Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Modesty in LDS Culture

In our efforts to learn more about the community we live in and the LDS, Paul and I picked up a Mormon newspaper called The Beehive. It had a variety of articles that were supportive to Mormon beliefs that were no big surprise -- the beauty of adoption, stories of missionary work, calls of action to support sick or dying community members. But the one thing that caught my eye were two ads for women's clothing stores that used the word "modest" to advertise their wares.

When in Rome it's wise to do as the Romans do so I was fully prepared to keep my legs shaved and wear a bra in public. No problem, really. Neither one of us is particularly outrageous in our mode of dress. What I didn't expect is that the Mormons expect people to keep their shoulders covered and wear skirts or shorts that rise no higher than the knee.

From the Brigham Young University Dress Code:

Men

A clean and well-cared-for appearance should be maintained. Clothing is inappropriate when it is sleeveless, revealing, or form fitting. Shorts must be knee length or longer. Hairstyles should be clean and neat, avoiding extreme styles or colors, and trimmed above the collar leaving the ear uncovered. Sideburns should not extend below the earlobe or onto the cheek. If worn, moustaches should be neatly trimmed and may not extend beyond or below the corners of the mouth. Men are expected to be clean shaven; beards are not acceptable. Earrings and other body piercing are not acceptable. Shoes should be worn in all public campus areas.

Women

A clean and well-cared-for appearance should be maintained. Clothing is inappropriate when it is sleeveless, strapless, backless, or revealing; has slits above the knee; or is form fitting. Dresses, skirts, and shorts must be knee length or longer. Hairstyles should be clean and neat, avoiding extremes in styles and colors. Excessive ear piercing (more than two per ear) and all other body piercing are not acceptable. Shoes should be worn in all public campus areas.

One could think that this dress code applies only to the university but I found a similar set of requirements being made of those who would attend the Snowflake Pioneer Days Dance, an event presumably meant for the entire community:

**Appropriate Dress for All Dances:

No tank tops/sleeveless shirts
No short skirts or shorts
No low cut clothing in the front or back
No crop tops with stomach showing

This event, by the way, is scheduled for July. It's hot in the desert in July. It feels hotter when people are dancing.

Clothing which is considered attractive to the opposite sex is forbidden in Mormon culture. Don't ask me how Marie Osmond got away with it when she was performing. According to what I've been reading online any clothing intended to draw attention in a physical way is considered unchaste and unacceptable.

My reaction to reading about this dress code at Pioneer Days was to feel sad and disappointed. Are we really meant to be this out of step with the community we're living in? Yet...

I used to feel embarrassed sometimes in Santa Cruz. Feminists parade down the street bare-chested and on Halloween young women have been known to appear completely naked except for wildly applied body paint. Having come from comparatively staid New England I frequently felt out of place in Santa Cruz -- although I grew to appreciate the freedom that community helped me cultivate.

I also understand a bit about wanting to withdraw from the aspect of our greater culture that objectifies women and makes them targets for unwanted attention. Latino drivers in California blare their car horns at any woman with sizeable breasts. I actually came to like the freedom and relative tranquility of wearing baggy clothes for awhile.

And yet...

If a guy is going to be inappropriate in his thoughts and demeanor because I'm walking barefoot and have my shoulders showing...

I don't know what to think about this. I mean, who were the pioneers in this town that this event is celebrating? They were Mormons. But for a newcomer who is not LDS, it feels oppressive, rather extreme.

1 comment:

Andrea said...

As an LDS chica myself, I have to admit I probably felt the same way you did when I was younger and didn't understand the true meaning behind modesty. Especially with the Utah Summers that happen. HOT! I am now 29 and I learned for myself (sometimes the hard way when I was a teenager) that the way you dress sends a message about what you believe. Dressing modestly is merely an outward expression of our inward devotion. Dressing to attract attention or to get a reaction out of someone isn't a modest act. I am fashionable. I like to look good. But I also represent my religion and I honor that. Dressing modestly helps me to remember that I am a daughter of God. Never have I judged someone from dressing immodestly. I am lucky to be friends with all types of people. Different religions, races, backgrounds, etc. I am lucky with my religion to know who I am and to be able to love others as Christ did and does. I would love to answer any questions you had about the LDS people.