Modesty matters. When Noelle Pikus-Pace, the Olympic skeleton racer, was invited to a photo shoot, she was presented with an immodest red dress to promote healthy hearts. In spite of the hectic pressure she was under, she remembered the commitment she had made, as a Young Woman, of always choosing to be modest. She decided to refuse to wear the dress. Another dress was found for her, and she was respected for her personal code of modesty.
We have the ability to choose, in our daily decision-making, whether or not to follow the principle of modesty outlined to us by our leaders. They have spelled out everything clearly, and if we still wonder, we are encouraged to rely on this question as our guide, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?”
Your body is sacred. Respect it and do not defile it in any way. Through your dress and appearance, you can show that you know how precious your body is. You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and that you love Him.
When we dress modestly, we invite the Spirit to stay with us; we tend to act better, also inviting others to act better around us; and the message we portray is someone who desires first to please the Lord.
Here are five guidelines that can help everyone, male and female, young and old, single and married, hold on to the Lord’s standard of modesty:
1. Modesty exhibits confidence in one’s self.
Worldly views insist that women should be able to wear whatever they want and men should get better control of themselves, but according to the principle stated above, the responsibility rests solely on the individual, whether man or woman. Both must decide their own level of confidence and virtue.
We know that modesty in clothing is mostly an issue with women, and thus this warning to the Young Women of the Church:
For you to fully claim Heavenly Father’s blessings and protection, we ask you to stay true to the standards of the gospel of Jesus Christ and not slavishly follow the whims of fads and fashions. The Church will never deny your moral agency regarding what you should wear and exactly how you should look. But the Church will always declare standards and will always teach principles (Jeffrey R. Holland, “To Young Women,” Oct. 2005 General Conference).
When children of God know who they are, they receive power from on high and portray a powerful message of confidence. The desire to flaunt their bodies is rejected, and they recognize their true value. This can be evident in both men and women where modesty reflects virtue and actions. Elder John H. Groberg once said, “Dressing modestly is a mark of spiritual maturity. You should already be developing this kind of maturity as you prepare to go to the temple” (John H. Groberg, “Right for the Climate,” New Era, Mar. 1992).
2. There can be unintended consequences when we don’t fully embrace principles of modesty.
While men tend to more largely struggle with pornography, women often struggle with modesty (with increasing numbers also becoming involved with pornography). Where the two are not necessarily comparable to one another, both men and women can help one another fight their private battles. A modest outlook includes an attitude and desire to comply completely with God’s laws while helping one another live His principles fully. We want to present our best selves at all times, in all things, and in all places. In all circumstances, we want to identify ourselves—by our first impressions—as followers of Jesus Christ.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks said,
Young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you (Dallin H. Oaks, “Pornography,” Apr. 2005 General Conference).
3. Modesty is empowering against cultural influences.
A young man can liken himself to Joseph of Egypt: receiving strength that “got him out.” Like, Noelle, we might find ourselves in a difficult situation, but by committing ourselves early in life, we will feel empowered the moment we need God’s power the most. A faithful man or woman can have power over cultural influences no matter how difficult it is, or will get, in this world. Anna Nelson, Miss Wyoming 2009, once said,
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that modesty isn’t as “big” of a commandment as others. It most definitely is. Remember that modesty is a reflection of who you are meant to be and a physical representation of what you stand for (quoting Anna Nelson, Miss Wyoming 2009, Julia Woodbury, “Modest by Design,” New Era, Jun. 2010).
4. Parents have a responsibility to teach modesty to all their children.
Boys and girls, teenagers, young adults, and older all need someone who will carefully teach them the difference between right and wrong. Parents are responsible to teach their children to love God and to desire to please Him in all things. Children can honor their parents by making righteous choices. The scriptures are very specific as to the consequences of parents’ neglect.
I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth. You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you (D&C 93:40, 42).
Fathers and mothers who allow or turn a blind eye to their daughters’ choice in clothing cause much of the lack of understanding of the principle of modesty. Daughters grow up seeking after the pleasures and acceptance of the world, not the glory of God and the safety in hearkening to His commandments and counsel of inspired Church leaders.
They need to understand that when they wear clothing that is too tight, too short, or too low cut, they not only can send the wrong message to young men with whom they associate, but they also perpetuate in their own minds the fallacy that a woman’s value is dependent solely upon her sensual appeal. This never has been nor will it ever be within the righteous definition of a faithful daughter of God. They need to hear this—clearly and repeatedly—from your lips, and they need to see it modeled correctly and consistently in your own personal standards of dress, grooming, and modest living. (M. Russell Ballard, “Mothers and Daughters,” Apr. 2010 General Conference).
5. Modesty should be encouraged through personal responsibility and example, but not through condemnation.
Jacob, the brother of Nephi, as prophet and leader, was forced to confront the Nephites, condemning their sins (see Jacob 3). Isaiah prophesied of the daughters of Zion walking with wanton eyes (see Isaiah 3). Our prophets and leaders hold the keys and power over the members of the Church to call them to repentance. As president of Brigham Young University, Elder Cecil O. Samuelson told the students:
As I have attempted to fulfill my charge in part by shifting it to you, I also remind you of your responsibilities to and for each other. You young women will have a greater influence over the appearance and deportment of young men than will others if you will kindly but directly share your concerns and commendations. Likewise, young men, you will be of the greatest assistance to our young women when you carefully and charitably share your encouragement for modeling modesty in every way (Elder Cecil O. Samuelson, “Outward Expressions of the Inner Self,” BYU Speeches, Jan. 13, 2004).
We are all imperfect and in need of repentance over our own weaknesses. Yet, we each can carry the responsibility to help one another overcome the problems we face. Kindness, tact, and setting a good example toward others’ choices will go much further than harsh words of judgment.
Please remember that the principles of modesty shared here apply to both men and women, sons and daughters, and remember that even as we teach and exemplify modesty, we never condemn those who choose short skirts or “rainbow hair and the many splendored rings.” Always we exemplify compassion and Christlike love for the individual while we remain loyal to the standards the Lord has set (Carol F. McConkie, “Courage to Choose Modesty,” Ensign, Oct. 2004).
Immodesty is everyone’s challenge and concern because of how it affects all of us. By teaching truth about modesty, we can empower our loved ones, and ourselves, with knowledge that we are covenant guardians of our mortal sacred temples.