Revealing Themes in Feminine Modesty – A New Approach to Modesty Series

July 12, 2013    By: DavidF @ 7:11 pm   Category: Life,Modesty,Mormon Culture/Practices

This is the third post in the Modesty and Chastity Series.  Follow these links to post one and two.

Speaking at a Women’s Conference event, Sister Claudia J. Dansie said:

Part of our responsibility as parents is to guide, direct, and warn if necessary…. Some topics must be covered as directly as their consequences are lethal—subjects such as modesty, drugs, pornography, and immorality.

Lethal?  Assumedly, Dansie meant spiritually lethal.  A woman’s bare shoulders expose herself to consequences with eternal implications.  Does modesty really merit this language?

Elaine S. Dalton expressed a similarly solemn message calling modesty “the foundation stone of chastity,” explaining “it is essential to our very safety to be modest.”  Adding to Dansie’s and Dalton’s severe warnings, BYU president Cecil Samuelson explained that dressing immodesty may be as perilous as breaking the Word of Wisdom:

Most of you have no problems concerning the Word of Wisdom….What we may not realize is…that what we put on our bodies may be as equally corrosive and dangerous as what we might ingest into our bodies. (emphasis in original)

It’s hard to imagine that a woman’s uncovered knees could be as dangerous as her drinking alcohol, especially since the latter has temple-worthiness implications.  But because feminine modesty so closely connects to chastity, modesty rhetoric has adopted grave themes.

Despite these’ themes modern frequency, such severe language on feminine modesty can’t be found in the scriptures.  In fact, the scriptures don’t connect modesty to sexual purity at all.  When the scriptures refer to women’s dress, they condemn women wearing ostentatious apparel (see 1 Timothy 2:9), much like Brigham Young did when he discussed modesty.  Modern speakers often connect modesty to chastity using Genesis 3:7-11, 21 when, after Adam and Eve saw they were naked, God made them skin coats.[1]  While a surface reading may suggest that God’s first act for the fallen Adam and Eve was to dress them in something modest, this interpretation has problems.  Was God worried that Adam would get impure thoughts seeing a naked Eve?  Was modesty God’s first concern after Adam and Eve sinned?  The Genesis 3 story has multiple other interpretations, none of which have to twist in some awkward directions to give feasible answers to these questions.  For example, one commentator suggested that nakedness symbolized Adam and Eve’s sin, and God rejected their attempts to fix their sins on their own.  Only God can cover our sins.  Not only does this interpretation comfortably include all the components to the story (i.e. why would God make Adam and Eve skin coats when the fig leaf covering, while flimsy, already made them modest?), but also it fits with the thematic symbolism of the Fall.  Other interpretations, of varying quality, also avoid the awkward questions raised by the modesty reading.[2]

Although feminine modesty lacks a scriptural basis, studies link immodest, provocative dress to negative mental and social benefits.  An APA report showed that girls who dress immodestly could be victims of self-sexualizing, a result of internalizing sexualizing media.  Studies connect self-sexualization to an increased likelihood of eating disorders, low-self esteem, depression, smoking, and accepting teen date violence among girls.  Self-sexualizing women have higher incidents of plastic surgery (a sign of a low body-image), and a harder time advancing in careers.  In terms of sexuality, teen girls who self-sexualize have less sexual assertiveness, meaning they are less likely to say no to sexual encounters, including ones they don’t want.

Importantly, self-sexualization goes beyond fabric dimensions.  Even a few church speakers have noted this, pointing out, for example, that a girl can dress modestly but still be sexually provocative.  Utah-based modest clothing stores, such as American Fork’s Sexy Modest Boutique may be symptomatic of a culture that has sexualized modesty.  The same goes for phrases like “modest is hottest”.  As I discussed last time, feminine modesty incorporates an acceptance of judging women’s sexual attitudes by their clothing.  If modesty rhetoric doesn’t sexualize women, it still objectifies them by equating appearance to sexual attitude.  Utah’s high rate of female depression and plastic surgery may suggest that the heavy emphasis on modest dress doesn’t block the side effects of self-sexualization.[3]

Even if feminine modesty corrects for some of the negative aspects of self-sexualization, we should consider the negative costs that we can more easily verify.

Church resources, especially the New Era, praise instances where young men shun immodestly dressed young women.  It’s easy to see how these stories get treated so positively.  Youth learn from modesty rhetoric that immodest dress leads to immoral sex.  They learn from other sources to choose friends who uphold their standards.  We then get stories idealizing comments such as this:

One comment from a priest spelled out what most of the young men seemed to feel. He said, “There’s a line between suggestive and attractive. A lot of young women try to play the line, not just in their clothes, but in their makeup and attitude, too. It’s unattractive when they look suggestive and act stuck up.”

Tragically, what this young man misses is that these girls immodest dress, makeup, and stuck up attitude are probably linked, bridged by low self-esteem issues that positive peer influences could change.  But young men get highlighted for taking a different attitude:

“I don’t respect girls who dress immodestly.” Another said, “I don’t care about girls who dress like that [in revealing clothes].”

These attitudes don’t end with the teenage years.  In a Mormon Channel podcast featuring a youth panel on modesty, one young woman described her older brother as a college freshman who went on a four couples date (go to about minute seven).  The young women dressed immodestly for the date.  After a while, the four young men decided to leave the date.  Because the girls were confused by their decision, the young men explained that they weren’t comfortable being around them dressed as they were.  By passively allowing, and in some ways encouraging, young men to shun young women for their clothing choices, we ought to consider if we aren’t reinforcing un-Christlike patterns in priesthood holders’ behaviors?  Applying feminine modesty might not only cause women harm; it could be stunting the spiritual development of men.

Of course, the problems associated with judging a girl by her dress and praising men who shun immodest girls go away if all women would just dress modestly.  But how could we ever justify the message, “dress modestly so that Mormon men won’t assume you’re sexually active and shun you as a bad influence”?  Modesty speakers may not intend to send this message, but the repeated themes that guide modesty rhetoric make this message perfectly feasible.

In these last two posts I’ve summarized some of the aspects of feminine modesty that are at best undesirable and at worst contribute to objectifying women.  As I pointed out, feminine modesty doesn’t come from the scriptures, which begs the question, where does it come from?  In the next post, I’ll give a very brief history describing the origins of feminine modesty in western civilization.  This will provide the proper context to rethink what we mean by the word modesty.  There should be a few surprises for everyone.


[1] For example, see here and here.

[2] Another commentator suggests that Adam and Eve were originally coated with light, and seeing their nakedness indicated to them that they had fallen.  So God gave them a material covering to match their new state.  Other commentators believed that the animal coats symbolized flesh, which came with being mortal.  Finally, medievalists, following the Greek philosophers, saw clothing as a symbol indicating that mankind is different from savage beasts.  God clothed Adam and Eve to set them apart from the other animals (with shame I admit I don’t have the reference I got this idea from).

[3] There are other explanations for both of these statistics.  For example, the high plastic surgery ratio may be partially because Utah offers cheaper services than other states, and is therefore an ideal travel location for cosmetic surgery.  Depression could be an effect of a culture that expects perfection among Latter-day Saint women.

84 Comments »

  1. I should point out that the link that goes to the alternative Genesis 3 interpretation goes to an anti-Mormon website. If I had the book that the interpretation comes from, I would have cited it directly. I apologize in advance if I’ve offended any sensibilities.

    Comment by DavidF — July 12, 2013 @ 7:13 pm

  2. I’m not a huge fan of the church scriptures for kids. I am trying to write down scripture stories for my four-year-old daughter. I am working on Eve. I really appreciate your explanation of a few different interpretations for the fig leaves and coats of skins. I was puzzling a bit over how to handle that part. The modesty angle never worked for me anyway, but it definitely wouldn’t make sense to her. These possible interpretations provide me with a good way to address that part of the story in a way that will mean something to her.

    Comment by Cowgirl — July 12, 2013 @ 7:54 pm

  3. Aren’t you assigning young men the responsibility for young women’s thoughts and actions here?

    Comment by Jeff G — July 13, 2013 @ 6:03 am

  4. Ugh. More of your blatantly biased rhetoric in this post, David. Here are some responses.

    Lethal? … Does modesty really merit this language?

    Since teaching modesty is directly linked to the law of chastity, which is considered deeply spiritually important, the obvious answer from church leadership is yes.

    It’s hard to imagine that a woman’s uncovered knees could be as dangerous as her drinking alcohol, especially since the latter has temple-worthiness implications

    The difference is that repenting of Word of Wisdom transgressions is much easier than repenting of chastity transgressions. That spiritual stakes are considered vastly higher in the church when it comes to chastity.

    In fact, the scriptures don’t connect modesty to sexual purity at all.

    So what? The ancient scriptures didn’t happen in the 20th-21st centuries. That is what makes having modern prophets so useful.

    Utah’s high rate of female depression and plastic surgery may suggest that the heavy emphasis on modest dress doesn’t block the side effects of self-sexualization.

    Oh good grief. If you have no evidence to support such poppycock theories why even spout them?

    By passively allowing, and in some ways encouraging, young men to shun young women for their clothing choices, we ought to consider if we aren’t reinforcing un-Christlike patterns in priesthood holders’ behaviors?

    Yeah, it sounds like these boys were rude. But come on, people can cut off dates for any reason they want if they don’t like the way the date is going. It just means the couples are not good matches. Let them try again with people who are more their speed. Heaven knows there are always plenty of suitors for attractive girls and the ones who dress “sexy” get even more attention from the majority of men out there.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 13, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

  5. You are calling your series of posts “A New Approach to Modesty”. What is new about your approach to modesty in this series, David? Your approach so far seems like more of the same ol’ same ol’ to me.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 13, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

  6. Jeff G,

    I don’t follow you. Can you please explain?

    Comment by DavidF — July 13, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

  7. Geoff J,

    But I’m not so sure that modesty is so directly linked to chastity. An immodest girl can be chaste and a modest girl can be unchaste, meaning there is neither a necessary nor a sufficient connection between dress and chastity. At best we can say that immodesty may indicate self-sexualization, which is linked to unchaste sex, but that still leaves a fairly big gap between modesty and chastity, particularly because it doesn’t negate that a modest girl may still self-sexualize.

    As for my theory, it’s just a theory. I don’t claim it’s true, and I offer counterpoints in the footnotes. It’s an idea to float around, and something I haven’t seen anywhere else. That’s all.

    So what’s new about my series that you haven’t heard elsewhere?
    A. I’m trying to keep out the anecdotal evidence, which I think often impedes these discussions.

    B. I’m getting some preliminary discussion out of the way so that I can introduce my thoughts on modesty. Excepting Cowgirl, virtually no one who critiques current modesty education offers a good alternative. You’ll read one liners here and there, but they’re pretty flimsy. You may suspect from the last couple of posts that I’m here to make a feminist rant against the Church. Truth be told I’m actually interested in strengthening the virtues we cherish. Maybe I need to spend more time developing pathos.

    C. Admittedly, these last two posts do resemble other discussions on the topic. Here’s an outline of the last four posts in the series, just so you get a frame for where I’m headed.

    -Summarizing the origins of modesty rhetoric in western civilization
    -Developing a different concept of modesty
    -Some limitations in current chastity education (this will be a very soft critique, one that I don’t think anyone will find controversial at all, but it may help explain why skeptical teens might not be very easily persuaded to be chaste)
    -New ideas that may make chastity more compelling for teens (and adults)

    The last two posts focus on chastity because my new definition for modesty doesn’t link very closely with chastity, which I think some people will disapprove of. Adding some ideas to strengthen the reasons for chastity is sort of my compromise to them.

    Comment by DavidF — July 13, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

  8. David,

    The logic linking modesty and chastity is simple: The way we dress is one way we communicate our present sexual availability to potential mates. The purpose of Mormonism teaching modesty is to use it as a hedge around the law of chastity. The goal is to keep Mormon youth (and adults) as far from the proverbial ledge of unchaste sexual activity as possible.

    If not for the chastity concerns why would Mormonism even care about modesty in dress at all?

    Seems to me you are moving in the direction of an unhelpful solution in this series. The only good reason to teach modesty in the church is as a hedge around the claw of chastity, therefore I think the best solution is to more explicitly teach that the reason we want our people to do things like dress modestly or avoid anything even pornography is to keep us chaste as has been defined by revelation. Once our youth and leaders all understand that is the goal, the teachings all make more sense.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 13, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

  9. Geoff J,

    “The way we dress is one way we communicate our present sexual availability to potential mates.”

    True, but we don’t always dress with this intention. A girl who wears shorts that reach mid thigh in summer is certainly immodest by LDS standards, but may have no interest in making a symbolic gesture to men. And I doubt that most non-LDS men would assume that mid-thigh shorts are meant to be a symbolic gesture of sexual availability. Sundresses, tank tops, many two-piece swim suits, leggings, there are actually *lots* of female clothing we’d call immodest that only questionably is meant to communicate present sexual availability. We definitely teach modesty to hedge around chastity, but since immodest dress neither links closely to unchastity, nor does it always imply a desire to break chastity, it’s a very pockmarked hedge.

    “If not for the chastity concerns why would Mormonism even care about modesty in dress at all?”

    Do you mean why should we care, or what causes us to care? If the former, because the scriptures command us to dress modestly, and because there are clear benefits to modesty beyond the chastity connection. If the latter, because we seem to have adopted it from the broader, western culture. You may remember my reference to Hume in the first post of this series.

    Comment by DavidF — July 13, 2013 @ 7:03 pm

  10. David,

    First, you seem to be in the habit of conflating gripes about the current details of Mormon modesty teachings and the broader topic of reasons for teaching modesty in general. As I stated before, I am not interested in quibbling over the minutia of proper shorts/sleeves length, etc. Those sorts of details should be worked out by individuals and their families with the backdrop of church-taught standards in mind. Again, I see that sort of thing as akin to choosing appropriate Sabbath activities.

    Second, the big picture question is why modesty matters at all. I am convinced that the answer is it only matters because God cares about chastity. That is, God doesn’t want us humans participating in unchaste sex (meaning sex outside of God-approved marriage). And dressing in immodest or “sexy” ways is playing with fire when it comes to chastity. There is no other good reason I can think of why modesty would matter to God. None. If not for the chastity connection we could all be nudists (like Adam and Eve reportedly used to be) and no one would care.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 13, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

  11. Geoff J,

    “I am not interested in quibbling over the minutia of proper shorts/sleeves length, etc.”

    Fair enough. But you should realize that in doing so you have to ignore a considerable amount of content from modesty talks and articles that discuss, in unambiguous terms, what you dismiss as minutia. Families should work out the details, I agree, but in taking that stance you and I are taking a liberty that no modesty speaker suggests. Modesty speakers hammer the details. For example, one of the articles I didn’t cite suggest that young women should consider dropping out of a school performance or athletic team if they have to wear an immodest costume or outfit. Several articles say that if a girl’s midriff is exposed when she raises her hands in the air, the shirt’s immodest. Prom dresses are the quintessential battle ground for modesty rhetoric. It would be like having talks on the Sabbath day that spell out a list of inappropriate activities, and then equate them with violating the entire day itself with the risk going completely inactive. That’s why I’m taking pains to cite every point I make, because that’s what modesty rhetoric is really like.

    “There is no other good reason I can think of why modesty would matter to God.”

    Then what about the scriptural references to modesty that tell people to avoid ostentatious dress? Clothing symbolizes more than just sexual availability. Ignoring nudists, clothing is pretty well essential for us. Clothing wasn’t invented so that we could then have modesty to protect our chastity, modesty came after clothing to help regulate how we use it, sexually or otherwise.

    So there’s definitely more to modesty, or can be more to modesty, than a hedge for chastity. Modesty and chastity are and ought to be related, but the connection is too weak on nearly every rational count to make the one the guard of the other, despite intentions otherwise. I think we can strengthen both virtues by cutting the bond (or at least not trying to rest so much on it).

    Comment by DavidF — July 14, 2013 @ 1:22 am

  12. Very well considered, thank you for offering this balance.

    Comment by Howard — July 14, 2013 @ 8:53 am

  13. I just finished reading A Style of Our Own It’s a .pdf history of Mormon modesty from 1951 – 2008. It began with Kimballizing fashion in 1951 with no clear link at that time to chastity and then meanders. It is used to counter the 60s counter culture and the feminist movement before becoming what it is today.

    Given Kimball’s OD2 position on revelation it is doubtful this was revelation, more likely inspiration which is more man than God.

    Comment by Howard — July 14, 2013 @ 11:18 am

  14. David,

    But you should realize that in doing so you have to ignore a considerable amount of content from modesty talks and articles that discuss, in unambiguous terms, what you dismiss as minutia.

    Yep. That’s what I’m doing here. Not because they aren’t important subjects for me to discuss with my two teenage daughters, but because the application of specifics will vary from family to family. So the exact lines we come up with in our family will not apply to anyone else.

    Seems to me that a large portion of discussion of church modesty standards amounts to tantrums saying “don’t tell me what to do!”. The snarky tone of some of your posts strike me as being along those lines. But such tantrums are unnecessary and unhelpful. The church leaders at various levels can give counsel and suggestions on clothing styles and then we members are free to choose what we will actually wear. That’s it. There are no clothing-related questions in temple recommend or baptismal interviews (excluding temple garment questions for recommend interviews). A very wide berth is given to members in their actual clothing choices.

    but in taking that stance you and I are taking a liberty that no modesty speaker suggests

    So? We all have to work out our own salvations. These things are like Sabbath rituals. Some people stay in their church clothes all day, others don’t. Some avoid all TV, others don’t. Some think family hikes/picnics are ok, others don’t. That’s the way things work on the ground level on these sorts of things so getting all huffy about some talks in the Friend is wasted energy. Why? Because you have no control over what will be published there. None. You only have influence over how you will dress and how you will counsel your children to dress. So in the end we all vote with our actions on these little details.

    But that doesn’t mean modesty is something we should ignore in general. There is great wisdom in dressing somewhat more modestly than the norm in whatever society we live in — especially in the case of younger women — because of of the messages modest clothing sends.

    what about the scriptural references to modesty that tell people to avoid ostentatious dress?

    That response just playing with words and only serves to cloud the issue. In modern usage, we mean dressing less “sexy” when we talk about modesty. Let’s stay on target. When ostentatiousness is the subject the talks and scriptures focus on terms like “pride” and “fine apparel”. The only good reason to focus on less sexy clothing is to support the law of chastity.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 14, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

  15. “That response just playing with words and only serves to cloud the issue. In modern usage, we mean dressing less “sexy” when we talk about modesty.”

    Hardly. Not only does 1 Timothy 2:9 use the term modesty to describe avoiding ostentatious dress, but the scripture gets cited in modesty talks. Speakers often include avoiding foul language under modesty, and dressing appropriately (i.e. not sloppy) for church meetings. I think you’ve adopted both an overly simplistic and far too narrow definition of modesty when you say it only refers to avoiding provocative clothing. It’s a flexible term.

    As for your other comments, I’m glad you arrived at a comfortable point in how you digest modesty rhetoric. I remain unsettled by a concept that contradicts the scriptural mandates to not judge others by the outward appearance. And I’m concerned both for young men and young women when I see this concept cited in official sources to praise young men who shun young women, even though these young women are victims of sexual advertising (I think the APA report shows pretty well why immodest girls are much more victims than guilty parties). Still, I think you’ll appreciate the rest of of the posts in this series more (except maybe the redefinition of modesty I’m advancing, since you don’t seem perturbed at all by the current one).

    Comment by DavidF — July 14, 2013 @ 7:45 pm

  16. David,

    It is lovely and all that modesty used to mean more that what it means to most Mormons today. But today when the word modesty is used in Mormonism it means avoiding too-sexy clothing. I will be happy to spell that meaning out rather than just saying “modesty” going forward in this discussion if it helps avoid confusion.

    The scriptures don’t forbid us from judging others, they mandate that we avoid judging others unrighteously. Further, the JST version of that verse in John 7:24 you are referencing removes the whole “appearance” thing. Here is the original in the KJV:

    24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.

    Here is the JST version:

    24 Judge not according to your traditions, but judge righteous judgment.

    We all make judgments about others every day based on what we see and it would be foolish and sometimes dangerous to try to do otherwise. Making judgments about people we encounter is an inevitable part of being human. Jesus wants us to make righteous judgments of each other.

    I agree with you that there are problems that arise when some Mormon girls wearing “sexy” clothes. In my opinion 99% of those problems are that the girls wearing sexy clothing are sending, intentionally or not, messages about their sexual availability. 1% of the problem might be that overzealous Mormon boys are shunning them in some cases, but even if that does happen there are lots of other Mormon boys out there who will be attracted to the sexy clothes. So the solution for them is to follow the church’s counsel and avoid overtly sexy clothing. Problem solved!

    Comment by Geoff J — July 14, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

  17. In my opinion 99% of those problems are that the girls wearing sexy clothing are sending, intentionally or not, messages about their sexual availability. I think you are wrong here, mostly it has little to do with their sexual availability and a lot to do with attracting attention.

    Comment by Howard — July 14, 2013 @ 9:19 pm

  18. Geoff J,

    You’re missing the point. Modesty currently means more than provocative dress. That’s by far and away the most common meaning, but contemporary speakers note that modesty also has to do with language, wearing respectful dress, and avoiding looking “cheap, careless, or slothful.” I’ve been using the term feminine modesty to signify what people most often mean by modesty, but just using modesty is fine for what we’re talking about.

    As for the JST, that’s interesting, but I would hardly call it a definitive counterargument. Elder Oaks, for example, uses the default reading in his very detailed article on judging. There’s also the matter of 1 Samuel 16:7:

    But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.

    Avoiding judging by appearance is actually just good council. Appearances mean nothing. It’s the intention that counts. Suppose a person comes to church dressed in jeans and t-shirt. What should we assume? Nothing, especially if we don’t know their circumstances and their intention. We risk making a false judgment, not to mention doing ourselves spiritual harm.

    Now I hope not to be misunderstood: I am not saying that you should judge one another by appearance, for that would be folly and worse. (Kimball)

    The same goes for the way a girl dresses. Not all immodest dress is intentionally sexual, as I noted above. And if it’s not intentionally sexual, then there isn’t any good reason to judge her by her appearance. Otherwise, what kind of judgment should we even make?

    Comment by DavidF — July 14, 2013 @ 10:00 pm

  19. Just to expand on a point, specifically about the jeans and a t-shirt example. If someone came to church dressed that way we could assume they are disrespectful, don’t know the protocol, or perhaps that they can’t afford nice clothing. Julie B. Beck talked about this in the Mormon Channel podcast I linked to last time. It’s not our position to make judgements when we don’t know what’s going on behind a person’s dress.

    Sometimes it’s obvious what messages an immodest girl is trying to send, but not always. That’s why modesty speakers often note that modesty is really about attitude, not dress. I think that’s spot on. If we make any judgment, it should be about a person’s intentions. Appearance may signify intentions, but it may not. If we measure intention by dress, we risk making bad judgments. Not just bad judgments, but ones that are completely way off the mark (i.e. the jeans and t-shirt example).

    Since intention is what really counts in the end, why should we be making modesty rules that hold dress above a person’s intentions? As I’ve tried to point out very carefully in these last two posts, we have a virtue that doesn’t attempt to regulate intention, but appearance. I’m not saying dress isn’t important, but we’re focused on the wrong measurement. And it leads us to making bad judgments (i.e. the young men I quote in this post).

    Comment by DavidF — July 15, 2013 @ 8:09 am

  20. Howard,

    I agree with you that when a young woman chooses to dress in overtly “sexy” clothes she is seeking attention. And she invariably gets attention from lots of horny males. That fact is in harmony with what I have been saying here.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 15, 2013 @ 10:13 am

  21. David,

    Sounds like we agree that modesty refers to provocative dressing in the vast majority of cases in contemporary Mormon discourse.

    I assume that we agree that we must judge others fairly and righteously too — especially since the scriptures you cited specifically tell us to do that.

    Suppose a person comes to church dressed in jeans and t-shirt. What should we assume

    We would assume they are visiting. Either as a member from out of town, a returning inactive member, or as a non-member. And we would be right in that assumption nearly every time.

    If you are on a mission to try to stop humans from sizing each other up at first sight your mission is folly. The practical goal is to not unrighteously judge at first sight and to be willing to change opinions as we learn more.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 15, 2013 @ 10:21 am

  22. David: Sometimes it’s obvious what messages an immodest girl is trying to send, but not always

    I agree. But regardless of her intentions, messages are being sent to all those guys out there anyway. Thus the wisdom in the counsel from the church to avoid wearing the sexy clothes that send those messages.

    The idea of measuring intentions among our people sounds nice, but since it is impossible to do that we resort to focusing on actually measurable things.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 15, 2013 @ 10:32 am

  23. Geoff,

    Fair enough. I’ll be interested in your comments on the future posts. Believe it or not, I appreciate the push back, and while I generally fight back for my ideas, I generally get a lot out of it when I’ve distanced myself from the issue and have some time to reflect.

    The same goes for Jeff G. (and others), although he’s been a little more quiet on this round.

    Comment by DavidF — July 15, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

  24. Anyone that doesn’t think what a person chooses to wear has anything to do with their intentions should take note that the manufacturer has gone as far as to call this product a “Teaser Tank.”

    Comment by Trevor — July 16, 2013 @ 1:11 pm

  25. Regarding 3:

    In a past post you found it objectionable that young women be held responsible for the actions of young men’s thoughts and actions. But in this post you seem to hold young men responsible for young women’s thoughts and actions, suggesting that the former are (at least partially) responsible for the self-esteem of the latter.

    Of course, one is tempted to accuse you of inconsistency, but I think a more charitable approach would be to find the underlying consistency in these positions. The only consistency I can find in these two positions is their feminist bent: young women should not be burdened with young men’s responsibilities but young men should be burdened with young women’s responsibilities. In both arguments, young women are the beneficiaries.

    But this means that feminism is a premise rather than a conclusion in your argument – a premise which is not shared by those you hope to convince.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 16, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

  26. I also take issue with the idea that a girl can decide what her manner in dress does and does not signal based on her private intentions. Meaning is socially determined and has very little to do with what a persons intentions are. For example, in Polynesian cultures it matters what side of her hair a female wears a flower in. If a girl in that culture regularly wore her flower on the wrong side, the townsfolk would have every reason to take issue with it. It doesn’t really matter what her private reasons are wearing it the way she does.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 16, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

  27. Jeff G,

    I don’t see this inconsistency at all, nor do I see that feminism is the necessary aspect that unifies them, or the key element one has to accept to see the merits of my argument. How about, any action taken to exclude someone based on their clothes is bad?

    There are clearly cases when holding a person at least partially responsible for another’s thoughts is justified, and cases where it isn’t. I reject any position that says I have to go all or nothing, and this case is no exception.

    Studies show that women are affected by shunning from their peers. Because this can cause psychological trauma of sorts (i.e. depression), I suggest that we ought to move away from this position.

    The other position, the current stance of modesty rhetoric, suggests that women are responsible for the impure thoughts men get about them. I find this argument incredibly weak, not to mention hard to argue in light of the “you choose to be offended” discussions we’ve seen in recent years.

    So take these two scenarios:

    1.) John can be sitting at his desk in school writing an essay. That action won’t cause depression in Alice (barring unusual circumstances). There has to be some clearer interaction between John and Alice that establishes a causal link in order for Alice to get depressed about John’s treatment of her. This connection forms the basis for holding John partially responsible (at least morally) for how he negatively affects Alice.

    2.) Alice is sitting at her desk in school writing an essay. She’s dressed modestly. John looks over at her and gets impure thoughts about her. Can you see how John’s thoughts aren’t at all causally connected by the way Alice dresses? Since John’s impure thoughts have, at best, a weak connection to Alice’s dress, it’s much harder to justify a position where Alice holds moral blame for John’s thoughts.

    You might suggest that an immodestly dressed Alice may increase the likelihood of John getting impure thoughts. But that (a) appears to be untrue for a large segment of society, (b) doesn’t solve for John’s impure-thoughts problem–and as I pointed out to you last time from the Egyptian example, no amount of feminine modesty will solve for men’s impure thoughts–and (c) at some point we have to allow Alice to dress “provocatively” anyway, by letting her wear a bathing suit or running shorts. Church speakers note that a young woman can wear less fabric for these activities and still be modest, but if our justification for modesty is that we don’t want men to see women’s upper legs, etc. because of how it will make them feel, then we could hardly excuse even a one piece.

    As to # 26. I sort of agree with you. I think there’s some trade off. It would be irresponsible for a girl to be oblivious to her dress or to assume she can buck social stigmas without backlash. But understanding a person’s intentions are immensely important to understanding what they mean by their dress, words, or actions, so much so that our legal system is built on this premise.

    Eyeing a person’s dress and determining their intentions is a serious fallacy (case in point: what Zimmerman did that led him to a very avoidable confrontation with Trayvon Martin). It’s easier to justify in some instances better than others, especially when other circumstances come into play, but it’s still a very bad idea in general, which is probably why the scriptures condemn it.

    Comment by DavidF — July 16, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

  28. Trevor,

    I don’t think anyone is making that claim. I’m not.

    Comment by DavidF — July 16, 2013 @ 6:43 pm

  29. Notice how steeped your comments are in modern, liberal values that are rather foreign to the scriptures. You are more concerned with self-esteem than you are with the law of chastity. Of course both of these are negative tendencies which we must together strive to resist, but you are trying to let some groups of people off the hook. (This again is based in a modern, liberal individualism.)

    There are lots of things we do -or at least ought to do – to stem the unchaste tide. Women dressing modestly is one of these things. Men disassociating themselves from immodest women is another. Yes, these things might have downsides to them as well, but that’s life. If less than perfect sense of self is the cost of maintaining a chaste society (and that’s a big if), then so be it.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2013 @ 11:32 am

  30. The problem I see with your scenario, DavidF, is that the immodest clothes aren’t necessarily causing the impure thoughts; what they are doing is giving permission to the impure thoughts.

    In other words, take two scenarios. In both, John gets impure thoughts. If he’s a good guy, he’ll squash them and try to see her as a person. If he’s not, he’ll entertain them. Alice’s clothes are immaterial to HIS virtue, since he has that choice no matter what she’s wearing.

    BUT in the first scenario, Alice is wearing modest clothing, in the second, she’s dressed in clothes that are considered immodest in her culture. (The exact lines of where that hits are also immaterial.) In the first, she is silently sending the message that she does not tolerate being treated as an object. In the second, she is sending the message that her body is an available asset. Whether or not she intends to send that message is immaterial, no more than a speaker can choose the definitions of the words he uses. He can persuade it means something different, but that takes time and elaboration.

    Good guys will give her an opportunity to explain. Bad guys won’t. Wearing modest clothing reduces the need for explanation at all.

    With all that in mind, I don’t think modesty is directly related to the law of chastity as much as it is in keeping with a disciple’s role to be like Christ, to communicate the message of the Gospel by example and deed. It is very difficult to proclaim the gospel with your life while you are proclaiming your need to rebel, or your sexual availability, or any other message.

    The goal of modesty should be to take a stand FOR the Gospel, to enable yourself to focus on that message above all others.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 17, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

  31. Let me expand a bit on “letting some people off the hook.”

    You make it sound like women shouldn’t have such and such job when it comes to men’s chaste thoughts. Rather, men should just be better.

    Yes, men should be better… AND women should make their being better as easy as possible. This is a responsibility that women have.

    You make it sound like when a women isn’t measuring up to the church’s standards regarding proper dress, she shouldn’t have to change anything. Rather, it is the church who should change in being more lax about it’s standards of dress.

    But this is the exact opposite of the direction that counsel is supposed to come, from the top-down.

    Now I know that your argument is not “women have no responsibility, they should do whatever they want.” That is not the message to are intending to send. However, as I said before, you don’t get to fully decide what messages you are and are not sending. Your post does send the message that girls should be able to do whatever they want. And this is why those of us who refuse to divorce an arguments content from its practical consequences will never buy it.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

  32. DavidF: How about, any action taken to exclude someone based on their clothes is bad?

    This just-so claim is tidy but it is also utterly false and silly. Clothing communicates. You seem to wish this weren’t true but that doesn’t change the fact that it is true. That’s why people can’t just wear anything anywhere with no repercussions. (Examples are innumerable: Wearing swastikas, Klan get-ups, Speedos when not swimming, etc)

    There are clearly cases when holding a person at least partially responsible for another’s thoughts is justified

    The problem is that in this series of yours it is always the men’s fault and never the women’s fault. Jeff’s argument is solid on that front. You claim men are bad because they are blaming women for their own thoughts. Then you claim men are bad because they are also responsible for the thoughts and self-esteem of women. That tune might play well with certain angry feminist crowds but it is bombing here.

    Eyeing a person’s dress and determining their intentions is a serious fallacy

    Fallacy is the wrong word. If I see a guy in a Klan outfit it is a safe bet he is a racist. Sure, there is risk in reading intentions from limited data. But clothing choices are part of the data set that every non-blind person must use.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 18, 2013 @ 9:54 am

  33. You are more concerned with self-esteem than you are with the law of chastity. I think the point is we can have both!

    Psychologically it places a burden on females that simply isn’t theirs when we hold them responsible for what males think and do as a result of their dress. Males should be responsible for what they think and do! Certainly there are plenty of non-member females even more scantily clad and deliberately sexually dressed than female members. Who are we going blame when member males ogle them? Member males need to get a grip.

    Comment by Howard — July 18, 2013 @ 11:25 am

  34. Since Howard is pretending that his points and questions haven’t already been addressed, I’m going to pretend that he hasn’t addressed anything worth acknowledging either.

    Eyeing a person’s dress and determining their intentions is a serious fallacy

    Geoff beat me to it on this one. Who cares if it’s a fallacy or not? We’re talking about navigating the social world around us, not constructing some air-tight syllogism. Philosophy should serve real life, not the other way around.

    The way people dress is not utterly random. There are patterns in the distribution of fashion styles. Fallacy or not, one can make good money by betting on people’s personality and behaviors based on nothing more than their wardrobe.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 18, 2013 @ 11:33 am

  35. Jeff G,

    “You are more concerned with self-esteem than you are with the law of chastity.”

    Since when? I don’t buy the connection between modesty and chastity. I grant that there is some loose connection that modesty should invoke, but not the one that speakers assume now. And since there is a tenuous connection, and since modesty rhetoric seems to cause self-esteem issues, then I think its time we change our tune.

    “You make it sound like when a women isn’t measuring up to the church’s standards regarding proper dress, she shouldn’t have to change anything. Rather, it is the church who should change in being more lax about it’s standards of dress.”

    I’m all for “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves,” but what if the principle is based on a bad inference, ie, that modesty and chastity are closely related? Not only do I think this is a bad inference, but it’s a harmful one at that.

    Geoff J,

    Of course clothing communicates. The fallacy is in assuming that we can know what’s going on in someone else’s brain from what they are wearing.

    You give me the example of a klan outfit, which is, in general, probably a safe indication that the man wearing it is racist. But what if he is on a movie set? What if he is in a civil rights parade holding a sign saying “racism is wrong” with an arrow pointing to himself (maybe not tactful, but not an overly absurd situation either)? Strip away the context, look at just the appearance, and you’re on your way to making poor judgments. It may not be as likely in the case of Klan outfit, but modesty rhetoric covers fairly normal kinds of dress and then gives extreme meanings to them, in other words, that they are encouraging sexual promiscuity. Maybe they are, but maybe they aren’t.

    Let’s say a woman contributes to a man’s impure thoughts by her dress unintentionally. Is she as responsible for a man’s thoughts as a woman who dresses with the express purpose of making a man think impure thoughts? Of course not. The problem isn’t in the way she dresses, the problem is in her attitude, which is not a modesty issue but a chastity issue. When we conflate the two we miss the point. We also make bad inferences about a person based on their dress, because modesty, as presently taught, excludes intention as a relevant variable. How can we possibly hold someone responsible for sending messages they don’t intend to send, especially through something so passive as wearing clothing? If we were responsible for every message we accidentally sent, we couldn’t even interact with people without a strong likelihood of sinning. That, to me, signifies a problem with our ideas about modesty. Intention has to be a relevant factor when assigning moral blame, but clothing, by itself, can’t make a person’s intention obvious (in most, normal circumstances), which makes modesty, as currently understood, highly problematic on just about every level.

    “The problem is that in this series of yours it is always the men’s fault and never the women’s fault.”

    Well, let’s keep in mind that modesty isn’t exactly a balanced virtue to begin with. There might be more to my argument than just bias.

    Comment by DavidF — July 18, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

  36. Silverrain

    “Whether or not she intends to send that message is immaterial, no more than a speaker can choose the definitions of the words he uses. He can persuade it means something different, but that takes time and elaboration.”

    Not true! Intention is absolutely critical. Intention is massively important for us in terms of how we assign moral blame. And that’s not just on a philosophical level, but on a very innate level. Have you ever been wronged and hurt, only to find out that the person who wronged you didn’t mean to? I imagine it still hurt, but I also imagine that it hurt much, much less then it would have had you found out the person wronged you because they wanted you to hurt. That’s innate. And it forms part of the basis of how we make all moral judgments.

    Our legal system reflects this too. Intention is essential in determining the weight of a crime. It’s also a very hard thing to figure out a person’s intention. Some people, such as post-modernists, go so far as to say that it is impossible to determine a person’s intention. While I think that goes to far, it takes some work to beat that argument. Still, I like your ideas on modesty.

    Comment by DavidF — July 18, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

  37. DavidF: The fallacy is in assuming that we can know what’s going on in someone else’s brain from what they are wearing.

    It’s not a fallacy. What a person is choosing to wear is an extremely useful indicator of many of their intentions. Your movie set example of the Klan-clothing-wearer doesn’t change that fact because the setting/environment is another data point. Anyone who isn’t blind would see both the outfit and the setting and would be able to triangulate a pretty solid guess of intentions based on those things.

    And since there is a tenuous connection [between modesty and chastity]

    You are the only one I know of who has asserted that the connection between the church’s counsel to wear less “sexy” clothing and the law of chastity is tenuous. It’s not.

    The problem isn’t in the way she dresses, the problem is in her attitude

    These two are not mutually exclusive. They are inseparably connected in most cases.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 18, 2013 @ 1:17 pm

  38. DavidF, did you read my comment, or did you just scan it until you could find something to take out of context and spin? (I’m sure that sounds abrupt, but I so very tired of straw-man discussions, I’m becoming a bit of a Tin Man myself.)

    “Immaterial” doesn’t mean immaterial to all things, everywhere. Of course it is material to her moral fiber. But in my scenarios, we aren’t trying to convict anyone. We are trying to navigate society and determine how to teach modesty.

    Since it seems I need to clarify, “Immaterial” in this case merely that her intentions ares immaterial to the fact that she is sending a specific message, whether or not she intends to. Bearing that in mind, it is a good idea for parents and spiritual leaders to teach what messages are likely being sent by certain clothing choices. Hence, modesty policies that change over time as the cultural significance changes.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 18, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

  39. Geoff J,

    “Your movie set example of the Klan-clothing-wearer doesn’t change that fact because the setting/environment is another data point.”

    Exactly! This is exactly my point. Dress by itself doesn’t offer us much on intentions, but when we add other contextual clues, we can get a better idea of intention. But when modesty speakers argue that a woman’s dress tells us her sexual intentions, we find no indication that this sort of contextual reading matters. If it did, we might assume that girl wearing a sundress to the market is not sending provocative messages (and is therefore modest?), but modesty rhetoric makes no distinction anywhere. Such a lack of concern for other important variables leads to the statements and situations that I have cited from official church resources, the ones that cause needless harm for girls and women.

    “You are the only one I know of who has asserted that the connection between the church’s counsel to wear less ‘sexy’ clothing and the law of chastity is tenuous. It’s not.”

    Welcome to the series! What’s your evidence for saying the modesty-chastity connection is strong? I’ve given data to show that it isn’t. If you are going to assert that I am wrong, then the burden of proof is on you to show that they are closely connected.

    Comment by DavidF — July 18, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

  40. DavidF,

    You seem to think that what happens in the privacy of one’s mind is far more important than I do.

    When I say that immodest dress erodes the law of chastity, I’m not talking about impure thoughts. I am suggesting that immodest dress tends toward actual violations of the law of chastity. Whatever theories – and they most certainly are theories – you want to advance regarding taking responsibility for thoughts and feelings (both our own and of those around us), we most certainly are responsible for our own actions… And the way we dress is an action for which we are responsible. The immodestly dressed women should be no more surprised when she finds herself surrounded by unchaste influences in her life than the woman who turns on the porch light and finds her porch swarming with mosquitoes.

    The scriptures seems to consider self-esteem a very low priority, and I agree. Be anxiously engaged in righteous causes, dress modestly, surround yourself with positive influences and other such actions and the self-esteem will take care of itself.

    But in the end, the idea that immodest dress is bad primarily/solely because it leads to impure thoughts is obviously a partial explanation at best. It seems clear to me that these speakers were exhorting rather than explaining and your project of applying the rules of liberal science to such exhortations seems suspect from the word go. Furthermore, whatever theories or explanations we may or may not find tenuous are entirely beside the point. Our social environment isn’t based on any inferences that we may or may not accept and neither the Lord nor His prophets owe us any such explanation before we simply do the right thing. Again, whatever thoughts and feelings we have about modesty and other such commandments simply aren’t that important.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 18, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

  41. The problem is not that incessant modesty talk causes “self-esteem problems” for girls and young women. It’s that it deprives of the chance to develop a sense of self! When we start teaching girls that they should be worried about what other people think of their bodies, we turn them from subjects into objects–they learn to experience their bodies at one remove.

    Moreover, our sons hear this talk, too. We are unintentionally teaching boys that girls and women exist first and foremost as a visual phenomenon, the object of the male gaze. That perfectly prepares them to be assiduous consumers of pornography.

    Comment by Kristine — July 18, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

  42. What’s your evidence for saying the modesty-chastity connection is strong? I’ve given data to show that it isn’t. If you are going to assert that I am wrong, then the burden of proof is on you to show that they are closely connected.

    Again, the difference between explanation and exhortation. I don’t care about data or evidence, since what I’m trying to do is prevent somebody from undermining modesty standards. I’m not trying to explain anything or refute any explanation, since I could never in a million years know enough.

    There are standards for appropriate dress in pretty much every society and almost all of these standards are linked to sexual morality. There must be reasons for this salient tendency, even if neither of us knows what these reasons are. What most I object to is a small group a self appointed judges of morality cavalierly suggesting that we can or should modify such standards based on their limited experience and insight which they think outweighs the collective experience of thousands of societies (not to mention the Lord and His prophets).

    Comment by Jeff G — July 18, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

  43. DavidF: But when modesty speakers argue that a woman’s dress tells us her sexual intentions, we find no indication that this sort of contextual reading matters.

    If that is the problem you are worried about then you have imagined a problem that doesn’t exist. No one is stupid enough to think “oh, Mormonism teaches that showing skin on thighs is evil in every context and situation”. How do I know that? Because the the church is in favor of one piece swim suits for women rather than full body swimming costumes.

    Seems to me you are inventing problems that don’t exist. It is painfully obvious and intuitive that context and setting always matter in these too-sexy-clothing conversations.

    What’s your evidence for saying the modesty-chastity connection is strong?

    Common sense is my main evidence. Common sense dictates that Mormonism’s problem with sexy clothes is invites sexual actions. Since the church is clearly opposed to sex outside of approved marriage it makes perfect sense the church is against clothing that works against the law of chastity. You have provided zero plausible evidence for any other reason the church would be so opposed to its people wearing clothing deemed “sexy” by modern standards. The data you have used in your posts hasn’t contradicted that point in the least.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 18, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

  44. Kristine (#41),

    Your comment got caught in moderation for some reason but I freed it.

    I think you are on to something with your “incessant modesty talk” phrase. Seems to me that there is legitimate room for discussion about the sheer quantity of talk to girls/women regarding the importance of wearing modest (aka not-too-sexy) clothing. I personally think the non-sexy clothing lessons need to be tied more closely and explicitly to their purpose — that is keeping our people living the law of chastity. I believe too often that purpose goes so unspoken that leaders and girls start to erroneously believe that avoiding too-sexy clothing is some sort of end in itself rather than a means to an actually spiritually important end.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 18, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

  45. Geoff–I have NO problem with talking to girls about dressing modestly, but it needs to be in a context that acknowledges them as sexual subjects, as creatures with desires of their own that they need to worry about, not merely as the fortunate/unfortunate objects of righteous/lustful male desire. Our modesty discourse is unfortunately situated in a larger gender rhetoric that posits women as “naturally spiritual,” and rarely acknowledges them as complete and independent beings. If you want to only talk about women as lovely daughters, helpful wives, and self-sacrificing mothers, it becomes very uncomfortable to admit that they might want some of the same things men do.

    Comment by Kristine — July 19, 2013 @ 8:31 am

  46. Yep I am with you, Kristina. Seems to be the overall message to the young men and young women should be pretty much the same: “God wants you to choose to live the law of chastity. Here is exactly what that means. (Then spelling out no sexual activity outside of approved marriage). Here are some proven practices that will be a tremendous help to you live the law of chastity.” Then teach things like avoiding too-sexy clothes and sexually suggestive/explicit media etc.

    So I agree with lots of people, including DavidF, that there are problems in the way we teach some of these hedge around chastity (like “modesty”). But I completely reject the idea that we should stop teaching our people about things like the value of avoiding too sexy clothing. Rather we should emphasize that the law of chastity matters a lot to God and that there are proven practices, including avoiding too-sexy apparel, that make choosing to be chaste vastly easier.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2013 @ 9:39 am

  47. In addition I think modesty has an important component outside the law of chastity dealing with self-respect / loving one’s self.

    We love and respect the temple, and so as a reflection of this we make the outside of the temple and temple grounds beautiful, happy, and sacred feeling. The temple and its grounds are not flashy or worldly like a Vegas casino, nor drab like a warehouse or office building.

    So also should we communicate in our appearance and dress the respect and love we have for ourselves as children of God with sacred and divine natures and souls of great worth. Making our appearance worldly or flashy or drab or disheveled does not communicate the same respect to ourselves as dressing/appearing/behaving in modest, happy, sacred, beautiful, and clean ways.

    Comment by SteveF — July 19, 2013 @ 10:51 am

  48. And as for the part that does pertain to the law of chastity, I think not dressing in an overtly lust promoting manner, whether male or female, still has just as much to with self-respect as it does with what you are communicating to others.

    Comment by SteveF — July 19, 2013 @ 11:07 am

  49. Undoubtedly, there is a strong connection between modesty standards and the law of chastity. I am not comfortable, however, making chastity the ONLY reason for modesty. Immodest dress draws all sorts of negative influences into one’s life which erode obedience of other commandments such as the word of wisdom. If fact, I’m a little inclined to view modest dress a commandment in and of itself on par with all the others.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 19, 2013 @ 11:36 am

  50. SteveF,

    While I appreciate the intent behind that temple analogy, it doesn’t really work well when it comes to the counsel to avoid too-sexy clothing. We don’t build temples and then mostly cover them up with something after all.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2013 @ 11:50 am

  51. Jeff,

    Your point about the type of people who ones attracts when wearing overtly sexy clothing is a good one. I think that comes in the wake of the chastity issue though. So it seems to me that if the primary issue (chastity) is the focus, those secondary problems naturally are solved anyway.

    I think from a theological standpoint the fact that our scriptures and liturgy teach Adam and Eve were naked in Eden and it didn’t bother God one whit serves as pretty strong evidence that modesty only started mattering in those stories when sex/reproduction entered the story.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2013 @ 11:56 am

  52. I’m inclined to side with Jeff G on this one. Dress can have a wide variety of positive and negative influences on self and others, and only focusing on how it effects the law of chastity is to me too narrow.

    Geoff J, I think the temple/building analogy still fits with the “too sexy clothing” counsel. If you dress like unto a male or female prostitute house, you are inviting those looking for a prostitute lifestyle and associated negative influences into your life. If you dress like unto a temple standing as an ensign, you will invite righteous people and influences into your life. Likewise you will be communicated to yourself what you think about yourself, which can be a positive or negative influence on your choices and actions.

    Comment by SteveF — July 19, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

  53. You might be right. I just know too many Mormons who dress a certain way because it fits in with a certain crowd and – even though they don’t violate the law of chastity – find themselves imbued with values of that crowd, values which are not those of the church. Dressing a certain way simply greases a slope which is slippery enough as is.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 19, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

  54. Haha, I’m reminded of the stand-up bit (I think it was Chris Rock) who compares dressing like a slut to running around in a police uniform and pulling people over. “You might not be a slut, but you’re wearing a slut’s uniform.” His point was that it is just as absurd to blame a guy for thinking that a girl who dresses a certain way is a slut as it is to blame a driver for thinking that a person who dresses another way is a cop.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 19, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

  55. The point of the temple analogy is that the exterior is a covering of the sacred inside and is intended to represent that inner beauty and sacred nature.

    Also, scripturally, one prominent example of clothing modesty not directly related to the law of chastity is the issue of vanity, condemning costly/fine apparel.

    Comment by SteveF — July 19, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

  56. SteveF,

    I guess if you stretch the analogy it might work but it seems like too much of a stretch to be worth it to me. On the surface, body=temple doesn’t really fit any clothing conversations. Human bodies and temples are both beautiful things and should be well cared for but we cover one in public and leave the other naked in public. But I get your intent either way. I’m just picky about analogies.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

  57. Jeff,

    I agree with you that the “tribal uniform” concept is related to this modesty issue. The problem is that fitting in with the tribe is not all that spiritually compelling of a reason to be harping on modesty all the time. Chastity is spiritually compelling and that is why I think it is the primary reason here.

    That Chris Rock bit you described sounds really funny. So true.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

  58. Just found that stand up comedy bit Jeff was talking about. It is Dave Chappelle. Not really appropriate for me to link to it but you can look up Dave Chappelle Whore’s Uniform if you want to see it.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

  59. Geoff J, I understand the desire to be picky in analogies, maybe I can take it further. The point of the analogy was not that temples and bodies are both beautiful things. The point was that sacred things ought to be given honor and respect, and anything that adorns the exterior of something sacred ought to be a reflection of that beauty and sacredness out of honor and respect for that sacred thing, and secondarily to communicate to ourselves and others to some extent how we feel about the interior.

    There are certain eternal truths that are sacred and beautiful. Temple rituals are sacred symbols of these truths, sacred enough that these rituals should not be openly revealed to the public. So we have a place wherein these rituals can be performed, covering them with an exterior that out of respect and for the sake of positive communication to self and others reflects the beauty and sacredness of the eternal truths and the rituals (that symbolically portray those truths) found within.

    Likewise, our very nature is sacred and beautiful. Our bodies are sacred symbols of that, sacred enough that this body should not be openly revealed to the public. So we cover our bodies with an exterior (clothing), that out of respect and for the sake of positive communication to self and others ought to reflect the beauty and sacredness of our nature and bodies (as the sacred symbols of that nature) found within.

    Comment by SteveF — July 19, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

  60. Geoff,

    I was thinking more in the concrete terms of associating oneself with the Saints so as to build up Zion – something which I think is at least as central to the gospel as the law of chastity. I think “fitting in with the tribe” is how somebody would describe that process from outside the fold. But then, I don’t think much hangs on this point as it relates to the discussion at hand.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 19, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

  61. Good points, Jeff.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

  62. Furthermore, the analogy lends to the understanding that some things are sacred enough by inherent nature that they shouldn’t be open to the public. Some truths and symbols are public, as it is appropriate that some parts of the body are public. So also some truths and some parts of the body ought not to be generally exposed. Then if we ought to cover some parts of our body, how is it best done? I think this has been answered in principle by the analogy as well. The analogy can also help us understand that clothing/modesty is not only a principle of communication according to cultural understanding, but an eternal principle as well.

    Scripturally, there is much more support for the idea that the human body = symbols of the temple / tabernacle as whole, and clothing = visible exterior / adornment of the tabernacle, than body = merely the exterior of the temple/tabernacle. Our body is far more significant than outer walls.

    Comment by SteveF — July 19, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

  63. I’m getting the feeling you like your analogy, SteveF. Still doesn’t do it for me but to each his own.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

  64. I was trying to help by showing that there was more substance to it than you were understanding or giving it credit for.

    When you said, “We don’t build temples and then mostly cover them up with something after all.” and “human bodies and temples are both beautiful things and should be well cared for but we cover one in public and leave the other naked in public.” it was clear you were misunderstanding what was being compared to what.

    But if you still don’t understand what I’m saying or it is clear to you now and you still dislike it for whatever reason, then you’re right, to each his own I guess. But you still haven’t shown in your model of modesty, as an extension/appendage to the law of chastity, why scripturally clothing/modesty is primarily or at least in large part a vanity issue. Scripturally and logically I don’t think your model holds up.

    Comment by SteveF — July 19, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

  65. Also this, “I’m getting the feeling you like your analogy”. I’m not sure if you meant it to be rude, but it came across that way, I hope you didn’t mean it that way. Furthermore, I don’t think it is my analogy to begin with, I think it is scriptural.

    Comment by SteveF — July 19, 2013 @ 5:20 pm

  66. My logic for behind saying that the counsel to avoid too-sexy clothing being directly linked to the law of chastity is really straight forward: God is eternally opposed to un-chastity as far as I can tell. God is not eternally opposed to public nudity based on the Eden story. Therefore, God only cares about too sexy clothes because too sexy clothes are more likely to promote participation in unchaste sex.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

  67. I don’t think anyone’s saying “too-sexy clothing” isn’t related to the law of chastity at least in part. It’s just that “too-sexy” is not the only aspect of clothing/appearance that God cares about scripturally, so a model for the base principles of modesty needs to take that into account. Even the word modesty itself as it relates to appearance definitionally suggests much more than just dressing too-sexy or not. And when we take these other principles into account, it can be recognized that the counsel against “too-sexy clothing” may well have more to do than just with breaking the law of chastity or not, and I would argue that some of the other reasons for the counsel include principles of self-love and self-respect, without which can lead to other negative influences/consequences.

    As far as God being opposed to public nudity or not (or if in principle it matters whether or not we are publicly nude) in my opinion Eden isn’t a very good gauge as the only two presumably nude people were husband and wife, and they didn’t know good from evil. Opposing the idea that God doesn’t care, there are several old testament scriptures that mention that it is not good to see the nakedness of (fill-in-the-blank). Furthermore, I think a logical extension of the body as the tabernacle of God suggests a non-culturally-bound principle of covering the most sacred parts of our bodies from public view (or at the very least from the view of the fallen world), a principle based on respect and honor of the sacred.

    Comment by SteveF — July 19, 2013 @ 7:06 pm

  68. God is eternally opposed to un-chastity as far as I can tell. God is not eternally opposed to public nudity based on the Eden story. Therefore, God only cares about too sexy clothes because too sexy clothes are more likely to promote participation in unchaste sex.

    I’m not sure that this argument is valid. What if I said that…

    1: God is eternally opposed to ignorance.
    2: God is not eternally opposed to drinking coffee.

    Therefore

    3: God only cares about coffee because it leads to ignorance.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 20, 2013 @ 11:05 am

  69. Jeff,

    The difference I am assuming that sexy clothing leads to an increase in unchaste sex. I do not assume coffee leads to an increase of ignorance.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 20, 2013 @ 11:58 am

  70. I knew that your reasoning want that simple. The thing is, once we factor in all these other premises, I still don’t think it will be that simple.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 20, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

  71. Well it seems pretty simple and straight forward to me. In fact I spelled out the assumption that sexy clothes leads to more unchaste sex in that passage you quoted.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 20, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

  72. Oh, we both agree that immodest dress leads to unchaste behavior. Where I disagree with you is when you demote modesty to an instrumental commandment of secondary importance whose validity must be justified primarily, if not exclusively in terms of the law of chastity. With that, I am not so sure.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 20, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

  73. Well you bring up an interesting nuance, Jeff. My opinion is swayed by the fact that if there were no such thing a the law of chastity I can’t think of why sexy clothing would matter to God at all. Now it is possible the the tribal solidarity thing really does matter to God, but that could be signified in lots of ways (colors, fabrics, etc) that would make skimpiness/sexiness of the clothing irrelevant.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 20, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

  74. Okay, but you can raise the same doubts about also any commandment. “If you take away the negative consequences, I can’t think of a reason why God would still care… Therefore, etc.”

    What I worry about is that you position gives too much credit to DavidF. All he has to establish is: “We know that modesty isn’t that important in and of itself and we know that self-esteem is.” From there, it’s not too hard to argue against modesty.

    My position is that modesty is important in and of itself and that God doesn’t seem to care enough about self-esteem to say too much about it. Just follow the commandments, include those regarding modesty, and self-esteem will take care of itself.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 20, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

  75. Good points, Jeff. However pitting the law of chastity vs self-esteem as the ultimate reason for modesty teaching is a blowout victory for the LofC. Living the law of chastity is explicitly preached as a non-negotiable pre-requisite to participation of any of the the saving ordinances of the church. Self esteem has no support like that at all.

    The argument you make is a two-edged sword. On the one hand one might say we have no idea why we have been given instructions to avoid sexy clothes but we must faithfully (blindly?) follow them anyway. That sort of position gets a bit dangerous quickly. But by tying the modesty instructions to bedrock commandments like the law of chastity that are tied to every saving ordinance we have we are on what seems like solid ground to me.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 20, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

  76. Two things:

    Why should we faithfully (blindly?) follow the law of chastity? Why should we treat the two commandments (chastity and modesty) differently?

    They will pit self-esteem against modesty by trying to sever the link between modesty and chastity. (This is exactly what David is doing) my point is that no such link is necessary.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 20, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

  77. That’s a fair question about why the law of chastity should be treated differently than things like counsel about how to dress. My answer is we should get revelation from God about his opinion on the law of chastity before we enter baptismal and later covenants with God because obedience to the law of chastity is explicitly spelled out as as condition of worthiness for baptism, priesthood, and temple ordinances. (And by extension of the baptismal covenants, obedience to the LofC is a condition of worthiness for the sacrament covenant). Once we know through revelation that the terms of the contract, including the law of chastity, are God-inspired, we then have a bedrock for our faith in the restored gospel.

    We can then build on that bedrock with compliance with secondary instructions like dress standards.

    I actually think your approach of making modesty a stand alone commandment that is divorced from chastity is much more perilous because as David has already been arguing, there is no truly unified or universal dress standard being taught in the church. Different leaders have different opinions on the specifics. So in the absence of a bedrock law of chastity connection the easy argument could be “if this really is an important commandments why isn’t God telling all the leaders the same thing?”

    Comment by Geoff J — July 20, 2013 @ 10:02 pm

  78. I guess I just don’t see universality as being all that important. Indeed, my view is that the whole point of continuing revelation is that it need not be binding for all people in all times and places.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 21, 2013 @ 7:29 am

  79. I see your point. I think the practical problem with some of this kind of counsel is discerning where the line is between revealed instructions and man-made policies. At least with things like the law of chastity we can be confident (assuming we have had our prayers answered prior to ordinances) that it falls squarely in the revealed doctrine category.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 21, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

  80. I think modesty is keeping one’s private parts fully covered. If a person’s chest and bottom are fully covered, I consider them modestly covered. Although, if they are covered in a skin-tight manner, then I don’t consider that modest. I think we’ve perverted the idea of modesty into a rather Nazi-ish insistence on camouflaging any hint of sexuality. For people who embrace that mind-set, the burka makes a lot of sense.

    Comment by annegb — July 22, 2013 @ 8:49 am

  81. So bikinis and Speedos for all! (As long as they aren’t too tight, right Anne?) ;-)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 22, 2013 @ 8:53 am

  82. I find the distinction between revealed instructions and man-made policy less meaningful than the distinction of things I should personally do and teach, and things I should not.

    And there is only one way to discern that: through prayer and personal revelation.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 22, 2013 @ 9:50 am

  83. One could probably try to deconstruct chastity the same way if one wanted. Marriage customs have not been invariant across time and space, not even within the kingdom.

    Comment by Adam G. — July 22, 2013 @ 10:19 am

  84. I guess my position is a bit of a hybrid between all three of those. Yes, standards of chastity takes priority over and is much more consistent than those of modesty in some important sense. However, this is a difference in degree, not kind. Like SilverRain, I hesitate to accept that it’s our prerogative to run through religious practices, sorting the instructions which come from man from those that come from God. I think that distinction is an intellectual tool which too easily lends itself to undermining church authority.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 22, 2013 @ 4:55 pm

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