Modesty, Mormon-style

We try not to rant here at Doves & Serpents. We try to discuss things we’re thinking about, exchange ideas, and ask questions. But I was pushed over the edge today when I read this little gem published in The Friend (a monthly magazine for children ages 3-12 published by the Mormon church). So my Doves & Serpents peeps are allowing me a little rant today (thanks, guys!).

The story is short—just 230 painful words—so go ahead and read it and then come back.

That was quick.

Did you read the part about how Hannah is four? Yep. Four-year-old Hannah is excited to head out to the zoo. She’s even more excited when she sees a gift from her grandmother! Alas, Hannah (did I mention that she is four?) laments that the dress has no sleeves. Mom comes to the rescue and suggests that if Hannah wears a sleeved t-shirt, the dress will be modest. And off they go to the zoo. Snip, snap, snout. This tale’s told out.

And yet, there is so much rant-worthy content here. I’m not a fan of extremism. I much prefer moderation. Checks and balances, moderation in all things, you get the picture. But this story—and the assumptions that underlie it—are extreme. They are not the best of what Mormonism has to offer. On the contrary, they seem to be among the worst that Mormonism has to offer. Reading this story–written for an audience that includes my children (ages 8, 11, and 14)–made me feel like a member of a freakish cult that hypersexualizes its preschool children girls rather than a member of a beautiful (and sometimes weird) religious tradition that has brought a lot of blessings and meaning to my life.

I don’t want to be a part of a religion that tells four-year-old girls that their shoulders need to be covered. Since when did shoulders become sexual? When did we begin attaching sexual motives to four-year-old girls? This is creepy. Even worse—since when did so many of my friends and friends-of-friends start swallowing this bitter pill? One of my friends told me recently that a woman in her ward (congregation) refuses to allow her children to watch The Little Mermaid because—fasten your seatbelts, people—Ariel is immodest with her shell bikini top. Whah? Another friend politely refused some sleeveless onesies and sundresses I handed down to her because her husband didn’t want their infant daughters to dress immodestly. How is it even possible for an infant (or a four-year-old) to dress “immodestly”?

I don’t want my daughters equating “modesty” with how much skin they choose to reveal or to cover. Sure, I’d like them to be modest, but modesty encompasses so much more than how much leg or cleavage or, okay, shoulder you reveal. Modesty is about attitude, demeanor, dispositions. It’s about moderation. It’s about avoiding extremes. It’s about feeling comfortable in your own skin.

My kids are being bombarded with messages about modesty at church. This message is being touted in our church magazines for kids and for teenagers, our weekly Sunday lessons, our Especially for Youth camps, girls’ camp, our official church website, official church publications, our instructions for 21-year-old female missionaries . . . it’s starting to feel like a founding principle of our religion. I’d love to see us stop trying to micro-manage four-year-olds’ (and 14-year-olds’) wardrobes and get back to the good stuff.

This is not our good stuff.



After writing this article, I participated in a Mormon Matters podcast re: modesty.  Check it out here.