Showing posts with label modesty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label modesty. Show all posts

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.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Excess In Moderation

          My up-bringing taught me to fear the outside world.  Coffee, tea, alcohol, sleeveless shirts, premarital sex - all were considered to be very serious offenses against God.  When I left Mormonism, I had little to rely on as a guide to right or wrong.  I associated fear and shame with actions that mainstream culture accepted.  And so I found myself navigating a strange road as I examined my own internal values.  
          I have never been a wild personality; I am not one for partying or crazy stunts.  Even as a freshman in college, out of my parents’ home for the first time in my life, I was still tame by the standards of my peers.  There were some drunken escapades that we laughed about afterwards but overall, I was a student who spent most of her time in the library studying.  My evolution was slow and a practice in studied moderation; I didn’t want to be defined by what I did and did not do.  As a Mormon, I had been defined by what was considered sin.  As a post-Mormon, I did not want to be defined by what I no longer considered to be sin.  
          So my experimentation was gradual.  I started with cursing, to vocalize my emotional turmoil.  I was eighteen when I wore my first tank top; the feeling of a breeze on my shoulders was both foreign and liberating.  My first beer was Keystone Light, at a frat party my first week of college.  I hated the watery horse-piss taste of Keystone but later discovered I loved hefty beers such as Guinness and Young’s.  Coffee was a delightful surprise, as I discovered the joys of well-brewed coffee (the discovery of which coincided with the joys of romance).  Intimacy was harder, as I was very shy and had never been taught proper boundaries.  But contrary to all of the dire threats I grew up with, I learned to navigate my sexuality in a safe and respectful manner.  And when I did meet my husband, our pasts were simply something that added depth to our character.  My mother was quite distraught when we moved in together but living together before marriage was important to my own personal values.  I view marriage - and family - as commitments that should not be entered without careful reflection and research.  
          Bit by bit, I sampled the different options available to me.  Over the years, I have evolved into a beer-drinking, coffee-sipping woman who believes in taking responsibility for your actions.  As long as no one gets hurt, the choices of an individual should be respected and allowed.   
          I enjoy excess - in moderation.