Dear 100 Hour Board,
My question is about modesty, and specifically bikinis.
First, a note. I am not intending to start a discussion about judging. It seems that the go-to response about modesty (especially when it comes to females) is that one is being judgmental and it shouldn’t matter. (I’ve seen this all over social media, and recently in Board Question #91428). I’m not judging anyone, I’m not shaming anyone. I am simply interested in the topic of modesty and doing God’s will. I have a daughter. My daughter sees other girls wearing all sorts of clothes and swimwear, and I know this will be a topic of discussion in our family.
I think that Hermano Gruñón made some excellent points back in question Board Question #53207 (specifically 4, 5, 9, and 11), that were not addressed. Instead, he ended up getting the same answer I have seen multiple times, “It’s not up to you what other people wear.”
So that my position is clear, I don’t understand how one can read paragraph four of the ‘Dress and Appearance’ section in the FTSOY pamphlet and conclude that it is okay to wear a bikini.
"Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner. Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back."
It seems to me that bikini wearing started to be justified by many, and has since become a trend among Mormon teens and young adults. I find it interesting that the modesty tone on the board seems to have changed over time. This could obviously be a simple case of differing opinions by writers due to a small sample size, but it may also indicate a change in attitude/church culture over time. See questions Board Question #26577 (July 2006), Board Question #36608 (June 2007), Board Question #47850 (October 2008) compared to Board Question #91428 (June 2018).
Let me address some of the justifications/responses I have seen on the board and social media.
1. I agree that modesty standards have changed over time. But I still don’t see that as an excuse to wear a bikini. Based on the FTSOY quote above, it seems to me that the leadership of the church has drawn a definite line in the sand.
2. There are many that claim that modesty is less about what you wear and more about your intentions or attitude. While that may be true, the church leadership have used the word repeatedly and specifically referring to dress.
"Prophets of God have continually counseled His children to dress modestly."We could have a discussion about being modest in speech or attitude, but that is not my intent.
3. Another argument that seems increasingly common is that girls should wear “what they feel comfortable in.” This is an obvious example of moral relativism, and something the Brethren have condemned many times.
4. Some argue that since boys show their torso while swimming, that it's okay for girls to show theirs as well. While I don't completely understand why, the quoted paragraph four above specifically refers to "young women" when talking about covering the stomach.
Would a few of you (Luciana included:) be willing to offer a rebuttal of Hermano’s points above, and of the points that I have articulated?
My goal here isn't to convince you, but to show you that a reasonable person could come to different conclusions than you.
I think the reason why people are "rebelling" against things like modesty in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet is that its creators seem to have a sexist double standard that many people do not believe is of divine origin. This is an understandable perspective, as the FSY pamphlet once instructed young women "not to leave their house in their hair curlers". I think there is room for healthy discussion about its merits (and demerits); no edition from the FSY pamphlet came down on stone tablets.
I dislike when people in the LDS church talk about moral relativism because they seem to assume that morality is dictated by the leaders of the church, who are highly fallible (see Doctrine and Covenants section 3). What is moral is not dictated by any man, prophet or not. Arguably, what is moral is not even decided by God (is what is moral decided by God because He is God, or is God God because He is moral?). An objectively true (objective, definitive, correct etc.) morality could (and I believe does) exist, but nothing about truth guarantees that prophets always get it right. If they have always gotten it right, I don't want to go to the Celestial Kingdom because it would mean that God was a supporter of a lot of things I don't think are moral (e.g., the priesthood ban, polygamy). From my perspective, it appears that historically marginalized groups are at high risk for being the victims of false doctrine, and guess what? These modesty rules apply mostly to women, a historically marginalized group. So I (and other people who have similar views) have good reason to be suspicious.
More on moral relativism. The existence of a true morality does not preclude the possibility that some things could be moral in one circumstance and not moral in another. It could be, then, that what is right in any given moment is determined by context. An absolute (non-contextual) standard of modesty would mean that women in cultures where women go topless all the time are morally wrong for doing so, which (in my opinion) is a ludicrous conclusion. Let's say church leaders dictate a standard for modesty that is designed to avoid drawing sexual attention. Okay, let's say that is fair enough (I still think the greater issue here is the degree to which people sexualize and objectify other people, but I'd like to illustrate a point). If the church was organized in 1767, the year The Swing was painted, it would likely condemn it due to a foot being depicted without a shoe on because showing feet had a sexual connotation at the time. But would any LDS person blink if they saw another LDS person display a print of this in their house? No. They wouldn't, even though the painting has some weird people in it (hint: not the woman).
I'll end my pre-rebuttal of you with this conclusion: many people can reasonably believe that the FSY pamphlet modesty standards are fair game to question, particularly if they are overly legalistic or directed to a marginalized group. Also, bikinis aren't really seen in a sexual way by society anymore. Between these two things, I can see why lots of people might feel comfortable wearing a bikini.
Now, to rebut against your points.
1. I, along with a lot of other people, don't care because we operate on different assumptions about the importance of the FSY pamphlet. If the FSY pamphlet authors come up with standards that are sexist, then the moral authority of the book is seriously questionable.
2. Honestly, I see this as a problem. Drawing lines in the sand instead of articulating principles is what the Pharisees did.
3. Saying that wearing bikinis is wrong because the reasons people use to justify it are examples of moral relativism is begging the question because it assumes that it is objectively morally wrong to wear a bikini, which is in fact what we are arguing about.
4. Okay. This is more of a statement than a question, but I assume you are trying to say that because the prophets have only specified a certain standard for young women, the double standard is justified. Again, please see my pre-rebuttal.
For the record, I'm done talking about bikinis on the Board forever. Enough with these questions. Goodbye.
The concept of modesty is different depending on the activity. The clothing I would wear and feel modest in differs depending on whether I'm going to church or running a marathon. Likewise, the guidelines listed in For the Strength of Youth are given for everyday wear, not swimwear. Yes, the pamphlet does suggest you not show your shoulders or your midriff or your leg above the knee, but even a one-piece swimsuit already violates those rules, and the prophets have yet to condemn them, to my knowledge.
Like Sheebs says above, I have my doubts that God's eternal law is sexist. Yes, modesty standards have evolved over time, and perhaps become less stringent, but once upon a time I could have been condemned for showing my ankles, so I don't see that evolution as a bad thing. I have no condemnation for the concept of modesty in general, but I do firmly believe that modesty can be found in intention and not be judged strictly on what someone wears. If I choose to wear a bikini because I want men to lust after me and because I want to draw attention to my hot body, then that is definitely immodest and not in keeping with the standards laid out by church authorities. If I choose to wear a bikini because it's the most comfortable and convenient form of swimwear, then I see no contradiction with my personal standards. It's perfectly fine if your standards differ from that, provided you aren't judging people for making different choices than you. If you want to avoid bikinis and teach your daughter to do the same, that's a totally viable choice.
Regarding Hermano's points:
4. Just because someone owns two sets of swimsuits doesn't mean they're necessarily rationalizing. As I said, sometimes a woman will feel more comfortable wearing a one piece, and sometimes she'll feel more comfortable in a bikini, especially depending on the environment she's swimming in. Wearing a bikini takes confidence, and confidence fluctuates. There are a plethora of other reasons that would affect a woman's choice of swimsuit, and setting an example in most instances has nothing to do with it.
5. This point is so illogical that I don't even know how to begin to dispute it. Suffice it to say it doesn't apply to situations that were unjust and questionable in the first place, therefore I believe a little laxness in the realm of repressing women should be celebrated.
9. guppy of doom argues against this point effectively below, because there are tons of reasons for wearing clothes besides modesty. But also, if a husband and wife want to be naked alone in their home all the time, that's their prerogative.
11. That's BS. It is no one else's business what kind of swimwear a person chooses to wear, and suggesting it could limit spiritual growth takes a very cynical approach to spirituality.
Overall, I think the biggest flaw in Hermano's argument is that he assumes someone is wearing a bikini just for attention. And in that case, yes, I do think using your body to draw attention and intentionally turn people on can be reprehensible. But thankfully, the world is slowly overcoming the notion that women are responsible for men's morality, and I celebrate that. Yes, it has resulted in some shifting standards of modesty in both LDS and American culture, but as it corresponds with less misogyny, I'm all for it.
Sheebs is short and succinct in disputing your particular points, and I applaud her. I can't add anything better than what she already said against #1, except to reiterate that the modesty standards prescribed for women in For the Strength of Youth are clearly different in regards to swimwear.
Regarding your other points:
2. Yes, the concept of modesty does apply to dress. I don't think we're disputing that point. But clearly our opinions differ regarding what dress is considered immodest, because swimwear is different from everyday wear and is held to unique standards.
3. I don't see this as moral relativism at all, I see it as a loosening of centuries of restrictive standards regarding women. And the argument is not suggesting women walk around naked all the time nor dress provocatively if that's how they feel comfortable. It's suggesting women dress how they like regardless of how other people, and especially men, will judge or sexualize them. Women should be able to feel comfortable in their attire without fear or worry, no matter what they're wearing.
4. I don't care what men wear while they swim. That is entirely beside the point. That particular paragraph probably refers specifically to women because men's fashion doesn't often include crop tops, so chances are most men won't be showing their stomachs too often. But I agree wholeheartedly with Sheebs, and firmly believe that if the standards laid out by past prophets and authorities are inherently sexist, then they don't come from God and don't reflect his views on womanhood.
Luciana points this out, but I would just like to reiterate that the line you quoted from For the Strength of Youth isn't talking about swimwear. It's talking about normal everyday wear, and nowhere does it say a single thing about swimsuits, so I don't know why people keep trying to use that quote to justify what sorts of swimsuits women "should" wear. (And in any case, For the Strength of Youth is specifically marketed to the youth. It is not called For the Strength of the Church, so using a very, very specific line from it about very, very specific standards to apply to absolutely everyone in the Church doesn't necessarily make sense.) Literally any swimsuit, for men or women, would be immodest by FTSOY standards, because men are shirtless, and women's legs and shoulders are exposed. But because people do in fact go swimming, and no General Authorities seem all that scandalized, it's pretty clear that there are different rules for swimsuits and for normal clothing. Turns out swimming is a completely different activity than normal life, and the standards for normal clothing do not apply to swimwear. So next time you're tempted to use that quote to shame a woman for wearing a bikini, stop and remember that it's not talking about swimwear, and Church leaders haven't ever said women shouldn't wear bikinis.
A quick search for the word "bikini" on lds.org, in fact, shows that the vast majority of references to it are from articles run in the Friend and New Era magazines, mostly from the 90s and early 2000s, where girls write in and talk about how they made the modest decision to not wear a bikini. While I'm glad that they're making decisions they feel proud of/comfortable with, and I'll support them in that, that doesn't mean it's a Church-wide standard. Literally the only reference to bikinis from anybody of any authority in the Church on lds.org is from a BYU devotional given in 1980, in which a member of the 70 sort of disparages bikinis, but in any case, one BYU devotional from 1980 isn't the place where the Church lays down standards for its entire worldwide membership for the rest of eternity (and for what it's worth, that speaker also refers to some women as "freewill harlots" in that talk, so I don't know how much weight I give to his personal opinion of women). That "definite line in the sand" you mention actually doesn't exist, because as far as I can tell, no Church leader has ever explicitly said not to wear bikinis, and in recent years the Church hasn't mentioned them at all.
In fact, the scriptures say literally nothing about any type of swimwear whatsoever, but they DO say a heck of a lot about not judging others and loving unconditionally. So personally, even though I choose not to wear a bikini, I'm going to keep my nose out of it when other women do, and not change my opinion of them based on what they wear to the pool. I know you say you see this attitude all over social media, but there's a reason for that. People are trying to be more loving and accepting in general (according to data, millennials are the most tolerant generation yet), and if that means judging women less for their swimwear, that's awesome! Maybe we're finally getting better at taking the beam out of our own eye before trying to pick the mote out someone else's.
Furthermore, modesty is a social construct. "Modesty" has changed over time, and changes from culture to culture; there is no one standard for it. I'm not saying that it's not important, just that exactly how we think of it can change drastically. For example, Adam and Eve made coats of skin to cover their nakedness. Awesome. They were being modest. However, we have no idea if those coats of skin covered their shoulders, or came down past their knees, and I don't think anyone would say they were being immodest if their shoulders WERE showing. In centuries past women were looked at askance if their ankles were showing, but in modern day America, ankles have absolutely nothing to do with being "modest." So rather than being so concerned with specifics, which can clearly change, we're trying to be more concerned with where people's hearts are than what specific clothes they're wearing. And in any case, like Sheebs mentions, bikinis are coming to be seen much less sexually than they used to be. That specific aspect of modesty is changing.
That said, though, sometimes bikinis cover more than one-pieces do. If you're a man, I highly doubt you've ever tried to wear a one-piece swimsuit, but let me tell you, sometimes they are weird and awkward, especially for women with longer torsos. If you pull it up to cover your cleavage all the way, it gives you a major wedgie in the front and back. If you avoid showing off your butt cheeks by keeping the swimsuit pulled down more, your cleavage is spilling out. There's no winning. With bikinis, though, you can get ones that are high-necked and high-waisted where nothing but a tiny strip of your stomach is showing. And even if women are wearing bikinis that AREN'T high-necked and high-waisted, as observers we have absolutely no idea if that was still the most modest option for her, based on what she was able to find in stores and online. What with all the cut-outs and extremely low backs and super low-cut fronts and super high-cut thighs, a lot of one-pieces on the market today end up showing just as much skin as bikinis do, but they're more uncomfortable to wear, and harder to use the bathroom in. And like I said earlier, one-pieces for women with long torsos can sometimes be totally impossible to find. I only have one swimsuit that fits me, from years ago, and before that I didn't even have a swimsuit for a couple years, because they just don't make one-pieces that are long enough to cover me from top to bottom. I don't go swimming a ton, so just having one swimsuit is fine, but I'm not going to tell women who literally can't find a one-piece that fits them that they shouldn't ever go swimming.
If you're a man, you probably haven't had people tell stop you out of the blue to tell you that you're not being modest enough. But almost every single Mormon woman I know has had that experience. I once had a close (guy) friend tell me I had to stop wearing running shorts in my own apartment, because "what if a boy came over and saw you?" I know women who have been told not to bend over to pick stuff up from the ground, because that makes their shirt gap open slightly, and if some creepo tried to look down their shirt he could see some cleavage. I know women who have been asked not to wear their cheerleading uniforms to cheerleading events because their legs might distract high school boys. These experiences might sound preposterous to you, because they are preposterous, but the point is, they happen, and it sucks every single time for the woman who's suddenly made to feel like she's being sexualized for the mere fact of having a body. As a church culture we're teaching boys that it's okay to police what women wear instead of learning control for their own thoughts and actions, and that needs to change. If it takes more and more women speaking up about their experiences and refusing to change event-appropriate clothes just to make the guys in the audience feel more comfortable without having to be accountable for their thoughts, then so be it.
It wasn't my intention for this answer to come off as aggressive or condescending, so hopefully it didn't, but hopefully it also helped you see a female perspective on the whole modesty debate.
Sorry, I'm one of the reasons this answer is taking so long to post.
To address Hermano's arguments:
4. I have multiple dresses. One I wore to prom. Several I wear to church. Several I wear to business things. While all of them are dresses, not all of them are appropriate in all scenarios. Another example: I have two swimsuits. Both are cute and "modest" (according to your standards), but one is meant for swimming laps and white water rafting and all those great activities and the other is more for lounging around and doesn't work quite as well when I try to actively swim in it. (Admittedly if I had known that when I bought it I would never have got the latter swimsuit, because what's the purpose of a swimsuit if you can't swim in it? But I digress.) Me deciding which swimsuit to wear has nothing to do with rationalization and more to do with deciding what activities I'm going to be involved in. I imagine a bikini isn't very good at swimming laps in, and that's probably why this woman has two swimsuits and has to decide when to wear each one.
5. "The future generation is so horrible!" Oh gee. I guess we should go back to the 1800s, when women couldn't vote and couldn't wear anything above the ankle. Or back to the days of the Nephites, when hardly any women were mentioned in the scriptures (Nephi had sisters. Who woulda guessed?) and the primary role of women in doctrinal teaching was as a counterpoint to the righteous masculine symbol (woo great whore of the earth). It's common knowledge that each generation gets more liberal. That's why today you don't see anyone arguing for slavery, or saying one race is better than another, or that women shouldn't vote or be involved in any areas outside the home (slight sarcasm intended). When garments were first created they went to the ankle and to the wrist. Should we go back to that time period? It's such a leap of logic to assume that any past date or generation was perfect and so much better than ours is.
9. I literally never thought that the coats of skin were given to Adam and Eve for modesty until I read Hermano's post. Because doesn't it make so much more sense that God would give them coats to protect them from the elements, and the cold, and the wild animals? I thought God was more concerned about them being mauled by a bear than showing their spouse, literally the only other person on earth, their body. Being a "covering and protection" seems to deal more with keeping you warm through winter, not covering up those naughty bits.
11. Holy crap, we have such an obsession with men's righteousness being determined by women in this culture. If a woman has a less-active husband, we tend to view her as this incredible woman who, despite the challenges, is still coming to Church and being active and being such a great example for her children. But if a man has a less-active wife, we look down on him. We think he's not doing something right, or not "'control[ing]' his wife as 'patriarch of the family'" as one Utah stake president literally told a man this month. (Guess what his wife was doing? Breastfeeding at church. Because of course the way a mother feeds her children should be commented on and controlled by men.) Because women are not humans, who have rights over what they wear and what they do. Men can wear what they want, it's okay for a man to decide he's less-active (if his wife is active, that is. If she's less-active, she was the one who dragged him down), but when a woman decides for herself what she will wear and what she will do (including how she will feed her children), everyone goes mad. Because obviously if a woman is wearing a bikini it will "limit her husband's spiritual growth," because he can't control himself and his relationship with God. Also, this.
3. You didn't mention this point but it needs to be addressed: DAVID SPIED ON BATHSHEBA (notice in the scripture it said HE was on the roof, not her. She was in her home taking a bath and David was creeping on her from his roof) AND RAPED HER. There is evidence too that she was engaging in a required bathing after finishing menstruation, as was the mandatory customs of her time. "There may be consequences that are unintended"?!? We are literally telling women that it is their fault if a man sees them (even if they're bathing in their own home!!) and rapes them. This is despicable. This is despicable. Instead of focusing on how Bathsheba was raped and then forced to marry her husband's murderer, we talk about how "immodest" she was, and how she brought down David. This is our culture of modesty. How despicable. How despicable.
Onto your points:
1. Guess how the standards of the Church change. Not by prayer and revelation. By cultural standards and by what people wear. As the infamous Robert Kirby said, "The chaste hemlines you see in church today didn’t get there on their own. Heavenly Father didn’t decide to make a fashion change out of the blue. No, hems came up as cooperation went down." As other writers have pointed out, FTSOY has constantly been changing. That's why people need to rely on their relationship with God to make some decisions.
2. Modest according to which standards and cultures? I'm going to India this December for a wedding (minnow's Indian) and minnow's family is planning on buying me a nice sari for the occasion. Well, many saris have the stomachs open. While a sash covers most of that, there still might be some midriff showing. My parents are violently opposed to me wearing saris that are "immodest." I conveyed this information to minnow, who was extremely offended because it sounded like my parents were saying Indian culture is immodest and not as good as western culture. But FTSOY and prophets have only ever addressed western cultures of modesty. Are African and Indian and Asian and Polynesian cultures to believe that God thinks western culture is superior and follow our standards? Again, this is why what's crucial is people having a relationship with God and making those decisions with Him.
3. Again, cultures.
4. I really, really like how the other writers address this point. I just want to add that in some countries it is considered okay for women to be topless. So again, cultures.
By this point, you're probably pretty upset that all the writers have been tearing your answer apart. We might seem like apostates. But this has all to do with the context and way in which you've asked your question. I don't wear bikinis. It's not because I'm ashamed of my body, it's because of my relationship with God and what I feel is modest and appropriate for me. If someone asked, "Why shouldn't I wear a bikini?" I could write quite a bit on why they shouldn't (though I would end it with reminding them that it's ultimately up to them). But when someone, especially a man, asks "Why do women wear bikinis? It's so wrong that they wear them, they shouldn't be even thinking of that," it feels like you're trying to control women. That you don't think women should have free agency, that you don't think they can have their own relationship with God, that they need to be following what you tell them to wear. And that's pretty offensive. Hence the various strong answers.
In some senses, I feel we have turned the gospel of Christ into a police state. We're back to the law of Moses, where we're frantically measuring hemlines and judging every inch of skin that's exposed. What happened to Christ's gospel? What happened to Christ's declaration that the most crucial commandments were to love God and to love our fellow men and women? What happened to Christ telling people to take responsibility for themselves, and to "pluck out your eyes" if you had immoral thoughts when looking at women?
Maybe it's just the sudden influx of questions about modesty that have me feeling this way, but I for one can't wait until we follow Christ's example and do away with the Mosaic law, for once and for all.
-guppy of doom
I was in the midst of writing a fairly extensive point-by-point and determined I want to just lead with this chart (sorry it's super tiny... I've described it below.):
This chart, in my opinion, helps to explain why the debate about bikinis tends to get heated from many directions, and also clarifies why it's so important that we use clear language and proper concepts when we explain our beliefs. The large blue circle is the concept of modesty. Within that concept are sub-points of modesty including clothing generally, women's clothing, and finally bikinis. The modesty circle is connected on one side to the red circle, representing the historical and current oppression of women. The modesty circle is connected on the other side to the purple circle, representing the Gospel. (Note: let's clarify that purple is specifically the Gospel and not the humans making up our Church or any other Church - if there's any overlap with the red circle there, that's beyond the scope of this answer.)
The problem with discussing modesty is that the red circle exists, and has long laid claim to the contents of the blue as a means of promoting itself. Even though you can rightly argued that the essence of modesty is gratitude and humility to God for one of His great gifts to us (bodies), the red circle has spent so long being so aggressive about co-opting the blue that the connection can often seem implied even when it's not intended. Because of that, I think it's very important to recognize that when you're talking about modesty as it relates to the purple circle (the Gospel), your audience may find you less convincing or actively wrong/harmful if you fail to be sufficiently clear that you're talking about Modesty--Gospel and do so in a way that distinguishes that principle from the perversion that is Modesty--Oppression.
How can we effectively do that? I'll offer a few tips and then go into a relatively brief review of Grunon's points. My responses to your points I've instead generally integrated below.
Thought 1: Avoiding mixing up someone's modesty with someone else's accountability. While there are certainly times and ways that our choice of dress can affect others, it's crucial to having a good conversation about modesty that we don't use modesty as a way to either a) blame someone for someone else's actions or b) excuse someone's actions. I wrote fairly extensively on this in the answer you linked to above.
Thought 2: Avoiding mixing up our personal rules and principles with what has been actually articulated by the prophets.
In my opinion, this is something that's important to teaching about and discussing the Gospel generally. Most of us have probably been in a Sunday School class or other Church meeting where someone starts commenting about "the Gospel according to Me." It's uncomfortable, and particularly awkward if it seems clear to you that the person's ideas are nondoctrinal or even borderline heretical. Now, that doesn't mean that the only thing we can ever do in Church is directly quote statements from recent conference talks or canonized scripture. However, I do have two thoughts on this:
First, it's important to be clear about what is doctrine and what is not, and to adjust our language according to our level of confidence that any proposition we're offering is doctrinal. I think in Church classes it's generally a good idea to stick with things that are likely important and likely doctrinal as given by the basic test (unsure who to credit for this, sorry) that they are taught frequently, currently, and by a variety of (high-level) Church leaders.
Second, even once we feel we know what's doctrinal and what the clear rules and principles we've been given are, it's important to be clear and appropriate with regard to reasoning from them the difference between restating something and reasoning from or extending it.
Sometimes we take both a principle and the rule that comes from it directly from the prophets. A non-Gospel example of this: Mom says "When it's cold outside, it's important to stay warm, so my kids always need to wear their jacket outside if it's less than 40 degrees." There's a principle here (stay warm when it's cold) and there's a specific rule (wear your coat when its <40.) If you're explaining this to your younger sister, who doesn't want to put on her coat, here are things that I think are appropriate to say:
- Mom says that it's important to stay warm in the cold, so she told me to wear my jacket when it's <40 (direct restatement of principle and rule)
- Mom told me to wear my jacket (direct restatement of rule)
- Mom told me to stay warm when it's cold (direct restatement of principle)
Where we start to run into problems is where people start to take the principle (or rule) and extend it to create other rules. Some of these rules might be totally good, and might well be things Mom wants us to do anyways, but it would not be appropriate to say that Mom told us these things. For example, here are some things I would consider inappropriate to say:
- Mom says that it's important to stay warm in the cold, so you have to wear your scarf (direct restatement of principle, and a rule that might make sense but isn't what Mom said. It's a smart thing for you to do, and might be a smart thing for your sister to do, but if you're implying to your little sister that the rule is "wear your scarf" when that's not the rule Mom gave, that's probably inappropriate).
- Mom told me to wear my jacket, she thinks I'll get my shirt dirty playing in the leaves if I don't. (direct restatement of rule, but using a different principle than the one Mom articulated. This might be true and might be either a) one of Mom's unspoken reasons for the jacket rule or b) an independently good reason to wear the jacket, but it's not appropriate to attribute the motivation to Mom when you're the one who came up with it.)
Again, I'm not suggesting that we should only do exactly what we're told. We're absolutely responsible to use our reasoning abilities as well as revelation we receive from the Spirit to extend principles to appropriate application in our own lives, and to help those for whom we are responsible to do the same. We can help others to learn by explaining our logic process as it extends from the principles or rules Heavenly Father has already given us. For example, I would consider these examples to be an improvement on the ones above.
- Mom said we should try to stay warm, so I always try to make sure I wear two layers of socks because my feet get cold easily (direct statement of principle and a personal rule derived from it which is applied to myself)
- Mom told me to wear my jacket so I stay warm in the cold, but I've also found that it's a great way to avoid getting wet in the rain, so I wear it even during summer rainstorms. (direct restatement of rule and explanation of how the rule has other benefits to me.)
Both of these examples allow someone to explain how they've taken Mom's principles and rules and used them to improve their life even beyond the specific directions Mom gave. However, neither of them misattribute rules or principles (even apparently good ones) as parental commands and both are specific in stating that these are things that I do, rather than things that someone else should.
Thought 3: The importance of personalizing our discussions or teachings
I think that one of the things that some of the General Authorities are good at is explaining how doctrines they teach about bless them and how they seek to apply them. They will tell us how accepting prophetic counsel improved their personal scripture study, they will tell us stories from their personal lives about experiences they've had following promptings, etc. This is a much more effective way to teach, in my opinion, than focusing on the things others may be doing wrong. (Though there are times when that's also appropriate).
Brief Specific Commentary on Grunon's Points:
1. The fact that someone has two sets of bathing suits, one for when she feels she might need to set an example and one for when she doesn’t have to suggests that there is a rationalization in play here.
It's important to recognize when we start to rationalize to ourselves, and we should use our best judgment to identify poor reasoning in others as we attempt to determine whether their examples are worthy of emulation. Where this can fall apart is if we jump to conclusions about people's motives and then judge them for the motives we've assigned. In this example, it's a leap from "she has two swimsuits" to "she has two swimsuits because sometimes she thinks she doesn't have to be a good example." There may be other reasons to have multiple suits. I would consider a stomach-covering tankini and pair of swim shorts to be relatively non-controversial, and I wear these sometimes. However, if I was swimming laps, I'd probably be quicker without my loose swim shorts and instead wearing a one piece that won't flap like the bottom of my tankini. If I maintain different swimsuits that work in different practical circumstances, there shouldn't be any problem with that and it's clear that my reasoning isn't trying to "get away with" something.
This argument is likely to frustrate many people because it creates and then destroys a straw man: a person who is taking a course of action because of motives that you and your opponent probably agree would be bad. Instead, it might be more effective to phrase this part of a discussion with your kids or someone else as a straight assertion of belief grounded on YOU or those you have stewardship over: "I think there are different things that are effective in different places, and I'm trying hard to be critical when I make those [personal decisions/rules for our family] because I know it can be easy to try to hunt for differences that would allow me to justify something I/we want to do but that I've been prompted I/my family shouldn't.
2. ...Has anyone noticed that if a particular generation is a little lax in some things, the next generation seems to be even a little more lax? ...It is happening today in many areas, and this may be one of them.
We know from prophecy that standards/quality of behavior will generally decline as we approach the Millenium. For that reason, this statement, while true, isn't really helpful because it doesn't specifically address modesty or, even more specifically, bikinis. A more helpful argument might be "I've been concerned with the way the media is increasingly teaching our kids that the main uses of their bodies are to please themselves and attract attention from others, rather than to serve Heavenly Father and become like Him. I think this message has been so pervasive that it's gaining more acceptance." This kind of specificity can also help clarify that although you're necessarily including culture and geography as relevant (see Sheebs' answer above about how modesty standards have differed over time/place), you're more interested in discussing what's eternal about modesty. **
3. Adam and Eve were given coats of skins in the Garden of Eden. There was no one else in the Garden besides them, yet they were given coats of skins. There is such a thing as modesty, even in marriage.
The idea that modesty exists in marriage too is a good point, because it's clear that our bodies don't suddenly stop being gifts from Heavenly Father that we have a responsibility to respect and be grateful for once we're married. However, this argument would be better if it was clarified how it connected to the persons opinions on the matter at hand. For example: "I know I still have a responsibility to be modest even though my spouse and I have an intimate relationship; I feel the most comfortable when I [whatever you do]."
4. Thank goodness we have church leaders who don’t delineate every little thing that we should or should not do. However, how we react to their counsel is a definite reflection of our attitudes as much as our personal worthiness.
It is both true and awesome that we're not commanded in all things. However, this argument seems to be made in a way that implies the opposite of what it says: although we're free to make our own choices, the speaker seems to judge anyone who makes this particular choice differently than he does. Essentially, either bikinis are prohibited (either expressly or by implication strong enough that we're morally culpable for failing to use our own reasoning and the Spirit to recognize it) or they're not (in which case we're responsible for using our agency and the guidance of the Spirit here as we are in other areas of life). If they're prohibited, this argument isn't relevant here because are commanded in this thing. If they're not, it's not our job to receive revelation for others about what they should do (or to condemn them if we think they aren't looking for revelation themselves or are doing it wrong/ignoring it). (With regards to which of the above is true: I abstain from comment; other writers above have addressed somewhat of what has/hasn't been said/taught on the subject)
5. You could be limiting you and your husband’s spiritual growth. Do you feel that you would ever see the spouse of a mission president in a bikini? A stake president’s wife? By the same token, I don’t think you would not see a priesthood leader in a Speedo, either.
While it's true that spouses' decisions can affect each other, there are a few problems with this argument. First: it can come across as quite patronizing/insulting if you tell someone you should do something better because you're holding your spouse back. Second: although spouses do influence each others' lives, each spouse still makes their own decisions to keep or not keep the covenants they've made with God that will determine whether He grants them all the spiritual blessings they can receive. Maybe someone wouldn't be called to a calling that includes or implies spousal participation if their spouse weren't living appropriately, but that doesn't mean God will punish the righteous spouse by preventing them from growing spiritually. Finally, this argument either assumes the sinfulness of bikinis or assumes they are "the appearance of evil" even if not actually bad: that's an assertion that should be discussed and explained if it's one the giver believes.
Overall: Overall, I think that one of the reasons you and other writers get so much pushback on the Board is that questions we get are often phrased in ways that at least implicitly blame women for the actions of men or as Anathema said, treat "women's bodies as inherently more sinful than men's." That's not because most of our readers are chauvinist jerks who hate their wives and daughters. However, as Sheebs and the others have explained, women have historically experienced forced modesty (which is a mockery of true modesty as it governs only the outward appearance and not the attitude) with men as the ones determining what was modesty.
I think that in reacting to the historic oppression of women, our society can sometimes err by discounting the reasoning and wisdom some men may have in considering issues that apply to women. While men should not presume to control women's decisions, nor in my opinion should they be excluded from discussions about principles of the Gospel or issues in society at large that affect either both men and women or even primarily or exclusively women - however, to engage in this conversation in a productive way, it's important to use arguments that stick to the principles of the Gospel, such as love for God and ourselves, and to make clear that we're trying to separate those from.
I think that we can do this more effectively if we:
1. Teach about the importance of seeking and following the Spirit and revelation when we're unsure about what a rule or principle means.
2. Be clear about when we're discussing doctrine, when we're discussing clear rules/commandments, and when we're discussing our reasoning or examples that we think explain or extend the above.
3. Focusing on ourselves and how modesty blesses us so that others will want to be blessed too; evaluating others' decisions to learn from them; and refraining from judgment about others' behaviors or what we think of their revelation/inspiration.
Thanks for wanting to teach your family about modesty and for caring about a principle that's important. I hope that my thoughts are helpful!
**Note on this: If modesty includes not seeking to attract undue attention AND glorifying God, then what is specifically appropriate or not is clearly dependent on context. I could wear something currently considered modest (like my knee-length denim shorts) in the 1750s and attract a TON of attention if I wanted to (and if I were a time traveler)). This is a big reason that motive matters so much to discussing modesty. Am I wearing the shorts because in my situation (hanging out writing board answers in the 21st century) they're fine, or am I wearing them because I'm trying to show off how much better my body is than everyone else's?