Modesty

(also see “Pornography and masturbation”, “Sexual Purity”, “Social pressure / superficiality”, and “Women’s issues”)

 

Pros of Mormonism from the perspective of the
Believer
Nonbeliever
Teachings about modesty prepare both men and woman to enter the temple and wear the temple garment. The temple garment is a physical and spiritual protection, and getting in the habit of modesty makes transitioning to the temple garment easier. Making a habit of modesty helps girls not attract unwanted sexual advances from men.
 
Elder Ballard explains how dressing modestly both protects women and can help women to see that they have value outside of sex appeal:
 
“…when they wear clothing that is too tight, too short, or too low cut, they not only can send the wrong message to young men with whom they associate, but they also perpetuate in their own minds the fallacy that a woman’s value is dependent solely upon her sensual appeal. This never has been nor will it ever be within the righteous definition of a faithful daughter of God. They need to hear this—clearly and repeatedly—from your lips, and they need to see it modeled correctly and consistently in your own personal standards of dress, grooming, and modest living.”
 
Dressing modestly can be an effective member missionary tool and invite the spirit. We also show God how much we love him. From the strength of youth: “Through your dress and appearance, you can show the Lord that you know how precious your body is. You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. The way you dress is a reflection of what you are on the inside. Your dress and grooming send messages about you to others and influence the way you and others act. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and can exercise a good influence on those around you.”
The nonbeliever might agree that there can be value in dressing in clothing that is not sexually revealing. Making a habit of modesty helps girls not attract unwanted sexual advances from men. Dressing modestly might also at times encourage women to see that they have value outside of sex appeal (even though it can paradoxically also have the opposite effect, sexualizing women by emphasizing the need to cover up sexually attractive body parts.
 
 
 
Cons of Mormonism from the perspective of the
Believer
Nonbeliever
Many thoughtful believers, especially women, feel sometimes feel that the way Mormonism teaches modesty can be excessive and over-the-top, causing discomfort to both genders. Mormonism spends a lot of time teaching girls and women that they must cover their bodies,
even starting with young primary children. This shaming and guilt starts with girls as young as 4.
 
Why does the Church even suggest that someone look at a child and see anything other than innocence? Why does the church influence young girls to think about being sexual objects at such a young age? Why are young girls told anything other than that they are beautiful? Stressing over modesty can negatively influence some young women with self-esteem and body issues. Obsessively worrying about whether or not clothes are modest or not creates an uncomfortable environment that does not feel safe for many girls and women. It can promote superficiality and a judgmental atmosphere filled with assumptions about the character of a woman based on the clothes she is wearing. Outsiders, especially, can feel uncomfortable at church because of this. The Lord looks on our hearts and not outward appearance, so why are we encouraged so much to do the opposite?
 
I have heard many believers argue that Mormonism’s emphasis on the need for women to dress modestly and for men to avoid pornography is counterproductive. Teaching that women should dress modestly does not necessarily protect women from being sexualized. Rather, it seems to emphasize that women and their breasts and bellies and even shoulders are sexual objects. Dallin Oaks emphasizes this: “And young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you.”
 
Some believers wonder if a better approach would be to emphasize that it doesn’t matter what we wear or how we look. What matters most is valuing people as people, not worrying about covering shoulders, tummies, and thighs, and not worrying about becoming a sexual object to men. Men need to be taught more about how women are people and not sexual objects, and less about how pornography is addictive and destructive.
 
In addition, faithful Mormons can be confused about why modesty is so linked to cultural standards. Dress standards in for the strength of youth have evolved over time, and so have temple garments. Does God actually have a standard of modesty? Does he care? Or is all of this just a byproduct of our culture?
The nonbeliever is likely to agree with the cons listed in the believing section, and they are not reproduced here for the sake of brevity.
 
One difference in the nonbeliever, however, is that they might be more likely to not see harm in a woman feeling and looking sexy. Indeed, the nonbeliever might hope that woman become empowered and take charge of their own sexuality without guilt and shame. They might hope that woman don’t find all their value in being sexually attractive, but they also might hope women can enjoy being sexually attractive to men. If sex is not a sin, why repress the natural desire to be and look sexy?
 

 

Comments relating to your lived experience with Mormonism are welcome. Although it can be difficult to distinguish at times, please focus on how the church helps and harms rather than it being true vs untrue.

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