A Few Thoughts on Modesty

Courtesy LDS Media Library

I’d like to share a few musings about modest dress. First of all, let me share a definition of the word modesty. The first meaning of the word, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities.” I am writing mostly about the second meaning: “the quality of behaving and especially dressing in ways that do not attract sexual attention.”

Modest dress, by the way, applies to both men and women, though this post is addressed to women. I am not, as some might think, “putting something on women.” Try as I may, though, you do influence me, but if that influence comes across to me as negative, I’m not blaming you for it, or for my choices. I need to learn to act independent of the influence of others.

I want to start out by saying you can wear or not wear whatever you want. Your choices are your own. You’re free to choose. God has given you that right. And what you choose does not cause another to make a choice. Our choices influence others, but they don’t force them to make good or bad choices. In other words, I cannot blame my good or bad choices on another, nor can you.

You’re certainly not accountable to me, but you are accountable, to someone. And I am not judging you or blaming you. Seriously, I am not writing this to judge or condemn anyone.

The human body, both female and male, is truly amazing. It’s beautiful, miraculous, complex, and divine—a gift from God. So when I see a woman who is dressed immodestly—and I mean immodestly as in wearing intentionally revealing clothes—I often feel a little sad and sick inside, though I’m not entirely sure why.

You might say, “You don’t have to look at me then.” You’re right. I don’t. And I’ll do my best not to. But sometimes it’s difficult to not get a glimpse of what I don’t want to see. That’s probably my issue, but I don’t know where the balance is between my agency and your agency. Yes, I am responsible for my own thoughts and feelings and actions. You don’t cause them. You do have some influence, however.

Maybe you are dressing this way because you feel more comfortable wearing less clothes in the warmer months. Maybe you want to look and feel cute or in style. Maybe you are making clothes choices innocently, maybe not. I don’t know and I am not judging you. All I know is that, intentional or not, your choice has an influence on me that I must consciously consider. That’s not your fault but it is my reality. I feel sad and somewhat repulsed when you show me way too much of your body. And I don’t think I am alone in my feelings.

Jesus warned men not to look at women to lust after them. It is not always easy for men to obey that counsel. We are visually oriented and have microwavable hormones. It takes determination and practice to live this commandment. Let me ask this, then: is it okay with you to intentionally and knowingly dress in a way that makes it more difficult for someone else to follow Jesus, or is it all just someone else’s problem? Where is the line between you and me? I don’t know. I am asking this question because I don’t have the answer.

Is it your intention that I notice you and give you my attention? Well, maybe not my attention, but the attention of men who you find attractive. I can understand that. We humans not only want attention: it’s essential for our survival. Maybe you’re seeking validation. We all need that too. But there is a better way to get attention and validation than by intentionally exposing your body to others.

I don’t know your real motives. How can I? But I feel a need to explore my own feelings so I can understand them.

I think I feel sad because I feel you’ve forgotten or set aside who you really are and where and to Whom you belong. Maybe you think your body only belongs to you. Of course it belongs to you, but I think it’s more on loan to you, to see what you’ll do with it. You did not create it and you cannot stop it from dying. Someone greater than all of us has ultimate power over it.

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20; emphasis added.)

Let’s say you have a boyfriend or a husband. Do you think he feels good about you showing so much of your body to anyone that happens to see you? Does that create trust for you in him, the only real cement that glues people together?

Would you like it if your husband or future husband stared at women who dressed immodestly? That would probably make you feel sad and a little sick. Why would you do the same thing to someone else’s husband or future husband?

Young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you. —Dallin H. Oaks

I’m not trying to judge you or condemn you or hurt you. I’d just like to understand you, your motives, and your intentions because it will help me understand myself.

I can’t really tell, but you seem proud of your body. I think it’s important that we feel good about our bodies and take care of them, but, honestly, I wonder if you are trying to make other women feel jealous of you, like there is some sort of secret competition for attention going on.

I don’t know that for sure. How can I? That’s why I am asking. But you won’t tell me, so I have to guess. But that’s a form of judging. That’s why I’m confused. Those feelings are all I’m left with, though I don’t know why entirely.

Where envying . . . is, there is confusion and every evil work. (James 3:16.)

I would like to make a confession. I do notice when women and girls consciously dress modestly. I admire them for it, especially in this day and age. And I know I am joined by other like-minded women and men in this appreciation.

I am impressed by what feels like self-respect. Sometimes you are persecuted for making this choice, so I feel your intention and strength. I also feel more confident and safe in your presence, less on guard and less vulnerable. I feel like you are not asking me for my eyes: you are asking me for my trust and respect. You’ve got it.

And thank you for not asking me for something that I can’t give you. You have found what you need for yourself, independent of any other person. And you are sending out the message that you know who you are.

I am grateful for you, more than I can say.

P.S. I hope I have made my intention clear. It has been an exploration of unanswered questions. Once again, whatever we choose does not cause another to choose. But our intentions and choices do influence others, for good or ill, and for those intentions and choices, we are accountable to God. I believe that the tender influence of genuine and good women, other than the influence of God Himself, is the greatest force in the universe.

9 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on Modesty

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Brother Fitzgerald, for a thoughtful post on modesty from a male perspective. It's nice to know that a woman's modest dress would earn admiration and respect from good men who notice. But it makes me even happier to know that my choice of appropriate attire could cause good men to feel confident and safe in my presence.

    Like

  2. Anonymous says:

    Lizzy, I don't understand the “obsession” comment. One post about a man's concern over modesty does not an obsession make. He is asking some sincere questions about why women choose to dress immodestly so that he can understand.

    Although modesty is often taught in the LDS Church, we can fall short in teaching/understanding the why's of modesty. I believe that we're counseled to be modest because the Lord knows that modesty will help us to protect ourselves and protect our covenants. We honor the temple God created for us by keeping ourselves covered, and that is the most important reason for modest dress. But the truth is, it isn't all about “me”. We are travelers on this mortal journey along with a lot of other people, some of whom are working to keep their covenants, too. God created males in a way that makes them visually stimulated (generally much more so than women). We females then have the choice of whether or not to show love, respect, and concern for our male counterparts by covering ourselves enough to make their covenant-keeping a bit easier. Why would we do that? Because we're all here to help each other out and to not think only of ourselves. (There things men can do to help women out, too, but that isn't on topic at the moment.)

    Yes, we have the choice to dress in whatever we choose. Yes, a man is completely responsible for his own thoughts and actions. But we simply cannot deny the fact that our choices have an influence upon others, for good or evil. Why make it even harder than it has to be? Why not protect our own temples and covenants AND make it a bit easier on men to protect their temples and keep their covenants?

    Many argue that it shouldn't have anything to do with what men think, but then aren't we simply denying what an apostle of God has said, the line that the author quoted: “Young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you.” (Dallin Oaks) We don't live in a vacuum. We are all connected in some way. Our actions have positive or negative effects on others, and we will be held accountable for our actions and those effects in some form.

    Our outward appearance (which I believe includes modest dress) is an expression of our inward commitment. A “devil may care” attitude simply shows evidence of a lack of inward commitment. I think that is part of what the blog author is saying when he says that he notices when women dress modestly and that he feels that it is showing self-respect and confidence. That feeling of self-respect and confidence are an outgrowth of that inner commitment. Knowing others have that inner commitment is a unifying and wonderful connection. Being modest is a Christlike attribute that is for all of our good.

    Like

  3. Anonymous says:

    Lizzy, if you have any interest, I have responded to your comment and, in a roundabout way, to your link to your own post.

    Like

  4. Michael James Fitzgerald says:

    Hello Lizzy, I don't think I'm really obsessed about this issue, but sometimes I feel pretty triggered! I hope you know—and I tried to be clear on this—that I don't hold anyone besides myself responsible for what I think, feel, and do. Also, I don't see temptation as sin and I don't worry about that. No one can influence me unless I allow them to. But I do wonder about the questions I've posed in my post. Maybe I won't get answers to them in this life. Thank you for commenting and I wish you the best, Mike

    Like

  5. Julie says:

    I understand where you are coming from. If you want some female perspective about why modestly (a.k.a. not dressing in clothing that men consider revealing) is too much of a burden, I am responding as a mother of boys and girls, and as a 44 year old woman.
    I think our society is too focused on appearance. There is an undue burden on women to dress just right.
    When my sons outgrow their church clothes, their clothes look too small. Their socks show as their pants show more and more. Their shirts look a little small. Not a big deal. No one judges them.
    When my girls start to outgrow their clothes, the clothes become immodest. The dress's skirt gets short and shorter. It gets tighter and more form fitting. I take my daughters to church in their clothes and someone might think that they are dressing immodestly for attention.
    If I buy my son some clothes that are a little big, the collar on the neck gapes, but not a big deal. He can wear that Sunday shirt for a few years.
    If I buy a dress for my daughters that is too big, it is immodest. The neck comes down far too much and as my daughter moves around it is immodest. The sleeve holes are too large and as she moves her arm around it can show more than I want.
    It is sometimes excruciating to have to be so concerned about clothing. It takes time away from more worthy pursuits. I don't like shopping! I don't like standing in front of my closet wondering if my current weight makes a skirt too tight or too short, or a shirt too loose or too formfitting.
    There is no easy answer to the modesty question. It is not appropriate to go to extremes to cover oneself.
    I just talked to a mom of brand new cub scout. She has to buy a cub scout shirt and is worried about sending her son to cub scouts where everyone else has a uniform except her son. That is anxiety producing.
    We can't expect our girls to live in the USA and wear pioneer clothing. It is impractical on so many levels. It is also wrong. What was considered modest or revealing in 1890 is different than 1950 or 2015. Be willing to adjust.
    Modestly isn't about what someone else might find attractive.
    Modestly isn't a definite percentage of skin coverage.
    What is appropriate at the swimming pool is not appropriate at the office. What is appropriate in the doctor's office is not the same as what is appropriate when you go hiking.
    Circumstances, historical context, culture…..all these things play into it.
    Modesty should be thought of as the opposite of inappropriate, extreme, etc.

    When you come across women that you think are dressed immodestly according to your own ideas, you can't know for sure what their intention is. When I see young teenagers, sometimes they want a boy to like them, sometimes they are just dressing in a way they think is fashionable, sometimes they are simply trying a style and finding out who they are. Sometimes they didn't realize that their outfit was inappropriate. They are young. They are figuring things out. My son wears questionable fashion choices but since the kind of sexual immodesty you are referring to in a boy is difficult to achieve, his mistakes or weird choices are seen as goofy, show off, silly, or just immature. My son wouldn't wear jeans (didn't like the feel) so he wore stretchy athletic pants (less modest than loose jeans) but in 8th grade he decided fashion was a little more important. Fortunately for him, as a boy dressing more fashionably often means wearing something that is less revealing of private areas…..why does fashion mean the opposite for girls?

    Like

  6. Julie says:

    continued from above
    Last summer my youngest son took swimming lessons. He was the only non Asian in the class. All of these particular kids has swim shirts on. Boys and girls. He started to feel uncomfortable. This is perhaps the only time he will have a glimpse of feeling like he is exposing too much of his body at the swimming pool! Isn't it interesting that in the cultures where these kids' parents were coming from, they felt more comfortable covering up a boys' naked chest?
    If you really want to know, see how your own view of what is respectful has been affected by your time and place. Are you absolutely sure that a man's chest is so nonsexual that it is appropriate to be displayed at Mormon populated swimming pools without anyone feeling uncomfortable, but a few inches here or there of a woman's body is so incredibly sacred or incredibly sexual that it should always be covered?
    There is no one answer. There is no easy way to deal with this idea of what is immodest and what isn't.
    I think it is healthy to understand that there aren't absolutes when it comes to modestly, or when it comes to the idea of dressing inappropriately sexually for the situation.
    I can tell you that my husband finds me attractive. There are many things about my body that excite him sexually.
    I am quite sure that most LDS people would say I dress very modestly.
    However, I know that there is a burden that is too much for some people. Do you know what it is like to always be self-conscious about bending over. If you bend over facing away from a man, that could be construed as sexual. If you bend over facing toward a man, he might see something down your shirt. I woman needs to be able to just do what she needs to in a day which includes performing at a job, taking care of kids, grocery shopping, helping a friend. She simply has more important things to do that to always keep in mind exactly how she looks from every angle and exactly how much an article of clothing has shifted in her performance of these tasks.
    When girls are younger (if they haven't been abused and have been protected) they are less aware of these things. It feels wrong to beat my daughters down with “don't do this” or “don't do that” to make them hyperselfconscious about their bodies, how they look, and who is looking at them. It is wrong, wrong, wrong.
    My daughters play outside more than I did. My daughters play more sports than I did. My daughters are less self conscious about being tall. My 17 year old might think leggings qualify as pants, but her bras are thicker than mine were back in my high school days. For heaven's sake, usually women's clothing has changed for the better and I'm not willing to go back in time for corsets and multiple petticoats that were so impractical.
    I hope these widens your perspective on the matter. Thinking about women's choice in clothing and whether it makes the men around them uncomfortable is only part of the picture and what message a woman is trying to send is also only a small part of the picture.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s