Dear 100 Hour Board,
So I’ve noticed the recent question about changing modesty standards. I was actually going to ask if it seems like BYU is getting more lax on what people where at certain athletic events. The female track athletes don’t seem to be as modest this year as years before. I noticed after the Rex lee run there were some women around afterwards that had nothing but a sports bra on top. I’m pretty sure if that had happened 5 years ago they’d be yelled at. It just seems that we’re becoming less and less destinct. Like do you think it’s immodest for a woman to run without a shirt? Like I think it’s crazy when in years past you might hear someone say the cheerleaders are immodest. But Don’t you think it sends a certain message when a woman doesn’t have a shirt on? If you’re a woman reading this I don’t think you understand what it’s like to be a guy seeing a not fully dressed woman. It’s getting tougher and tougher being a guy in our society weather it’s being on social media, or at the beach, or just out and about in public.
I suggest you read guppy's response below, because it's well thought out and persuasive.
I'm just here to make a few particular points:
1. You're right that I don't know what it's like for a guy, but you're wrong that I should care, because I shouldn't and I don't.
2. Women are not responsible for policing men's thoughts. Grow up and accept that your attitude is your problem.
3. You're right, it does send a message. It sends the message that the woman wants to be comfortable while she's exercising, and she's chosen the appropriate clothing to achieve that goal. It sends the message that the woman is smart and empowered. And based on the inherent misogyny in your questions, it's a message that the world needs more of.
4. Your perspective is insulting to both men and women. Women are not objects to be lusted after, and men are not helpless creatures who can't control their lust.
5. The women at this athletic event were fully dressed.
6. Regardless of what your standards of modesty are, no one deserves to be "yelled at" because of their attire.
7. If you can't handle seeing women in public, you've got way bigger problems than sports bras, my friend.
I could go on, but I'd rather you read the responses from my fellow writers who are wiser and more eloquent than I.
Dear not Tom,
You're asking about a very important topic, one that is really important to me and to men and woman across the world. I know when we have strong opinions about things we tend to ignore the comments and arguments others make. But I'm going to write out all my thoughts on this matter in a hope that you'll read it and, whether or not you agree with it, it will help you have a better understanding of how many others think.
To start off, look at this picture:
These women are completely covered, head to toe. The only thing you can see are their eyes and feet. And yet these two men are basically undressing them with their eyes. As the article said, "It’s almost like what a woman is wearing isn’t the problem."
Yes, men can be turned on when they see a woman. But there are several things that are important to know:
- It is culture that is the primary reason men and women sexualize things. That is why ankles were so scandalous in the past, and why it is seen as completely normal for women to walk around without a shirt in some communities.
- It is somewhat biological as well. That's why foot fetishes are a thing, even though feet are not sexualized in today's culture. People are turned on by different things. Men with foot fetishes must be thinking that it is tougher and tougher to be a guy in today's society where women often wear open-toed shoes. If women were expected to dress to cover up anything that men might sexualize, they would have to be fully covered. And even that may not work (see the picture above).
- While sexual thoughts and reactions to others' bodies is a combination of culture and biology, people can control their thoughts. That's what women have been forced to do throughout history. Men have typically been in positions of power and have power, authority, and societal approval to tell women what to wear (see the picture above). For instance, imagine a bishop going to a woman in his ward and telling her to wear a longer dress in the future. Many people think that's okay, and some might even applaud him. But if a Relief Society president went to a man and asked him to wear looser pants in the future, people would think that's odd. They would think she has a problem and shouldn't be involving the man in her personal struggle. As the article I linked to above says,
Here’s the thing that I think we do differently when it comes to socializing men and women. If a man showed up at my party scantily dressed, I *might* be uncomfortable. If I found him attractive, I might be aroused. And then I’d deal with it, which generally for me, might mean, I appreciate his physique, recognize the attraction, and the arousal, and then move on. Because I don’t (subconsciously or not) view every male that arouses me as a possible sexual partner.
I think my experience is fairly normal among mormon women (I may be wrong, but from women I’ve talked to, this seems pretty normal). I don’t think we teach men that way. I’ve had some men tell me that you can’t teach men that way, because they are naturally more visual. That doesn’t really seem to be true either, as it’s difficult to separate biology and socialization.
I remember growing up, hearing stories of young men who went to pick up their dates for prom, only to find the girl dressed immodestly, and being praised for asking the girl to go change.
We are not teaching boys to acknowledge, appreciate, and move on. We are teaching boys to panic that the way a girl or woman is dressed is going to cause them unwanted sexual feelings.
We are teaching them to feel shame over their normal physical response. Shame creates a nasty cycle that makes them more likely to notice and be aroused by women’s bodies, which makes them feel more shame.
We’re training boys to drown in the shame of their own sexuality. In hopes of saving them, we’re asking girls to not only stay out of the water, but to avoid the pool entirely.
Yes, I don't know what it's like for men to see a woman in a sports bra. But I know how I feel when I see tan, fit men running in nothing but shorts down the road. I've gotten really good at, as the author put it, appreciating his physique, recognizing the attraction, and moving on. I intentionally look away and don't let my thoughts wander. Again, I think a large reason women are so accustomed to doing this is that it isn't seen as culturally acceptable for us to ask the man to change his apparel for our sake. Society (especially Mormon society) seems to have a view that women don't have a sex drive. But we do. It feels limiting and almost dehumanizing to say that women don't have this fundamental human aspect that is crucial for the continuation of our species.
You might hate this, but the best way I can describe the modesty change and debate is that in a system where an imbalance of power exists, equality feels like oppression. Men have had the power over what women can wear for thousands of years. It was commonplace in society, and still in the Church today, for men to talk about how women need to change what they're wearing because it's best for the men. Women didn't and still don't have the power to dictate what men can wear—you don't hear women over the pulpit telling men they need to wear shirts while they run or looser pants, while men talk about how women can be "walking pornography." Today we're seeing a shift in power in society. Women are gaining more power over what they wear, and that often isn't what the men would prefer them to wear. So for the men (and women) who are so used to having a say over what women wear, this feels very unfair and like oppression. But to a woman, the power to wear what she wants to wear, regardless of what men might think (as a running man might give no thought to how women view his shirtlessness), is new and empowering.
While I'm not a man, I would assume that rarely, if ever, does a man think about how what he wears would cause women to feel uncomfortable or gives them the need to hum a hymn. But women do. It's hard enough to be responsible for your own salvation. Please don't make women be responsible for men's as well.
-guppy of doom
Dear not Tom and everyone else,
I'm not including this in my answer above because, not Tom, I want to give you a serious answer that I really hope you'll think about. But there's also some fantastic articles out there about modesty that are too good to not share. Not only are they hilarious, but they really express the thoughts and feelings many women, including myself, feel when people talk about women being modest for the sake of men.
-guppy of doom
Do I think BYU is getting more relaxed about modesty standards? No.
Do I think students at BYU are getting more relaxed about modesty standards? Yes.
Do I think relaxed modesty standards are gender specific? No.
Really, I think men and women could dress more modestly in today's culture. I think it is easy to point out people of the opposite gender because they are different, but I think we would all do well to think of our own personal standards for modesty and see if they align with the principles we value. If they do, great! If not, then I would encourage change.
-Sunday Night Banter
I'll put in a big thumbs-up for SNB's point that modesty involves us "think[ing] of our own personal standards....and see[ing] if they align with the principles we value."
A few thoughts on what that means to me (and it may not mean the same thing to other people).
What is Modesty?
According to LDS.org, "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.'"
I think it is worth pointing out that by the definition given above, you cannot make someone be modest. A parent telling their teenage son to go upstairs and change out of t-shirt with a sexual joke on it is not thereby "making the son modest" unless the chastisement convinces the son to change his attitude. The BYU Honor Code cannot enforce modesty on men or on women. Men and women who objectify each other are being immodest even if everyone is wearing temple-appropriate clothing.
What is the responsibility of a person who chooses what to wear or how to act or speak?
I think that I'm responsible for what I choose to do and why I choose to do it.
So, if I were to go out walking in a shirt that exposed significant cleavage because I want men to look at me and appreciate my hotness so that I can feel like my body is so glorious, I'm not being modest, because I'm seeking to attract attention so that I can glorify myself.
By contrast, if I were to go out walking with my baby son and choose to sit down on a bench under a nice shady tree to discreetly breastfeed without using a nursing cover because I forgot mine at home, or my son hates it, or whatever, I'm using my body in a way that glorifies God in celebrating my motherhood, and I'm certainly not looking for people to stare at me about it because there happens to be some skin exposed. Same body part being shown, totally different with regards to how I'd assess my own modesty.
Likewise, if I choose to make comments about a man's body because I'm attracted to him and want to gossip about his cute muscles with a girlfriend, I'm not being modest because my motives are to objectify that person for my own enjoyment.
By contrast, if my cousin, a really good swimmer, explains to me various characteristics of a particular swimmer's shoulder span or leg length or muscle structure that make him particularly suited to swimming, that could be an appropriate, modest conversation: we're still discussing a particular person's body, but here we're respectfully admiring a cool way this particular person's body has been created and developed in order to accomplish something worthwhile.
What is the responsibility of a person who finds them attractive or arousing?
This isn't that complicated, I don't think. We're told that we're supposed to be working on becoming perfect, like Christ and Heavenly Father. Jesus was tempted in every way necessary to help him understand what we go through. That means he faced temptation that was passive (like, nobody was specifically trying to get him to do a bad thing, but he saw/heard/felt something tempting regardless) as well as temptation that was direct (including direct temptation by the literal manifestation of the devil.) In neither case did Christ give in and then try to explain that the temptation was because of "X" and so giving in wasn't his fault.
We're told that "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." We're responsible for recognizing things that tempt us and seeking for the "ways to escape" that God has prepared. (Note: the scripture does not promise that temptation will cease to exist by any means).
Is there a relationship between the responsibilities of the actor and the responsibilities of the watcher?
I do think that my modesty can impact others in a positive way by helping to minimize their temptations. Here's a metaphor that is, I'm certain, far from perfect, but that I want to use for purposes of comparison anyways.
Let's say I have a coworker. She's trying really hard to cut down her makeup spending so she can have more money to save for a house. She's really impulsive, and "has to have" whatever she sees when it comes to makeup.
It is my birthday. I brought my new Bite Lipstick that I just bought at Sephora. I'm wearing it, and I'm going to need to reapply after I eat lunch.
I usually eat lunch with my coworker.
Now, it might be a kind thing to do for me to do to decide that I'll reapply my lipstick in the bathroom on my way back from lunch after she's gone back to her desk. Maybe I'll do that.
But maybe I won't, and there could be a lot of good or bad reasons for why I won't. Maybe I have a meeting right after lunch that I forgot about, and now I've got 60 seconds to get my makeup back the way I want it so that I can present the image I prefer to my superiors. Maybe I just don't care about my friend's makeup buying problem. Maybe I don't know about her makeup issue. Maybe we're not friends and I secretly hate her and want to spite her by showing off my new stuff when I know it'll make her want one too.
Now, my motives for what I do matter. If I'm putting on makeup to brag to my friend because I want her to covet what I have so she'll break her goal, I'm a jerk and I'll be judged for it. On the other hand, if I decide that I'm going to put on my lipstick later, or maybe just skip my reapplication because I'd rather support a friend even at an inconvenience to me, I'll probably be blessed for caring about helping make her burden a tiny bit lighter. Additionally, while I might be willing to refrain from applying my lipstick in front of my friend, but I'm unlikely to stop wearing makeup to work alltogether. That's a significant burden to me and my desires, and it's not my job to prevent my friend from ever being tempted by the existence of makeup when I'm just going about my day.
Then, regardless of what I did or didn't do with my lipstick, it's my coworker's decision whether or not she stops at Sephora on the way home from work and blows her whole paycheck there.
Flaws of the analogy aside, I think that it helps illustrate two important points.
1) That what we do can impact others, so it's appropriate for us to consider that impact and weigh whether we're making choices that appropriately value the opportunity to help others and also the right to make our own choices in the ways that seem appropriate to us. I can acknowledge the fact that it's harder for my friend to stick to her goal if I do something that she considers tempting (like putting on lipstick in front of her so she sees my new product and wants one) but still consider something else to be more important to me than assisting her with that goal.
2) Regardless of what decisions I make, my friend is still the one who chooses how much she cares about accomplishing her goal and what steps she's going to take to ensure she sticks to it. Maybe she'll psych herself up by offering herself a reward if she doesn't buy any new products for a week. Maybe she'll remove Temptalia's makeup review webpage from her list of bookmarks so she isn't drooling over new releases. Maybe she won't do anything and she'll totally fail. That's all up to her, not me.
People will be judged for their actions and motives both in how they influence others and in the influences they accept and nurture.
I'll restate that this is a flawed analogy, obviously. Modesty is not lipstick. One of the writers pointed out a particular flaw that I want to bring up, so I'll paraphrase their point here: while this analogy doesn't have to be gender-based to work, it's important that we acknowledge the fact that the discourse on modesty is often not applied equally to men and women, and that we need to change how we talk about modesty in the Church (especially with regards to whose "job" it is to be modest and whose "fault" it is if people aren't).
Let's just take a moment to clarify that modesty is not about just women's bodies. When we act like modesty means "girls wear lots of clothes so boys don't have bad thoughts" we demean women, who are not objects, men, who have agency in responding to temptation, and the principle of modesty, which is about much more than where a hemline or neckline falls. Modesty is about each one of us respecting the gift God game us, and lust and purity of thought are about how we choose to act and what lines of thought we choose to foster regardless of others' decisions.
Don’t you think it sends a certain message when a woman doesn’t have a shirt on?
Since this is the specific application of modesty you called to in your question, I'll address it. According to the previously linked Lds.org page defining modesty:
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.
So, yes, how we dress sends some sort of message. However, I do think part of a message is how we choose to receive it. An excellent scriptural example of this is Pahoran's response in Alma 61 to the letter contained in Alma 60. Pahoran took a letter pretty clearly intended to be either a tongue-lashing or a threat and interpreted it in a way to make it a celebration of Moroni's wisdom and determination. I think that the world's changing standards on modesty give us an opportunity to do a few things, including:
1) Re-centering our personal efforts to find out how we may not be being modest, and how we can individually improve.
2) Considering what ways our society has inappropriately sexualized or objectified the body and working to 'deprogram' ourselves so that we can channel our sexuality into the appropriate channel of our intimate relationship with our spouse. (For example: is an uncovered shoulder on a young woman sexual? Is a breastfeeding mother? Is a man who wears a formfitting swimsuit to a swim meet?)
3) Developing mental discipline in the "acknowledge and move on" strategy discussed above, which is a skill that's relevant to tons of areas of life other than modesty ("Oh, I reallllly want that new X Box. Oh, well. It's not in the budget and I'm not going to ruin my Friday night pining over it when I have a party to go to." "Ah, yes. I'm hungry and want that cake. Well, too bad, self, we already had a brownie at lunch. Move on and stop obsessing over it." "Dang, I'm so frustrated about that rude thing Frank said to me. I guess I'll just go read my new book so I can focus on something positive, because I really don't want to spend the afternoon thinking about different ways I could cuss him out." etc.)
Some final thoughts from Anne, Certainly
I do think our society is becoming less concerned with being modest - and I use that word in the sense defined above: attracting undue attention and not using our bodies to glorify God. This manifests itself in many ways including but certainly not limited to the clothing choices some people make. I acknowledge that it probably is getting harder to be a man in our society.
However, we've been pretty much told to expect life to get harder. We are expected to take the appropriate steps to thrive as we seek to become like Christ amid the difficulties of the last days. It's getting harder for men and women to do right, but God's power is still greater than the powers of the Devil, and that's cause for rejoicing, because it means that even if our trials get bigger, they serve as more and more refining as we work on returning to Him. There are lots of opportunities for us to find ways to become stronger and wiser and to learn from what we're experiencing.
I hope you are able to do so and that I am too.
Given the number of responses here already, I wasn't intending on sharing any of thoughts on modesty that this provoked. However, I just saw something that makes me want to write on this topic.
When I first read your question, it was pretty shortly after I had just been doing yoga wearing only a sports bra on top. I only dress this way when I'm in the confines of my apartment, and I'm certain people other than my roommates (i.e. guys) won't see me. I don't decide to wear a sports bra sans shirt to show off my body--I do it because I already get sweaty and gross, and I don't want to be wearing any more clothes than absolutely necessary. While I choose to be careful not to work out thus attired in public, I can easily see why other girls choose differently. Personally, I don't think it's immodest for girls to wear sports bras and booty shorts in public whilst engaging in strenuous physical activity because the clothes are to facilitate that activity, and aren't for the goal of showing off the girl's body. Basically I'm saying that modesty is intrinsically tied up with purpose.
But all of these points have been covered pretty well by the other writers. What I really want to write about is a series of posts I saw on my Facebook feed today.
One of my Facebook friends is participating in the Miss Utah pageant thing. Her coach posted pictures of this girl proudly prancing on a stage in a bikini (that didn't look so much like a swimsuit and did look a lot like normal skimpy underwear) and high heels, accompanied by a caption stating how proud the coach was. The coach said the bikini event had strengthened this girl's self-confidence and mental health so much. Now, I'm glad this friend got these benefits. But the pictures made her simply look like a piece of tanned, gorgeous meat. After seeing that, even the non-bikini pictures of this girl had an undertone of "I am only a pretty object!" to them.
Perhaps I'm being overly harsh, but I seriously felt like throwing up at seeing a parade of perfectly made up women in their early twenties display their bodies like that.
I bet there are people who would increase their confidence by walking around butt-naked. That's not a good enough reason to actually go around in the nude. Public presentation has an effect on society that cannot be ignored, and should be considered carefully. It breaks my heart to think of children growing up thinking that the pinnacle of any achievement they can strive for is having a hot body. I suppose that this is me more railing against things like beauty pageants than individual dress choices, however, since I don't actually believe that a single person's wardrobe is going to sway societal ideals. Essentially I'm against institutions strengthening views that narrowly defined physical beauty is the most important feature of a human.
I don't think it is up to individuals to police others, and enforce their personal opinions on what is modest and what is not. Regardless of how a person is dressed, how someone else acts in response is completely their responsibility.