Dear 100 Hour Board,
So something I just noticed the last little bit. Why are so many Mormon women starting to wear Bikinis all of the sudden? Like what happened. When doing a quick search this came up and brought up several anecdotal thoughts
I literally thought the same thing. Like why are so many Mormons suddenly ok with wearing Bikinis if they’re so immodest. I know so many return missionary and almost (but not quite) RS prez/Molly Mormon types that are now wearing bikinis. I thought that’d never happen. Are we just getting way more worldly and want to be like everyone else. I remember everyone being way more strict about this as recently as 5-7 years ago. I think even just 10 years ago even Tankinis were a little frowned upon. What happened in Mormon Culture?
-My Name Here
I have complicated thoughts about the Mormon standards for modesty.
When I was a child and young teenager, my sense of body image was not great. I had no problem with the way my body looked, but I somehow had the impression that it was shameful and needed to be covered up. For years I wore an undershirt under every shirt, and even exercise shorts under my pants and skirts. Slowly but surely, I managed to recover from that, and emotionally accept myself. It took me a long time to acknowledge that my body isn't something I have to hide for the sake of modesty.
Due to that experience, I don't think Mormon standards of modesty are necessarily healthy. I'm sure not everyone had the same feelings that I did, but the obsession with modest clothing does make it easy to misunderstand the concept of modesty and how it applies to morality. I wasn't wearing modest clothing because I had true faith that God didn't want anyone to see my shoulders. I wasn't wearing modest clothing because I was treating my body like a temple. I was dressing modestly for two reasons: because the Church's teachings on modesty had instilled a bizarre sense of guilt in me, and because I didn't have a body I felt like showing off anyway.
It's taken me quite a while to sort through my feelings about the whole matter. Since graduating from BYU and moving to Florida, I haven't been dressing modestly, if you go by standards like the ones I was taught as a young woman, or that can be found in For the Strength of Youth. Sometimes I wear sleeveless dresses, and my shorts don't always reach my knees. But I truly don't believe that my clothing is immodest, because I'm not dressing that way to show off my body or draw attention to myself. I dress that way because it's comfortable, and Florida is a horrifically hot place. It would be different if I were wearing low-cut tops because I wanted to attract attention to my breasts. To me, the intent behind the outfit is the true test of modesty, and I think God's concept of modesty is more about having respect for our bodies than it is specific guidelines.
Therefore I have no problem with bikinis, even for active LDS women, even those who are returned missionaries and "Molly Mormons." What a person is wearing doesn't necessarily make them worldly. One-piece bathing suits are not always comfortable or flattering. For instance, using the bathroom involves being essentially naked, which is awkward. On the other hand, while bikinis are by nature more revealing, they're also easy and comfortable forms of swimwear, and are not necessarily worn to show off or attract attention.
The modesty rules for Mormon women have constantly been changing. Here's a picture of some missionaries from 1972:
(credit to random Facebook post)
Oh no look at their knees! These sisters would have been chastised today for wearing such immodest dresses. The comments on this picture were other women sharing that, when they were sister missionaries years ago, they were allowed to wear dresses that went above their knees. They could also wear brightly colored clothes, which were banned for about a decade after 2002.
In fact, looking through the website you shared, someone said, "Bikinis were okay in the 80s and 90s; a lot of the body shaming in the church is a fairly recent development. In the 60s and 70s women showed even more skin than they did in the 80s unless they were endowed. When I was a kid (70s-80s), you could pretty much wear anything because all the rules were understood to be for covering garments; if you didn't wear garments it didn't matter. Mormon girls used to wear sundresses and other such scandalous apparel." Everything I read on that random Facebook post backs this up. So technically things aren't getting worse—we're just doing what was considered modest a few decades ago.
What is considered immodest, and what Mormon culture is, is constantly evolving. The gospel (faith, repentance, baptism, Holy Ghost, endure to the end) is perfect, and what we teach about Jesus Christ is eternal. Mormon culture, however, is quite temporary, and is not the order of heaven (thank goodness).
-guppy of doom
The guppy of doom wrote wonderful things about the existence of the interplay between culture and The Official LDS Guidelines for Modesty® so I feel no need to further defend that point. I did, however, want to suggest that one of the factors that could be influencing this trend is that the dialogue about modesty is changing in Western culture in general. People are shining a big fat light on rape culture. I think the belief that women are responsible for the morality of men is in decline. Perhaps this is optimistic but I cautiously read LDS people being more relaxed about what women wear as a good sign.