Musings on ModestyBy: hawkgrrrl
It’s a miracle! A worldly toddler spontaneously sprouted cap sleeves and became modest and beautiful again!
Her entire class was basking in the warm light of spirituality as seen in this picture – even their color improved to a healthy glow as if by the grace of God.
Rumor has it that similar miracles have happened to the Prom Queens of Yesteryear whose portraits hang in the Wilkinson Center at BYU. Not since the nipples were airbrushed off the Nephites in Book of Mormon video portraiture has such an outpouring of faith resulted in such miraculous change.
Obviously, I’m being sarcastic. In the tradition of 9/11 posts about hammering women on modesty, let’s talk about what’s going on here.
My own immodesty started at a young age. I’m told I was born naked, and often wore nothing but a diaper and rubber pants until around age 2. We weren’t ghetto. We just lived in Florida, and it was hot. When I was age 5, I adamantly refused to wear a shirt at home on hot days, despite my 15 year old brother’s protestations that it was “gross” and “indecent.” As I explained (quite rationally for a 5 year old), he didn’t have to wear his shirt, and I didn’t have anything to cover up that he didn’t have, so why should I have to sweat? My mother didn’t really argue with this logic. She followed a benign neglect parenting model that is hard to fault.
When I was a teenager, my mother once tentatively suggested to me that I should stop wearing tank tops and shorts and start dressing as if I was already wearing garments. I’m not sure where she got this idea, since I never heard anything like that at church at the time (and we had no For the Strength of Youth pamphlet in YW in the first half of the 1980s). I said no way, that my life would be over soon enough, and it wasn’t like I needed practice at wearing hot clothing in the summer. (We weren’t having an argument by any stretch; she just made a suggestion I rejected. My mom was never pushy about personal decisions.) Bear in mind that my mother drank her last cup of coffee seconds before stepping into the font for her baptism at age 28 using more or less the same logic I used for not wearing garment-ready clothes before going to the temple. Perhaps my wanton ways are genetic.
Later, at BYU, I decided to try really hard to understand why people got their knickers tied in knots about things like drinking caffeine or unendowed people wearing tank tops and shorts. I realized that many of them were raised in stricter environments than I was, and I felt that nobody was going to go to hell for overcomplying, so maybe they were in fact more righteous than the rest of us. Or at least they were the way they were because they didn’t really have as much freedom to choose growing up, and if so, that was pitiable, but not unrighteous.
At one point, I decided it would be charitable to comply with these excessive requirements so that someone else didn’t have to judge unrighteously based on outward appearances because their understanding of the standards differed or was more stringent. I was following Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians when he talked about eating food offered to idols not being a sin:
7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their aconscience being weak is defiled. . .
10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
12 But when ye sin so against the abrethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
This is a little confusing, and herein lies the problem. Paul is saying that we know it’s not bad to eat the food offered to idols, so bully for us, we’re not ignorant and weak like those superstitious idol-worshippers. But let’s still not eat that meat because if we do, the superstitious, weak people will be tempted to eat the food of idols (which we just established is no big deal because idols aren’t real gods). He says “through thy knowledge” (that eating idol offerings is no biggie) “shall the weak brother perish.” So why is the weak brother perishing? Because he was emboldened to eat those things not offered to idols (which Paul has already established isn’t an issue)? Because of his attitude about eating the food (the weak person is doing it defiantly)? Because he’s wrongly judging others who are eating the idol’s offerings?
I assumed the harm to others had to be in terms of their attitudes. People who haven’t let go of their superstitions or given much thought to their beliefs are more likely to 1) over-comply, 2) judge people who don’t over-comply, and 3) possibly freak out and act in rebelliousness without understanding the principles.
I tried hard to maintain that viewpoint for several months, with some success, but ultimately I felt my charitable sacrifices weren’t doing anyone any favors. Even though I wanted to help people by not doing things that they would judge, it only seemed to make them feel more and more self-righteous about it and prone to judge others. Instead of complaining about me, they now felt they could complain to me about everyone else. I determined that complying with unreasonable demands doesn’t actually elevate the person who makes the unreasonable demand.
The church seems conflicted on whether to enforce hedges about the law or to clarify when they are unnecessary or when they clarify, how clearly to clarify. There was just a clarification in policy (thank you, Mitt Romney) that caffeine is not prohibited by mentioned in the Word of Wisdom. Clear as Mocha Mud pie.
But at the same time, we’ve got someone madly photoshopping cap sleeves on toddlers so that no shoulder is left exposed, no matter how young. According to Photo Standards on lds.org: “Because of the need to present women and girls modestly, regardless of age, please avoid submitting photos of them in sleeveless tops and dresses or short skirts.” In case you are wondering, I am not making this up. Someone thinks there is a “need” to cover the shoulders of toddlers (if they are female) so that they are not immodest. Toddler girl #1 above was on lds.org up to very recently. Toddler girl #2 with magical appearing cap sleeves is there now. This happened.
Is it judgmental to judge someone for being judgmental? I am pretty sure it is, and if so, I definitely need to repent, just like Paul does in his epistle to the Corinthians in which those superstitious idol-worshippers are called weak. This obsession with female shoulders makes Mormons look kinda crazy, like these Moms who painted clothing on their daughters’ Barbie dolls with markers and nail polish. I am seriously left wondering what people are thinking.