Monday, September 23, 2013

Beyond Hemlines: How I plan to teach my daughter about modesty

I am a single woman with no daughters of my own. However, in reading several recent articles about modesty, from a father using creative measures to teach appropriate dress, to even an exploration of how Pope Francis is a paragon of a modest lifestyle (a view that I especially appreciated), I have been musing how I plan to teach my girls this principle. While I recognize there is a place to teach women modesty in terms of their relation to men, I believe that our modesty discussions can be more enlightening when they are more grounded in the scriptures. I wish to teach my daughters that modesty is an necessary attitude that is prerequisite to receiving personal revelation.

Certainly, covering oneself appropriately has been in place from the very beginning. Consider how Adam and Eve, when, finding they were naked in the Garden of Eden, made makeshift clothing from fig leaves prior to speaking to God. In doing so, I believe that they both established a precedent of covering oneself appropriately prior to receiving further divine instruction. The act of dressing modestly then, may be viewed as an outward manifestation of one's willingness to hear the voice of the Lord in our lives. Moreover, God continues to enforce this principle of modesty as he prepares coats of skins for them to wear, prior to their exit from Eden (Genesis 3:19).

But modest dress is only half the equation when it comes to acquiring divine counsel; it involves our spirit as well. While we do not emphasize it enough, our church also teaches that modesty includes appropriate language and behavior. In acquiring a spirit of modesty then, we can look to Philippians 4:8:

"Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and and if there be any praise, think on these things." (Phil. 4:8).

When our outer dress is mirrored by our inner spirit, we can teach young women that they will feel God's peace within them (Philippians 4:9). And just as the temple is a sanctuary for hearing the Lord's voice, so should we take care to ensure that our physical body is a safe edifice for our spirit to receive divine guidance.

I hope that our modesty discussions can look beyond explaining the length of a skirt, a shirt's degree of tightness, or a shirt's neckline. Rather, we can give our young women a sense of empowerment as a they learn that they are indeed capable of seeing God's hand about their lives--provided that they are willing to prepare themselves, both in body and spirit.  
Photo by Wikipedia.


  1. Thank you. A great take on what modesty is. Just as the primary song says, "Reverence is more than just quietly sitting."

  2. I love it! This is a principle of the Gospel that I often categorize with commandments like the word of wisdom. There is an inherent and sacred link between our physical tabernacle (including how we treat it) and the welfare of our spirits. Thx for this post!

  3. Excellent Sarah. I find that modesty is something that leaders avoid talking about because of the differing opinions on the matter. I love how you look at it as something uplifting and edifying to talk about, which is how it should be viewed! It should be seen as a joy as we find ways in which we can praise the Lord.

  4. Hi Sarah!

    I'm wondering why you say that Adam and Eve covering up in the Garden indicates a "willingness to hear the voice of the Lord" when it more accurately indicates a willingness to listen to Satan. It was Lucifer who told Adam and Eve that they were naked and to make aprons out of fig leaves to cover their nakedness, not God. Body modesty may help us navigate social environments, but it didn't originate with God and I think that fact alone should at least teach us to be careful with how we enforce and advocate for body modesty (especially since it's something that really only regulates women). I'm not suggesting we entirely jettison the idea of body modesty, but simply that we realize that it's culturally dependent and did not itself originate from God. Body modesty can be empowering only because it enables people to move about and communicate non-verbally in the sociocultural context they find themselves in.

    When we broaden our discourse away from mere body modesty then we can begin to talk about the profound ideas taught about modesty in Philippians, King Benjamin's sermon, many of the revelations Joseph received, and in other places. Pope Francis, as a recent example, has been a power for good in teaching about modesty and I hope we Mormons are paying attention.

    1. Hi Jeremy!

      I appreciate your point about Satan and the fig leaves, and I was thinking about that myself while writing it. What I was trying to communicate is that Adam and Even set a kind of precedent with covering themselves appropriately prior to hearing God's instruction. And while God does not seem to be the originator of modesty in the story, He nonetheless seems to continue this idea when he gives Adam and Eve the coat skins. Another part of the story that I appreciate is that Adam, as well as Eve are seeking to live body modesty, and so perhaps this could be fertile ground for discussing how modesty pertains to men, as well as women.

      I also greatly appreciated that article on Pope Francis, and I want our church to move beyond clothing, which is why I was trying to think more about how modesty pertains to our spirit as well as our body. One part of that article that I especially appreciated was the idea of living simply--an aspect of modesty that I want to explore further.

      Question for you: what revelations by Joseph Smith are you referring to in particular when it comes to modesty? I have some ideas, but I am curious to hear your thoughts. I am all for broadening this principle!

    2. Here are some verses (rather than whole sections) so the ideas that are linked to modesty in my mind will be more obvious. (Note: I'm getting some error when I try to publish my reply, so I think blogspot wants me to split it in two because of length)

      Doctrine and Covenants 6:18-19

      18 Therefore be diligent; stand by my servant Joseph, faithfully, in whatsoever difficult circumstances he may be for the word’s sake.

      19 Admonish him in his faults, and also receive admonition of him. Be patient; be sober; be temperate; have patience, faith, hope and charity.

      Doctrine and Covenants 12:8

      And no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things, whatsoever shall be entrusted to his care.

      Doctrine and Covenants 49:20

      But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.

      Doctrine and Covenants 104:15-18

      15 And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.

      16 But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.

      17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.

      18 Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

    3. Doctrine and Covenants 56:16-17

      16 Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved!

      17 Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!

      Doctrine and Covenants 121:34-45

      34 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?

      35 Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—

      36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

      37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

      38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.

      39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

      40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.

      41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

      42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

      43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

      44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

      45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

      I'm sure there are many others, but these are the ones that come to mind and provide a nice breadth of how we can/should think about modesty.

      Anyway, thanks for your thoughts, Sarah. I've been enjoying reading your blog very much in recent months. You're awesome.

    4. Jeremy, this is great! Thanks! In the future, I was also thinking about the law of consecration in the back of my mind as well. I plan to tackle another blog post soon about further broadening modesty (ex. keeping a budget, etc.). Thanks for these scriptures as points to draw from! And thanks for reading my blog, that means a lot to me! :)

  5. Hi Sarah! I met you in Boston this summer (I was visiting Carol Ann!). I love this post because it turns the focus towards God. I think our culture teaches us two main attitudes about our bodies that cause us to forget about God. The first attitude is unhealthy pride about our appearance, which reflects the assumption that our bodies are our own, which isn't true. They are a gift from God. The second attitude is unhealthy shame about our bodies, which reflects the assumption that our bodies are inherently carnal, base, and sensual, and that their sensuality is evil. This isn't true either. Our bodies are gifts that we can use for either good or evil. Both of these attitudes display a total disregard for God, who generously gave us our bodies in the first place.

    Anyway, I've often thought about how to correct both of those attitudes and your idea of focusing on modesty as preparation to receive revelation is my favorite idea so far! It seems like remembering God is usually the best way to fix any human problem. Why is it so easy to forget that?