It’s gotten to the point where all I have to do is read the word modesty and I cringe, and that disappoints me.
Modesty, at its core, is a beautiful virtue and something that, as Jesus Christ exemplified, I would love to be better at. The problem is that whenever I hear it in an LDS context it seems to be about policing the length of a woman’s skirt, and modesty is so much more than that. I hate doing this because it makes me feel like I’m writing a sacrament talk, but the Webster’s Dictionary defines modesty as freedom from conceit or vanity. When I am able to push aside all my preconceptions about modesty I see it as it is: a synonym to humility and moderation. Those who are modest are not boastful, arrogant, or flashy…which is actually kind of the opposite of how I see modesty being portrayed today.
Hold on, what? How can that be?
Simple; if too much focus is put on hemlines, it can actually cause people to be LESS modest. It’s become a tool of the modern-day pharisee; something that was originally intended to help us be more like Christ is turned into an obsession of policing women’s bodies. If you are telling a woman that the clothes she woke up and decided to wear that day are immodest, you are being arrogant by thinking you know better than her. Phrases like “modest is hottest” are boastful. And spending large amounts of money to buy a prom dress, and then more money (not to mention time) to alter it to an acceptable cut when you will only wear the dress once is flashy.
I wish that, rather than telling the young women that they are responsible for the thoughts of the boys (and men, how creepy is that?) around them that they were taught real modesty. The young men, too; by focusing all of our modesty lessons on the women, men are being given implicit instruction to judge women based on the clothing they wear (which, again, is arrogance).
Don’t take this the wrong way and think that I am telling everyone to run around naked. I wear garments myself and consider it a form of respect to myself and to the covenants I made in the temple to dress in a way that covers them (which surprisingly gives me a LOT more freedom in dress than the strict standards I was taught to follow in Young Womens). There is nothing wrong with wearing clothing that covers your skin, and everyone’s choices to wear whatever they desire should be respected. I also think that wearing clothing that is designed to grab people’s attention can be a form of immodesty in and of itself, whether it covers a little or a lot of the body. But I think it best for all involved if discussions of modesty are uncoupled from discussions of clothing.
If people were more modest, really, truly modest, there would be less judging, less finding fault, and more love. We would mourn with those who mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort. We would give more to the poor rather than making public displays of wealth. And we would become more like Jesus; isn’t that what this church is all about?