I write a lot about modesty, mostly because it is a topic I’m experienced with and have a lot to say about. There are a lot of myths about modesty floating about society and social media, so here I’d like to address the more prominent ones that I’ve noticed:
Dress Codes are Sexist
This one arises primarily because dress codes are much more detailed for women than they are for men.
A large part of this is because there are so many more options for women than there are for men. When looking at dress wear and formal wear, women have choices about the color, fabric, sleeves, neckline, waistline, cut, hemline, and more. Men can choose color and, to some extent, cut, but mostly men’s dress and formal wear look more or less the same. Women’s dresses, on the other hand, have enormous variety. Many of these varieties involve showing off a woman’s boobs, back, or butt. When suits come with thigh-high slits or tops that threaten to fall off, then I’m sure men’s dress codes will become more detailed as to what is appropriate.
The other reason women’s dress codes are so detailed is that so many young women appear to not know how to dress themselves. Take a look on social media and you’ll find numerous stories of a young woman sent home from school or a dance because of immodest clothing. She or her mom or sister posts a melodramatic rant about what a sexist organization such-and-such school or church is. Social media, without question and without fail, fawns all over the victimized teen and joins in in vilifying the evil sexist patriarchy. The school’s only recourse (besides allowing anyone to wear anything) to events like this is to have a painfully detailed dress code so no one can claim they didn’t know what they were wearing wasn’t allowed.
In short, dress codes are not sexist. They are very detailed about women’s dress because modern fashion has a lot of variety and encourages immodesty, and there is always someone who will try to exploit any and all loopholes in the dress code.
Modesty is Optional
“Bare shoulders won’t keep you out of Heaven.” “Cleavage won’t keep you out of Heaven.” These are types of comments I’ve heard and seen. They are sometimes paired with a good message, that God looks at who we are and not how we look. These comments, however, overlook the fact that modesty is a commandment. For Latter Day Saints, in particular, it shows a lack of understanding of modesty, because immodest dress will keep you out of the temple.
Different Christian denominations have different views on what exactly constitutes modesty, of course, and I take no issue with that. What strikes me as a dangerous sentiment is that God’s commandments are subject to our opinions. We are not commanded to obey only those commandments that we want to obey or are convenient for us to obey. We are commanded to obey all of God’s commandments.
Deuteronomy 30:8 says: “And thou shalt return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day.”
Modesty may seem like an unimportant thing compared to other commandments, but willfully breaking any commandment makes us unclean, and “No unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven” (Alma 11:37)
Young Women Should Dress Modestly To Keep Young Men from Thinking Impure Thoughts
I don’t know where this one came from, but it needs to die. I don’t have any personal experience with a teacher or leader teaching this, but others have, so I guess it’s a thing.
The reasoning goes, that young men looking at young women dressed immodestly will encourage the young men to think impure thoughts. I think Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer said it well: “I’m seventeen. Looking at linoleum makes me think about sex.” There’s not much young women can do in the face of that.
Additionally, we all have agency. It is our own responsibility to choose the right, regardless of what people around us are saying and doing.
Potiphar’s wife bluntly told Joseph to sleep with her. He refused her; nevertheless, she persisted for several days. One day, she managed to get him alone and even grabbed his robe (or some such article of clothing). He literally left the robe in her hands in his hurry to get away from her. (Genesis 39) Joseph had ample opportunity to commit sexual sin, but that did not excuse him. He was responsible for his own actions even when Potiphar’s wife was actually throwing herself at him. Young men today are similarly responsible for controlling themselves regardless of what the young women around them are wearing.
“Choose you this day whom ye will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
Modest is Hottest
At first, I thought this was a fun and harmless motto. It’s catchy, and reinforces the idea that you don’t have to wear a burlap sack in order to be modest. We can dress stylishly and still be modest.
But as I thought about this more, I saw how it draws us towards the world’s standards and away from God. What does it mean to be “hot,” after all? It means to be sexually desirable. If you are trying to look sexually desirable to the world, then you have missed the whole point of modesty, regardless of how much skin is covered.
We are supposed to be in the world but not of it. As long as we buy into the idea that a woman should make herself appear sexually attractive whenever she goes out into the world, we are of the world. When we are modest we can focus on more important things than our appearance: we can focus on eternal things.
Modesty is Just About Skin
Modesty doesn’t just include the number of square inches our clothing covers.
Modesty includes the cost of our clothing. Do we spend more money than we can afford, or money better put to other things? Do we buy certain items so we can feel better than others? Do we do we value our clothes and appearance more than we value others? This attitude certainly draws us away from God.
Modesty includes our language and behavior. Are we rude or disrespectful? Are we arrogant or showing off? If we are modest, we show kindness to others. We are thankful and gracious when others help and serve us. We are patient. We are willing to listen and to learn from others. We are willing to admit when we are wrong. Modesty means humility, particularly before God.
There are a lot of conflicting messages in the world about modesty. It can be hard to sort through them all to find the truth. That makes it all the more important to rely on God instead of our own wisdom, and God has commanded us to be modest.