and girls are raped and brutalized. Those realities are largely out of women’s control. So they over-compensate in the few areas that are in their control such as children’s dress. That’s a long way of getting to this: When women react harshly to girls in sundresses, it is not so much about exposed shoulders as it is their fear of men and an inability to address that fear through better outlets.

    So, yes, let’s raise valid critiques such as (i) girls in sundresses are beautiful, (ii) modesty standards are largely the result of our abitrary culture, and (iii) women are not responible for controlling men’s eyes. But let us also address the root problem — that in our church culture women (and therefore girls) are viewed primarily as sexual objects because their eternal purpose is to bear children. Until we start seeing women as real equals to men – with equal power to speak, pray, preside, provide, and lead – as long as we see women’s primary value as a body to be covered and protected, we will always be dealing with these side issues of sleeve length, number of earings, too much makeup, etc.

  58. Angela, please note that I said “writerS” of questionable posts, and did not single out any particular blogger.

  59. When I taught Book of Mormon in Primary last year, I had to give a lesson on Alma’s counsel to his son Corianton, who was guilty of visiting the harlot Isabel while he was supposed to be preaching the gospel to the Zoramites. The manual explicitly instructs the teacher not to explain the nature of Corianton’s sin, just to say that it was a very bad one and if the children have further questions they should ask their parents. I have my complaints about the Primary manuals, but I think this is a perfectly reasonable approach to take with relatively young children (ages 8-11), who may be at differing levels of maturity and innocence.

    I think we should take a similar approach with teaching modesty. We really don’t need to get into specific details at church about which specific body parts need to be covered. Parents can teach their own children what modesty means and adapt their instructions to the individual child’s capacity for understanding the reasons for their family’s standards. At church we can talk in general terms about dressing appropriately for the occasion and whatnot. We really don’t need to get into what pedophiles may or may not be thinking. (Although I do think it appropriate to teach children about personal safety, the whole “good touch”/”bad touch” business, it’s not appropriate to introduce the notion that they could be partially responsible for a predator’s attraction to them. Just writing that sentence makes me feel icky.)

  60. Mossbloom says:

    Dave K, that is so true. I know my parents’ motivation wasn’t that they thought I was slutty, but that they were afraid and wanted to protect me. They had very good reasons for being concerned as well, as they had both known of awful things that girls had experienced. But rather than empowering me, they covered me up. And it totally didn’t prevent the sexual harassment that I experienced.

  61. I, too, live in the Arabian Gulf (in Oman) and the little Omani girls run around with spaghetti straps and sleeveless sundresses. Until they start their periods. Then and ONLY THEN do they “dress modestly” for this culture. As for me, when I was 5-7 yrs old, I lived in Bangkok and except for wearing a simple dress to school, at ALL other times, I wore ONLY shorts. No top……EVER! When we returned to the U.S. and my mother told me I had to start wearing a shirt, I was confused by this. I still remember not understanding why it was “wrong” to go without a shirt. Imagine these LDS kids being told they are “wrong” to not be “modest.” Very sad.

  62. I would love to see some of the modesty stuff aimed at boys. 90% of the modesty talk goes towards girls, just like 90% of the chastity talk is aimed at YW (at least that’s been my experience).

    When we were doing My Gospel Standards as our FHE lessons, we talked about how our dress reflects our attitudes, how swimsuits are acceptable at the pool but not at church, and why I won’t buy my son shirts with slogans like “Will Trade My Sister For Video Games.” There is a lot more to be said about the topic of modest dress for children than “if your shoulders are bare you can’t feel the Spirit.” That said, I don’t think any of my girls’ Sunday dresses are sleeveless because our ward building is about 58 degrees year round.

  63. “At church we can talk in general terms about dressing appropriately for the occasion and whatnot.”
    Small children don’t generally do so great at abstract theory, If you can’t teach the concept with examples and scenarios, then I’m not sure there’s much value in addressing it. Sabbath Day observance is a good analogue. As much as we’d like to, it’s hard to teach kids to keep the Sabbath Day holy without at least throwing in the suggestion that they visit the sick or something.

  64. @Matthew – “children” are more than 4 or 5 year olds, so I stick to my statement that children CAN be immodest. If you want to change your statement to “young children under the age of __ can’t be immodest” then that’s one thing, but that’s nowhere to be found in your post.

  65. Utah outranks the country in all kinds of sexual assault against boys and girls and women http://health.utah.gov/vipp/rapeSexualAssault/overview.html .

    With such a high percentage of members of The Only True Church living in Utah, this is shocking! Why are Mormon men so much more likely to molest and rape than other men? What’s the common denominator here?

    Modesty “principles” are taught beginning in nursery. The extreme LDS focus on virginity, modestly, those several inches above the knee, acceptable levels of affections, bare shoulders, and the accompanying shame, guilt, sin, etc., cultivates perversion, not purity.

  66. Publius says:

    @Cora

    The less Mormon areas of Utah have higher rates of rape than the more Mormon areas. How does your theory of the evil effects of the LDS Church handle that fact?

  67. Urban vs rural?

  68. Jennifer Jones says:

    When my son was only 3 years old, we were staying at his grandparent’s house. My son came out naked after bathing, as he typically did in our home and was no big deal at all, and his grandparents both made a HUGE deal of out of it and covered their eyes and told him to go back and get dressed. I was very upset by this. My son is now 6 years old and since that very day will not take his shirt off, even to go swimming, without me reminding him that it is perfectly okay and that was grandma and grandpa did was not okay. He was a changed boy after that and it broke my heart.

  69. Rachel E O says:

    By way of introduction, I’ve always thought that I probably wouldn’t want my daughters (regardless of age) to wear sleeveless shirts or dresses, largely because of the principle that you may as well prepare now for the standard of clothing you’ll wear after you go through the temple. But I also don’t get my panties in a wad when LDS girls wear sleeveless clothes — to each his or her own.

    However, after reading this post and the comments thereon and the post on the 71 toes blog and comments thereon (see #2), I think I’ve pretty much been convinced that such an interpretation/application of modesty is probably a little ridiculous. So thank you for broadening my perspective a bit.

    That said, I do tend to agree with Ardis that I find it a bit of a turn-off how BCC’ers love to pile on in indignant furor over this issue. One manifestation of this is that everyone in the comments here was like GASP HOLY CRAP THAT’S APPALLING in regard to the comments on the 71 toes blogpost — and yet when I went and read them, sure, I felt the same way about some of the comments (and I realize many of the worst ones have been deleted), but on the whole, I actually found the thread rather encouraging — so many women were so brave as to push back against the stigmatizers and be like, yo, this family is beautiful and modest and exemplary in every respect and you need to stop being so judgmental (and stop being such poor representatives of our faith).

    Another manifestation of this pile-on mentality: In the 71 toes thread, contrary to what comments in this thread have indicated, I didn’t actually see any of the commenters directing their judgmental ire against the “disabled 6 year old girl” (at least in the comments that hadn’t been deleted). It may have been implied by some of the comments talking about how they dress their 14-month-olds, etc. But all the modesty police comments I saw were commenting on the sleeveless shirt worn by Elle, the freshman in high school. I’m not saying that makes their judgmentalism okay (on the contrary — I mean, if anyone is going to have body image issues, it’s a freshman girl), but we seem perhaps a little bit overeager to set up a strawman to attack here…

  70. Peter LLC says:

    If indignant furor is what you’re after, there is a salmon-colored blog that does it better. Though the assertion that the primary curriculum turns boys into rapists is a pretty good effort.

  71. Rebecca’s 8:35 am comment wins the internet, at least for today.

    Thanks for an important view in the modesty discussion, Mat.

  72. Angela’s 8:06 am comment was spot-on: “That’s another reason why giving them a lesson on modesty is a bad idea. It combines with their lack of empathy and gives them a reason and method to judge and tattle on others. Some of them seem never to outgrow this tendency.”

    That’s a great point — thanks!

  73. @Jennifer – while it’s sad that the grandparents’ reaction has created an issue for your boy, it may be that the situation was just as uncomfortable for the grandparents. Just because your level of modesty is ok with certain behaviors doesn’t mean that others’ level are the same. I don’t know that you can exclusively blame the grandparents for what happened.

  74. Ardis:

    Your words:

    It’s another move that threatens my welcome here…

    You used the word “threaten”, not me. If you’re threatened by a momentary focus on the subject at hand – even if momentary means it’ll last another year or so before moving on to something else – then there are much larger issues at play…and one of them would be an inability to maintain a collaborative dialogue without trying to steer the discourse in a way that is mostly self-serving. Try again.

  75. John F. – I actually think that’s a very poor reason to not teach modesty. Should we apply that to other Church teachings like Word of Wisdom, pornography, etc.? We just shouldn’t teach anything because it sets up judgmental behavior. So erroneous!
    We always need to be teaching good and true principles. If the judgmental behavior is the issue, then focus on that. But don’t remove teaching truth for the sake of sparing possible judgments.

  76. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think think that parents are offended by this article because THEY are feeling judged by the clothes their kids are wearing. It’s not like a 6 year old can go out and buy him/herself clothes. We as parents are primarily choosing the clothes that our kids will wear. We as parents have the final say on that tank top or the shorts that say “juicy” on the butt, the saggy pants or the T-shirt that is inappropriate. You are right they are not accountable for what they are wearing… we as parents are.

    I’ll be honest…. I don’t have girls. I’ve been blessed with 5 boys. And yes, we talk about modesty. Wearing appropriate clothes for what is going on. Keeping our underwear covered, and unless they are wearing a bathing suit, they have to have a shirt on. We also talk about keeping our thoughts clean. I do think it’s sad to put all the responsibility on girls to dress modestly to “keep boys from thinking about a girls body” I want my boys to be in control of their own thoughts and actions.

    My boys may chose differently when they are grown but these are the rules of our house. Just like we disciplined and teach about things that they do wrong – even before they are accountable, we teach about modesty before they go to the temple. The choices they make later on will be there’s to own, but I have a parent have done my part and done the best that I can to teach them right.

  77. Why is it okay for this MAN to question the feelings of the spirit that these children felt and tell them that their feelings don’t apply because they are children? Notice how the articles that he refers to are based on the feelings of the children, not the guidance of the parents. Obviously this man has never felt the spirit prompt him in any direction, otherwise he wouldn’t be so doubting.

    Please stop stirring the pot for stirring the pot’s sake. Obviously, someone has offended you in some way that you feel is irreparable. Forgive them, forget your pride, and stop looking for excuses to be against teachings that others value.

  78. This issue is analgous to the culture wars. Someone sees an extreme problem somewhere and carries out an extreme response to to the extreme problem everywhere.

    If you have seen the “Bratz” brand or other efforts to turn young girls into bratty, nasty, sexualized beings you will know that children are not totally immune from “immodesty” (defining that word broadly). For me, the answer for parents and teachers is to shield children from such influences while treading very carefully before being proactive about sexual matters children don’t even know exist. Nothing is worse than premature loss of innocence–regardless the motivations. Shielding and being proactive are two different things.

    Immodest behavior (think Lady Gaga) is as prevalent as ever and I think this is why the super-modesty response has also reached a fever pitch in Mormondom. And yes, some of the results are absurd (like the wierd poofs they started sewing on the teenage beauty queen shoulders in Utah Valley a few years back). But most church members are probably not super-judgemental when it comes to alleged immodesty in adults and especially not judgmental toward children (that doesn’t mitigate the horrible anecdotes expressed above, I just don’t think they are representative). I see lots of bikini clad Mormon moms at waters parks in Utah Valley these days and lots of teens in Daisy Dukes. Whether you think that’s good or bad, its not clear that Mormonism as a whole has become a juggernaut of uber-modesty.

    Post modern feminism and modern ideas about psychology provide a basis for hand wringing on both sides. But unless your seventeen-year old comes home dressed in go-go boots and fishnet, the best response is sometimes a shrug.

    Note: I am also pretty sure that resources like the YM and YW manuals and FTSY do address proper nutrition and bathing as part of respecting our bodies. You can teach that at an early age too as long as you don’t avoid extremes.

  79. Ardis, as a long-time admirer I wish we had more common ground on this issue. In response to your first comment I will note that I did suggest in my post that we need to keep perspective on this issue. I also suggested an alternative to articles on children’s modesty which was to run an article on kindness instead. I wrote this post as a concerned father who wants his children exposed to the best things the church has to offer.

    DL, sorry I’m not negotiating. Children can’t be immodest. Four, five, nine, ten, it’s equally true for them all.

    Ray, you’ve created a false equivalency rather than responding to the argument and I know you can do better because I’ve seen you do better. If you want to explain with examples why you believe children can be immodest, you are welcome to do so. If you want to explain why you believe my statement is extreme you should do it.

    Dave K., the trend to cover up children in the Mormon Church stems not from women’s mistrust of men but the membership taking its cues from a leadership that links exposed shoulders to sexual temptation. Most North American non-Mormons, for example, actually don’t teach their four-year-olds that they need to put a T-shirt under a sun dress despite living among the same men you posit they are so afraid of. The idea that the trend to cover up children in derived from women’s mistrust of men looks like a post-hoc rationalization rather than a fact.

    gst, miss you man.

  80. Last line intends to say “as long as you avoid extremes”.

  81. DL, “modesty” for children isn’t a “true principle”; it’s a blank category, entirely culturally constructed. Teach your children whatever you want. Dress them in a burqa. My heart with break for them. The problem here is that this is being taught in the Church’s publication for children, thus burdening children with thoughts of “modesty” that don’t actually apply to them, or shouldn’t if the world made any sense.

    The fact is that teaching them this sexualizes them. Sure, we can all agree that most people who are obsessed with teaching young girls “modesty” do not have this intention and are shocked (and very defensive) in conversations like this. All they want is for their daughters to live the law of chastity. We all want that. (Have to state that, I suppose, though it should be obvious.)

    But with our current approach we risk teaching our daughters that their bodies are not their own but are for the boys and men in their lives. The boys are also reading the Friend articles, subconsciously learning that it is the girls’ responsibility to police their thoughts and not their own. This is reinforced dramatically in the way many wards teach modesty and chastity to young women (the way you dress supports the young mens’ mission goals; you are a piece of chewing gum that can’t be unchewed), as supported also by Church curricular materials that at least imply (and a number of recent General Conference talks that directly state) that the girls and young women are responsible for not causing boys and young men (or lecherous older men) to have “bad thoughts”.

    As has been pointed out, there is a significant problem with our young people leaving the church in large numbers. I honestly think our cultural modesty rhetoric plays a real part in the calculus that eventually leads them out of our fellowship. It’s such a tragedy. To the extent that it’s a self-made crisis, so much more the loss.

  82. Tom, The Friend is a magazine used to teach children, not just a series of interesting stories and anecdotes being shared person to person so making judgments about its contents is entirely appropriate. The church teaches us that we need to monitor the media our children consume as a means of protecting them. I take that responsibility seriously.

  83. As for the issue between Matthew and DL: I am suspicious of absolute declarations and would add the caveat that the transition from childhood to adulthood isn’t a magical one that happens on your 18th birthday. Still, all things considered I think Matthew is right and the statements above about Adam and Eve’s innocence in the garden are persuasive too.

    My neighbor’s 4 year old boy has an egregious mowhawk that, combined with his behavior, doesn’t always endear him to adults. But that’s really his parent’s immodesty.

    Its hard to teach complicated matters to kids. Tell them that smoking is bad and they will come to the erroneous conclusion that smokers are bad all by themselves.

  84. My children don’t wear sleeveless clothes, and this Friend article still makes me very uncomfortable. What my kids wear is my business. What my friends’ kids wear is their business.

  85. “This is obviously stupid and harmful.” – Walking a fine line on that one….

    “They don’t have the knowledge and understanding that would give them the capacity.” – not true.

    “To teach children that their access to the Holy Spirit is dependent on their clothing choices is perverse.” – not true, teaching them to dress modestly sets a trend for their future decisions and allowing them to recognize when something is immodest will help them understand a clear difference between appropriate and inappropriate, both for boys and girls.

    “The idea that small children should assume the burdens of adult sexuality because they will later become adults is repugnant.” – not repugnant. it’s a cautious teaching that helps them understand the importance of virtue and chastity.

    “I didn’t respond, reasoning that it was hard to admit fault but easy to not reoffend” – You didn’t respond because your argument has no context beyond your personal opinions.

    “God denies his Spirit to children who consider trying on tank tops.” – God denies his spirit to those that don’t follow the promptings of the spirit. If my child felt like they shouldn’t wear something, I’m not going to say “sorry, kiddo. you’re wrong and you can’t dress immodestly because you are a child.” That would be terrible parenting and against everything I’m trying to teach them.

    “Go with the one about being kind instead.” – If you don’t like it, stop reading it. Apparently “The church teaches us that we need to monitor the media our children consume as a means of protecting them. I take that responsibility seriously.” If that’s true, then why are you pushing them away from virtuous principles.

    Do you want children to dress in a manner that exposes their bodies? Their bodies are temples just as ours are. My greatest fear is that my children will be exposed to sexuality when they are not emotionally and physically mature enough to understand. Also, your argument makes you sound like a perv, dude.

  86. john f.: You are right that teaching modesty too early can sexualize children. I think that the fear is that they are already being sexualized. So I think motives might be pure but the response is off kilter.

    As for the whole debate about immodesty’s impact on others: Modesty has its own rewards but we can’t ignore the communicative aspect. A young man’s thoughts and behavior is his responsibility. But if those thoughts were triggered by a woman who is flaunting her sexuality in a public way, then I think there is some responsibility there too. And at least one recent New Era article seems to indicate that pron consumption by YW is a growing problem (alas!).

    I remember when I was a young, single, college student. I was driving down the road after a football game and a young woman on the side of the street flashed her breasts at me. That act had quite a negative effect on me at the time. I believe such things can influence thoughts and behavior in negative ways. To some that example will sound extreme but some of the things kids see on the streets or MTV is just as bad and you can’t always just “turn it off”.

  87. Tom:

    Notice how the articles that he refers to are based on the feelings of the children, not the guidance of the parents.

    Hypothetical question: how likely is it for the “Spirit” to dictate to a young girl – age 6, 7, 8 or whatever – that wearing an orange tank is unacceptable but for teachings from parents, sunday school teachers, etc? What kids wear at that age is hardly a concern to them unless something has been taught to them about not wearing such and such. Those teachings, then, are equated with the “Spirit” for no other reason than because they heard it taught at church. See, kids have a hard time with Gestalt thinking and the ability to notice and appreciate nuance. Heck, most adults do as well. The inability we have, as a culture, to differentiate between cultural influences and true doctrine is oftentimes astounding.

    Would this imaginary conversation take place if these kids were being raised in a 3rd world country where shopping at a mall is all but unheard of for 95% or more of the population and where what kids eat, where they sleep and whether food will be on the table that day is a bit more pressing as a cultural issue?

    As put elsewhere

    I don’t doubt that Stacy felt uncomfortable when she picked up that shirt, but what she felt was not the Holy Ghost, what she felt was cultural shaming. Specifically Mormon cultural shaming. Little girls don’t dress to be [immodest] unless they are taught to. Little girls don’t feel shame for being [immodest] unless they are taught to. A hundred years ago Stacy would have felt shame for wanting to wear pants, but (luckily) she did not learn the shame of pants, so she wears pants all the time and never feels [immodest].

  88. Antonio Parr says:

    Respectfully, it is society/modern culture/mass media that is trying to sexualize our daughters, not the LDS Church. While imperfect, the LDS Church is, in good faith, trying to protect our children from those who would attribute their value as human beings to be only as great as the sexual satisfaction that they can provide to others. Trying to acclamate children at a young age to styles of dress that will become increasingly significant as they mature sexually is not a bad thing. Given the choice between Abercrombie and Fitch or the standards espoused by the Church, I’ll take the latter.

  89. Again, Thom is making the same argument as Mathew. Children can feel the spirit. Even if they feel like it’s wrong because it was taught in church or by their parents, why is it wrong to teach virtue? You guys really need to get back on track. Children more than anything should be taught virtue and chastity. Also, who are you to judge an innocent child who says they felt the spirit tell them know. There were a lot of people that doubted a 14 year old boy. Look at the fruits of those labors. He knew it and he knew that God knew it.

    True and virtuous principles are not wrong to teach. Not teaching those principles is backwards and just because the “world’s” standards are lowering, doesn’t mean that we have to comply.

  90. Tom…may I ask were you are getting the idea that anyone wants children to expose their bodies?

    If you mean knees and shoulders then you must not remember that even just 6-10 years ago the church had no problem with the unendowed showing knees or shoulders. That included teens and 20 something’s.

    In the US and most other developed countries, shoulders and knees are not considered sexual for ANYONE let alone children and teens. No that has become a mormon marker which is just wrong on so many levels.
    If you are going off of the FSOY it’s a little humorous as previous editions have included “no pants for YW, or curlers out in public.”
    So I think it is safe to say that there are lines being drawn in the sand with the current FSOY that do NOT need to be drawn in the first place. Teach principles that support each other and allow people ( YW/women) to govern themselves.

  91. I take serious issue with the way modesty is often taught in the church, particularly to girls, but am not persuaded by some of the extremes in the other direction presented in the OP and some comments. It’s impossible for a child of any age to dress immodestly? What about a 10-year-old running around in nothing but a hat and a sock on one foot? Maybe the word modesty has acquired so much baggage that its meaning is confused, but the hat/sock thing certainly smacks of inappropriate. Would cultural acceptance of such a style make it ok, and remove any justification for the church to speak against it? It seems there has to be a line drawn somewhere. The question for me, moving down that broad spectrum, is where does the church lose its moral authority to make specific judgments, and then how do we transition into a region of counseling families and individuals to set their own standards while respecting (without judgment) the choices of others. Withholding judgment is a hard lesson to teach children (and adults too, unfortunately), but I second those who claim this is no reason to stop teaching principles. I am also for giving the “As I have loved you,…” and “Judge not” principles a permanent spot at the top of the list.

  92. Reading comprehension skills failure again, bob? The use of the word “threat” there referred to my own action: When I contradict the prevailing Bloggernacle dogma, I’m a threat to my own welcome. You totally reversed that by implying that I am threatened *by* anything here.

    Try to keep up.

  93. Crick…I’m sorry but YM will be triggered to have sexual thoughts no matter what a female wears. If we make shoulders and knees sexual we are just adding body parts to the sexual list of forbidden fruit.

    It is natural and normal for males to notice the female body it is not a sin. What we need to be teaching our YM (and men it seems) is that after the thought they have a choice in what they do with it. Do they spend the next 30 minutes in sexual fantasy land or do we teach them to acknowledge the thought and move on. Placing responsibility on women to not “trigger” males does not work. Look at the many Muslim countries in which women are now having to cover their eyes because the men are still having sexual thoughts even though the women’s whole body is covered.

  94. As a mormon and mother of three daughters I have to say I completely disagree with you. Can children under 8 sin no. Is it a sin for a young girl to wear sleeveless shirts of course not. However, by teaching our younger children about modesty it will make it a whole lot easier for them to make choices at 12, 16 or 25. At what point is it all the sudden not okay to wear sleeveless shirts or short shorts? Modesty at young ages isn’t about sexuality it’s about standards. Should we let our children swear or watch rated R movies because they are young and it’s not a sin for them or should we teach them what is right so they can make the choice themselves?

  95. I think you missed the forest for the trees. I have been working with children, adolescents and families (I’m also a father) for the past 12 years and if sleeves/no sleeves is what outrages and scares you (i.e., calling it stupid, harmful, repugnant, perverse) for your children than you are either uninformed, ignorant, naive or all three. Start by reading the 2010 “Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls” (summary and full report here http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report.aspx).

    And, if you disagree with Elder Ballard’s statement that, “[Girls/young women] need to understand that when they wear clothing that is too tight, too short, or too low cut, they not only can send the wrong message to young men with whom they associate, but they also perpetuate in their own minds the fallacy that a woman’s value is dependent solely upon her sensual appeal,” you either forgot what it’s like to be a guy or represent an outlier to how the average male thinks and have no comprehension of the widespread viewing of pornography and its potential impact. (There is research demonstrating that viewing sexual content prompts sexual thoughts. No real surprise right? But, what happens with viewing porn is you don’t see the woman as an individual, but an object and more specifically body parts meant for personal gratification. When you combined sexual images, masturbation, and the brain reward pathway, you’re creating a habit (addiction?) that doesn’t differentiate between digital images or the real thing).

    Now, my mother taught me that what I wear is not as important as what is inside and I don’t believe a child will lose the Spirit by having exposed shoulders, but don’t find fault with people trying to teach and protect their children when there is clear evidence for the threat to their development and well-being.

  96. Doug Hudson says:

    As always, the focus is on preventing objectification by covering up the object, as if that ever worked.

    Why don’t we raise boys not to objectify girls? Then maybe we can stop worrying about whether a 4 year old (or a 24 year old) has her shoulders uncovered.

  97. “The Mormon Church teaches little girls are immodest if they expose their shoulders because exposed shoulders have been linked to sexual temptation in the Mormon Church.”

    The Mormon Church does not teach this. Just because two articles in a Friend magazine are stories about girls who chose to cover their shoulders doesn’t mean the Mormon Church teaches that their shoulders are related to sexual temptation. That’s ridiculous. So is this thread. If I want to teach my children (boys and girls, mind you) to always have sleeves, I’m not “culturally shaming” yours because of it. If I want to teach my children that I prefer they wear clothes with sleeves than without, even if they are only four years old, it doesn’t mean that I think by wearing sleeveless they will be sexualized. I’m simply teaching them what I feel is part of the principle of modesty.

    What I find completely untrue are the people commenting that 10 years ago, 20 years ago, etc., these things didn’t matter in the church. 20 years ago I was 15 years old and yes, there were lessons on modesty even then. 25 years ago I was 10 years old, and I remember lessons on modesty in Merrie Miss (yep, that’s what we 10-11 year old girls were called then). Guess what? The lessons on dressing modestly didn’t destroy my self image or make me feel like a sexual object. I simply learned to dress appropriately.

    Also, those here who are saying that what a young woman wears has no effect on the young men. Where have you lived all your life? If you’re a female, I guess I could understand you saying that, but if you’re male? Do you not remember being a teenager? I have a few brothers and even my husband has told me that when he sees scantily-clad women, it’s embarrassing for him and leads his thoughts to places he would otherwise not go if they were more modestly dressed. Is he responsible for controlling those thoughts? Of course he is! And any actions he were take on his part, he would be accountable for also. However, doesn’t it make it easier for the young men to control their thoughts if the young women dress appropriately? I believe it does. I remember my brother taking a girl to a dance–it was his first date after he turned sixteen and the dance was Homecoming. She wore a spaghetti strap dress with a low cut front and a low back. The dress was long and otherwise modest–not too tight. However, he being much taller than her was very uncomfortable dancing with her because he couldn’t help but notice her cleavage when he looked down at her to talk and he didn’t know where on her naked back to put his hands. It was embarrassing for him, not because he wanted to look at her sexually but because he was just very uncomfortable with her showing so much skin and cleavage.

    There isn’t anything wrong with The Friend putting out a story where a girl has to make a choice between two shirts, one shirt with sleeves and one without. Whether she chose not to buy the strappy shirt out of shame or because she was prompted to not buy it–truthfully, only she could tell you that. Was my brother uncomfortable with that girl wearing a showy dress because he was culturally primed to feel shameful about that?

    Many members teach their children to always wear sleeves, even from a young age. Many don’t. That doesn’t mean that the ones who do are sexualizing their kids or trying to shame other people’s kids who don’t. That doesn’t mean that the ones who don’t teach it from a young age are in the wrong either.

    But saying that the Mormon Church teaches that exposed shoulders are linked to sexual temptation? That is completely inferred and not at all what the Church teaches.

    People are upset about this because you sound like you are telling all parents who do teach their children to dress this way from a young age that they are sexualizing their kids, that they are in the wrong, and that they are adhering to some sort of cultural shaming, when really, all we want is the same thing you do–that our kids will learn modesty and chastity and remain faithful throughout their lives. We just have different approaches.

  98. Mark Henderson says:

    How do you expect the church to teach such a principle to their youngest audience? Teaching and enforcing the Law of Chastity (and with it modesty) should be addressed to our children as it becomes important and relevant in their lives. If your child isn’t old enough to understand, or if you as a parent don’t feel an article is appropriate for your children don’t read it to them. If there was an article in the Friend about a little girl being scared of the monsters in her closet and receiving comfort from the Spirit, I wouldn’t read it to my 4 year-old daughter. Her world doesn’t include monsters lurking in her closet, there’s no reason for me as a parents to plant them there. But my nephew does worry about monsters, I wouldn’t hesitate to read it to him.

    The most difficult, yet also important, gospel principles we can teach our children revolve around seeking and feeling the influences of the Spirit; the earlier the better. Likewise, if we can teach our children the importance of modesty early in their lives, we lay a foundation that they can lean on during their teenage years and beyond, when modesty becomes increasingly important. And if a little girls or boys can begin to feel the promptings of the Spirit by doing something as simple as trying on clothes, we as parents should jump on the opportunity.

    Perhaps this article isn’t as relevant to every single parent or child. But calling it a “scandal” is a little far-reaching. Simply do what you feel is right for you and your family, and let others do the same in theirs. There will be another case where you teach your children a gospel or life principle and balk when you find out other parents have not taught it to their older children.

  99. supercool2000 says:

    Why should children wear any clothes at all? This obviously leads to materialism when they’re older. I can see the need for clothing in colder climates to facilitate moving out of doors in the winter. But in the summer, come on. The debate shouldn’t be between a one piece or two-piece swim suit, but whether any swimsuit should be required at all. Isn’t it sexualizing our children to say that certain body parts are “private” and need to be covered. I think it’s wrong to be judgemental about some things, but it’s OK to harshly judge those who teach their children to dress modestly. It’s because of those people that my kids come home crying after they go to Wal-mart naked. Hypocrites!

    Arguing with a straw man is so easy. I got a message on my answering machine from someone famous. Winning!

  100. Antonio Parr says:

    Doug Hudson:

    Most parents do teach their boys not to objectify girls. Of course, mass media very much competes with these teachings, and does everything within its power to turn our daughters into objects. The Church’s emphasis on modesty is an effort to allow us all, both men and women, to remember that there are thoughts and feelings and hopes and wishes and dreams behind our physical packages, something that gets lost when we are projected as being no more or no less than our sexual selves.

  101. Sharee Hughes says:

    Okay, I have found this discussion to be very interesting. I’m all in favor of modesty, but what I don’t understand is: what is immodest about bare upper arms? That’s what is exposed in sleeveless dresses. To bare much of the shoulder you need to go to sundresses or spaghetti straps. Do bare arms turn boys/men on? Not being a boy/man, I don’t know. And why is modesty taught so much to girls but not boys. I watch “Dancing With the Stars” all the time and think the girls in their next to nothing clothes look quite lovely, but let one of the guys take of his shirt and it’s “Growl, wow!” I am quite capable of an “indecent” thought or two myself (and I’m an old lady).

    When I was younger (and slimmer), and before I was endowed, I wore sleeveless tops or dresses, short skirts and bikinis (even to church swimming parties). I even wore sleeveless dresses when I attended Church College of Hawaii and nobody sent me home to change.

    As to whether or not children can be immodest, well, I think they can–but not on their own. I have seen children perform in dance concerts where I was appalled at the blatantly sexual movements they were taught to make by the choreographer. It had nothing to do with what they were wearing. People can be immodest just by how they move, even if they’re dressed neck to toes in burlap.

  102. Antonio Parr–that is a false dichotomy. We don’t have to choose between what society/modern culture/mass media and the church espouse. Hopefully we will combat harmful messages where ever they are found.

    Tom, BCC welcomes thoughtful, informed discussion. It also welcomes your comments. But please refrain from calling people names or you will be banned.

    Damon, I agree that much of society sexualizes girls at a young age.

    August, as I already stated above, I agree that it is a parent’s prerogative to teach their children how to dress appropriately. When the church teaches something, however, I expect it to be related to a gospel principle rather than a cultural quirk that predominates in a certain part of the American West, particularly if that cultural quirk sends harmful messages to my children. If you read some of the comments on this very thread you will find quotes from church leaders linking clothing choices to sexual temptation in others.

    Mark Henderson, there is some merit to the idea that you can pick and choose which articles to read or share from The Friend based on age-appropriateness and other criteria. The Friend actually has specific sections “For Little Friends” and “For Older Kids” in addition to its general readership portions. However it is not unreasonable to expect all of the content of the church-produced magazine to be in line with gospel principles. Jesus spends exactly zero seconds thinking about whether a little girl chooses to wear a sun dress or a T-shirt.

    I have already stated that I agree that each family and individual should do what they think is best for them in regards to personal modesty standards. But it is disingenuous to say that The Friend is just telling a neat story and hoping everyone will do what is best for themselves. None of this is happening in a vacuum. It seems this idea is difficult for many people to understand–The Orange Shirt isn’t just an interesting story about one girl’s personal experience. It is placed in The Friend with the expectation that children will read it and model themselves on it. Since children can’t be immodest it isn’t a model that should be encouraged.

    Finally it strikes me wrongheaded to suggest that we should always teach children to behave in ways we expect adults to because one day they will be adults. Jesus too increased in wisdom and stature.

  103. Antonio Parr:

    How sure are you that the Church’s emphasis on modesty is effective at helping men and women to ”remember that there are thoughts and feelings and hopes and wishes and dreams behind our physical packages?” I think a convincing argument could be made that the Church’s emphasis on modesty does the exact opposite.

  104. Re Dax: I don’t think what you are saying is totally mutually exclusive to what I am saying. I don’t think shoulders ought to be considered private parts and am mostly in agreement with Matt. But how people dress is important as is what people say. And as Sharee rightly mentions, a dance move by a fully clothed person can be suggestive.

    I reject putting the onus of responsibility for men’s thoughts on women. But if a bikini and a sultry look were the equivalent of capris and a blouse, men wouldn’t buy magazines showing the former.

    Perhaps the confusion lies in that my comments are a mild threadjack in that I am talking more about “modesty” in general and not children, which is what Matthew is focusing on and I mainly agree with.

    ***
    August and Mark Henderson: I like your comments and I don’t think what you are saying is totally at odds with Matthew either. To me the problem lies in extremes. In a world that does sexualize very young girls (see Bratz), the well meaning prude has come to erroneously think that some mom’s are sexualizing their daughters by letting them where short shorts or sun dresses. Others think the prudes are the one’s doing the sexualizing by making a deal out of it. But most parents don’t want to sexualize their children at all and aren’t out to judge others.

  105. Antonio Parr says:

    Matthew – I disagree that anything that I wrote above creates a false dichotomy. More to the point, I think that there may be some valid points buried in the OP, but it is written in such an aggressive, “I’m right and you’re wrong” style that it fails to consider the possibility that there might be some merit to the Church’s efforts.

    RobL – People are sexually attracted to one another. Modern culture has done a pretty effective job of coming up with styles that accentuate our sexuality. When sexuality is magnified to the extent that it becomes an area of primary focus, too often the inner self becomes marginalized to the point of irrelevancy. Indeed, there is a whole generation of young women who feel worthless because they don’t look like Victoria Secrets models. I think that modesty helps us to realize our whole selves, and that the criticism of the Church in the OP is, at best, overstated.

  106. Antonio, what do you make of the interesting point that was raised earlier that it was the serpent who told Adam & Eve that they were naked and made them feel ashamed of that fact, i.e. that they were being immodest by being adults with genitals uncovered?

  107. The principle of modesty is meaningless unless it is given a context and a purpose. I would not want my daughters to dress in a sexually provocative manner as a way of attracting attention. As a result, I would teach them about the importance of dressing appropriately and I would be concerned if I thought they were dressing provocatively or “immodestly” for that purpose. (Even then, I would worry far more about their reasons for dressing that way and not so much about their actual dress.)

    However, young children cannot think that way. To them, a sun dress is just a sun dress and a bikini is just something you wear when you swim. Therefore, I agree that they cannot be immodest. When a child is old enough to understand that sometimes girls dress inappropriately in order to attract attention of boys, or in order to be intentionally sexually provocative, then they are old enough to understand the principle of modesty. Until that time, you are at high risk of teaching them that there is something shameful or sinful about their bodies because they have no other context for those teachings. Why else would they be told not to expose their upper legs or shoulders if not because it is somehow sinful for those parts of their body to be visible? This is especially true when those teachings are part of their religious instruction rather than just part of a family dress code.

  108. Antonio Parr says:

    John – I think that, until we find our way back to the garden, we would do well to recognize that being clothed helps to bridle passions in a way that is consistent with scriptural and other prophetic mandates relating to sexual conduct.

  109. Just as a really fun aside. This is written as an official statement in Lima, Peru after a devastating earthquake in 1747:

    ” The recent earthquake that took place last year was an act of divine wrath, and the inhabitants, instead of making amends, have continued in their old customs, with women, in the most part not having moderated their indecent and immodest attire, now more noticeable because of the lack of shelter … particularly when they ride a mule, when more than their feet are exposed, with offense to their own and others’ modesty. In light of this, the members solemnly order all women, of any state or condition, to use clothing that covers their feet and to cover themselves when they ride mules, and at all times their arms to their elbows, and that their breasts not be visible, and with threat of punishment, their servants also not be allowed to vary in their clothing.”

    A prominent Franciscan friar noted after the earthquake that “The majority of women died with broken legs. Undoubtedly, God wanted to show that it was punishment for their vanity and the legs they did not cover.”

  110. Modesty has always been an interesting subject. I think when it comes to young children, I think that teaching modesty is a good thing. In the church I grew up in before converting to the LDS, my mom wouldn’t allow me to wear sleeveless shirts or dresses to church. I always had something with sleeves, that covered me, and I wasn’t allowed to wear pants. Not until I was about 17 or 18, but even still, it felt weird wearing even nice dress pants to church. In general, I dressed modestly because my mom dressed modestly. We both wore sleeveless shirts and tank tops and it was no big deal, but we were both always making sure that our clothes weren’t too tight, or too low cut.
    I think that it’s possible to teach modest dress and conduct to children without an atmosphere of condemnation or shaming. However, the thing that bothers me about the flack about the YW lessons, Dalton’s conference talk, chewed gum analogy, and this OP of late, is the how polarizing the tone has become, and the lack of credit that’s given to members here and abroad. The institution is always going to ere on the side of “right” because they are spiritual leaders, and they recognize that people are looking to them for guidance in both cultural and spiritual matters, and unfortunately in some cases, it leads them to speak in generalities about subjects such as modesty and virtue, and the generalities come from a place of observations, so where modesty is concerned, the link between sexuality and immodesty isn’t a completely erroneous one because it is one of many messages sent in our society for both boys and girls. However, we must be careful of placing on them (the Church as a body and our leaders) the undo burden of making sure to branch off into point D and point Z to cover all the bases just to appease everyone, nor can we expect them to be the ones who raise and teach our children.
    I suppose I’m more sensitive to the latter point because I’m a high school teacher, and often times, by default, because I’m a teacher I’m also expected to be a counselor, Mother, Father, disciplinarian, babysitter, enforcer, and miracle worker in addition to teaching, though none of those are in my official job description. I’ve never seen a group of more clueless parents in my life, and meanwhile, their teens rule the house. It amazes me how out of touch some of these parents are with their teens’ academic and social lives, and they assume that because they sent them to school for the day that their kid is going to be “fixed” and prepared for life. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard: “Well, I thought they did this…” or “Their teacher gave them extra time at home to do that…” or “We didn’t know they were failing such and such for the year until last week when they’ve been going to class…” YOU ARE THE PARENT! I give them the tools, but parents must scaffold, too and be engaged, willing, and active in the raising of their children.
    Parents must make sure that they talk to their kids about these matters and others, answer their questions honestly, and exercise Spirit guided judgment in expounding on statements made by our leaders. I believe that context, especially when addressing children and teens, is everything, and I think that for the most part, members of the church who have children and teens are doing a good job on that.
    Sure, there are people who take certain subjects to extremes. Growing up, there were leaders in my parents’ church who said things that were confusing, but my parents always made sure to address my questions and concerns with honesty.
    I know that this may not be the case for all families, but I believe that members with kids now are more sensible than we give them credit for.
    It’s great to note observations and patterns in our culture that need to change, but I don’t agree with the polarization that some posts like these create.

  111. Oh, wow. Totally missing the point of the principle, “train up a child in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it.” It’s pretty simple–kids growing up wearing clothing that covers them as outlined in the FTSOY feel comfortable adhering to the same standards through their teen and adult years. My parents taught me and I’ve taught my own children. No big deal. It has been my personal observation that when children are not taught this from a young age, there is a greater tendency to disregard this principle later in life. I think y’all are reading WAY too much into this. Kinda creepy.

  112. Angela C says:

    Let me give my own perspective as a child. When I was 5, I did not want to wear a shirt in the summer. My brother who was 15 didn’t have to wear one, and I said it wasn’t fair if I had to wear one since our chests looked the same and it was hot outside (in retrospect he probably didn’t like being told he had the chest of a 5 year old girl, but he did). I just wanted someone to explain why. Nobody could give a good reason, so they let me. When I was 11, I was sitting with my knees far apart, wearing jeans. My brother and sister told me not to sit that way, and again I wanted to understand why. My brother sat that way all the time. I didn’t hit puberty for a couple more years. I just wanted a reason. They said I was being disgusting. That was the only reason I got. I really did not understand until I was a teenager why they said it.

  113. Ardis..you are awesome.

    We teach our children that a key part of modesty is dressing for the occaision…no swimming suits for sacrament meeting, skirts aren’t great at the park…that sort of thing. So children can be immodest in that regard.

    This article does motivate me to write…perhaps something reflective of a world wide church culture…one that doesn’t always include malls and a wall full of shirts.

  114. I mostly disagree with you for a few reasons. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist who often works with adolescent and adult sex offenders. I used to work for the Department of Child and Family Services on the sex abuse investigation team for a few years before going to graduate school. I have been involved in the investigation or treatment of several cases of child sex abuse that occurred by some pedophile who saw a child wearing a bikini or a tank top and thought it was erotic. Was the child trying to be erotic? Of course not. Sexual offenders often see children showing some skin and perpetrate on the child as a result. Obviously it is the offender’s problem, not the problem of the child. That said, in a world where we need to be worried about these kinds of sexual offenders, I would prefer my child to be more fully clothed if that will prevent some dirtbag from trying to harm him or her in some way.
    I had a client once who told me that he was at a playground with his granddaughter. He saw a little girl who was wearing a tanktop. As the girl was playing the man could see her nipples when her shirt would move. He later offended on his own granddaughter. Were any of the children at fault? Not at all. Never. I see it as part of my responsibility as a parent to protect my children. If that means that she can wear a t-shirt instead of a tanktop and potentially avoid becoming the victim of abuse then I’m all for it. Maybe the reason the girl in this article received a prompting was because it was meant to protect her from some type of harm – I don’t know.
    Just some food for thought…

  115. TCH–
    There was recently a case in the Middle East where a little girl was attacked and then a prominent cleric suggested young girls should where an abaya or niqob to keep from being attacked. His logic was just like yours. It wasn’t her fault, but some people are terrible, so cover up. You may say a t-shirt–they say abaya…where do you draw the line? If she is safer with a t-shirt, wouldn’t she be safer in hijab?

  116. Safer still at home with the windows blacked out…

  117. Mark Brown says:

    I once heard a therapist speak about a client whose sexual aberrations were triggered by the displays of bras and panties in JC Penny and WalMart. I mean, come on people, womens’ undies right out there on open display!! Something needs to be done about this.

  118. It is patently ridiculous to speak as if a) our general discourse on female body modesty does not hypersexualize the female form (it manifestly and with increasing vigor does this, to the point of church leaders counselling young women not to become “living pornography” by dressing inappropriately); and b) this article and the general idea of teaching modesty to young girls is disconnected from our wider discourse on female body modesty. This Friend article does not have to explicitly sexualize the shoulders of pre-teen girls. By proclaiming that the showing of pre-teen female shoulders is _immodest_, that work is already being done in spades. People who find this aspect of official LDS discourse disturbing and harmful are obsessed with it _precisely_ because Church leaders are increasingly obsessed with it. The OP wasn’t just one more repetitive iteration in a long and unrelenting litany of similar posts; it was a specific response to a specific example of hyper-modesty run amok in a recent Church publication. The litany exists as a response to the increasingly sustained and pulverized message from Church leaders to young women that their bodies are intrinsically pornographic and threaten the worthiness of boys and men all around them, and—in this particular case (and others like it)—the transference of this toxic cultural logic to the bodies (and self-perceptions) of very young girls.

  119. MMiles –
    Frankly, yes she probably would be safer in a hijab… In all seriousness, where you draw the line is up to you – as for my kids, I’ll do what I can to protect them (which is more than wearing sleeves). Obviously you are more than welcome to let your kids run around in tank tops or whatever you decide, and odds are they’ll be safe. I’m not saying that anyone needs to do what I do. I’ve just seen enough in my profession that if something small like sleeves will help possibly protect my child I’ll do it. Doesn’t mean you or anyone else needs to do that. Maybe I should make them wear snow pants all the time… something to think about :)

  120. This thread seems to have a lot of folks talking right past each other. It would probably be simpler if instead of “modesty” we called it what it is, “rules established by men on how women should dress.” See? Much simpler! So, the question is, at what point is it appropriate to start teaching children rules established by men on how women should dress? Stay tuned next week, when we’ll cover “rules created by men for when women should have sex,” previously known as “virtue.”

  121. @John C:
    If something is sacred, you should treat it as sacred. Not make it into a common public display. I’m sorry you have problems telling what constitutes a immodest clothing style but I’m happy to inform you that men who have been called of God have provided guidence on that matter in a clear way that should make it easy to follow. The gods of fashion and pop culture disagree with them of course, so we all have a choice to make in that area.

    @Mark Brown:
    You miss the point. Let me make it clearer for you. Just because kids under 8 are not accountable to God and hence can not sin it doesn’t mean everything they do is just fine.

    How a person dresses says something about themselves, it is a form of communication. If a young woman dresses immodestly, it sends a message that she is not serious about chastity, and while that may be totally untrue about her, that is what her manner of dress says. Even if she were in an all-female environment her sending out that message is not right as it promotes sin. On top of that, how a person dresses does have an effect on how they feel and act. It influences how you think of yourself. We are called to stand for a higher standard, and should dress accordingly, and if we do dress according we will find it easier to live accordingly as well.

    It makes me sad to see so many members of the church who feel inclined to sit in judgement of what God’s anointed teach us to do.

  122. Mark Brown says:

    Paul, do you seriously think that a Primary age girl who wears a sleeveless blouse is doing something morally wrong?

  123. Mark Brown says:

    p.s. I have no idea how The Friend became God’s Annointed.

  124. Paul: We are talking here about children, not about adults or even adolescents dressed provocatively. I am sure that you don’t really believe that a child dressed in a sleeveless dress is sending a message that she is not serious about chastity, so what in the world is your point? A child is not sending any message of any kind when she wears a sleeveless dress–she is just a child playing in comfortable clothing that virtually everybody in this society considers to be perfectly appropriate. But telling her that she is immodest, which is a polite euphemism for “sexually provocative” is indeed sending a message to her, and that message is potentially very destructive.

  125. MikeInWeHo says:

    TCH:
    As a fellow therapist I would just point out that there is no data supporting your belief that dressing children “modestly” protects them from potential sexual abuse. None. Anecdotal reports from patients are suspect. They are ill. A suicidally depressed person may look at the Golden Gate Bridge and want to jump, but the bridge has nothing to do with it.

    If you believe that it’s necessary to cover those young shoulders, of course that’s your right as a parent. I would hope, however, that you do not encourage parents to tell children this is the reason they are being dressed a certain way. Teaching children “cover up or you might get molested” is likely to induce a lot of fear and anxiety later in their lives.

  126. First of all, I wonder why people think it’s ok to wear a bathing suit with narrow straps at the beach but it isn’t ok to go with those very same shoulders covered by the same kind of strap on a shirt? Shoulders are shoulders. Big deal.To make a little girl worry about wearing a sleeveless shirt is silly. Kids have enough to worry about without that.
    If I didn’t wear garments, I would certainly wear sleeveless shirts and dresses, never a cap sleeve. I always dress modestly and do not consider a sleeveless shirt to be immodest or unduly sexual.
    Frankly, most women are not suited to wearing cap sleeves. They aren’t very flattering because they emphasize the widest part of the arm. We only suffer them because they accommodate the garment.
    I do think, however, that little girls should wear shorts under their dresses unless they know how to sit properly. If they want to be comfortable and loll about in a dress, they should wear something more than underwear. Little children are innocent. Older children and adults are sometimes not. I make this recommendation for the protection of our little girls, not because there is anything wrong with them. There’s no guarantee they are protected by us dressing them carefully, but it might make a difference.
    Our children are vulnerable to predatory adults and sometimes older children. That is a fact, whether we like it or not. We have an obligation to do what we can to keep them as safe as we can. Most little girls do not seem to be being taught how to sit in a way that shields them from the gaze of those who might do them harm. So just put them into some shorts and don’t make a big deal out of it.

  127. TCH…Question…why the HELL was a grandfather pedophile alone with his granddaughter at a playground? Or alone with her later? Or around any children? Second….this man would have been triggered if he is hanging out around children, because children ARE his trigger! You saying that what a child was wearing was the trigger was perhaps a part but the biggest trigger would have been that he was AROUND children!! Its like an alcoholic going into a bar and then blamming the bartender for serving beer around him. BS!!

    Also the belief that children will be potentially protected by what they wear can be very harmful. It adds to the old “well what was she wearing?” What was the woman’s part for her own her rape and now applying it to children. I know that is not what you mean or intend but that is what is implied when you suggest that “sleeves” can protect a child. Victims blame themselves and with the whole “walking pornography” they will believe they MUST have invited it. Again I know that is not your intent but saying that modesty can/ will protect someone is setting up victim blamming from others and from themselves.

    And the whole perhaps the Holy Ghost is protecting the girl in the article is great. What about all the other little girls/boys that are not protected? When people say things like that it completely discounts the people that were not saved from the same situation. Again I know that you and the church only want the safety of children/youth. I’m finding though with the nonstop modesty push we are setting them up for greater heart ache and blame from others and themselves if heaven forbid something does happen.

  128. MikeInWeHo –
    I appreciate you responding to my post in a respectful way. I do think your analogy is a bit flawed – you are comparing an inanimate object with a developing child. The Golden Gate Bridge has nothing to do with the person jumping off of it but the bridge isn’t harmed by the jumper. Children are harmed by predators. I don’t think your analogy quite fits but I think I get the point you are trying to make. I agree with your second paragraph completely. I don’t think I’ve ever discussed modesty in regards to parenting with anyone other than my wife. As important as I think modesty is, there are far more important aspects of parenting. Even with my own children – I’ve expressed why I believe modesty is important but I’ve never told them it is to avoid being sexually assaulted; I freely admit that because of my occupational experiences I am more sensitive and concerned about this than others might be. As I said in my previous post – where one draws the line is up to them as a parent based on what they feel is best for your child. No one has to do what I do. I’d be foolish to think I always know what is best for every child. I personally feel good about teaching my children about modesty early. You may not, and that’s fine with me – no judgement here.

    Dax –
    The grandfather was alone with the child because no one knew he was a predator at that time. He was caught later and court order to therapy, hence his visits with me. The parents of the child had no idea he was a predator at the time he was watching the child. I agree with you that being around children in general would be a trigger for him. He just happened to find the child wearing the tanktop particularly arousing. Obviously he had/has some serious issues and it is not the child’s fault in any way. As far as me suggesting sleeves can protect a child, you’re absolutely right that I don’t intend to say that children can play a part in being assaulted. If that is how it came across I apologize – certainly not my intent. I see your point. I just believe that we should do what we can (within reason) as parents to protect our children. Based on my experiences I see that as one small thing I can do to help protect my child. Obviously there are much bigger things that I do (and can do) as a parent to protect my children. I certainly don’t believe that my children dressing modestly is all they need to protect them from the ills of the world… I can see why some might think I take this overboard, and once again, I believe it is up to each parent to do what they feel is best for their child.

  129. Seth R. says:

    You know what – compared to the crap we’re putting up with from Abercrombie and Fitch right now, and the other “let’s sex up our kids” fashion outlets that infest the first world landscape, the Church is sitting pretty damn good.

    It would be a real breath of fresh air if someone on the bloggernacle bothered to complain about THEM instead of the relatively trivial and benign stance and behavior of the LDS Church.

    In terms of picking what hill you want to die on, I can’t say I’m all that impressed with what the nacle has generally decided in the past, and apparently today.

    And for the record – the harm in body image isn’t primarily coming from the LDS Church. It’s coming from MTV, the Gap, and the REST of society. Then the LDS Church tries to oppose them, and it’s the CHURCH that gets accused of focusing self-worth on the body.

    It’s enough to make you want to put your head through your computer screen.

  130. TCH….So sorry it happened to the little girl but very glad the family was not being stupid! I still believe though that pedophiles will be triggered and abuse children regardless of what children wear period. Thank you though for the clarification.

  131. I have seen children dress inappropriately. I have also seen children dressed immodestly. I usually ignore it unless there is something a child needs to correct like pulling up pants.
    I’m sure there are some bad modesty police around. I can do without that. However, it is very naive to say that children are never immodest.
    And if a girl has been raised to be not overly obsessed with her body and appearance, she really might take a long time before becoming self-conscious about her changing body.

  132. TCH, as a therapist who has worked with sex offenders, you should know that offenders will often try to blame their actions on someone/something else, rather than take responsibility for their own behavior. Blaming the victim for the way he/she was acting/dressing is the oldest trick in the book. Offenders will even stoop to the ridiculous, claiming that a child victim “seduced” them.

    I’m very surprised that you don’t know this and are taking what the offenders say at face value. As MikeInWeHo said, there is no data supporting the belief that how a child dresses can protect him/her from sexual abuse.

  133. Peter LLC says:

    “something reflective of a world wide church culture…one that doesn’t always include malls and a wall full of shirts.”

    Sewn by women and children for a pittance under wretched, if not deadly, conditions.

  134. How about teaching young girls to love their bodies as a special gift from their Heavenly and earthly parents? How about teaching them that they are beautiful and special and that their spirits combined with their bodies creates a unique soul and they should love the wonderful things they can do with their bodies?

    Wouldn’t those be better lessons than teaching children that they should be ashamed of their bodies?

    WWJD?

  135. @Seth R.: I agree with you wholeheartedly.
    One other thing that bothers me about this whole thing is the sense that we are the only Church that has placed emphasis on modesty. I grew up in a non-denominational Church, and the bishop and pastor always enforced standards of modesty for pretty much the same reasons that we LDS do: it’s a reality that clothing, girls’ clothing in particular, is being designed to make them look like little women. Some of the styles are too grown, and don’t reflect that yes, THIS IS A CHILD.
    Another example is the Four Square, I believe. They emphasize skirts and no sleeveless for the girls, dress pants and tucked in shirts for the boys. Some Baptist traditions require the same of their members as well, so the LDS aren’t the only ones who have emphasized modesty in a similar fashion.
    As a high school teacher, some of the things the girls wear is too grown and HIGHLY inappropriate, and they wear them because they know that it will garner them attention from the boys, but are easily offended when a boy looks at her cleavage in a low cut blouse, or her thighs when she sits because the skirt comes right up to her butt rather than her face.
    Likewise, for the boys, I am constantly telling the boys to pull up their darn pants over their butts! Take some pride in your appearance, button up, put your shirt back on, don’t come to school in your dang pajamas.
    Girls and women do have to be more wise in their dress. Our leaders are not wrong when they counsel young women to dress modestly because so much of what we see in our culture is sexualized, and though our girls may be sweet, ambitious, and well mannered, it’s going to matter that her shorts are so short that she’s pulling them out of her butt every two steps, that she’s walking out the house with her bra straps showing, that she has on a skirt so short that if she sneezes the thing will come right off. IT MATTERS because when she presents herself to the world, the fact that she is sweet, ambitious, and well mannered isn’t going to matter, what she’s got going on on the inside isn’t going to matter because people are focused on what’s revealed on the outside.
    There’s nothing wrong with setting a pattern of modesty at a young age, for both boys and girls. As an African American, I feel strongly about this because too many of our girls are dressing provocatively because of what they see in music videos, movies, and TV. They don’t realize that the women in those videos aren’t being respected for who they are at all. They don’t realize that the men surrounding them in that video weren’t drawn to her because of her intellect, or what’s in her heart, they’re drawn to her because she’s got on something skimpy and tight that’s showing off her body. They don’t realize that she’s someone’s daughter, and that she is a person of worth and value beyond her body.
    Boys and girls need to learn modesty in dress, and in conduct at a young age, because that’s where you start is when they’re young. Girls need to know that they don’t have to wear a short skirt and a tight blouse to gain attention, boys need to know that no, it’s NOT cool to have your pants hanging off your butt, all children and teens need to know that wearing pajamas outside the house to school is UNACCEPTABLE. It’s not okay to roll out like that. Take pride in your appearance, boys and girls.
    I think it’s important to put things in context. I don’t think that the Church is trying to micromanage by talking about modesty, and I don’t think that the shirt itself was the point of the article. I think that what it’s saying is that this little girl is in touch with the Holy Spirit in her life, and in her case, she felt that perhaps the sleeveless shirt wasn’t for her. When she gets older, it won’t be a question for her. She’ll think about it, and be wise in her clothing choices in a way that will make her feel responsible and comfortable with her decision.
    Again, I think for the most part, parents and members deserve more credit, and I think that this is being taken way out of context.

  136. Honestly, I think it depends on where you’re located. I live in Texas, and I’ve been in three different wards since joining the church, and sleeves vs. sleeveless for little girls in primary is a non-issue.
    I’m getting the sense that much of these debates about gender roles and modesty are geographically (Utah) based. I’ve met some AWESOME families and singles in the wards I’ve been in, and I think one thing I appreciate in the wards is context and relevance.
    I’ve never encountered these issues here.

  137. I didn’t get that impression at all. The article makes no mention of the girls age and I would think she at least nearing adolescence if she is shopping without parental supervision as is implied. I think the main focus was that she had an impression telling her not to get the shirt and she listened to that prompting. The article also says the shirt was very short not just that it has spaghetti straps. At what age is it appropriate to start teaching children about modesty? I don’t mean shame children for wearing tank tops but it seems equally ridiculous to shame children who choose not to. I also disagree that teaching modesty to young girls shouldn’t matter since the sexual temptations won’t come until later. I think it’s more about teaching respect. Besides our children are being exposed at younger and younger ages to sex and we have to start early teaching them what is appropriate. I am an adult and I struggle when something that has been okay before is suddenly not and I see no reason that a child wouldn’t struggle when all of a sudden the clothing they have always been allowed to wear is suddenly a problem.

  138. MikeInWeHo says:

    TCH: Thanks for your comment. (I always try to be respectful because I learn so much here.) Wanting to protect our children from those who would do them harm is one of the deepest human instincts. My analogy about the bridge wasn’t precise but hopefully it got my point across somehow.

    I don’t work with sex offenders, but I do work with many clients who struggle with depression and anxiety as adults. Over and over again I see people who have developed beliefs about themselves (I am deficient) and the world (it is always dangerous) that are completely out-of-proportion to reality. It can be crippling.

    When I was little we road around unrestrained in the back of my parents’ station wagon. I walked alone a couple blocks to school in 1st grade. Our community at the time saw that as perfectly normal. Now we all live in fear. There are significant psychological consequences to this. I do wonder if parents who dress their young children “modesty” to protect them from harm are still transmitting the fear message even if the topic isn’t explicitly discussed in front of them.

  139. August, your comment here is utterly and wholly incorrect: “The Mormon Church does not teach this. Just because two articles in a Friend magazine are stories about girls who chose to cover their shoulders doesn’t mean the Mormon Church teaches that their shoulders are related to sexual temptation.” The Friend magazine is put out by the Church for the Church and its contents are 100% condoned and supported by the Church. If something is stated in the Friend, New Era, Ensign or Liahona, IT IS FROM THE CHURCH [headquarters]. We have been told that again and again. (I’m sorry to “shout” there, but Italics aren’t possible.) Indeed, if you connect the dots, that is EXACTLY what the Church is teaching children by approving and publishing these two articles.

  140. ErinAnn says:

    Ardis — How about this? http://www.lds.org/ensign/2005/11/the-sanctity-of-the-body

    (someone else found it and posted it on another discussion)

  141. Brad. What he said. Again.

    It is patently ridiculous to speak as if a) our general discourse on female body modesty does not hypersexualize the female form (it manifestly and with increasing vigor does this, to the point of church leaders counselling young women not to become “living pornography” by dressing inappropriately); and b) this article and the general idea of teaching modesty to young girls is disconnected from our wider discourse on female body modesty. This Friend article does not have to explicitly sexualize the shoulders of pre-teen girls. By proclaiming that the showing of pre-teen female shoulders is _immodest_, that work is already being done in spades. People who find this aspect of official LDS discourse disturbing and harmful are obsessed with it _precisely_ because Church leaders are increasingly obsessed with it. The OP wasn’t just one more repetitive iteration in a long and unrelenting litany of similar posts; it was a specific response to a specific example of hyper-modesty run amok in a recent Church publication. The litany exists as a response to the increasingly sustained and pulverized message from Church leaders to young women that their bodies are intrinsically pornographic and threaten the worthiness of boys and men all around them, and—in this particular case (and others like it)—the transference of this toxic cultural logic to the bodies (and self-perceptions) of very young girls.

  142. Antonio Parr says:

    Labeling the Church’s emphasis on modesty a “scandal” is a position too extravagant to be maintained. In a world that offers extremes of public nudity and burqas, we do a pretty good job of finding balance. Could a tweak here or tweak there improve things? Perhaps. But the indignation that forms the foundation of this dialogue is misdirected. Better to spend one’s time going after the cultural dynamics that seek to objectify our daughters rather than the Church that seeks to reassure our daughters that they are more than their physical appearances – they are daughters of a living God.

    On a related note, it would not be a sin to occasionally give the Church the benefit of the doubt. Not a one of us gets to choose how we will serve, and we owe it to each other to be gentle to those among us who occasionally stumble while walking the path of service.

  143. Kristine says:

    Antonio, that seems ungenerous. Most of us give the Church and our fellow Saints the benefit of the doubt more than occasionally–it is a necessary habit of belonging. That is a different act than giving stupidity a pass when it could profoundly and permanently damage my children.

  144. Antonio Parr says:

    Kristine –

    As the father of daughters who I love with my heart and soul, I share in your concern about protecting them from profound and permanent damage. I just don’t agree that the Church’s emphasis on modesty could ever be the root of any such damage. On the other hand, the damage from the overt sexualization of girls that we see every day in mass media, that is something that I find stupid and scandalous and worthy of both my ire and my opposition. In that most important of battles, I see the Church as a beloved and cherished ally.

  145. Antonio Par…your belief that the church is teaching young women that they are “more than their physical appearance” is not the outcome. The actual result is the opposite!

    When the church reinforces again and again that a girl/woman’s body must be covered a certain way or it will be “living pornogrpahy”. That they are responsible to protect YM’s virtue and thoughts. If they are not comforming to the new modesty standards they are putting themselves and YM in danger both physically and spiritually. Then the message they hear and learn isnt “Im more than my physical appearance.” The message they learn and internalize is that “Im ONLY my physical appearance. That there is something dangerous, shamful, and sinful about the female body and about being a girl/woman!”

    Of course this is the opposite of what the church wants or intends as it tries to counter the massive sexualization of girls and women. The message though however subtle is still the same just from the other end of the spectrum. That your main worth to men is your sexual appeal and because of that the church is going to protect you and men by determining what is modest, what parts of your body need to be covered and from what age. Again this is not the intent or desire of all of the modesty messages, but it is the result

  146. But that’s exactly the problem, Antonio and Seth. The church is not actually challenging the sexualization and objectification of girls’ bodies with the current modesty discourse. It is reinforcing, augmenting, distorting, and deepening it. Abercrombie tells them that their young bodies are sexual and should be celebrated, indulgently flouted, and profited on. The church tells them, “Yes, your bodies are intrinsically sexual objects, but not in a good way. They are pornography, and pornography is, as we all know, a modern plague, a spiritual cancer. The boys and men around you need to be protected from your nubile forms.” Church discourse accepts, mirrors, strengthens, and indeed presumes the premise of Abercrombie and MTV culture. They come at it from different angles and press it into the service of different goals, but the church and the world both agree that (increasingly young) female bodies are inherently and inescapably sexual, pornographic objects.

  147. Antonio Parr says:

    I could not disagree with you more. I am in my 50’s, and have daughters across a wide age spectrum. They are beautiful and talented and intelligent people, who have derived significant strength from their association with the Church. Rather than disabling them, the Church’s emphasis on modesty has empowered them to conduct themselves in ways that are virtually unheard of amongst their peers. I can’t begin to express how thankful I am to the Church for the part that it played in empowering my children to go against the grain with respect to some degrading choices made by their peers.

    To be sure, the Church is not perfect, and, by way of example, the photoshopping of sleeves on Bloch’s resurrection morning angels was silly and embarrassing. But our beloved Church in an organization with a kind and noble vision, and the vitriol leveled against it in some of the prior posts is unjustified and unwarranted and causes harm to a cause that is a force for much good in an often dangerous and frightening world.

  148. But you didn’t actually address a single specific thing I said. The church does teach girls, at increasingly young ages, that their bodies are pornographic. The modesty discourse repeatedly emphasizes this. And it teaches that pornography is an almost apocalyptic threat to spiritual health, that it’s everywhere, and that it’s a plague. There are healthy ways to teach girls not to understand, experience, or treat their bodies as sex objects. Telling them to cover up because otherwise they are pornography is _not_ one of them.

  149. Kristine says:

    Antonio, it’s exactly BECAUSE the Church does so many good things for our kids that the missteps show up in such sharp relief. Nobody is arguing that the Church is misogynist or overall a negative experience for young women. We’re saying that in this one area, our discourse has gone off the rails and we need to use the wisdom and inspiration that guide so much of the Primary and YW instruction and practice to right ourselves.

  150. Antonio Parr says:

    Sorry, but I have never heard of even a single account of my children being told that their bodies are “pornographic.” Not once. Please feel free to point me to a Church talk or lesson manual or Church magazine where a child or teen or adult is being taught that their bodies are “pornographic.”

    Lets turn the tables. How modestly do YOU think that our daughters should dress? By way of example, most of my 18 year old daughter’s peers came to their prom in dresses that were as tight as possible, as low cut as possible, and as short as possible. Is this a style that you propose that we celebrate? And was my Mormon daughter somehow cheapened by her very stylish but far less revealing prom dress?

    For those of you who have younger children, be careful what you wish for.

  151. Mark Brown says:

    Antonio Parr,

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

    Elder Oaks, April conference 2005

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

    —Dallin Oaks, April conference 2005

    Now, get your throw up bowl ready and cue up the church produced EFY videos where teenage girls give testimonials about dressing modestly at EFY to protect the young men from being unworthy for missions. The modesty discourse _does_ reinforce and magnify the sexualization of young female bodies so predominant in the wider culture. That you’re seriously attempting to argue otherwise makes me sincerely question whether you’re even participating here in good faith.

  153. Peter LLC says:

    “Nobody is arguing that the Church is misogynist or overall a negative experience for young women.”

    As long as Cora’s comment stands I’m going to have to disagree.

  154. Kathy, your response to August establishes that The Friend (italics are possible — use [em][/em] tags, but use angle brackets instead of square brackets) is an official voice of the Church. What you have not established is that these stories are printed because the Church “teaches that their shoulders are related to sexual temptation.”

    The prevailing sentiment in the discussions here is that modesty is solely related to sexual temptation; those of us (August, me, others who have commented, although we are in the definite minority) who believe that modesty has other, non-sexual, purposes — respect, privacy, dignity — easily find those purposes supported by the stories in question. We believe that is what the Church teaches, and your pointing out that The Friend is an official publication does nothing to demonstrate that the Church teaches otherwise.

    The real problem with this story in The Friend is not that it promotes modesty, but that it is a boring story.

  155. The disagreement here is not whether or not modesty is important, or whether or not it should be taught. The issue is how to address the damaging hypersexualization of children and adolescents. You are entirely missing the point if you think that the OP and those who agree with it don’t care about modesty.

    Antonio: I am also in my fifties. I also have daughters. I have also worked many years as a leader in the youth program and in a YSA ward. I have seen first hand the damage caused by well intentioned teachers who taught the principle of modesty in the wrong way. This is not a trivial issue. We can teach this principle in a positive, affirming way. Telling young primary children that God does not want their shoulders visible sends them precisely the wrong message about their bodies, as Brad has tried to point out above.

  156. Antonio Parr says:

    Brad –

    First, tossing out “bad faith” attacks is very poor form and is an assault on civil discourse.

    Second, why don’t you take a stab at my question regarding proms.

    Third – and forgive this assumption and any untowards insinuations, but I am guessing that you are too young to have teenage children. If you did, you might be less harsh on Elder Oaks. By way of example, the non-LDS boys who are at my daughters high school looked at the scantily clad girls at their prom with an unmistakable leer. To them, these girls were perceived exactly as they perceive the objectified women they see in the ubiquitous porn on their computers. Sadly, sometimes our prophets speak prophetically.

  157. Antonio I’m afraid that a) switching from arguing that church leaders never ever ever describe the bodies of young women as pornographic to arguing that church leaders are right for describing them that way, and b) alleging that I am in favor of setting aside any and all standards of appropriateness for how teenage girl should dress doesn’t exactly score you any points in the good faith Department.

  158. Antonio Parr says:

    Gary –

    No doubt that we can do better. But any shortcomings are not worthy of the aggressive attacks above.

  159. I agree with those comments that point out the misuse of the word “modest” in this discussion. As with words such as “virtue” and “worthy,” Mormons have taken a word and spun an expanded meaning from it.

    If we label the insistence on little children (girls) wearing t-shirts under a summer dress as “modest” then it’s easy to label people like Mathew in the OP as advocating for things “immodest”. Seen as “modest” vs. “immodest,” the “modest” advocates in this debate, so styled, will obviously win, for who wants to argue for immodesty?

    It’s utterly the wrong word, though. I would prefer we dispense with the Mormon euphemisms and just cut to the chase. How about “sexualisation”? That way we can decry the dolling-up of little girls in sexy clothes, which is the self-evident evil here, and also see that the hyper-“modest” crowd are also guilty of sexualisation by making something that isn’t sexual (a little girl’s shoulders) into something needing to be covered up.

    The slapdash use of the English language in Mormonism is really a problem.

  160. Antonio Parr says:

    Brad –

    Sorry, but we are finished.

  161. I think RJH has a very good point about lds expanding what words mean or imply and the problems that causes. Virtue and chasity mean practically the same thing to any lds youth but they have very different meanings.
    Modesty as taught today in the church is defined more as ones responsibility to avoid the sexual arousal of others ie men. Hence why the change to knees and shoulders to be covered for the unendowed.

    Before the cultural change modesty was taught as a principle in conjunction with other principle that reinforced and complimented each other. The principles were taught and then people and parents were allowed to govern themselves. There was no set definition that to be modest children and teens needed their shoulders and knees covered. Modesty was about the individual and that persons understanding of the principles. It was NOT about ones responsibility to protect others or prevent them from sinning. We need to get back to teaching the true principle of modesty and let parents and the unendowed determine for themselves what that looks like.

  162. Antonio Parr says:

    Brad –

    Against my better judgment –

    1. Elder Oaks never said that young women’s bodies are pornographic. He noted that some would perceive them that way if they dressed in certain ways.
    2. I never said that young women’s bodies are pornographic, but reported a recent event where scantily-clad teenaged girls were being leered at by the less-than- wholesome boys in their presence. In short, I witnessed the very behavior that Elser Oaks feared would befall young women who dressed in ways that anyone beyond an ivory tower, LDS or not, recognizes to elicit sexual responses in members of the opposite sex.
    3. The women who dressed in ways that meet the colloquial definition of “modest” inevitably had boys looking in their eyes, behind which lie wonderful hopes and wishes and dreams. The girls in the revealing clothes undoubtedly have comparable hopes, wishes and dreams, but the boys did not appear to be particularly interested in the humanity of the girls they were objectifying.
    4. I did not pass judgment on your views of modest attire, nor could I, since I don’t know you. I did ask for your opinion on the topic, and your only response was a repeat of your ad hominem attack.
    5. Like most who participate on BCC, I follow and occasionally participate because I am trying to increase my understanding bit is part of my fumbling quest for wisdom. Responding to me or anyone else with accusations of “bad faith” (which is synonymous with dishonesty) is bewilderingly unkind and stifles the very dialogue that BCC appears to be promoting.
    6. Ronan’s observations regarding the meaning behind words is astute. That being said, I repeat my concerns that the Church deserves better than the harshest criticisms levied against it in this thread.

  163. Antonio Parr says:

    “Bit” = it is part of, etc.

  164. CuriousGIS says:

    Prov 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” 2 Nephi 4:5 “if ye are brought up in the way ye should go ye will not depart from it.”

    Teach your kids young what is and isn’t modest and you have a better chance they’ll listen to you later. And who decides what is modest? Current western fashion trends do a poor job as does western society. We teach our kids modesty is dependent on the activity one engages in and the values my wife and I hold. I don’t expect them to understand every implication of what modest means now, but if I teach them when their young . . .

  165. MDearest says:

    I don’t think the OP or any commenters advocate for abandoning all modesty guidance or that we shouldn’t teach children to be modest while they’re young. It’s just that some of us are tired of women’s and girl’s shoulders, knees, and other non-sexual body parts routinely labeled as immodest, and we don’t want that error taught to our little children as gospel truth. It seems so simple, yet folks’ buttons are pushed so much that I can’t read all the comments. It makes me wonder what is going on in the undercurrent.

  166. Elder Oaks didn’t just say to young women that “some would perceive them” as pornographic. He said they would actually BECOME PORNOGRAPHY. Pornography is a product, not a person.

    If those boys at the prom are leering, perhaps they should be taught not to leer? The idea that the girls have to cover themselves up to protect themselves from being leered at is premised on the idea that there is not much to be done about those leering boys.

    “Well, boys will be boys! We can try to teach them, but it might not do much good! We know they’re going to look anyway! They can’t help it!” I have seen this conversation happen over and over again and pretty soon men will start chiming in, “As a man, I know how difficult it is! I see a girl in a short skirt, and I just can’t help but look!” I’m sorry, but these are just excuses to cause us to throw up our hands over the boys and continue to put the pressure on the girls.

    Boys and men can 100% absolutely control themselves and they don’t need any “help” from women and girls to do it, either. Do you know how I know that? Because places exist (such as in tribal societies) where women dress in next-to-nothing and those men and boys manage to control themselves completely. They can interact with a woman (who happens to be topless) and look her in the eyes and treat her as a human being.

  167. Antonio,

    That being said, I repeat my concerns that the Church deserves better than the harshest criticisms levied against it in this thread.

    I agree with you. Like so many here, I too despise how modesty is being interpreted in the church now, and I equally despise the idea that little girls now need to be so concerned about what they wear around fellow church members because of how they will be perceived. I have seen it with my own kids, two of whom are in primary still.

    Our oldest daughter wanted to have her Senior pictures taken in a black tank top, and she did. The pictures were fantastic, and modest. The other week she went to the school prom in a dress that perhaps showed more skin in the shoulders than what is suggested in the modesty ‘lessons’ given now in YW. However, it was a *stunning* dress that was among the most beautiful and MODEST at the entire prom. So as you can see, we have a definition of modesty that does not include using a measuring tape and being obsessive with shoulders and knees.

    So while I completely share dislike, frustration, and even some anger over the constant barrage of ‘modesty’ lessons and what they entail, I find myself backing away when I read the harsher criticisms of the church in the comments.

  168. Antonio Parr says:

    Esme –

    1. Good luck with training all the boys in the USA/Western world (99% of whom are not LDS) not to leer. (If you can figure out a way to do this, I am very much on your side.). Until then, we live in a highly sexualuzed world, and there is no way to avoid the fact that certain extreme ways of dressing will result in the objectification of our young women by many. Modesty, in its broadest, most enabling sense, is a potential weapon against this kind of objectification.

    2. The tribal societies you reference may or may not have achieved a level of sexual restraint consistent with Gospel standards. But those societies don’t have 24/7 access to pornography, as is the case with your average American teen age boy. Sadly, pornography’s projection of wonen as mere objects of pleasure is a tragic game changer for many.

    MDearest –

    For the most part, I am sympathetic to your post, and had the OP and ensuing comments been presented with that tone, I may not have had much, if anything, to say.

    To all –

    Apologies for my taking up so much bandwithb on this thread. It is just that I love my daughters, have witnessed their struggles and the obstacles that they face, and feel a vested interest in the topic.

  169. Antonio,

    1. I guess it’s just too difficult, then? We can’t do anything about all those men, so we should just tell our girls to cover up in order to protect themselves? Other cultures have already tried this, and we can see the result. Look at Muslim countries where women are dressed in burqas. Has that stopped violence against women? No. Is the incidence of rape less? Not a bit. Are women in burqas leered at? You better believe they are.

    This is because telling women to cover up does NOT AT THING to address the real issue, which is how men view and treat women. Until we address MEN’S behavior, telling women to cover up is merely putting a band aid on the problem. If we are to have a snowball’s chance of improving this situation, yes, all these men and boys in western society are exactly the ones we should be targeting and educating.

    Note: I do not AT ALL believe in the stereotypes that men are overly-sexual and can’t control themselves. Men in the US, in Muslim countries, (or anywhere else) behave badly towards women when the societal structure either supports it or indifferently allows it to persist.

    Saying that the problem is just “too big” or “too difficult” is a lazy way to look at life. (Not pointing that specific statement at you, Antonio.) Lots of things are “too difficult” or “too big,” but we don’t let that stop us in our efforts. Poverty. Hunger. Spreading the gospel to the entire globe with only 50,000 missionaries. Etc.

    2. Have you thought that learning something from these tribal societies could be exactly what we need the HELP us with this great influx of pornography? Let me give you a quote from a Carolyn Latteier:

    “I interviewed a young anthropologist working with women in Mali, in a country in Africa where women go around with bare breasts. They’re always feeding their babies. And when she told them that in our culture men are fascinated with breasts there was an instant of shock. The women burst out laughing. They laughed so hard, they fell on the floor. They said, ‘You mean, men act like babies?'”

    A man from one of these societies just does not find our Western pornography very interesting, even if he is exposed to it. He was taught to view women and their bodies in a certain way. Could we do the same thing with our children and might this have a preventative effect for when they do come across pornography?

  170. …there is no way to avoid the fact that certain extreme ways of dressing will result in the objectification of our young women by many. …

    What’s interesting about this as it pertains to a discussion on LDS modesty is how completely it misses the point of the OP, of Mormon discourse on modesty and large swaths of real estate elsewhere. The Mormon obsession on tank tops, sleeves, cap sleeves being airbrushed on, sundresses, and on and on… is that those things simply are NOT extreme in any culture, any where.

    If you remove the stigma from such clothing options, you remove the “leering.” If you teach kids that something that comes above their knees isn’t inherently bad, then you remove the leering. Mormon YM (and other men) get all crosseyed when they see such things – to include leering – simply because it’s pounded from podiums any given Sunday and *surprise* it becomes that taboo thing that is only appealing because it’s taboo. This might be a newsflash, but wander into ANY other metropolitan area and it’s simply a non-issue and so not extreme.

  171. Antonio, everyone feels a vested interest. But you keep talking about your teenage daughters while the OP discusses children. The Friend is a publication that targets Primary-age children and its messages should be appropriate for Primary-age children. The Friend is a repeat offender in this area and since it appears determined to continue to teach harmful principles it should expect parents with a vested interest to push back in increasingly strident terms. I too love my daughter and expect she will hear all sorts of things about her body soon enough. Let her love herself completely for just a few more years.

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

    —Dallin Oaks, April conference 2005

    This quote doesn’t say a women intrinsically IS pornography. It says in context, and could say it clearer, that men or boys who view pornography will start to see women that way…especially if they are less dressed and more available to be seen. It is clear that a women who dressed this way, won’t be seen this way by every man…because she is not intrinsically pornography. she could become pornography TO THEM-those who struggle with pornography. If written more clearly this quote could be informing to a young women and a warning to a young man.

    I see modesty as not having a primarily sexual focus-modesty is being dressed for the occasion; modesty is dressing to show your respect for your own body. Modesty is dressing in a way that is not extreme…so as to invite people to focus on the event and your character…not your clothing. Modesty allows and encourages people to look to our hearts, not our outward appearance. Most importantly it encourages we ourselves to focus on our own hearts and not our clothing.

  173. I must add. My dad stinks in this whole modesty regard. He encouraged my sister and I to dress immodestly to attract guys. He frequently told us we would never get a guy based on our personalities, so we should dress in tight, revealing clothing. He worried about our weight…frequently and loudly. Not your normal dad. Having that youth…I found the churches teachings as so freeing and wonderful. I didn’t feel the sexual focus at all. I felt that finally someone understood that I am valuable for who I am and wanted me to dress as such.

    It is not freeing to be able to show more of your body. It feels like a trap…as if that’s then the only way you will get noticed. Reading the church material…modesty does not at all feel like an obsession. The world may affect how we see it though…just ask any first lady what she is most well known for…her cause or her gown.

    I must admit this reflects strongly in how I feel about modesty. I do feel young children can be immodest…in the attention getting way. IN the original story we are assuming a lot. The OP assuming the orange tank top is thought to be wrong because it is sexual. The child didn’t make that assumption herself. she just followed the spirit she felt and felt good about that. Maybe she shouldn’t have spent the money. Maybe that’s a family decision and the holy ghost is supporting that. Maybe we just don’t know.

    Assuming that we know is a problem…The problem really. It’s an extension of the I am not my brother’s keeper I am his spy and judge problem.

  174. Antonio Parr says:

    Giving the writers at the Friend the benefit of the doubt, they are trying to prepare our children for the rapidly approaching day when modesty matters. Perhaps they go overboard from time to time, but they are not the force for evil as presented above.

    Perhaps those most critical of the Church’s emphasis on modesty all live in Utah or Idaho. If that is the case, then I recognize that the dynamics of your worship is different from my own. (I live in a large metropolitan area where there are relatively few Church members.) The danger that I have seen lurking in my community is the objectification and sexual exploitation of our young people. There is not on ounce of love or concern behind these cultural forces. The Church is in a battle against these forces. At times, it is imperfect in its efforts. But the distinguishing factor that I see are the depths of sacrifice and love unfeigned found in the Church. These good faith efforts should not be met with accusations of stupidity and scandal, but with gentle and discreet exhortations. The Church is not the enemy. It is the body of Christ.

  175. Bryan’s comment that lds modesty is exteme in and of itself is becoming very true. As he and others have stated knees and shoulders are NOT sexual in western society even on adult women let alone teens and children. Hence why when we demand for them to be covered they become sexual because everywhere else (including us in the past) they are not.
    Also the pornography quote does tell lds guys however subtle that if somone does show shoulders or knees that she must not care that she could be walking pornography so she must be in some way.Subtle yes, conferred though just the same.

  176. Matthew, you asked for a more substantive response than my first comment. I respect that request and would love to provide one, but to respond in the matter I would like would require a comment that is much longer than your post. I would prefer to write a post responding to yours.

    If the admins want that, let me know privately – at the email address a few of you have, not the screening one I use on my personal blog and for group forum discussions. Otherwise, my previous comment will have to stand on its own.

  177. I’m closing comments now. Thanks for your contributions.

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