A lot of people are suddenly talking about modesty. Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio did a study on children’s clothes and found that about a third of the clothes on the websites of popular stores have clothes for kids and tweens that are way too sexy for little girls to be wearing. They had suggestive words on them or they were designed to show off the children’s bodies in inappropriate ways. Does it matter?
Well, it probably does. As a teenager, you’ve already decided how you feel about yourself and your body, but you are also making new decisions on these subjects and you have more control over what you wear. These attitudes you’re developing started shaping when you were younger and they’re affecting how you live your life and how you look at yourself right now. It also affects how other people see you.
One group of researchers showed adults pictures of girls. The people who looked at these pictures assumed the girls who were dressed immodestly were less intelligent and less competent. Now, that might not seem fair to you and your answer might be that people shouldn’t judge you that way. You’re probably right, but that isn’t really the point. The point is that you don’t get to choose how other people see you. They’re going to see whatever they decide to see and you’re going to pay the price for it.
Whether you like it or not, there are times it will matter to you how other people see you. You don’t want your teachers to see you as less intelligent, for instance. If your grade is on the border between two grades, the teacher will decide whether to give you the higher or lower grade and you want to be seen as intelligent and competent. Their opinion of you might impact how they grade a paper. If you have a job, you want your boss to see you that as a competent person as well. For that matter, you would probably want everyone to know you’re smart and good at things.
Girls who wear immodest clothing are also at a higher risk for eating disorders and poor body image. They train themselves to think their job in life is to be physically appealing to men, and not in an appropriate way. It’s important for girls to understand their personalities, their character, and their intelligence are what are important about them. These are the parts of themselves they need to spend the most time developing. While it’s important to be neat and to take care of the body you were given, it is not really who you are. You don’t want people thinking your body is all there is to you.
When one of my daughters was a preteen, she had an eighteen-year-old teacher at church just for the summer. The teacher would be going off to college in the fall, but in the meantime, she had a big impact on those kids she taught. She was pretty and really smart. She had been a cheerleader and homecoming queen. She told the class she had never found it necessary to dress immodestly to be popular. She wanted people to like her for who she was inside. She wore fashionable clothes and had pretty hairstyles and nice makeup, but her hair, clothes, and makeup were modest and not attention-grabbing. She had a huge amount of self-esteem because she knew people liked her for all the right reasons. She put her energy into being a moral, kind, and friendly person, not a sexy one and people loved her. She was very popular with her own peers, but also with teachers, other adults, and children.
Grace, who is 13, says dressing modestly makes her feel comfortable. She doesn’t have to worry that she is showing parts of her that shouldn’t be showing. Like a lot of teens today, she echoes the popular phrase, “Modest is hottest!”
Lila (17) says she dresses modestly because it’s uncomfortable to be immodest. “It makes me feel like people respect me.”
How would it affect your life if you know people liked you just for who you were? Would the friends you have today and the boys you date still feel the same way about you if you wore modest clothes, or suddenly became poor and couldn’t afford the latest fashions? Would they still care about you if your standards were really high and you didn’t want to do some of the things they did because of it? What if you had an accident and it affected how you look? Would your friends stick around?
Mormon teens are taught to be modest in their clothing. That includes not wearing clothing that has sexy sayings or that is too tight or emphasizes the wrong things. It isn’t only about covering up. One speaker told teens if you’re dressed properly, people will notice your face first (assuming it isn’t because you’re wearing too much makeup or something.)
Being dressed modestly tells the world you feel confident about yourself and that you don’t need to show off your body to get attention. You’re worthy of attention just because of the amazing person you are.
Of course, modesty isn’t just for girls. The article I’m writing about was about girls, so that is where I’m focused today, but the same principle applies to boys. Everyone benefits from being dressed modestly.
Take a look at this quote from Silvia H. Allred. Notice what she says about the example God set for us:
The doctrine behind modesty begins with our knowledge that we are children of God, created in His image (see Moses 2:27). Our bodies are sacred gifts from Heavenly Father and have specific purposes that He has planned. As grateful recipients, we acknowledge this gift by treating our bodies as He has asked us to (see D&C 88:33). We learn to train, control, and bridle our bodies and their physical uses to become like Heavenly Father.
From the beginning, the Lord has asked His children to cover their bodies. After Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened and they became aware that they were naked. Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with simple aprons made of fig leaves. But the aprons were not enough, so the Lord made them more modest coats of skins. (See Genesis 3:7, 21.)
God had a higher standard then, just as He does now. His standards are not those of the world.” (See Silvia H. Allred, “Modesty: A Timeless Principle for All,” Ensign, Jul 2009, 28–32.)
Modesty isn’t about people trying to control you or about being ashamed of your body. It actually shows more pride in your body because when you know your body was created by Heavenly Father in His image, and you are proud of who you are, you don’t want to treat it in a disrespectful way. You don’t have any desire to invite other people to view your body in a disrespectful way, either. You are content to use it for the exact purposes for which God created it. You honor and respect yourself and you work to enhance your personality, your character, your spirit, and your talents because you know you are a child of God.