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?

Self-Less – Thoughts on Service and Depression in Mormon Culture

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

My whole life, I have been taught of the value of selfless service. If you are ever struggling with yourself, find someone to serve and it will help your situation not seem so bleak. It is important to show compassion; to bear one another’s burdens, to mourn with those that mourn, and to succor the weak. The following two verses come to mind:

“And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.” Mosiah 2:17

“He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” Matthew 10:39

Marvin J. Ashton counseled those suffering from depression to “not doubt your abilities. Do not delay your worthy impressions. With God’s help, you cannot fail. He will give you the courage to participate in meaningful and purposeful living. Prayer and service lift their spirits and increase their self-esteem and feeling of power or control. Taking the focus off of themselves also helps put their problems in perspective and makes them feel they are not singled out for challenges. A day of service makes them feel useful and significant to others. At the moment of depression, if you will follow a simple program, you will get out of it. Get on your knees and get the help of God, then get up and go find somebody who needs something you can help them with. Then it will be a good day.”

Depression isn’t a sign of failure, but the feeling of failure. Telling someone to “snap out of it” is like telling a sick person to perform surgery on himself. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, an LDS father of five said, ” We have this ‘All is well in Zion’ kind of thing going on here…We’d rather not talk about it at all…or maybe go talk to the bishop about it. If there really is  a mental health issue you need help with, it doesn’t work to talk to your ecclesiastic leaders.” He touches on a pretty common misconception – that the bishop is your all-knowing source of guidance and counsel. If you’re having a problem of ANY type, you need to go talk to the bishop. But this is not necessarily true. Most bishops are not formally and professionally trained in psychology. Bishops are given guidelines in a handbook, and are told to “follow the spirit.” Bishops do the best they can, but they have limited resources. They are able to refer you to a mental health professional, typically through LDS Family services. Unfortunately, an untrained bishop may attribute overwhelming feelings of depression as evidence for a serious undisclosed sin. These unnecessary feelings of guilt will likely make the depression even worse. Psychological disorders are NOT a reflection of sin. I wouldn’t be surprised if most disorders found in a mental health clinic were also found in a typical ward.

I was reading a link someone sent me on Mormon Depression via Twitter the other day. It was an article by a conservative Christian pastor named Mark Cares, President of the Truth in Love Ministry. The Ministry has launched a billboard campaign in Idaho called “Feeling Worthy?” and campaign literature focuses on Mormon “stress points.” Pastor Cares said, “Mormons are under a significant amount of stress because of all the commandments they need to uphold and the duties they need to perform in order to be worthy to receive God’s blessings — including his forgiveness. The article asks, “Are Mormon women plagued with guilt and stress because of their religion, or is this campaign simply another form of anti-Mormonism?”

Paraphrasing the article a bit, researchers have drawn conclusions that the large Mormon population in Utah is partially to blame for the high levels of depression in the state. According to studies by Mental Health America and Express Scripts, Utah is the most depressed state in the country, and Utah residents are prescribed antidepressant drugs at a rate twice the national average.

A 2008 ABC News article stated, “The postcard image of Utah is a state of gleaming cities, majestic mountains and persistently smiling people. But new research shows a very different picture of the state, a snapshot of suicide and widespread depression…Psychiatrists point to several factors that could contribute to Utah’s high levels of depression: limited mental health resources, restricted access to treatment as a result of cost, poor quality of resources and a varied list of other factors, including an underfunded educational system and a culture deeply rooted in the Mormon faith.

As these depressed Mormons, particularly women, serve themselves out of their rut,  a key principle is not often mentioned; the opportunity to serve requires the other half of the service equation – someone in need of service. Sometimes, the person desperately in NEED of service is overwhelming themselves with GIVING service. As I struggle to improve my self-confidence and trust my innate abilities, I tend to drop everything when I hear of someone in need. I want to be happy, so I help. It does feels good to be helpful, but I’m realizing how often it depletes me.

I’m in a constant battle between my own needs and the needs of others. My husband has needs. My daughter has needs. My parents have needs. 90% of the time, I ignore what I need for myself. And I’m beginning to realize how harmful my “selflessness” has been. I’ve given up on dreams and desires of my youth. I missed out on much of Rosie’s young years because I was working to support my family. I’ve postponed my goals of fitness and weight loss because the financial cost was too overwhelming for our meager budget. A lot of the time, I don’t know what is worth aspiring to in my future.

I am realizing my desperate need to allow myself to be selfish, not selfless. And it feels like foreign territory.

I know through my religious beliefs that my struggles are temporary. God has a plan for me. The following quotes and scriptures help sustain me when I feel like I have no strength to keep trying.

“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8­9).

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

“Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. (“Doctrine and Covenants 122:7)

“If all the sick for whom we pray were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith. . . .Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death, and if these were not, there would also be no joy, success, resurrection, nor eternal life and godhood.” Spencer W. Kimball

“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be just like people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, and most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is just like an old time rail journey … delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”  Gordon B Hinckley (quoting Jenkin Loyd Jones)