One of the most largely discussed topics among Mormon women is the concept of modesty, and what it means to be modest. What does this mean to you? It most likely means that you need to wear appropriate clothes, which in my opinion, is NOT what modesty is about at all.
From the time we are little girls, we are taught that to be modest means to cover yourself up. No shoulders, no short shorts, no skirts shorter than your knees, no low-cut necklines, you know, the works. The purpose of this, we are taught, is to help the young men around us have pure and virtuous thoughts. We are taught that it is our responsibility to help the young men remain clean in their thoughts. I can remember COUNTLESS times as a young woman sitting in class on Sunday listening to a man MUCH older than me come in and tell me how I am to dress myself so that I wouldn’t be tempting to the boys around me or be tempted to do something that would get me into trouble.
Let’s count how many things are just wrong about this picture, shall we? First of all, I am in NO WAY responsible for the thoughts of the men around me. They are in control of their own minds! This teaching is wrong on so many levels because not only are we teaching young girls that they are the only ones responsible for virtuous men, but we are teaching our young men that they are not humanly capable of controlling their own thoughts!! Of COURSE they are capable of this!! I can learn to control my own thoughts, so why can’t a boy? I can’t control what he is thinking! Even if I wear a knapsack that covers me from head to toe, he could still have a dirty image in his mind about my body. And I will tell you what, a suit on a man covers him from head to toe, yes. However, a man in a suit is DANG FINE. I have to be careful not to think some impure things when I see a man in a nice, slim-fitting suit. So, as we can see, this concept works both ways. I AM IN CHARGE OF WHAT GOES ON IN MY OWN HEAD.
Second, I find it really very strange that a man that I usually didn’t know very well, who was MUCH older than me, a teenager at the time, came to speak to me about what clothes are appropriate. These men were usually in their 50s and were part of the leadership of the congregation I attended. These are the men that taught me I had to be modest so the boys could have pure thoughts. Why did these men have to come in the first place?? Why didn’t they send a woman?? Why did we have to have this conversation in the first place?? I look back on this practice, and I will be honest, it makes me very VERY uncomfortable.
Let’s talk about what modesty REALLY means. According to Merriam-Webster Online, modesty is “the quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities.” “Freedom from conceit or vanity.” “Propriety in speech or conduct.”
The very last definition listed there was this: ” the quality of behaving and especially dressing in ways that do not attract sexual attention.” So yes, while modesty can be interpreted in this way, IT IS SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT! I think that we as participants in Mormon culture take this definition and then disregard all the other ones!
Modesty means being humble. It means not bragging about ourselves or placing ourselves above others. It means having confidence in our own abilities without being arrogant. Modesty means we recognize the talents of others and accept them for who they are. Being modest means living like the Savior, Jesus Christ. The life of the Savior was full of service and humility. I can only imagine that He had thousands of opportunities to display His power; after all, He IS the Son of God. But, instead of boasting of His abilities, He chose to use His power on a deeply personal level, always seeking out the one that was in the most need of His help. The miracles He performed were solely for the service of those around Him.
Let’s be modest like the Savior. Let’s live our lives so that we can be humble and teachable. Never once did the Savior mention anything about clothes. So, what does that tell you?
Own your body. Wear what you want. Own your mind. Treat others kindly. Live like the Savior. Live modestly.