We are entering the peak season of the hell that is our culture’s rhetorical modesty war. Modesty is something that is being debated ad nauseum. I could link to dozens of articles, of the ridiculous and outlandish or thoughtful and articulate, and each have their rebuttals and counter-rebuttals. But instead of talking about hemlines and cap sleeves and t-shirts over swimsuits and objectification and rape culture, I want to write about how I teach my own daughter the principle of modesty. The following was adapted from an earlier post found here.
Don’t ever consider what another human will think about you while choosing what you are going to wear.
Nope, I didn’t say that wrong. I want you to wear clothes that are comfortable, that fit well, that make you feel good about yourself and give you confidence, that match your personality and that you like, and are appropriate for the activity. Do you want to know what else you should think about while choosing your wardrobe? Your Heavenly Parents. You are their daughter and your body is a gift to you. I want you to think about how your Heavenly Parents would want you to clothe your body. You know they love you and want the best for you. I truly believe you would want to make them happy and proud of you. So please, stand in front of the mirror and think only about the opinions of the people who mean the most: yourself and God.
If you follow this guideline, will your hemlines always match other people’s expectations and standards? Maybe not. And I’m okay with that, because if you wouldn’t mind wearing your outfit in front of your Heavenly Parents, then why would we worry about anyone else?
Other people may notice your body, there is no amount of clothing that will enable you to avoid attention about your body. So make sure you never seek after that kind of attention and make sure you ignore it when it comes your way. When we give and seek physical attention, we are not seeing each others’ spirits, seeing each other as we truly are, we are seeing each other as shapes and objects first – how Satan would want us to see each other. It is not your job to avoid notice or to find a way to attract the appropriate amount of notice. It is your job to be yourself and to please God.
You may have others teach you that your job is to be modest because you must guard yourself and others from whatever sin your body may lead us all to. Do not be ashamed of what your body is or afraid of what others may think of it.
In reality, modesty is behavior or appearance that is humble, moderate, and decent. A modest person avoids excesses and pretensions. I want you to study the scriptures about what it means to be modest:
1 Timothy 2:9 “women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;”
Jacob 2:13 “And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are alifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.”
D&C 42:40 “And again, thou shalt not be proud in thy heart; let all thy garments be plain, and their beauty the beauty of the work of thine own hands;”
According to the scriptures, modesty is not dressing for attention or showing off for others or wearing costly apparel. Further study from the Catholic Catechism, whose definition I love, provides more insight:
“Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies. The forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another. Everywhere, however, modesty exists as an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man. It is born with the awakening consciousness of being a subject. Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person. (www.vatican.va)
So if modesty is about how we see others, does that mean the challenge of modesty is to see each other as Children of God no matter what they are wearing and no matter how our body reacts? Yes! God gave male and female bodies hormones that cause us to be attracted to each other and sometimes the sights of something attractive will arouse those feelings. You will have those feelings! Those feelings are not bad, they are not a sin, they are from God! Lusting, the choice of having inappropriate thoughts and desires about something, is a sin. So, if your thoughts are not appropriate in the situation, pay them no heed and move on. Some think that men are the only ones that struggle with this challenge, some recent scientific studies have shown this is not true. You as a female will experience these same feelings of attraction and you must also learn to avoid lust, this is not a boys-only problem. (I have seen websites crashing down within minutes because Ryan Gosling memes have gone viral.) This principle is probably best taught by Chinese Proverb of The Burden:
Two monks were returning to the monastery in the evening. It had rained and there were puddles of water on the road sides. At one place a beautiful young woman was standing unable to walk across because of a puddle of water. The elder of the two monks went up to a her lifted her and left her on the other side of the road, and continued his way to the monastery. In the evening the younger monk came to the elder monk and said, “Sir, as monks, we cannot touch a woman ?” The elder monk answered “yes, brother”. Then the younger monk asks again, “but then Sir, how is that you lifted that woman on the roadside?” The elder monk smiled at him and told him ” I left her on the other side of the road, but you are still carrying her.”
I’m genuinely interested, how do you teach modesty to your daughters and sons? Do you leave it up to church leaders? I think if we skip teaching our sons we’ll miss the part that includes developing eyes to see others as God sees them, regardless of what they are wearing. I hope that my method above provides an empowering way where my daughter sees modesty as a way to see others and have a stronger relationship with God. Fingers crossed.