Ask Mormon Girl: What should I do if I see an “immodest”-ly dressed woman?

Howdy, everyone!  Another week, another Brigham Young University Honor Code scandal, another incident of young Mormon women being gender-profiled and publicly disciplined by total strangers for their alleged immodesty in dress.  This time, it wasn’t skinny jeans.  It was a dress over leggings.  And a blistering note:  “What you’re wearing has a negative effect on men (and women) around you . . .”

Sigh.  Back when I was at BYU, when we got worked up about immorality, it was about the first GULF WAR. Someone even organized an anti-war teach-in at the Varsity Theater, and the great Hugh Nibley hobbled up to the podium and weighed in on what a total immoral crock the war was and how everyone should read the Book of Mormon instead. Saw it with my own eyes.

Fast forward twenty years, and modesty—narrowly defined as observance of conservative dress standards—has assumed an entirely unprecedented value in Mormon culture.  Which brings us to this week’s question:

Dear AMG:

What is the appropriate way for progressive Mormon men to respond to immodesty?  It seems to me that if men validate immodesty with attention, we’re lewd pigs.  If we object to immodesty, we’re patriarchal chauvinists.  Does that mean we should just “get over it already?”  If that’s true, then it seems the expected response for males is to not be provoked by the provocateur.  I find that hard to swallow.

I don’t want to paint a picture of men as victims of immodesty.  I find that mentality silly at best and dangerous at worst, since it limits the culpability of people who do disgusting things.  But that makes finding the appropriate response all the more perplexing.  Perhaps I’m being sophomoric, but I sincerely want to navigate a viable path between pig and prude.

—Peter Priesthood

Dear Peter:

First, as a feminist, I’d like to gently object to the way you dichotomize paths of manly response into “pig” and “prude.”  It reminds me of the old “virgin” / “whore” dichotomy that’s gotten us women, well, NOWHERE for the last several millennia.  The logic is the same—all or nothing—leaving very little room for healthy human sexuality.  And we all deserve space for that—men and women.  Stop beating yourself up, brother.  You’re okay with me.

Now, I think we all know by now that the appropriate response to seeing a stranger wearing skinny jeans or a short dress with leggings is not to assume the prerogative to pass her a chastising note or to issue a public humiliation.

What you should do is a question I farmed out to Ask Mormon Girl’s pro-feminist Mormon male allies.  Their answers were so lovely, I’m giving you several here, as food for thought:

“I think it all changes when you start viewing women as more complicated than what appears to your eyes.  Modesty is as much a responsibility of the viewer as the viewed.”

“I’d say silence is the best option.  Men have had far too much authority over female bodies throughout history, so silence is really the best way to go.”

“Sexual attraction is an unavoidable part of who you are. Try to recognize that and make peace with that.”

“Learn to appreciate and focus on people’s faces.”

“My friend Betsy said it best, ‘One should always look upon a woman as if she is looking you in the eyes.  If that feels okay, then you’re probably okay.’  People’s bodies can be, and often are, lovely to behold.  The problem comes from wanting to have sex with every beautiful person you see.  From my perspective, the core of the issues is not with what you see, but in sexualizing that experience.  I learned this lesson from my wife, who sculpted in college (at BYU) and loves the human form as a subject.  She often speaks of the shapes and contours of the human body, and it is completely independent of wanting to get it on.”

“Look elsewhere if it’s going to be a problem for you, and try not to let it be a problem for you.  All the bad advice [about sexual morality and modesty] and thinking patterns the advice engenders don’t just disappear overnight, either.  We should acknowledge that too, I think.”

“Could you take the opportunity to examine yourself?  When you see a woman dressed in a way that triggers you, ask yourself, what past messages you’ve heard that impact how you respond internally and externally?  Use this knowledge to change yourself and your responses.”

I’m gathering that modesty is as much a mode of seeing and being as it is a mode of dressing.   It means acknowledging that sexual attraction is an essential part of being human and learning how to conduct one’s sexuality in a way that is affirming to all involved.  That kind of learning takes time.  It involves reflecting on and unlearning patterns of seeing that are deep-cooked into our visual culture and into us—men and women—from the time we are children.  It involves forgiving oneself (use humor as necessary) for the way the body may unthinkingly respond to visual cues.  But it also involves consciously and reflectively trying to rewire habits of seeing so that encountering a beautiful woman ceases to incite anxiety, guilt, or shame.  I can’t believe that’s how God wants any of us to experience the miracle of human beings and our bodies.

Readers, what do you say?  Other tips on modest seeing?  Can you reframe the modesty question from a progressive male p.o.v.?  (Thank you to all the wonderful men who contributed to this post.)

Send your query to  Follow @askmormongirl on Twitter.  Read The Book of Mormon Girl.


Filed under modesty

92 responses to “Ask Mormon Girl: What should I do if I see an “immodest”-ly dressed woman?

  1. Speckk

    I had a little discussion about modesty with a YSA bishop, a common judge in Israel, who of all people actually has some business/concern/responsibility for the behavior of his flock. I was the bishops companion, waiting in the adjoining clerks office as a young woman in a moderately revealing outfit came in for an interview. Afterwards my bishop noted that he appreciated my presence and wondered why some women don’t think to dress more conservatively when visiting with the bishopric. He posited a few theories about all the influences that affect how women present themselves, but also recognized that appearance alone wasn’t necessarily predictive of who had returned to his office with even harder problems.
    So for Peter P, If her own bishop won’t judge, why should you?

    • troy

      But, he did make a passive judgment. Trying to figure out why she didn’t dress more conservatively, especially when he thinks she should dress more modestly to see the bishopric, and raising you’re awareness to the same isn’t that much different than passing a crude note to a total stranger.

      • It’s completely different. We judge all the time. It’s called ‘inductive reasoning’ (for snobs) and it allows human beings to make snap decisions with very little data – quite useful in some circumstances, it’s certainly useful for survival. But obviously it’s not always useful and can be damaging to others – bit it is as ingrained in us as sexual responses are.

        The fact that you judged this man for passing judgement is kind of my point – and also sort of meta. But there is a difference between making a judgement and condemnation. There’s also a difference between talking to a person face to face about what you see as an issue and testiclelessly passing a stranger a condemning note.

        It is sad that people judge each other so harshly, but understanding is usually the key to resolution. If a person does not bring up their concerns to the RIGHT party (the person they take issue with), and/or the person who is “causing” (for lack of a better word) the issue cannot rationally respond to a problem because they have a knee-jerk defensive reaction, nothing would be resolved, ever.

        One cannot condemn judgement without passing judgement themselves. His ethical standpoint, as well as Mr. Peter Priesthood’s, may not coincide with YOUR ethical standpoint, but at least these two sat down and talked about it like adults – instead of passing angry notes ala middle school. That’s entirely different.

  2. Shawn

    The idea that we can control what other people do because it offends us is truly a dangerous idea. It’s also completely wrong. The answer is to control our response to the provocation. When we respond sexually, it’s natural, but that’s why we’re supposed to “put off the natural man”. We have to learn how to control our natural sexuality, and see the woman for the glorious daughter of God she is, in spite of her immodesty.

    • troy

      But that’s just it, clothing does not define immodesty and categorizing it as such is only harmful.

      In other words, telling her she’s a beautiful daughter of God, in spite of her immodesty, castigates her and marginalizes her to fit your notions of dress.

      Modesty, or the lack thereof, has much more to do with how you carry yourself, how you interac socially, how you behave in different situations. Reducing it to a simple function of dress shifts the entires modesty discussion to women and serves little purpose other than to give men like yourself and the previous comment discussing the bishops role to ‘judge’ (what hogwash, by the way) weekend dress.

      How about we stop looking for eroticism everytime we see a sundress, or a bikini on the beach, and start celebrating both individuality and noon-judgmentalism in all it’s forms.

      • Shawn

        That was my point exactly. We see eroticism, always. It has nothing to do with the woman, regardless of how she dresses. It’s us, ourselves, that we need to worry about. And I didn’t say to tell her anything. I intended that we should see through dress, mannerisms, etc, to the daughter of God underneath. When we can view each other through the prism of our true spiritual nature, we’re getting where I believe we need to be.

  3. Peter P – Take a moment and try and look through the eyes of the woman. Think of all of the messages that she has heard (or overheard) about her worth and appearance in her life. From the well-meaning uncle: “have you considered a diet?”, from the popular girl: “men won’t want you unless you show a little skin”, or worst from the young priesthood holder she has a crush on: “[so and so] is a real ‘sweet spirit’ if you know what I mean”. Regardless of what you say, your comment on her appearance may serve to challenge her self worth. Remember that the Savior taught that compassion was more important than righteousness. In the parable of the Samaritan, the Samaritan ignores the law as found in Leviticus and touches the man near death to give him aid. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father runs to his son, even though Jewish law prohibited a man from running to meet anyone. Thus the parables, obedience to religious rules doesn’t make one righteous, or justified before God. Rather we are whole before God when we show compassion – which requires sympathy, understanding, and a desire to alleviate suffering. Try looking at her soul, and be surprised at how her appearance becomes less of an issue to you.

  4. The right response for a self-identified “progressive” man is to do everything he can to change the discourse and culture of the church so that women are treated as full human beings, with desires and interests and talents and thoughts, rather than as a visual phenomenon (“immodest”) or a role (“wife”, “mother”), which are the major possibilities available to them at the moment. If women were not constantly told (see, e.g. President Packer’s talk in the recent training broadcast) that their eternal worth is contingent on attracting a mate and bear children, the anxiety that provokes overly sexualized modes of self-presentation would probably go away.

    • KBell

      Kristine, I think you hit the nail on the head.

    • Kris

      So, SO happy to hear this expressed in this way! Thank you, Kristine, for having a solid, wise, complete woman’s head on your shoulders. We need more of you in the church.

    • Awesome response, Kristine! Absolutely. WOOT!

      Also. . .I’d add that the Brethren *really* need to stop hounding about porn already. It is giving LDS members a hyper-focus on human sexuality, and that is not healthy for psychologically- and emotionally- healthy sexual development.

      People get it, already. The dangers of porn can be taught privately and individually, and it should be addressed to people who actually have A PROBLEM. Not just normal men who may glance at it every so often, and are striving in every way to be a normal, decent human being with healthy sexuality *and* healthy spirituality.

      • dcgirl

        Unfortunately, I have been affected by this. I feel that it does need to be adressed and often. Pornagraphy is easy to see and even “occasionally” leads to the objectifying of women and goes against the teachings of the church. I can attest that having been with someone that “occassionally” turns into “often” and easily leads into not keeping vows and covenants.

    • It’s the probably in the last sentence here that troubles me the most. Is there any proof that if our cultural thinking changes that we will change, or that changing our cultural thinking is even possible? The only thing I am getting out of this post is that, if I feel sexually attracted to someone I don’t want to be attracted to, it is not only my problem, but it’s a problem so deep inside me that in order for it to change all of society and thousands of years of history need to change. This is extremely unhelpful and demoralizing to people like me who would like to make some kind of change for the better.

      Also, I want to challenge that this latest BYU girl was “publicly disciplined” by whomever wrote her the note. The note was handed to her in a private way, the girl was the one that chose to make it public. I think that the kid was right to let this girl know that she was making a spectacle of herself, because that is what she ended up doing. She posted a picture of herself and said, “judge me against this person’s view of modesty.” We condemn the boy having the wrong perception of modesty, which is a fuzzy notion to begin with. The girl was seeking to confirm that her version of modest was right and the boy’s was wrong. And overwhelmingly people agree with her and not him. But the vitriol that this has incurred is crazy to me.

      I think there is a big hypocrisy going here: we want everyone to be accepted for who they are and then condemn anyone who doesn’t think exactly like us. It seems like everyone is saying, “this kid is a symbol of what’s wrong with our society” but no one seems to notice that there isn’t any agreed upon line of modesty. It’s all fuzzy and we can’t be so harsh on people who don’t see things the way that we see them. We need to be more accepting of the kid that wrote the note, he’s a complicated person too, and I think many are forgetting that.

      • SaintDorothyMantooth

        You can be accepting of the kid without accepting his action. In no way is this action ever appropriate. Since when do random BYU co-eds get to choose how one another may dress? Perhaps he thought he was doing the right thing, but if someone passed him a note telling him to keep his unsolicited opinions to himself, how would *he* feel?

        The big hypocrisy might have more to do with women being expected to take responsibility for men’s inappropriate thoughts — that is NOT the girl’s responsibility. You have to choose your own reaction to what is around you, and how you will deal with it. Natural human sexuality obviously evokes certain things when looking at the human form, but a little tact and class on the part of this gentleman would show that he can overcome caveman-like instincts and control himself without blaming someone else.

        Being one of 5 daughters, I’m glad I was raised in the church by a mom who taught us that modesty is something we do out of respect for ourselves and the bodies Heavenly Father gave us and it has never, EVER, been about the thoughts of anyone else. One thing many members of the Church would do well to recognize is that the commandments and scriptures are there for us to judge *ourselves* against, not to judge each other.

  5. Jaime

    “Does that mean we should just “get over it already?” If that’s true, then it seems the expected response for males is to not be provoked by the provocateur. I find that hard to swallow.”

    Pretty sure that was the basic message of the Sermon on the Mount.

    Matt 5:44 “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”

    I certainly don’t equate immodesty on a level with persecution, but it’s the same principle – if you feel someone else’s behavior is provoking you, whether to anger or to lust, GET OVER IT. Realize that you are also imperfect, and love and pray for the other person. It is not your job to retaliate or condemn.

    (P.S. Love you and your columns, Joanna!)

    • Peter Priesthood

      I feel like two separate, through related questions are being confounded in this discussion.

      1) Is the female justified in dressing provocatively?

      2) What is the appropriate male response?

      The general consensus is that the appropriate male response is to get over it. That leaves question #1:

      If the answer to this question is “yes,” then the very notion of modesty is dead. The True to the Faith Manual (which I’m using as an example of how the Mormon establishment would define “modesty”) reads: “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’).” If the female is justified in dressing as provocatively as she wants, then there is no such thing as “undue attention,” and modesty becomes obsolete. I’m willing to accept that, but but most of the people in my congregation would not, so it’s not very useful as a guiding principle for appropriate behavior.

      If the answer to the question is “no,” then there should an appropriate way to challenge the behavior. Christ does counsel us to “turn the other cheek” when faced with persecution. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to persecute people. If one of my peers was bullying another, I don’t think it would be un-Christian of me to pressure the bully into knocking it off. I don’t equate immodesty with persecution either, but if the principle is the same there ought to be an appropriate sociological sanction to discourage the behavior. It’s obvious that passing an anonymous note is note appropriate, so what is?

      • M.D.

        If you believe that Satan fell because he wished to compel humanity to perfect behavior and that Jesus Christ prevailed to become our Lord and Savior because he was willing to let us stumble and even fall; if you believe that “that there is an opposition in all things. If not so… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad”; if you believe “if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head”; if you believe “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”; if you believe “There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” then the answer is simple, you do nothing.

        Her behavior will be judged by a perfect God and not an imperfect human. Her judgement will go beyond her countenance to consider her heart, her trials, her triumphs and her sins. To force the “sinner” to be virtuous (except, perhaps, in issues of violence: after all, “Thou Shall Not Kill” makes it into the 10 Commandments while “Thou Shall Cover Thy Knees” does not) is to both withhold God’s righteous and perfect judgement, to align oneself with Satan and to disagree with a fundamental principle of the structure of the very universe..

        You cannot know if some girl enjoys “enticing” men to inflate her ego or if she suffers from the sort of broken self-image that seems slightly healed when men look at her admiringly. Only God can know.

        What you must figure out is which you believe in more: the importance of punishing people who do things that you don’t like; or that God, in his infinite grace, wisdom and perfect justice will take care of it.

        I so often see politician today who are interested in punishing people more than in helping people make good choices. I hear very few who want to ENCOURAGE VIRTUE instead of punishing sin.

        Whenever you see a girl dressed “provocatively” it is a chance for you to rise above — to practice virtue. It is a chance for you, as you show her that you do not look open her in a sexual way, to encourage her to consider if her behavior is the only way to attract men’s attention. It is a chance for you to show God that you respect his decision to cast out Satan and to allow us free will. It is a chance for you to let the dialectic of sin and virtue that powers the universe to exist in the same moment. It is a chance for you, if she is truly in the wrong, to heap coals upon her head in punishment in the afterlife.

        But if you say something to take away her agency, you presume God’s position as judge and lawgiver and you empower Satan.

        So ask yourself if you REALLY believe the above passages or if you only really care about punishing women for having the bodies they need to receive sacraments, ordinances, resurrection and eternal salvation.

      • Peter Priesthood

        @ M.D.

        You’ve suggested that my desire is to punish “people who do things that [I] don’t like.” To respond to this, I’d like to point to some comments from other posters.

        Darren said that seeking to correct behavior can be appropriate “when that behavior invades our personal liberties, and when we do ‘correct,’ we do so with compassion, empathy, and humility and because we are honestly concerned for the welfare of all involved.”

        Gwen said that it is “revealing that [I compare] a woman dressing immodestly as akin to a kind of ‘bullying’ of men, where other posters equate it more with using profanity, staying out late, etc.”

        My point is that the line between something that infringes on personal liberty and something that I simply “don’t like” can be blurry. We don’t expect victims of bullying to simply ignore and “get over” the bully’s behavior, because the bully is infringing on their rights. Actions don’t even need to be intentionally provocative to affect others. When AMG posted a link to this discussion on her facebook page, one commenter compared BYU’s culture of policing one-another to Nazi Germany. Another commenter found that analogy out of bounds, and asked that she refrain from Hitler hyperboles. The original commenter ended up apologizing. If we apply the logic most commenters have used for modesty to that interaction, then the offended person should be apologizing to the original poster for unjustly punishing her.

        Again, I don’t equate immodesty with bullying. But I do maintain that when a person chooses to dress provocatively, their choice directly affects others who interact with that person. Therefore, a discussion of how to respond appropriately, such as this one, is more than warranted.

        Also, I must challenge your suggestion that I use an instance of immodesty to “rise above” in order to “heap coals upon her head in punishment in the afterlife.” That motiviation doesn’t strike me as compassionate or Christlike in the least.

        You’ve suggested that the appropriate response should be to encourage virtue, rather than punish sin. I agree, and I’m guessing that the young man who wrote the note would also agree. In fact, that’s probably what he thought he was doing. He wasn’t publicly humiliating her. He wasn’t punishing her. He wasn’t even compelling her. He suggested in a private, and (I think) unintimidating way that she reconsider her choices. Nevertheless, I think we could all agree that his response still wasn’t appropriate. So how do we encourage virtue without punishing sin?

      • rah

        But Peter why would such social sanctioning need to occur in any official capacity and take on a set of male-defined minute and Pharisaical rules? Why can’t we just say modesty as a principle is important and let us adults work it out. Think about it for a moment. Lets say that BYU had no dress code and some girl decided to wear Daisy Dukes and a see-through shirt. In a cultural that values modesty are you telling me there wouldn’t be some value-based sanctions? No need for rules here. Teach them principles and let them govern themselves. Lets put in another context does BYU provide a detailed list of immodest words you are not allowed to say? Nope. Is swearing a huge problem at the Y? Nope. In mixed company are you going to drop some word that is borderline? Maybe and it probably won’t go over to well. That is the whole problem with modesty as the church has come to practice it. It is almost completely gendered, placing the vast burden onto women, based on criteria they can’t control and largely determined by men. It objectifies them. It infantilizes them. It hurts men just as much. It teaches them to objectify women and turns both he and she into perpetual adolescents. The recent brouhahas are just dramatic examples of this process which is having a wide impact in our church community in everything from sexual dysfunction within marriage, pornography rates, gender inequality, body image issues etc. It is time for it to stop. It is time for us to grow up. It is time for us to teach our men to treat women as full people. (Shout out to Kristine who hit the nail on the head!)

      • jason porter

        I’m doing this on my phone so I’m not confident saying I have read everything in this discussion. I have to dissagree with your assesment of two related confounding questions. I read the text his way in that:
        1) You’re kidding, intentially provoking, or truely ignorant (in context, not a pajorative) to frame a question with ‘is the female [that in itself will dry any dating pool and evacuate any hope to get married before the age of becoming a menace to society] justified [again, some caution here if any of ‘the female’ are taking part in the conversation] in…[ ___{whatever fill in the blank with anything}________ ]…’ Listen to what women are saying here and start now to memorize this mantra- ‘You’re probably right, I’m sorry understanding sweat heart…see this is why I married you.’ YOU WILL NEVER WIN AN ARGUMENT WITH A WOMEN because they because while God gave you the Priesthood He gave her the Gift of Being Right. Unless you are a judge in Isreal…but still use tact.

        2) The best male response is take pause. Be thoughtful, kind, and considrate, have empathy and be filled with charity and a pure love of Christ. Then if still in judgement and condemning, take a step toward her, pivot, and return home to pray and fast for forgiveness, plead for humility, and strength to overcome your weeknesses.

        Now it’s with love and charity I give you this interpretation of the read. Because I have been there and struggled and had actual experiences (only twice) trying with humility to correct someone in the immodesty (as I perceived it) she displayed, I can tell you that it didn’t end well and caused embarrasement for all. Once it was a girl on campus that was having her shorter skirt be eaten as she walked by her backpack exposing her whole backside (at USU?) And I with attempted humility tried to resolve this and was met with “you [effing] pervert!” She left crying with bistanders laughing and pointing. The other involved a tear in the worst place of some tightly fitting jeans that ended in sadness. Both of these coincidently happened after getting home from a mission still having a bit too much confidence in my Priesthood prowess.

        So again with love I give you the best advice my mission Pres gave as he interupted a mission conference speaker with the following revelation in all seriousness and reverence: “Elders…Don’t be weird”

    • The thing is most woman are not dressing to provoke. Sometimes my husband doesn’t care for my style, but I don’t care because I am dressing for ME not him. (Sometimes I do dress for him and I do want a response, sometimes it’s for me because it’s either for comfort or certain fashion taste.) Why can’t we just be left alone to wear whatever we want without worrying what someone else will think? By the way, my sister & I are the only women in an office full of married LDS men. I wear form-fitting office clothes without showing much skin. The guys have never complained and I don’t feel like they pay too much attention to me. They are kind, and ask about my weekend or my family. If they think I am attractive. they keep it to themselves. If I have “provoked” someone to think dirty thoughts, I am pretty sure the office manager would have said something about it. I also wear form-fitting clothes to church. No one has ever called me out on it. I think some people are too concerned on what’s “right”.

      Another thing, I noticed when I was attending the LDS Business College-which has the honor code as well- that the more fit girls got called out when a mid drift was showing, but the fuller-huskier girls didn’t get the same treatment. I think that the ladies that are considered more attractive by the viewer get called out more than one that is considered not as attractive.

      As far as what this guy did, he had no business writing this note to a stranger. She signed the honor code based on her honor not his. IF she was breaking the honor code, let her deal with it. Nobody should tell on her or call her out on it except the “authorities”. That’s something that has bothered me about the honor code and stories I hear of students telling on one another.

  6. Sometimes I see male Mormon missionaries here in Manhattan. To me, they look outlandish in their black pants, white shirts, skinny ties and closely cropped hair. Do I tell them, “You look outlandish, this is New York City!” No, I do not. What people wear is their own business. Why do you think it is yours, Peter P?

    • Katha

      Interesting observation about missionaries in Manhattan.

      PP is expressing a problem that our Mormon culture is experiencing right now. The leadership of our church is becoming a little fundamentalist in its approach to female modesty. It *is* hyper-focusing on womens’ responsibility to not let the men that they interact with, to have any one little sexual thought that will surely lead them down the path to hell.

      The For the Strength of Youth pamphlet from the LDS Brethren gives a detailed list of what is appropriate attire for LDS women. It gives only a general guideline for men. There is a complete double-standard.

      Here’s a great post and discussion about this problem in LDS culture right now:

  7. Eric

    While I agree with the sentiment that modesty is as much about a way of seeing as it is about dressing, I think it’s important that we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. We can’t forget that patriarchy functions on both an individual and societal level and that it positions both women AND men in negative ways. While I agree that men have had too much say over women’s bodies and should reflect on “seeing,” I also think there should be a way for us to talk openly about the subject with the women (wives, daughters, sisters, etc.) that we love. Relegating individual men to silence and reflection means that the discourse will instead be controlled by groups of men (through advertisements in magazines, TV, etc) who will undoubtedly reproduce the notion that a women’s worth can be judged by her body and how much of it she shows. I believe that there should be a way for a progressive man to “talk back” to structural patriarchy manifesting itself in the too-short shorts of the teenage daughter that he loves. Obviously, this is tricky and there is a danger of reproducing the discourse on an individual level but I believe it’s possible if done with love and the Spirit.

    • Ella

      There is a difference between telling your daughter you think her shorts are too short and telling some random stranger on campus the same thing. As a parent, you have the responsibility to set boundaries and teach your children both the fair and unfair consequences of their choices. Once she is an adult, she is free to take your advice or not and make her own choices about what she believes is appropriate to wear. You do not have the same responsibility nor authority to set boundaries for anyone else.

      I also find it interesting that you bring up magazines/models and body image. The rest of this comment isn’t directed at you personally, but your statement did get me thinking about this. I grew up in a conservative household, but was not prohibited from wearing normal, everyday outerwear. I had plenty of tank tops as a teenager and really don’t understand why that’s so scandalous to some people, but that’s not my point.

      When I got to college, I started to gain weight. A lot of it. Significantly more than the freshman 15. When I finally decided to lose weight a few years after college, I found that my ideas of “appropriate dress” had completely warped. It’s so-called “skinny” and “attractive” women that can wear more revealing clothes. As fat women, we are told by society to cover up more because “no one wants to see all that.”

      I’m an average weight now and my perception has been so warped that even my ultra-conservative mother tells me sometimes that I’m overly critical when shopping for clothes. If I can see a lump or a bump or a stretch mark, I’m hesitant to buy something.

      My point is that an overemphasis on so-called modest dress is counterproductive in ways that haven’t been discussed here. Being obsessed with women covering up hurts those of us who are told by wider society that we don’t have anything worth being seen in the first place. Telling women they have to keep everything covered up because their bodies are so special might work for “attractive” women. For me, it felt like I was supposed to hide because I *wasn’t* attractive enough to, for example, wear a spaghetti strap dress to a semi-formal. And I still have problems today with self-worth and body image because of it. I still get nervous showing my arms in public. There is something really wrong with that.

      • Eric

        First off, I’m really sorry for all of the crap that you and other women have to go through in order to get to feel comfortable in your own bodies. However, I think your response is productive in that it shows how difficult it can be to untangle the competing discourses about modesty and what it means to be women in society.

        Although some might disagree, I think there is a lot of compatibility between the LDS doctrine that is supposed to inform how we deal with modesty and sentiments expressed on this thread. That doctrine (for me) says that everyone has inherent worth as children of God and that, since our bodies are sacred and integral to spiritual progression, we should be mindful of what we do with them. As a guiding principle this has as much to do with what food I put in my body and whether or not I exercise as it does with “modesty.”

        However, there is absolutely nothing in those principles (or in any Mormon doctrine that I am aware of) that indicates that women of a certain size need to cover up their bodies because they are unattractive. That comes from a larger discourse in society that values women based on the size of their waistlines. While I obviously don’t think it would be appropriate to “set boundaries” for another adult, I also don’t think that there is “no appropriate response” (i.e. no way of talking about modesty) with the women that we men love and care about (i.e. not total strangers). If we don’t talk about it, how else are we going to untangle the good and valuable principles from the crap that circulates in society?

  8. susananicholas

    The answer to Peter’s question is that there is no appropriate response. A person can only control his or her own attire. The attire of others is simply no one else’s business. Often it is difficult to accept that we have so little control in so many situations. Peace lies only within ourselves.

  9. James Smith

    It IS a “fact of nature” that most men are attracted to women’s bodies, as well as their other qualities. And we do also want a society where sexuality is viewed as natural, healthy, and an important part of human love. It is clearly up to the man to examine and reconcile his feelings when he sees a woman he is attracted to, Mormon or not. And as maturing people we should talk about the complicated feelings attraction raises, as Peter has tried to do. It ain’t just easy (aside from the fact that a woman’s dress doesn’t give a man a right to exploit her – that IS obvious).

  10. I remember wearing a bikini my mother made for me for water skiing and swimming outings for young men and women’s activities back in the 70’s and early 80s. I don’t remember anyone publicly castigating me for that. Boy, have times changed. The modesty issue has become bigger than ever for active Mormons. My son had a post-dance hot tub party at our house, and not a single girl wore a bathing suit without a “suitable” covering. They wore board shorts and tee shirts. I don’t find anything wrong with that. In fact, I’m sure it kept the boys in check. I became a model in the 80s and 90s and began to understand the “effect” that some of that clothing had on men, but, shoot, that’s way beyond what these bozos at BYU are worried about.

    I’ve always believed that how a woman affects a man is his problem and his problem alone. I think it says much more about him than it does about the woman who is supposedly being immodest. Give me a break! Skinny jeans and leggings under a dress. That’s perhaps more modest than the skinny jeans. I guess I don’t understand why trying to be attractive or stylish is a problem for some guys. I will admit that some women don’t understand the whole idea of dressing appropriately for certain situations, but I don’t think that deserves public humiliation. How a person dresses is so personal and some don’t realize the impact that has. How can women win, really, except to wear big, over-sized, frumpy clothes that make them look like a bag of potatoes? Do men really want that? There’s something moving and extraordinary about looking at the human form (clothed, I might add). Why do we want to take that element out of our lives?

    Best course of action for men: Keep it to yourselves, especially if you don’t know the woman. If you do, it may come up naturally in a course of conversation. You could certainly address it in a loving way in that circumstance. My question is: are men willing to accept the same sort of interference with their appearance?

    • Bethany

      You’re comment about wearing a bikini to YM/YW activities and no one caring reminds me of a funny story. When I was a teenager I cleaned house for the sweetest old lady in my ward. She was the super-Mormon type, served three mission (twice as mission president’s wife), you get the idea.

      I was cleaning out a room and found this beautiful glam shot taken of her (probably in the 30’s or 40’s) when she was a young lady. She was all dolled up and wearing a strapless, sleek ball gown type dress. When I asked her what the picture was about, I was utterly shocked when she told me that was her when she was Miss BYU back in the day! You’re right–oh how time have changed!

  11. The Nudnik

    LDS is not the only community where there are issues with appropriate attire. This is a continuing issue as well in the Orthodox Jewish community. If anyone wants to see some examples, please leave a comment and I will post some links.

      • The Nudnik


        There are rules for modest dress, which in application have more effect on women then on men. On February 21, after I wrote the post to which you replied, I posted a reply to James Smith (below here) with links to dress codes of two Modern Orthodox schools, Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago and Stern College of Women at Yeshiva University.

        I am going to add here one extreme and very distressing example. You may be aware that in the city of Bet Shemesh in Israel, some men who call themselves Orthodox decided that some little girls (who are Orthodox) were not dressed modestly enough for their standards. So they started picketing the school these girls attend and even spit on them. Here is an opinion piece on this, which appeared about a month ago in the New York Times:

        A Google search will get you more on this story.

  12. Darren

    I’m not sure we treat the issue of immodesty as such a unicorn when it comes to addressing behaviors we see as inappropriate. I wonder how Peter Priesthood reacts when his friends use profanity, discuss purchases made on the Sabbath, engage in irreverent conversation, or *gasp* stay in the apartment of a member of the opposite sex past midnight? While I would argue that any of those situations is just as “serious” a transgression of church and BYU policies, my guess is that they are publicly “corrected” far less often than immodesty. It certainly begs pondering why that is the case, but that’s not the point. The point is that with those other scenarios, there is a pretty generally-accepted protocol: we model correct behavior ourselves, only seek to “correct” the behavior in others when we have some mutually accepted duty to do so (if we are an ecclesiastical leader responsible for encouraging moral behaviors, for example) or when that behavior invades our personal liberties, and when we do “correct,” we do so with compassion, empathy, and humility and because we are honestly concerned for the welfare of all involved. I think if we follow this rubric, we’ll be alright. And just another suggestion–perhaps Peter should take the time to actually talk to the person he’s so intent on “correcting.” Its amazing how seeing others as human beings, and not as mere sexual objects for you to cover up, changes your perspective.

  13. Speckk

    One thing that should have come from the Ydaho skinny jeans controversy was a universal modesty discussion applicable to men too. As restrictive as BYU Idaho’s rules are, at least men aren’t allowed to wear revealing skinny jeans or shorts either. It becomes a question of dressing professionally versus provocatively, rather than casting the mote from anothers eye.

    I appreciate the responsibility shift discussed here. If men are concerned about modesty then they can persuade each other to talk about others in terms of content rather than packaging. Encourage people to talk about accomplishments and improving the world. instead of forming vigilante dress code enforcement squads.

  14. Peter, where did you get the idea that your response even matters? Have you been taught that men’s role is to stand in judgement of women and give them feedback on how they manage their attire? You can attempt to develop a relationship with a woman you consider “immodest,” or not; that is up to you, but either way, you don’t get a vote on her choices.

    Basic tact means that you also don’t even get to comment. So, what you SHOULD do is simple–mind your own business. However, you might get more developed answers to your question if you make more clear why you phrased this as a Mormon issue, instead of just a question about how every man should respond to any woman.

  15. Arijan

    The basic problem I see with Peter’s original letter is that his assumption is that a woman’s purpose in dressing other than to the Strength of the Youth standards has to be that she is a “provocateur.” She could simply be dressing in a way she finds beautiful – as simple as that – and it have nothing to do with you at all. Nor is there any reason to castigate her freedom and self-expression, as if her existence offends the nature of world.

    Isn’t it supposed to be a lovely, true thing, when a person finds a way to reflect and take joy in his or her soul? Why is clothing so different from art?

    I realize a person’s choice of dress isn’t always something that meaningful – it can just be whatever he or she threw on that morning – but that would allow even less possibility for malicious intent than people actively expressing themselves.

    Maybe, the next time you see a woman, just tell her she looks beautiful.

  16. hero

    I’m sorry, but here I go being radical: I think any person, regardless of morphology, should be able to waltz, walk, run, dance, skip, sashay, leap, promenade, boogaloo or saunter ANYWHERE at ANY time, ABSOLUTELY STARK NAKED and not raise anything other than an effort to protect said morphology from the elements. As in, “You look chilly, here’s a blanket/coat/duvet cover for warmth and coziness.” ELEMENTS being “nature”: cool breezes, icy blasts, scorching sun, wind, rain, snow, sleet and dark of night. HUMANS and their MORAL AGENCY are not part of “elements.” So HUMANS *should* not attack, with fisticuffs, weaponry, penisry, wordery or judgmentalism, any other human in any state of dress, undress, or chemical alteration, ever. This is not a reflection on “just the way things are” but “the way things *should* be”; if THAT is what we are on about, this issue is ALWAYS, ALWAYS response. Not her, Peter Pecker Priesthood. YOU.

    Yes: Get Over It.

  17. Nathan

    Here is a modesty wake up call i had as a male at BYU in 1987. I was told by my student ward bishop that the reason why men couldn’t wear shorts and had to wear socks was because leg and ankle hair was an extension of pubic hair and thus it had to be covered. I felt that to be so wrong. That was the first time I as a man had ever had someone attempt to control my modesty. It was OK to show it on the basketball court, but not anywhere else. I didn’t like how that made me feel. I can’t imagine how women feel growing up being bombarded by messages like that about their modesty.

    • Anna

      Wow. That is nuts. Your bishop was a bit repressed?
      Thanks for the empathy. It helps. Hope I can protect my daughters from the incessant modestly messages of the church.

    • DianaofThemyscira

      Yep-I was a freshman at BYU in 1989 and men had to wear socks on campus as part of their commitment to the Honor Dress Code. It was BYU policy, and everyone *knew* it was because of their extended pubic hair running all the way down their legs.

      Not kidding.

      Great example to show men ‘how it feels to be policed in fundamentalism.’

      • Wouldn’t the tides be turned if this were a standard in the Strength of Youth pamphlet today. Ridiculous.

      • Halsey

        Absolutely ridiculous. Like my mother-in-law telling me it is inappropriate to talk about your menstrual period with anyone other than your mother. Gag me with a spoon. No wonder we have issues with sexuality as a society.

  18. Gwen

    I find it very revealing that Peter equates a woman dressing immodestly as akin to a kind of “bullying” of men, wheres other posters equate it more with using profanity, staying out late, etc. The age gap in these perspectives is sort of obvious – when you are in your 20’s, sexual desire can feel very consuming, like an attack from within – much stronger than the desire to shop on the Sabbath. While I reject the stereotype of college-aged men as sex-crazed animals that cannot control their urges, hormones are powerful and there is an underlying pain and frustration that many young religious people feel about the strength of their sexual desire. Striving to see a woman as a “whole person” doesn’t magically turn her into a whole person you wouldn’t like to put your mouth all over. Desire is so natural, so normal.

    The trap that’s easy to get caught in though is thinking that if you can rigidly control your environment, your sexual desire will also be controlled. But it doesn’t work. Even woman in near-complete burkas are chastised in their communities for having eyelashes that are too provocative. It true that the slope slides the other way too and you get overly-sexualized images of women on the cover of every magazine. But it is important to note that neither strict dress codes nor permissive ones make young men (or, I would argue, young women) feel less interested in – or tormented by – sex and desire for sex.

    There is a “white-knuckling it until marriage” kind of pressure that I think can ultimately be really harmful to young people and deserves more open discussion.

    • DianaofThemyscira

      I absolutely agree, Gwen.

      I think his discussion on modesty is indicative of a much larger problem within our LDS church of repressed sexuality and harmful messages about sexuality.

      If sexuality was discussed more often in our LDS churches/meetings/conferences in healthy, intelligent, and even personal ways, I think this question wouldn’t even be needed to be phrased the way PP did.

      I think our leaders from the top Twelve, to Stake Presidents, to Bishops, to HP-, EQ-, & RS- Presidents NEED to teach and talk about human sexuality in *positive* ways, instead of constantly barraging us with negatives: no porn, no masturbation, and never fornication!

      These are the main messages we get….with a lack of positive, mature, intelligent and honest discussions that sexuality and spirituality can and should co-exist.

      I know far too many female LDS friends who dislike sex in their marriages and only tolerate it every so often for their LDS husbands. I know married Mormons who have just stopped having it altogether, but yet work sunup to sundown on Sundays in their church callings.

      Sexuality and spirituality are not mutually exclusive, and we need to do a much better job as an LDS religion, culture, and people in teaching and internalizing this concept.

      • jason porter

        Thoughtfully and excellently said. Peter, it’s not about them. Unless you are at BYU, you may not share their ideas of modesty at all. It’s what you do in your experience that counts. But let’s not project your own weakness and malformed ideas and objectivity on to women. Recall that Adam and Eve did not hide from their nakedness until someone else made them feel unclean and immodest. Don’t do that.

      • Halsey

        Thank you, Diana! As a young married woman with kids I pray that I will be able figure out how to teach sexuality to my kids in a healthy, uplifting way. Wish there were more guidelines on that! “A Parent’s Guide” by the Church was published in the 1970s and needs a SERIOUS makeover.

  19. for the record, I’m glad Peter asked, and I think we should all be gentle with him here. crazy talk about modesty at church messes up young men’s brains as well. for none of us is the walk to a healthy, affirming human sexuality a simple one. kindness, please.

    • jason porter

      AMG- You’re right…Pete, sorry for being harsh. The Mormon in me makes me overly defensive, quick to be offended, and muddled with a unwarranted victimized ego.

  20. Dani Lofland

    It’s all about intent. Is a person, male or female, dressing with the intent to get sexual attention? Is a person, male or female, intentionally seeking opportunities to be sexually aroused by looking at another human being?

  21. Kevin Barney

    When I was at BYU in the late 70s/early 80s, I don’t recall ever seeing an immodestly dressed girl on campus. It just wasn’t a practical concern. So either girls there have started dressing much more provocatively or the understanding of what is immodest has morphed markedly in an unreasonable direction. And in light of recent events I’m guessing it’s the latter, not the former.

  22. Tawnya

    I like Peter’s question, and my answer would be in between his two initial extreme responses of pig/prude. Try to accept your natural physical response, evaluate it, and move on. I’ve had an odd relationship with modesty, as I’m what my mom would call “well endowed” (32GG for those who know what that means). This little fact means that I’ve encountered a lot of undue attention from men, regardless of the fact that I was a tomboy in junior high and high school and never wore anything remotely revealing. No matter what you do with big boobs, you just can’t hide them. 🙂 So, I spent years wearing shapeless outfits because I was horrified by the attention, but as I got older, I decided that my boobs have very little to do with me, so I might as well start to appreciate my body and wear clothes that actually fit. If some men want to stare at me as I walk by, so be it. I don’t really like it because I’ve always been someone who has wanted to be appreciated for my awesome conversational skills instead of my boobs, but I can’t control other people’s reactions to me so I don’t dwell on it. I’m also through apologizing for showing a tiny bit of cleavage every so often when I wear a v-neck top, because guess what? I’m a short lady with big boobs…there’s not much I can do about it except wear turtlenecks! 🙂 I’m now happy with my body and am confident that I’m modest in my dress and behavior.

  23. JA

    I should be astonished that here it is,30 years since I left the “Y” and the modesty question is STILL provokes anguish. The church needs to change course on this one. Gentlemen, here are some options:
    – Stop talking about modesty. Let this fall under the category of “we teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.
    – If you won’t stop talking about modesty (in women- its ALWAYS the women)then at the very least, address the source of the problem, which is men. Men, young and old, listen up: You are the problem. Get your minds out of the gutter. YOU are responsible for your reactions, urges, desires. There is always going to be something that you find attractive. The Church has decreed the female upper arm/shoulder area is too provocative to display as is anything above the knee. What happens when you find yourself attracted to my instep? (I have a phenomenal one, BTW) Are you going to blame me for thoughtlessly wearing sandals or are you going to man up and control yourself? Brothers and sisters, if we follow the same logic of the Muslim faithful, why not require berkas?

  24. Men, first of all trying to control what a woman wears is like trying to control how much it rains. I for one and among many men think beautiful woman in any state of clothed, or barely such, are simply a testament to the good judgement of a truly divine intelligence. Leaving the whole man woman thing simply up to pheromones, i suggest mankind would still be working it’s way out of Jackson county. The secret to being a good man isn’t complete ignorance of the fine physical attributes of what is truly beautiful, it’s controlling your mind not to dwell on that which knocks your socks off. Angelina Jolie is a strikingly attractive human being, but I don’t spend any amount of time fantasizing about her. Primarily because she is completely unattainable but secondarily it does my soul no good to waste precious time demeaning her with impure thoughts when in reality I simply demean myself. If men were perfect in this (and weather permitted), women could walk the whole wide world wearing nothing but skin. Sadly on the whole we men are not perfect so anything you ladies can do to help keep us on track just benefits society at large. I’m not talking burka, but it’s good to keep us guessing as well as keep us interested. Ladies never stop being women just because some can’t handle being men.

  25. Suzanne

    While I agree there is occasional “crazy talk” about modesty by members of the church, there are also many who teach modesty not to be crazy, but because they honestly believe in it as a principle. There is a reason we emphasize modesty to our young women and young men. Dressing modestly equates with showing restraint and self-respect. And it is a message they will not receive from anywhere else. Often what they see are girls – even very young girls – who are over-sexualized. What message does that send about women? As a woman, and a feminist, I do not understand why the female empowerment movement promotes “slut walks,” as though that will help women. I understand we want to own our bodies, that we want to do with them as we please, but just because we can doesn’t mean we should. We can reject the notion that women who dress provocatively deserve sexual violence without actually dressing provocatively.

    I know this doesn’t necessarily answer Peter’s question — I agree that men need to work on their own self-control, rather than placing the responsibility for that on any woman. And clearly the young man who asked the woman to cover herself at BYU was misguided, and really I just feel sorry for him. But I still believe in teaching my daughter to dress modestly, as part of a larger discussion about self-respect, because I believe that will help her be happier in the long-run.

  26. In answer to PP’s response above: “I feel like two separate, through related questions are being confounded in this discussion.

    1) Is the female justified in dressing provocatively?

    2) What is the appropriate male response?

    The general consensus is that the appropriate male response is to get over it. That leaves question #1:

    If the answer to this question is “yes,” then the very notion of modesty is dead.”

    Is anyone justified in any choice they make? Yes. (Dude, that’s what the whole Council was about!) Is she free to choose? Yes. Am I free to make choices about my reactions to others? Yes. However, I am held responsible for my own choices and that includes how I treat others. We are here to make only our own choices and to help others when we can, utilizing compassion and love as much as possible.

    What’s the appropriate response? There can be so many appropriate responses. Some are silent. Some are your kind expression. Some are gentle words. Some are humorous. It all depends on the context and your relationship to the other person. Tread so lightly. Be generous.

    Once, I worked in an environment where every woman was expected to wear a skirt to work and men were to wear dress pants, but my particular job required me to do some manual labor right along with my all-male office mates. Initially, I wore t-shirts and jeans to work. Did any of the women rip me apart? No. Did the men say anything? No. One day, a woman commented on how much she liked my t-shirt. I have no idea whether she really did or whether she was trying to tell me that I was incorrectly dressed. I like to give others the benefit of the doubt, so I guessed she liked it, but it occurred to me that I might still be able to do my job and wear something at least as dressy as the men. Change came slowly, but eventually I came into line (more or less) with the contextual expectations. I was okay with that and so were they. I will forever be thankful that those people were generous to me.

  27. This amazes me. It is very much like a lot of fundamentalism I knew in my youth.

    • James Smith

      Yes Ted, on the continuum between the belief that every inch of a woman’s body should be covered up and the attitude that anything goes, this practice is much more in the fundamentalist direction than most of American society. At the same time, I think Mormon rates of pregnancy out of “wedlock” are quite low comparatively. Tradeoffs? Benefits?

  28. James Smith

    As noted, this is an issue in the Orthodox Jewish community, AND it is an issue among my feminist friends of the 50+ generation. While stipulating that it is a man’s job to control himself, these friends do question the balance between the right to dress as one wishes and the obvious fact that certain modes of dress ARE provocative of, shall we say, making the woman more a subject of physical desire than a “wholly rounded” person.

    • The Nudnik

      Dear James and any others who might be interested:

      To give you an example of practices in the Orthodox Jewish community, here is a link to the dress code of a coed high school in Chicago:

      The dress code of Stern College for Women (Yeshiva University) is quite brief. Here it is:
      “In accordance with the Dress Code policies for the Beren Campus,
      students are required to wear dresses or skirts that are knee length, and tops that have sleeves. The Dress Code is in effect in the academic buildings at all times.”

      Click to access Dress%20Code%20Policy.pdf

  29. jason porter

    Lots of interest here. So much interest, it begs the question why. Let me throw some things out there that I hope will illuminate some hypersensitivity. think abstractly for a moment what modesty means, independent of what your beliefs are. Now try to do the same thing- only this time isualize, aside from your beliefs, what immodesty is. Does something come to mind? Something universal to both contrasting ideas or perceptions? Is that thing a women as it relates to a man? Think about some classically adherants to being offended when it comes to wom, uh, I mean modesty. Time get your defense on the offense: devotees of Judaism, Islam, and us self-adopted/proxied Jews (the notion of this has to be a much more offensive idea to real Jews than our ceremonial practices), aka, Mormons or Team Mitt or Saints. And what is the common thread between these groups other than a patriachal, authoritative, masoganistic, socially structured, churches of men, that: subjegate, demoralize, margenalize, oppress, ascribe all meaning, value, and make the worth of, women in terms of their relationship to, and from the perspective of men. The more patriachally structured, the more modesty is in play. What my Heavenly Mother-Worshipping and recently Relief Society secratarying wife often discuss is how genius the system is for its male beneficiaries, to not only have their women buy into it, but to fully embrace and take joy in their “special” role. To me, that’s modesty. For those ready to take on the robes of their own unique and independent self-identity, to transcend self-consciousness to an enlightened self-respect of one’s own form as well as the bodies of others, do it in the nude. I remeber quite vividly my first and immediate modesty lesson I learned at an open swim sponsered by the local chapter of LDSSD. It was my first time with public nudity and it was really odd and trammatic initially. But I spoke with a bishop, a jack Mormon, member of a High (and in this case not dry) council, and suddenly I learned that modesty has nothing to do with what’s on the outside, it’s a state of inward reflectivity and appreciation of our bodies and of others (all I think that the word is from french word for fashion, and the not having it). The second significant lesson in modesty came in similar fashion, kind of. I was visiting a hot springs in Oregon in late summer and an oppertunity for additional consideration presented itself. The pools were clothing optional as most natural hot springs are, and I opted-in, for swimming trunks. Most of the bathers were either older big hairy bikers and older big hairy hippies. I was not offended or embarrassed of others in their nakedness, but I appearantly was not confortable in mine, which in their coolness did not put them off and they immediately brought me into their conversations of mostly Bush 43’s foreign policies. They eventually all left, and soon after their replacements rolled-in arriving with the voices of younger spirits piling out of a new Passat. Definitely not bikers. In fact, wow, their was a particularly cute brunette bobbing with laughter up the short trail to the warm pools and… mine? Nice! I’m not very outgoing so it was absolutely fantastic when she struck the conversation with me. And then things began to deterriorate rather quickly for my ego as she started taking off all her clothes. She never paused talking, her eyes and smile still radiated toward me without hesitation or change at all. But I felt really uncomfortable in my bathing suit and hiding away self-consciousness and respect because I stopped respecting her the moment she got out of the car and everything shifted inward to my wants and desires that reflected her beauty on to my base needs. In doing this I was actually deflecting anything of beauty and respect that she with so much ease and confident radiated. It only took a moment of trying not to look at her nakedness in my ambarrasment to recognize that action of looking away made me an ass. I knew why I couldn’t look at her anymore, but then I remebered the lessons learned at the LDSSD open swim, gathered myself and looked back up at her with a kind of telepathic apology and assurance I wasn’t a creep. She sat across from me and our conversation was rich and meaningful to the point that I can’t remember what she looked like below the shoulders. But I do remember our conversation and her name and she worked for the Cucinich campaign in Seattle. And, most importantly that I learned more in a moment of modesty and respect for women and their form than any Honor Code discussion on skinny jeans oe leggins that are meant to be gazed upon longly by jealous, judging eyes of the competition and not so much to corrupt the innocence of RMs.

  30. This is the stuff that makes me shake the dust off the bookshelves and make me wonder what advice Bertha would give…..I did everything I could to gain attention at the Y, yet never once got a letter of complaint, I feel slighted and a little hurt…The fact that I had to spend over 14 hours over the last two years in debates with a Multi-Stake council debating wether or not we should allow denim at our Stake dance just fuels the fire. Oh Sack-clothe (I don’t think I spelled that right, and am too lazy to check), where are you when I need you???

  31. Violet

    It sounds more to me like he’s asking “How do I respond to immodestly dressed women in a way that is simultaneously respectful, while still communicating that I would rather she dressed in a more modest fashion”.

    The answer: Pretty hard to do, because in this “just get over it already” world, you are expected to not notice her mode of dress – though it is clearly designed to draw your attention.

    I will never forget a moment when I, as a young woman in college, danced with a man at a local dance. He treated me with sincere and utter respect . When he looked into my eyes, I knew he was seeing Me – without regard for my outside appearance. It was a life-changing experience that lasted a millisecond. I never dated him, but it nonetheless resulted in a dramatic change in the way I viewed myself – and thus in the way I conducted myself.

    So, Peter, there are a few things to learn from this story. 1- You don’t get to tell her that she isn’t dressed appropriately. Not only is she already aware of that fact, telling her will not change anything. If she feels judged by you, you’ve already lost the battle. 2- Telling her you don’t appreciate her choice of clothing isn’t going to help because she already has your attention – which is exactly what she is going for. She wins. 3- If you truly wish to communicate to her that you are most interested in what’s inside, then pay attention to what’s inside. When you do that, so will she. 4- It’s even better if you’re someone who inspires her to be more than she is.

    Good luck, Peter. It’s a slow road and a tall order, but it’s the Christlike way. Isn’t that what you’re going for?

    • jan

      WOW Violet!!! I do believe that you have hit the proverbial nail directly on the head.

    • jason porter

      I love that story. I have never really connected leg hair with pubic hair. So I suppose my dream of marketing “suit shorts and sport jacket” will never come to fruition for the much needed post-mission-if-it’s-ownly-two-years-why-does-my-mission-suit-look-so-laughably-out-of-date demographic. Sadly it ownly takes a moment for a rogue and completely mis-called, ignorent bishop (or YW Pres.) to do a lifetime of harm. Sorry.

  32. jan

    ok. I really enjoyed both of your comments, banters, points of view, etc. I so did. I wanted to say that. I have one experience about modesty or the appearance of modestly that happened to me while in Primary at the age of 10. I was wearing a dress that was slightly above my knees and another little girl called me out on it. I am not now nor was I at the time by any sense of the imagination “immodest” in the way I have dressed or dress currently. I just want to be honest here that I think other people’s judgements and calling others out and pre-conceived ideas about modesty can be detrimental. I prefer the acceptance route myself. We, more than anything, are in charge of ourselves and our own modesty. The way we dress can be and for many is a way of expression. Is there something wrong with that? I don’t think so. We can choose how we express ourselves and we can also choose we want to be around. Modesty isn’t always our clothes, it is our attitudes, the way we project ourselves, the manner in which we choose to conduct ourselves. I like the idea of looking someone in the eye instead of sizing their body and dress up first. Honestly, is it that hard to figure out?

  33. I appreciate Joanna’s note about kindness and gentleness above. I realize that it wasn’t all that long ago in the scheme of things that I bought into all the messages and teaching that I had received. When I started questioning a bit, if someone had decided to wallop me over the top of the head and called me an idiot for thinking what I did, I probably would have run the other way and never learned anything different. Instead, some really smart and kind women helped to understand their perspective and how what I believed and how I acted hurt not only them but me.

    Those experiences changed my life and my whole way of thinking about women and patriarchy. It’s easier to get outraged and lash out when people disagree with us or appear ignorant. It takes patience and grace to help others see your point of view in a way that makes a lasting impact.

  34. Anna

    We teach modesty poorly in the church. I watched a documentary made by a BYU student who interviewed groups of young women from different faiths and traditions: Catholic, Jewish, Islam, and Mormon girls. She asked them all what modesty was. The Mormon girls all discussed modesty as it related to clothing. “It’s shorts below the knees.” “It’s not wearing tank tops or bikinis.” The other girls discussed it in terms of respect for God, respect for their bodies, a belief that they are sacred and don’t need to flaunt their physical self to find value, etc. It was sad. We could do a much better job of teaching ALL our youth the concept of modesty.

    • The Nudnik

      Not sure which Jewish girls the BYU student spoke with. Currently, in segments of the Orthodox Jewish community, modesty is taught in terms of length of skirt, of sleeves, and coverage up to the collarbone. And while all those things are part of modesty, mental attitude is important as well.

  35. Peter Buys

    Talk to her, and ask her on a date. Get to know her and don’t rule out a potential rewarding platonic friendship at the very least.

  36. sweetpomegranate

    Interesting that in all of these comments, not ONE person has mentioned a woman being aroused by the sight of an attractive man who may or may not be completely covered up. And don’t say that it doesn’t happen. Desire/attraction goes both ways and we lose sight of that sometimes. So why is the focus almost entirely on women and what we should and should not wear?

  37. William Clayton

    Stories like the Honor Code Scandal make me embarrassed to be a BYU graduate. Why does anyone feel the need to go around telling everyone else how to live? If we pass someone on the street smoking a cigarette, should we pass him a note chastising him for polluting the air with harmful second-hand smoke? Give me a break. The sanctimoniousness of it is offensive.

    I live in Texas and in the spring time the clothes come off. If I passed a note to every woman showing a little cleavage or wearing short shorts, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else with my life. Are BYU men of today really so fragile that they are reduced to quivering blobs of lascivious Jell-o every time a woman with an off-the-shoulder top walks by? C’mon, get over it! Eyes forward and move on.

  38. William Clayton

    As for Peter P., why does he require a proscribed way to “respond to immodesty?” It sounds like a bad case of Mormon self-flagellation. Face it, Peter P., you were born a man with natural sexual urges. Accept it. Thank God for it. And don’t act like a pig.

  39. Carole

    In response to the original question, I’m not convinced that immodesty is always an attempt to attract attention, or that attention actually does “validate immodesty.”

    The reasons why a woman chooses to dress a particular way are so much more complicated than attracting a man, or even attracting attention. Among other things, it’s an expression of how you view yourself, and how you wish to be understood. And dress a very complicated language, especially since the way that language is understood is so rooted in culture and upbringing. What you might interpret as “Look at my body,” might have been intended as “I recognize that this is a special occasion, so I dressed up.”

    If we think of dress as a form of communication, I think modesty is about recognizing that the One we should be communicating with is God. If we dress modestly in order to convince the men in our lives that we are virtuous enough for them, or in an attempt to avoid giving them unworthy thougths, is that really that much better than dressing immodestly in order to attract attention?

    My own theory is that real modesty, in the fullest sense of the word, arises naturally out of a correct understanding of God’s character and our relationship to Him. If that’s the case, I think the best way to increase the amount of modesty in the world (which I assume is the motivation behind Peter Preisthood’s question) is to treat all people with love and dignity, recognizing and communicating to them their value as children of God.

  40. lpf43

    I cannot understand all this discussion about female modesty and very little about male modesty. My grandchildren live in Utah neighborhood where it is perfectly acceptable for the teenage boys (with the bodies of men, to walk around with no shirts, but the girls are hounded about modesty. I am SOOOO tired of having men tell me what is appropriate for me to do with my body, both sartorially and medically.

    In this same neighborhood many of the women were having breast augmentation and then wearing spandex clothing which shows every line underneath even though with high necks and sleeves. My thoughts were that in general spandex is immodest, but I am old and fashions change. I am beginning to decide that ‘modest dress’ should be determined by the wearer, because the busy bodies will always find something to criticize.

  41. RT

    I can’t count the number of times the words “Honor Code” were flung at me from cars, sidelines, sidewalks, etc in my time at BYU. You want to know what I was doing when all this happened? Long Distance Running.

    No Joke.

    These guys made my baby sister feel real welcome while moving me into my dorm too! The poor 16 year old girl was sweating it out lugging heavy boxes up 3 flights of stairs in 95+ degree temps in a tank top and 6-8 inch inseam shorts. “Honor Code!” Welcome to BYU-Provo, Sis!

    Over the years I’ve been appalled at how the youth are taught modesty. I’ve spent the better part of the last 6 years in various YW callings, and every quarter the girls get some form of the modesty lesson. Never once does the lesson focus on what modesty REALLY is- I never hear how modest women are humble. How modest women strive to understand their own divinity. All I hear is the same harping on knee length shorts, no tank top/skinny pant/legging/etc lesson that I’ve now heard over 100 times since I was 12.

    The best part about these lessons is this statement: If you dress immodestly you will never e able to go to the temple. If you dress immodestly then you are causing the young men to have inappropriate thoughts. If you dress immodestly then you will go too far on a date. If you dress immodestly then you will attract the wrong types of boys. If you dress immodestly, you might be raped/attacked/get pregnant. (I am not exaggerating here. THESE THINGS ARE SAID. Repeatedly).

    The right thing for PP to say is nothing. Even the most crassly dressed woman on this earth is a daughter of god, and we should all be treating her that way regardless of what outer covering she may or may not be wearing. I know a lot of modest women- women who wear strapless dresses, women who wear short shorts, women who have nose piercings, women who dye their hair red or pink or purple, women who have tattoos… these women know who they are, know where they are going, and live beautiful enriched lives. They are upright citizens in our community- and I am sure that their penchant for tank tops and shorts isn’t setting a blight onto their glowing beautiful souls.

  42. What a false dilemma.

    Joseph Smith already taught us the right response: if there is anything lovely or praiseworthy, seek after it!

  43. Meidi

    I think that we Mormons have a tendency to look at modesty as a concept of keeping covered up when it is really more about context and attitudes. In the right context, there is NOTHING immodest about full nudity; such as during a medical examination or childbirth or (much nicer) sex between husband and wife. There is also, and I am VERY ADAMANT about this, NOTHING IMMODEST ABOUT BREASTFEEDING! No, I don’t CARE how much of the breast might be glimpsed by passersby or how they might feel about that, a mother breastfeeding her child is not an immodest action, ever.
    C.S. Lewis wrote this about modesty in context “While the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all times, the rule of propriety changes. A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any clothes and a Victorian lady completely covered in clothes might both be equally “modest,” proper, or decent, according to the standards of their own societies: and both, for all we could tell by their dress, might be equally chaste (or equally unchaste)” (Mere Christianity p. 89).
    But for simplicity in explanation, countless Young Women’s lessons and even Relief Society lessons focus solely on inches below the knee or depth of cleavage or whether pantyhose are still important or not. It drives me crazy! Though I dress pretty conservatively (if you don’t got it, why flaunt it) even I refuse to wear pantyhose and thereby violate an unwritten rule of modesty to many of my grandmother’s and mother’s generation.
    It does bother me too that men and boys are not better trained in the importance of their own modest BEHAVIOR, at most they may be told not to play “shirts and skins” b-ball or not to wear short shorts (what is this, 1980?) when really what they should be focused on is learning not to treat women and girls like sexual objects.

    • James Smith

      While I, of course, agree with Meidi’s position that we should NOT “treat women and girls like sexual objects,” that is to some extent a politically correct formulation that obscures the reality (and necessity) of how men look at women. I would rather phrase it that men and women are interested in each other for a variety of reasons, and one of them is undeniably of a sexual nature. That’s how God planned it (She was a clever devil). Sexual interest is entirely healthy and natural, and can be handled by us in a healthy or a dysfunctional way.
      It makes no sense to me to deny that women *can* dress in a way that “tends” to be more apt to have men look at them as sexual “objects”, rather than full attractive humans who are also sexual beings. And discussion of WHERE those boundaries are are interesting and important, and, yes, often difficult. Sex is difficult.
      Oh, and yes M, I entirely favor breastfeeding in public.

  44. JaeTee

    Thank goodness, reasonable answers to a reasonable question.

    As a Mormon woman myself, I’ve had experiences with this question of “modesty”. I remember during my one year at BYU I was practicing piano in a deserted practice room when a middle aged lady walked in and felt she had to tap my shoulder because my shirt had ridden up without me knowing and was showing a scandalous inch of back skin. No tattoo, no coin slot, but apparently showing any bit of inadvertent back skin was immodest. Who was I offending? I was all alone. Her? BYU locker rooms have no changing stalls, I figure the church is okay with one woman seeing another in various forms of undress. God? I figure God is not ashamed of the human body, having created it and all. The fictional male that may have happened to stumble upon me in my state of shame? No man is going to be tempted by a tiny bit of skin from an accidental pull of fabric.

    The point is that Mormons have narrowed in on such silly aspects of doctrine. It’s turned the culture into one of always having to watch our backs, literally, and creating mountains out of mole hills. Nowhere is this as prevalent as Utah, by the way.

    Men have a responsibility to control their thoughts and eyes if they start sexualizing every woman in skinny jeans. Women generally know if they what kind of attention they’re trying to attract by their clothing choice. Let’s just all be responsible adults and mind our own business, right?

  45. Jessa

    I have always taken issue with the modesty question? Who draws the line? More importantly I remember being 14 at Young Women’s Camp. I was wearing shorts all week. These were by no means the shorts that I see people wearing today “booty” shorts. The met the finger tip test about 2 inches above the knee. It was the night at camp where the bishop came to the camp to visit. I was asked to go put on jeans because I was not modest enough. My 14 year old knee caps were too provocative? I chose not to participate and went back to my tent, but felt horrible about myself as a result…

    I also think it takes responsibility away from and insults young men to assume women must dress a certain way as to avoid tempting weak men. I also think women should dress in a way that is respectful to themselves, but again who draws the line…. Should we all wear burqas?

  46. tjlee

    I like what M.D. said above. In the end, it is up to each individual to do the right thing rather than compel others to do what you think is right.

  47. Jack Hughes

    Southern Virginia University (a private institution that is predominately LDS but not Church affiliated) has an honor code that was supposedly modeled after that of BYU. But if you look at the section dealing with dress standards, the university’s entire policy is contained within a single line of text:

    “Clothing should be modest and appropriate for the occasion.”

    That’s it. No mention of inches, kneecaps, hemlines, sleeve lengths, cleavage, skinny jeans, or (gasp) open toed shoes. And I haven’t been hearing too much kerfuffle about SVU’s honor code from anyone, particularly in the mainstream media.

    No need for increasingly complex guidelines or iron-fisted enforcement. Teach the people correct principles, and they will govern themselves.

  48. Halsey

    The new For The Strength Of Youth pamphlet says the following under “Dress and Appearance”:

    “Your body is sacred. Respect it and do not defile it in any way. Through your dress and appearance, you can show that you know how precious your body is. You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and that you love Him.

    Prophets of God have continually counseled His children to dress modestly. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and you can be a good influence on others. Your dress and grooming influence the way you and others act.

    Never lower your standards of dress. Do not use a special occasion as an excuse to be immodest. When you dress immodestly, you send a message that is contrary to your identity as a son or daughter of God. You also send the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval.”

    Isn’t that great? Now could we please teach THAT and not our historical incorrect ideas about what “dressing modestly” means? And please, could we include all the other elements of modesty, for both men and women?

  49. brandon comish

    One thing- I heard some very good points, but some very scary ones have also come out. Refer to Kristine’s comment above and the several subsequent comments. While it is good for people to change the culture of the church in positive ways, to better reflect the teachings of the Savior, it is NOT left to us to tell the “brethren”, ie, the apostles and prophets set apart by God, what they should or shouldn’t say, what they should or shouldn’t speak on? Can we really say that the brethren “need” to stop discussing pornography? or encouraging people to find their spouses? honestly, think about it.

  50. Troy

    Several thoughts:

    1. Kristine is absolutely 100% correct

    2. Don’t beat yourself, or anyone else, up for the wardrobe choices of others or how you react to them. Noticing an attractive person that is displaying more skin than you are used to or exhibiting enticing behavior is coded into your DNA. You can’t change that. You can try but you’ll just turn into an angry, frustrated, self hating general authority. As my drill sgt used to say “stop the madness private!” usually followed by “drop!”…

    This is the proper procedure when confronted with this dilemma:
    1. Look
    2. Like
    3. Get over yourself and move on.
    4. Leave it behind.
    5. Love, tolerate, accept.

    That is all.

  51. To answer your question, say nothing! everyone receives inspiration at their own individual time. You don’t know what is in that person’s heart at the time and for all you know the way she is dressed could easily be her way of being modestly dressed. Don’t judge and let people learn by example, sooner or later she will learn what is appropriate.

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