Friday, June 21, 2013

What is Modesty?

I'm not going to link to the stories about male BYUx students writing passive aggressive notes to females about how scantily they are dressed even when most of the time they are clearly not(and even if they are, it's none of the guys' business). We've heard the stories, and you can find them easily enough. I will, however, note that I have only heard about those things happening at BYUI and BYUU, not BYUH. Maybe it happens at BYUH, too, but my guess is that being in a warm climate with beaches and swimsuits abounding and many of the students working at the Polynesian Cultural Center (wearing native traditional dress) and/or being from the islands, the over-focus on modesty is less of an issue.

There are many other posts on this topic, but I'll just link to this one so you can get some context on the discussion surrounding modesty. On one side, you have people saying that women should cover up so as to help men have pure thoughts. On the other side, you have women saying they can wear whatever they want and no one should judge them for it. No one seems to be able to agree on what it means for a man to be modest, which multiplies the sexuality and sexism surrounding the term.

When it comes to modesty, I have to quote Inigo Montoya to both sides here.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

From True to the Faith:

Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to “glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:20; see also 1 Corinthians 6:19).

The section on modesty mentions sexuality but also tattoos, piercings, sloppy dressing, and language. There is so much more to modesty than how much skin someone is showing or the tightness of their clothes. The hyper-focus on women's clothing takes away from the greater message about us all being modest in all that we do and lets men off the hook completely.

Several of the priests in our ward have long hair. One in particular was being presented to the ward awhile ago when he turned 16. He's a high school football player. The Bishop made a joke about him cutting his hair after football season was over and Samson - the obvious connection being that he benefited from the extra strength when playing football. But the clueless look on his face made it obvious he didn't know who Samson was, so from the pulpit in front of everyone the Bishop tasked him with going home and reading the story. I think he was too clueless to even be embarrassed for being called out in front of the ward for not being familiar with one of the most well known bible stories. Returning to the hair - it grabbed attention away from what was happening, a young man advancing in the Aaronic Priesthood, and highlighted his lack of understanding in a somewhat awkward way. Going a level deeper, his casual approach to his appearance mirrored his casual approach to learning the gospel. His immodest hair (not sexual hair, but rather his attention-getting hair) is what made that point possible.

Just as his lack of modesty drew attention to himself in an unflattering way, and bikini-wearing women won't like this, so can women's swimsuit or other apparel choices draw attention to themselves in an unflattering way. Of course, a ridiculously large diamond ring sends a similar message, even though it is in no way sexual in nature. Women claim that they should be able to wear a certain cut of clothing or swimsuit because it's cute, comfortable, or functional, but I can't imagine a bikini being any of those three. A 2 carat diamond is certainly none of the three. A guy's pants precariously hanging off his butt is none of the three.

It is still not about what others think of you, though. Modesty is a reflection of the individual. That is where the point gets lost. We need to stop placing the blame for men's impure thoughts on women. Men will have impure thoughts no matter what women are wearing, and that is their load to carry. Just as the football playing priest's immodest hairstyle gave away his need to read his scriptures and pay better attention in Sunday School, a woman's choice to dress immodestly highlights something amiss in her priorities.

That said, I wrote a post awhile ago about how we should not judge others. If we do, that is our own fault (and a common one at that) that we need to deal with. President Uchtdorf must have read my post, because in the next conference, he gave us this instant classic:

This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:

Stop it!

It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children.

He followed that up by quoting a bumper sticker that read, "Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you."

Let us stop telling men they need to shave and cut their hair and pull up their pants. Let us stop telling women to cover up.

Instead, let us all consider our own behaviors and how we choose to present ourselves to others. Think about what message you are sending to others. The point here is that how others receive the message you are sending is not what we're talking about. It is about what message you are sending, regardless of how others interpret that message. Modesty is an attitude. What is your attitude? What is your intention? If you draw attention to yourself or something about you, why are you doing that? Are you glorifying God?

Answer those questions for yourself. Put your own house in order and stop judging others as they work on their own favorite sins.

I guess both sides have something to learn.

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