Monday, February 27, 2012

Modesty and accountability.

If you're a person with a pulse, you probably have already heard about the story of a male BYU student who handed a female student a note criticizing her rather conservative outfit, implying it was too risque for BYU. If you haven't (because you're a cadaver), here's the note and picture of the outfit:

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I don't want to discuss Brittany Molina's outfit any further. Instead, I'd rather talk about modesty and what it means to me as a Latter-day Saint (Mormon).

If you go to LDS.org and search "modesty," you'll find this page which discusses the concept in great depth. In sum, it's "an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to "glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:20).

So, now you know.

In the pictured note, the anonymous male asserts "many people come to [BYU] because they feel safe, morally as well as physically ...." By saying this, I feel he is implying that dressing modestly is for the benefit of others -- people will feel morally at-risk if we show too much skin! People might lust after us and be tempted to act out sexually if they see cleavage, or a thigh, or a shoulder! While these may indeed be consequences of immodest dress, they are not the reasons we cover our bodies. The purpose of modesty has already been made clear: we dress and behave modestly to show respect for God and ourselves.

Unfortunately, this young man is not alone in his line of thinking, and it saddens me to see this attitude so prevalent among Church members.  Whatever happened to personal accountability? What happened to fleeing from the face of temptation?

I'm familiar with two scripture stories that address this concept. Let's go there.

King David was a righteous man and a revered king. One night he noticed a woman, Bathsheba, bathing on the roof. Rather than look away, he lusted after her, got her pregnant and then had her husband Uriah killed to hide the sin.

If we dress modestly because it prevents others from being tempted, then Bathsheba is at fault here. Right? Well, no ... that doesn't make any sense. Bathsheba was just bathing. Maybe she knew she was being watched, maybe she didn't. In any case, it was David who took the first step toward sin. It was David who allowed his thought to become an action.

Then, there was Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt. He became the head slave of Potiphar, captain of the guard. One day, Potiphar's wife attempted to seduce Joseph, even ripping his clothing off. In the face of this temptation, Joseph risked his position and his livelihood and RAN. Angered that he wouldn't sleep with her, Potiphar's wife accused Joseph of trying to rape her. He was then imprisoned over the accusation (but later found favor with the Pharaoh, so it all worked out).

If anything, David had it waaaaay easier -- he didn't have his boss's wife threatening him and tearing his clothes off -- but despite all that, Jospeh refused to "sin against God" when push came to shove.

Who do we, as Latter-day Saints, aspire to be like? David, or Joseph? Who do we want our sons to emulate?

And what do we want to teach our daughters? That the boys and men they associate with can't control their thoughts so we shouldn't tempt them with our collar bones? Or that God has given us these miraculous bodies and that we should respect Him in the way we choose to present ourselves?

I choose the second way.

Yes, as a Latter-day Saint, I have made a formal commitment in the temple to wear shorts, skirts and dresses that come to my knee-cap and and shirts with sleeves. I don't show my cleavage (not that I have any, let's be honest) and I keep my midriff covered (not that it's a temptation to show it off). But this is my commitment. Others have made the same one, sure, but it will be up to them to keep it how they see fit. And I'm glad! For one thing, I don't have the energy or time to go around making sure everyone is properly covered. And beside that, it's just not my place. It's not anyone's place to judge others by what they wear.

Not to mention, what would Jesus do? I know the question is trite, but it's usually very applicable. What would Jesus do if he saw a woman who wasn't dressed according to standards she had agreed to? My guess is, He wouldn't see that at all. He'd see a daughter of God. He'd smile at her, ask her how she was doing. He would minister unto her. He would teach her of His gospel and invite her to follow Him. He would love her.

Girls (including Bubby): dress modestly. But don't do it because others might look at you in a lustful or derogatory way. Do it because you love your body and are grateful for it. Do it because you love your Heavenly Father and want to respect and "glorify" Him. Do it because you are a daughter of God.

And boys (including Smush): be respectful to women and to yourselves. Appreciate others' beauty, but don't do what King David did. Instead, when you are tempted, or if someone's outfit makes you uncomfortable, look away. Change the channel. Close the browser window. You can do it, and I know you can, because you are a son of God.

Fellow Saints: Let's have faith in each other. Let's be respectful. Let's not debase each other into sex objects or animals with no self-control. Let's remember Jesus' example in how to treat others.

And please, let's STOP giving BYU a bad reputation with our weird notes and passive-aggressive self-righteousness! I'm so over it.

27 comments:

  1. Ditto to the whole dang thing.

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  2. Very, very well said, thank you!

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  5. This whole story reminds me of when teaching our children about modesty, we must also teach them about our personal relationships with the Lord, and reminding them to see individuals though Heaven's Eyes.

    In my years in Happy Valley, I've heard this comment many times, "Mommy, that girl is not being modest." While it is one thing to hear it from a learning primary age child, it is quite another to hear it from an adult.

    One of Heavenly Father's greatest blessings to us is the gift of Agency. As a daughter (or son) of God, we do have to live up to the commandments we were given, and that is between ourselves and God. As the last line of Joshua 24:15 states, "...As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." It does NOT say, 'As for me and my house and some random stranger at the Library', nor does it say 'for me and my house and my neighbor's and the cute girl two doors down.' No. It says for ME and MY HOUSE.

    It's between YOU and GOD.

    Anyway, once again Jenna, I love how you can be so poignant in your blogging. Well done, my dear.

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  6. i loved the post. great job :)

    -brittany molina

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  7. & @Creole, I was wearing a sweater! and I was in a cubicle. It was the leggings. But, I'm sure the boy was just trying to stand up for what he thought was right :)

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  8. Amen, and amen. Very well said, Jenna.

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  9. I love this post. This is how I feel about modesty; I could never say it very well though. I really appreciate how you said everything so well! Thank you!

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  10. Great post!

    I think it's so important to remember that it is NOT being tempted that's a sin. Even Jesus was tempted in the desert. It's like you're saying - when the thought becomes action, that's the wrong thing, not the temptation itself. What is this guy going to do when spending time witnessing to non-LDS people? Does he expect people who aren't members of the church to never dress in a way that may or may not be tempting for him? It's a sign of strong character if you can learn to look past the outward appearance and try to see people the way God sees them - "Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart."

    There are so many more important things for us to be worrying about than whether or not someone else's outfit is "following the rules." I feel like that note is an example of an unloving attitude. If I was that girl, that would be the LAST thing that would motivate me to think differently (if I needed to think differently, at all). I don't think it was that man's place to say something and I think all he did was make other people of faith seem insane for having moral standards.

    Thanks for writing about this. I am not Mormon but I so appreciate frank discussions about personal modesty (and the motivations behind it!).

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  11. It's true, men aren't very smart. The note makes me think the young man worked as a proctor at the testing center.

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  12. It all comes down to our motivation for obedience: is it for our love of God or maybe fear or expectation of a reward?
    I loved your take on this. Thanks for being so frank. Made a lot of sense!

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  13. Amen. One of my favorite posts yet.

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  14. I LOVE everything about this. Since I am attending BYU right now, of course all of my non-member friends back home have been giving me flack for "the note". You put into words what I have been trying to figure out. Thank you.

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  15. You said it girl! I'm so glad that you posted this and have that outlook on modesty. Your totally right, it shouldn't be that we dress modestly for others it should be that we do it because we have respect for ourselves and most importantly God. It upsets me a little that people judge others (and leave strange notes) when it is not their place to judge whatsoever.

    Great post, love it!

    Allyssa
    breakfastatthezemkes.blogspot.com

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  16. This note is so very weird. Modesty is so much more than the clothes you wear and the parts of the body you cover. I have met very modest people who simultaneously bared their shoulders. Methinks that note writer was not being very modest himself...turn your head, control your thoughts, be a man.

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  17. Love that you added "it's not anyones place to judge others by what they wear." Well said! I'm a new follower! :)

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  18. Very well said! I am LDS, too, but found you from Modest Mondays.

    Cindy @ Apron Strings and Apple Trees

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  19. I love this ssooooOOO much!! Amen! I love this line: "While these may indeed be consequences of immodest dress, they are not the reasons we cover our bodies." And I love what you pointed out about how Jesus would react. I think you really nailed it -- He would see a daughter of God, and that's that.

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    1. So if a woman, in her vanity, decides to strut around in a bikini to show off her body and advertise her flesh (in trying to draw lustful attention), then we should not use our intelligence to see that what she may be doing is wrong? You make no sense Katie, you either believe in modesty/virtue/chastity or you don't. You can't have one foot in the world and one in the gospel, you can't serve two masters! That's like blaming a discerning man for the non-virtuous intentions of a prostitute or a stripper. Now I can understand why women weren't given the priesthood and why Eve was tricked in the garden, they are easily manipulated and deceived by the adversary to lead astray the men!

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  20. Love this love this love this. And I love the stories you chose to illustrate the point.

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  21. A woman's modesty has nothing to do with external factors (ie men) but everything to do with her respect or lack thereof for her body as a sacred temple for the spirit. To imply or state that there is no such thing as immodesty, only the bad thoughts of the observant male, is to imply that others are responsible for our decision to not value our purity and virtue. Women, quit blaming the men for your decision to not honor your body.

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    1. It appears you did not read my post thoroughly, but rather saw an opportunity to critique and had at it.

      "Girls (including Bubby): dress modestly. But don't do it because others might look at you in a lustful or derogatory way. Do it because you love your body and are grateful for it. Do it because you love your Heavenly Father and want to respect and "glorify" Him. Do it because you are a daughter of God."

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  22. I'll add that what Brittany was wearing is perfectly fine, now granted I also think that alot doesn't add up in this story (ie Brittany Molina made up the note to draw attention).

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