Modesty is a subject of much debate with as many diverse opinions as there are cultures around the world. Much of modesty, at least in the western world is highly focused on clothing and what we are or are not wearing. I have written previously on this subject in a post titled modest is hottest. While my ideas of modesty have certainly evolved since that post it still has truth within its writings. That post talked mostly about how we dress sends a message of what our intentions are and standards are. In fact as I have tried to explain in many of my other posts our manner of dress can be more of an influence in how others may think of us than simple nudity as it draws attention to different parts of our bodies. The act of being nude does not go against standards of modesty because one would have to be dressed in order to be indecent in dress. This is why modesty in dress is so important. There is truth, however, in that there is much more to modesty than simply how we dress, though that is certainly part of it.
“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).” (LDS.ORG)
I do not believe that anyone would be able to define modesty any clearer than that. Each of these parts of modesty need to be explored in detail to really understand what true modesty is. Once we have that understanding we will be better prepared to teach and educated our children and help them to keep the standards of modesty.
DECENCY IN DRESS
How we dress can draw the right or wrong kind of attention to ourselves. How dressed or undressed we are can be immodest or modest depending on the situation. Generally immodest clothing is defined as “Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner.” (for the strength of youth pamphlet). To not be dressed in such a manner is expected for both men and women, boys and girls. To dress in this manner can draw attention to ourselves in a negative way. It does not glorify God or show respect for the gifts he has given us in our bodies. Just as it is immodest to be nude in most circumstances, it is also wrong to dress immodesty. To do so would be treating our bodies as objects to be sold at market to the highest bidder.
That being said decency in dress is applicable in situations where being dressed is expected of you. Clearly that is not the case in every circumstance. when going swimming for example the same standard of dress is not applicable as it is expected you would be wearing a swimming suit (or nothing at all depending on the kind of swim you are going to) that would otherwise be immodest when going to the temple or church meeting for example. It is interesting to note that for many decades it was common practice for people to swim nude. This happened in public schools, swim meets, and public pools, even in Utah. Was this practice immodest? I do not believe so. It could not be, as being surround by people dressed or not dressed to the same standard does not “draw undue attention to ourselves.” and thus cannot fall into the definition of modesty as declared by the church. Swimming in the nude at the time had a practical reason and I can hardly see a largely LDS culture in Utah sacrificing modesty for practicality. Not then and certainly not now.
While I do recognize the genders were separated for swimming and other educational activities and they are not so much separated now, I do not believe that by default can explain the lack of clothing during these activities. It was common practice to separate men and woman during physical activities in public facilities regardless of their level of clothing and to some extent it still is now. There are woman’s only gyms for example as well as men’s only sports leagues and woman’s only sports leagues. This separations cannot be explained away based on ideal of modesty which if it was all about how covered we were, nude swimming would not have been common practice in the first place. Dress standards of modesty have never been indicated that they only apply when around members of the opposite gender.
This is illustrated in the Bible when Christ was entering Jerusalem on the donkey on palm Sunday. Recorded in Mathew 21:8 it states
“8 And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.”
As Christ was making his way through the crowd, the crowd removed their clothing and spread it in the way. The crowd then followed Christ through the city, naked saying
“Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” (vs 9)
Christ did not rebuke the crowd for laying their clothing on in his path or for being naked. This however was done to honor him and the holy one of God. An honor which he fully accepted and expected of the people at the time.
Modesty of dress within our homes for example would depend on the kind of home we live in. Some families are very conservative and remain dressed at all times. Some families have no problem with nudity among themselves and it is normal and natural. It does not matter whether someone is dressed, partially dressed, or naked. The standard and expectation would be set by each family as they are comfortable. Where ever you are on this scale it does not matter because modesty is about NOT drawing undue (meaning negative or unwanted) attention to yourself. Whatever your norm is in your home, you draw attention to yourself when you go against that norm.
This is why we can have different acceptable levels of dress or expectations about how much or little we wear depending on the circumstances we find our selves in. This is why when we attend church functions or other public or social gatherings or locations we are expected to wear modest clothing that meets the standards set forth in the church pamphlet for the strength of youth. When not in public view but in privacy of our own homes we need not concern ourselves with undue attention due to the private nature of our own homes.
It is not that we drop all standards because it suits the situation. The standard itself is not directly measured by how much or little one is wearing but rather whether or not what one is or is not wearing is appropriate for the situation and circumstance in which they are in. Also this standard of modesty is directly related to the wearing of clothes, not the non-wearing of clothes. Otherwise every LDS church member who has ever been swimming, gone to a doctor, was born etc… would be in violation of LDS church standards of modesty. The Strength for youth standards of dress should be adhere to in all circumstances where it is reasonable and expected. Essentially if you are not in the privacy of your own home, or actively participating in activities wear being dressed is not expected of you, then dress according to the standard of modesty set forth by the church.
Ultimately the question is does my manner of dress or undress draw positive or negative attention to myself? If it is negative, then you need to change how you are dressed or not dressed, if it is positive then you are good to go.
When dealing with the Issue of Modesty of dress, let us remember the words of 1st Peter 3:3-4
3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
DECENCY IN GROOMING
This is an important one. This is about taking care of ourselves. God gave us our bodies and he expects us to care of them and keep them neat and clean. Our bodies are the temple of God and just as we would not deface the temple we too should not deface our bodies.
Our bodies are an amazing creations with systems that require a delicate balance to function properly. Decency in grooming is not just about appearance. Defacing with tattoos and piercings is not modest as it shows a lack of respect for the gift that is our bodies. Also with that comes proper hygiene. We need to ensure we are showering regularly, be clean-shaven, brush our hair and teeth, keep our bodies clean and well-groomed.
Missionary standard appearance is there as part of this standard of modesty. This appearance is largely based around proper grooming. Keeping ourselves clean and unspotted from the world is about a lot more than just not embracing worldly things but literally about keeping the world off of us. Shower or bathe regularly, brush your teeth, comb or brush your hair, always be sure to dress in clean clothes when getting dressed. Generally just take care of yourself. Stay healthy and presentable.
DECENCY IN LANGUAGE
The Language we use can really set us apart from others in either a positive or negative way. Our language is more than just the worlds we use however. Our language is about all forms of communication. The tone we use when speaking can send a immodest attitude. This attitude is often described as a “holier than thou” attitude. Our tone can convey very different meanings in the words we use. A simple sentence like “I know that you are wrong” can send the message of being snobbish and better than the one you are speaking to or it can convey the message of sympathy helping another to understand who is seeking help.
We have all seen and heard the person who is regularly condescending and hateful in their speech while delivering a message, even when they believe that message is good and wholesome. This is not modest language and it is language that gives offense and causes others to not listen to what you have to say. We must speak, or write with respect for others, even when we disagree on a given issue. Speaking down to them and being filled with hate and anger at our brothers and sisters wins no friends and alienates people.
DECENCY IN BEHAVIOR
Decency in behavior can be modest or immodest. To behave in a immodest fashion is that behavior which is disruptive or seeks to set ourselves up higher than our peers. This behavior can also be inappropriate and make others feel uncomfortable.
For example it would be immodest behavior if you were going to go to a nude swim for example and be leering and staring at others who are there with you. This can make others feel uncomfortable and would likely get you into a lot of trouble. This same kind of behavior can apply at the gym where you are working out with others of the same or opposite gender. And it has nothing to do with the level of dress or undress. It is 100% relating to how you behave in relation to others regardless of their level of dress.
We should always strive to keep our behavior respectful of others if we are to have modest and decent behavior. This is an expectation in any decent civilized society.
When discussing what modesty is or is not, it is important to remember that there is A lot more to it than simply how we are dressed. Modesty is a 5 part concept which is only 20% dress. Sadly however we tend to focus 80% on our dress when it comes to modesty and 20% on the other 4 aspects of modesty. This focus is so ingrained into our minds that we tend to think that modesty is all about how dressed or undressed we are. It is so much more than that. It is time we understood that in its entirety.
And that is the Gospel according to Andrew