Modestly played

So this past weekend I was visiting my sister, who is a Young Women leader in her ward, and she showed me this skit that they did for their New Beginnings. (I found it via a Google search. Apparently it is from Sugardoodle, but I couldn’t find a writing credit, unfortunately. Heck, I couldn’t find a title.) It is about the Value Heroes–Lady Faith, Diva Divine Nature, Individual Worth Woman (“My worth goes to INFINITY AND BEYOND!”), Queen Knowledge, Captain Choice and Accountability, Good Works the Great, Princess Integrity, and Virtue Girl–who safeguard the young women of Mutualopolis. Sadly, some dastardly villains capture the Value Heroes, leaving the poor young women of Mutualopolis at the mercy of the evil opposites of those values which have always protected them. But happily, the young women turn to the scriptures and realize that the Lord is their strength and if they live the Young Women values, they can be their own superheroes. And so the city of Mutualopolis is saved! (At least the young women are in pretty good shape. It’s an all-female play, you see. Like The Women, only without the adultery.)

I want to state at the outset that I find this skit freaking adorable. It is clever and fun and, dare I say it, empowering. Also, it provides an excuse to wear cool superhero capes, which is always a winner. In short, I love it. There were just a couple things in it that I found interesting. During the scene where the Value Heroes are off to rescue the young women of Mutualopolis, two entire superheroes–Captain Choice and Accountability and Virtue Girl–are devoted to helping the Laurels pick out modest prom dresses. This is not a criticism, just an observation. Okay, it’s also a criticism. No, it’s an observation. I am the impartial social scientist, observing that a full quarter of the superhero population is required to tackle the specter of immodest formal wear. Every other problem in Mutualopolis can be handled by a single superhero. From this observation I draw two possible conclusions:

1) Sexual modesty is the preeminent challenge for young women. Nothing else comes close to competing.

2) “Virtue” as an eighth Young Women value is kind of superfluous.

I actually think both are true, but I have officially surrendered to the fact that “Virtue” is here to stay and it’s fine and there’s nothing I could do about it even if it weren’t fine, no matter how irritating it is to me intellectually. So I’m just going to talk about the former.

My twelve-year-old daughter generally likes being in Young Women, although she also likes complaining about it. (She’s a young woman of many contrasts, what can I say?) She’s annoyed by all the talk about modesty and dating, and she especially hates the chastity lessons because she thinks they’re creepy. (“I’m only twelve, for Pete’s sake!”) That’s my daughter. Her father and I pretty much think she can suck it up and deal with this stuff because the fact is, you probably can’t run an effective youth program without talking about chastity now and again. (I understate, for effect.) The fact is, sexuality is a challenge for (most) teenagers. The consequences of sexual transgression are very serious. So the attention is fine, really. And I know that they must talk about way more than just modesty and dating in Young Women. I’ve seen the (outdated) Young Women manuals, which are probably more or less the same manuals I was taught with in Young Women, and there are only a couple lessons about chastity; the rest of it is about faith and scripture reading and boring crap like that. So I don’t know how much special emphasis the dating and modesty topics really get and how much is just my daughter’s oversensitivity to those discussions.

I was just thinking back to my own experience in Young Women. I don’t remember them talking a lot about modesty. I certainly knew what the church standards of dress were. (How else would I have managed to flout them?) I knew what a modest prom dress looked like. (Long skirt, big poofy sleeves.) I just don’t remember getting lectured on it that much. Maybe an honorable mention around prom season. Also, reminders for Girls Camp that you couldn’t wear short shorts. (This was before they started requiring girls to wear temple-garment-length shorts.) I didn’t ever go to Girls Camp, so I never had to worry about my shorts being too short. (But I didn’t particularly want to show off my fat thighs anyway, so the point was moot.) I never got the idea that wearing a tank top was some horrible sin. (And I was really grateful for that lack of horrible-sin mentality when I went to college in the humid southern U.S.)

One thing is for sure: I don’t remember ever, ever seeing articles on modest dress in the Friend. This is not to say there never were any, but if I had to bet, I’d err on the “never any” side. These days every issue of the Friend has some mention of modest dress standards. (My personal fave is the Modesty Checklist from the May 2010 issue. Unfortunately, you can’t see the accompanying artwork, which shows a group of children whose bodies are sufficiently covered. Even the dogs are wearing sweaters.) So I’m pretty sure they’ve stepped up the modesty talk in the last twenty years. I’m not privy to the inner goings-on of these secret church cabals that decide all this stuff, so I don’t know exactly what the point of all this stepping-up has been. (But I’m sure that sexualizing pre-pubescent children and their pets is only the unfortunate side effect, not the intention.) I can only imagine that immodesty is seen as the gateway drug to sexual transgression or something. Maybe it is. I don’t know. I mean, I wore sleeveless tops and short skirts for years and never got so much as a date for my troubles–which, now that I put it that way, sounds kind of desperate and sad–but there is a lot about the world of romance that I don’t understand.

I remember my Young Women leaders giving a couple lessons per year on dating and/or chastity. I found them not terribly relevant to my life because I didn’t date. (And I wouldn’t date until I was well into my twenties. And once I started dating and figured out the kind of man who was attracted to me, I would swear off dating and plan to live a life of celibacy before finally, unexpectedly meeting the sweet young man who would become my eternal companion–but that’s another story.) I didn’t date because I was kind of a freak, but in my ward it was not only the freaks who didn’t date. In my Laurel class, there was one (1) girl who dated. She was gorgeous, incidentally, in case you were wondering. Whenever our adviser would start talking about dating, all the other girls would just start guffawing. I didn’t guffaw because I was too cool to give away that I was even listening, but if I had been engaged, I would have told that woman to go lecture the Beehives because that’s who all the priests were dating. (Except for that one gorgeous girl, who never seemed to be present on the Sundays we talked about dating. She was probably on a date!) But I wasn’t going anywhere with that anecdote, just reminiscing because even though I think my daughter can suck it up and deal with the dating talk, I sympathize with her boredom.

You probably thought this was going to be “rant” of some kind, that I was going to start hating on the Modesty/Virtue “nazis,” but no. I am just an impartial social scientist making observations. Also, a narcissistic blogger strolling down memory lane for the pure heck of it. I am also someone who will probably never serve in Young Women because I wouldn’t know the first thing to tell them about dating (except that it’s pretty overrated, which they probably wouldn’t believe). As for modesty, I have a few things to say about that, but with all the indoctrination they’re receiving in Primary, I doubt there’ll be anything left for me to add by the time they’ve started growing breasts. Anyway, I am sorry that this post was not more coherent or praiseworthy or of good report, but this is just where I’m at these days. I thought I’d leave it to you folks to tie it all together in the comments section with your own reminiscences…or rants, I’m not picky. Just keep it clean because I’m only feeling a little bit dangerous today.


  1. “I have officially surrendered to the fact that “Virtue” is here to stay and it’s fine and there’s nothing I could do about it even if it weren’t fine, no matter how irritating it is to me intellectually.”

    Yeah… I’ve had several people ask about the virtuous women of Proverbs 30, only to tell them it doesn’t have anything to do with chastity.
    I can’t remember a single chastity lesson from growing up, but I’m sure we had them. Dating too, but most of us didn’t date much at all.

  2. Sorrry, Proverbs 31. Proverbs 30 has the “adulterous woman”

  3. From the “Modesty Checklist”
    • I don’t look sloppy.

    • My hair is combed.

    Yeah, well, they can come try to get all my kids ready for school in the morning.

  4. Ha!

  5. Yeah, I’m not sure I pass the Modesty Checklist myself most days.

  6. You will too serve in YW someday. We all take a turn, and just when you have to say something that you think you have nothing to say about… well, that’s where grace comes in, and you’ll find you do have something to say after all. Just sayin’

    Great post. I always like to hear about skits that work. So many don’t, on so many levels. So yay for those that do!

  7. Nor do I.
    My boys, at least, pass on this one:

    • My clothes are not saggy, torn, or holey to fit in with a style.

    Their holey clothes don’t fit in with any style, they just like to slide down the stairs on their knees.

  8. I’d just like to point out the ethnocentrism of the Modesty Checklist’s requirement, “My hair is combed.” Ever try combing curly hair? POOOF! (um, that’s the sound of hair exploding into a mass of frizz)

  9. “he (outdated) Young Women manuals, which are probably more or less the same manuals I was taught with in Young Women”

    Not more or less. They are EXACTLY the same ones.

  10. Excellent post!! I think I’d like to see this.

    I like your observation that sexual morality is preeminent in what is taught to young women. So what sorts of values are preeminent in what is taught to young men?

    Wouldn’t sexual ethics naturally proceed from a grounding in the values of honesty, integrity, self-esteem, love, generosity, forgiveness, temperance, balance, etc?

    Won’t girls with high self-esteem, who believe in integrity and being honest and self-giving love and responsibility make better choices in their relationships? Don’t people who feel trusted to make their own decisions feel less need to shake off controlling influences and do what they believe is right?

  11. Kristine, that is EXACTLY as I suspected but I didn’t know for sure.

    Carla, I have made those same points myself in the past, but that was when I was a Virtue nay-sayer, and I have since repented, except for the occasional snide remark which I disingenuously disavow in the same breath.

    jeans (6) – I technically have done a stint in YW, but it was ages ago and it didn’t work out. Probably because I’m really a crappy teacher. I never even got to the chastity lesson.

  12. So what sorts of values are preeminent in what is taught to young men?

    Also sexual morality.

    Wouldn’t sexual ethics naturally proceed from a grounding in the values of honesty, integrity, self-esteem, love, generosity, forgiveness, temperance, balance, etc?

    In a perfect world, yes. If you find yourself in a culture where all of those values are not understood to be at odds with sexual promiscuity, then there is an argument to be made that specific mention of sexual morality is warranted.

  13. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    Given what I went through trying to find a modest bridesmaid dress to wear to my sister’s wedding a few years ago and also given the dresses I saw on the girls at my husband’s school’s Valentine’s semi-formal, I think it takes two superheros to FIND a modest, attractive dress.

    I remember asking one store if they had any dresses with sleeves and they said no one made them! My sister was going to get married in October: not exactly what I think of as sleeve-less season.

  14. @ Jakob J

    I’m definitely not saying that it shouldn’t be mentioned at all. Specific mention, fine, but not mentioning much else, not so much.

    When you fixate on sexual morality and purity, you essentially create a taboo, something that becomes all the more alluring and attractive by virtue of the proscription. And, the more you talk about it, the more you are actually causing those young people to fixate on it. That’s why other religions that fixate on sexual purity turn out some of the most deviant sexual behaviors in members. The emphasis results in obsession.

    Morality education should aim at making young people morally well-rounded. There is no value this is more important than any other, because as I was saying before, they all proceed from each other.

  15. PDOE – Point taken. :)

    Jakob J – I agree that specific mention of sexual morality is warranted. In my own experience, the point was not overemphasized, but the message was pretty darn clear. My original beef with Virtue (as a YW value, not an abstract concept) was that it seemed to compartmentalize sexual morality rather than treat it as an integral part of the other values. Every single one of the original seven values can be used to teach both sexual morality and temple worthiness. If the job wasn’t getting done before, I don’t think it was due to a lacuna in the Values Rainbow. But I have resolved not to criticize Virtue anymore, so THIS IS ALL IN THE PAST.

  16. living in zion says:

    #13 –
    With having two daughters go through numerous church/high school formals, I have perfected the patterns on adding sleeves to strapless dresses, making bolero jackets to cover said sleeveless dresses and even attempted to add sleeves to a wedding dress pattern my daughter just HAD to have for her temple wedding.
    Thank goodness the Lord is merciful and I was able to talk her into loving a dress with sleeves from I was in no shape to deal with all the work involved with a wedding and then have to wrestle the modesty issue, too.
    We started our wedding dress search at David’s Bridal ( a wedding dress store for poor folk like my family) and I busted out laughing when they explained NONE of their dresses come with sleeves, but for an extra $30. they can add them. I didn’t think to ask if that was per sleeve or for both of them.

  17. When I was a teachers quorum advisor a few years ago, I was giving the chastity lesson. I wasn’t looking forward to it but decided to not pull punches and try and have as forthright a conversation (albeit one-sided) as possible. To my dismay, a general authority who lived in my ward boundries decided to sit in un-announced that week.

    Talk about upping the stakes and pressure to do the subject justice, at least according to the inspired rank & file. The lesson actually turned out okay and was less painful than I thought, and the GA offered some good points to the discussion as well. But man was glad when it was over. Hence I don’t think I will have a problem should I have to give this lesson again.

    Although it doesn’t seem appropriate for me to give this same kind of hardline lesson to my current sunday school class of 12-13 year olds, most of which are girls, so I avoid it or only mention modesty and chastity briefly if at all. BTW where I live now there is very little chance of a GA coming to my class on sunday. Whew!

  18. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    #16: many people today don’t have the skills or tools necessary to render dresses modest and though I’ve seen some specialty modest dress shops online, they run into two problems. 1) The problem of sizing. 2) Though I have seen some that are better, most of them don’t seem to understand how to stylishly add the extra coverage. They end up looking like someone tried to cross a t-shirt with a pretty dress.

    I keep thinking that I should get my sewing skills up to snuff. I could make a killing making modest dresses out here in the Mission Field. ;D

  19. Ironically, Adam Carolla once did a bit about how strange it is that women dress immodestly at formal events. That this is the infrequent time when they are supposed to dress properly, and instead they use it as another excuse to dress with as little material as possible.
    Its much funnier (and with much more coarse language), but he makes an interesting point. I wish I could find the bit to link to here.

  20. Carla/Rebecca, I think we are all in agreement, sadly.

  21. StillConfused says:

    When I was in my sister’s wedding, I just had sleeves put on the dress. Even if I weren’t “riding the g-force,” I am not built for sleeveless or spagetti strap or crap like that. My girls need their reinforcements!

  22. Just to let you know how liberal we are, Malasia (which is a muslem country) has banned valentines day because it encourages promiscuous lust.

    perhaps we could too for the same reason.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    In SS yesterday we talked about the woman with an issue of blood. When she touched one of the tassels of Jesus’ cloak, he felt “virtue” go out of him. I pointed out that “virtue” translates the Greek word dunamis (source of English “dynamite”) and means “power.”

    As Ben S. alludes to, the “virtuous” woman of Proverbs 31 doesn’t mean “modest,” but rather has to do with strength, power, warlike might, valor. The LXX renders gunaika andreian, which could be rendered “a manly woman” (that’s what a “virtuous” woman is, as the word comes from virtus “manliness,” in the sense of strength, power, courage, etc.)

    If I were a YW leader, I’d approach the “virtue” value from that scriptural perspective, not as a synonym for mere modesty.

  24. I just find the entire idea of teaching a twelve year old that having sex will send them to outer darkness kinda creepy.

    But that’s just me.

  25. I just find the entire idea of teaching a twelve year old that having sex will send them to outer darkness kinda creepy.

    I agree with you. Of course, so does 99% of Mormondom. That’s probably why one would have to embark on a grueling search both far and wide to find a YW leader teaching that.

  26. Kevin, thank you for speaking up about the historic meaning of the word “virtue.” Unfortunately, in what YW materials I have seen, and in my own experience as a woman in the LDS Church, the word is used to mean sexual purity. More the pity, for it is such a good word in its original meaning.

  27. And what’s with the issue of sleeveless prom dresses? I understand modest necklines, but I don’t know why the fuss over bare shoulders on a young woman. Maybe it’s my age. When I was a teenager, and even a student at BYU (in the early 70s), single young women regularly wore sleeveless dresses and blouses. It simply was not an issue. In fact, in my BYU official ID picture (which I have saved for posterity), I am wearing a sleeveless sweater.

  28. Kevin I love your info! I’m a little bothered by the idea that in that context power, strength, etc = masculinity. Couldn’t someone just as easily take that to mean “a good woman is one who acts like a man”?

    I’m reminded of a passage from Dracula, where Mina is being complimented as being so smart and brave, it’s like she’s a man!

    But I’m just trying to look at it from both angles. I still think you make an excellent point.

  29. 27 – FWIW, as a former teenage boy, I know for a fact that I never looked at bare shoulders and thought “Wow, those are some sexy shoulders.” So, yeah, I’m kinda with you on that.

    That being said, I do think most women’s formal wear has become laughably/ironically immodest for reasons that have nothing to do with bare shoulders.

  30. Well, B. Russ, maybe you never thought about sexy shoulders, but some folks do, apparently:

  31. You have a link for everything. =)

    But, I can agree with Nate O. My wife “looked fabulous” back when she could wear tank tops as well, but she didn’t wear things I would consider immodest, or that would unnecessarily stir up desires so to speak.

    Good pull, nonetheless.

  32. Vintage T&S is awesome.

  33. The best part of that vintage T&S thread was the vintage Steve Evans.

  34. Kevin Barney says:

    Carla, well, it’s still an ancient source, and in antiquity women were perceived as partial or imperfect men.

  35. I’m glad to know I wasn’t the only one creeped out by the modesty discussions in the Friend. I have a 4-year-old, so I’m just now reading that magazine again, and I was pretty shocked to see modesty as one of their recurring (like, almost every issue) themes. It seemed Taliban-esque to me. And yes, giving a Modesty Checklist to young children (and their pets!) does inadvertently sexualize them. Makes me think of “The Kite Runner.” Yuck.

  36. Regarding teaching chastity to younger kids. It is creepy. However at the same time both society and the media have sexualized girls at younger and younger ages. Look at some of the toys on the shelves and some of clothes these kids are exposed to. Further in more and more places their peers are sexually active. So I think we need to get those messages out.

    However it’s a tricky balancing act. You may have (especially in geographically larger and more diverse wards) kids who are completely naive and sheltered mixed in with kids who are being exposed to a lot of these stuff. How do you handle both kinds of kids? I don’t know. It makes me very glad I don’t have to teach young women. But now that I have two young daughters it also makes me worry about preparing them. Of course they are still young enough that we’re just now teaching basic modesty to them. (i.e. don’t run around naked – especially not when other people are around and make sure you close the door while going potty)

    I don’t think this is taliban type stuff either. Rather it’s just avoiding pretty explicit sexualization that’s being fed to them – often trying to turn them into “club chicks” while so young they don’t even understand what they are communicating to others.

  37. I will say this about the early modesty indoctrination: I’m pretty sure my daughter would sooner buy a pack of Lucky Strikes than wear an outfit that shows her shoulders. Well, that’s something of an exaggeration. In reality, she would sooner punch her siblings, say cruel things to other people, lie, skip class, and talk back to her parents than show her shoulders. Of course, it’s pretty easy not to show your shoulders, unless you’re going to the prom.

  38. Sorry, but the fact that the first thing on the modesty list in the Friend being no bare shoulders made me gag. Since when can’t a little kid show their shoulders? That’s weird and offensive to me! I mean, these are SHOULDERS people!!! SHOULDERS!

  39. I’ve always found that Lucky Strikes taste better when one smokes them bare-shouldered.

  40. At Wednesday night Mutual, we scouts would spy on the MIAmaids. One evening, they were trashing a white cake with garbage and dirt. We thought it was a terrible waste of cake. Turns out it was an object lesson on chastity.

  41. One thing is for sure: I don’t remember ever, ever seeing articles on modest dress in the Friend. This is not to say there never were any, but if I had to bet, I’d err on the “never any” side. These days every issue of the Friend has some mention of modest dress standards.

    I searched for references to “modest” (which I think also catches uses of “modesty”) in the Friend an aggregated them by five year periods. Here are the results:

    1971-1975: 3
    1976-1980: 3
    1981-1985: 2
    1986-1990: 2
    1991-1995: 1
    1996-2000: 5
    2001-2005: 5
    2006-2010: 13

    This seems to match your memory pretty well. There have been as many references in the past five years as in the previous 20.

  42. Here is the PDF for the May 2010 Friend.

    Click to access FR_2010_05_00___09265_000_000.pdf

    So anyone that is interested can view the graphics that go with the modesty article.

  43. Kristine (30) I have now read a good portion of the comments on that post, and two thoughts:

    1- I concede, you are correct, apparently there are some people who consider shoulders “sexy”. As well as clavicles, and other body parts. (Also, did you ever get the “clavicle implants”, and if so, how do they look?)

    2 – I want to be part of THAT bloggernacle. I always thought references to the good ol’ days of the bloggernacle were hyperbolic at best, but that thread is awesome. What happened to the bloggernacle anyway? Did Prop 8 kill it or something?

  44. It’s amazing how we talk ourselves out of valuing virtue.

  45. Aside from the fact that I think applying adult definitions of modesty to children is disturbingly sexualizing, it seems really insensitive to children in low income families. A lot of families in the church can barely afford to feed and house their children. They take whatever clothing they can afford or whatever is given to them. It may be torn, patched, baggy, or a bit tight or short. A kid might have a growth spurt and a pair of shorts or skirt might no longer reach the knees, or a shirt might show a little midriff when a kid bends over. A thoughtful neighbor might give some summer tank tops that their own kids have outgrown to a poor family that can’t afford to buy clothes. So many parents in the church can’t afford to go out and buy new clothing all the time to make sure their kids are following the checklist.

  46. Ugg…. I just looked at the “Modesty at Any Age” and “Modesty Checklist” articles in the Friend. I don’t think that showing your shoulder or the part of your leg right above your knee is disrespecting your body. This is definitely a new emphasis as illustrated by #41. I grew up in a VERY Mormon community in Idaho and all of my very Mormon friends wore sleeveless dresses to school dances. Our shorts never went all the way to our knees, and I graduated high school in 2002, so this is a very recent shift.

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