TMI Friday: Mormon Beauty, Modesty, and Shame

false modesty toy story memeSometimes you feel something, but it’s not an appropriate time to say it. For me, I tend to keep my mouth shut (literally), bring it up on Twitter, and then talk about it on my blog later. Now it’s time to talk.

Today’s topic: Modesty.

There have been many talks, articles, blog posts, and firesides given in Mormondon about modesty. I’ve noticed that it’s been an especially hot topic in Utah since I returned from living in California, Michigan, and Georgia in 2009.

On the official LDS Church website, it reads “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). Continuing on,

“If we are unsure about whether our dress or grooming is modest, we should ask ourselves, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?” We might ask ourselves a similar question about our language and behavior: “Would I say these words or participate in these activities if the Lord were present?” Our honest answers to these questions may lead us to make important changes in our lives. Prophets have always counseled us to dress modestly. This counsel is founded on the truth that the human body is God’s sacred creation. We must respect our bodies as a gift from God. Through our dress and appearance, we can show the Lord that we know how precious our bodies are.

Our clothing expresses who we are. It sends messages about us, and it influences the way we and others act. When we are well groomed and modestly dressed, we can invite the companionship of the Spirit and exercise a good influence on those around us.

Central to the command to be modest is an understanding of the sacred power of procreation, the ability to bring children into the world. This power is to be used only between husband and wife. Revealing and sexually suggestive clothing, which includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, and shirts that do not cover the stomach, can stimulate desires and actions that violate the Lord’s law of chastity.

In addition to avoiding clothing that is revealing, we should avoid extremes in clothing, appearance, and hairstyle. In dress, grooming, and manners, we should always be neat and clean, never sloppy or inappropriately casual. We should not disfigure ourselves with tattoos or body piercings. Women who desire to have their ears pierced should wear only one pair of modest earrings.”

black mannequins

Do I have a problem with what the official stance of the Church is? Absolutely not. Do I have a problem with the cultural implications? Yes, I do.

The specific clothing items mentioned in this official declaration are “short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, and shirts that don’t cover the stomach.” That’s it. No flagrant scolding messages about bare shoulders, knees, and toes (knees and toes). No finger-pointing about blouses that actually elude to the fact that women have breasts.

There have been many talks, articles, blog posts, and firesides given in Mormondon about modesty, and the DOs and DON’Ts of modesty seem to be very regional, all while teaching out of the same For the Strength of the Youth pamphlet.. When I was a young woman in Oregon, it was during the grunge era. Our discussions about modesty were usually encouraging us to set aside the dirty flannel, brush our hair, and act like a lady.

Then I moved to Utah and was often advised in excrutiating detail which exact clothing items were approved, and which ones would basically send me to hell. If I wore a skirt that showed a hint of my kneecap, or wore a v-neck tee that showed a shadow of cleavage, and it prompted a young man to formulate a lustful thought, his weakness suddenly was on my conscience. If I wore a dress that flattered my curves, and it turned on a boy’s “little factory,” I was just as much as fault for his actions.  I knew I was attractive and caught the attention of guys, and I’ll just say it – I had larger breasts than most girls my age. Even if I was in a bulky sweatshirt, I got attention for my chest. I hated knowing that if a boy acted on him impulses, it suddenly could become my fault. Needless to day, my mid-to-late teens were spent with unnecessary shame…and in skirts that were mid-calf to floor-length.
Mormon Modesty Meme

Some activities require a “less modest” appearance, such as swimming, bathing, exercise and physical activity. When I lived in California, there was a lesson where our Relief Society president told us “We’re in a heatwave, and if you need to take off your garments and put on a sundress to get your yardwork done, by all means, DO IT. No need to put yourself in the hospital to mow your lawn in clothes that accommodate garments. Men are taking off their shirts to stay cool, and you need to find a way to stay cool as well.” To me, that makes sense. Do what you need to do, and then change back into your normal clothes.

byu cheerleadersI’m frustrated by the inconsistencies of modesty within the church. One of the most iconic symbols of beauty in Mormondom are the BYU Cheerleaders. But look at the uniforms – they’re tight, show leg up to mid-thigh, and sometimes have a deep enough V-neck that little is left to the imagination. Nobody else on the BYU campus could get away with an outfit like that, yet the cheerleaders can. And are applauded with it. Obviously I’m no prude, and the BYU uniforms are more modest than other colleges’ cheerleaders, but it’s an inconsistency nonetheless.

I’ve always loved swimming, even thought it’s hard to find a comfortable, flattering, and modest bathing suit. When I went to BYU-Idaho, I was excited that there was a place on campus where I could swim and do other exercise. Shortly after I arrived in Rexburg, I went into the locker room with my own suit. The attendant said “All students must wear a school-issued bathing suit.” I rented a suit, put it on, and looked at myself in the mirror. It was unflattering, unsupportive, and so sheer you could see the detail of my nipples and areolas. I can only imagine how much more detail would have shown when the suit was wet. I showed the attendant how I looked, and she apologetically told me that it was my only option. I got dressed in my street clothes, threw my bathing suit into the laundry chute, and never went swimming on campus.

In this case, modesty was knowing that I was not comfortable in the only clothing that was offered, and choosing to not participate. I would much rather look at myself in a mirror and decide for myself if what I’m wearing makes me comfortable, attractive, and gives off a vibe that I respect my body. And as the excerpt from the Church website said above, I don’t leave the house in anything I wouldn’t want the Savior to see me in.

hooker boots new beginningsI feel like talks about modesty have been so frequent recently, and so much misinformation and false doctrine is given. My friend Shannon recently posted this picture on Instagram from Young Womens New Beginnings night. Does anyone see the irony in “Stand in Holy Places” when there’s a pair of sexy hooker boots right next to a statue of a temple?

As an adult, these presentations have stirred up the shame and frustration I felt as a teen. This week I attended a combined Stake Relief Society and Young Womens’ event titled “Beautiful.” While my first impression was that there would be slideshows of pictures to James Blunt, One Direction, and Christina Aguilera songs, I hoped it could be an event focusing on true beauty and divine nature.

Instead, it was a glorified standards night. There was a talk about lures of the devil, chock full of fly-fishing metaphors (I guess that’s to be expected in a ward in Lehi). There was a reading of an odd fairy tale book about modesty. There was a lot of emphasis on the laundry-list items of modesty – no skinny jeans, don’t wear two-piece swimsuits, etc. The had an oppressive feeling, and I felt scolded (even though I don’t wear the items that they essentially forbade). I’m sure it had the same feeling as meetings where the Priesthood men get the “NO PORN!” talk. Even those without a problem leave the room feeling like garbage.

I didn’t feel the spirit. I saw people crying, and I could tell it wasn’t brought on by the spirit. It’s a sensitive subject for many women, especially when the gist of a presentation is that modesty=beauty. For women who have been abused, neglected, and told that they’re not beautiful enough, or that they don’t deserve love because of the way they look, there was no inspiring message to help those sisters. As the cliche says, beauty is more than skin-deep, but that was not discussed adequately. Inner beauty is essential, not whether or not I buy clothing items from Shade or ModBod (For you non-Utah types, these companies were created to help women be more modest by layering). I was sitting next to Rosie, and she was judging my reactions through the night…and we had a good talk about why I wasn’t happy about what was presented.

Earlier this week, Rosie led a discussion on modesty with the combined Young Men and Young Women, so the topic was fresh on our minds. She prepared questions, gave examples, and talked about inner beauty as opposed to the things you wear. When I talk to Rosie about modesty, I’ve told her that the way she feels is much more important than looking at a checklist of forbidden clothing items. She knows that boys will be boys, and that sometimes they will think inappropriate thoughts, but if she feels confident and chooses her outfits wisely, she does not have to bear any amount of blame when a boy can’t control himself.

alpine plastic surgeryUtah freeways are littered with billboards of this type, which tell women that they’re not beautiful enough until they choose plastic surgery. I would venture to guess it’s harder for men to pass billboards like this on the freeway, than to see a woman in a form-fitting outfit. But instead, women are given lectures full of propaganda about why their dress and appearance will be the downfall of men…who are likely viewing loads of scandalous content online (whether or not they seek it out). There is so much inconsistency in LDS culture about modesty, beauty, and sexuality. And it’s hard to know that there’s not a clear message given by the church, so local leaders are left to teach about it at their discretion.

How do you feel about these discussion about modesty? Do you think emphasis is given to the right details? Should there be less focus on the clothes you wear and more focus on the woman you are inside? Let me know in the comments.

Divinity

divinity candy

“Ladies, we are like Divinity. Some of us are smooth, some are crusty. But we all taste good.”

-Rea Allsop

Today in Relief Society, one of my favorite women in my old/new ward gave the lesson. Four hours later, I can’t even remember what the overall outline of the lesson was, but that comment stuck with me. Partially because I tweeted it out right after she said it, partially because she also passed out homemade divinity (with no nuts! Glorious!). But I can’t get the idea out of my mind.

Have you ever tried to make divinity? It’s light and fluffy classic homemade candy. It’s a very temperamental candy to make, especially when heat and humidity conditions aren’t good. But isn’t that how life can turn out? When trials abound, and we’re under tremendous pressure, we might not end up the way we hope. We may not be the right color. We might not be the right texture. We might look a lot denser, misshapen, airy, or gritty than the one next to us. But when it comes down to it…we are all sweet and special. And we are divine.

TMI Friday: Don’t Mess With My Peeps, Yo!

Don't Mess With My Peeps, YoI’m Nicole, and I’m a Mormon.

But I don’t always feel comfortable talking about religion on my blog. As I’m sure most people do in their life, I have had questions about my faith. I have heard unsavory stories of things that have happened through the history of my church. I have lived half of my life outside of Utah, and have conclusively decided it’s more difficult to live my faith in Utah.

“Mormon Culture” is sometimes hard for me to stomach. I will joke about funeral potatoes and green jello as much as the next girl, but I notice people get so caught up in the “culture” of our faith, that they really don’t focus on the content of the faith. I try to live the Word of Wisdom, but I drink Coke. I have a friend known  as Jesus in SLC, who calls me the “coolest Mormon ever.” I have no qualms about joking about the quirks of our religion’s peculiar culture. Part of the Utah Mormon Culture is a conservative political leaning, despite the church’s ever-present stance of political neutrality.

A few years ago, I became acquainted with my friend Gabrielle, aka @funkyvalentine on Twitter. She and I bonded, even though we had very differing opinions on many topics. Through the years, her blogging and faith have been through some significant metamorphosis. She converted to the LDS church, but struggled with some questions with her faith. Eventually she made the decision to leave the Mormon church, and she publicly made statements about this on her blog.

A few days ago, I found out about a podcast on LDS Liberty where the podcast hosts ripped her beliefs to shreds, both spiritual and political. Gabs admittedly has some beliefs that don’t fly with mainstream lifelong conservative Mormons, but the hosts of LDS Liberty made a very public, very blatant attack. I posted the following comment:



Since yesterday, this podcast started being discussed at length on Twitter. I won’t go into the details of our discussions, but it made me sad to see how mean people can be to each other. Especially when it comes to something personal and sacred like religious beliefs. This podcast was a personal attack, a case of cyberbullying, and it’s not okay. I don’t think the podcast discussion was helpful – it was self-righteous and accusatory. Feelings have been hurt, and I personally felt like I needed to talk about it on my blog.

Do you think LDS Liberty took it too far? I’m not interested in discussing the particulars of Gabrielle’s beliefs versus LDS Liberty’s beliefs…but rather the situation in general. Feel free to comment, but please be kind. Hurtful and abusive comments will not be published.

Can’t we all just get along?

A Day Long Awaited

Countless prayers uttered over days, months, and years.

Many questions discussed, pondered, and researched.

A room full of people who love and support you, and desire your greatest happiness.

Dayna, Nathan, and Natalie…I love you so much.

Congratulations on your baptism.

A Little General Conference Humor…












Hope you enjoyed these Puns of Perdition. If these photos don’t make sense, you’re probably not LDS. Photos courtesy of My Religious Blog

Peeking In

Just peeking in to share a little inspiration for the day.I just wanted to let all you know that I’m still alive. Life’s been tough recently, sometimes seeming like more than I can bear. I won’t go into details, and I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way right now. This morning I watched this video and it really touched me. I decided to break my blogging silence and share. For my friends that are struggling too…my heart goes out to you.

Like a Sun with Perfect Light

This morning on my way back from South Bend, I decided to listen to a little Mormon Tabernacle Choir to get into the Sunday spirit. The flight departed at 5:50 am, and the I watched out the window for a good part of the flight. The sunlight was peaking over the horizon and looked spectacular.

I was listening to Mo-Tab’s “Love is Spoken Here” album, and was lulled into a drowse. The familiar strains of Hymn 113, “Our Savior’s Love” began, and the my eyelids felt ablaze. I looked out the window as the words “Our Savior’s love shines like a sun with perfect light:” sounded, and the sun rose above the horizon. It was the most beautiful sunrises I’ve seen in a long time. I immediately was embraced by a feeling of peace and love. I knew that it was a direct manifestation of my Jesus Christ’s love for me. I’ve been struggling with a variety of trials that has been affecting my happiness greatly. In that moment I felt that all was alright with the universe. His love shines like a sun with perfect light.

Our Savior’s love shines like a sun with perfect light
As from above, it breaks through clouds of strife
Lighting our way, it leads us back into his sight
Where we may stay to share eternal life

The Spirit’s voice of goodness whispers to our hearts
A better choice than evil’s anguished cries
Loud may the sound of hope ring till all doubt departs
And we are bound to him by loving ties

Our Father, God of all creation hear us pray
In rev’rence awed by thy Son’s sacrifice
Praises we sing, we love thy law we will obey
Our Heav’nly King, in thee our hearts rejoice

Mormons and Media

Some of my readers, online friends, and acquaintances in general have asked me what I think about HBO’s Big Love portrayal of a Latter-Day Saint temple ceremony. I will defer you to the official statement of the Church, found at Mormon.org

Official Statement from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:
SALT LAKE CITY 9 March 2009

Like other large faith groups, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sometimes finds itself on the receiving end of attention from Hollywood or Broadway, television series or books, and the news media. Sometimes depictions of the Church and its people are quite accurate. Sometimes the images are false or play to stereotypes. Occasionally, they are in appallingly bad taste.

As Catholics, Jews and Muslims have known for centuries, such attention is inevitable once an institution or faith group reaches a size or prominence sufficient to attract notice. Yet Latter-day Saints – sometimes known as Mormons – still wonder whether and how they should respond when news or entertainment media insensitively trivialize or misrepresent sacred beliefs or practices.

Church members are about to face that question again. Before the first season of the HBO series Big Love aired more than two years ago, the show’s creators and HBO executives assured the Church that the series wouldn’t be about Mormons. However, Internet references to Big Love indicate that more and more Mormon themes are now being woven into the show and that the characters are often unsympathetic figures who come across as narrow and self-righteous. And according to TV Guide, it now seems the show’s writers are to depict what they understand to be sacred temple ceremonies.

Certainly Church members are offended when their most sacred practices are misrepresented or presented without context or understanding. Last week some Church members began e-mail chains calling for cancellations of subscriptions to AOL, which, like HBO, is owned by Time Warner. Certainly such a boycott by hundreds of thousands of computer-savvy Latter-day Saints could have an economic impact on the company. Individual Latter-day Saints have the right to take such actions if they choose.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an institution does not call for boycotts. Such a step would simply generate the kind of controversy that the media loves and in the end would increase audiences for the series. As Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Robert D. Hales of the Council of the Twelve Apostles have both said recently, when expressing themselves in the public arena, Latter-day Saints should conduct themselves with dignity and thoughtfulness.

Not only is this the model that Jesus Christ taught and demonstrated in his own life, but it also reflects the reality of the strength and maturity of Church members today. As someone recently said, “This isn’t 1830, and there aren’t just six of us anymore.” In other words, with a global membership of thirteen and a half million there is no need to feel defensive when the Church is moving forward so rapidly. The Church’s strength is in its faithful members in 170-plus countries, and there is no evidence that extreme misrepresentations in the media that appeal only to a narrow audience have any long-term negative effect on the Church.

Examples:

During the Mitt Romney election campaign for the presidency of the United States, commentator Lawrence O’Donnell hurled abuse at the Church in a television moment that became known among many Church members as “the O’Donnell rant.” Today, his statements are remembered only as a testament to intolerance and ignorance. They had no effect on the Church that can be measured.

When the comedy writers for South Park produced a gross portrayal of Church history, individual Church members no doubt felt uncomfortable. But once again it inflicted no perceptible or lasting damage to a church that is growing by at least a quarter of a million new members every year.

When an independent film company produced a grossly distorted version of the Mountain Meadows Massacre two years ago, the Church ignored it. Perhaps partly as a result of that refusal to engender the controversy that the producers hoped for, the movie flopped at the box office and lost millions.

In recent months, some gay activists have barraged the media with accusations about “hateful” attitudes of Latter-day Saints in supporting Proposition 8 in California, which maintained the traditional definition of marriage. They even organized a protest march around the Salt Lake Temple. Again, the Church has refused to be goaded into a Mormons versus gays battle and has simply stated its position in tones that are reasonable and respectful. Meanwhile, missionary work and Church members in California remain as robust and vibrant as ever, and support for the Church has come from many unexpected quarters — including some former critics and other churches.

Now comes another series of Big Love, and despite earlier assurances from HBO it once again blurs the distinctions between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the show’s fictional non-Mormon characters and their practices. Such things say much more about the insensitivities of writers, producers and TV executives than they say about Latter-day Saints.

If the Church allowed critics and opponents to choose the ground on which its battles are fought, it would risk being distracted from the focus and mission it has pursued successfully for nearly 180 years. Instead, the Church itself will determine its own course as it continues to preach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.

Home is a Special Kind of Feeling

Lately on Sundays, I’ve been trying to listen to music that is more spiritual than my usual fare. I grew up on the classical music and Mormon Tabernacle Choir, of which my Uncle David and friend Neil are currently members. It’s still a dream to someday be a part of the Mo-Tab. Last weekend, I picked up the Mo-Tab’s “Love is Spoken Here” album. I have been a little obsessed with it…and I thought I’d share the lyrics to my favorite song on here. It is titled “Home is a Special Kind of Feeling” by John Rutter, and it is the finale to his “Wind in the Willows” musical. I sang it with Viva Voce a few years ago, and was excited to find a Mo-Tab album with it.

Home is a special kind of feeling

The feeling of a place where you belong

A feeling that the world is left behind you

Like a shelter from your cares

that seems to want you to be there

Home is a special kind of feeling

The feeling that you’ve made it on your own

Somewhere which you know is really your place

A place for living, your special place, your home

Home has a welcome kind of feeling

The firelight, and the warmth of hearth and home

A welcome that you know will always cheer you

Like a gentle kind hello, that seems to touch you with a glow

Home has a quiet kind of feeling

An island when you need to be alone

A haven for the times you spend together

There’s nowhere better, no other place like home

By John Rutter

As a side note, here’s a funny childhood anecdote. When I was about 4 years old, and listening to classical radio with my dad on the way to church, I said “I wish that everyone was a Mormon so they can listen to classical music, because it’s so good!” I’m not sure why I thought that…but my dad likes to remind me of my youthful gaffe.

Integrity and Virtue


On Sunday, I attended my last week in the Plymouth Ward. I have been serving in the primary and nursery for my tenure in the ward, but really wanted to attend Relief Society for my last week. I’m so glad I did. There was a combined lesson/program on finding JOY in the season through serving Jesus, Others, and taking time for Yourself. I was immediately drafted to sing Lord, I would Follow Thee in a small ensemble with violin.

But even more moving than the lesson and music was the letter read by one of the Young Women from the First Presidency during announcements. It was announcing a change to the Young Women’s theme, based on a talk by Elaine Dalton:

“Now is the time for a return to virtue!”

The attribute and value of Virtue has been added to the Young Women theme. “Virtue is a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards. It encompasses chastity and moral purity.”

The time has come for the young women of the Church to lead the world in a return to virtue. This is the time to be pure and to qualify for the guidance of the Holy Ghost. In the coming year, it is our desire that all young women and their leaders focus on the meaning of virtue, what young women can do to accept and act upon this value, and how this attribute can strengthen young women as they prepare to be worthy to make and keep sacred covenants and receive temple ordinances.

We will distribute through local priesthood leaders and also post online the Personal Progress value experiences and projects associated with this value. We desire all young women to complete and be recognized for completing this value, in addition to the seven values listed in the Personal Progress book. You may want to study the following scriptural references as you contemplate a return to virtue.

“I believe one virtuous young woman led by the Spirit can change the world.”

For those not familiar with the LDS Church, Young Womens is the organization for girls aged 12-18. For the third hour of our Sunday church block, YW meet to discuss spiritual topics relevant to their age group, based on the Young Women’s Values: Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, and Integrity…and now Virtue.

It made my heart burn with happiness to know that the leaders of the church are ever mindful of the moral turpitude of the world in this day and age. Our YW NEED the instruction on moral principles, even more than I felt that I needed the annual “chastity lesson” or “standards night” 10-12 years ago. It’s not always easy to tell a hormonal teenager, “Don’t date till you’re 16” or “Don’t make out with your date in the car.” With the onslaught of sexual content easily accessible (whether sought or accidentally discovered) on television, movies, and the internet…I feel that this generation needs more frank discussion on virtue and morality.

I worry about my daughter as she becomes more impressionable to adult themes, and I have to always be careful what I allow her to watch. Obviously, I believe that moral values need to be taught in the home, but for YW who think their parents are fuddy-duddys and old fashioned…a carefully-prepared lesson from a YW leader they trust just might be the catalyst for more careful and virtuous behavior. The church curriculum will be updated, and personal progress goals will soon be added.

Kudos to you, church leaders, for making this doctrine and subject a priority.