My mind has been going to modesty lately, and I realize I have a lot of experiences and thoughts I would like to share with you to help you see just how crucial it is.
Members of my church think about modesty on a daily basis. You usually won’t see active Mormons wearing short skirts, low-cut tops, saggy pants, or even sleeveless attire. Why?
Here is some of the official reasoning from the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
Your body is God’s sacred creation. Respect it as a gift from God, and do not defile it in any way. Through your dress and appearance, you can show the Lord that you know how precious your body is. You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Prophets of God have always counseled His children to dress modestly. The way you dress is a reflection of what you are on the inside. Your dress and grooming send messages about you to others and influence the way you and others act. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and can exercise a good influence on those around you.
Never lower your dress standards for any occasion. Doing so sends the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval and that modesty is important only when it is convenient. (For the Strength of Youth: Dress and Appearance)
I was also interested to see what the dictionary defines modestly as. A couple ways dictionary.com defines modesty are:
1. Freedom from vanity, boastfulness, etc.
2. Regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress, etc.
I love these definitions, because they go so perfectly with the standards of my church. The way we dress does matter. It affects what others think about us; it reflects our own feelings of self-worth; it brings different kinds of attention.
I really believe that vanity plays a huge part in how we choose to dress. There are certain ways to dress that will definitely be great for our egos. I like the second definition too, though, because modestly isn’t just about dress. Our speech and behavior can be immodest as well. Let me tell you some stories from my life to help illustrate this:
As a little girl, there were certain clothes I liked better than others, and I would choose my clothing accordingly. All kids are that way. It wasn’t until middle school, however, that I felt pressured to dress and look and act differently than I would naturally choose to.
I started 6th grade not really caring a whole lot how I looked. I remember wearing my mom’s old shirts that she didn’t want anymore. They were obviously too large for me. I also remember wearing some boy clothes because they were more comfortable. I was happy in this style (or lack thereof), until kids started to talk. I remember one day I wore a casual pink dress to school and paired it with dark blue Tweety Bird tennis shoes. A girl in Technology class laughed at me and said that my clothes didn’t match. On another occasion, I was wearing my favorite long-sleeved pink shirt with a satin pink bear on the front. Someone remarked rudely that I always wore the same shirt, and didn’t I have anything else to wear. I told that person I wore that shirt often because I loved it, but from that day on I made sure to wear it less.
At 11 years old I was starting to learn that clothes mattered. People were going to either praise you or make fun of you for your clothing choices. At some point in that year I noticed that girls were starting to wear make up. I soon found some old blush of my mom’s in our hall closet, took it secretly, and then started to put blush on my cheeks after gym class every day so I would look prettier.
Then after a summer, my parents took me to get new clothes and I started 7th grade. I remember sitting down in one of my classes and a boy saying a little too loudly for a whisper, “That’s Mandy? She looks different. She looks good!” I was wondering why that boy was saying that, but I blushed a little, excited to be looked at so differently than the year before. I recall that year making more certain I looked pretty at school. I even rolled up my shorts sometimes to make them just a little shorter. I wanted to get the attention the other pretty girls were getting. At that age, girls were starting to develop, and noticing I didn’t have much, I started to stuff my bra. I am not sure if someone told me to do that, or if I came up with it on my own, but I did it. I also took some large hoop earrings that my mom didn’t want me to wear, and wore them to school. I also remember on the days I wore button-down shirts, unbuttoning them from both ends so I showed way more skin that I should have. Why did I do all this? I knew it was wrong because on my walk home after getting off the bus, I would take off the earrings, remove the stuffing, and button my shirt. I was starting to learn that girls who dressed like that got more attention from the boys. That’s why. I liked not being the nerd anymore.
I think I calmed down a bit in 8th grade. I wasn’t stuffing my bra anymore, but boys were still talking about breast sizes on the bus. I remember one day there were a couple boys pointing to different girls and yelling out a letter – a guess at cup size. I got embarrassed. I started thinking about it. I didn’t stuff my bra again, but I did make sure to pull my shirt down in the front whenever I could to make it look like I had something there. One day after school, right after I had gotten home from the bus, I got a phone call from a boy in my neighborhood. He told me I had looked extra hot that day, and he was wondering if I wanted to come to his house and make out. I was horrified. I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t dressed like that so that boys would want to do stuff with me. I was doing it because I wanted to be pretty and just wanted attention from the boys. I didn’t know they were thinking about that. I turned him down saying I wasn’t like that. I never told my mom about it, but oh had I wished she had been home when I got home from school that day.
In high school, I dressed pretty modestly. I think the incident in 8th grade woke me up a bit. Plus, in high school, kids just weren’t as mean. I actually was shocked when girls I knew from church would go to school and change their clothes in order to show off more skin. It really bothered me, actually. At the end of my junior year, I went to the Senior class dance because I was a Junior Marshall. One of my church friends, a Senior, came to the dance in a halter top and mini skirt. I couldn’t understand it, and I was upset by it.
I was a little vain in high school, though. There was a time (Freshman year, maybe?) when I had to check my face almost constantly to make sure it looked good. I would hook my powder case to the drawstring in my gym shorts just so I could check my face periodically. Every time before I went up to the front of the class, I would have to check my face too. I didn’t want to look ugly and be laughed at.
Though I dressed modestly in high school, my behavior didn’t stay so modest. Being in the theater program introduced me to a whole different way of behaving. I will say I was probably really good my Freshman through Junior year, but my Senior year was when I had my first kiss. I was in a musical called Pippin
and I had to kiss the boy playing Pippin. I didn’t know this when I got the part, and freaked out when I realized I had to. I was also freaked out that I had to get under bedcovers with him in one scene. My parents laughed when I told them about it, probably because they knew I was so anxious about it and could be trusted; I ended up performing in the musical.
After having my first kiss during a rehearsal on stage, and then practicing kissing for months, I got pretty good at it. That opened me up to other boys wanting to kiss me, you know, just acting. I remember I would kiss random boys for fun. I just got way more comfortable with boys in general. That lead me to not always having modest behavior. Teenage boys like girls that will show them affection. Teens expect each other to have boyfriends or girlfriends. If you don’t, you are lame. Some of my friends had very immodest speech. They would talk about making out, and even sex. I couldn’t believe some of my friends were having sex. People would ask me about my sex life at school, and at work too. I was too afraid to say anything about it, so I would either be silent, or say that was personal. Was my speech modest? Well, it wasn’t immodest, but I probably led people to believe I was doing things I wasn’t.
After high school, I started going to the Singles Ward – a Mormon congregation for Singles. I met MEN there. No more boys. Immediately I got the attention of men 3-5 years older than me. In high school, you were lucky to get the attention of someone one year older. I started dating. There was one guy after an activity who told me, as he drove me home, that he would stop the car right then and make out with me. I told him no because I had already kissed a guy that day. No joke. I had actually threatened a guy I had talked to most of that activity that he was being annoying and that if he didn’t stop, I would kiss him. He didn’t believe me. Well, I am a woman of my word… That annoying man and I actually dated for a few weeks, and he was the first man I ever “fell in love” with. He would spend time with me, kiss me, and take me out, only to break my heart when he went back to school.
After my first love left, I started dating again here and there. One evening, a guy who I had just been out on a date with, and who had given me a ride to an activity, asked me if I wanted to fog up the windows. I didn’t even know what he meant at the time. If I had, I would have been tempted to smack him and never talk to him again. You can see from these early adult experiences, I was still pretty naïve. The immodest people were the men I was going out with. But, I was getting a feel for why they liked me. I started to assume again that men only liked girls who were attractive to them. During my time before I went off to college, I really fell for a guy. He was so funny and sweet, and good looking. I remember one time at an activity I gave him a hug and lifted my leg around his waist to be funny. Thinking back, I have no idea why I did that. That wasn’t appropriate at all, and he told me he didn’t want me to do it. Mixed messages. So hard to figure out what behavior was best.
Then I went off to college in Utah. From my first day there, I had men flocking to me. I went out on a date my first night after Institute (scripture class). I dated a lot of guys my first semester in college. They would all tell me how pretty I was. Many of them would try to put their arm around me or kiss me way before I was ready – sometimes I wasn’t even attracted to them. One evening, I went to a guy’s house to play games with his other friends. During one of the games, it came out that one of the guys loved my legs. I wasn’t wearing a short skirt, but he still felt he had to mention that. After the games were over, everyone went home, but the guy whose house we were at asked me to stay to talk. He told me he cared about me. He spoke words that made me want to stay with him a little longer. He gave me clothes to change into to be more comfortable. He took advantage of me – of my innocence, naivety and trustworthiness.
During this first semester, there was one man, only one, who treated me like a real person. He admired me for my personality – for being me. He didn’t spend all the time telling me how pretty I was. I was not attracted to him for months, but he kept being my friend and helping me. He never pressured me to date him. Then one day, I realized that I was in love with him. He was someone who saw passed physicality. He didn’t try to get me to engage in immodest behavior. I ended up marrying him… and ironically, he had a pornography addiction. What a conundrum.
So, after two years of marriage, I was single again. I felt the lowest self-esteem I had ever felt. I was heavier because of having a baby. I was way too young to be divorced. I was desperate to find someone else. I expressed that desperation probably more than I realized, and it turned men off.
I worked hard to lose all my baby weight, and that helped my confidence a bit. I started to try to look prettier, “hot,” even. I dated around. That seemed to help some of the men look passed my past and go out with me. None of the men I dated were right for me, though.
At work, I started noticing that I got some attention on the days when men around me liked the way I looked. I don’t know why, but these men had no filter and would tell me straight up if they liked the way my butt looked in certain jeans, etc. One Halloween, I dressed up as Miss Scarlett because the supervisors in my department were doing a live Clue game. One of the IT men, an older man in a wheel chair, told me how much he liked how I looked. I don’t remember his exact words, just that he really found me attractive, and that I threw up a little knowing that. The outfit I wore wasn’t revealing, but looking back, your clothes don’t have to be revealing to be immodest. They don’t have to be revealing to get men’s attention. There are certain colors, fits and fabrics that make the men look a little harder and a little longer.
Towards the end of 2007, I became good friends with a couple new people I met at work. We called ourselves “The Trio.” By the beginning of 2008 I realized I had strong feelings for the male in this trio. He wasn’t a member of my church, and I figured his values weren’t the same, but I felt this overwhelming desire to be with him. One night, he and I went to an art show that my work told us about. He went willingly because he loved art and was an artist himself.
We had a wonderful time, and decided to watch a movie at his apartment afterwards. I didn’t think anything of it because we were just friends. He was so nice and rubbed my feet for me during the whole movie, and afterwards, I was ready to go home. He told me how attracted he was to me. I found this as a complete shock because he had never told me he had feelings for me.
Well, he ended up kissing me. It didn’t take long, though, before he said nobody could know because I was a supervisor and he wasn’t. For months, I went through a roller coaster “relationship” with him. He kept telling me that we weren’t right together, but he was just so attracted to me at the same time. I found myself not dressing as modestly as I should. It wasn’t that I was wearing really revealing clothing either. I just made sure to show just a little bit of cleavage, wear really beautiful and flattering clothes everyday, and walk, talk, speak and look at him just right. Where did I learn how to do all that? I still don’t know. But I knew how to swing my hips just right, bend over at the right moments, ask him about how hot I looked that day, smile with my eyebrow raised and my lips pursed. That was how I got him to stay along with me, and not totally let go. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t playing him. I was madly in love with him, in fact. I wanted to marry him. He knew my son and got along well with him. I helped him get a promotion at work. I talked to him about religion all the time. He, however, even though he said he loved me, treated me like a doll. He would put me on the shelf whenever he was done with me. He would act tenderly with me, and then turn around and tell me we couldn’t be together. It was terrible. We ended up never really being together as a steady couple.
I realized throughout that time, though, that other men looked at me a certain way when I looked good. They would follow me with their eyes, almost hungrily. It was a little creepy at first, but then I learned to relish it because at least I was getting attention. Maybe some of the other women at work were even jealous of me.
I got out of this phase when I met another man (a member of my church) a couple months after my work love ended. I never felt a need to talk, act, or dress immodestly with him. However, I still tried to look “hot” most of the time so that he would stay attracted to me. I guess I never really realized he grew to love me for me, and not how I looked. My relationship with him didn’t work out, though, because of personality issues and goal differences.
Then I met my wonderful future husband, Jad. When I first met him, we were at a church dance. He had a very strong accent and I didn’t understand him well. All I knew was he was really handsome, knew how to dress, and smelled amazing. My first attraction to Jad was looks (and smell). His first attraction to me was also looks, so he tells me.
The thing that was different was that our relationship never dwelled on our looks. He fell in love with me and I him for reasons having nothing to do with looks. He accepted my past without judgment. I wanted to look beautiful for him when we were first getting to know each other, but I never felt I had to look perfect. We went out and did activities where I didn’t always look my best. He loved me anyway. I never dressed immodestly with him. I never spoke that way, or acted that way either. In fact, I never liked it when he would call me “hot” or some other word like that. I was different. I think after my work love, I realized that when someone said he loved you, it wasn’t always love. Sometimes it was lust, and it stemmed from immodesty.
I have been married to my husband for 4 1/2 years. You might be wondering if I have let myself go. No, I haven’t , actually. I still care about my appearance, but I don’t wear make up every day, and I don’t take nearly as long to get ready anymore. I don’t leave the house every day making sure I look “hot” or “sexy” before I get in the car.
No, I don’t care about looking “hot” anymore because I have learned from all the experiences I just told you that when someone’s goal is to look “hot,” a lot of things happen:
She forgets who she really is and what makes her special, and starts to become something she isn’t. She starts to make looks a priority, becoming vain. She desires men to desire her, and is often successful. She is viewed outwardly so penetratingly, people assume that is who she is inwardly. She starts to make poor choices because she does not have the Holy Ghost right there with her warning her of temptation and testifying to her of truth.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good, sophisticated, beautiful, or well-dressed. It is not vain to take care of yourself, and to help express on the outside who you are on the inside. There is something wrong, though, with turning away your self-respect just to gain attention. Your outside should match who you want to be on the inside.
When I dressed immodestly, or acted or spoke as such, that wasn’t me. I am not by nature a vain, selfish, immoral person. I was starting to become that way, though. I also found myself being different in different places. I was a hypocrite. I didn’t want my fellow church members, or my parents, seeing me act that way. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t care. I care now, and that is why I have written all this.
The stories I told each of you are very personal, and at times embarrassing. I told them so that you can see what I have come to know. I want the young girls, just starting to feel the pressure, to know that they should remain true to themselves. Don’t change your clothes, speech, or behavior to try to be popular or to get attention. Be you, and be the best you!