Growing up, I was always taught to dress modestly according to both my parents’ and our church‘s standards. In all honesty, I could not have cared any less about it. I was a rebellious, know-it-all teenager with my own set of issues, and when I started feeling oppressed by rules and expectations and standards, I would lash out in defiance to anything that was making me feel confined or like I couldn’t be myself. Why did it matter to anybody else what I wore to clothe myself? Why did my church leaders push modesty so hard and teach it in such irritating and degrading ways?
I’ve heard many arguments and reasons to dress according to that standard of modesty, and none of them have been right. Perhaps I did hear the right reasons at some point, but I was never able to truly understand it because all of the other misleading reasons drowned it out too much: dress modestly so boys won’t think about inappropriate things, because your body is a temple, as a preparation for wearing the holy temple garment, because the prophet said so, because we want to attract the right kind of boys–the list could go on, but those are some of the more common ‘reasons’ I’ve heard. While there may be some truth to some of those, I found them all to be misleading. I was so rebellious that I would purposefully break those standards because they seemed dumb and unimportant to me in comparison to the other problems I was dealing with. In fact, I learned some damaging mistruths from being told to be modest by those motivating factors.
But my defiant, independent, strong-willed self learned better over time.
I’ll influence boys to think of inappropriate things? You’ve got to be kidding me. Millions of girls do much worse than showing their shoulders or 4 inches of skin above their knees, and I’m the one who is responsible for their thoughts? Obviously, I could influence what I want them to think about me by dressing certain ways, but taking their agency out of the equation is the entirely wrong way to teach a girl to dress modestly.
My body is a temple? I understand that it’s a metaphor, but how in the world should a temple dress? Or should it be it based on how we dress in the temple? Have you seen temple gowns that women wear? Floor length, long sleeved, high neck-line, with white stockings underneath. How is that supposed to realistically help me to decide what to wear on a regular basis?
Preparation for wearing garments? In all honesty, even some clothes that are considered modest for teenagers to wear don’t cover up garments completely. Also, garments are worn because of faith and understanding a personal covenant made with Heavenly Father. There’s a very spiritual reason for wearing garments, and it should not be made mundane or become the expectation or reason for dressing modestly until those covenants are made. And even then, wearing clothing just to cover up temple garments shouldn’t be the motivating factor to dress modestly once you’re wearing them.
Because the prophet has counseled us to do so? I understand following commandments by faith, and some people are good at what some might call blind obedience. But a blanket rule for everyone? Specific lengths and requirements of clothing based on some strict standard of what? The “average” female body? How damaging that can be to a girl’s self esteem! Tall girls get to show more leg in a pair of shorts, while, if a shorter girl wore the same pair she’d get to show only her cankles. Busty girls have to wear high neck lines because they’ve been so blessed with breasts, while a more flat-chested girl can wear lower necklines without showing any cleavage. No, a blanket rule of set standards is unfair and misleading in many ways.
In order to attract the ‘right’ kind of boys? I can understand the good intention behind this one, and it’s a bit more on the right track in some ways. But it’s perhaps only part of the real reason we should have for dressing modestly.
That real reason isn’t to obey our parents and it isn’t even to be a good example, though those things do happen as a result of dressing modestly. What we need is to teach our beautiful Young Women to dress modestly because of their own desire to do so. We shouldn’t be putting false-truths in their minds to try and achieve that, nor should we try to scare or punish them into it. Our young ladies need to be loved into it, so that they can love dressing appropriately for themselves.
Why should you dress modestly then? Well, I’ve told you all the wrong reasons. Can you guess what any of the right reasons are?
Your physical body is an amazing gift from Heavenly Father and your life is sacred and your birth was a miracle. Women go through some of the most intense pain and discomfort known to mankind just to bring another little body and spirit into the world. Aren’t you grateful for the talents, abilities, and fun you can have in this life because of your body? Having an attitude of thankful reverence for your own mortality is a good start to understanding why dressing modestly is important.
Most importantly, however, the reason for dressing modestly has absolutely nothing to do with adhering to a list of standards. Clothing ourselves according to those standards might be the way we dress modestly, but that list itself should never ever be the driving force behind following it. The reason for dressing modestly should be something YOU determine. You decide why you want to follow those standards and principles. You choose what motivates you and why doing so brings you joy. There is no all-encompassing reason for modest dressing. It is and should be a very personal purpose that each one of us individually comes up with.
Want to know mine? I’ve got a few, and they’re pretty simple.
I love the Lord. I have faith in the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe that Joseph Smith was the prophet in these latter-days who restored the Church of Jesus Christ to the earth so that we all could enjoy the blessings that come with it. We have 12 apostles walking to earth once more! We have the Priesthood available to us as we need it. My husband can offer me blessings of healing or comfort any time I need one, just the same as the Savior offered when he walked the earth 2000 years ago.
I dress modestly because of the joy that fills my heart, the respect I have for myself, and I wear what I want to because when I do, I feel close to the Spirit and I can really focus on the promptings He gives me. I feel my Savior’s love more fully. I can focus on Spiritual things because I’m not distracted by silly physical things, like adjusting a strapless bra underneath a sleeveless top, or tugging a short skirt down so that I don’t accidentally flash my underwear to anyone, or making sure I stand or sit a certain way to look the best in a skin-tight outfit. How could I focus on serving others or listening to the Holy Ghost if I were focusing on my choice of clothing all day long?
Also, I dress modestly because I get cold easily. Bare shoulders and short shorts just make me freeze, whether it’s cold outside or if it’s icy air-conditioned inside.
I do still see the beauty in some immodestly designed clothing. Having studied fashion design and clothing construction, I get excited when I see fashions that are stunningly created, modest or not. It doesn’t mean I’ll wear them, although I’ll readily admit that I would absolutely love to do so under different life circumstances. But I’ve also learned that when we make sacrifices for any purpose, be it a person or a principle, we come to love that person or principle more. True, honest sacrificing miraculously does that, because it’s something we do of our own free will. (If someone else tries to force you to do something, it’s definitely not a sacrifice, it’s just unfair and removes your own agency from you, which is endlessly frustrating–which was my exact experience as a teenager I mentioned above.)
I’m not so focused on the list of standards that I miss the purpose behind it. The point is not to control what boys think or show how perfect of an example you are being. The purpose is to show your own faith and testimony through your physical appearance. It’s entirely up to you how you go about doing that. Nobody can do it for you, because it’s a very personal matter. The Lord knows our hearts though, and He’ll know if we’re trying to justify something we feel deep down that we shouldn’t be wearing, or if we’re stubbornly sticking to the idea that we’re an exception to some rule of modesty. We have recommended guidelines to help us as we learn to decide for ourselves what our individual standards will be, but in the end those guidelines should never control our decisions on how we dress. We should be the ones deciding for ourselves if what we wear is modest, and as we practice making those decisions in that way, we will come to know if something is or isn’t up to our own personal set of standards.
Dig deep. What are your reasons for dressing modestly? And if you have none, I challenge you to find out if you should have some.