Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mormon Modesty


          I went clothing-shopping with a friend yesterday.  I have a phobia of clothing-shopping - nothing ever fits and all of the cute outfits are not designed for my body type.  But my wardrobe is becoming a ragged affair of tattered jeans, worn-out dress pants, and pitiful shirts.  My friend is also very good at finding clothing to flatter your body type.  We walked into a store that was having a sale on jeans.  I picked out a pair of boot-cut jeans and headed to the dressing room.
          Trying on the jeans, I felt an overwhelming sense of embarrassment.  The jeans were too tight and the thought of going up another size was a devastating blow to a woman already struggling with body-esteem issues.  
          “How are the jeans?” my friend asked, her voice coming from the adjacent dressing room.  
          “Um - they’re OK.” I said, my voice small.  What the hell I thought - I walked out into the common area of the dressing room, tight jeans on display to the world.     
        “Do you think these jeans are too tight?” I asked.   
          My friend walked out and a look of shock appeared on her face.  “Oh my goodness!” she said, a note of surprise in her voice.  “You look so thin!”  She kept looking at me, looking at the jeans I felt so embarrassed to wear.  “You look completely different - I never knew your legs are so thin!”
          I blushed, embarrassed but also pleased.  And I was reminded, once again, of how different my up-bringing was and how the teachings of Mormon modesty - especially womanly modesty - still lingers in me to this day.  
          Starting at age twelve, once I was inducted into the Mormon Church’s Young Women’s program, the lessons on modesty and chastity began in earnest.  I was never taught about the mechanics or pleasures of sex - I was taught that my virginity was a precious asset that should be preserved as a gift for my husband.  I was also taught that my appearance needed to be modest at all times.  Mormon women are raised to be example of modest femininity - pretty but not sexy.  
          We were all given a pamphlet - “For The Strength of Youth”.  This pamphlet was considered the ultimate resource for the standards by which we were expected to live.  An entire code of living was described in this booklet.  There was the directive to dress modestly at all times - no tight clothing, no sleeveless shirts, no low-cut tops, no shorts or skirts above the knees, no shirts that exposed the stomach.  Sometimes I would flout the rules, only to feel guilty for doing so.  We were also strongly advised against any intimate premarital behavior that would arouse passionate feeling. As girls, we were counseled to dress modestly to avoid arousing lustful thoughts in men.  
          For girls’ camp one year, a Mormon police officer came to teach us self-defense.  After the lesson, he start talking about the prevention of sexual assault.  He told us “Some of the prevention of sexual assault is in your hands.  The more immodest your appearance - extra earrings, tight clothing, low-cut tops - the more you expose yourself to the risk of assault.”  I was fourteen and I nodded along with him in approval of his message.  As an adult, I remember all of the times that members said something similar and I wonder just how much the indoctrination still lingers.  

18 comments:

  1. Really enjoyed this. Last paragraph was really interesting to think about!

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  2. " For girls’ camp one year, a Mormon police officer came to teach us self-defense. After the lesson, he start talking about the prevention of sexual assault. He told us “Some of the prevention of sexual assault is in your hands. The more immodest your appearance - extra earrings, tight clothing, low-cut tops - the more you expose yourself to the risk of assault.” "

    That is SUCH a load of crap. It was a police officer in Toronto saying something similar that led to "Slutwalk". This suggestion is certainly not meant to accuse you or anyone of being a slut, but you may want to check out the movement and participate in (or organize!) a Slutwalk near you.

    (Active member here with 5 daughters who encourages modesty with them, but discourages BS like the above.)

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    1. Sounds like you are raising your daughters right - I'm glad that you won't allow your daughters to feel shame or guilt over something that is completely out of their control. If something had happened, I have the ugly feeling I would have found a way to blame myself.

      I'll have to check out the Slutwalk, see if there is one in my area.

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    2. That kind of thinking is what justifies blaming girls/women who are molested or raped.

      I have no idea what I was wearing in grade school when I was being molested, but I am pretty sure that my general tomboy choices weren't slutty. I know that the clothes I was wearing when I was raped more than followed "For the Strength of Youth" standards. That hadn't stopped the "testimonies" of women that they know all of their children were married in the temple and never raped or molested because they taught their children modesty and good morals. I have up going to RS on Sundays that are going to cover those topics. I don't need the flashbacks to the judgement when I was a teenager.

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    3. You shouldn't have to deal with that crap - I'm so sorry. And how sanctimonious those women must be - rape is something that can happen to anyone, anywhere, irregardless of their religion or choice in dress.

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  3. Really? Extra earrings can lead to sexual assault? Give me a break. Awesome that you found such cute jeans!

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    1. Thanks Donna! I actually bought two - I even got a comment from my 70-year old friend Carol that "you're finally wearing pants that fit!"

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  4. Don't feel so badly. I have the same issues. The other day, I went to a trendy little boutique in the mall, and I found this adorable dress. It was cut to be tight in the waist and flair out in an A-line fashion, and the hem hit mid-thigh. I've got an hourglass figure, so this dress naturally looked amazing--but it was so short. I was skeptical about the dress actually being flattering since it showed off so much leg, but my best friend and roommate came into the dressing room and said, "Oh my gosh. You HAVE to get it."

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    1. You have a good friend - I'm glad you bought such a great dress!

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  5. God that pisses me off so much. I have had family members nod in approval when my tiny (under age 5) nieces wear one piece bathing suits or shirts with sleeves. SHOULDERS ARE NOT PROVOCATIVE!!!
    /end rant :)

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    1. I would like to bare my shoulders that sleeveless shirts are NOT provocative. In the name of cute tank tops, amen. :-)

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  6. Thank you for that. I am 36 and left the church at 17. To this day i find fragments of the indoctrination I was exposed to in my childhood and teenage years. It really is tragic the amount of shame guilt and fear they put into their children.

    Good luck on your journey!

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  7. I remember it all to well. I remember my grandfather (at age 15 for me) putting his hand on my knee and telling me that if I dressed immodestly and caused a man to sin that it was my fault.

    Pure and utter bullshit.

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    1. That is wrong on so many levels - I hope you were able to recover from that. And give your grandfather a piece of your mind.

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  8. I've long thought modesty game was basically designed to limit a woman's reproductive choices. That is, it seems women increase their choice of mates by making themselves more attractive. And, if that's the case, then imposing modesty on women might be a way to constrict their choices.

    The other thing that gets me here is the notion that men cannot control themselves if women dress "immodestly". Give me a break! That's just making excuses for men who don't want to grow up and take responsibility for their own feelings.

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    1. Agreed! Men are not animals. They're human beings and should act as such. If men refuse to exert self-control, THEY are to blame, not the object of their affection.

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  9. That last paragraph is just...wow. There's quite a bit of training in that entire scenario to get women to believe at an early age that the purpose of their existence is to be the property of men. It's kind of depressing...

    On a happier note, I'm so glad you recognized the moment and allowed yourself to enjoy your bootcut jeans! Love that your friend was there to encourage you :)

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  10. “Some of the prevention of sexual assault is in your hands. The more immodest your appearance ... the more you expose yourself to the risk of assault.”

    I've got smoke coming out of my ears right now. Sexual assault is NEVER the victim's fault. This so-called "advice" sounds like little more than an attempt to absolve predators of responsibility for their actions.

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