Editing photos to add cap sleeves is a bad idea

I went through a few drafts of this post trying to come up with an “angle,” or some cute pun in the title, or some way to whip it into an uproarious satire. But it’s all rubbish. Some things just have to be faced head-on, and stated plainly. So let me state this plainly:

Digitally adding cap sleeves to angels in 150-year-old devotional religious paintings is a bad idea (see here and here), and digitally altering photographs of a young girl in Primary class to add cap sleeves is a bad idea.

(links: original and altered)

I may be shouting into the wind, I may be tilting at windmills. But if nothing else I am an optimist, so I cling to the hope that this message reaches somebody who can make it stop: Stop. Please, please stop. Please stop doing this. This is madness. You don’t believe me that it is madness? Let’s continue your logic and see where it takes us:

King Noah: righteous.
Abinadi: unrighteous.

Stripling Warriors: unrighteous. Would not have been spared.

Pontius Pilate: righteous.
Jesus Christ: (Oh, I can’t even write it, not even in jest. I told you this way was madness!)

You have done enough. Please, let this come to an end now. This is a road we really, really don’t want to go down. Let us turn back now.

Update: Peggy Fletcher Stack at the SLTrib highlights the issue.


  1. Coincidentally, there is a very relevant link in our sidebar at the moment. Don’t miss this well-stated discussion of related issues in fine art.

  2. I say SHAME on anyone who looks on a lovely and innocent thing to sexualize it. And adding sleeves is doing exactly that. Perfectly innocuous shoulders suddenly become a point of sexual contention. Shame, shame, shame. Mormons need to SO get over their bodies (and appearances) and concentrate instead on their hearts and minds.

  3. cap sleeves are nothing. That little kid on the right of the picture has obviously been photoshopped in from another, more interesting lesson.

  4. Completely agree with KerBearRN.

  5. This puritanical obsession with bodies we currently have (and I do believe it’s somewhat recent, coinciding with the uptick in ‘modesty’ discourse, perhaps) efficiently and thoroughly hyper-sexualizes us as a people. When a person can look on the shoulders of an innocent child and find them something in need of covering, something has gone greatly off the rails. Cynthia is right- we need to stop. And we need to stop NOW.

    I struggled with this in my modesty post last year- once I joined the church as an adult, I was aware of bodies— in particular women’s bodies— in a way I never was prior to my conversion. I still feel it a violation, and I still resent that warped notion of modesty being thrust into my awareness.

    And yes, please– read the link Cynthia gives in comment #1 and in the sidebar. It’s relevant, and incredibly important.

  6. A thousand times YES!

    My pre-teen children wear whatever they are comfortable in. Little children like mine and the girl in the picture are incapable of being immodest. To claim otherwise is to sexualise them, which is perverse.

    You might say that you are teaching them lessons that will be useful in later life. Certainly you are teaching them a warped sense of the body. I believe that when puberty arrives it will be obvious to girls and boys that their approach to dress should change. Until then, let them have their innocence.

  7. Rick Chandler says:

    Maybe you have the order wrong–the original is the one with the sleeves, and there is some subversive web developer embedded in church HQ fighting the good fight to broaden our cultural understanding of modesty as a people.

  8. This is a Utah based illness…this obsession with cap sleeves on angels and little girls. The recent blog that talked about a child reading the Joseph Smith story and indicating the visiting angel was immodest…There are other geographic areas in the Church where this obsession does not exist and they have a much healthier view of the human form. We have a beloved family member who came from an LDS family that taught them to not even look at their own bodies. She never went swimming in a swim suit! Always with blue jeans or shorts and a t-shirt. Her parents are wonderful people but they taught this weirdness in their family. Orem based family, father on faculty at BYU. Such strange things we do.

  9. Rick,

    Maybe you have the order wrong

    Look at the second one carefully and you can see the cap sleeve is a different shade of white than the dress the little girl is wearing.

  10. This is so silly (the obsession with youth modesty, not the post) that I can’t find anything to say about it. I cannot find any resonance with this in my lived Mormonism.

  11. Christopher says:

    Please somebody, make it stop. Please.

  12. They haven’t gone far enough yet. My modest proposal is to digitally edit Johnny Lingo to put cap sleeves (and shirts too, if needed!) on Johnny, Mahana, Moki, and all the other beloved characters, except that the pre-bargaining Mahana would not have cap-sleeves in order to explicitly draw the connection between her bad self image and her immodest way of dressing! Message: immodesty is definitely a setup for a 1-cow life. After editing we could give away Johnny Lingo DVDs so that our Gentile friends could start to understand the difference between righteousness and unrighteousness and be enlightened like us. Plus Johnny’s T-shirt would feature a recent EFY slogan, an awesomely hip kind of product placement.

  13. If they want to photoshop pictures, why can’t they do something like Brother Matsby? Just adding sleeves is just so not original.

  14. I take my words back, adding sleeves is actually quite original. When I looked at the photo, I would never even thought of adding sleeves.
    So, original maybe, but totally not fun.

  15. Why must you remind me of the Carl Bloch desecration? Ugh. I want to find whoever did that and, I dunno, draw a mustache on their favorite wedding photo or something.

  16. The unaltered photo was published in June of this year. The doctored version was published in February of this year (or perhaps earlier; February is the date of the last update, but who knows when the original stock photo was taken.) I will take heart in knowing that as recently as three months ago, the unaltered photo passed muster with the photo editor of the Church News.

    I’d be interested in knowing the unknowable: Was the editing done because someone with real culture-making authority (someone in the General Primary presidency, or an apostolic adviser, say) reviewed the material and requested a change because she or he actively objected, or because some low-level page-designer or supervisor made the change thinking (rightly or wrongly) that higher-ups would object and said low-level functionary was being hypervigilant? Once the editing was done, no reviewer would have been aware of the alteration to say it was unnecessary.

  17. The only problem with this post, Cynthia, is that your examples of pictures we’d have to change should the madness continue are all male. The already photoshopped pictures focus on female modesty, correct? I don’t think the people doing this are worried about the brauny chests of male heroes. We all know modesty is really about the sensual nature of the female form. For real, the more sinister part of this campaign is that it oh so subtly attacks women and girls.

  18. Well put, Cynthia.

  19. We had the church media dept filming our primary last month. I wonder if any of the footage will be used because we had a number of girls in sleeveless dresses and in short skirts with leggings (including the Primary President and YW President’s daughters).

    I heartily recommend reading the article in the side log about the artist and nudity. My first exposure to the naked adult male body was in my college figure drawing class (I’m female- and LDS my whole life). The experience wasn’t sexual or shameful, he was just there. No big deal, grow up and start sketching. The female nudes were the same way. My parents wouldn’t let my brother take the same class (he actually asked, I didn’t) but I think they missed an opportunity to let him see the female body in a desexualized context. The human body is not bad or immoral, it is just there, and it is beautiful in all it’s imperfection.

    I wish I knew a better way to push back against this hyper-modesty rhetoric than commenting on a blog. My ward seems healthy, but I still hear about things like no shorts at Girl’s camp… In August… In the desert… Any ideas?

  20. What no comments on the overuse of the saturation tool? The sleeve is at fairly well done. The first thing you notice on looking at the picture is someone relies a little too much on curves and saturation. When will it stop?

  21. The fact that somebody, somewhere thought it was necessary to alter the image seems to contradict the opening paragraph of the excellent Church News article: “‘I love to serve in Primary!’ Those are often words we hear from brothers and sisters all over the world. Our first response is always ‘Tell me why.’ They smile when they talk about how they have come to love each individual child as they see them for who they are and what they can become. That is the secret to enjoying Primary!” (emphasis added)

    This obsession with how people dress is out of control.

  22. Sunny, FTW.

  23. Sharee Hughes says:

    I heard a story once–don’t know how true it is–about one of the church presidents (Pres. Kimball, I believe, but I could be wrong) watching a parade with a friend. As some cheerleaders marched by in their very short skirts, the friend remarked about their immodesty and Pres. Kimball replied that he had only noticed their sweet spirits. I read Kirk Richards’ blog and agree with him. The human body should not be looked at as something sexual. I attended a figure drawing class once at the University of Hawaii, and there was nothing sexual about the models (one was an old woman). And how ridiculous to add cap sleeves to a little girl’s dress. Little girls–and teens, too, wear sleeveless dresses and blouses all the time. It is only after we receive our endowment and begin wearing the garment that we need to worry about sleeves. We sexualize people by ascribing to them an immodesty that does not exist. Modesty is actually an attitude, not a state of dress (or undress). A woman can wear a long-sleeved, floor-length turtle-neck dress and be immodest.

  24. I with Ardis (no. 16). If it was a rule decreed from on high, the first photo would not have appeared. The alteration for the second publication was likely (hopefully?) from a low-level contributor trying to do good. Even so, I agree with the general sentiment that there is no sin in sundresses for little girls. And i don’t understand the insistence by some that there is.

  25. It is times like this that I feel genuinely scared about raising my children in The Church. I do not want them to feel ashamed of their shoulders, or elbows, or knees. It is just ridiculous. I too wish they would stop altering art or photography to fit some myopic view of what constitutes modesty. The implications of what Cynthia says in her post are absolutely true. By demonizing angels without cap sleeves we say some pretty indecent and blasphemous things about Christ himself. I grew up Catholic. In the Church I attended there always has been (since the 1700’s) and still is a massive crucifix with Christ on it wearing a only a linen covering around his lower body (legs exposed) and a crown of thorns. How anyone could ever think such a thing is immodest is beyond me, but by adding cap sleeves all over the place, or even removing wings this is what they are saying.

  26. I’m just scratching my head wondering how they let the boy on the right into primary when he is clearly not wearing a tie. Seriously immodest. How can we expect boys to know that ties are expected if we do not insist they wear them from the day they enter nursery?

  27. I’ve got to think that somewhere, at some point in this craziness, there was a good intention. Like, they saw some of those Baby Bratz dolls at the store and were justly horrified, and couldn’t see the difference between the hyper-sexualized dolls and the actual children. They’re both wearing sleeveless tops! Danger!

    There are areas in which people really are sexualizing children, but lack of cap sleeves ain’t it.

  28. Oh, and the boy in the middle’s shirt appears to be a little wrinkled. The editorial staff should also touch that up. We don’t want mothers thinking they can bring their kids to church in shirts that were not pressed that morning.

  29. Going off of another definition of “immodest” I think it’s indecent that the church uses this photo of African women to advertise whatever they wish. See here and the bottom of ch. 6 of Daughters in My Kingdom here. And I thought I had seen the same photo with the women “holding” photos of the First Presidency, but am not remembering where. Disturbing.

  30. Last one. I promise. The blackboard was evidently erased, but not washed. Who does that ward have in charge of building cleanliness? Pig-pen from Peanuts? Totally not the image we should be conveying to the world. Photoshop can easily fix that error too.

  31. Thank you, JET. I was actually looking for that example to include in the post, because I remembered seeing it, but couldn’t find the writeup immediately. Thanks for adding it here. In addition to the modesty issue in the editing examples above, editing these kinds of semi-candid photos of church members for ANY reason has something really creepy about it.

  32. JET (no. 29) — Wow! or, Oh No! Good intentions, maybe, with poor editorial supervision.

  33. Yeesh, JET, the photoshopping on that is HORRIBLE! I wonder what they were really holding originally?

  34. Hey! You know what demonstrates respect for women? Making them the interchangable backdrop of whatever issue you happen to be pushing at the moment. Nothing shouts respect like reducing folks to clip art.

  35. Thanks for the timing update, Ardis. It’s good to know the first picture was used after the edited one.

    Having said that, I agree completely with the point of this post – and the linked post about art and nudity is excellent. We have to prune away the warped sense of modesty that is so prevelant in the Church right now. The fact that it’s totally cultural is obvious, since it wasn’t this way throughout the first 130+ years of our modern church history.

  36. So glad you tackled this. Perhaps someone will think about these kinds of adjustments in a more clear-headed way.

  37. I think some of us are being hyper sensitive on the issue of modesty. I agree we should not be altering works of art or other parents decisions on their children’s attire however this modesty/sleeves discussion is starting to be just as judgemental as you claim those on the other side of the fenceare. I wear a swimsuit for modesty. Even outsife the church in homes, schools, and by government regulations, what the bathing suit covers is considered ‘private parts’, which should not be displayed or shared (excepted when one is involved in some type of intimate relationship.) Again, I wear a swimsuit for modesty. I waer sleeves to cover my garments. My children wear sleeves because it is consodered appropriate attire and so that they will be comfortable when it comes time for sleeves to always be required. They also wear shoes whenever we leave the house, even before they can walk. That way, when they can walkand shoes become necessary for protection, there is never a question they will wear them.

  38. Katherine your knowledge of what governments require is off. Here in NY it is legal for women to go topless. What you wear and what your children wear are your business but they have no bearing on the coulds, woulds, and shoulds of others.

  39. Accusing the other side of being too sensitive by suggesting that they are fighting against wearing shoes outside or covering up private parts is postmodern-performance-art-level ironic. Is it even possible to imagine a more telling example of obsessive, paranoid, over-sensitivity to modesty questions than the actual examples in the original post?

  40. Mark Brown says:

    Standards are standards, people, and they need to be enforced at all costs.

    Just go to google images and look up BYU womens’ basketball. Right there at the Lord’s university you’ll see photo after photo of women brazenly flashing their shoulders, clavicles, and thighs to all and sundry. It is impossible to even know how many young men have had their dreams of a mission thwarted by these Jezebels who insist on exposing their private parts to tout le monde.

  41. Katherine, I’m going to imagine you’re a friend who sits next to me in RS on Sunday, and try and point out as diplomatically as I can a few places your argument is flawed.

    Equating public nudity with the the idea of an innocent child or young adult wearing clothing that does not comply with garment-wearing is comparing apples and oranges. As adults, we exercise our agency by choosing to go to the temple and choosing to wear the garment, and choosing to honor the promises made therein. Children have made no such promise, and are not bound- indeed, it’s not possible for them to be, in our doctrine tells us anything. Superimposing our own adult choices on them is a violation of their ability to someday make those choices themselves.

    On a more practical note, the strawman of “someday this will be required and it should be normal when it is…” is akin to always placing a son in a white shirt and tie, because someday he will serve a mission. When (and if) one is ready, mature enough and able to take on the mantle of that responsibility, then those choices in dress will be naturally made.

  42. On a serious note, I did some research that leads me to believe this is not the result of a wide-spread policy. The church’s website has a set of stock images that are available for use by church members. From what I can gather, these are mostly recent images. They include children at play, in portraits, and in other settings. Important to this discussion, many of them include girls who do not wear sleeves:







  43. It would be one thing if it was a photo of a naked person and they photoshopped on a swimsuit to make them modest (ridiculous for different reasons- then the question would be, why use a picture of a naked person to begin with). Or selecting photos that only have super-modest models. But finding an otherwise acceptable photo and pinpointing the shoulders as being important enough to edit sends a very specific message that little girls’ shoulders need to be covered- not as an ideal, but as a requirement. She was not acceptable enough until the cap sleeves were added.
    Nothing about that girl’s dress is immodest by any but the most extreme standards- worst case scenario, 20 years from now when she gets her endowments out she has to adjust to wearing cap sleeves, assuming she hasn’t already. Why are we pushing a low-importance ideal as a standard for acceptance?

    For what it’s worth, as a completely snarky/irrelevant side note, most childhood development specialists agree, for pre-walking and learning-to-walk infants and toddlers to go shoeless as much as possible; it makes learning to walk much easier as they adjust to the sensations their feet feel and is better for the development for their feet. Aside from to keep feet warm in cold weather, it’s ideal for little ones to be shoeless.
    And here why I thought being so nitpicky would be relevant: Which is better, setting a universal standard and adhering to it so no one is ever confused about how/when to apply standards or has to make adjustments as situations change, or applying standards as it makes sense, taking into account the principal behind the standard, and the unique situation (and when needed, praying about it)?

  44. #37: “I think some of us are being hyper sensitive on the issue of modesty.”

    Katherine, I couldn’t agree more!! Whoever thought it was worth the investment of time to open up this lovely, 100% wholesome photograph in Photoshop, to painstakingly add cap sleeves to an adorable, appropriately-dressed child, was most definitely being hyper sensitive on the issue of modesty.

  45. Meldrum the Less says:

    Cynthia and Company:

    This last weekend the cesspool city of the South (Atlanta) hosted Dragon Con. About 40,000 people pay thousands of dollars to travel and stay in expensive hotels in order to attend dozens of events like “Alice’s Steamy Mad Tea Pool Party.” From my born-and-raised-on-the-Wasatch-front perspective, it is unfathomable, far beyond an excuse for a bunch of truly peculiar people to have Halloween early. I stand all amazed at the costumes. (Google images “Dragon Con” if you don’t know what I mean).

    You know the young lady who is so bizarre that everyone avoids her and she is not all that physically attractive in the first place and she doesn’t improve the situation by showing too much skin? Take that to near the limit. Mix in creepy guys of the same ink. (I probably can’t describe it anatomically without getting kicked off the blog). Sufficient to say these are not professional models but normal appearing people of all adult ages with odd bumps and imperfections displaying more than enough juggle and heiny to go around and it isn’t appealing in the least. Rather revulsion and heading for the hills is suggested.

    Oddly this convention is centered in the typicaly respectable Marriott Hotel. Even more shocking is that several LDS families in the Stake with teenagers attend every year and participate to a degree although not to excess. A few residual artifacts such as purple hair remain to spice up testimony meeting. These youth get more than an eyeful and an education in the ways of indecency. Unavoidably the human body is completely desexualized and I suppose this acts as a counterbalance to the excesses they are exposed to at church.

    Rather than sitting around with Ardis hoping to know the unknowable and wringing blogging hands, I suggest that perhaps as an antedote a Mormon version of Dragon Con might be organized, to be held at BYU Marriott Center. The first year a few brave souls could dress up and 21,000 spectators could fill the seats and be shocked observing them. After a few years we might have Sheri Dew’s Steamy Mad Tea Pool Party.

  46. May as well teach diapered infants the “correct way” to hang toilet paper since they will have to know it later and it will be easier for them to adjust. While you’re at it, bust out that college-level algebra book as well.

  47. It staggers the mind to think that there is someone on the church magazine committees that is concerned with this, let alone someone oxidizing cap sleeves on little girls. I think it is an unhealthy and obsessive view of the human body and the innocence of youth.

  48. *photoshopping

  49. The even creepier aspect of adding a cap sleeve is that the original photo, though the intellectual property of the Church, is of an actual historical situation: Tasha Wagner with her class. This isn’t a stock photo shoot irrespective of time and place, but a real situation that has been altered. We’re messing with history now not just perceptions of appropriate child, angel, and Savior dress.

  50. I think you are looking at this in the wrong way. I think the purpose behind adding the sleeves is not because the girl is “sexualized,” but instead adding the sleeves sets a standard of what young girls (and boys) should seek throughout their lives — to dress modestly. I don’t know of a magic number for an age when a child goes from being a child who can wear cute outfits to an young adult who could dress more modestly. Better to teach children from a young age to respect their bodies than to confuse them at some arbitrary point later in life by saying — “OK, now it’s time to be modest.”

  51. I think Sunny in #17 made a really valuable point.

  52. #50/CP-
    The question is, what is modesty? Is it the covering of questionable skin? Or is it a respect for the body, and being careful about what messages you send with what you wear? If shoulders were inherently immodest, every swimsuit I’d ever owned would need to be thrown out. But mere bare shoulders while swimming sends an appropriate message and isn’t seen as suggestive or immodest. It isn’t the shoulders that make a tiny tank-top on a grown women immodest, it is the message she is trying to send to the world about her body and what she wants people to pay attention to.
    I will teach my daughters (and sons) at all ages that what you wear sends a message, and you want to send the message that you respect your body. My 1-year-old wears strappy sundresses. The message she is sending? She’s 1, she’s cute, it’s hot, and clothing is mostly for cuteness/social convention at this point anyways. As she grows, it will be an on-going conversation. There is no arbitrary point where modesty becomes important- it is always important. What changes is how different clothing sends different messages at different ages (and, at one point, the covenant to keep garments covered).

  53. CP, I agree that it is good to dress appropriately at any age. I just don’t think that there is any non-Taliban POV from which that girl was not dressed appropriately and modestly. She was not dressed in such a way as to cover the garment, but that isn’t *quite* the same thing as having not been dressed modestly. Is Ann Romney immodest in this photo, or is she simply unendowed? http://images2.dailykos.com/i/user/151025/Mitt_Romney_and_Ann_when_they_were_poor.jpg I think telling someone “OK, now it’s time to be endowed” is a perfectly reasonable thing to say.

  54. CP,
    This isn’t teaching young girls to treat their bodies respectfully; this is teaching them to treat their bodies as intrinsically pornographic.

  55. Tod Robbins: Same thing could be said regarding the photo of the African women: “This isn’t a stock photo shoot irrespective of time and place, but a real situation that has been altered. We’re messing with history now.”

    Makes me wonder if these women signed any forms allowing their images to be altered in any way the church saw fit. Isn’t it illegal to use someone’s image to promote messages of advertising without their consent? Does it matter if you are selling an actual product or a religious idea?

  56. JET you’re absolutely right. I did track down the photo release for the create.lds.org campaign, which I would guess is similar to a form a church department might use: http://www.lds.org/bc/content/shared/content/english/pdf/create/participant-release.pdf?lang=eng

    Particularly interesting is this statement:

    ” I also authorize IRI to copyright, adapt, edit, translate, summarize, reproduce, perform, display, distribute, publish, license, sublicense, sell, broadcast, post or stream over the Internet, and otherwise use and allow others to use any and all parts of the Recordings, forever and throughout the world, in any and all manners, and in any and all forms of media that IRI believes suitable.”

    So in short: yes, you give IRI permission to alter your photo any way they see fit. At least in this agreement.

  57. And even if there are no legal issues, it certainly raises moral questions.

  58. I’d like to amend that to “IRI can adapt my photo as they see fit but only if they don’t do a really crappy job in photoshop”.
    At least the pic in the OP is well done. The African Women one is horrible. As someone who has spent a lot of time in photoshop, I’d be more offended by that the quality than by the church pretending I was holding something different than I was.

  59. Tracy: I totally agree. Or should we say ethical questions?

    Jenn: Ahahahaha!

  60. I would assume that the church has dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s when it comes to making sure they have the right to edit these photos, in the narrow legal sense. But in choosing to exercise that right without leaving any trace of having done so, they are messing with history. It’s a shame. We as a people usually have such an admirable obsession with record-keeping, journaling, organizing, and meticulously maintaining history. Ardis’ superlatively interesting Keepapitchinin church history blog often features a photograph as documentary evidence. Fascinating little details that sometimes have little to do with the overall “point” of the picture, originally, can make all the difference to asking questions modern historians have. What will future historians do, when those details from our photos today might not even be real?

  61. *asking questions -> answering questions

  62. Just to clear up one point; cap sleeves on little girls is NOT because their shoulders are sexual. That idea is even more absurd than putting cap sleeves on angels.

    It comes from well-meaning (and possibly misguided) parents trying to determine when modesty begins. Is it after puberty? Is it only when bodies (and body parts) have been developed? To avoid the potentially awkward gray area of this approach, one school of thought says modesty begins from birth. Mormons may have weird practices, but they aren’t pedophiles.

  63. The problem with your statement, CP, is that you’re positing that a young girl with a sleeveless top is immodest. Otherwise your “now it’s time to be modest” is meaningless.

    But to suggest that she is immodest is beyond ridiculous. (In my opinion, it’s also beyond ridiculous to suggest that a woman wearing the same top is immodest.)

    It’s time we got over the notion that “modest” is necessarily tied to “appropriate for the endowed woman.” Women and men can be perfectly modest, even if their clothing does not cover all the places that garments would cover. If you’ve been endowed, though, you’re under covenant to wear the garment. And I think that means wearing clothing that will cover it. Besides, I just don’t think it’s appropriate to run around in public with your underwear hanging out.

  64. I’m doing my part to stop the madness by tearing the sleeves off all my white shirts. I will not rest until the BYU Honor Code includes a clause requiring male students to keep their shoulders clean shaven.

  65. * endowed woman -> endowed person

  66. I agree it was unnecessary alter the photo this way, but at the same time it baffles me how people are reacting to this as if it is a “canary in the coal mine” in it’s significance. Since we have no knowledge of who or why this change was made, might it not be a little more charitable to give whomever it was who did this the benefit of the doubt? It is probably safe to assume they didn’t think someone would notice the alteration, so acting as if they were intending people to notice the alteration strikes me as paranoid.

  67. Nathan, fine, begin modesty at birth. That girl’s dress still isn’t immodest. It is totally modest. Having kids be modest from birth and thinking that girl is fine are not mutually exclusive. Thinking they are mutually exclusive is, well, perhaps if not making a person a pedophile at least making them a crazed Taliban person.

  68. Kcreader, who is “acting as if they were intending people to notice the alteration”? What does that mean? If I wanted to “give whomever it was who did this the benefit of the doubt,” what do you suggest I assume about them? Give me one plausible narrative that explains how this could have happened in a reasonable way, or that makes this a good idea. I honestly can’t think of one.

  69. This really comes down to the fact that many mormons tie modesty directly to the amount of skin shown. We’re missing the forest for the trees. No one is saying “let children be immodest”. We’re saying “that girl IS modest, because bare shoulders on little girls are not immodest”. By covering them up, we are implying they are immodest, which implies there is something suggestive or inappropriate about her completely sexless shoulders.
    I’m sure the person who suggested/did the editing is a good person, with great intentions. I am not attacking them.
    Rather, I’m saying the entire church needs to re-approach modesty, where we are focusing on the principal of self-respect and carefulness in the messages we send to others, instead of this lower-law approach of “bare shoulders are inherently offensive”.
    They may have assumed no one would notice the difference and therefore didn’t think of the message they were sending (but doesn’t this blog disprove that idea?). But the fact this is a growing trend IS noticeable- if bare-shouldered little girls suddenly disappear from church media, we’ve narrowed the already-narrow ideal even further.

  70. Some of these comments are more about the knee-jerk reaction to defend the church at all costs in all things, discernment be damned.

  71. Very well said, Jenn.

  72. Let me explain the scenario I think happened regarding the little girl’s shoulders. From what I understand this photo was up on the primary site sans cap sleeves for awhile. Someone (or a few someones) noticed the “lack of modesty” and sent feedback to the site administrators. Those running it decided that for many reasons (the fact that the photo really quite nicely depicts a loving relationship between a teacher and her students, it shows our diversity, and the look on the little boy’s face is priceless) to keep the photo but just put on sleeves since it also fits the recent emphasis on modesty and covering shoulders within the Primary curriculum and the Friend. A designed worked extra hard to make it completely believable and they put it over the other photo. They figured no one would notice the difference and it would stop bothering people who found it “immodest” in the first place. Win-win.

  73. What I mean is that this alteration was done on an obscure photo, not a well known work of art. I’m guessing that they weren’t aware it had been used previously in the Church News (a benefit of the doubt, can you refute this guess?), and in a well-intention but misguided effort, decided to alter it. I agree this was dumb, but I don’t see the need to assume this was done with malicious intent, or based on some policy that goes past the person who did it.

  74. I’d much rather those administrators said “hm, we’re getting feedback about the little girl’s shoulders being immodest. Maybe we should feature an article soon on what modesty really means, since apparently a few people just don’t get it and are focusing on the wrong part of it”. Maybe they go so far as to change their push in the Friend (don’t even get me started on that) so that bare shoulders aren’t the hot item, but rather self-respect and the message our clothing sends to others.

    Everyone comes out with a “higher-law” view of modesty, and no one has to waste time photoshopping and perfectly beautiful and modest little girl. Win-win.

  75. Another corollary to the point that this was an actual unstaged photo: if I were the girl’s parent and happened to see the photoshopped version, I’d be hurt by the implication that my child (and the clothing I chose for her) isn’t good enough for the Church just the way she is.

  76. I heart Jenn.

  77. Thanks Tracy and Cynthia. Apparently I have a few opinions on the subject;)

  78. Kcreator, again, who is assuming this was done with “malicious intent”? What does that mean, can you give me an example of somebody saying this was done with “malicious intent” or doing that? I can’t stop doing what you think I’m doing unless I understand what it is you think I’m doing. When I think of an example of assuming malicious intent, the only thing I can think of would be somebody saying, “I bet the guy who photoshopped this wanted to crush that girl’s spirit and make her cry, because I bet making little girls cry is his favorite thing!!” NOBODY IS SAYING that the church photosopper loves doing whatever he can to make girls cry. So what you are talking about then??

    The only point I’m making is that editing photos to add cap sleeves is dumb. You agree. So why do you keep wringing your hands and scolding us??

  79. Also, why does it matter whether whoever did this thinks anybody would notice. Even if nobody ever noticed, it would still be an incredibly stupid waste of time, based on a totally misguided and overly Pharisaic understanding of the concept of “modesty.”

    Put it this way, Kcreater, if I worked at the church and I went around photoshopping socks on every naked ankle that appeared in any photo because I felt ankles were too sexy and immodest, would it matter one tiny bit whether anybody ever noticed that I’d done it? Would that change the fact that doing it was colossally stupid thing to do? Would that somehow make it ok? No. HECK NO. So why do you keep bringing up that it was an obscure photo? What is your point? Do you really believe this was a smart move, if only they hadn’t been caught? Really?

  80. So none of the comments in this discussion imply malicious intent on the person who added the sleeves? I guess to me calling the act sexualization of innocence, Talibanesque, or teaching girls to view their bodies as pornography to be attributing malicious intent to the photoshopper.

  81. No, it’s about the intent of our church culture in accepting this kind of thing as okay- or even desirable! It’s conflating the word *modesty* to have everything to do with clothing, and nothing to do with its real meaning.

  82. it's a series of tubes says:

    Also, why does it matter whether whoever did this thinks anybody would notice. Even if nobody ever noticed, it would still be an incredibly stupid waste of time, based on a totally misguided and overly Pharisaic understanding of the concept of “modesty.”

    This. Exactly this.

  83. When someone does this to a work that they know people are familiar with, I think you can assume it was meant as criticism. When someone does this to what they might have thought was a generic stock photo, I don’t think it is as easy to understand their motives.

  84. It’s not malicious if they think they are doing it for righteous, well-intentioned reasons. (Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say talibanesque, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the taliban started with this lower-law view of modesty, taken to an extreme).
    I’d maybe go with “not well-thought-out” or “misguided” instead of “malicious”. Wrong, either way, but I don’t see it as malicious. I certainly don’t think the sexualization of innocence was intentional, but it is a side effect all the same- by covering it up, you are implying it NEEDS covering up. Even if the reason is “someday those shoulders will need to be covered up, might as well start now”, that means you are already looking at this little sweet girl and thinking ahead of when she will be a sexual woman who needs to cover up. It’s not intentional or malicious, but that’s where this line of thought and action goes.

  85. It’s not attributing conscious malicious intent, it is describing harmful effect.

    For that matter, the Taliban genuinely think they are acting with the best of intentions. Doesn’t mean what they’re doing is harmless.

  86. So, Kcreader (83), what do you think about the cap sleeves added to the Bloch angels?

  87. “Even if the reason is “someday those shoulders will need to be covered up, might as well start now”, that means you are already looking at this little sweet girl and thinking ahead of when she will be a sexual woman who needs to cover up. It’s not intentional or malicious, but that’s where this line of thought and action goes.”

    Jenn, Cynthia, Tracy, anybody else who believes that a social convention of sleeved tops for girls implicitly sexualizes them — I think you’re wrong, as no doubt you think I’m wrong when I say that no, it really doesn’t (though I don’t fully subscribe to the line of thought quoted). I’m wondering, on what basis could we decide the question? It’s an interesting one: do all community norms in fact imply an opposite subtextual meaning simply by virtue of implicitly suggesting an alternative, or just the issue with sleeves? What kind of evidence or grounds could you or I supply for our respective claims? I’m going on a gut feeling, and it seems that you are too. How could we make it a more rigorous discussion?

  88. Or what do you think of the 15th and 16th century desecration of some pieces of fine art because they showed the nude body? One example, of many: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Expulsion_from_the_Garden_of_Eden

    We roll our eyes and groan and the loss of masterworks being tainted by then-contemporary standards. Taking the long view, we are no different.

  89. I think the cap sleeves added to the Block angels was stupid desecration. However, I disagree in this case of the primary manual photo that the effects will be harmful. Unless people are already familiar with the original photo, they won’t know that the alteration was made. How will they get the message that the original photo was considered immodest if they aren’t even familiar with it? Are you expecting people to subconsciously notice that the cap sleeves were added? I don’t agree that it was warranted, but how are you so sure this is going to have a harmful effect?

  90. Rosalynde, if you can tell me that in your heart of hearts believe that that girl was immodest in the original–so immodest that it was worth somebody’s time to painstakingly photoshop edit her–I’ll delete this whole post right now.

  91. It’s not about the #$%& cap sleeves! It’s about the overall trend that little girls need to dress as endowed women!

  92. Oops. Bloch I meant. If you read my earlier comments you would realize I don’t think art should be desecrated.

  93. Someone please explain how this specific photo in a Primary manual is going to have a harmful effect.

  94. But that’s just it- it ISN’T a community norm. After all, this little girl wore a sleeveless dress to church. The photo-shopping wasn’t just going along with the status quo, it is proposing a change to something that is currently the norm for many. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” This isn’t us being up at arms about a photo featuring a girl with a sleeved dress- that wouldn’t really be notable or objectionable, would it? It is the fact that someone thought the sleeveless dress needed fixing, presumably because it was immodest.
    It isn’t the “community norm” that is the problem (except for a few extreme cases, I don’t think many people care if little girls wear sleeveless dresses to primary), it is the idea that the bare shoulders needed fixing. I have yet to hear an argument about why her bare shoulders NEEDED covering, or any reasoning behind calling bare 7-year-old shoulders immodest that doesn’t rest on the current or future sexualization of those innocent little shoulders.

  95. Im amazed at the comments which suggest that somehow a sun dress becomes more and more immodest with age. Is it possible that it’s never immodest and we should stop worrying about how women choose to clothe or not clothe themselves.

  96. For the record, if the church took a semi-candid photo of a sacrament meeting, and in the part of the crowd that is framed in the photo was a woman wearing a dress like the one Ann Romney was wearing in the link I put above–in other words something completely modest yet not garment-accomodating–I would think it was stupid to photoshop sleeves on her as well. Even though she’s a peak beauty/peak sexuality woman, not an asexual child. Editing photos of totally modestly dressed people to add cap sleeves is stupid, stupid, stupid.

  97. Ah, J Madson beat me to the same point.

  98. I don’t think a sundress inherently becomes less modest as a woman ages, but I do think there is something to be said about “worrying about how women clothe themselves”. Not worrying about OTHER women, but ourselves. As a shorts- and tank-top wearing adult female, I’m the last person to prescribe rules across the board. But yes, there is a principle of modesty that is worth thinking about and teaching at all ages: self-respect and putting thought into how what you wear and how you carry yourself sends a message to those around you and can change how you feel about yourself. That message is NOT sundresses or bare shoulders or actually any part of the nude body is inherently sexual or offensive in all contexts.

  99. LOL, Cynthia, maybe I should leverage my influence… Will you send me cookies in additions to deleting the post if I affirm that she’s immodest? ;)

    Of course she’s not immodest without the sleeves, and I don’t think anybody defending the altered photo in this thread (which I don’t, by the way) has suggested that she is. My girls wear sleeveless things all the time, including occasionally to church. The argument I have some sympathy for is the argument from consistency: rather than adding a new layer of difference and restriction on adolescent girls or newly married women, both of whom are at sexually vulnerable places in the life cycle, why not just put reasonable norms in place from early childhood? Maybe your response is that sleeves are not a “reasonable norm,” and that it intrudes too egregiously on the self-expression or comfort of girls. I also disagree with this argument, though I think it’s one on which reasonable people can differ. Regardless, it doesn’t seem to be the one made in this thread.

    Instead, the answer to that question from your side seems to be: because encouraging young girls to cover their shoulders actually makes them less modest by “sexualizing” their shoulders, presumably because the sleeve somehow implies its opposite, that the shoulder beneath is naked and desirable. This is the assertion that interests me, both because it feels wrong to me and because if it’s true it has really fascinating implications for the way that culture and social norms work. I’m genuinely interested in hearing a reasoned argument for that claim.

  100. Rosalynde, would an apostle speaking on the principle of modesty—the clear moral imperative underlying the emphasis on having increasingly young girls cover their shoulders, navels, and thighs—and expressly admonishing adolescent girls that by not covering up they become “living pornography” to the males around them count as evidence?

    Combine that with an obsessive discourse that conceptually aligns pornography with plagues, contagion, cancer, and virulent unmitigated evil, and the result is positively noxious. Not all community standards are created, enforced, or reinforced equally. Especially given the wider culture which irrefutably hyper-sexualizes increasingly young female forms, I think the idea that our discourse of body modesty doesn’t sexualize girls’ bodies is just honestly indefensible.

  101. I saw a movie once at church about Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden. They had bare shoulders. Actually, I’ve seen that movie hundreds of times. Maybe these busybody photoshoppist pharisees can get to work lobbying the church to have that movie re-done with the characters all wearing dickies with epaulets.

  102. Also, in support of what Brad said, didn’t Ziff at ZD’s chart the use of the word “modest” in our discourse over the last 30-50 years? It was interesting to say the least, IIRC.

  103. Consistency is _exactly_ the source of the sexualization, because it creates continuity between the norms in question for different age groups, an identification between the reasons for covering 8-year-old (FEMALE) shoulders and covering 15- or 25-year-old (FEMALE) shoulders, where the connection between the female form and sexuality (read: pornography) is much, much more explicit.

  104. Rosalynde: “Central to the command to be modest is an understanding of the sacred power of procreation, the ability to bring children into the world. This power is to be used only between husband and wife. Revealing and sexually suggestive clothing, which includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, and shirts that do not cover the stomach, can stimulate desires and actions that violate the Lord’s law of chastity.” from http://www.lds.org/topics/modesty.

    Now you’ll notice that covering shoulders is not in that list, however it is in similar lists like FTSOY: “Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner. Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back.” https://www.lds.org/youth/for-the-strength-of-youth/dress-and-appearance?lang=eng

    And in Elder Hales address “In everyday living, immodest clothing such as short shorts, miniskirts, tight clothing, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and other revealing attire are not appropriate. Men and women—including young men and young women—should wear clothing that covers the shoulder and avoid clothing that is low cut in the front or back or revealing in any other manner. Tight pants, tight shirts, excessively baggy clothing, wrinkled apparel, and unkempt hair are not appropriate. All should avoid extremes in clothing, hairstyle, and other aspects of appearance. We should always be neat and clean, avoiding sloppiness or inappropriate casualness. Modesty is at the center of being pure and chaste, both in thought and deed.” found here: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2008/08/modesty-reverence-for-the-lord?lang=eng

  105. Brad, that was a loathsome turn of phrase, and thank heavens it hasn’t been repeated over the general pulpit since it was uttered (has it?). But the argument behind it was fairly intuitive: the sight of the naked female body is arousing to men.

    I’m interested in the counter-intuitive claim, put forward by some critics of modesty discourse including in this thread, that the COVERED female body is actually what arouses desire by “sexualizing” the body beneath the clothing. It’s only this narrow question that I’m wondering about. Like I said, there are other good arguments against our modesty discourse, and, in my mind, good arguments in favor of it, too. But I’m interesting in this intriguing line of thought.

  106. How is something like this harmful? Well, at a family reunion a few years ago, our sweet Grandmother was saying how wonderful it was that some of the mothers dressed their young girls in sleeved shirts and knee-length shorts, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if the others did too. This woman is not normally seen as judgmental, but you can be sure that the “offending” moms heard about this, and felt judged — just for allowing their very small daughters to be seen in normal, appropriate, non-seductive playwear.

  107. Rosalynde, I think the J. Kirk Richards piece Cynthia suggests reading way back in comment #1 makes that argument you’re seeking quite eloquently and succinctly.

  108. We would not be having this conversation if this was a one time thing. It is happening more and more frequently, and coupled with things like kids being told in Primary that bare shoulders are immodest, testing center Nazis deciding who is too immodestly dressed to enter, girls at church dances kneeling on the ground to make sure their skirts are long enough. These are symptoms of a bigger problem. This modesty shaming does not teach women to respect their bodies, it teaches them that there is something sinful about them.

    “It’s time we got over the notion that “modest” is necessarily tied to “appropriate for the endowed person.” Women and men can be perfectly modest, even if their clothing does not cover all the places that garments would cover. If you’ve been endowed, though, you’re under covenant to wear the garment. And I think that means wearing clothing that will cover it.”

    YES a billion times! I teach my children to be modest from birth. And that means they get to wear tank tops!

  109. Thank you for this post, Cynthia. Such good points.

  110. Rosalynde/ “But the argument behind it was fairly intuitive: the sight of the naked female body is arousing to men.”
    I disagree that this is intuitive or even correct.
    There was a time in our country when bare ankles would turn a man on. In some cultures, bare hair does the trick. Whereas in tribal Africa, women can walk around pretty much naked without poor teenage boys going insane from lust. The naked body is not inherently sexy- it is society that makes it so. I was intrigued when I lived in France that there could be so much nudity- at the beach, in marketing, in media… yet they seemed less sex-crazed, had a lower teen pregnancy rate, lower sex crime rates, and lower divorce rates. I’m not holding up France as the ideal of morals, but it was very intriguing to me that more nudity did NOT mean more depravity- seemingly, the opposite.
    I think teaching a healthy understanding and respect for the body (which does not mean treating it like forbidden fruit) changes how one perceives nudity. If we focus instead on how it needs to stay covered, we actually make it harder to focus on the important part of the modest message.

  111. It’s powerfully telling that all that loathsome turn of phrase did was make explicit what our discourse is positively saturated with. The community norms around dietary prohibitions would be very, very different and entail incredibly harmful consequences if they were applied almost exclusively to females and framed, for example, as necessary to protect women against hysteria or to help prevent them from getting fat and thereby causing their husbands to look lustfully at prettier women with better self-control.

  112. Nobody thinks this specific photo will result in shattered lives of countless innocents. I think that the photo editor’s effort speaks toward his or her good intentions, but if our church culture inspired an LDS adult to translate their good intentions into THIS, then the harm has already been done. Someone wasted their precious time upholding a bizarre ideal; this is an effect, not a cause. I’ll leave it to the comments above and countless other great posts on modesty to attempt to explain why that ideal, from which this photo edit springs, does real harm.

  113. “this is an effect, not a cause”

    Well said, Cort. That is a point very worth emphasizing.

  114. Most of these comments remind me of the reflections in the podcast on overcoming pornography over at Mormon Stories. They make the connection that our obsession with combating pornography seems to be fueling the problem.

  115. I think the issue here is not so much “sexualizing,” though I think there’s an implicit assumption about that. The issue here is looking beyond the mark. It’s the same thing as those who conflate coffee with Coke, or say “well, since the prophet said not to watch rated-R movies, I’m not going to watch PG-13 movies” (as an EQP said once to a class I was in). Building a hedge about the law will, of course, make sure that the law is obeyed, but it will also lead to silly legalisms like this–children who haven’t been baptized, much less endowed, who aren’t allowed to use their agency to discover the what, when, where, why, and how of modesty (in every sense of the word, not just the clothing sense). That’s the harm here. We’re here to learn, and though most of us would rather we (and our children) learn from someone’s example, whether bad or good, some of us are going to have to learn from our own experience. And if we aren’t willing to let our children learn from their own experience, we’re taking a different path than the one our Father gave us to follow back to Him. Coercion isn’t at the heart of the gospel; long-suffering is.

  116. Fellow commenters, please don’t blame the probably underpaid graphics designer for this annoying bit of censorship. The church website says that the image library policy is only to accept pictures of “women and girls” who are wearing sleeves. This obnoxious, gender-specific policy has nothing to do with promoting garment-wearing, since it does not apply to men and does apply to female children. I believe it stems from the cultural idea that female bodies, even baby female bodies, are pornographic in nature. Of course, this idea is disgusting and completely incompatible with LDS doctrine, so this policy needs to change. Also, as the post so aptly illustrated, it teaches us to judge people based on their attire rather than being accepting of people who are dressed appropriately for their age and culture. (Not to mention the fact that it results in weird artwork in church magazines, in which scriptural men are portrayed in loin cloths while their female counterparts where modern t-shirt sleeves.)

  117. What Moss said.

    Once upon a time, garments went to the ankles and wrists. We wear clothing to cover the garments as part of the covenants related to the garment, not because the body wearing the garment is sinful, or that the parts covered by the garment are. The hem of the garment does not mark the magic, eternal, and absolute line separating modesty from immodesty. If it did, we’d still be wearing ankle- and wrist-length garments, and we wouldn’t make sensible exceptions to our “modesty” standard (such as for sports or water recreation).

    I can imagine a time in the future when, perhaps due to higher numbers of endowed members living in tropical climates, or maybe simply due to shifting cultural attitudes, the design of the garment might again be altered. Might garments sometime in the future be tank tops or have skinny straps for women? I don’t think it’s impossible. In such circumstances, would the hemline of the garment still be the marker of modesty?

    Also, I fear that if we obsess about the covering of the garment (or, for those not yet endowed, the covering of the parts of the body to be covered by the garment), I fear that the covenants associated with the temple will be reduced to something simplistic and binary, rather than the powerful and complex loci of self-reflection that I think they are meant to be. And “preparing our children to go to the temple” will be reduced to “getting them used to wearing sleeves.” How sad.

  118. Amen, Jeremy.

  119. so frustrated with all this... says:

    sometimes i wish i could go back to being un-endowed. i’m an active, temple-going member, but this kind of thing makes me crazy. i realize i have much to learn about the temple even after 20 years of going, but it doesn’t really do anything for me other than make me wish i didn’t have to wear garments and feel bad about my spouse leaving the church.

  120. Thanks for the heads up on that policy, xII April. Indeed, on the Photo Standards page for the website where members can donate photographs they have taken, it says this:

    Because of the need to present women and girls modestly, regardless of age, please avoid submitting photos of them in sleeveless tops and dresses or short skirts.

    This is also lolz: “Also, we cannot accept photos of people, even children, in swimming suits.” At least that makes some plausible sense in terms of there not really being a need for the church media to show people swimming very often. Church and home scenes are more commonly in demand.

  121. What’s interesting about the Photo Standards explanations is that they do seem to be able to recognize that appropriateness of things varies by context–except in the case of female people and sleeves. Note how this explains the principle at work, but leaves open a space for contextual interpretation of appropriateness: “Photos with models wearing large jewelry are less desirable because the jewelry distracts from the message of the photo.” Same thing here: “Members photographed in Church buildings should be dressed appropriately for sacrament meeting attendance except when shown in an activity. [photo of a man with shirt and tie loosened and disheveled] The above photo would be inappropriate if it was in a ward building.” (emphasis added) Why can’t this kind of use-your-brain appropriateness test be applied to the female cap sleeves issue, rather than going mindless black&white rules on it?

  122. (PS: tsk tsk on failure to use the subjunctive case—-it should be “The above photo would be in appropriate if it were in a ward building.” #crazygrammarperson)

  123. (Subjunctive mood) #anothercrazygrammarperson :)

  124. Thank you Cynthia L. for the policy link (#120). But now I’m puzzled at how the photographs I linked to above were allowed to be posted to the church’s website (see #42). They clearly violate the “sleeves only” policy.

  125. I’m shocked that the Photo Standards says that. I thought that the commenter was just being funny. And if that weren’t enough, the “Please Do Not Submit” list below it both begins and ends with modesty/dress issues: “Photos that have modesty issues” and “Photos that include people who do not represent the teachings of the Church (in their dress, grooming, gestures, and so on).”

  126. (anybody else trying to suppress desire to send their photoshop department a picture of a gesture that does not represent the teachings of the church?)

  127. Dave K, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time now that we’ve pointed it out before those get deleted. :(

  128. I’m worn out from reading some of these comments.

    I see this as another example of our collective laziness about standards. We want them universal, highly visible, and easily measurable (the better to judge you with, my dear!) and less important is how well they relate to reality or improve our hope of salvation, or how they may inadvertently screw up our spiritual maturation. It’s just a game we play with ourselves and each other (because we want Religion, don’t we?) to distract ourselves with hedge-building over appearances and procrastinate doing the hard work of figuring out what’s real, what’s valuable, what honest ethics and morality are, what physical appearance means, and how does that all work in messy real life. It’s about the difficult application of true gospel principles into the nuts and bolts of mortal life. It’s a messy, struggle-bound, and often lonely enterprise. And no checklist in the world will help, but the teachings of the Savior somehow do. Remember them?

    Also, count me as one of those who thinks that not only are toddler, preschooler, and pre-teen female bodies inherently non-sexual, the adolescent and young adult female bodies are non-sexual as well, except within the individual relationship of a married couple. In the worldly climate in which we live, we, of all people, should give women a break from this slavery to the appearance of sexuality, and it’s always women who have to deal with this. Men don’t have to put up with this nonsense.

  129. MikeInWeHo says:

    I was in San Francisco last weekend and was surprised to discover that public nudity is legal there. It shocked me, and I’m not easily shocked.

    So as our culture further polarizes, perhaps Mormon culture will continue to shift in the direction of increasing restrictions (especially for girls and women). Secular society moves one way, and conservative religious society recoils in the opposite direction. Where it may all lead is scary to consider. Mormonism-as-counter-culture could become the Islam-lite of a secularized America.

    The old pics of Ann Romney highlight the phenomenon. Dressing like that now would get her in trouble at BYU. I shall refrain from posting pics that represent the other end of the spectrum.

    The whole thing makes me sad.

  130. MDearest FTW.

  131. Hey, if the Pope says Adam and Even need fig leaves, who are we to argue? And, not to be outdone, let’s paint sleeves on girls and angels as well.

  132. I didn’t read all the comments here, but I did really appreciate many of them, particularly Cynthia and Jenn. I think what Jenn said above is how I feel about this…

    “I’d much rather those administrators said… “Maybe we should feature an article soon on what modesty really means, since apparently a few people just don’t get it and are focusing on the wrong part of it”. Maybe they go so far as to change their push in the Friend… so that bare shoulders aren’t the hot item, but rather self-respect and the message our clothing sends to others.”

  133. Please see picture… Obviously the Romney family has not gotten the memo about sleeves. I stand with them on this: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/21/my-take-romney-should-take-reporters-to-church-more-often/

  134. Cheryl, please! This is a family blog!

  135. (;->)

  136. Mark Brown says:

    cherylem, that’s inappropriate.

    MDearest, awesome comment.

  137. Props to Ardis for nailing the subjunctive mood. That was probably the happiest bit from this thread.

    The alterations to the picture are also a litte disturbing because, as things are, nameless Mormons pretending to represent official positions of the Church don’t have a ton of moral high ground to stand on when it comes to correcting people of color. As someone noted earlier, the alterations are completely patronizing to the girl’s parents–and when shown side by side, patronizing with a racial undercurrent.

    So between the stupidity of the Modesty Overkill Dips**ts (MOD Squad, perhaps?) and the insensitivity to race and modern Mormonism, I’m calling the MODified photo an epic fail.

  138. Pharisees with photoshop skills…

    Why is this obsession with finding wrong where there is none growing so much in LDS culture? Is this really a reflection of the LDS community in general? Is this overly judging lens what the Savior really wants from us? Are we supposed to look at little children at church to judge which ones are being “immodest” with their clothing? What can possibly be leading LDS culture in this direction?

    So many questions storming my mind and so much frustration. I am not afraid to call on pharisees when I witness them in person, but it is hard when they are an integral part of the institution. I don’t think this is just simply being uptight (which religious people tend to be), but I think this goes beyond, perhaps a bit into insanity. What an unhealthy way to look at the world around us.

  139. Rosalynde,

    Cultural fetishization is created in significant part by assigning meaning to the selective covering and uncovering of body parts. As pointed out above, the breast fetish is learned. You can claim that the meaning of covering small female children’s shoulders is other than their sexualization, that it is in fact a message about consistency. But this looks more like an argument about the good intentions of the person(s) modifying the photo–i.e. an argument about the intended meaning rather than the meaning most likely to be assigned. (Frankly I think you are playing the contrarian here.)

    Does anyone really think that if 1,000 active latter-day saints were shown these two pictures and asked what lesson was being taught the majority would respond with “consistency”? “Modesty” would be the overwhelming response, a concept Mormon (and evangelical) culture has deeply coded with sexual meaning. When the idea of “modesty” is applied to children that cultural coding does not simply fall away.

    The church has made a mistake here. Rather than defend it we should ask them to stop it. And keep asking until it does. And then think hard about what led us here in the first place.

  140. I am still frustrated by the fact that my sweet, innocent, and wonderful 7-year-old daughter brought home a flyer from primary stating that “uncovered shoulders are immodest”. So now she is afraid to wear half of the clothes in her closet. Primary fail.

    Recently I read a bit about the FLDS and their practices. In a nutshell, the article stated that those prairie dresses that are currently their female uniform actually were NOT the norm until the father of Warren Jeffs became their president and began exercising a more iron-fisted control over women’s appearances (and presumably behavior). I can’t help but see a parallel in the puritanical and obsessive “modesty standards” being touted by many in the Church today. And that scares me. Really, REALLY scares me.

  141. Rick Smith says:

    I’ve actually come to view the Church’s modesty standards, or at least the language around it, as misguided. When I see middle-age women at the mall in warmer climates in the summer, their dress–which doesn’t even come close to meeting church standards, is not in the least bit sexual or sensual. Shoulders are not immodest. Knees are not immodest. Having a culture where relief society sisters whisper “slut” or “whore” or “she’ll be pregnent by 17” (comments I have overheard in church) in reference to what other women are wearing is completely and utterly wrong. And, just wrong.

    If we’re talking simply in terms of what is sexualizing, that has very little to do with what is shown and what is not and much more to do with the manner in which it is worn. There are behaviours and mannerisms that would be sexualized regardless of clothing.

    At the end of the day, a cocktail tube dress can be worn in a “non-sexual” fashion while a burka can be quite sensual and sexual.

    If we’re talking modesty simply in terms of sexualization–which, is one of the main themes of YW manuals on the matter–then lets be honest. The naked body is much less sexual than the clothed body. Once the clothes are off, nakedness, especially in “normal situations” (ie just sitting on a couch, or doing typical home maintenace stuff) is not exactly sexual, to say the least. If you have ever been to a nude beach or seen pictures of nudist colonies (or of nudist societies), you quickly realize that clothes are essential to sexual desire. Reference the Seinfield “pickles” episode, for a pop-culture example. If the church really wanted to to achieve their stated goals on the issue–less concerned with materialism, less pride, sexual purity–then they should probably stop investing in shopping malls and push for a nudist society. (I’m being slightly sarcastic here, but only slightly).

    I think that there are people in SLC who know and understand this, and simply feel that making an issue of this is a branding / marketing thing. It is something that makes members feel, and to some degree, look distinctive, which helps with self-identification and marketing. “A style of our own” is the church-generated phrase that has popped up in New Era / Ensign in the past, and really smacks of marketing more than spirituality to me.

    I am pretty cynical on this issue. We have messaging so screwed up in the church that young men seem to feel that feeling sexual attraction to a woman means that the woman has sinned (see http://twitter.com/brittanyjmo/status/169585172348538880/photo/1 for an example, but this is not an isolated incident)

  142. Researcher says:

    “a cocktail tube dress can be worn in a “non-sexual” fashion”


    I can see drawing the line at sundresses; I wish they were as acceptable for young girls in our culture as they were when I was a child, but that’s a very funny statement about “cocktail tube” dresses.

    In other words, it might be helpful for you to know that if you’re trying to convince the average Mormon of the error of the modesty rhetoric, your comment could be counterproductive.

  143. Here is another link to a discussion held yesterday (warning: may produce sudden fits of anger). Check out the ensuing modesty debate over the length of the two girls’ shorts in the photo. Simply infuriating.


  144. Meldrum the Less says:

    From #138
    “Why is this obsession with finding wrong where there is none growing so much in LDS culture?”

    Here is an attempt to answer this important question. I don’t know if this is just another way of stating the problem.

    The last chapter of a book I read in June had a couple of pages describing 4 ways the Amish approach change. All of us are constantly under stress to adapt to new challenges and even the Amish are not immune to this stress.

    1. They don’t change and are better at doing this than anyone else; but this doesn’t work indefinitely and is ultimately not a viable option. The fact is the Amish are different than they were even 30 years ago.

    2. Rebellion and rejection. At least half of their children leave and they let them go.

    3. Innovation which is described as keeping the major long-term goals intact but substituting different short term methods to reach them that work better when the circumstances change. This process is rational and involves dialogue between leaders and the members of the congregation.

    4. Overconformity. The Amish orders which are the strictest, most plain, with the most severe requirements and penalties, and the most removed from “worldliness” are surprizingly not the oldest orders. They are often newer orders that respond to stress by overconformity. Usually this process is not directly rational but fueled by emotion and not logically connected to the stress.

    I submit for the consideration of the BCC community that the LDS church is in the throes of tremendous stress from a number of sources. Innovation is being undertaken on many fronts. But another large cohort of our fellow members are not dealing with it very well and are responding to the stress with overconformity. It doesn’t logically address any particular source of the stress but it still feels good for a while to be doing something.

    For example, we might learn that our temple marriages do not have a <2% divorce rate as advertised in our youth but more like 25% divorce rate. In addition we watch helplessly as three couples in our ward are splitting up. So we photoshop sleeves on the dress of an innocent little girl in a picture and we point out how short the shorts are on another young lady. We feel good that overconformity with modesty will help fight the towering divorce problem.

    I don't know what to do about any given problem in light of this understanding; that stress leads to unpredictable amounts of both inovation and overconformity. Increasing stress in the hope of increasing innovation is dangerous and risks fueling more overcompliance. Patience might be the virtue needed.

    I withdraw my suggestion for a Mormon Dragon Con in #45. It didn't seem to be taken seriously anyway.

  145. it's a series of tubes says:

    For example, we might learn that our temple marriages do not have a <2% divorce rate as advertised in our youth but more like 25% divorce rate.

    Meldrum, do you happen to have some recent statistics on this? Most recent information I could find was from the late 90’s and showed a rate of about 6%.

  146. Meldrum, well said.

  147. Meldrum, what is the name of that book?

  148. Meldrum the Less says:

    Maybe y’all did take me seriously. But in a way that actually supports my overconformity theory. Not a soul mentioned my hilarious Mormon Dragon Con idea (#45) but the number of responses certainly did kick up faster than usual following it. Check out the log of hour by hour number of responses below.The first response at just before midnight was the OP with an additional bit of discussion and then the late night responses were slow as expected and picked up in the morning:

    3 Sep Responses

    1200-100 1
    100-200 1
    200-300 1
    300-400 2
    500-600 4
    600-700 5
    700-800 10
    800-900 12

    Then at precisely 900 the OP made another response simultaneous with my #45. And after that the number of responses skyrocketed.
    Were y’all made uncomfortable and felt the need to say something even though not in direct response to one of my best and most outrageous suggestions ever in #45? Or was this just a big coincidence?

    900-1000 25
    1000-1100 13
    1100-1200 16
    1200-1300 7
    1300-1400 4
    1400-1500 8
    1500-1600 0
    1600-1700 3
    1700-1800 2
    1800-1900 2
    1900-2000 6

    After that no more responses on 3 Sep and the rest are mostly several hours apart.

    Do we see the same subconscious forces dealing with stress at play with sort of a right shift on this blog?

  149. Meldrum the Less says:

    #147 Sonny

    The book was called “The Amish” and written by John Hostetler. I looked it up on amazon and the cover is different so I think I have an older edition. The book must run to over 300 pages and I only cited one or two pages. It does not discuss what we are discussing and you will be disappointed if you think it will have all these good ideas about how the Amish change. If you are interested in the Amish in general then it was a good read.

  150. Meldrum, maybe everybody wakes up and gets to a computer at 9:00am.

  151. Meldrum the Less says:

    #145 series of tubes

    i don’t have any statistics and only used this as an example. The point is that a piece of information, verified or not, makes you uncomfortable. See it worked. Stress. It created enough concern on your part to call me on it.

    You think I am some genius sociologist who has solved a most difficult problem and want to know how I did it? That seems unlikely. You win. Bad example. No problem with divorce in the Mormon community. Less than 6%. Snort. Snort.

    Good stats might be impossible on this question and only gross aproximates using Utah stats and dividing out the gentiles living there somehow might come close to the answer. Except now the LDS population in Utah is under 60% and most of the church doesn’t live there any more. And we know that all those people in the mission field are not up to snuff. Or is it that they are more zealous? Anyway, extrapolate as you may.The church bean counters might know the answer to this question but you won’t find it in the Ensign. Secrecy, ah yes. Another form of lying or deception which is what the original blog is really about. Subtle deception, for a worthy cause, of course. Statistically painting sleeves on our divorce problem, I love it.

    Seriously, we are fooling ourselves if we think that we are not being affected by the same problems that affect the rest of society. The divorce rate among Americans is over 30% probably approaching 50% in some age groups and any decent sociologist can cite references (here is one: http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p70-125.pdf).

    I think the 25% is a generous guess and the real rate might be higher..

    It is a bit higher among evangelicals who might mirror us in behavior if not in doctrine. I suggest that another thread be started and that better experts than I weigh in on this point if it is that important. Otherwise it was a bad example for you personally, but does illustrate the point in general, I think. Sorry, I appologize for not upholding high academic standards in this blog.

  152. Meldrum the Less says:

    #150 Cynthia.
    Jobs ?

    I concede there is undoubtedly a better explanation, but I thought it was a rather interesting coincident:
    Suggest Mormon Dragon Con . No response.Then dozens of other responses.
    Whatever it takes to get people thinking and discussing the original problem that you well described.
    Thank you for not booting me off.

  153. it's a series of tubes says:

    i don’t have any statistics and only used this as an example. The point is that a piece of information, verified or not, makes you uncomfortable. See it worked. Stress. It created enough concern on your part to call me on it.

    Meldrum, I think you are reading things into my response that were not there. Curiosity regarding current trends? Certainly. Uncomfortable or stressed? Not in the least. Nor was I attempting to “call” you on anything. As the ward clerk in my intermountain west (though non-Utah) ward, I’m well aware of the number of divorces occurring – and it’s a lot.

    FWIW, I think you have a valid point in your #144 that a certain subset of the members respond via overconformity, even though it doesn’t address the underlying issues.

  154. Mel, google “diurnal internet traffic patterns.”

  155. Regarding the branding/marketing point in #141– I think it’s more about controlling women in any way possible and less about branding, but where those two efforts overlap– hey it’s all good work done in the Lord’s name!

  156. Re: 144

    I actually think it is very interesting to view this from the view point of identity and identity crisis. I am from Northern Mexico, and we have several Mennonite colonies and towns. Although not as strict as the Amish (nevertheless being of the same Anabaptist movement), I have seen a gender polarization when it comes to adapting to change. The men, are allowed to change to fit modern society: more and more of their young men will wear wrangler jeans or pants, cowboy shirts and boots, and may own modern pickup trucks. But not so for the women. Women would never be allowed to wear anything but their self made dresses, blouses and hats. The only “modern” item allowed to them is nylons (and I think the modern world sees this item as outdated and even as sexist).

    I think women in general are an easy target in strongly patriarchal cultures when facing an identity crisis and they will certainly bear the burden of whatever coping devices are created by the community. Such is reflected in the sexualization of children’s shoulders (female ones that is) in the LDS Church and perhaps that is why someone decided this little girl’s outfit needed to be edited for “appropriateness.”

    Mormons seem to be, at least in part, creating their very own identity crisis because they identify any undesired topic about Mormonism as attacks, or as “anti-Mormon.” The leaders have created a very real sense of apprehension about anything that paints Mormonism in any light different than how they wish Mormonism to be painted. “We are at war, this are the last days and we are under attack, we must be steadfast,” etc etc etc. And that indeed may be a factor in the Mormon identity crisis, greatly worsened by the Mormon moment and the attention given to and the bringing up to light of those parts of our history we have tried so hard to hide, minimize, downplay, wrongly justify, leave forgotten in the past, or plainly lie about. That, combined with the very real and distinct vitriol and bigotry against Mormon culture from some of its harsher critics, create a real scenario for a real identity crisis.

  157. Meldrum the Less says:

    #156 Manuel:

    Fascinating observation.

    It appears the Mennonites of Northern Mexico are innovative when it comes to men and overcompliant when it comes to women.

    Men- rational response, women- emotional response.

    Also kudos for the identity crisis idea.

  158. Tiersa Ludlow says:

    Here’s a link to the original article. Sleeves haven’t been added to the little girl’s dress. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/62418/I-love-to-serve-in-Primary—Love-participate-and-prepare.html

  159. Thanks Manuel for your questions: I hear people talk about how great and safe things used be in the 1950’s etc. and even notice efforts in some political movements to work towards recreating those “good times”. But, it’s a misplaced nostalgia that even denies what the reality was back then. Having just come off the horrors of a decade long economic depression and a horrific world war with the unthinkable Holocaust, people in the 50’s were well-acquainted with evil for real. In our time we seem to be insane with our fears of everything and yet, we don’t have a clue to how bad things can really get. We are willing to let fear dictate our lives instead of reason and sensible societal standards. Everyone has family photos of aunts or even their own sainted mothers at BYU in the 50’s and 60’s wearing lovely and fashionable dresses that would be evil today.

    I was saddened and irritated while attending my son’s birthday party at the Lion House this summer. It was all great until the lovely smiling hostess paused before a photo of Brigham Young’s daughters on the tour. It was a lovely group of girls (old BY had his hands full!), but the hostess felt the need to apologize to our little group of 8 year olds because the girls all wore dresses of the era that showed both shoulders bare. All I could think was, these little kids didn’t give it one thought, why should we, and then why should even make these little kids think that?

  160. Serious non issue

  161. Tiersa-

    Here is the ‘after’ picture that accompanies the ‘before’ one you linked to:


    Sleeves definitely have been added.

  162. when you have a society where it is acceptable for ignorant young men to ride around in the backs of small pickup trucks and they feel permitted by the powers that be to beat women with sticks if they are out of compliance with some arbitrary dress code you have to question how it got that way and maybe even make the reflective question is that the kind of society I would like to live in? Then, we can start seeing where we are with that kind of barbarism. Some might say an instance of some well-intentioned low-level editor covering up a little girl in a publication is not that big of a deal, but others can also look at it and see the insidious creep of tyranny. And then maybe some other low-level creep starts to make up more stringent dress code regulations concerning women in say, a testing center, and even feels justified in doing so, and then people start telling women to go home from Sacrament meeting and change their evil clothing choices and then . . .

    If no one questions it, or no one in authority actually pushes back, the creep will continue and then what can we say? The silence from those at the top gives implicit permission to those at the lower-levels who try to assert their own interpretation of the doctrine on others. And that, is actually a big deal.

    The fact no one would notice the photoshopped change in this particular photo is beside the point. What matters is that some people feel the need to take it upon themselves to change what they individually feel is inappropriate dress by others and enforce an arbitrary standard on others without any doctrinal foundation, without any authority, and without any accountability–all together a recipe for corruption and abuse of power.

    (BTW, thanks Jenn, for your thoughtful comments)

  163. I found this in regards to problems evangelical churches are having with the same modesty issue. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nolongerquivering/2012/02/how-the-modesty-doctrine-hurts-men-too/#comment-36947
    Reading it made me feel much better, knowing this is not just a crazy Mormon thing. A lot of religious groups are recognizing the slippery slope of modesty-run amuck.

  164. My wife loves to watch that Duggar show with the 19 kids and counting. In one episode the mother was waterskiing in a long skirt and when the wave caused her knee to show they blurred it out digitally. On another episode they were all white water rafting and all the girls were wearing long skirts and the boys wore denim jeans. The river guides had these “puzzled, but whatever” looks on their faces. This creeping fundamentalism is a change from the past and certainly does not represent some eternal, universal truth from God. Even polygamists (FLDS) in Utah have become more and more obsessed with clothing in the past couple of decades.

  165. careful_thought says:

    “Why are bare-chested men any less modest — by Mormon standards — than bare-shouldered girls, Lee wonders. Shouldn’t those depictions of muscle-bound Book of Mormon heroes be, well, covered up? And what about BYU basketball players and their naked shoulders?”

    to assume that the female visual response to men is the same as the male visual response to women is stunning ignorance. quietly and kindly encouraging a standard at an early age makes it easier for the individual to maintain and benefit from the standard at a later age when, in this case, the utility is obvious.

    it seems to me that someone is a little hypersensitive.

  166. Thinking that it is acceptable to have different standards of “modest dress” for men and women when said standard is based on a garment that both men and women wear is stunning ignorance.

    It seems to me that someone is a little hyperapologist.

  167. careful_thought says:

    EOR, your assertion that modesty is “based” on the garment is false. Modesty is based upon the sexual response:

    Central to the command to be modest is an understanding of the sacred power of procreation, the ability to bring children into the world. This power is to be used only between husband and wife. Revealing and sexually suggestive clothing, which includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, and shirts that do not cover the stomach, can stimulate desires and actions that violate the Lord’s law of chastity. (https://www.lds.org/topics/modesty?lang=eng)

    again, there is an enormous difference in the visual response of men and women.

    to interpret the photo touch-up as “demonizing” is a rather strong reaction. an indication of hypersensitvity it seems.

  168. careful_thought says:

    Remember that Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden, and there was nothing wrong with that. Once their sexual response was planted, out came the fig leaves.

  169. careful_thought it absolutely has to do with the garment. Read all the comments that have appeared on this story in its several incarnations; they all defend this jackassery (including in your own comment) by saying “it will be easier when they are older and HAVE to wear sleeves” Since there is no law requiring sleeves this is an obvious reference to the covenant to keep the garment covered.

    If you are worried about the sexual response of men to a Primary aged girl in a wide-strap sleeveless sundress and your answer is “Give that girl sleeves!” you are not sensitive enough.

    Please show me in the scriptures where modesty is defined as not wearing sleeveless tops, or tight clothing, or sheer clothing and then I *might* take seriously your assertion that it has to do with anything from God instead of cultural norms or Church policy.

    One’s manner of dress is never ever responsible for the sexual thoughts of another. Perpetuating the myth that they are has further reaching ramifications than we are dealing with here and has the potential for true evil.

  170. careful_thought says:

    to assert a position of the church by citing commenters on a blog is weak.

    i’ve not suggested that the issue is pedophilia.

    wrt scriptures, why do you so angrily reject church policy? we can definitely disagree on this, though I think your arguments are weak, but i don’t understand your rage. please explain.

    “One’s manner of dress is never ever responsible for the sexual thoughts of another.” i don’t think a man would ever make such a statement. we men plea for women to dress more modestly to help us out. in the case of knowledgeable adults, there is sin in both baiting as well as taking the bait.

  171. “I don’t think a man would ever make such a statement”… funny, I asked my husband how much he agreed with this statement, on a scale of 1-5: “One’s manner of dress is never ever responsible for the sexual thoughts of another”. He gave it an emphatic 5. As in, as a man, he understands that he is ultimately responsible for the sexuality of his thoughts. (I married such a winner)
    And while women can certainly help a man who struggles with this by dressing more “modestly”, it isn’t their job to do so, nor should it consist of covering bare shoulders. It means being aware of the messages your clothing might send, and wearing clothing appropriate for the occasion so you never send an unintended message. Regardless, we are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions.

    To me, it’s kind of like the responsibility I have to guard my thoughts about a really mean person. She can goad me, belittle me, or say whatever she wants, and it may make it more difficult for me, but ultimately as a mature and responsible adult, I am responsible for keeping my thoughts about that person Christlike. If I start imagine bad things happening to Grouchy Mcmeanersons, I am solely responsible for my departure from Christlike thought. If I were to take it a step further and turn thought into action and slap Mrs. Mcmeanersons, I would be solely responsible for that action. I can’t control other people, but I can control my response. She may have guilt for the response she was TRYING to get out of me and the methods she used, but that is completely independent of my response.

    If no one was ever mean to me it sure would be easier to think only Christlike thoughts, wouldn’t it? But then how would I grow and be tested? Doesn’t exactly fit into the gospel plan, does it?

    On another note, I wonder how men in tribal africa or polynesia handle it, where the societal norm is to be naked, if women are FORCING them to have sexual thoughts by their nakedness all the time.

  172. (clarification: I don’t think dressing in a way that shows a lot of skin is in any way equivalent to being a mean person. But if with your clothing you are deliberately sending a message that you want men to think of you sexually- a leopard skin halter and hooker boots, for instance- you are responsible for that. Responsible for yourself and your action of sending that message deliberately. Not for how people react. They are still responsible for that.)

  173. “again, there is an enormous difference in the visual response of men and women.”

    People say this all the time. There’s not a lot of convincing data to back it up.

  174. This is just plain whacky, obsessive, unhealthy, disgusting and weird! Next thing you know, Bishops will be asking little 8 year old girls in their Baptimal interviews if they have ever worn a sleeveless dress or otherwise been immodest. Sheesh!

  175. careful_thought says:


    you bring up a number of interesting points.

    sure, ultimate responsibility for one’s thoughts rest with one’s self. i’m sure you would also agree, following your analogy, that the gospel provides clear guidance for Grouchy to not be grouchy, and to repent of such behavior when it is not avoided. similarly, there is clear guidance wrt modesty, and a responsibility to God for failing to follow that guidance.

    God guarantees us plenty of challenges in life. there is no need to add to them by tempting ourselves unnecessarily.

    have you ever read anything about the sexual practices of africa and polynesia? let me encourage you to do so.

  176. careful_thought says:


    there is extensive overwhelmingly convincing data to back it up. please investigate.

    anecdotally, you must know that the porn market caters almost entirely to men. do you think that would be the case if women had the same visual response as men?

  177. careful_thought says:


    i find the overreaction to adding sleeves to a photo just plain whacky, obsessive, unhealthy, disgusting and weird! Fine, you think it’s dumb. But the rage about it is mind boggling.

  178. Ardis E. Parshall says:

    careful, advising someone to “investigate” something — anything — without pointing in the vaguest way toward any avenue of investigation, is useless. One might justifiably conclude that you have no evidence, that your thought has been anything but careful. If this conclusion is wrong in your case, please supply a link, a citation, or at least a description of something you’ve read that would give the slightest direction for investigation, or that would lend the slightest credibility to your assertions that such research exists and that you are reliably interpreting it. Thank you.

  179. It is interesting to consider this study as well… http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2739403/

    It theorizes possible reasons for the difference. In some studies women have reported verbally a higher rate of arousal than was indicated physiologically-so which is accurate? Is physiology an accurate measure for women? There is some discussion over whether guilt and shame (more likely to be apart of a woman’s reaction to sex) inhibit physiological response. There is some discussion over whether women are slower to respond, and if that should mean they aren’t responding or not. In eye tracking studies women tend to focus on background and clothing then men-who kept their focus on the person. Women tend to get progressively less aroused looking at the same stimuli, whereas men don’t.

    Anyway lots of stuff there but the overall come away is yes there is a huge gender difference between how we react to visible stimuli.

  180. Maybe I was moderated because I mentioned intimacy? huh. anyway. Here are some studies talking about brain imaging and the statistically significant difference between men and women responding to stimuli of a provocative nature…. does that pass?



  181. I still find all of those findings… irrelevant to the OP. This is a child. Anyone aroused by a a child has problems. the end.

    I also think that if this is the way men are..they need to learn to deal with it. Nothing else would really work. Women still exist and some men protest the mere existence of a woman is enough. So women should dress appropriate to the occasion and men should deal with it. I don’t like the women should dress appropriate to the men’s visual response…concept.

    And really anyone who says a bare shoulder, cleavage or stomach is p*rn , hasn’t actually seen p*rn.

  182. Careful_thought- you’re right, mcgrouchersons needs to try to not be grouchy. But sometimes people are mean or offensive on purpose. Sometimes we can take offense where it isn’t intended.
    Much of the time, “immodest” clothing has absolutely zero “bad motives”. Take our sweet little cap-sleeved eight year old for example. I wear shorts and tank tops in the summer- it’s hot and humid. I’m not trying to send any sort of sexual message. If some man has to struggle with sexual thoughts because of this…. it’s kind of like someone taking offense when none was given, then blaming the offender.

    No, I haven’t investigated sexual practices in africa (I’d be interesting to see anything tying unhealthy sexual practices to “clothing optional” tribes), but I can take things to a slightly moer familiar region. I know from living in France that sex and nudity are much more… open and accessible. I also know they have lower divorce rates, teen pregnancy rates, sex crime rates… Again, I’m not saying let’s look to France for moral guidance, but our “forbidden fruit” approach to nudity isn’t doing anyone favors. It isn’t that these people are “desensitized” to the human body… it’s that they never got sensitized to it. Just like in victorian england, boys/men were taught that ankles were scandalous and sexy, therefore ankles were scandalous and sexy… this is a taught behavior.

    As for scientific research showing that men/women react differently to stimuli… it’s interesting to me but not particularly relevant. I’m sure I could find research that shows that men/women statistically handle anger differently. Doesn’t mean one gender has different expectations for learning to control themselves.

    Anyone who thinks this whole discussion is only about one case of cap sleeves on one girl is missing the point. We need to change the way we teach modesty in the church. It isn’t about what skin you show, it’s about respecting ourselves and those around us, and what message we are sending to the world.

  183. lessonNumberOne, careful,

    There’s no question that men and women respond differently to visual stimuli. However, as the article in your first link suggests, there are huge methodological problems with most of these studies, mostly having to do with the physiological differences that make measurement and comparison between genders difficult. To just say men are more visually aroused than women is far too simplistic, and it is only ever asserted in the context of making women responsible for men’s behavior. Why not, for instance, argue that men ought to be more careful about their clothing choices because women are more stimulated by clothing and background?

    The problem is that “men are more visually aroused” is adduced as incontrovertible empirical fact, when in fact it is a strained and distorted extrapolation from methodologically slippery social science.

    And lessonNumberOne is right that this is utterly irrelevant to the question of whether little girls should be taught to feel ashamed of their shoulders. (Any questions about why guilt and shame might inhibit women’s arousal? Self-fulfilling prophecy much?)

  184. “To just say men are more visually aroused than women is far too simplistic, and it is only ever asserted in the context of making women responsible for men’s behavior.”

    Actually, my mother-in-law uses it as an excuse to explain why she can avidly gaze at videos of dancing, sweating half-naked men but her husband can’t even catch a glimpse of a woman in a swimsuit.

  185. I just think the research is interesting, it corroborates what most people experience. I think it is relevant because I really think it’s true. I don’t think it relates to how women should dress though. I think it relates to what men should be told about how they need to control themselves.

    Sometimes we discount differences between men and women in an attempt to create equality. We frequently do this by saying (without meaning to) that women are the same as men. (Women are aroused visually TOO!!). I think this is damaging to respecting that a woman is valuable as who she is. If women and men get aroused differently, that isn’t wrong or less…but it is good to know. If girls and boys learn language differently, or math, or solves problems differently…good to know. In most cases I know of in learning differences -it doesn’t affect outcome, but it may very well affect the way we teach.

    sorry…it’s just a pet peeve of mine to discount differences. At the very least our olympians have been MAJORLY holding out on us if there aren’t physical differences.

  186. Careful,

    The ‘rage’ about it is justified and is not weird, dumb, etc. We’re talking about indoctrinating little children with shame and guilt and fear. We’re teaching them their classmates and playmates who wear sleeveless sun dresses are ‘immodest’. Bad. Wrong. And we’re loading ALL of that on girls (and women)

    This issue goes far beyond a sleeveless dress on a child or tastelessly photoshopping a Masterwork. As a Church we are becoming WAY too judgemental and obsessed with physical appearances and outward impressions. We are ignoring the ‘weightier matters of the law’. One of my favorite quotes:

    “The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism … the haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearances.” – Hugh Nibley in his talk ‘What is Zion?’

  187. If some men can lust after a woman in a burkha showing some ankle, the focus shouldn’t be covering the ankle.

    “Modesty” is all about moderation and balance (in all things), not extremism on the other side of the promiscuity line. Insisting on cap sleeves for a young child is not “extreme” – but it certainly is not in line with the principle of “modesty”, imo. Insisting that a young child cover her shoulders like in the alteration of the original picture is not encouraging modesty; it’s encouraging immodesty by redefining the very word “modest” to mean what it doesn’t mean in its purest form.

    Let me repeat that: “Extreme modesty of dress” is really immodesty – just on the other side of the promiscuity line. We need to teach the actual definition of modesty, not a hedge that we build around it that creeps further and further from it. .

  188. I think this story fits in nicely with our discussion:


  189. lessonNumberOne–continuing the threadjack, because it’s fun :)

    I’m not discounting differences; I’m saying we can’t easily figure out what the real differences are because of the ways research is influenced by cultural biases. So the fact that, for a long time, most of the scientists designing these experiments were men means that there’s a strong prejudice for obvious, quantifiable measures of arousal, which (surprise!) are best observed in men. The fact that we have for centuries denied the fact of women’s sexual desire and/or inculcated tremendous guilt and shame around it means that we actually can’t know as much as we would want to about the “natural” differences between men and women. We ought to be suspicious when science “corroborates what most people experience,” especially in areas where experience is as strongly culturally mediated as it is in the phenomenon of gender.

  190. I’m a drive-by commenter here, so I’m just going to remark on some things as they hit me at the time.

    !. If they wanted a little girl in a cap-sleeve dress, why didn’t they just take a photo with a little girl who was already wearing a cap-sleeve dress? Not to mention, I was always told growing up that even cap sleeves were too short. I have more thoughts on the actual post, but other commenters have already covered them far more eloquently.

    2. You know the young lady who is so bizarre that everyone avoids her and she is not all that physically attractive in the first place and she doesn’t improve the situation by showing too much skin?

    Yes. I saw several of them every Sunday sitting in Sacrament Meeting during my YW days (and in my RS days as well). Short skirts, too much makeup, plunging necklines, skin-tight everything. Most of them had behavior to match.
    I dress(ed) modestly in black, put red streaks in my hair, and wore/wear red lipstick. I’m also somewhat subdued in manner by nature.
    I was the one who got in trouble, while they got a free pass.
    However, I had a very nice woman come up to me once and tell me that she was glad that her little girl admired the example of how I dressed because it “looked cool but was still modest.” That was and is the finest compliment I ever got from a church member.

    3. Regarding the editing of works of art, there’s quite a few LDS-done artworks of the Resurrection, etc, if memory serves. There’s no reason why they couldn’t have used one of those.

    4. Part of the fun of Dragon*Con is dressing up as whoever or whatever you like. There’s a good deal of acceptance, regardless of body shape or unfortunate fashion choice.
    I firmly believe that, for instance, spandex is a privilege and not a right. But I have no right to insist that people who shouldn’t wear spandex should stop wearing it because it offends mine eyes. My personal preferences have no bearing on anyone’s wardrobe, just as theirs have no bearing on mine.

    5. #187 said (pasted in full because it’s great):
    If some men can lust after a woman in a burkha showing some ankle, the focus shouldn’t be covering the ankle.

    “Modesty” is all about moderation and balance (in all things), not extremism on the other side of the promiscuity line. Insisting on cap sleeves for a young child is not “extreme” – but it certainly is not in line with the principle of “modesty”, imo. Insisting that a young child cover her shoulders like in the alteration of the original picture is not encouraging modesty; it’s encouraging immodesty by redefining the very word “modest” to mean what it doesn’t mean in its purest form.

    Let me repeat that: “Extreme modesty of dress” is really immodesty – just on the other side of the promiscuity line. We need to teach the actual definition of modesty, not a hedge that we build around it that creeps further and further from it.

    Well, that covers what I was going to put for my #5! The only thing I could possibly add is that there’s a saying my grandmother liked to repeat:
    “Those that think evil see evil.”
    I believe it was her version of “Honi soit qui mal y pense.”

  191. Khristine, I really do agree. When it talks about women noticing surroundings and clothes…I started to wonder if the pictures were taken by men or women…what if pictures were taken by women by what they found arousing…then we test. In another study they did track which directors made what movies and in those cases women said they were more aroused by those done by women…but it didn’t show physiologically (IN WHAT THEY WERE MEASURING-OR in the time period in which they measured).

    Perhaps we should be much more specific when we say visually aroused…from the research it appears the skin is what men are focusing on whereas women are focused on the whole scene-including the face, which men don’t spend a ton of time on. I’d love to see studies talking about what does arouse women and then compare to men on that front…I’m struggling to google this subject ;)

  192. careful_thought says:


    I’m glad you agree that people should try to be modest, per your analogy. I also agree that there is a point at which a woman can rightfully be declared modest, and yet some men will still let their imaginations get away from them. What resource might a person look to for God’s guidance on modesty? I would assert that the church’s standards are precisely that resource. Why would you so quickly reject these guidelines?

    “our ‘forbidden fruit’ approach to nudity isn’t doing anyone favors” + “this is a taught behavior” – i couldn’t disagree more, and your conclusions from French society are fatally flawed.

    The skin that you show is an important (though certainly not complete) indication of the level of respect you have for yourself and those around you, and what message you are sending to the world.

  193. careful_thought says:


    Making the jump from a doctored photo to the personal scolding of “shame and guilt and fear,” “teaching them their classmates and playmates who wear sleeveless sun dresses are … Bad… Wrong.” is what makes your position so irrational and hypersensitive.

    “As a Church we are becoming WAY too judgemental and obsessed with physical appearances and outward impressions. We are ignoring the ‘weightier matters of the law’.” – a doctored photo is hardly judgemental and obsesseive. again, it’s a clear overreaction.

    While Hugh Nibley’s philosophy is interesting, it is hardly authoritative.

  194. The skin that you show is an important (though certainly not complete) indication of the level of respect you have for yourself and those around you,—-or an indication that you are about to go swimming.

    just saying.

    For me modesty is about dressing appropriately for the activity and to show respect for your own character by dressing so as to let that be the attraction to other good people (not a distraction)-and really other idiots will be idiots no matter what anyone wears and they shoudl be labelled as such.

  195. careful_thought, so, how do you feel about showing a little shoulder – since that is exactly the question of this post?

  196. Let me clarify: How do you feel about being able to see the shoulders of a Primary-aged child?

  197. Careful,

    In case you’ve been napping or something, this isn’t the first or only time this issue has been raised, nor is the subject of this post about one or two isolated incidents of Photoshopping. Its about a trend in the Church that is disturbing and has been discussed from various angles on a number of LDS oriented blogs for a while now. No ‘jumps’ of irrationality are being made here. Unless you think having your child come out of Primary believing its OK to judge and shun others because of the clothes they wear, and other pharasaical notions that have no place in Christ’s Church. You didn’t read the link to the external article in my other post, did you?

  198. careful_thought- I’ve said it a billion times, but I guess it bares repeating: by focusing on how much skin we show or don’t show, we completely miss the message of modesty: what you wear sends a message to others. We should try to send the message of self-respect, cleanliness, and chastity. For every person and every situation, exactly what that entails will differ.
    I can do that in a sleeveless sundress quite easily, or shorts and a tank top (my outfit today). I can also NOT accomplish this if I wear perfectly frumpy skin-covering clothes but try to get attention to my looks in a way that is not respectful to my body. Blanket rules like “no sleeveless clothes” suddenly put the focus on shoulders and away from the attitude of modesty.

    Treating nudity as inherently sexual IS a taught behavior. Ask my four-year-old who prances around naked at home. Heck, ask my husband which is sexier: me, completely naked because I got out of the shower and never quite made it to the closet, or me dressed in a blouse and pencil skirt that make me feel powerful and confident, wearing the necklace he bought me for anniversary, he’ll go for the latter. And I’m not offended by that- I FEEL sexier in certain clothes than when I’m just naked in a non-sexual context.
    Why is lingerie inherently more sexy than a swimsuit that covers less skin than it? Because it sends a message of sexuality. I had no problem nursing my daughter without a covering in front of male company, because I knew that those particular males didn’t think any bare breast they saw had some sexual power over them. Would I have shown that same bare breast to a bunch of mormon teenage boys? No way, because they have been told their whole lives that that particular body part being bare has sexual power over them, and they believe it.

    My conclusions from France were just observations, but I’m not the first to voice them.
    I think it makes sense if we assign body parts power and shame, they will have that effect on men. Ever wonder why the pornography viewing rates in Utah are so high? Because we talk about it ad nauseum and assign porn a power and shame that for many is the perfect recipe for an addiction. I HATE porn, but the way we approach it gives it power rather than taking it away. If we tell men “bare shoulders and cleavage are so enticing and tempting that we need to hide them because otherwise you can’t resist them” we are setting men up to believe they are weak against such things and we are a planting thoughts/fascinations with them. If we say “by the way, women have shoulders and cleavage- sometimes they show them on purpose, sometimes they don’t mean to attract the attention they do, either way it is something you as grown mature men can handle, let’s talk about respecting women…” both men and women are less degraded.

  199. “careful-thought”– “I’m glad you agree that people should try to be modest, per your analogy. I also agree that there is a point at which a woman can rightfully be declared modest, and yet some men will still let their imaginations get away from them.”

    And that seven year old in her original dress does not meet this criteria for you?!

    Everybody just ignore “careful” from now on, as he or she is clearly veering into ultra-extremism on this issue.

  200. Get Over It says:

    Get over it. There are a lot more important things to be worrying about. The LDS Church is and will continue to be a force for good in the world. Go and serve someone instead of wasting your time and energy on this–you’ll feel better. :)

  201. All this obfuscation is beside the point. This is about controlling women for the perceived benefit of men. (Though it doesn’t help men at all.) It’s the same thing as a burka, and the enforcement is the same thing as well; the only differences being where they fall on the continuum.
    Whatever happened to “teach them correct principles (as in, what modesty really is) and let them govern themselves?” Men can govern themselves as can women. We are tired of the shoulder police making life confusing for little girls and young women. Truly, young women can govern themselves too.

    It’s fruitless to restate the many cogent arguments made upthread that are being ignored. Reread J. Kirk Richards statement about nudity. It’s about spiritual maturity regarding the physical body. You’ll find it in the sidebar under “naked ladies” or use the link in comment #1. This, from #163, is instructive about how men are harmed by the effort to police women’s not-covered-enough bodies: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nolongerquivering/2012/02/how-the-modesty-doctrine-hurts-men-too/

    I’ll take the liberty of restating my own thought, from #128: “…count me as one of those who thinks that not only are toddler, preschooler, and pre-teen female bodies inherently non-sexual, the adolescent and young adult female bodies are non-sexual as well, except within the individual relationship of a married couple. In the worldly climate in which we live, we, of all people, should give women a break from this slavery to the appearance of sexuality, and it’s always women who have to deal with this. Men don’t have to put up with this nonsense.”

    When people who present their opinions as church policy quit making a big deal about sexuality where there is none, I’ll get over it.

  202. Is it my imagination, or is this topic getting more than the usual number of drive-by commenters offering unsolicited advice and moronic commentary?

  203. careful_thought says:


    It is sad that you would wish to silence dialogue on this topic. I’ve clearly picked the wrong venue to better inform both myself and others through dialogue. I’ll look for a more open-minded blog.

  204. The true colors show. Unable to rely on the merits of their arguments (which are sufficient) the usual suspects resort to dismissals and insults. The argument is strong enough, but the manner in which its being employed reveals something about the one using it.

  205. Maybe we should prepare young boys for the reality that they will someday see a girl’s shoulder and that will be a meaningless day…but someday after that they will see something that does invite immodest thoughts into their heads and they should learn how to control those thoughts. They should be reminded frequently of how those thoughts and any comments related affect a young woman. They should be constantly told that they are responsible for their very own thoughts. By not teaching this and instead teaching that the little 4yo needs sleeves, we are leaving the boys powerless when they deal with something that does actually start a thought. There will never be enough clothes for some guys to not get thoughts.

    We should really stick modesty to dressing appropriately for the situation and showing respect for ourselves.

    Are sleeves really the most important way a girl can prepare for the temple? This said by a person who had troubles changing my wardrobe. I did it because I love the temple and I wanted to keep my covenants. I was prepared for the change not by wearing sleeves, but by developing faith in Christ.

    To be perfectly honest I woudln’t mind sleeves on all pictures if they really meant all pictures…but instead they just mean females. that’s weird. As my 12yo son says, “What’s the deal with shoulders…they’re not that pretty”.

  206. UPDATE: The church has changed the statement on the Photo Standards website, so now it no longer singles out women and girls “of all ages” as requiring sleeves and modesty. It now says “people” instead.


    Because of the need to present people modestly, regardless of age, please avoid submitting photos of them in sleeveless tops and dresses or short skirts.

    (Highlighting “dresses and skirts” with the gender neutral noun replacement is a little incongruous, but hey, I’ll take it. Progress! Baby steps.)

  207. Awesome update! I’d like to pretend this thread had something to do with it;)

  208. Baby steps indeed.

    (Can women be curmudgeons in the church?)

  209. In fairness, Cynthia, “sleeveless tops” can apply to men, as well (and would fit the general approach in the Church) – so the “sleveless tops and dresses” can be read easily as gender inclusive.

  210. Real men don’t eat quiche or call their shirts “tops,” Ray :)

  211. It should be noted that the photoshopped sleeves photo is still photoshopped.

  212. #210 – lol

  213. The only way that statement could be improved would be to place a “you” before the word “people.”

  214. Although they were common when I was in MIA, I think I remember hearing that shirts vs. skins b-ball games among teens were outlawed on Church premises, what, maybe 20 years ago? Is there a policy governing young men’s wardrobe during outdoor sports and service projects? Tanks were common for boys in my day (ouch! writing that makes me feel old), but a quick flip through New Eras from recent years doesn’t turn up anything sleeveless. Boys generally wear much longer shorts than girls generally do, too.

    In other words, I’m wondering whether there was a modesty revolution for boys in the past generation, that we’re overlooking here both because it was relatively painless and successful (for whatever reason), and because it happened before PhotoShop.

  215. it's a series of tubes says:

    a modesty revolution for boys in the past generation

    Or perhaps simply a widespread realization that short shorts on men look particularly unfortunate? ;)

  216. We played shirts vs skins on the field house courts at BYU in the mid 90s all the time.

    As for fashion for young men, t-shirts and polos were the fashion trend in short sleeves starting even as early as the late 80s.

    The t-shirt rules in fashion if such a thing exists among pre-teen and teenage boys.

    Wife beaters, tank tops, and sleeveless shirts aren’t the sort of thing your average kid wears, unless he hangs around the gym though there are exceptions depending on where you live.

    The major exception to that are sports jerseys, specifically basketball sports jerseys. Then sleeveless is in.

  217. Covering up boys and men is a knee-jerk reaction to the backlash over pressuring only the women and girls to cover up. (“Hey, maybe we can sexualize the boys’ bodies for everybody too!”)

  218. the fashion trend in short sleeves starting even as early as the late 80s

    Are you calling me OLD, Alan? :) ‘Cause I’m even older than you think! — “as early as the late 80s” is a good decade after I stopped noticing what teenage boys were wearing. I do have a general impression of seeing an awful lot of underarm hair on the bus, in the park, at the grocery store a lot more recently than the ’80s, though.

  219. #217 – “Covering up boys and men” has been going on for decades – at the very least since I was a teenager, and that was more than a few years ago.

  220. Longer shorts on men had nothing to do with any idea that shorter shorts were immodest. It was all about being cool, and after one basketball team showed up with near-knee-length shorts, it wasn’t long before all the rest of the lemmings (except John Stockton) had jumped off the cliff too.

    Of course, off the court the really cool guys wear those shorts about halfway down their backsides. Morons. (And that judgment has nothing to do with the modesty/immodesty of showing off your boxer shorts–I could care less about that, and I’d imagine that most women are of the same mind.)

  221. (“Hey, maybe we can sexualize the boys’ bodies for everybody too!”) I so wish I didn’t know real actual grownups who cared just a little too much about the whole twilight wolf bare chested little boys.

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