There has been a lot of talk about protecting our children from pornography lately. I really want to chip in my two cents on a subject that relates to this and I think is becoming a stumbling block to effectively teaching our children the difference between sex and pornography. I am going to talk about modesty. The following is a collection of ideas on modesty, pornography and the body.
Modesty is not a dress code. I am quoting from lds.org here: Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to “glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:20; see also 1 Corinthians 6:19). Modesty is an attitude and a way of life. It is living your life in such a way that you bring honor and glory to your Heavenly Parents and make them pleased with you. Modesty is not about cap sleeves, high neck lines on prom dresses or having short hair and a clean shaven face. These are all things that can be part of a life lived with modesty, but they are not modesty itself.
Dress standards are a revolving door. We Mormons are often fond of talking about how the Lord has one standard of modesty. But dress and grooming are very much dependent on what is acceptable in a particular time and place. Many interpret that to be more or less BYU's dress and grooming standards. However, how you are dressed now would have been completely inappropriate to the pioneers. In Leviticus 19:27, the Lord commanded that the priests not trim the corners of their beards. This wasn't because this style in and of itself was bad, but because it was worn by the idolatrous priests. Church leaders began moving away from wearing beards in the mid-twentieth century not because beards were sinful, but because they were closely associated with polygamists. And for that matter, Moroni's ultra comfy attire as described in JSH1:31 of a simple robe that leaves the chest open to view is not in compliance with most Mormons' view on modesty. That being said, God does not allow his representatives to appear in less than modest attire, so the problem must be us. (It makes you wonder if we were less hung up on hemlines if we might see more angels...) Men and women need to dress in such a way that they show respect for their bodies and do not present themselves as sex objects. But they also need to act that way too.
And speaking of BYU, the dress code there is very much lacking. When you are denied service at an institution of higher learning because you haven't shaved but can wear your pajamas to class, I think we need to re-evaluate our ideas of modesty. If BYU is concerned about the image they portray maybe they should keep in mind that Hugh Hefner is clean shaven and wears pajamas everywhere while the Savior wore a beard.
Styles and clothes change, but an attitude of reverence and glorifying God will always be appropriate and becoming.
Our bodies are temples. And everything that entails. We do not hide our temples. We don't try to keep the temple a secret. We actually want everyone to be able to experience the ordinances of the temple, but we want them to be prepared and worthy because these ordinances are so sacred. The power in the temple ordinances doesn't come from others not knowing about them, it comes from us keeping them sacred. Once my husband's mother and sister were worrying over some new material about the temple ceremony that had hit the internet. I love how he responded. He said, "You can find out about the entire temple ceremony anywhere just like you can find out about sex anywhere. But the point isn't that other people don't know. The point is that I keep my covenants and don't reveal the things that I know are sacred."
And along this line, we need to ask ourselves if we are really treating our bodies as temples when we eat copious amounts of junk food, don't exercise and spend our time in banal trivial pursuits. Is a woman who wears a high neckline and a knee length skirt and abuses her body with unhealthy food and a steady diet of trashy television programs really modest?
The body is not pornographic. The body is not the source of sexual temptation any more so than the temple is a source of temptation. The body is God's most wondrous creation. It is inherent to the Gospel plan. People do not commit sexual sin because they see an unclothed body. They commit sexual sin because of where their mind is at. We have got to stop telling our young women that they need to dress "modestly" so that they keep boys from sinning. We have to stop telling our young men that if they see certain parts of the female body that they will not be able to control themselves. This denies agency. Every man must choose how he will treat women, regardless of how they are acting or what they are wearing. Please remember that Joseph of the Old Testament when faced with seduction by Potiphar's wife fled. It didn't matter what she was (or wasn't) wearing or how she acted, Joseph had made the decision to live with virtue and that was what guided his actions. When we are engaged holy sexual intimacy, we are as close as we can get to godhood and employing the sacred powers of procreation. This is something to be celebrated, not something to be ashamed of.
Dress standards have become a convenient cop-out for Mormons. Instead of addressing the weightier matters of true sexual purity, marriage, and a godly life we simply talk about hemlines and cap sleeves and think we have taken care of teaching our youth about modesty. We use it as an all too convenient yardstick to measure a person's worthiness. So let me share with you the story of a young man I knew whom I will call Cameron.
Cameron seemed to be everything that a young LDS man should be. He was the son of a bishop, grandson of a patriarch, a returned missionary, a BYU graduate, and a temple worker. He volunteered at the soup kitchen. Cameron took great pains to make sure that he was well-dressed according to BYU's standards and maintained his missionary haircut after he got back. He said that his mission president had told him that you could measure a man's righteousness by how well he followed mission dress standards and Cameron wanted everyone to measure him as a righteous person. But beneath surface Cameron was facing a battle that he dared not admit. Cameron had been molested by his father as a child and been introduced to pornography when he found his dad's stash of hard core porn and sex toys under the bed. Cameron began to act out the abuse he had experienced with other children in the neighborhood, but because Cameron came from such a good family and the other children were all so ashamed of what had happened, no one came forward. As he got older Cameron got further into pornography. He committed just about every sexual sin you can imagine with members of both sexes and even attempted to rape a male friend of his. When he was in committed relationships with girlfriends, he would still have sexual relationships with other girls as well. When the ecclesiastical endorsement interviews came around every year at the Y, Cameron would simply answer that he was morally clean. If anyone he had abused confronted him about it, he would defend himself by listing out his church work and his clean cut style and say that the abuse was just joking around. Cameron got married in the temple to a girl he he met at BYU.
So moms, do you want your daughter to marry a Cameron? Does it really matter how he wears his hair or what his Church resume is like if he abuses and mistreats women (and men)? If we teach our children to respect others and live lives of loving service to glorify God and not to cover their sins, those are the most important things. If we teach our children to follow the Savior and live lives of true modesty so that they humbly give glory to God, the dress standards will fall into place. If we continue to teach our children that modesty is hemlines and haircuts and covering skin, then what we will have is a generation who are concerned with a dress code- and little else.