Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Jesus Loves Me, But Not My Breasts?

This comment at FMH brought on a slew of unwelcome emotions:

"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."


mawcawn said...

I have been at a meeting where young women were told that men have more nerve endings around their genitalia then do women and so we must be considerate and not touch them on the legs because that will fire them up. Pseudo science won that time.

Over emphasis on modesty tells our young men that they can't help themselves --the slightest thought of a female will turn them into slathering beasts. We should, instead, help them see that grown ups have other things to do with their thoughts and their time. All of us need to put sex in its proper place in our lives and not at the center of a scary "it'll take you over when you least expect it" trap.

The over emphasis on female modesty does tell women that they are at fault for the way they are perceived by others. It also tells men that they have no control over themselves.

All of that goes back to the medieval "biblical" idea that women are the evil seducers of men and that all men would be righteously living in Paradise, if not for Eve.

We are supposed to be more enlightened than that.

Bored in Vernal said...

...grown ups have other things to do with their thoughts and their time. All of us need to put sex in its proper place in our lives...
Very good, mawcawn.

Best to not touch me on the legs either---

SilverRain said...

While I agree that there is too much scare-tactic emphasis on modesty, I don't think there is anything wrong with the concept of covering up. Whether we like it or not, and whether it happens in other cultures or not, our culture has a certain line of dress that parallels a line of behavior. Sure, it may change over time, but what difference does it make? We don't live in those other times, we live now. If you want to drive that change over time, there is a balance between pushing the line further and outright dancing over it.

Comments that the body is disgusting or shameful are out of line, but so are women who wear certain clothes so they can feel daring or enlightened or the center of attention. Men do have those reactions, whether cultural or not - some men more than others. You can't just appeal to a "so and so was able to do it" because reactions and hormones are different in individuals. Some of those men are honestly and sincerely trying to keep their minds clean with no perceived onus on the women. Is it so wrong to help them out a bit, despite the sort of men who make comments like the one you quoted?

Steve M. said...

Wonderful post, BiV.

I think that equating "modesty" with covering up cleavage, legs, shoulders, or stomach kind of misses the point. Modesty is an attitude, a way of carrying oneself. I don't deny that dress may be one way by which both men and women exude modesty (or lack thereof). But I would submit that even one who is technically "covered up" may carry and present him/herself in an immodest manner (just walk around BYU for a few minutes and see). In other words, modesty is not inextricably or exclusively tied to clothing. Therefore, even nudity may be modest. A quick trip to a local art museum confirms this. One of the main problems with LDS culture's "modesty" is that amounts to nothing more than not showing skin.

Also. . . . Men's sexuality is sometimes treated in a baffling way in the Church. On the one hand, we're told that we can brush aside every unwanted sexual thought and suppress every unwanted sexual urge (without any unhealthy consequences). On the other hand, we're essentially taught that we're slaves to our sexuality--that if we do let some sexual thought enter our mind unchecked, it's extremely dangerous because it may take control of us and lead to immoral actions.

First, that men are capable of avoiding unwanted sexual thoughts and urges is dubious. Telling men that they can is only going to lead to guilt (and perhaps the incentive to shift some of the "fault" to "immodest" females). Second, men aren't slaves to their sexuality--at least they don't have to be. As you suggest, it is not impossible for a man to simply "relax and turn his mind to other things. . . . He need neither feel guilty for his reflexes, dwell on inappropriate thoughts or take them into action."

Zillah said...

thank you.

if only the administrators and religion teachers here at the Y had this attitude...then maybe we wouldn't be plagued with posters with cute titles like "goldilocks and the three bares."

Bored in Vernal said...

Silver Rain, no, it's not wrong to "help them out a little bit." I just don't want our women to be relegated to temptress status. What we are talking about here are LDS girls. They don't show more than a bit of leg or some cleavage. It's not like naked breasts are wandering around the cultural hall. I myself wear garments that are never adjusted. But sometimes my dresses might allow for some cleavage to show. Don't make me feel like a freak show for having a woman's body.

Bored in Vernal said...

Steve, thanks for your comments on men's sexuality. I don't really feel qualified to pontificate on the subject, but I was trying to be sensitive to the fact that sexual impulses may arise :) fairly regularly.

Bored in Vernal said...

*snort!* You need to scan that one in for us.

Steve M. said...

Re: Silver Rain

Some of those men are honestly and sincerely trying to keep their minds clean with no perceived onus on the women. Is it so wrong to help them out a bit, despite the sort of men who make comments like the one you quoted?

One more comment on men's sexuality. I think we should move away from virtually equating sexual thoughts with "unclean" thoughts. Sexual thoughts happen; get used to it. Obsessing over not having them will probably just lead to more of them. (A thought experiment: Try your hardest not to think about polar bears for the next minute.) A fleeting sexual thought is not the same as watching a full-length mental porn flick.

I think it's healthier to distinguish between normal, healthy thoughts that come and go, and dwelling on something that can rightly be called "unclean" (whatever that may be).

End of soapbox.

m&m said...

I'm going to ask a pretty blunt question, and I hope it won't come across wrong. I hear often that women should not be blamed for men's reactions...that men have agency and control over their thoughts and feelings and actions and behaviors. While I think it's a little more complex than just putting it all on the men (the sexualization of the body, particularly women's bodies, is not just the men's fault, imo), I think that the general principle is true. We can't blame others for our behaviors, reactions, etc.

BUT, if that is true, then doesn't that same principle apply to young women (or young men or whoever) who hear modesty teachings and hurt themselves (or others) as a result? Is their pain really the Church's fault?

While I do think that once in a while, there is a stray teaching that is overly emphasized, or some person who says something hurtful and wrong within this topic of modesty (again, life challenges are always more complex than some cause-effect kind of thing), I think that blaming the Church for these problems is as wrong as blaming women for men's sexual sin. Such blaming in my mind seeks to absolve individuals of their responsibility to hear and understand. I know that may sound harsh, but in the end, I'd rather have people discover their own ability to overcome these problems than wait around for the Church to change its teachings, because I don't think it will (or that it should), because the teachings have doctrinal underpinnings that go beyond necklines and hemlines (and even beyond sexuality).

I have seen too many youth (and adults, for that matter) embrace these teachings and radiate a joy and confidence *because* of the Church's teachings (not just in spite of them). Of course, I know those who struggle, too. But again, I don't think the problem is in the teachings, but in the lack of understanding about the bigger picture and the doctrine of our worth.

Rather than blame the church, why not focus on trying to understand and help others understand the big picture -- that we are beloved children of God, that we don't need to rely on our body size or shape or clothing or anything else external to determine or prove our worth. We have worth because we are children of God.

I suspect that many, if not most of us, struggle at some time or another to really believe in our worth (whether related to body issues or other issues) (I know I have and do, anyway), but blaming our circumstances, or people around us, or Church teachings, or anyone or anything else for that lack of conviction in my mind only distracts us from getting to the core things that can change how we view ourselves, indeed, that can change our hearts. That leaves us powerless to change how we feel, but as we say about the men and their sexualized responses, we (and they) have agency, no? If any of us feel worthless because of something someone said or did (be it related to modesty or anything else), we can choose to seek God to find our worth in Him.

m&m said...

That leaves us powerless to change

I should have said that leaves us feeling powerless....

Ann said...

This is a subject I have really strong feelings about. In this case, I think the goal is an excellent one. That is, in a society where women are so strongly objectified, it's empowering to dress in a way that women can be more than our sexuality; that allows us the freedom to be strong, active individuals.

Unfortunately the rhetoric LDS church leaders use to achieve this goal emphasizes the exact OPPOSITE of what I think are the best reasons for dressing seriously. They want women and girls to cover up, but not to emphasize their other strengths; to make us more than tits and ass. They warn us to cover up BECAUSE our bodies have become just objects of sexual desire. Far from fighting the prevailing culture, they're buying into it hook, line and sinker.

If we want men to treat us seriously, then we shouldn't buy into the patriarchal model of dressing for sexual availability. That doesn't mean "cover up so we won't think about sex." That means "dress like you want to be treated as a whole person, not a collection of parts."

BiV, I have met you in real life, and nothing about how you dress suggests "sex object." But there's no doubt that you're all female, either. I think that's EXACTLY the kind of balance that all women would benefit from. Unfortunately for young women, often the only power they feel they can exercise is their sexuality. I can't blame them for wanting to exercise the only power that society (including, apparently, the LDS church) recognizes as valid for them.

m&m said...

They want women and girls to cover up, but not to emphasize their other strengths;

This is the kind of thing I was talking about. A reading of the breadth of teachings to our youth would show how false this statement is. There is so much said about their worth, their talents, their value, their potential. If all they ever heard was modesty, you might have a point, but they hear sooo much more.

In my view, this kind of comment only adds to the problem. If all we do is parse out a teaching and make it bigger than the whole picture, what can we expect but distorted understanding? The thing is, the leaders don't do this, we do. We focus on one talk or one comment and make it as though that is what they teach all of the time. The teachings that you want are there! And not just here and there.

Ann said...

Michelle, I simply don't agree. First of all, we aren't talking about "youth," we're talking about girls. I worked in young women's for a number of years and the overwhelming emphasis was on docility. Be gentle, be lovely, be good, be beautiful daughters of God. The admonitions to "cover up" are ALWAYS in that context. There is nothing in that rhetoric that talks about commanding respect - only about being worthy of having respect bestowed on you.

I know we perceive the messages very differently. I know I hear what I hear with a more critical ear than you do. But that does not change what I hear.

m&m said...

Fair enough, Ann. But then let's be fair to the Church, too, and leave room for the fact that maybe the Church's message is not the variable here, but rather how we as individuals perceive it. There will never be a message that will be received or perceived by everyone in the same way. We all have filters that affect how we hear things. I think it's important that we be willing to take responsibility for our perceptions. I talk to myself, too. If I do that, then I can realize that the message may not always be perfect, or perfectly packaged, or perfectly delivered. (I think the Church and its leaders and curriculum folks are always asking how to best get the message across, so it's not like there isn't any room for improvement, and I realize I don't always seem to want leave room for that in discussion.) But then perhaps you can acknowledge that maybe it's not all as bad as you make it sound. :)

LRC said...

m&m, sure, there are lessons for the YW (and YM) about their worth as children of God, about their strengths and talents and all other things "non-modesty-related," but when it comes down to brass tax, if any YW or her non-member friend showed up to church in clothing leaders (or other teens) deemed less-than-modest, the focus would be on that YW's apparent immodesty.

When girls are sent home from church, or told to put on a sweater or don't participate in the program, it doesn't really matter what that program is. The lesson remembered is the lesson about whether your shoulders are showing or whether somebody deems you too curvy.

As for sexual thoughts (yes, women and girls have them too), the thoughts are normal, natural and healthy - if we didn't notice attractiveness and sexuality, we'd never get on with the procreating we need to ensure that there's someone around to take care of us when we're bald and toothless. However, where modesty is concerned, it's probably NOT the thought that counts - it's the action you take as a result of the thought (including more thoughts, daydreams, fantasies, actions, etc.)

And I have to say, BiV, I'm sure Jesus doesn't care if we're coming to Him in our birthday suits, our work clothes, our play clothes, our Sunday best, our white-tie formalwear, or our favorite [insert school name here] t-shirt with babies stuck to both breasts :-)

If our attitude is one of modesty, THAT's what he'll notice. We could at least try to do the same for our fellow human beings.

Bored in Vernal said...

I've really enjoyed this discussion. I liked what Ann said about how our dress can be empowering in a world where women are objectified. If teaching clothing standards in YW could emphasize this -- that avoiding flimsy clothing allows women the freedom to be more than our sexuality; and be strong, active individuals -- I think it would be much more effective than teaching them to dress for the boys' sake.

M&M, I don't disagree with the Church's teachings here. It is the emphasis and the "unclean, unclean" slant put on it in local areas. I have not noticed Conference slamming this one note over and over to the exclusion of other teachings. And I can't recall the Prophet or Apostles implying that a woman is at fault for inflaming a man. And I don't hear them saying that sex or the body is bad. But it does happen locally.

Finally, M&M raises a good point that ultimately women and girls have the agency to choose how they will respond to others' interpretations.

Bored in Vernal said...

Oh, Ann, I also wanted to thank you for your compliment :) . And something you said helped me realize why certain comments have the effect of making me want to wear something revealing! (I was sort of wondering why I had that reaction when I wrote this post.) I guess at these times I am feeling like the only power I have is through my sexuality and so I have the urge to either retreat or exercise the only power I can. Does that make sense?

Rich said...

I found this very well and thoughtfully written. Thanks for the insight.

Bored in Vernal said...

LRC, Amen! I have said elsewhere that we really put our money where our mouth is on this issue concerning the youth. If our emphasis was really on their individual worth, then at the Stake Dance we would be making the effort to put our arms around that flamboyant YW and say, "I am sooo glad you came!" Instead, we send her home because her skirt is too short.

You are absolutely right, this sends an unmistakeable message.

Tanya Sue said...

This has been great to read with lots to think about.

Doc said...

I like the empowering message, I really do. One thought I would interject is how much "immodesty" is about manipulation and power. Granted, some see it as one of the very few avenues of power women have, but would you agree that at least for some, the point of dressing provocatively is to provoke?

It seems to me that this our culture's unspoken message about dress. It also demeans both men and women. So rather than couching modesty in terms that cause body image shame, I think it might be worthwhile to couch it in terms of control and unrighteous influence.

Paul in Carson City said...

These comments remind me of a comment made by Dallin Oaks at conference last year, to the effect that young women "become pornography" to the men that view them. Such an attitude is disturbing to me, as it not only denies the free agency of those men, but engenders shame of the body, which is God's greatest creation. We thereby insult the Creator and give Satan one of the greatest victories we could hand to him. Shame is the pornographer's and the pedophile's greatest weapon. It is the means whereby they maintain control over their victims. We need to teach our youth [and adults!] of the sacredness of the body, that it is "very good", and that, rather than regarding it with shame or disgust, we should honor and revere this great gift.

The culture of the church teaches "modesty" in terms of how much skin is exposed, rather than in terms of behavior. This approach is not even skin deep. It is much shallower than that. If modesty were to be taught from the perspective of what is in the heart and mind of a person, then it could be understood that under the right circumstances a totally naked woman can be far more modest than one in a burqua.

Paul [who respects and admires God's creations]

woundedhart said...

I don't have anything to add. I loved reading this discussion. My husband and I had a talk about Blain's comment last night, which led to further discussion about much of what you brought up. He really doesn't understand how it is drilled into the Young Women of the church that it's their problem, and not men's. I do appreciate what you and others said about dressing with respect for yourself, and not making it an issue of hiding, nor of using your sexual powers to bring males to their downfall.

If only we really could get back to teaching about Christ.

(When I got married in the SL Temple, I wore a dress that my mom and I made. It was modest and simple, but my collarbone was showing. The woman in the bride's room said I would have to wear a dickey, and I couldn't believe it, since there are no written rules about the exact height of the neckline. She told me it was so the sealer would be able to concentrate. Because my clavicles are just too tempting, right? In the end, I just wore my dress how I had made it. Nobody noticed, or cared.)

m&m said...

I just keep thinking about how complex this is. I sometimes get the feeling that people think that things would be better if we didn't talk about standards of modesty at all, and if I have correctly understood that to be a point of view that people have, I disagree. Sometimes we need specifics to help us stay clear of the world's standards. And this is an area where the world keeps getting more and more extreme.

I also agree with Doc, that sometimes dress IS used manipulatively. As such, I am not sure that Elder Oaks' comment is out of line. Besides, just like everything else, I think we should take what he said in context. He spent his entire talk telling the men and young men that they needed to have control over their behavior. So, adding that when women are immodest (exposed) inappropriately they can add to problems for men, I don't think that absolves men of their agency. He just reminds women that we, too, have agency. We can't dress in any way and suppose that there aren't consequences, either for us or for others. [Just because it's someone's own issue if they become offended with something doesn't mean we don't have a responsibility to try not to do something that could cause offense. Agency is important for all of us, and there is a complex interrelationship of our choices and their effects on others).

I guess what always makes me uncomfortable about discussions like this is the sense I get that some want to think that women can dress however they want and have it not be a problem, either for their own spirits or for others'. I disagree with this. Modesty isn't unimportant. I agree that it ought not be addressed in a vacuum, and I think sometimes it is (particularly in local, individual situations).

But I do think if we were all more modest (men and women...meaning not just avoiding public exposure of too much skin or whatever, but also avoiding sloppy or costly or extreme dress), we would be better able to just be ourselves and to appreciate others as they really are. Too often, dress is a distraction, and I think this is what the broad principles of modesty seek to prevent. To me, the empowerment comes not in simply being able to wear whatever I want and to not care about what others think per se, but in dressing so that I don't rely on my dress to define me or to pull attention away from ME, as a person. Dress that calls attention to itself makes it hard to invite people to get to know us as whole people, imo.

Bored in Vernal said...

M&M, your last paragraph sorta sounded like you want us all to dress in paper bags! Is there anything wrong with dressing to enhance your personality?

m&m said...

Is there anything wrong with dressing to enhance your personality?

Of course not! But I don't know how to explain what I'm thinking without sounding like I think paper bags are preferred.

I think we can look nice, and feel good about how we look, without drawing undue attention to our bodies or their parts (because we are more than our bodies or their parts), or to our clothes.

Personally, I think our culture puts too much emphasis on appearance, so I'd rather that we tone it down than emphasize it or worry about it. We don't have to gravitate to paper bags to do that. Neat and comely. Yeah, that works. :)

Bored in Vernal said...

I don't know...what if your personality is bright orange?? What if it is black on black?? Do you have to morph into pastel "neat and comely" to be accepted in the Kingdom? Is it OK to dress with flair, to express yourself through clothing? Or not?

Lessie said...

I wish I'd stopped by earlier BiV. Anyway, I wanted to through my two cents in. I think that, as Paul touched on, our perception of the body also influences talk about modesty. While our bodies certainly contain sexual power, a lot of that sexuality that we see in the media is manufactured by clothes that distort the body's natural shape. So I think that just telling our girls that showing their shoulders is immodest is missing the point. Shoulders are beautiful, so are breasts, legs, etc. However, when we wear clothes that not only show those, but distort them (such as bras or tank tops that push our breasts up unnaturally, skirts with suggestive cuts--I've seen short skirts that didn't shout hooker to me, etc.) then I think we've moved into revealing or immodest territory. Some clothing that shows skin is simply outlining how beautiful our bodies are naturally, not showing off our sexuality.

m&m said...

Uh, dear BiV, where is it written that 'neat and comely' is only plain pastel? :) In fact, 'comely' means attractive, no?

I think there is plenty of room for personality, but part of the point of modesty to me is to seek to have our very selves refined to a point where our personalities are not extreme or unduly seeking attention themselves, and where we want to be windows to the Lord's love and light, not trying to be a light unto ourselves.

Again, to me, modesty is an entire way of being, not just about dress. It's about heart.

m&m said...

I think that just telling our girls that showing their shoulders is immodest is missing the point.

I think part of why we emphasize this standard is to prepare them for the temple.

I still don't think that we need to show beautiful body parts to be able to appreciate them. :) (I know this can be taken to an extreme, but where is it written that we have to reveal beautiful body parts to show appreciation for them? I think this is possibly the world's way to 'appreciate' the body. I agree wholeheartedly that we ought not be ashamed of our bodies, but the opposite of "ashamed" is not necessarily "revealed" in my mind.

The other question that I think is worth asking is: Are our bodies really ours anyway? "For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s."

So, what does it mean to glorify God in our bodies? If they aren't really ours, should we be seeking to express 'our' personality?

Anonymous said...


Perhaps you would be best served to try and understand what was meant by the comment made in FHE.

Judging by your post I would assume that you are between 18 and 22, single and most likely in college.

I make this assumption because you are obviously naive about the difference between men and women. I realize that you feel it necessary to be your own person and dress how you choose; in a way that empowers you.

The reality is that men and women are completely different. You would be best served to examine the comment made in FHE to try and understand how men are different from women.

While men do have control over their actions and thoughts the effects women have on men are very powerful.

Have you ever stopped to think that perhaps the church leaders make the comments they do about modesty with good reason and they are not just a bunch of old men?

Ann said...

Anonymous #33, that is the funniest thing I've read all day. I wonder if you're being sarcastic?

BiV is NOT 18-22, single and in college. Not to be dismissive of our younger sisters, but few of them can write with the insight, inspiration and passion of our BiV.

Bored in Vernal said...

lol! rotfl! lshipal!
anon, you made my day, but I think you've been looking at my avatar too much, and you obviously haven't read the part about me having 8 children.

I really do have a bit of life experience. I don't know where I get all this teen-age angst from.

Bored in Vernal said...

Oh, yeah, and if you've "been around" a little you know there's a diff between FMH and FHE!

Ann said...

Michelle, I DO agree that it's complicated. How do we balance the sacred nature of our bodies with their very physicalness? We aren't Puritans, with the doctrine of the Fall that says our natures are evil and our desires are base. Sex is good; our bodies are good.

When we are at our best we don't fade. We stand out! Not because our appearance shouts "look at me!" but because it says "I'm strong, and I'll stand up for myself. Take me seriously."

m&m said...


All that you say I agree with, FWIW. I asked the question because I am wondering where and how that balance is found.

I thought of you all today. I wore a hot pink jacket that I love, and that someone always invariably comments on (today was no exception). Ann, I felt just like you described...strong, someone to be respected. I think that is not a bad thing. I think women who dress with some class can radiate confidence and happiness with themselves. I like that.

But I don't connect cleavage or excessive skin with confidence or power or even respect. In my opinion, revealing clothing (or extreme styles) often have the opposite effect. I think women say 'I am someone to be taken seriously' when they dress modestly and with simple class.

Bookslinger said...

Thanks for your follow-up comments about how you agree with the church's teachings on dressing modestly, but disagree with some of the ways some local units use to get the message across.

Not having grown up in the church, and not having participated in the youth programs as an adult, I don't know how the church's teachings on modesty are presented at the local level.

I can understand that it can be difficult and confusing for the young women. What is acceptable dress in secular society is not acceptable to LDS standards. Many youth seem to be incapable of resolving the dichotomy between "out there" and "in here" and all the why's and wherefore's that go along with it.

It's a difficult line for parents and local church leaders to walk. They don't want to alienate the teens and drive them away, but at the same time, if one kid "gets away with it", then others will want to follow suit, and there will be competition to see who can push the envelope the most.

Ann said...

Michelle, I smiled really broadly thinking of you in your hot pink jacket.

The balance comes with self-confidence. Few teen-age girls of any stripe possess it enough to buck the vast sewer that is the patriarchy-driven modern media (I use that word in its radical feminist sense.) Almost everything about modern society trains girls to think of themselves as sex objects; some apostate versions of feminism teach them that their sexualization is actually empowerment. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

The best way to counter that is with language of strength and power. Church rhetoric (and I use that term in the sense of "the way we talk about something") comes close with the "Daughter of God" label, but unfortunately it's tangled up with the domestic/docile labels that so many young women reject outright. The goal is admirable. The best way to reach the goal is for the rhetoric to be a language of strength, not submission. How else to counter the overwhelming counter-influences young women get today?

Ann said...

About the original comment: the only thing that struck me as "wrong" about it was the statement "I don't want to be overly reminded that you have breasts." I am a large-breasted woman. The only way for my breasts to be unnoticeable is for me to wear a very large, billowy tent. If I wear a shirt that fits, you will notice that I have breasts.

I have a shape, and I don't feel the need for my curvy feminine shape to be smothered under a tent. Today my collarbone is barely exposed, so there's certainly no cleavage. And yet, there they are; you can't miss them - my once functional mammary glands. They aren't going anywhere. Deal.

m&m said...

Ann, I am not sure we think so differently about this. I guess the only place I might differ is thinking that the domestic stuff is equal to losing power or is just a docile, submissive role. I think that is where we could do better -- in teaching and in also really just believing it. I loved how Sister Beck talked about this -- how the influence we have on the lives of our families (and I would add others in our sphere of influence) is real power, real influence. I think what we have to do is help young women detach themselves from the world's definitions of power, be they false images of beauty, sexuality, etc., or about position or status or whatever else. Our worth and power are not externally measurable. They just exist, and we need to help young women (and, I think, ourselves) tap into that and really believe it.

As such, I think it's there in our rhetoric. I just don't know that we all believe it yet.

And I make that sound so easy. I realize it's not necessarily so, especially with all the voices screaming out there in the world that our worth, value, etc., is tied up either in our looks, or our status, or position, or our sexuality, or whatever other false thing is out there.

The truest confidence is born of the Spirit, and so the greatest key to all of this is to help young women and women alike (and to always seek ourselves) to feel the Spirit, to connect with God, to know of our worth that exists separate from anything mortally measurable, and to know of our potential and power and value in all that we are given to do as women. We need to believe these truths, receive them, and shout them from the rooftops! :)

Ahem. There's my little soapbox for the hour. :)

m&m said...

but unfortunately it's tangled up with the domestic/docile labels that so many young women reject outright.

Here's my short answer -- we need to help young women realize the power and influence inherent in the domestic roles, and not want to reject them. This is, imo, one of the adversary's greatest tools of our day -- to minimize and devalue the divine power and worth tied to all that God asks of women.

Ann said...

I remember a beautiful, vibrant, talented young woman who wanted to be an actress when she grew up. She was fourteen. The message from church and at home was, "You can't do that, because you're supposed to be a wife and mother."

She's not a member any more.

I know (through the internet) probably dozens and dozens of women in their twenties who heard the plan that was made for them...the only approved and righteous plan...and decided that this was not THEIR plan for THEIR lives. And so they left the church.

The rhetoric drives young women away, Michelle. Not all of them, but enough that I think it's a problem. Once they leave, and they've dabbled in the real world life of working as an artist (and getting paid!) and traveling around the country and serial live-in boyfriends, you're hard pressed to get them to come back. How many young women wouldn't look for a reason to leave if they thought their dreams for themselves were valuable and worth striving for?

(We're off-topic. This has been a really good conversation for me. Thank you for extending yourself. And thanks to BiV for opening such an interesting door.)

justmeben said...

I better clarify up front that I am male. With that out of the way, I will say that I really appreciate the comments and ideas suggested in this article and want to offer kudos to the author.

"First, a man is accountable for his own responses."

Amen. There are no excuses in my mind, none at all. It is NOT mandatory for a male to objectify and lust after female flesh. I realize some think it is, and some think they couldn't do it, but I think they'd be surprised if they really explored some things inside their own minds some more.

"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."

Exactly true. I served my (LDS) mission in one such country and thought little of it, until another USA-based Elder mentioned it.

"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."

Again, I am male, but I too have puzzled over this, having heard it often. I have personally reached the point where I can only imagine my being dressed one way when I meet the Savior again - I will be dressed in nothing. I will hide nothing, and I will stand before Him without shame and without guile. I honestly cannot even imagine the reunion any other way.

I wanted to let the author of this article know that you are not alone in your thinking here. If you aren't already aware of it, you might want to check out a web site:

Very sincerely,


Guy Noir, Private Eye said...

isn't it natural that over-emphasis has started a backlash? there are at least 2 lds oriented nudist websites, + 'family skinny-dippers'. See also
I'm glad to see a backlash against the obvious back-seat that basics are taking in lds practice ('on the ground').
the LDS church, not haveing a viable/working feedback loop, has gone off the track with petty details, minutia... earrings, anyone?

Bored in Vernal said...

alas, Thank you for this long and thoughtful comment. I agree with so many of the things you have said. Just for full disclosure, I did not grow up in the Church, and I actually got some pretty healthy messages about my sexuality at a young age. I joined the Church at 19, and being impressionable I absorbed many of the teachings the Church was giving women in the 1970's and 80's. So yeah, I guess I am sorting out which non-Mormon teachings were true and which Mormon teachings were not true. It's not always easy!

Anonymous said...

First thing that should be noted is that Modesty, according to the Bible, does not mean being fully clothed. Rather modesty has the opposite meaning. Pure modesty would be nudity in accordance to scripture. Early Mormons did not have a problem with being nude. However in the US since TV became mainstream, everything is messed up.

Other cultures believe that someone that sees skin and gets sexually turned on is an unintelligent and shallow person (ok that means a lot of people in the US.)

As a man I like to look at women, my eyes can't get enough of the curvatures and the beauty of a woman. That being said, I don't however; get sexually turned on. I admire the beauty like I would a grand mountain scene, or watching a beaver swimming. Its admiration for Gods creations.

It is all a matter of the mind and any intelligent person regardless of culture can control their mind. If they choose to. It is also about the inner development of a person. So many in the US never seek out inner development. Once out of school most stop developing i.e. reading books, taking seminars, exploring the world etc. Many Mormons stop reading anything unless published by the church which limits development greatly.

Saying it is a womans fault for what a man thinks is a very shallow place to be. The church fails to teach youth principles that build inner strength and self esteem. Rather it puts up roadblocks to the cultural norm and hope it helps and will be long lasting. It doesn't work. It's like the "Just Say No" to drugs campaign, it doesn't work. Kids must be taught why and how and develop an inner core of self.

One Sunday school class I taught for teens went from the typical immature crap to mature teens with a new lease on their future. (one of those classes every teacher quits after a month). What made the difference? We threw away the manual and created lessons that actually applied to the kids. I also included teaching basic relationship skills (I teach to married couples). In teaching modesty and basic how to get along in life the church does a poor job with the youth.

If a woman wants to go to church naked she should be able to without anyone complaining or thinking sexual thoughts. After all, God commanded a few Bible prophets to go naked and teach. He must be ok with nudity, the majority of the world is ok with it, why aren't we as Mormons?

Women falling into this modesty thing (promoted by the church) in some ways shows a lack of self esteem and a sense of inner peace. If you have inner peace it shouldn't be a concern, its their problem, if they don't like it oh well.

The sexiest part of a woman is when she is confident in who she is, in what she wants, and knows where she is going. A confident woman doesn't focus on what others might say because she knows who she is.

The modesty that is taught by the church teaches young women to hide who they are and be afraid of the opposite sex. Enlightenment and education (beyond Utah) will do wonders for all.

Maybe my view is different, I have lived with many different cultures and studied different philosophies of the world. In my experience it becomes clear why Americans are looked down upon. It is clear why there is so much depression in Utah Mormons. As a worldwide church we need to open our eyes and see beyond what Deseret Book publishes. We need to understand the rest of the world. We also need to study the truth about the history of the church (most is not taught by the church).

The church does a disservice to the youth, to men, and to women by teaching and focusing on this lower cultural modesty issue. Building strong inner cores with truth and strength will combat all other forces.

Overall we need to never stop growing because that is where the problem is and remains.

Just my 4 bits worth...