Negotiating modesty (a series of random events)

A while back–maybe a year or two ago–my daughter came home with a new complaint about Primary: they were forcing her to sing songs about “touching private parts.” I asked her what on earth she was talking about, and it turned out that the offending song was “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” Get it? Because your shoulders are supposed to be covered–that makes them private. Okay, so we had a little talk about the difference between shoulder-type parts and actually-private parts. And here my troubles began.

As a teen and young adult, I wore many a tank top. I also wore miniskirts, though in my defense, I didn’t usually wear tank tops and miniskirts together. I also wore a strapless dress to my prom. My excuse is that it was the ’80s, and the only formal wear you could buy off the rack was either strapless or had these enormous sleeves that resembled hot air balloons. Oh, how I hated those poofy sleeves. I still hate the poofy sleeves, and I’ve noticed that they haven’t exactly made a comeback yet, so I figure that just proves how hideous they were. Good grief, even bell-bottoms had a comeback, briefly. So yeah, when it came time to choose the lesser of two evils, I chose strapless. I still think I made the right choice.

Oh, if I had it to do over again, I’d probably be more creative. In my ideal past, I would have learned to sew properly and I would have made my own prom dress, appropriately modest with sleeves that didn’t draw attention to themselves or threaten to make you take flight if you had to, say, wave to someone. As a grown woman I’m really not a huge fan of the strapless gown; I think there are many more flattering styles out there, and I’m not exactly displaying my prom pictures anywhere my daughter can see them and start wondering why it was okay for Mom to sew sow her immodest oats while she’s condemned to a lifetime of full shoulder coverage, fashion and weather-appropriateness be damned. I think that in general, shoulder-covering is good, because modesty is good, and mandatory shoulder-covering just makes modesty that much simpler. If you’re going to the trouble to cover your shoulders, chances are you’re covering the other (actually-private) stuff by default. Yes, I’m officially happy with the shoulder-covering rule. Now.

So the rule in our house is that Barbies have to be modestly dressed. This rule has been in effect since the first child in our house to get a Barbie–my son, who was four at the time–changed his doll’s outfit and exclaimed, “Hey–bosoms!” These days it’s my daughter who has the Barbies, but the rule still applies: they’re not allowed to lie around naked, and whatever clothes they are wearing should meet some reasonable version of church standards. Strapless-wedding-dress Barbie has a shawl. The Barbie who came to us without clothes is wrapped in an artificial flower lei from the Party City. (She looks most festive.) One day my daughter asked me why her Fairytopia dolls–whose clothes are basically molded plastic–were allowed to flit around in next to nothing. “Fairies play by different rules,” I muttered. She totally bought it! Now she occasionally wishes she was a fairy.

In Relief Society we have a discussion about instilling the value of modesty in our children, specifically our daughters. We’re admonished to start when they’re very young. If you don’t want your daughter wearing tank tops when she’s fifteen, don’t dress her in them when she’s three. In my house shoulders are to be covered, and I still think this reasoning is chock full o’ nuts. Every teenage girls knows her body isn’t the same as it was when she was three. Remember puberty? Methinks she got the memo. Trying to draw a straight line from three-year-old standards to fifteen-year-old standards is side-stepping the whole issue of a young woman’s flowering (so to speak) awareness of her own sexuality. Seriously, go ahead and put your baby in that sleeveless onesie. When she starts growing breasts, say, “Darling girl, you’re growing breasts and it’s time to put away childish things.” She’ll be so humiliated that she’ll gladly cover her shoulders and anything else she can think of just to get you to STOP TALKING LIKE THAT. Everyone wins. But the ladies in Relief Society soon move on to another topic, and I’m too lazy to speak up. Next time, maybe. Maybe.

In my more lucid moments I wonder if a girl might internalize the modesty virtue if we tied it to her sexuality, rather than to the young men’s raging hormones. Obviously, everyone’s hormones are raging, but they’re raging in distinctly different patterns. Simone de Beauvoir (I think she was a feminist of some sort) said, “There will always be certain differences between man and woman; her eroticism, and therefore her sexual world, have a special form of their own and therefore cannot fail to engender a sensuality, a sensitivity of a special nature.” Modesty that is less about shame and more about mystery–where imagination meets desire–protects and empowers (if you’ll pardon the expression) women and girls, who–generally speaking–are not interested in soliciting all kinds of attention from all kinds of males, but a particular attention from a particular male. To quote G.K. Chesterton out of context, “Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc.” Now doesn’t that sound more exciting than dressing up like a bad girl? But I digress.

My younger daughter, who is two, idolizes her older brother and wants to do everything he does. This is why she refuses to wear a bathing suit. When her brother puts on swim trunks, she insists on putting on “swim trunks” also. The last several times we’ve gone for water play, she wore a swim diaper and shorts and nothing else. She’s two, you see. (We actually finally broke down last weekend and bought her a pair of honest-to-goodness swim trunks–sporting Thomas the Tank Engine, no less. I think she slept with them that first night.) But wait–what happened to the shoulder-covering rule? That’s what my older daughter wanted to know. Well, yes, there is that, but…she’s two. Like the fairies, I guess, two-year-olds play by different rules. She still has to wear a dress to church, though. This week it even had poofy sleeves. (But not too poofy.)


  1. I can’t believe you deprived your prom date of the opportunity to say “I like your sleeves. They’re real big.”

  2. Rebecca,

    Thank you for your comments on modesty. It is such an important topic and one that is becoming more difficult.

    I have three daughters and one son (age 11,9,6,3). Our rule for modesty in dress is that if it cannot be worn without modifying the garment, it will not be worn.
    We try to use that standard as a springboard into discussions about chastity, etc. The teenage yeats are fast approaching for us. We hope our children will remember when they are on there own.

  3. I was the only Mormon among my friends in high school and somehow I missed the whole shoulders-should-be-covered memo until I got to BYU. I still find it strange.

    That said, because my children are virtually transparent, they typically wear swim-shirts with their swimsuits. I’ve notice a number of young girls that do the same.

  4. Martin Willey says:

    I am a father of young daughters, and this is a really interesting issue to me. There is a noticeable trend to have little LDS girls adhere to an adult standard of modesty. I get the point. And I am almost persuaded by the idea that if they NEVER wear anything sleeveless, they will never WANT to wear anything sleeveless. Almost. But I still think it is a little extreme. Little girls do live by different rules than adult women, and it is hard for me to see a seven-year old girl in a tank top as immodest. I hate seeing little girls in inappropriately sexualized clothing. But, in some ways, obsessing about pre-teen modesty kind of feels like the flip-side of that.

  5. Martin Willey says:

    After re-reading my comment (#4) I have an edit to make. Please delete “inappropriately” from the second to last sentence. That’s better. Thanks!

  6. Damn! Damn! DAMN! DAMN!!

    (With apologies to Alan J. Lerner)

    Is our society so ridiculously sexualized that a little girl cannot wear a sunsuit or a sundress without someone thinking it immodest? When my sisters were little girls (my memory runs to the late 1950s) they wore sunsuits that, if I remember correctly, had two ties–one over each shoulder–and it certainly never crossed my mother’s mind (or anyone else’s) that they somehow were dressed immodestly. I suspect that they may even have worn sleeveless dresses to church. Egads!

    (I do like, however, the image of Rebecca “sew[ing] her immodest oats.” I just wonder if they were rolled oats, or steel cut oats, and whether she found some way to sew them with a machine, or if she had to push her needle through each one of them by hand.)

  7. I have a 12 year old daughter. And this issue is in the front of my mind. Right now I am tossed a turned by the various voices my daughter is listening to on this issue. My wife has her say, her counselors in YW, her friends, and (when she crosses the line) her dad. It would be easier if there were a clear distiction, but that isn’t how I want her making decisions. There is black and white, but the grey area in between is where a child develops her decision making ability.

  8. John Mansfield says:

    Are post-menopausal women also different? I recall Jim Faulconer writing something about old grandmothers in Korea who walk down the road barechested in the summer heat. A person could consider that and think “Why not?” Such a person’s uncovered flesh is of no more interest to herself or the typical onlooker than that of a small child.

  9. Wait a minute here. You got a problem with my bell bottoms?

    My daughter as a toddler was very immodest. She loved being naked. But once out of the toddler stage she became very modest. I never bought her tank tops because do they make tank tops for little girls? I suppose now they do. She did have a dress my mom made her that was tank-top-style (and so cute). When she was like, 4.

    She’s a teenager now and it really hasn’t been an issue for us. She’s still pretty modest.

  10. merrybits says:

    My daughter used to take her nekkid Barbies to school. When asked by a classmate why they were nekkid, she replied, “Because I like pretending they’re superheros.” Take that, logic!

  11. I am not sure where the line is, and since I don’t have children right now, I won’t have to make this decision for a while. But I think the idea that “no tank-tops now will help no tank-tops when they are teens” sends the wrong message. It implies that the reasoning behind the no bare shoulders rule is that it is a rule about shoulders. But modesty really isn’t about the body–it is about sex and sexuality. The body, doesn’t have to be about sex. That is why the statue of David isn’t porn.

    Just as much as I think it is important to teach children and teens about sexuality (and the need to keep certain parts of their bodies covered), I think it is also important to teach children and teens that the body can be looked at in a different way. Now, how we do this without giving our children permission to run naked through the streets is a whole other story…

  12. Krys Corbett says:

    I struggle with this for my daughters because it seems that the start of modesty worry at church (9, 10?) is the beginning of a situation in which girls seem to have to second guess every decision they make, while boys go along merrily, blithely unaware.

    So what they choose to wear to swimming lessons — where it should be about learning and performance and going faster and swimming better — becomes about how they might look or be perceived by others or judged at church. Boys? Just slap on a pair of trunks and maybe a rashguard.

    As a result, and also because I really want to avoid unnecessarily contributing to sexualizing my kids, I try to downplay the modesty thing as much as humanly possible. My daughters learned to think “classy not trashy” from a babysitter, and that seems a better guideline for the pre-teen years than modesty, as it doesn’t have so much of the sexual overtones.

  13. “I have three daughters and one son (age 11,9,6,3). Our rule for modesty in dress is that if it cannot be worn without modifying the garment, it will not be worn”.

    Originally the garments worn by the early Mormons would cover the arms to the wrist, and legs to the ankles. Also, the guidelines for when they may not be worn were much more strict. If then, the garment was intended to be the universal metric for modesty (regardless of temple status), then could we argue that the Church’s standards of modesty have lessened? I don’t believe this argument, just like I don’t believe that rules of attire should impose garment compatability to unendowed, and often teenage members. The way we dress is one of the strongest indicators of our masculinity/feminimity, and sexuality. Modesty, I would argue, stipulates that we be very conservative with regards to how, and to whom we express our sexuality – especially within the guidelines of the Church. Cover up the vital parts, the rest of the dress should be such that one could not reasonably suppose sexual suggestions or invitations from you.

  14. anon for this says:

    I don’t quite understand what the shoulders have to do with modesty, anyway.

    My teenage daughter has a lot of trouble finding church modest clothes because she is very tall (almost 6 feet). For girls camp and other church activities she can only wear knee length shorts. Guess how hard it is to find knee length shorts for a tall teenager with very long legs!

    Re shoulders, when she goes shopping for other clothes, the tank and spaghetti strap tops are generally more modest than many the low riding pants she gets to choose from.

    I wish we could have discussions in the Church about modesty that address sex and sexuality in a real way. The more we talk about girls needing to cover themselves so that boys don’t get the wrong idea, the more we will find girls who are ashamed of their body or think they are to blame if they are assaulted. Doesn’t the gospel teach that we are responsible for our own actions? So why the hell are girls supposed to be responsible for a boy’s inability to control himself????

    (Steve feel free to delete the last little bit, or any other part, if I’ve stepped to far. It’s a sore spot for me and I think I reined it in, but. . .)

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    Nice little essay. To be honest, I simply can’t recall modesty being an issue with my kids (one boy, one girl, now in their 20s). I’m not sure whether that is because I was such a good father (so they felt no need to test the boundaries, whatever they might have been) or such a bad one (perhaps having been too laissez faire on the issue without realizing it).

  16. Martin Willey says:

    Question to Clayton: Does the your rule that clothing should be compatible with wearing the temple garment apply to your son as well as your daughters? Would your son be able to play outside or work in the yard with his shirt off, or would that be considered immodest? And just to be clear, this is a sincere, non-judgmental question.

  17. Rebecca J says:

    Susan, bell bottoms beat poofy sleeves any day of the week, as far as I’m concerned.

    Mark B., my sisters and I wore the same type of sundresses when we were young, and no one thought anything of it. I think in those days there was more a more distinct difference between little girl clothing and teenage girl clothing. Nowadays the little girls are wearing smaller versions of what the teenagers are wearing. I don’t know what caused it, but I do agree it’s cause for swearing. Oh, and thanks for bringing my homophone confusion to my consciousness. I couldn’t be more embarrassed if you caught me wearing something sleeveless on a hot day.

  18. Why does there need to be a “universal metric” for modesty?

    If modesty in dress is purely about expressing sexuality, then those standards are going to change according to what a particular society “reasonably suppose[s to convey] sexual suggestions or invitations”.

    If modesty in dress is about being different from the world, then again it seems to me that there is little reason for the church’s standards of modesty not to change in the face of proportionate changes among the standards observed by the world.

  19. My guideline for my 3 children (ages 1-5) is “Don’t sexualize them”. This cuts both ways. I don’t let them wear any clothing that has flirtatious undertones , but I also don’t worry about shorts and tank-tops that are clearly styled for children.

    Few things bug me more than little children wearing shirts with sexy prints, JonBenet-Ramsey-esque beauty queen clothes, or anything that is clearly meant to draw attention to their bodies. Conversely, I think that there is a lot of kid-friendly attire that would look sexual if worn by an adult.

    Mulan is in, Betty Boop is out.

  20. Didn’t mean to anon the previous one.

    Another thought or question —

    I am so curious about the culture of the Church outside of the US. Are issues of modesty (from the perspective of the Church) the same in other countries?

  21. We colored on sleeves on our Fairytopia Barbie with a silver Sharpie, in all seriousness. Similar rules here. We decided it would be a lot easier to have dress standards in place growing up than fight it at 12 when the girls are a little more difficult. So far it’s been good. It’s not like they run around in prairie dresses, we just put a tee under the tank sundress or whatever. And as a pale redhead, I’m thrilled to see more rash guards and wetsuits at the pool–for me it’s less about modesty and more about ease of sunscreen! But if this is one of those ways we distinguish ourselves from the world, why all the fuss? (Except I live in a ward where the YW and Primary pres both wear bikinis to the neighborhood pool, so I feel alone.) Big article in the August Ensign about all this…

  22. Martin Willey says:

    Seriously? Modesty rules for Barbies and Fairy dolls? I guess the sea-shell tops for mermaid toys are COMPLETELY out.

  23. Jennifer in GA says:

    My mom rarely bought me sleeveless tops, dresses, etc as a child, and never after I reached puberty. As a teenager, I bought a few sleeveless tops and dresses, but I always felt guilty wearing them. Lesson learned, Mom! :P

    As the mother of young girls (ages 8.5 and almost 10), I worry about this modesty issue. How can I impress the importance of modesty *in all things* upon them, without making it into a huge, body issue thing? I think it’s a fine line. I just try and take it one article of clothing at a time- no bikinis, ever. No booty shorts, but if they aren’t exactly knee length we won’t worry about it. Sleeveless is okay for now, as long as we’ve got an undershirt or sports bra-type thing on. But I try to discourage it and find an alternative. No spaghetti straps. So far we’ve made it work, and we haven’t any big issues.

  24. We’ve got nekkid Barbies all over our house. Oh, and my middle son loves his sundresses.

  25. My babies all break out in heat rashes if I try to keep clothes on them during the summer, so we’ve generally got a whole lot of nakey-baby going on. It works out so that about when they start really falling in love with clothes, their skin begins to handle being covered all of the time.

    Shoulders are just shoulders. Sure, they are near breasts, but so are arms and necks. How far do we need people to cover up before we can keep our thoughts clean? Perhaps we could just wander around draped in bedspreads with little holes for eyes. But then some freak would think “hey that could be on a bed” and then down the slimy perv path the thoughts would go. There’s no way to prevent weirdos from thinking weirdo thoughts.

    I think you’ve found the right balance Rebecca. “Seriously, go ahead and put your baby in that sleeveless onesie. When she starts growing breasts, say, ‘Darling girl, you’re growing breasts and it’s time to put away childish things.'”

  26. Krys Corbett says:

    My mom also made us cover up the dolls or have them wearing modest clothes, so that naked baby doll in the nursery closet makes me twitch. But I haven’t made new clothes for her, so every week I go in there to take care of the toddlers, and that little naked baby doll is still there.

  27. Rebecca J says:

    My daughter was reading a story in the Friend about a girl who’d bought a new dress–her very first store-bought dress, which she treasured–and had to get rid of it after it shrunk in the wash and no longer covered her knees. My daughter said, “Hasn’t she ever heard of leggings?”

  28. Single Sister says:

    A few months ago I noticed that a lot of the teenage girls have taken to wearing jean skirts (mostly tattered), extremely tight t-shirts and flip-flops to church. I won’t mention the amount of makeup they have on their faces or the bright red, orange and purple nailpolish. Forget tank tops. What the girls in my ward are wearing to church is just as immodest, even though the clothing (technically) covers everything.

  29. My daughter just turned 8 and my wife is too fashion aware to even be concerned about whether an 8 year can dress immodestly. I am more concerned about ill fitting clothes at here age than I am about the design of the clothes. My wife will buy fashionable clothes that, if they fit would be perhaps immodest for a developed 16 or 17 year old but for which I would have no concern on an 8 year old. Problem is they don’t fit. For example, the waist is too big so they hang or fall down. That bothers me.

    For me, at her age, I teach her to sit modestly and have manners. I think the respect she is learning for herself will take care of the rest as she grows up.

  30. We colored on sleeves on our Fairytopia Barbie with a silver Sharpie, in all seriousness.

    Long sleeves I hope, you can’t be too careful.

  31. #14–I totally agree. I could go on and on about the way we frame modesty for teen girls as a way for us to “protect” teen boys from themselves. It is insulting to both genders. And I agree–it is a very slippery slope from “cover your shoulders and stomache to help the boys” to “well, you DIDN’T cover your shoulders and stomache, so it is your fault they looked at you/whistled at you/assaulted you.”

    I like the idea that we teach our children and teens that they need to dress for their age and for the situation. Something that a child can wear does not necessarily mean an adult can wear it–and vice versa. And what we wear at the beach is not the same thing we wear to the mall.

    Perhaps, then, we have to teach our children about how sexuality is implied and constructed. Bare breasts don’t equal sex. Some times it equals breastfeeding and sometimes it is a cultural marker and sometimes it is a medical issue and sometimes it is art and sometimes it is… And if we teach them to listen to their gut instincts, to respect their body, to error on the side of caution, and ask their parents and leaders if they are confused, then that is the best we can do.

    I have to say, I teach freshman at a local university, and the plain tank tops are way more modest than that tiny tees that barely fit and have “Girls Gone Wild” written across the chest.

  32. StillConfused says:

    Because of my build, I was never comfortable going strapless / bra-less etc. So giving up my right to bare arms wasn’t so big a deal to me. And I like the longer hiking shorts too.

  33. Seriously, the skin tight teeney-t’s are way more revealing than a regular sized tank top. If we get too hung up on The Rules, we miss the meaning-of-modesty boat entirely.

  34. To me you can’t have the discussion of modesty without the discussion of the romeo and juliet syndrome. By making something forbidden suddenly you want it more. I really think these constant addings on to the rules at times hurts more than they help.

  35. I don’t have any daughters, but this is my own experience with modesty while growing up in the church – I know that I wore sleeveless tops when I was little (there are pictures), and there must have been a time that my mom laid down the modesty law, but I don’t remember it. As far as I can remember, modesty was the rule. I didn’t fight my parents over it, because sleeves-or-no-sleeves just didn’t seem like a big deal. And I think that’s because I was taught that at an early age.

    That said, I imagine that different teaching techniques work for different girls. It perhaps comes down to knowing how to teach your individual child.

  36. Jim Donaldson says:

    Seriously, the skin tight teeney-t’s are way more revealing than a regular sized tank top. If we get too hung up on The Rules, we miss the meaning-of-modesty boat entirely.

    My wife worked at LDS Hospital in the 70s. The dress code prohibited pants on female workers. As a result (this is the 70s remember) the women often wore mini-skirts, which proved far more immodest while bending and lifting patients than pants ever would.

    Likewise, there was a time not long ago where one piece swimsuits, with thigh holes cut up to here and neck holes down to there, were more immodest than many bikinis.

    Sometimes making a specific rule gives those who don’t grasp (or want to defeat) the principle all the room they need.

  37. I teach my daughters (and sons) what I feel to be the correct principle and let them govern themselves – after they turn 12, and with my wife’s approval, and (for the girls) subject to their brothers’ approval, and with me always holding the final, dictatorial veto power (with a burka as the alternative if they try to wear something of which I don’t approve).

    Iow, I let them wear whatever they want to wear, as long as everyone else in the family agrees. :)

    Seriously, we talk about most clothing purchases as a family and let the kids have equal input to us. If there is any question, we put it to a vote – with everyone having to explain their vote. It has worked wonderfully for us, but I don’t know how it would work for others.

  38. Sleeves on Fairytopia Barbie?

    You know, they ought to put a brassiere on the camel too.

    (apologies to Shel Silverstein)

  39. As a kid I often wore tanks and sleeveless shirts. I did into adulthood too, and it wasn’t until I received my endowments that I started covering my shoulders. It actually never occurred to me that my shoulders were immodest!! I mean, they’re my shoulders — you know, part of my arms!

    I am strict about wearing shorty shorts and sleezy looking tops, but a pretty sleeveless dress or a normal tank, I have absolutely no problem with my 9 year old daughter wearing them.

  40. In 1985, the required BYU swimsuit was some hideous black thing that had that had some retro 50s-type apron-ish thing in the front. It hiked up in back and slouched down in front. It was an unattractive, immodest combo, exactly the opposite of what they were hoping to achieve. It wasn’t too long after that that they switched over to swim team type suits, the result of many, many prayers, I am sure.

  41. #37 said:

    “I teach my daughters (and sons) what I feel to be the correct principle and let them govern themselves – after they turn 12, and with my wife’s approval, and (for the girls) subject to their brothers’ approval, and with me always holding the final, dictatorial veto power (with a burka as the alternative if they try to wear something of which I don’t approve).”

    Surely you had to know someone was going to ask: why must the girls get approval from their brothers but not the brothers approval from their sisters?

  42. #41 – Check out the word “seriously” following the yellow smiley face.

  43. Our family focuses on the broader meaning of modesty, as in, the opposite of pride. To us, dressing modestly is to dress in a way that does not draw attention to how you are dressed. No prom dresses in sacrament meeting, no prairie dresses while camping, etc, etc. Clothing is to cover the body; simple, lovely, but not with the intent to say, “Hey everyone, look what I’m wearing!”

  44. As I was watching the Olympics earlier, the women’s beach volleyball was on, and I was wondering if LDS girls would even be allowed to participate. ;-)

  45. My girls are young, and we haven’t had to deal with the issue too much.

    But I told my wife that if it becomes a problem I will simply tell them that if they ever wear anything inappropriate that they had better be ready for me to pick them up from school in a matching outfit, even if I have to sew it myself.

  46. Wow. I think the church’s obsession with modesty of girls is way out of control. I think achieves the opposite affect of what they want it to also. All the girls in the American church are completely and utterly obessessed and focused on their bodies. And they think they should be because evidently the leaders are obesessed with their bodies as well.

    I grew up in the church and this idea that little kids can’t wear tank tops or dolls should be covered is just crazy talk, I never heard stuff like that growing up. All you are teaching your kids is to be ashamed of the human body. A doll is a DOLL, it doesn’t even have correct anatomy! In the 80s my mom sewed much of our clothes and she used to always make us these terry cloth jumpsuits for the summer that tied over the shoulders and had short shorts. I was like 5 so, it was appropriate. Yet, evidently nowadays, thats not ok. In the church I still managed to internalize shame for my body, I can’t imagine the issues the girls growing up today are going to have.

    “My daughter was reading a story in the Friend about a girl who’d bought a new dress–her very first store-bought dress, which she treasured–and had to get rid of it after it shrunk in the wash and no longer covered her knees.”

    Seriously?? in the FRIEND? Thats just horrible.

    I live in Germany, and here kids play in the sprinklers in the park or at the public pool/beach totally naked. And they should, they are KIDS. Why can’t we let our kids be comfortable in their own skin?

  47. I’m pretty much in accord with recent posts by Carrie and Julie. I agree fully that modesty is a virtue, and but I don’t see modesty as having a whole lot to do with whether one’s shoulders are covered or one’s knees are showing. It has to do with how we respect ourselves and relate to those around us, and how we don’t seek attention in ways that distract us what we’re here on Earth to do.

    There are probably 20 points I could make here, but I’ll make just one (and it’s not even the most important). When I hear young people in the church make some comment about a nonmember being dressed immodestly — and that person is dressed perfectly appropriately for the culture and isn’t dressed in a way designed to seek sexual or other undue attention — I think they’ve they’ve missed the point of what modesty is about.

  48. Ray,

    I probably should have added a smiley face to my comment as well.


  49. Bro. Jones says:

    Re #36: “Likewise, there was a time not long ago where one piece swimsuits, with thigh holes cut up to here and neck holes down to there, were more immodest than many bikinis.” That time is STILL true. Two-piece tankinis are not only more flattering than many one-pieces, but they also offer more coverage. What about a two-piece versus a one-piece suit automatically implies immodesty?

    Also, I’ve never brought this up in Sunday School, but, uh, if a woman is wearing a swimsuit of any cut or number of pieces, it’s, um, not her (potentially) exposed belly-button that I’m going to stare at. The parts that I’m going to stare at are kind of emphasized regardless of whether they’re covered or not.

  50. Seriously, the skin tight teeney-t’s are way more revealing than a regular sized tank top. If we get too hung up on The Rules, we miss the meaning-of-modesty boat entirely.

    When did the tight tee’s become church attire? I teach the thirteen-yer-olds, and it’s pretty standard to wear a long skirt with super tight t-shirts. And I agree, they’re showing off a lot more than a tank top.

  51. Agreed on the tight t-shirts.

    One quick comment in favor of modesty standards. I recently attended a LDS prom in North Texas. It was a large multi-stake event. It was refreshing to see all the girls modestly dressed at the LDS prom. I think we should a peculiar people and modesty is one way to accomplish that.

  52. In my mind, shoulders aren’t immodest – the big fuss comes from conflating ideas of ‘modesty’ with what I call ‘temple worthy’ or ‘temple prepared’. I try to make this distinction with my youth.

  53. Julie hit it right on the head in 46. I always laugh when everyone in the church says everything is hypersexualized, but they’re actually part of the problem. Case in point, I grew up in a country where in the summer it was not uncommon to see a topless woman. My parents made no big deal and it wasn’t So when I when I see people at church talking about navels and shoulders and how they need to be covered up for girls and boys protection I just have to do a face palm.

    Sure, you don’t want the kids dressing like prostitutes but you wonder why young women have such problems. I once met a friend’s wife who was a therapist and when she heard I spent the last few years in Utah after a few months she shared that she did a few years as a therapist in Utah after college and most of her teenaged patients were girls with body issues. And the grown ups were women with ummm private issues (I couldn’t say it on filter). Of course, it’s anecdotal but I couldn’t say I was surprised. Really I think the church should let people decide what is good for themselves, that whole teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves and focus more on what true modesty is without setting up a romeo and juliet scenario.

  54. As a teenager, before I converted, it was the ‘normal’ for me to dress somewhat immodestly. Dressing modestly never was part of my life, but when I found the church, it was rather difficult to find clothing that is fashionable and modest. It still is.

    Modesty isn’t about me keeping boy’s lustful thoughts away, but I’m sure it helps them if I do dress modestly. What I love about modesty is that it shows that I love my Heavenly Father and Savior soooo much, I’m willing to show them that my body is a temple by dressing in a way that reflects the inside.

    But modesty isn’t just ‘covering up’ areas of your body. Modesty also is not taking clothes to the extreme and showing respect for the subject. Modesty is still dressing nicely for sacrament.

    It’s an important subject, that’s more than just covering up.

  55. Steve Graham says:

    I served a mission in Brazil in the early 70’s. It amazed me that they let their boys go completely naked until, I don’t know, 6-8. On the other hands I have faithful LDS friends who are also naturists. Part of the reason they took up that practice was to help some children who were having problems with the proper attitudes about their bodies and/or those of the opposite sex. Then I remember the story about Peter fishing naked when the Lord finds him.

    I wonder if many of our standards are simply social mores and perhaps the Lord does not care so much about them. The early brethren and sisters would have probably been horrified to see the swimsuits we don and let our children wear. Does that make them right and us sinners?

    Something to think about.

  56. I have three daughters 22,19,16. I don’t want them growing up believing their shoulders or any other part of their body is perverse. We have traveled to countries where nudity on beaches is common, and we don’t make a big deal about it. I try to teach them that modesty is behavior, not how much of their body is covered. I want them to like their bodies, value their sexuality, and grow up strong and whole. When they hit puberty, I asked them to wear clothes that covered their underwear, dress appropriately for the occasion and behave like strong women. They occasionally wear tank tops and shorts above the knee. At home they like to wear sundresses without sleeves, they put t-shirts under for church. They pray, read their scriptures, do service, and love God. They take responsibility for their own behavior and have been taught not to own the behavior of others. If a boy shows them disrespect, they don’t blame themselves or their clothing. They believe they are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves us and they love Him. They believe their bodies are beautiful and good. One is endowed now. She dresses appropriately and doesn’t let her underwear show. Yes, I have sons, and they love and admire their sisters. They also show great respect for girls because their sisters have taught them.

  57. Lulubelle says:

    Since when is covering your shoulders (or not) a sign of modesty? Is, really, a shoulder THAT sexy? Is an inch above the kneecap really that racey? I’m an adult woman and have never bought that line of reasoning, I don’t care who tries to tell me differently. I wear sleeveless sundresses with high(er) necks that are FAR more modest and appropriate than a top with sleeves and a plunging neckline. For me, modesty is about thoughts and actions and how we hold ourselves, not if we show a shoulder or not. And what’s the uproar over a bikini? We’re hosting a swimparty in our back yard for the youth and everyone is freaked out if a girl shows up in a bikini or, heaven forbid, a tankini because if they jump in the pool, they may show an inch of stomach for a minute. Good heavens! I’ll be wearing a tankini, my two young daughters both in bikinis, and I sure hope no one ends up in hell over such scandalous dress.

  58. Lulubelle says:

    And no Barbies in un-garment worthy clothing? Please tell me you’re kidding!

  59. Left Field says:

    I’ve never understood the idea that teenagers need to wear garment-friendly clothing so that they will be “prepared” when they go to the temple.

    What exactly happens if one suddenly quits wearing sleeveless shirts without years of preparation? Does one need to wear a fur-lined parka in July so as to be prepared for December? Do high school students need to wear neckties to school every day so they will used to daily necktie wear later? If I want to be a police officer, do I need to start wearing the uniform now?

    Not that sleeveless shirts are all that attractive or comfortable anyway. If someone really wants to see my armpit hair and my smallpox vaccination scar, all they have to do is ask.

  60. Modesty that is less about shame and more about mystery–where imagination meets desire–protects and empowers (if you’ll pardon the expression) women and girls, who–generally speaking–are not interested in soliciting all kinds of attention from all kinds of males, but a particular attention from a particular male.

    It seems to me that this conception of modesty is no better than telling young women that they must not dress in a way that gets the boys worked up. In fact, it sounds like telling them that there is actually a more effective (or at least more tasteful) way of getting the boys worked up. While I don’t disagree with the sentiment, and think it may very well be empowering, I do not think it really expresses what modesty is about.

  61. There must be some way to teach that modesty is dynamic. Obviously, we could not care less if a girl wore a mantle or cut her hair, however in Isaiah’s and Paul’s days, that was risque. Why? Because back then those were attempts to draw undue attention to your body.

    Now, we should not be ashamed of our bodies, with all their zits, scars, excess hair, and short-comings; indeed we should do what we can to take care of, nourish, and groom our bodies. Nevertheless, the emphasis of our personal marketing should be put somewhere other than the mere physicality.

    For children and some others, the display of revealing clothing is not an attempt to bring undue attention to themselves. Obviously, there will be cultural differences as to what is provocative or not.

    Perhaps the point of modesty is not outward; it’s inward. The point isn’t to “keep the male brutes to themselves”, but rather to treasure what we’ve got, recognizing that what we’ve got has been given to us. Immodesty focuses outward, trying to find some reason to “look at me.” The real us, the inside us, the way we think and feel, needs different kinds of marketing.

    I guess my point is this: modesty is dynamic. It has to do with the culture, the time, and the place. Just as modesty of character is not drawing undue attention to yourself and accomplishments, modesty in clothing is not drawing undue attention to our bodies.

    Everyone’s dress should be a matter between them and the Lord: “God, I dress this way first and foremost for You, because You’re the reason why I have this body.” Everyone and anyone else should come second.

    We recognize that not everyone knows how God would have them dress. There are plenty willing to give you their two cents on what is and isn’t “drawing undue attention.” May we take their counsel before the Lord for ourselves.

    (Note, I realize that there are some people that, no matter how you dress, might give you undue attention. But if we catered to such people, we’d be wearing suits of armor.)

  62. I’m just struggling to get my kid to understand what “matching” is.

  63. Martin Willey says:

    I think M has hit the nail on the head. Modesty is a dynamic concept that changes with context, like age, culture, place, etc. This is not to say that there are not some absolutes, but there is a lot of latitude. Here is my question for M (or anyone else): How would you teach the principle of modesty to a 6 year-old who lives in, say, the western US? The more specific the example, the better.

  64. There is nothing more tempting for me than a beautiful dress with no sleeves. I cover it anyway, but I wonder why I have to keep my shoulders covered when I haven’t made any covenants to keep them that way. I agree with what a lot of people have said – my Barbies wore immodest clothes all the time, and sometimes my American girl doll only wore her corset and socks when I shoved her in her trunk for the night. Maybe that’s why I am so attracted to “immodest” dresses? I hated hearing about how my bare shoulders would cause the boys to think evil thoughts when I was in YW. The most extreme thing I ever heard was during youth standards night, where the leaders told us that we should wear modest garment covering clothes at all athletic endeavors possible (swimming being an exception). If only my Barbies had been more modest I might not be having this problem now :)

  65. Lulubelle says:

    Seriously, I think that God gave us our bodies and I really don’t understand our obsession or even stance that modesty is showing God more respect. If God made us this way, why cover it up? Now when we’re talking about inappropriate sexuality or sexualizing behavior, that’s entirely another topic. But make no mistake– it IS CULTURAL. In Europe, grandmas sunbathing topless is commonplace and it’s not a sexual thing. Showing a shoulder is “immodest”??? Swimsuits are “immodest” in nature and it’s entirely appropriate to swim/go to the beach and show skin. So, why the worry over showing some tummy. Is that really more immodest than some butt hanging out of the bottoms of a girl’s swimsuit? Of course not! I really think this is silly. And I’ve seen some VERY revealing one-piece suits– far more revealing than a bikini.

  66. Lulubelle says:

    After re-reading my post, it seems that I’m advocating walking naked in the steets or women showing boobs. Sorry, it’s not what I meant and it’s a fine line. However, our worry over inches of shoulder showing or a little stomach while swimming, or a little leg upwards of the knee just seems silly. And inappropriately dressed Barbies and dolls? Really??? Seriously?? Hmmm…

  67. We recognize that not everyone knows how God would have them dress. There are plenty willing to give you their two cents on what is and isn’t “drawing undue attention.” May we take their counsel before the Lord for ourselves.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think God gives a damn what any of us is wearing. Ever. The notion of ‘dressing for the Lord’ is totally insane.

    I also don’t think Modesty is about becoming a invisible or ‘not drawing attention’ either. There is not one thing wrong with drawing attention to yourself!

    Why as a society are we soooo afraid of being different and standing out? Americans (well the whole world…but in the US it seems to be starkly worse to me) in general are this way, and Mormons take it to a whole new level. As a religious culture, somehow there is this crazy notion that we are all to be identical in speech and dress, adhere to some 1950’s concept of dress and sexuality, not stand out or be radical in any way…its pure and utter nonsense. Its just organizational pyschology, a culture or group setting up its superficial markers for acceptance or adherence. I am pretty sure we as human beings are on this earth to rise above such superficiality.

    “Modesty” has nothing whatsoever to do with God, it only has to do with us and our society and what groups and organizations are willing to tolerate. I’m pretty sure everything Jesus ever said on the subject was more along the lines of not caring about the outside.

    If you want to teach your six year old, teach him to be like Jesus. Period.

    (phew sorry, this is a major sore spot with me)

  68. I suggest we first ask ourselves why we should care at all about modesty. I can think of three possible responses:

    1. Public exposure of certain body parts is sinful.
    2. Exposure of certain body parts induces at least some observers to sin.
    3. Dressing in a sexually provocative manner is sign of certain unhealthy attitudes.

    If you accept either 1 or 2, then you will want to identify those body parts that are the cause of the sin, and keep them covered. It is that simple. But I don’t believe either of those premises, and I think that teaching those premises, either explicitly or implicitly, is damaging to our youth. I also believe that those attitudes often result in the very problem we are trying to avoid.

    I do believe #3. That suggests to me that we should teach our youth respect for themselves. If they are displaying their bodies in a way designed to attract undue sexual attention at school, or at work or at a dance, we have a problem. But the problem is not bare backs, bare shoulders and bare knees. If they are in an environment where bare shoulders, knees and backs are socially acceptable, then there is no issue. We should teach them that context matters. The nude sunbather on a nude beach is not doing the same thing as the Nude Miss Universe contestant parading in front of drunk, leering men, even though they are displaying the same amount skin. Bare midriffs are not inherently sinful, but they send the wrong message in an office environment or at church.

    It doesn’t seem all that complicated to me.

  69. “Burkas are God’s expectation for women” represents one extreme.

    “Modesty has nothing whatsoever to do with God” represents the other extreme.

    I’m trying to figure out my own line somewhere between those extremes.

  70. Lulubelle says:

    Yeah, seriously, I just don’t get the whole “to show respect for our bodies and what God gave us means that we have to cover it all up– especially at the arbitrarily selected shoulder, above the knee, etc.” How does this show God respect? I really don’t think God cares about our outward appearance that much, and certainly doesn’t care about showing a shoulder. It’s WHY we may be dressing a certain way. And I agree with the above posters– on a cultural level, context means EVERYTHING. I definitely won’t be wearing my bikini to work or church, but on the beach or at my pool, it’s totally acceptable. Yes, I can show my tummy and my kids can show their tummy at the beach. At a cocktail party, I’ll be wearing a sleeveless or strapless coctail dress. I won’t wear a black cocktail dress to church. Etc. Common sense. This is why garments baffle me on every level.

  71. I agree with Julie. Bare shoulders are not immodest. The whole heavy-handed modesty for girls thing really seems terribly unfortunate to me. It seems to serve only to make women and girls ashamed of their bodies. If it were equally stressed for boys and girls then it would seem a lot more to me as though it might be an eternal principle. As it is, it just seems oppressive and wrongheaded to me.

    In the 19th century U.S., women’s wrists and ankles were considered sexual and so never shown. The only reason we don’t have that same standard of modesty now is because of the brave women who were willing to shock people and be considered brazen hussies in order to gain the right to dress in comfortable functional clothing. I’m so grateful to them for that.

  72. Without going into detail about why, from a male perspective I’d prefer not to see a nine-year old girl in sacrament meeting wearing a sundress with spaghetti straps, or a young woman stretching in foyer and showing off a bit of midriff, or a woman in a sleeveless dress at church.
    It’s not that I consider them immoral or because I become inflamed with barely controllable lust. But it is distracting. Whatever else it might or might not be, modest dress is a courtesy to men, who after all are wired as well as plumbed a little bit differently from women.

  73. A nine year old?

  74. #72 So are you able to drive? I suppose reading in a park or on a bus would also be impossible. IMHO saying things like that, and feeling well justified in saying them is a major part of the problem. Each one of us is responsible for his or her own conduct. Learning to focus with some distraction is part of self control. Some people are terribly distracted by white, they feel blinded and overwhelmed. I think in order to help these people men should refrain from wearing white shirts to church.

  75. Rebecca J says:

    it sounds like telling them that there is actually a more effective (or at least more tasteful) way of getting the boys worked up.

    Well, if you insist. ;)

    My point was that modesty protects female sexuality by discouraging the kind of attention women don’t want. Flaunting whatever it is you’ve got will attract all kinds of attention from all kinds of men, much of it unwanted. Most women don’t want that. They want to be attractive, but they don’t have a particular desire to attract large numbers of men. A woman wants one man, and sexual modesty (not just modesty in dress) encourages men to engage a woman on her terms. An immodest women issues an invitation for the kinds of attention she may not (probably doesn’t) want.

    And I’d like to state for the record that I don’t think baring your shoulders is sinful. I do think shoulders are sexy, though. Knees are not particularly sexy, but I don’t think baring those is sinful either. I hope not, because my knees show most every Sunday.

  76. Rebecca J says:

    And it’s my husband who made the Barbie rule. Let him answer for it.

  77. I think there is nothing quite as kissable as a little girl’s bare shoulders. They’re right up there with bare necks on babies.

    I was a teenager in the sixties in Salt Lake City, and no one ever expected me (or any other teenage girl) to cover our shoulders before we were married. On my BYU ID card (issued in 1969) I am wearing a sleeveless sweater. It was a very hot day, and bare shoulders were not prohibited. (However, pants were.) Getting rid of all my sleeveless dresses and tops when I went to the temple was kind of a rite of passage, but it would never have occurred to me to get rid of them any sooner.

    Sometime after I moved away from Utah (in 1975), the Utah/BYU/LDS dress code changed. When did that happen? It really took me by surprise when my daughters entered YW (in the 90s) and were told they shouldn’t wear sleeveless dresses. The whole bare shoulders prohibition baffles me.

  78. too angry to say says:

    Count me as one deeply deeply ashamed of my body when I was younger (i’m oooold now, and not an issue.) I kinda snapped out of my habit of burka-like dress when a co-worker (in Utah, no less) asked me if I were a member of a cult. All those lessons about boys and shoulders and I should die rather than be raped and my femaleness (of which my body was certainly a part unless dressed in a shapeless tent) might make some man rape me, all my fault, who knows what, taught me that there was something deeply deeply wrong with me. By being me. I had, you know, a figure.

    I hate – hate – hate – all of this emphasis on normal body parts for young girls. Knees? Shoulders? Tankinis? The very emphasis of unneeded “modesty” creates the sort of too early emphasis on sexuality for the young girls and the twisted behavior on the part of men that makes Confutus, what, what can one say that isn’t inflammatory? Echoing Jami, a nine year old? He’s in Australia, right?

  79. There are a lot of things I’d rather not see in church – things that distract me and make it difficult for me to pay attention. Guess whose responsibility it is to GET OVER those things?


    Should all of the older men with toupees and comb-overs be required to go cue-ball so I can focus without the travesty of their hairstyle clamoring for my attention? Should we ban babies and toddler so I don’t have to deal with the crying and whining for cheerios and Dora the Explorer?

    (Oh, wait – one of those toddlers is mine. Can we ban him?)

    The nine-year-old girl in a sleeveless dress doesn’t have a problem with modesty – you have a problem. It’s not her responsibility to make sure you keep your mind on topic.

  80. I will continue to proudly let my 9 year old wear her (very modest) sleeveless tea-length and long summery dresses to church. She has nothing to be ashamed of.

  81. The day I find myself distracted by a 9-year-old wearing a sundress or by a woman wearing a sleeveless dress is the day I set up an appointment with a therapist of some sort to find out what’s the matter with me. Sheesh.

  82. So I have been waiting for someone to bring up the flip side of this coin, so I will do it.

    We seem to have established that most (but not all) of us dislike the notion that women and girls should be covered for the sake of the men and boys. But I wonder if there is ever a reverse problem? What kinds of dress/undress causes the girls to be distracted? And before someone says that “guys are just different–they are more visual,” I can attest that (at least through anecdotal evidence), men and women are not that much different from each other in this regard. Rather, (as an example) I think women are more accustamed to seeing a male without his shirt so it is far less likely to be a problem.

    I have no idea of the answer, but what is the Church policy about no shirts for guys? Not at home, but I mean when they are playing basketball in the gym or when they are missionaries. Speedos? Saggy pants that show their underwear? What kinds of lessons are the young men getting about dressing modestly?

  83. Egads, I’ve become a pervert whose eyes should be poked out, with such a twisted mind I should already be in prison.
    I thought I might suggest a balanced approach to modesty somewhere between nude worship and purdah starting at birth, but evidently I’m not qualified.

  84. Krys Corbett says:

    Confutus, I think it was the “courtesy to me” that got people going (including me from lurker position) – possibly something that translates poorly to blogging.

  85. Krys,

    I meant courtesy to men in general; not me in particular.

    I didn’t say how much of a distraction it was. Fleeting, momentary, out of sight, out of mind. Not something I wish to dwell on, or God forbid, elaborate.

    I do think, however, that nine years is within a few years of the edge of womanhood. If it makes me a Neanderthal for thinking it an appropriate age to begin dressing more like one, hand me a club.

    I agree entirely with the point Rebecca (#74) made.

    I might further note that when some predator’s fantasies are triggered by some woman’s revealing or provocative dress, it’s usually NOT those woman (often several of them) who become his targent. Rather, it’s usually some other woman who for some reason is an easy target. In an indirect and small way, women’s modesty winds up helping protect other women.

  86. Everyone knows what bodies look like under all those clothes. Clothes don’t stop perversions or acts of violence.

  87. So I attended a ward recently where one of the young women walked down the hall wearing clear lucite shoes with blinking LEDs in the four inch heals.

    I never underestimate the ability of adolescents to make poor, or in this case harmlessly tasteless, decisions about how they present themselves outwardly while they are developing their personalities. Heck, I was even there once.

    Is bearing a shoulder or knee sinful? Is tightening your belt below your butt, at the very tail of your shirt, while passing the sacrament, correct? I don’t think so.

    At the same time, covering shoulders and belly buttons for the girls, hiking up pants and keeping the shirts on for the boys are hardly unreasonable places to set the boundaries.

    At the end of the day, without any instruction, the situation would probably get pretty bad pretty quick. Setting some boundaries isn’t as simple as preventing pre-mature sexualization of our kids.

    1) We will train our kids to dress appropriately for the situation and that some things are never appropriate. We can’t only teach them to not put excessive emphasis on attracting attention to their outward appearance, we must also train them in the practical application.

    2) Those kids who require distinct and clear instructions on what is “too far” will be served (every ward has at least one or two of these kids). Go ahead and tell the YW that they can wear ‘modest’ two piece swim suits to girls camp and one of them is going to show up reading for carnival in Rio and it is going to be a problem.

    3) Hopefully, those emotionally and/or mentally delicate youth, who are prone to develop unhealthy attitudes towards romantic relationships, will have tools to deal with at least some of their particular challenges. We all know adults who are paying the price for not being equipped to handle the romantic aspect of their lives. For the kids of these adults, see points number one, two and three. They aren’t going to learn it at home, learning it at Church may save some of them from a life full of heartache and bad situations.

  88. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think God gives a damn what any of us is wearing. Ever…“Modesty” has nothing whatsoever to do with God, it only has to do with us and our society and what groups and organizations are willing to tolerate.”

    I think I will politely disagree with this statement.

    I don’t think that, in the grand scheme of things, drinking alcohol is a big issue. However, we have counsel in our times that teaches us that avoiding it will help us.

    I do not claim that everything ever said on the topic of modesty is counsel worth taking. Indeed, it might be that most isn’t.

    Just as you can go to God, asking for counsel on what TV shows to watch, you can ask Him for guidance in dress. This isn’t between you and anyone else. (Some might say, “God doesn’t care what TV shows you watch.” I would say, “Maybe He does, have you wanted to listen enough to care?” Same with dress.)

    I don’t believe that God will give the same counsel to everyone. I think that each of us would receive the counsel that we need, for the time period and culture we are in. Some opinions expressed on the matter may be out-dated or coming from one person who has received such personal counsel, but who is trying to project their personal convictions on others.

    I think that God may indeed care what we wear. And if an individual has gone to God, inquiring any opinion of God’s on the matter, and received the answer, “Modesty is a bunch of bunk; don’t worry about it,” then I will have to learn to refrain from my skepticism.

    May we seek our own answers to this question, not trying to project on others our own expectations.

  89. #82: “I have no idea of the answer, but what is the Church policy about no shirts for guys?”

    While this is certainly not church policy by any means, I will say that the women’s cross country team at a certain church school has been told over and over that they are not allowed to wear spaghetti strap tops or tops that reveal the midriff to run in (or, at least, not get caught wearing them), and certainly NO sports bra-only runs, because apparently people in the community call the track office and complain about the lack of modesty on the women. On the other hand, the men’s team wears tight spandex shorts and no shirts without a problem.

    Again, obviously this isn’t church policy, but it seems that people have a bigger problem with college women’s chests than the men in spandex shorts. No shirts for boys seems to be okay, while girls’ shoulders, necks, and stomachs are taboo. One has to wonder about who those people are who are so disturbed by adult women running in sports bras that they actually call the university and complain.

    I’ve read BCC for a long time and never commented, obviously a good modesty debate is what was needed to pull me out of lurker-dom. I love the debates and interesting discussions on here.

  90. Welcome to the discussion, T!

  91. FWIW I am pretty hardcore basketball player and have played in Church buildings for 20 years. I have seen SP’s and Bishops lower the boom on men going shirtless in church buildings several times. Including once in Kevin Barney’s building.

  92. Martin Willey says:

    My impression is that that men and young men in the Church get occasional reminders about modesty, bare chests, etc., but it nothing compared to what the young women get. This may be a response to the objectification of women in society generally, which also far outweighs messages about men as sexual objects. I agree with Rebecca that modesty, appropriately implemented, can be a way of mitigating societal efforts to place undue emphasis on women’s bodies and appearance.

  93. Lulubelle says:

    Well, I wear sleeveless dresses to church all the time. If those in the congregation don’t like it, too bad. These are not ugly, flaunting, inappopriate beachwear dresses- they are tailored, classy, beautiful dresses that are wholly appropriate for the setting.

    And if my 9-year old in a sleeveless dress bother Confucus, that’s really disturbing. Dare I say that you sound like a pedophile.

    For distracting in church, let’s start with… screaming kids, back massages in Sacrament meeting, horrendous outfits, shoes not meant to be worn outside the home, clothing not ironed, hair not brushed… I think managing the above shows a whole lot more respect that showing a shoulder.

  94. You should report them as the sinfully immodest men that they are bbell. I mean people are being distracted!

  95. 92 don’t you think that telling women “Cover up your shoulders! Because your sex has been objectified!” Is, well, a bit of an objectification in of itself?

  96. Lulubelle says:

    Yikes, I feel really bad about calling anyone a pedophile in my last post. I really sincerely apologize. It was totally unwarranted and way out of line.

  97. Martin Willey says:

    Ronito: Did I tell anyone to do anything? I just agreed with Rebecca. Women can dress how they choose. That said, I am not sure how a rejection of objectification is itself objectification.

  98. And before someone says that “guys are just different–they are more visual,” I can attest that (at least through anecdotal evidence), men and women are not that much different from each other in this regard.

    You know very different men and women than I do.

    Each one of us is responsible for his or her own conduct. Learning to focus with some distraction is part of self control.

    This is true, but each of us is also responsible for not being a distraction to other people. Now, obviously there’s a point where it’s unreasonable to expect people to cater to your weakness for distraction, and reasonable people can disagree on where that point is, but this tendency to dismiss a man’s natural response to (what he considers) “revealing attire” as a simple lack of self-control or a neurosis that he just needs to “get over” is troubling to me. The fact that we as women try to compare it to other kinds of distractions–such as whiny children or bad hairdos–demonstrates that we don’t really understand the nature of the “distraction” at all.

    Understand that I’m not arguing that anyone’s bare shoulders are appropriately viewed as a sexual come-on. I mean, several people have rightly asked just where it’s going to end, once we start drawing all these black and white lines. I just think we could stand to be a little more compassionate, even if we ourselves don’t understand this kind of response to what we view as innocuous.

  99. Jim Donaldson says:

    Somebody’s babysitter (up there somewhere) gave the simple rule of ‘classy not trashy.’ I have daughters now 22 and 28 and that idea always worked for us.

    Sometimes fashions conspire against us. For a while it was almost impossible to buy something other than low rise jeans, pants and skirts and cropped or almost cropped shirts, and often the twain barely met. A few years ago, our stake president’s daughter, giving a short talk after having received a seminary award, spent the whole time tugging at the bottom of her shirt trying to make it reach the top of the skirt, and stay there. You can only do the best you can do. Somehow if a little sliver of tummy peeked out, we could handle it.

    The longer and layered t-shirt styles seem to have helped out a lot there.

    Most of modesty is about attitude. If you understand the principle that you aren’t raw meat on the counter and shouldn’t be advertised like you are, then you dress accordingly. It is a human dignity thing. The attitude shows in details. A t shirt worn a size or two too small takes something appropriate and turns it into ‘oh my…”

    The girl with the acrylic l.e.d.’d pumps clearly had something besides even fashion on mind. And that’s not really a modesty issue. Same with the oh so tight t shirts. whether shoulders were bare or not. That’s the point I think.

    It wasn’t really a problem for us. Treating it as a small part of life served us well. Our daughters quietly went around making intelligent compromises between fashion and appropriateness. Parents never panicked or said harsh things, just nudged a bit while it was early.

    Having said that, we’ve had a tankini or two in the house, didn’t apply endowed lady standards to teenagers, did sundresses as pre teens, and didn’t care if Barbie was naked. It’s turned out all right for us. I think overreacting to anything is dangerous, this included.

    I do understand that different families have different teaching and disciplining styles and our mellow approach may not have been effective in other families. But I still think that reasonable clothing is never the hill you want to die on.

  100. “And before someone says that “guys are just different–they are more visual,” I can attest that (at least through anecdotal evidence), men and women are not that much different from each other in this regard.”

    You know very different men and women than I do.

    Actually many scientific studies have found that there is far more “in” gender variation than there is “between” gender variation, even within our own culture. In other words, there is more difference among women or among men than there is between men and women. (See Fausto-Sterling’s Myths of Gender and Bem’s Lenses of Gender, for example.)

    I find that when men (or women) suggest that they can’t help themselves because it’s biological, they generally do so either because it benefits them, validates their personal experience or are afraid to accept the implications of a socially constructed gender rather than a biologically constructed one.

  101. In clothing there is polite dress, and effective dress. Polite dress meets the needs of the people around you*, effective dress meets your needs**. In my opinion modesty is the attempt to dress in such a way that both sets of needs are adequately met.

    *Needs such as avoiding distraction or embarrassment.
    **Needs such as comfort, freedom of movement, and expression of personality.

  102. Rebecca J says:

    Actually many scientific studies have found that there is far more “in” gender variation than there is “between” gender variation, even within our own culture. In other words, there is more difference among women or among men than there is between men and women.

    Well, I would expect that, given that we’re all individuals. I also wouldn’t expect someone to act a certain way, just as I wouldn’t condone an inappropriate behavior, simply because of the person’s gender. The broadness of “in” gender variation doesn’t preclude a distinct “between” gender variation.

    I can’t argue with anyone’s scientific study. But if the scientific study determines that actual between-gender differences negligible, it also knows very different men and women than I do.

  103. Thanks for the apology Lulubelle, (#96), I appreciate Rebecca’s comment (#98), and agree with Starfoxy (#101)

    There is some evidence that many women don’t understand men’s natural responses, either dismissing them entirely, because they don’t have the same ones, or having an exaggerated fear of them. Or both. [e.g. that’s totally innocuous, you pervert!]. What can I say? Have some perspective. Modesty is important, but not it’s all-important.

    In response to the comments regarding oversexualization vs. modesty, may I point out that female (especially sexual) images are used to sell everything from bar soap to beer to machine tools to window shades. Sometimes those images are packaged and sold directly for their own sake. It would seem to me that an emphasis on modesty is a reaction to oversexualization, and a preventative, not the cause of it. Just my $.02.

  104. We don’t apply a rule of “it must cover the garment” to our children. We do say “whatever you’re wearing, you can’t show your underwear” — because we consider that bad form (take religion out of it — it’s just bad fashion).

    We have explained the need for modesty, and our children know what fashion standards will apply when they are endowed. They also understand that there is more leeway now, should they choose to take it.

    Our 11-year-old is very modest — by her choice. When her grandmother bought her a new dress, she opted for one with sleeves over a sundress. That was her decision, knowing that we were OK with a sundress (that didn’t show brastraps). We do draw the line at sleeveless at Church. (Then again, our boys wear white shirts to Church, while I often go blue).

    At the same time, our daughter spends much of her time in soccer shorts. It’s not immodest (she likes them a little big anyway), although they don’t technically come to the knee. We’re not too worried about that. She wears them to Activity Days, and no one seems to care. (Probably because half of the girls in AD wear soccer shorts 90% of the time.)

    I’m a bit tired of hearing the canard of “when will we have a real discussion about modesty/sex/fashion/whatever at Church”. This smacks of “those evil partriarchal types in SLC are trying to hide the TRUTH from my CHILDREN” (“and ohhh, think of the children!”). Talk to your local leaders. Talk to your children yourself. I’m quite convinced that the general leadership “gets it”; it’s the parents and local leaders who don’t.

    A final thought I once heard from a bishop (who incidentally, was a big proponent of the “it’s OK, as long as you can’t see bellies or underwear when you stretch” policy): He once said that one of the biggest problems in a ward wasn’t modesty, but now different parents “judged” other parents’ interpretations of gospel standards. He was very much a proponent of “worry more about your own and a little less about theirs”. This was MORE a problem, he claimed, with the more permissive parents judging harshly the less permissive parents, than the other way around. I.e. — “that’s so stupid that your children wear sleeves on their dresses in the hot summer”. Or, “well, MY daughter is going to the prom with a senior because she’s only a week away from her 16th birthday, why can’t you let your daughter do the same?”, etc., etc., etc. He was a big proponent of allowing parents to interpret rules for their family and that other parents should butt out of the way.

  105. I have no idea of the answer, but what is the Church policy about no shirts for guys? Not at home, but I mean when they are playing basketball in the gym or when they are missionaries. Speedos? Saggy pants that show their underwear? What kinds of lessons are the young men getting about dressing modestly?

    It may be a local thing, but where I live, the young men are sent clear, direct messages that shirtless, speedos, and baggy pants aren’t appropriate. It’s may actually be the reverse of the assertion in 92.

    And with regard to the church school’s differing standard for men and women … it’s just the peculiarities of that particular church school. It’s not reflective of actual church standards (like so little of the peculiarities at that particular church school).

  106. “worry more about your own and a little less about theirs”

    I agree completely. Except I’d change it to “a lot less about theirs.”

    This was MORE a problem, he claimed, with the more permissive parents judging harshly the less permissive parents, than the other way around.

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. No one likes a bunch of squares ruining it for the rest of us. :)

    it’s just the peculiarities of that particular church school.

    Yes. We don’t apply mission rules to all other facets of life, either.

  107. Mark Brown says:

    Rebecca J,

    It is my belief that the male/female hardwiring argument isn’t very useful to us in discussion about modesty. A woman who wears her one piece swimsuit to the pool at BYU is being modest. If she goes on vacation to the beach in France the next day, she would draw undue attention to herself by not sunbathing topless. And if she continues her vacation to parts of the Middle East, she will cover up from head to toe, sometimes including her face. In all three instances, modesty is defined by her surrounding circumstances. Or do you disagree? Men in all three places would react differently to her if she adopted the modesty standard of a different place (or time). So, even if we accept that me are hardwired in some way, it just doesn’t seem to explain very much. I think the far more parsimonious explanation is that modesty is whatever a group decides is modest.

  108. Modesty has more to do with attitude than what is covered. My children wear clothes that fit properly (not too tight or too loose) without derogatory slogans. In contrast, I mended a beaded corset top that my non-member niece was wearing to prom. My 10 year old son was aghast and asked if her mother really let her wear that!! “Different house, different rules.” We have ours based on what we are comfortable with and what is appropriate for the occasion.

    I play the organ and let me tell you, I have felt true concern for some of the priests that they are going to lose their pants someday. The “waist” sits so low that it is barely sitting on the curve of their butt. No, I’m not perving over teenagers, I sew and instinctively notice things like fit. (I also notice when the men wear pin striped suits that don’t have the stripes match at the shoulders and back seams, but I am strong and don’t let it distract me for more than a few seconds.)

    I think that it is a disservice to the YM and the YW when modestly instruction is based around sexual attraction. You can be completely covered and yet body language can send all sorts of sexual messages.

    Now, my husband finds my completely modest nicely tailored 1940s type suits with the pencil skirts and medium heels to be dead sexy. I do hope that I’m not distracting all those other men at church who are trying to not to look at bare shoulders. I’ve never been eyed up by any of them that I am aware of, but then, I don’t add the extra hip wiggles, winks, and eyebrow waggles for them either.

    Everyone finds different things attractive. As for me, I’ll take french cuffs with nice links worn with a well tailored suit over a bare chest any day. It leaves so much more to the imagination. (Don’t worry, I’m not sitting in Sunday School ogling the guy sitting across the aisle. I have some control.)

  109. Rebecca J says:

    In all three instances, modesty is defined by her surrounding circumstances. Or do you disagree?

    No, I don’t disagree. Modesty and our responses to “visual stimuli” are definitely informed by our cultural expectations. As I tell my daughter, there’s nothing in the scriptures to tell us where your neckline or hemline must hit. There’s nothing magical about a certain location, just as there’s nothing magical about the age of 16 that makes you ready to date, or about the age of 8 that makes you ready for a lifetime commitment to a particular religion, or about the age of 18 that makes you smart enough to vote. Yes, there are certain developmental milestones that occur *around* certain ages, but different individuals will meet those milestones at different ages. Some lines are just arbitrary, and oh well.

    My point is not that men are hard-wired to respond to a bare shoulder or any particular body part and therefore we should cover those things. What men will respond to depends on the individual man’s proclivities, which are informed by the culture he lives in. It’s the nature of the response itself, not the stimulus provoking the response, that is the difference between men and women.

    I do think it would be more instructive for our youth if we taught about modesty as an attitude and not so much specific coverings. My experience demonstrates, I think, that even people who accept the laundry list of modest dress standards outlined in FTSOY (people like me) are going to be faced with certain contradictions and dilemmas; not every choice will be black and white because wherever one draws the line, it’s going to be an arbitrary line.

  110. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks, Rebecca J. That makes sense.

  111. We are the sort of family that allows tankini swimsuits, sleeveless dresses for church, reasonably modest shorts. My little girls dress like little girls as opposed to hookers.

    What I don’t get is the whole upper arm has to be covered bit. The neckline on the garment is so low. It appears to me that upper arm is too sexy, but cleavage apparently is not so much.

  112. Ayyyyyyy! Not this again!
    Females (and males) only need to be taught modesty around the same time they need to be taught about drugs and alcohol.
    Why all this worry? Just introduce your kids to correct principles, set a good example, and let them make their own choices.
    Women and girls have enough people telling them what to do with their bodies.

  113. “Females (and males) only need to be taught modesty around the same time they need to be taught about drugs and alcohol.”

    CRAP!! Now I need to teach my 6-year-old about modesty!

  114. IMHO, if you are using the word ‘prostitute’ or anything like it in the discussion of modesty, you’re approaching it badly.

  115. Amen, Norbert.

  116. I’m not opposed to modesty in dress. I do think, as many others have mentioned before that individuals’ interpretation of that and what is acceptable for them varies wildly. Personally I don’t think it is immodest to have ones shoulders visible. I find a plunging neckline way more immodest and I would think more distracting because right or wrong our culture has sexualised breasts considerably more than shoulders. My opinion. I agree with 104 & 106 my daughter wearing a sun dress or a dress that doesn’t go below the knees should be my family’s business. A member in my ward insists that her girls dress as if wearing garments. I disagree but as long as she doesn’t insist my daughter do the same I’m ok with her choice for her.
    I have read numerous times that men and women are wired differently, men are sexually more responsive to visual stimulation than women. I can concede that but I think it is just plain wrong to put the burden of responsibility on girls to dress in a manner to not stimulate the boys or women to distract the men. What about personal responsibility to develop and have self control?

  117. Martin Willey says:

    Lizzy: I think one of Rebecca J’s points is that that modesty actually gives women control by reducing unwanted sexual attention from men generally. Doesn’t that make modesty a matter of a woman taking at least some responsibility for how she is perceived (which to me seems fair), in addition to asking men to take responsibility for how they act (which, of course, also seems fair)?

  118. MW, I agree however I find in Church way too much emphasis is put on the YW to dress a certain way not for the appropriateness of doing so but so as not to give the boys the wrong idea(s). I would like to see it approached as a matter of responsibility to both the YW and YM.

  119. Martin Willey says:

    I agree. See my comment 92. YW are hit much harder with modesty than YM, which is unfortunate. Not to beat a dead horse, but I think YW are under much more pressure to to conform to overly sexualized images. That does not, however, mean that YM should not also be taught to dress and act with modesty. For what it is worth, I think the YM get lots of teaching on chastity, controlling thoughts, and treating women with respect.

  120. I apologize for my late reply. We recently returned home from camping in the Oregon mountains. I highly recommend it.

    A reply to # 13, cowboy:

    The fact that the temple garments were once to the wrists and ankles back in the day to me is not relavent. I live in the hear an now. For the most part, clothes which can be worn without modifying the garment will be modest. There has been some discussion regarding tight fitting clothing to which I would agree that this can be just as provocative as other styles. But, the use of the garment as a standard is still a very good starting point. I believe that the temple is the symbol of our membership, and becoming and/or remaining worthy of a recommend is something that Latter-day Saints should aspire too. One interpretation of the section on Dress and Appearance in For the Strength of Youth says as much, specifically where it states:

    Someday you will receive your endowment in the temple. Your dress and behavior should help you prepare for that sacred time.

    Martin #16:

    I apply those same principles to my son as well. It is just as important for him to be modest as it is for my daughters (and to encourage the young women with whom he will associate with to be modest as well). He is only 4 years old, so we have not many discussions about this. When the time comes, however, I will encourage him to work in the yard with a t-shirt (for modesty reasons as well as medical reasons too–he is fair skinned and childhood sunburns are the number one risk factor for melanoma and other skin cancers). If he plays a pick-up game of basketball where it is shirts and skins, and he is picked as a skin, I think it that is OK. There are many “what if” situations that could be brought up. In each, I (as do others on this board) will try to follow the spirit in applying the principles we have been taught.

  121. The teenage yeats are fast approaching for us. We hope our children will remember when they are on there own.

    I have a newsflash for you.

    When our daughters were small, we made a point of dressing them “modestly.” No sundresses. No short skirts. No tank tops. We wanted them to be accustomed to clothing that was compatable with the temple garment when they got older.

    Now they are in their teenage years. They buy their own clothes. Guess what? They wear sundresses, tank tops, and short skirts, especially when the weather is hot.

    Dressing your kids like they wear garments when they are young does not ensure that they will keep dressing that way when they are older. If anything, it may very well incline them the other way.

    We try to use that standard as a springboard into discussions about chastity, etc.

    Yes, so do we. We had a discussion about this just the other day when our youngest asked (and I quote), “Mom, why do you wear that stupid-looking underwear?”

  122. I love it when people bring real kid quotes into these discussions. Keeps us grounded.

  123. #121 Obi-wan your post made me smile. Teens can be such a challenge!! Take heart, sometimes teens like to say/do shocking things to get our goat.

    #114 Norbert and #115 Ray. My comments were for adults I don’t use words like that with my kids. Many parents have lamented over the last ten or so years the shrinking availability of truly childlike fashion for children. A lot of the fashion for little girls are not age appropriate. Conversely adults will take children’s styles and make them seductive. This is all a part of sexualizing children. For me, I think that dressing children like children is modesty.

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