Some folks are wise and some are otherwise. -Tobias Smollett
Question #91476 posted on 07/24/2018 8:42 a.m.

Dear guppy of doom (and any others interested in responding),

I loved your recent response about modesty. I've been thinking a lot about how to raise my daughter with a healthy concept of modesty and I really want to train her to think about modesty as it pertains to herself rather than others.

You've obviously thought a lot about this and I'd be very interested to know how you'd explain modesty to your (hypothetical) daughter. How would you frame it? What would you be sure to say? What would you be sure to avoid saying?



Dear Λrchetype,

Oh boy, I have a lot of thoughts. I think the main ones can all be summarized by this one Friend article: "Modesty means..." I can't express how much I LOVE this article. It's so perfect! It's what we need to be teaching everyone in the world and in the Church about what modesty means! 

In case you don't want to read it, I can copy basically the whole thing for you: Modesty means...

  • not bragging or showing off and accepting compliments kindly. 
  • showing reverence and respect for ourselves and other people’s bodies.
  • wearing clothes that cover our bodies properly and fit the activity.
  • Be sure to be kind instead of judging others for the way they dress. [<- THIS ONE IS SUPER IMPORTANT]
Man oh man, there's really nothing more I can say. Out of the mouth of babes... (well okay out of the mouths of those who write for babes but same thing right?). The only thing I would change is the third bullet point to "wearing clothes that cover our bodies properly due to the activity and the season."
Ultimately, I think the most important thing is to have an open conversation with your daughter, and have it before you have those specific "you're not leaving the house in that, young lady!" conversations. My only interaction with my dad about modesty came when I was 15 and had just bought my first pair of skinny jeans. I had gone shopping with my mom and a friend, both thought the pants were super cute, skinny jeans were "in" and I was so excited to wear them. I came home, changed into them, sped to the back porch to show them off to my dad—and he took one look at them and told me to return them immediately. I protested, my mom protested, but he wouldn't hear it. So I returned the pants. If we had had an earlier conversation, or even if my dad had sat me down and explained why he felt those pants were inappropriate and gave me the opportunity to decide if I would return them or not (I probably would have), I would have had a hugely different experience. What ultimately happened is I learned, without my dad directly saying anything, that modesty is only about what men think, and I should be ashamed of my body and cover it up whenever possible. I didn't wear another pair of skinny jeans until my mission (ahh, missions, corrupting the youth since the 1800s) and, I'm sad to say, I judged all the girls I saw who wore skinny jeans (which was basically everyone). If I had a daughter, I would just repeat what that Friend article says, because then I would help my daughter avoid all the shame and judgement I had.
A few other, random thoughts:
  • It's not about boys. I cannot say this loudly enough. Being modest has nothing to do with how boys view girls or helping boys have clean thoughts. Because that's not a woman's responsibility. Just as we women need to learn to control our own thoughts, boys need to control theirs. I had a mission companion who thought it was okay to wear typical "immodest" clothing because "I'm not beautiful so men would never be tempted when they see me. And if that's the only reason to be modest, then why should I even bother? I could be naked and no man would bat an eye, so I might as well wear [fill in the blank]." So not only was the clothing she wore a reminder of her low self-esteem, but she thought her body belonged to men, and the only reason she could decide what she wanted to wear was because no man wanted her.
  • Modesty should not be attached to how others view you. It's between you and God. (Of course, this can mean radically different things to different girls. Some may think that, judging on what some teachers in primary or YW teach, women only exist to marry and bring babies into the world, so God's view of them is biased due to that. Since we model our heavenly relations off of our earthly ones, some who have difficult or nonexistent relationships with their earthly fathers may think God views them differently than girls who have good relationships with their fathers. Basically, be aware of your audience, though having a good and open relationship with your daughter should help you know how she views God and how she thinks God views women.)
  • Teach your sons as well. What we need to be teaching boys in the Church is that physical and sexual attraction is normal. If you see a girl wearing a low cut shirt, it's normal to be turned on. You don't always have control of that. But you do have control over what you think after that. You can hum a hymn. You can think of a funny joke. But don't feel shame or guilt over that human reaction, because it's that shame that will cause lasting damage. If a girl is wearing something that turns you on, it's neither of your faults. Don't tell her to change. Too often we teach boys in the Church that it's acceptable to tell a woman to change if she makes you feel uncomfortable. But the problem with that thinking is that it leads to the belief that women need to control men's thoughts, not the men themselves. It's what leads to rape culture, it's what leads to "she was asking for it," it's what leads to "I couldn't control myself so it's not my fault." I've already quoted this, but it's so important here it is again: "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." Until we teach boys that a woman's modesty is between her and God, we will always have men who think they can dictate what women wear.
People like you give me hope that things will be different in the future. Just saying you want your daughter to "think about modesty as it pertains to herself rather than others" is fantastic. I hope other dads out there will be more like you.

-guppy of doom

posted on 07/27/2018 7:29 p.m.
There’s a book by this marriage and family therapist for kids and parents called “My Body Is a Gift from God,” and I’ve read it with my two-year-old daughter often. It also has follow-up questions at the back of the book for when kids get older. The author addresses, in picture-book form, modesty as showing respect for ours and others’ bodies, talks a little bit about us getting to say how others treat our bodies and how we treat theirs, and addresses what to do when we see or say something that isn’t modest.