Charming sister missionaries

Sister missionaries need to be colorful and cute but can’t wear flower bras. Men respond to them anyway. #myozbituary

The #myozbituary is trending right now, a riff on the unfortunate wording of author Colleen McCullough’s obituary in The Australian which begins “COLLEEN McCullough, Australia’s best-selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: ‘I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.’”

Now what does this have to do with Mormons? Well also this week there was a ABCNews Nightline Interview with some sister missionaries in Florida. Titled “New Wave of Mormon Missionaries Is Young, Energetic and Female” the article and accompanying video spend what is, in my opinion, way too much time on what these young sister missionaries are wearing.

‘Always I’m going to respond to a woman,’ Santana said. ‘I’m a man.’

‘People are definitely more open to a female missionary,’ said Sister Thomson. ‘Part of it may be what we wear.’

Unlike their male counterparts, they say they are are encouraged to wear cheerful clothing. Female missionaries wear blouses and long skirts, which can be flowery and feminine.

‘Just recently they told us to be colorful and look cute,’ said Sister Thomson.

There are guidelines about their underwear, too, which must be white or nude.

‘We wear modest, attractive clothing,’ said Sister Lindsay Pugmire, 22, of Snohomish, Washington. ‘You don’t want a flower bra to be seen through your shirt.’

Now obviously it’s interesting to see how people present themselves in a variety of settings, so I get that some discussion of clothing and appearance will happen, but really, flower bras? People are way too interested in Mormon underwear as it is.

So do you see any problems with how this article was presented? If so, what should they have focused on? I liked the line about powerful women, I would have loved some explanations on what makes women powerful in the Mormon Church and how that translates to mission experiences.

And, for fun, what is your #myozbituary?

Comments

  1. When I was a missionary, the wife of a certain prominent apostle told us all our hairstyles were too exciting. I doubt it would have ever occurred to anyone to ask about our bras, so I find it odd it was mentioned. If you’re a missionary, and your bra is showing, I think there are bigger problems than whether it is flowery! (Though I’m all for flowery bras, if that’s your thing.)

    I’d like to see more focus on what women are both bringing to and learning from a mission. There is enough there to discuss for days without ever bringing up appearance at all.

  2. The U.S. military had the same problem trying to come up with regulations for women during World War II. On one hand, they didn’t want to give the impression they were just there for looks and to be “comfort” soldiers for the men. As a result female soldiers had paternalistic guidelines and excessive rules and regulations to keep them from fraternizing with the soldiers. On the other hand, they didn’t want the female soldiers to seem like the butch lesbian brigade, so they had lots of classes on beauty, poise, grace, and even had beauty pageant kind of activities. Essentially, they people in charge wanted them to be feminine and pretty, but not too much. Which reminds me of the dilemma faced by sister missionaries. Use your feminine whiles, but not too much. I don’t have a solution, or any profound wisdom to offer on the situation. Nor am I very good at discussing feminist topics. But based on historical examples, you aren’t the first to notice or wrestle with this problem.

  3. Reminds me of a joke:

    Adam: “God, why did you make Eve so beautiful?”
    God: “That’s easy. So you would love her.”
    Adam: “But why did you make her so gentle, so tender, so adorable?”
    God: “But it’s obvious, so that you would love her.”
    Adam: “But why did you make her so stupid?”
    God: “Look Adam, so that she would love you!”

    But in all seriousness, female attractiveness is part of a woman’s subversive power in the world. They may not have the priesthood, but they rule from the sidelines through subterfuge on various levels. Their sweetness is a sword and their beauty is a trojan horse.

  4. Bro. Jones says:

    I do not recall paying attention to the lingerie of the sister missionaries that taught me, this despite me having a minor crush on one of them. (This was before the current rules that forbid cross-gender teaching, of course. And no, nothing untoward happened.) Assuming that the sisters are reasonably dressed, any person taking note of their underthings is meeting with them for the wrong reasons.

  5. ginaathompson says:

    I’m just going to assume that no one has said anything yet because everyones’ palms are still on their respective faces, but Nate’s apparently earnest comment is something else. This is what we’re dealing with, people. Nice, earnest folks who think things like that are a good addition to the conversation.

  6. yes, I think that’s correct, gina.

  7. “Nice, earnest folks who think things like that are a good addition to the conversation.” And sister missionaries who have no qualms talking about it in similar ways (especially in the video). Of course it could have been that it was edited in such a way for them to come off more concerned about how they look, but still.

  8. “But in all seriousness, female attractiveness is part of a woman’s subversive power in the world. They may not have the priesthood, but they rule from the sidelines through subterfuge on various levels. Their sweetness is a sword and their beauty is a trojan horse.”

    No. NO. NO NO NO. NO!

    What if I’m just dog-ugly? What if no man ever wants to lay a finger on me? Adieu to my subversive power, then!

    I don’t want subversive power. I want to be treated like the honest, rational, skilled, useful and valuable person that I am. If someone finds me attractive, that’s a cherry on top. I do not use my “feminine wiles.” I am about as angry right now as I ever get. Treat me like an equal human being.

  9. I blame Bill Clinton. He never should have answered the “boxers or briefs” question.

  10. Bill Clinton was utterly delighted to answer questions about his underwear. Me, not so much.

  11. Nate. Just… Wow. Nate.

  12. The PangWitch says:

    Kim – Gee I wonder if it was Bednar’s wife. Anyone willing to give a devotional to 30,000 college students and specifically mention the evils of lace, and thong underwear, obviously would have a problem with good haircuts and flower bras.

  13. “I’m just going to assume that no one has said anything yet because everyones’ palms are still on their respective faces,”

    Not enough facepalm in the entire world for that one. Maybe just barely enough for “feminine whiles…” Seriously, people??

    Time to bust out “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”

  14. I do find this paternalistic and maddening as a woman. As a missionary, I didn’t see myself as any different from the elders except that I had to ask them to baptize my investigators, and apparently, despite being a couple years older, I had to call them at night to check in. One young elder explained to me that sister missionaries were a huge pain because you (meaning the elders) always had to check up on them to keep them in line. He’s still alive because this was a phone conversation.

  15. Angela, I have heard of elders who thought that way. Almost 20 years later, I am still bragging about the fantastic sisters that served in my mission. I honestly can’t relate to elders who think sisters are a pain; our sisters were some of the hardest working missionaries I have ever encountered.

    Sister Thomson’s comment, “Part of it may be what we wear,” is an example of how much we emphasize outward appearances in the church. It reminds me of an elder in our ward who refused to pickup a prescription on Sunday. He believed people would think Mormons really don’t observe the Sabbath. I explained that, 1) few people here know anything about Mormons, 2) non-members in our area probably don’t care even if they do know about our Sunday practices, and 3) the sooner he took the meds the sooner he could get back to work.

  16. wreddyornot says:

    Now Nate would be the time for your apology unless you were speaking institutionally. In that case I apologize for you.

  17. the other Marie says:

    Well, when I have complained about being constantly nagged in church settings to look prettier to attract men and get married and fill the measure of my creation, I have been reassured that all decent men, though they may require sexy appearance in order to become interested in you in the first place, will OF COURSE love your spiritual side, your character, your personality, even more than they love your looks….once you’ve reeled them in on the hook of physical beauty.

    If many/most church members believe this is true for men and romance, then why not for men and religious conversion? In which case, APPEARANCE IS VERY IMPORTANT.

    In the end, most sister missionaries get the type of investigator they dress for?

  18. Thank you wreddy, Marie and other commenters. Nate’s comment was a sucker-punch and your wit helped me laugh it off a little.

  19. Perhaps it would be constructive to consider the principle reason that Sister Missionaries were first called in the late 19th century; namely, to provide live evidence that LDS women were happy, educated, and had free-will – all of that in contrast to the popular characterizations in Europe and the eastern US that LDS women were essentially polygamous sex slaves. To some degree, I hope that this principle is still true; that by seeing Sister Missionaries the world (and also the members) come to realize the great talents and virtues our Sisters possess – equal to that of the Elders.

    At the same time, though, I can’t help but feel that such a “mission” is inherently lesser. Elders are not sent to show the world the virtues of our young men. They are sent to teach the gospel of repentance and to bring saving ordinances to our lost siblings. Sisters Missionaries certainly share much of that work, and their roles have increased measurably since the age change, but I fear that we will always have some notion that Sisters are “missionary lite” so long as their calls are based on desire rather than duty, so long as they have no authority to perform saving ordinances, and so long as female leaders are referred to as “Missionary President’s Wife” in order to clear that she has no presiding authority. Until our Sister’s roles are more than mere appendages I doubt that we will be able to fully escape the pervasive notion that an element of their calling is to “flirt to convert.”

  20. In June 2009 I received an email from a High School buddy. He was investigating the Church and had some questions. A few weeks later he sent an email with a picture attached. When I saw him in his baptismal clothes standing next to a very attractive sister missionary who was the type he liked in High School – I knew. I knew he was getting baptized because of her.

    Fast forward a couple of months and he was done with the Church. He claims she flirted.

    Going back to the early 1990’s I was involved in a mid-western Asian branch. Within 2 years we had over 200(!) prospective Elders. Very few girls were baptized. We only had sister missionaries. They had a ridiculous number of dates and marriage proposals. I believe 2, maybe 3 sisters were sent home. They got rid of the sister missionaries shortly after the 2 year mark.

    Fast forward another couple of years and the entire operation shut down.

    I am not saying sisters can’t be excellent missionaries. I am not suggesting these sisters were flirt-to-convert types (some did enjoy the overwhelming attention). I am suggesting that we can’t expect guys to push out thousands of years of biology. I believe a man will often see in a woman what he hopes to see. You can dress a sister very plain and it will not do much to keep guys from dreaming.

  21. By the way, there’s a pretty creepy discussion going on at M* blog about feminine attractiveness and patriarchy.

    “Feminism does do some good in its effort to help women feel more at peace with their physical body image, but their ascent to the idea that women should always be emotionally confident more than outweighs their contribution to being at peace with their physical bodies.”

    What the ???

  22. Mark, do you somehow think that this effect doesn’t occur with women attracted to elders??

  23. Kristine – of course not because thousands of years of biology has left women with little sex drive….(face palm).

    I sympathize with Nate and Mark. While they want to point to biology, a lifetime if socialization is also hard for us men to break.

  24. lifetime of…its early here.

  25. I just checked back on the Missionary Guide I was trained on, and Dave K is right. Just after “Build Relationships of Trust” it has a special instruction for Sister Missionaries to “assure investigator you are not a polygamist sex slave.”

  26. “But in all seriousness, female attractiveness is part of a woman’s subversive power in the world. They may not have the priesthood, but they rule from the sidelines through subterfuge on various levels. Their sweetness is a sword and their beauty is a trojan horse.”

    Ah, good, the old “You don’t need real power because you have a pretty face and you can use it to manipulate men into doing things for you.” Well, at least I have a good place to use this gif:

  27. The sister missionaries profiled in that news story most likely fixated on their looks because the LDS Church fixates on their looks. I was a missionary, and I endured many, many lectures in the MTC and at zone conferences about how to look attractive enough without looking too attractive. The fact that we still, in 2015, demand that sister missionaries wear dresses and skirts but never slacks, even for bike-riding, is evidence that we care more about how feminine these women look than about how well they can do their job. Biking in a skirt is immodest, unsafe and expensive (because it results in ruined skirts that must be replaced), yet, we mandate that female missionaries must wear pretty dresses, even when it impedes their ability to travel efficiently in the course of their work.

  28. It’s not an LDS specific problem to fixate on women’s looks rather than their talents, skills, work, character, and actions as evidenced by the ozbituary. I just wish LDS people were the exceptions to this cultural problem. Instead we just do it in a different way that we pretend is better than the “world’s” way.

  29. I’m just trying to imagine how elders would respond if they were told to “be colorful and look cute.”

  30. Here’s a fun experiment: Next time you have the sister missionaries over, ask about makeup rules. I discovered recently that the sisters in our mission area aren’t allowed to leave their apartment without mascara. They also had a sisters-only conference where they learned how to “properly” apply makeup (complete with diagrams and practice sheets for them to color). I’m still waiting for the elders to have a conference on learning how to apply concealer to that teenage acne…

  31. The only thing like this I remember from my mission is my mission president’s wife telling me that my parka was maybe not as “streamlined” as what they usually recommend. Heh. It was warm, though. We had the guidelines with the pictures of the pretty, smiling sister missionaries, but even in the MTC we all knew that those were “for Temple Square sisters” and laughingly tossed them the minute we were off the plane. I remember we had a “fashion show” at a Zone Conference once in which elders and sisters participated. It was largely played for laughs, with clashing colors, too-wide ties, etc. We had no makeup rules, which was good because I didn’t wear makeup at all. There should have been a sunscreen rule, though. All missionaries were supposed to check in with the DL at night. I usually enjoyed those conversations and can’t remember ever feeling like I was being checked up on. It was just a chance to rehash the day with someone who knew what it was like out there.

  32. By the way, I served my mission from 1994-1996 in the Northeast of the United States and had two mission presidents. I have no idea how my experience compares to others’. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the mission president and the area.

  33. Oh, and we had two sisters-only conferences, but makeup and dress were not discussed.

  34. Bro. Jones says:

    A random thought: has anyone addressed the fact that the current “uniform” for elders is, uh, kind of dorky? A business suit is fine, no problem, but a skinny teenaged boy in a white button-up shirt doesn’t immediately make me think, “Yeah, this guy’s dress indicates he is a serious scholar of the Gospel and I should treat what he says with authority.”

  35. Bicycles can ruin skirts? I suppose that’s possible, but not nearly as likely as the bikes ruining trousers. The chain/chain ring are natural trousers eaters, and all the missionaries in my mission (Japan, early 1970s) had trousers that showed the scars.

  36. wreddyornot: “Now Nate would be the time for your apology.” Angela C at Wheat and Tares is already used to my benevolent sexism, but its probably the first time I’ve brought it here to BBC.

    I actually believe that men and women are different, with different strengths and different weaknesses. The “sweetness and beauty” I cite is a particular strength of females in general, and they have used it to great advantage in world history, such as the sister missionaries in the video, who openly admitted that being a pretty, sweet, colorfully dressed missionary makes them MORE effective missionaries than their drone-looking male counterparts.

    There is nothing wrong with people playing to their gender strengths or recognizing them, as long as they are trying to do good with it. Some women feel objectified if the church tries to utilizes their “sweetness and beauty.” But I don’t think its objectification if its only part of the package. These sisters are sweet and beautiful, AND they are intelligent, strong, and don’t tolerate inappropriate behavior. Our bodies, gender mannerisms, intellect, and strength of character are part of the whole package of our identity. I believe it is foolish to try and downplay any particular part of our identity, merely because it is more physical.

  37. BBC, sorry, BCC!

  38. Bro. Jones, the general Elder uniform (white short-sleeve shirt and poorly-tied tie) reminds me of nothing so much as the school uniforms some high schools here require. Seriously, I was walking downtown a while ago, and saw a mass of teenager boys from behind, and I had no idea if they were Mormon missionaries or high school students headed home.

  39. Sam Brunson, I was just thinking that the Elder uniform really looks like a school uniform; not exactly impressive. They should go all “New Testament” style and wear tunics and sandals (and beards!)–THAT would get people’s attention. I don’t know what the Sisters could wear–maybe those nifty head coverings you always see in the paintings of the Gospels? I am a little disturbed to hear that the Church teaches sister missionaries how to wear makeup and dress–is that really something missionaries should be focusing on?

    Meanwhile, Nate continues his efforts to draw the thunderbolt…

  40. Nate, when was the last time you heard people using adjectives such as “debonaire, fit, handsome” to regularly describe Elders and our expectations of what Elders should be (and I’m not talking about someone who has a crush on a male missionary who may use these words)? Such a double standard.

    (Sorry, I couldn’t think of an equivalent to “sweet” that our society uses for men other than…strong….women are sweet, men are strong….blech.)

  41. Believe it or not, some of us women don’t want to be attractive. Some of us women are sick of it, and would rather be crazy cat ladies so as not to bother with the tiresome male attentions.

  42. OK, I guess I’m out of my depth in this company. But Corrina, the double standard you mention doesn’t apply so easily.

    A male missionary who is a bodybuilder isn’t at an advantage with getting his foot in the door. But a sister with a colorful dress is. Non-members are the ones responding, and non-members are responding naturally to their instincts. The church isn’t applying a double standard, they are merely being realistic and practical about human nature.

    And if you were to really look at it, I’m sure the church spends as much time fussing over the male missionary attire as female. And then the church spends much more time with both genders on training, spiritual growth, and obedience reminding. This particular detail about sister missionary fashion was focused on only by ABC, who are trying to sell a provocative story, not by the church.

  43. Bro. Jones says:

    1) Actually, a male missionary like you describe can enjoy such advantages. Without identifying anyone, let’s just say a female relative of “a friend” took a substantially more pronounced interest in the discussions when a handsome, well-built elder transferred in. (He was a great guy, and we still stay in touch.) Snarky comments about “these young kids teaching the Gospel” were muted while that Elder was in town, and the woman in question accepted baptism down the road.

    2) So if we’re going to just up and say that sometimes nice-looking missionaries might be more effective in their outreach, regardless of gender, let’s just go ahead and make that a criterion for mission worthiness. Spindly, underfed boys and “sweet spirit” girls can be assigned to service missions (preferably wearing masks or baggy clothes) while strapping lads and sexy ladies can be clad in clothes that show off just enough of their respective charms, then turned loose on a lascivious Gentile public. Let’s play to their natural strengths!

  44. “I am a little disturbed to hear that the Church teaches sister missionaries how to wear makeup and dress–is that really something missionaries should be focusing on?” This is new to me, too. We didn’t get this kind of “advice” when I was serving. We truly were just female missionaries with the same training as everyone else from what I could see.

  45. Bro. Jones, you could be right. I was that missionary! But I still think that a sister in a colorful dress holds and advantage with BOTH genders.

  46. Yeah, Bro. Jones….perhaps it’s just hearsay, but my understanding (when I was applying for my mish back in the 90’s) was that good looks were definitely considered for sisters who got sent to Temple Square. I wonder how much the church missionary department takes looks into account for Temple Square sisters?

    Angela C, I agree–my experience was the same as yours–beauty/fashion/makeup wasn’t even discussed in my mission. Although it was definitely on our mind as we got the strangest looks/remarks walking down the high-fashion streets of Italy. When I look back at my pictures, I laugh at how goofy we must’ve looked in our thick tights, clunky shoes, and long skirts…not to mention bicycle helmets.

  47. “(Sorry, I couldn’t think of an equivalent to “sweet” that our society uses for men other than…strong….women are sweet, men are strong….blech.)”

    Usually idiots or immature.

  48. Corrina, I live in a mission that covers the Kirtland visitor’s center. The sisters missionaries assigned to that visitor’s center serve the last 6 months or so of their mission “in the field.” I can’t say that I’ve paid particular attention, but I’ve never noticed a difference in stereotypical physical beauty between the sisters in my ward that come from the visitor’s center as compared to those who serve their entire mission “in the field.”

    That said, I do find it interesting that only sisters serve in visitor’s centers.

  49. “That said, I do find it interesting that only sisters serve in visitor’s centers”

    Good point, Dave K. It is telling that Elders do not serve in visitor’s centers. I think it reveals something, considering we use mostly young women in these highly visible roles to tourists/the public. (Although I’m not 100% sure what the “something” is. Thoughts?)

    Also, I think our Mormon culture demands that a young man have a “harsher” mission than if he were to serve in a visitor’s center. It wouldn’t hold the same weight as a regular proselytizing mission–unfortunately.

  50. I think the “something” is that there is already a bias in American culture against suit-clad young men with black tags asking if they can talk to you about their religion. Seeing a bunch of them waiting to pounce as soon as someone enters a visitor’s center might be off-putting. Young women and kindly senior missionaries are much more appealing as tour guides, I suppose. I don’t think it’s much more than that.

  51. I thought the white/nude bra requirement was extremely stupid and unnecessary and I happily ignored it. I am smart enough to know not to wear a patterned bra with a light-colored top that you can see it through. And if I wear a patterned bra with a dark colored top WHO IS GOING TO SEE IT?! Me. And maybe my companion if we change around each other. So who cares?? Why dictate the color of my underwear?
    I brought my favorite most comfy giraffe-patterned bra on my mission and counted it as my little “stick-it-to-the-man” rebellion.

  52. My daughter just returned from a mission. The dress and grooming guidelines specifically said that make up was not required, but also that the sister missionaries should consider wearing it. There were tutorials online about how to apply makeup appropriately/conservatively. We took this as an effort to help sisters who wanted to try it, but who never had experimented with it, as well as an effort to tone down makeup of sisters who might have experimented a lot. We also took it to reflect a cultural/age/location bias of the assuredly older women coming up with the advice.

    The clothing guidelines did really encourage youthful and colorful clothing. There were lots of photos online. Of course, the items in the church-provided photos were gathered by stylists, and when we priced bags like those shown, we gasped. Much of the clothing was that way, too. Hard to find kinds of things, expensive. And we were NOT on a shoestring budget. Of course, the stylists were just giving ideas, but to approximate the ideas…not easy.

    When i was helping her get her mission wardrobe together, I had friends preparing to send out sons. What a big difference in time and effort! For the son, go to the suit store of choice, choose a few suits and pants. Then get a bunch of white shirts, a few ties, mens dress shoes.

    For the daughter, every outfit should be different, mix-and-match, youthful, attractive, current in style, modest. Also, practical but dressy. There were to be a couple of particularly dressy outfits, including dressy shoes, for conferences. Clothes needed to be attractive on her particular body, that she felt young and cute in, that she felt reflected her personality, but that also “spoke” the appropriate language to the public. And! Wash and wear! Oh yes, also: Available in stores. Spanning the various seasons and weather of the place she was going, which was entirely different from the seasonal clothing in our local stores at the time. And! Possible to wear on bikes. (There go the pencil skirts.). Shoes should hold up, be sturdy, be foot-smart, be stylish and youthful, at least one very dressy pair, heels not too high. Of course, you wanted shoes to go with the various outfits, so you could meet the “be stylish and put together” goal. But…only three pair of shoes. Ahahahaha.

    There were also strict guidelines about how big earrings could be, about what accessories should look like. Strict guidelines about exercise clothing. (Did the exercise shoes count as one of the 3 pairs? We decided NO.)

    And finally: it all had to meet the strict luggage weight/dimension requirements.

    Sorry to stereotype here, but fellow women, I believe you understand me: this was a big task to carry out in 8 weeks, even without looking at any flower bras. It is great that our sister missionaries get out there in whatever they wear. I wish there were not such a focus on appearance in our culture–Mormon, American, World–at all.

    Regarding the visitor center missionaries: Our daughter told us that in the MTC, the Temple Square sisters had extra days/classes in what the other sister missionaries called “charm school.”

  53. Honestly I think sister missionaries ARE more approachable because of what they wear. If elders wore business casual this would be negated. I think If sisters wore business suits they would be less approachable than a guy in business casual.

    My only experience with floral bras during my mission was to gently encourage women to consider their underwear during baptism.

    I was asked as a sister missionary about my underwear. It was a prank call. I didn’t mean to but I laughed out loud. I’m pretty sure that was not his intention. we did, in one area, start wearing fake wedding rings and tell people that during our missions we were like nuns, married to Christ, or really whatever would help them approach us less.

    We were a practical mission so my dress was never addressed, except at the beginning of our missions when the mission president ‘s wife would suggest that sisters NOT wear stockings on a regular basis (due to heat) and the mission president would make a point of not wearing his coat in the summer and suggesting the elders do likewise. (that related to an elder who felt his constant coat wearing self was more better ;) )

  54. “The article and accompanying video spend what is, in my opinion, way too much time on what these young sister missionaries are wearing.”

    Guess who else spends way too much time on what sister missionaries are wearing?? The church, of course. Its dress and grooming standards are so over the top they would make a Pharisee blush.

  55. Pokemom–Thanks for sharing your experience w/ your daughter. “Charm school”–lol.

  56. I always thought only sisters staffed visitor’s centers because priesthood holding Elders were needed out in the field because of all the things sisters are not able to do without the priesthood.

  57. I’ve been reading the comments and thinking about my own mission experience, and I can’t help but wonder if more sister missionaries serving has resulted in increased focus on what they wear – because now sisters are policing other sisters in a way that didn’t used to happen as much.

    I served a few years ago – right afer the change in clothing rules, but before the age lowering. Although we did get the obligatory and terrible half hour meeting on clothing for sisters at the MTC, that is literally the only time I can remember any kind of leadership focusing on how we looked. In a way, I felt like the sisters had a kind of rogue freedom (that had both upsides and downsides). There were things that elders were just not going to call us on or talk to us about, and appearance seemed to fall into that category. On some level, we existed outside of the structure of mission leadership. I seem to remember many an Elder being harrased about his tattered suit and unshined shoes by the zone leaders, but I can’t think of a single comment about my own appearance or that of one of my companions.

    Now, perhaps I was just lucky, but part of me wonders if it is now the sisters acting as the enforcers of the focus on apparance. Either way, it’s an institutional problem coming from the top, but I think that before it may never have actually reached the sisters because elders are not going to be wardrobe enforcers. It is much more likely that a sister is going to tell another sister her clothes are too frumpy/wrinkled/ugly/short/low/etc, and as a consequence, physical appearance becomes more of a concern. The more sisters there are, the more this happens.

    Now, I could be totally wrong about this theory, but I would never have thought to mention the appearance of sister missionaries as something that set us apart. In fact, it seemed a lot more common to have young women fawning over Elders than the reverse (and not just because there were so many more of them!). I thnk young, wholesome-seeming men have an appeal that we didn’t have a sister missionaries.

    If anything really does set apart sister missionaries from elders, it’s probably not bright clothes – it is that that people often feel safer with women, and young women tend to have more experience forming emotional bonds with people than young men.

  58. Having recently outfitted a sister missionary with the guidelines provided on the church website, Pokemom’s description is spot-on.

    My major questions coming out of the experience: why don’t they explain what skirts work on a bike and what’s with all the colored shoes?? How do you coordinate eight or ten outfits with fuchsia or mustard or teal shoes?

  59. Served a mission at a visitor’s center half day and proselyted half day. Boy, I never had anyone talk to me about what clothes I wore or makeup. I wore tights in St. George because they lasted longer than pantyhose….do they make you wear pantyhose anymore? Anyways…..this whole discussion cracks me up. I was a proud white handbook carrying member of a “Relief Society Zone” as we were affectionately called. I didn’t baptize a bunch of boys…mainly girls and young women. But I did get “we didn’t have sister missionaries like you when where I served.” I didn’t even put two and two together thinking that I was somehow attractive and that is why I was serving at a visitor’s center. I’m 41 and I guess I learned something new every day. One thing that does haunt me though….a young man that the elders baptized wanted me to baptize him. He didn’t understand why a woman couldn’t do it…..I feel that pain friend….

  60. melodynew says:

    I liked the video. I thought it was fair and representative of the majority of sister missionaries. . . which is sad in some ways. (Feminist sister missionaries are out there, surely.) What strikes me most, however, is this comment thread. We are a sick, sick lot in the LDS church – and elsewhere. This thread serves as a remarkable exposé of what is wrong (and sexist) in our beloved community, thanks to Nate and a few choice others. We’ve come a long way, baby, but we’ve got a whole lot longer way to go.

    April Young Bennett, your comment is spot on. I adore you. And you always dress so nicely.

  61. I served about 12 years ago, and we were supposed to wear drab colors – grey, brown, navy, black – to look professional, I guess. I didn’t care much about their dress and grooming standards, but then they called all the MTC sisters to a meeting to tell us not to be too friendly or nice to the Elders because if they fell in love with us, it would be our fault. And did we really want to be responsible for getting a missionary sent home because he couldn’t “lock his heart” against us? I was not alone in speaking up and saying that we weren’t responsible for what the Elders did, but they shot us down and explained that men don’t have as much self-control as women so it was our job to be the gatekeepers, so to speak. I think we all went away fuming. Twelve years later and I’m still kind of fuming. Apparently women should be attractive, nice, and friendly, but not too much in case we drag down the men. Someone remind me why those with apparently no self-control get all the power. I really hope they’ve stopped giving that stupid speech.

  62. My mission had a visitor’s center, staffed with what we called the “VC Glamour Girls”. They did aerobics together in front of the Christus statue every morning, and generally included the best selection of rodeo queens, pageant contestants, dairy princesses, and otherwise stunning young ladies most of us had ever seen. We also had one “field sister” from Tennessee who was one of the most charming, cute, and outgoing sister we’d ever seen, and none of us could figure out why she wasn’t in the Visitor’s Center. I eventually did a stint in the office and saw the photo she’d submitted with her missionary application, and it didn’t do her justice in the slightest. I don’t know if it was bad lighting, a bad angle, or a bad hair day, but there was only a slight resemblance. Kind of like a DMV photo.

    At zone conferences, we’d often have that hour-long breakout session where the mission president’s wife would haul the sisters off to the Relief Society room for personalized instruction. While we were left with the mission president, I remember he explicitly told us that when it came to the sister missionaries and Laurels in the wards where we worked we were to “almost be mean to them”. Rules were so strict as to keep elders and sisters practically in parallel missions. We’d have to drive somewhere, two sisters would get into a car and head out, while 10 elders would be left to pack into the other vehicle – four in front, four in back, two in the trunk. Apparently, the risk of cootie contamination outweighed the need for seat belts. Companionship reading of “Lock Your Heart” by Kimball was a weekly requirement.

  63. Michael, your comment triggered a memory for me. When I submitted my papers, they asked me to resubmit them because my photo was “too dark,” and I was wearing dark clothes. They asked me to send in one where I was smiling and wearing something lighter with more light in the picture. But that does help explain why I didn’t get called to a Visitor Center. Because I’m fricken adorable. Totally VC material.

  64. Sorry, I’m totally squicked out by the thought of people in the missionary department playing “Hot or Not” with sister missionary application pics in assigning them to VCs. Ugh.

  65. Mark, your “benevolent” sexism is not so benevolent as it is sexist. Yes, some women may have done what you say, but to tar 3.5 billion individuals for that is mind boggling.

    May I ask what generation you are?

  66. @Angela C:
    I am female and went on a mission. I went through the same thing. I was laughing hard at the very last line you wrote. :)
    (There were many times I wanted to deck a few missionaries, both Elders and Sisters. )

  67. I distinctly remember my mission president saying (translated from the Italian) something like “I would rather have one hundred companionships of elders – no, one thousand companionships of elders – than one pair of sister missionaries with all of their issues.”

    This after midnighting me to the office as Mission Secretary because my predecessor bought his own ticket home and left while Prez was out on zone interviews; this after one little wiseacre elder brought into the office for a cooldown period ended up in a surreptitious romance with the Mission President’s daughter, and got banished to the Sicilian equivalent of Siberia . . . well, you get the idea. And all because Sorella H****r was upset that we couldn’t cook and eat the Thanksgiving turkey in the sisters’ apartment but had to do it in the chapel instead.

    (And the branch had forgotten to pay the bill, and the electricity had been turned off, and it was an electric oven, so we cooked the turkey at the sisters’ place and had a member run it to the church for the meal and that is a totally true story but one for another time.)

  68. New Iconoclast – we need to start compiling a book of all the tiny papercuts of sexism we see daily in the church. Mission examples should be their own chapter.

  69. Anon for this one says:

    Following on Angela C’s comment earlier: I once dated a stunning young woman who was as startlingly un-photogenic as she was lovely in person. I wonder if she took better photos whether her mission call would have been to a VC instead of the European nation she was sent to.

  70. Angela, we can glue the book together with the blood of the martyrs.

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