Editors note: The following is a editorial approved by the Scroll Editorial Board. The views in this article do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of BYU-Idaho.
It’s time to change the way we talk about modesty.
At eight years old, I was in third grade. I loved horses, fruit snacks and chasing boys at recess. My main source of stress was mastering times tables – I just couldn’t get the 12s.
It was this year that my teacher told the girls in our class that we had to be sure to cover our shoulders. Our shoulders could distract the boys from learning.
At 12 years old, I wore my favorite romper to school. It was blue and white patterned, and it made my insecure 7th–grade self feel a little more confident. I even wore mascara and braided my hair that day. In the words of Beyoncé, I was feeling myself.
But a boy I went to school with, who happened to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reminded me that my shorts were shorter; they didn’t make it to my knees. How could I, a good Mormon girl, wear such a thing? Although he said it with a smile, I was left with feelings of guilt and decreased confidence that stuck with me. I never felt the same wearing that romper.
As a young woman, I had a male church leader who one day held a meeting to encourage the relief society and young women to wear longer skirts. He showed photos of missionary appropriate skirts and dresses while explaining that for men and boys, seeing knees or above could encourage them to want more. He even suggested that this could lead them to turn to pornography.
Modesty isn’t the problem here. The concept of modesty is valuable and even empowering.
We at the Scroll believe that modesty, and other principles, should be taught by encouraging internal motivation, rather than a responsibility for the thoughts and actions for others. We should be motivated by our faith rather than shame, fear or objectification. This method of approaching modesty is empowering rather than shaming.
However, teaching girls that they are responsible for the thoughts and actions of others is damaging. This spin on the modesty discussion causes young girls to feel sexualized and less confident. We are all taught that — as sons and daughters of God — our power and importance do not come from outside but from within. Teaching girls that their role is to cover their knees so that the young men can focus on their priesthood duty undermines that. Modesty is an outward reflection of an inward commitment.
This harmful way of teaching instills in girls a sense of responsibility for the actions of men — an especially harmful mindset in cases of sexual assault.
Rexburg is not immune to cases of sexual assault, contrary to what some might assume. A man was recently accused and is awaiting trial for raping a woman in a chapel here in Rexburg, according to EastIdahoNews.com. This mentality of men not being able to control their impulses and being expected to act on them is harmful and pervasive.
Modesty should be taught. It is an important principle. But let us teach it as a way to honor ourselves and God, rather than keeping a responsibility for the actions of others.
As students at a church school, many of us are preparing to teach these principles. As we become teachers in the home, church and other capacities, let us be aware of how we teach.
By teaching modesty from this perspective of inner motivation, we not only empower girls rather than sexualize them, but we honor men as well. Men are capable of focusing and controlling their thoughts and actions. Although we should encourage one another to make good decisions, the choice is ultimately up to the individual.
According to the Church’s website, “Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior.”
Dressing modestly should not be driven by shame, but by an inner desire to honor oneself and God.
Furthermore, dress is only one aspect of living modestly. The principle also encompasses our actions, attitudes, and way of life.
Let us re-evaluate the way we teach modesty and in so doing empower girls and all individuals to see their worth.