Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I recently shopped for and purchased a new swim suit, which of course has me thinking about modesty. Nearly any swim suit you buy is going to have some areas that you wish were a little more covering, which has also made me think about why. Why do we view the body the way we do? What makes something modest or not? Why do we care? And finally, why do most "rules" associated with modesty apply only to females?

I was reading And They Were Not Ashamed by Laura Brotherson, and she talked about how we teach young women to be modest, and too often it comes across as "be modest so you don't tempt the boys". This has a couple of problems, first it tells the girls that boys are animals and are not capable of controlling themselves. Second, it teaches boys that they are animals and are not capable of controlling themselves.

Young men need to be taught that they are responsible for controlling their hormones no matter how girls around them are dressed, they also need to be taught what true beauty is, instead of society's idea of beauty. Young women need to be taught that dressing modestly means we show respect for ourselves by dressing in a way that shows we understand that our bodies are beautiful gifts given to us from loving heavenly parents.

Back to my original questions...

Why do we view the body the way we do? I think far too often, we've been conditioned to be ashamed or embarrassed by our bodies. Especially if they don't measure up to whatever made up level of perfection we see on TV or in magazines.

What makes something modest? When I was little, I remember my mom had the rule that shorts or skirts couldn't be more than three fingers above the knee. In high school, shorts had to be longer than our fingers when our arms were at our sides. I always viewed strappy tank tops as immodest, but not sleeveless shirts. I think the definitions of modesty change somewhat, obviously over the last 100 years there have been major changes in what is viewed as modest, even today, different cultures have very different standards of modesty. I think modesty is a personal thing. There may be, in each cultural group, things that are universally considered modest or immodest, which brings me to the next question, why do we care? We care because I think culturally, we've turned the most obvious things like modesty, or word of wisdom things into a litmus test for righteousness. I don't believe that most people are purposely going around judging each other, but on some level we all do it. Whether we're like my 5-year-old who likes to point out when he sees people not wearing motorcycle helmets ("they're not very safe mom!") because that's how we reinforce "rules" in our minds, or comparing how low cut your neighbor's swim suit is to make you feel better about your own, we all judge others. Should we? No. Are we going to stop anytime soon? Probably not.

Finally, why are nearly all modesty rules for females only? I've never heard anyone talk about a man's shirt being too tight, or low cut, or his shorts too short (although I've seen men's shorts that were too short). Are we conditioning boys to be more visually stimulated than girls, or is it prewired?