What Is Modest?

[ 9 ] Comments

by RI Editors

Last week we had a few posts surrounding modesty – Modest & Breastfeeding and Divine Motherhood, Earthly Realities. Both of these posts have great points, and the comments are interesting as well, they are a basis from which we hope to have a productive discussion.

Is modesty a liquid commandment? It is okay to show off your legs in a bathing suit, but not in shorts? It is all right to have bare shoulders in a play or a costume? Or is it a hard and fast, black and white concept?

How do we negotiate this commandment for ourselves and how do we teach it to our children when there seem to be so many exceptions?

Beyond ourselves and our family do we have any responsibility to promote modesty in our community?

9 Responses to What Is Modest?

  1. David says:

    I actually did a blog series about this the past two weeks as well. I encourage everyone to check out my blog and read it.

    In short my answer is modesty and breastfeeding are unrelated. If modest is fluid enough to allow for skin tight swim suits because its activity appropriate then there is zero reason to get after breastfeeding.

  2. Liz C says:

    Here’s my radical opinion:

    Modesty is NOT about clothing.

    We’ve settled for an orthopraxic checklist because it’s easier than the inculcation of a modest spirit.

    Modesty is a principle about the heart and mind; when it becomes part of our spiritual habit, there may be effects seen in our clothing, but the effects will also be seen in our lifestyle, in our dedication of resources toward God’s work, in our attitudes of respect and consideration for others. Clothing choices play only a tiny, tiny part in an integrated life of spiritual modesty.

    When we harp on clothing details, we’re cheating ourselves out of the best lessons and habits, and creating generations that don’t understand the difference, and who walk around condemning others who’ve not made the same choices they’ve made (or had foisted on them.) That’s a poor substitute for Christ’s teachings and example.

    • Gwen in L.A. says:

      Absolutely Agreed with the first two comments. For me, modesty is not about breast feeding in public, or clothing alone.

      I am not a gifted writer–will say for me and my house, It is Mindset and living an example pleasing and worthy of Jesus the Christ, and living not as a stumbling block to others.

    • Cheryl says:

      I agree that it is not about hem lengths or necklines. When we are so concerned about a couple of inches on a skirt we become like the Pharisees. It is about our divine nature and when we teach young women about their nature and being daughters of God rather than a checklist of what they cannot wear we rob them of the true nature of themselves. We are no better than society who focuses solely on the body when we teach them their bodies are something to be ashamed of or their hem length is most important.

  3. Bonnie says:

    Clothing has always been a challenge. All throughout the scriptures it was the wearing of costly apparel that first spelled the downfall of an otherwise well-functioning gospel-centered society. It’s also the first thing that the creation story specifies, that God made clothing for Adam and Eve. The metaphors drip with meaning for us. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.

    I think we have two realities that we will always struggle, as saints, to keep in balance. 1) Clothing’s purpose is to cover our nakedness, not to draw attention to ourselves, trip us up from weightier concerns, or be a measure of anything within. 2) Clothing is a big part of how we meet one another, and we can’t alter the fact that our brains are wired to eliminated much of our thinking by making snap judgments.

    For ourselves and those over whom we have a stewardship, I think we have a responsibility to teach modesty in our thinking, giving glory to God instead of trying to arrange our own glories to greatest effect. If anything we do, at any extreme, steps over this line, we have a responsibility to learn and moderate ourselves.

    Interestingly enough, everyone else gets to choose the timetable on which they experience this growth, so we are left with our responsibility for ourselves. Still, would I do something that would make someone else’s journey more difficult, just because that person hasn’t resolved this distinction in his or her mind? Good grief. That’s prideful as well, and modesty requires that we don’t place principles above people by focusing on tenets.

    My oldest son took a girl to prom one year who hadn’t been attending church for a while. She wore a gown with spaghetti straps. It was a pleasure to fellowship with her, to learn about her family, to make her feel welcome in our home while we took pictures, and to share them with her later. She may not come back to church, but she knows that we did not stand in judgment. (We were all just grateful that the back of her gown was intact so that he had some place to put his hand while he danced with her – not all of them make that possible!)

    I think we’re always dealing with people, and by the guidance of the spirit we will know how to interact with people in a way that encourages their further turning to God. If we follow the example of the Savior, I think our first responses are always love instead of gossip. Perhaps in a loving environment, we all forget about the clothing eventually and glorify God.

  4. Tiffany W. says:

    I really like Liz C.’s comment and I wholeheartedly agree with her.

    I’m currently living in Saudi Arabia where women are required to wear abayas and religious police regularly troll around looking for offenders of the rules. While I’ve never met a woman who dares to go without the abaya, the police get around that tiny detail by harassing women over not covering their hair, painted fingernails, bare feet in sandals, etc. It’s very ugly and distressing. And all over what is perceived to be modest or immodest.

    I love the concept and importance of being modest in spirit and thus influencing actions, clothing choices, and behavior. I do not love the idea that any member should be put into a religious police role. I don’t think it is appropriate for we, as latter-day Saints to constantly police one another’s clothing choices and by extension use it as a judging stick to determine the righteousness of others. But unfortunately, when we start talking about hem lengths, sleeves versus straps, and even breastfeeding, policing one another becomes a matter of rote.

  5. Karen says:

    I have to wonder in this day and age, why modesty is deemed mostly a female issue? Can boys dress immodestly? I was raised in a household of girls with only one brother. My mother had a rule that if the boy or his friends could go without a shirt, so could she. It ony took one feign at taking off her shirt and the boys got the message. She keeps a stack of t-shirts ready for any un-topped boys that come to visit her home. Do we teach boys to be modest and to reverence their bodies like we do the girls?

  6. Brittany says:

    I think a lot of the confusion about modesty does come from the world’s culture of objectifying women and valuing them only their bodies, and only the sexual aspects of their bodies at that. The world tells women to flaunt their bodies for men, and the modesty message, when not taught thoughtfully and carefully, tells them to cover their bodies up *for men.* Yes, of course, we don’t want to try to make someone else sin, but there is so much more to it than that. Young people (both young women and young men) should dress in a way that honors the image of God, that holds sexuality sacred as we have been taught it is, that doesn’t seek attention for themselves, and that helps them ignore the part of them that wants to keep thinking things like “do I look like a girl who is having fun?” and just have fun (or whatever they’re doing–now that I am a mom, I fall into wondering if I look like a good mom, when it would be better to just be the best mom I can and not worry about how it looks!). I think we should want to look nice–temples are kept looking very beautiful, and we are taught that our bodies are temples. But the beauty we seek should not be about comparing ourselves to others–wanting to look more beautiful, more expensive, hey, maybe even more covered-up *than* someone else is prideful. I saw this quote today, and I think it sums it up well: “Don’t shine so others can see you. Shine so that through you, others can see Him.”

  7. Paul says:

    The only place I have in the modesty discussion is in my family. I would like my daughters and sons to learn that they are children of a loving heavenly father. Their body is a gift from Him and should be treated with care and respect. It is, as Paul teaches, the temple of their spirit.

    Clothing ought to be appropriate to an activity: we don’t wear a swimming suit to church and we don’t wear our Sunday best for swimming.

    Aside from sons who spent a few years dying their hair various shades of weird, my children have generally not tried to draw attention to themselves through their dress. They have not sought to be flambouyant. And so they have tended toward modest dress quite naturally.

    We have talked to our children about the fact that one day we hope they will go to the temple, and we’ve encouraged our children to make choices consistent with that future goal. That said, we’ve also tried to steer clear of the suggestion that a six year old needs to dress as if he or she were wearing temple garments. And we do not make a habit of discussing how others dress, period.

    When my daughters and sons have been teenagers, I’ve been very direct about the fact that I do not believe young women have the responsibility to protect young men from evil thoughts. I would prefer that my daughters choose to dress modestly for their own reaosns, not to avoid tempting some boy. And I would like my sons to learn to control their thoughts, not to expect the young women to do it for them.

    I am reminded of a story from my youth. We had a youth conference the summer before my senior year of high school. One of the attendees was the teenage son of our brand new mission president, and the son and I became friends. He was slow dancing with a girl at one of the dances, and our stake president was uncomfortable about where the son’s hands were, and he asked him to move this hands up. The mission president’s son was very upset and left the dance. He later told me he was certain he’d been singled out because he was the mission president’s son.

    Our stake president was a wonderful man who had reared a number of his own teenagers, and he was very concerned that he’d offended this boy; that was not his intent. He found a way to apologize for calling him out and to make things right in their relationship.

    Several weeks later, in a stake council meeting (which my mother attended and reported to me), there was discussion from some of the YW leaders about the inappropriateness of some of the dresses that some of the girls were wearing. The stake president listened to the discussion and finally said something like, “I think we have remarkable young men and women in our stake. I think we need to trust them to make good choices, and be very careful about how we correct them.” He was clearly advocating for a gentle approach. I’m not sure any of our stake youth leaders changed their approaches as a result of the discussion, but I was heartened by our stake preisdent’s view.

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