The 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.