Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Modesty: Not Just for the Sake of Others

There has been a lot of talk in the LDS community about modesty circulating around Jessica Rey's recent presentation on the evolution of the bikini.  There has been a lot of responses to her call to modesty, so here's mine:)

It's important for both men and women to be modest, but to keep it simple, we're going to talk about women in this post.

The ironically fine line between feelings of shame and of self-respect.

I feel that every girl who chooses to dress modestly has at one point or another asked herself if she does it because she loves and respects her body or if she is not confident enough to bare it.  I was raised by a mother who truly valued and taught me to value modesty, so I never had to struggle with wearing super immodest clothing, but I can definitely understand the feelings of something being just a little too revealing.  Something that maybe doesn't bother you a bit when you're in your home, but when you walk outside, you suddenly become aware that you are not dressed quite as you should be.  This induces a feeling of shame, and I think this is why it can be confusing to wonder if you are ashamed of your body. The world preaches that we should snuff out any uncomfortable feelings of shame by driving ourselves past feeling.  Many women do not feel uncomfortable in immodest clothing because they are past feeling uncomfortable about it. I think this sense of "shame" is actually a desire to protect something sacred. Honoring those feelings leads to self-respect.   Perhaps we were all born with some deep spiritual inkling that our bodies are sacred.  That they are a gift from God, something over which we have stewardship and need to protect.

You are not your own.

The new Miley Cirus song, "We Can't Stop" really bothers me, because it doesn't ring true. She says, "It's my mouth, I can say what I want to, it's our house, we can love who we want to..." etcetera. One of my favorite scriptures is 1 Corinthians 6:19 "Know ye not that...ye are not your own?"  We aren't our own.  We can't do anything we want and only have ourselves to answer to. We are only stewards over precious bodies that God has given us.  They belong to Him.  We all belong to Him, whether we know it or not.  To disrespect our own bodies is not harmless.  The same way we are careful with things people lend us, we should be careful with our bodies.


Objectification can be an illusive concept for people.  What does it mean to "objectify" someone, and why is it such a bad thing?  First, let's understand what a person is.  Every person, despite what they do, is a dynamic, living, breathing, thinking, creative, sacred, being, with potential beyond what we are capable of imagining.  They are to be respected, loved, and admired.  This starts with oneself. Objectification is when you take this sacred, dynamic being, and separate her into parts. Aristotle taught that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Taking apart a person and measuring her by worldly standards is offensive to God and to our brothers and sisters.  It's offensive to take apart a miracle and and analyze it, compare, and measure it.  It's insulting, because it is so unrepresentative and ignorant of the whole.

To assign value to a part of the whole is truly like judging a book by its cover.  Perhaps the cover may give you a few clues about what lies beneath the surface, like the title and the description on the back; those parts of ourselves we show to the world.  But it really means nothing about what is under the surface.  If you want to understand a book, you must open it up and read.  No matter how long you stare and measure and compare the cover of a book, you can never know what it is, you can only speculate.  There are so many parts to a person.  To assign someone value based on their physical appearance is not reflective of the worth of the whole. It doesn't have to be physical appearance, but that's usually what it is.  It could be a specific skill, possession, or connection. The world teaches that we should compare and judge.  God teaches we should love one another and enjoy our differences. Deciding between these two teachings can be difficult because the world blares its message loud and clear, while God speaks with a still small voice.

To be immodest is to objectify yourself.  Like putting a book on display in a glass case.  People come to admire the cover, but now no one can really read it and get beneath the surface.  It sends a message that your body is the most important part of yourself.

Conversely, dressing modestly is a barrier to objectification, because it minimizes the importance of what you see on the surface.  If a book had one of those stretchy fabric covers on the front, wouldn't you be so much more likely to open it up and flip through the pages in order to find out what it is?  Not saying you have to be completely swathed in spandex:) but the idea is the same. It doesn't decrease the value of what's on the outside.  It increases the visibility of what's on the inside.  Dressing modestly doesn't mean you are ashamed of your body.  It means that you correctly understand that it's only one part of yourself, and that the other parts are worth getting to know.  That the whole is more than the sum of its parts:)

 If any man defile the temple of God him shall God destroy, 
for the temple of God is holy,

1 Corinthians 3:17

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for articulating that. I've been trying to think of a good way to advocate modesty without going the "so guys can control their thoughts" route. It think the objectification angle is something we often overlook in these discussions. Thanks.