As a child with severe skin allergies and problems, I spent most of my time covering up as much of my skin as possible. When I got older and my problems had mostly cleared up, I had spent so much of my life hiding my skin, I just felt more comfortable wearing clothing that was on the more modest side. The temptation to wear more revealing clothing was never there. My friends were modest, I was modest, and my parents bought most of my clothes so it was never a big issue for me. Whenever I attended one of the endless firesides about dressing modestly, I would check out. It wasn’t an issue, I was at the conference for the social aspect and within a few minutes I’d be drawing cartoons.
When I was in my early twenties, I was called to teach the twelve year old Sunday school class. I felt like I struggled to connect with the kids, especially the girls. I was somewhat of a gamer and could connect fine with the boys on that level, but the girls were something different. I never was into fashion, make-up, hair, or had the typical teenage struggles, so how could I meet them on their level?
Later in my twenties, I remember stumbling across a story of a young woman calling out people in the church for shaming her. She related a story of when she went on a date with a young man. He was awkward through the entire date and after a firm handshake and the end of the night, she went inside thinking he was an awkward dud. Later she got an email from him explaining that he felt uncomfortable on the date because she dressed in such an immodest manner. She went on to say how dare he treat her that way, how dare he judge her for her clothing and how dare he shame her for how she dresses.
I also found endless stories and blog posts about how modesty is essentially controlling the women of the church. On the opposite side, I’ve read and sat through countless talks saying that modesty was so important to help men control their thoughts. Hearing endless slews of speakers stating these reasons, no wonder so many young women of the church recoil from the modesty speeches and refuse to follow the teachings. I often hear their counter argument that “the men need to be taught to control their thoughts. It is not our fault for their choices and thoughts.”
Today it is harder and harder to choose modesty and the gender focused talks and reasons don’t make it any easier for the youth of the church. But there is much more to modesty that the one sided reasons being shared by so many good intentioned speakers.
One night, my beautiful cousin was sitting on the floor of my living room talking to me about her life choices. She explained that she longed to go to the temple and make sacred covenants. She expressed how she had worked so hard, come so far, and changed so much to make it happen. Somehow in this conversation the subject of modesty came up. In that moment I told her that you don’t make any covenant to be modest until the temple. Before the temple it is a commandment, but it is not a covenant.
This conversation changed my understanding of modesty in that single moment. I had always followed it, never had an issue with it, and never questioned it; but that night I had a clarifying moment that helped me understand this eternal principle better.
The first change in my understanding was that modesty has very little to do with helping men control their thoughts. This is just a side benefit. Heavenly Father is the kind of parent who wants us to master ourselves. If he created men to have this issue, the solution wouldn’t be to make women change, it would be to make men change. Modesty is not about repressing women and keeping them “in their place” either. Heavenly Father created us all equal and loves us all. If he is no respecter of persons, then we can safely say that he does not give us rules and commandments just for those people to control them. He doesn’t operate that way.
Now that we know what modesty is not, let’s talk about what modesty is.
Modesty is a commandment from our loving Heavenly Father to us, His children, all of us. Modesty isn’t just for girls, just as avoiding pornography is not just for boys. Talks are often directed that way because the struggle is greater for those groups than others, usually. Since modesty is for boys and girls, men and women, all children of God, then it’s safe to say that you young men shouldn’t be wearing short shorts and sleeveless dresses too. I have always thought modesty was more intense for the young men than for the young women because of the fact that they are priesthood holders.
I remember when my brother was a teenager. Jnco jeans were really popular. He really wanted a pair. My dad sat him down and talked to him about how Jnco jeans were not a good choice in clothing because of the message they send (miscreant). My dad talked to him about other appearance choices as well. He explained that he was a priesthood holder. He was going to be participating in the sacrament and acting as a representative of Christ. As a representative of Christ, my brother’s appearance should not distract others from focusing on Christ.
Young women are not priesthood holders; however, as daughter of Heavenly Father, we should show our respect and value of our divinity but not distracting others from our true identity. There should be no question about who we are. I remember when I was an art major, I stuck out like a pink flamingo on a suburban yard. Everyone in my art classes had tattoos, piercings, crazy colored hair, and interesting clothing. The first day of the semester always started with the instructor looking straight at me as they state “this is such and such art class, please check your schedule to ensure you are in the right class”. My modesty in not just my clothes, but my hair, jewelry, and skin led everyone to assume I was not an artist. But my unique appearance it acted as a conversation starter as to who I was, why I looked that way, and why I made that choice. By standing as a daughter of Heavenly Father, I had many opportunities to share my beliefs with others, and learn about other’s beliefs as well. I made some amazing friends, all because I was modest.
Modesty is about more than just appearance. Modesty is an action, a way of speaking, a way of presenting yourself. You could be dressed perfectly modest, but if you don’t act like it, well the only thing you’re succeeding at is making a bad name for your people (Christians). If you dress super modest, but text rude and crewed messages, yell at people on social media sites, or even just omit living the commandments that you find bothersome.
At its heart, its core, modesty is really just showing the world, and Heavenly Father that you understand yourself as a child of God. Being modest is showing that you respect and recognize Heavenly Father as your creator. Modesty isn’t about self-esteem, control, or thoughts, or even gender. It is all about understanding who we are and our personal relationship with our Father in Heaven.
How has modesty affected your life?