"As to the question of modesty, I would just ask women for some basics: I don’t want to see your boobs, and I don’t want to be overly reminded of them. I know you have them, and I know you can’t make them disappear, but you also know how to make them more or less noticeable. Please, choose things on the “less noticeable” side of the scale. Similarly, skirt-lengths that don’t give me reason to think I might catch something if I pay close enough attention are nicer than not."
I have often deplored the treatment of modesty for women in our Church. Women and YW are oft castigated for wearing clothing that might titillate a man. Girls are faulted for inappropriate thoughts experienced by SS teachers, and are held accountable for men's reactions to their appearance.
This emphasis is unwelcome for many reasons. First, a man is accountable for his own responses. We realize that men have sexual reactions to visual stimuli. But since a man is likely to get turned on by the sight of a shapely woman in jeans and a turtleneck sweater, or even a woman's eyes flashing through a burka, he must learn how he will deal with these completely natural feelings. We have seen that it is not impossible for a man to enjoy the sight of a beautiful woman, relax and turn his mind to other things, then go on with his life. He need neither feel guilty for his reflexes, dwell on inappropriate thoughts or take them into action, nor blame the woman who happened by or her choice of clothing.
In many countries outside of the U.S., women breastfeed their children in public. Men are taught from a young age that this is natural and normal. When a breast appears in public, it doesn't seem to throw these men into a tizzy. Thus, it must be possible for males to learn how to process the sight of women's body parts.
So-called "modesty" teachings are also unwelcome in the Church because they undermine the principles of the Gospel. The Lord would have his children know that they are valued, precious, and loved. Why do you think our youth have such difficulty believing these teachings? When carried to an extreme, as they now are, teachings on "modesty" undermine and confuse this Gospel truth. Young people get the message that their body parts are shameful and disgusting. "Modesty" teachings are so often emphasized that they replace instruction on God, Christ and the atonement, the Restoration, and Christian love. This leads youth (and others!) to excessive dieting, eating disorders, cutting, and depression.
Comments such as Blain's are all to frequent in Mormon culture, among both women and men. I may be more fragile than most Mormon women, but these words have the effect on me of wanting to either flaunt my body or hide it and hurt myself. They make the possession of a woman's body an undesirable condition. "I know you can't make those breasts go away, but I wish you would," these voices say. "Make them less obvious if you can. Better yet, just disappear."
At times I am admonished to choose my dress as if I would be in the company of Jesus. In reality, we should feel perfectly comfortable stark naked in the presence of the Savior. If we don't, there is something wrong with the way we have been taught to view our bodies. In the Garden before the Fall, man and woman were unclothed in the presence of God, Jesus, and perhaps the entire Heavenly Host, and they "were not ashamed!" God fashioned our body parts and is intimately acquainted with them.
We are making the clothing issue for women a bit of an obsession. I agree with C.S. Lewis that "I do not think that a very strict or fussy standard of propriety is any proof of chastity or any help to it." In Mere Christianity he writes on the Christian view of sex and sexuality. He says that sex is an appetite, and like all appetites, it should be fed in healthy ways but not titillated, not indulged, not gorged. One sign that our sexual appetites are totally out of bounds is the growing phenomenon -- Lewis was writing in the 1940s -- of striptease shows. He wrote:
"Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theater by simply bringing a covered plate onto the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or bit of bacon, would not you think that in that country something had gone wrong in the appetite of food? ...There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips."
I would not like my remarks to be construed as a defense of ostentatious flaunting of the body or of the degradation that takes place in pornography. Both are extremes which are as contorted as an overemphasis on covering up. In this fallen, cold and inhospitable world, clothing is a necessity. It is a gift given to mankind for their protection and comfort. Some concluding thoughts by C.S. Lewis:
"Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here...All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither."