Modesty: Our Decisions Determine Our Destiny

Will the controversy of modesty ever end? Not likely. However, those of us who have chosen wisely will simply continue holding up the torch beckoning others to join. We have come to know that “our decisions determine our destiny” (Thomas S. Monson, “Believe, Obey, and Endure,” May 2012). “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us, and we love Him. We will stand as witnesses of God at all times, and in all things, and in all places.”

THE DOCTRINE

The bottom line as to why modesty is–and will always be–an important standard to live by can be found in 1 Cor. 3:16: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?” From these words, we understand that our bodies are as sacred as the holy edifices that are being built all over the world standing as beacons of light and truth, preparing the way to welcome our Savior and Redeemer of the world.

He has asked us to be obedient in all things and so those of us who have been converted show our love through the commandments we keep (see John 14:15). Isn’t that why we’re on earth? To prove to Him that we can obey and sacrifice our will for His as He did for our Heavenly Father? Then we need to honor the truth that our bodies are temples and visibly side more with Him than with Babylon.

 

THE PRINCIPLE

We should be grateful that our church sets forth a standard to help us remember that our bodies are temples. The world won’t ever teach us and, in fact, will pull us away from wholesomeness. I’ve seen where good people all over the world yearn for standards. What a blessing it is to have a standard to lean on.

Mormons aren’t the only ones out there trying to keep this standard. Modesty is still a big deal for many people who honor the body as a sacred temple.

 

MODESTY VS BABYLON

So what’s the problem? Why can’t people be allowed to live their lives the way they choose?

We are all making choices every day. Those who live in Babylon would have us believe we are being controlled and aren’t free to express ourselves. Today, judgment has become a two-edged sword–not with truth and the Holy Spirit, as the Scriptures teach, but with mocking and shaming. Or worse, no judgment at all.

I’m grateful when there are people who stand strong with the standards they uphold. Their high standards are often my high standards and sometimes I get caught up in the world and need to be yanked back into the light.

Growing up, my parents didn’t seem to care what I wore. During the summer I would cut my jeans into short cut-offs and occasionally wear immodest tops. My parents didn’t really prepare me to understand the doctrine of keeping my body sacred and holy. So one day, as a teenager, I visited the Wailing Wall, in Jerusalem’s Old City, in a “modest” sleeveless shirt. The people there were prepared with shawls, for those dressed like me–immodestly. It is a hard and fast rule that all shoulders must be covered in order to enter. They have the right to demand that everyone obey. Being a teenager, I was mortified. I knew the standards my church taught. Even though my parents didn’t teach me, my Young Women’s class sure did. And here I was, being caught unprepared.

Wake up call!

Everyone has their idea of how one can look modest, but there is something about that business of covering the shoulders that is not to be trifled with in any religion. I didn’t want to be caught uncovered, or unprepared ever again.

“The Lord who shall suddenly come to his temple; the Lord who shall come down upon the world with a curse to judgment; yea, upon all the nations that forget God, and upon all the ungodly among you. … Go ye out from Babylon. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (D&C 133:2, 5).

I could have continued to be headstrong and stubborn, but why? What good would it do me? If I wasn’t willing to comply then, when would I ever be ready to “practice virtue and holiness before [Him]” (D&C 46:33)? The scriptures always have the answers, and this answer cut deep within me, helping me to keep my standard securely around me.

“Can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yea, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world?” (Alma 5:53)

All of us, who have been baptized, have made the same covenant–to take His name upon us, to remember Him and keep His commandments (Moroni 4:3). Remembering Him and choosing His commandments means to sacrifice my own selfish desires. The apostle Paul pleads with us:

“I beseech you, therefore, [sisters], by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world” (Romans 12:1-2).

It is the members of the church who the Lord is warning to separate from the world. Judge the world for its evil influences and don’t get sucked into its false concept of beauty. The Lord is talking to us, His daughters of Zion, that some of us are haughty and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes” (Isaiah 3:16). He is also warning the Ten [Mormon] Virgins to prepare themselves early in the ways of the Lord, or they will be left out. (see Matt. 25:1-10.) Unlike in my case, with the available shawl, there is no oil waiting at the door.

Modesty has always been an issue because we are continually fighting back demoralizing attitudes that affect our worship. Back in 1917, the First Presidency of our church was concerned for the daughters of Zion. Nothing seems to have changed.

Dear Sisters,

We feel that there exists a pressing need of improvement and reform among our young people, specifically in the matter of dress and in their social customs and practices.  Our women are prone to follow the demoralizing fashions of the world; and some of the daughters of Zion appear to vie with one another in exhibitions of immodesty and of actual indecency in their attire, wholly forgetful of the precepts of the Lord and the counsels of his servants, and seemingly oblivious in this respect to the promptings and duties of true womanhood.

We are grateful in knowing that only a fraction of our people are seriously affected by the deadly contagion of Babylon; but those already infected among the Latter-day Saints are all too many.  The conditions call for prompt, determined, and persistent action, lest the standard of morality and spiritual health in our community be further impaired.

Your Brethren,

  • Joseph F. Smith
  • Anthon H. Lund
  • Charles W. Penrose

(RS Magazine, “A Call to the Women of the Church,” Jan 1917) Note: This was a letter sent out to Relief Society; to the mothers of these girls dressed immodestly. Today, it is still the mothers who need to be reminded to set the standard in their homes, teach their daughters, and be an example of virtue and modesty.

As members of this church, and receiving as many blessings as we do because of our membership, I personally think we owe our Lord much more than we give Him. Granted, we can never give Him more than He’s given us, but we can certainly give Him our humble attitudes, our desires to obey and sacrifice, our concern for one another’s salvation, and even eventually our bodies, so He can make them perfect in His image. And for me, that means taking the principle of modesty seriously, teaching it to my children and grandchildren, and recognizing that the doctrine is why it is so important. By choosing this lifestyle now I will be prepared when He comes.

As our prophet, Thomas S. Monson, put it so aptly, “Our decisions determine our destiny.”

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Jan Tolman

Jan Tolman is a wife, mother of six, and grandmother of seven. She is a writer, as well as speaker, on the history of the Relief Society at www.ldswomenofgod.com. Several articles, written by her on Relief Society history, have been published in the Deseret News. She has taught Institute and served as a docent at the Church History Museum. She urges everyone to learn something new about Church History, and especially about the incredible women of LDS faith.

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About Jan Tolman

Jan Tolman is a wife, mother of six, and grandmother of seven. She is a writer, as well as speaker, on the history of the Relief Society at www.ldswomenofgod.com. Several articles, written by her on Relief Society history, have been published in the Deseret News. She has taught Institute and served as a docent at the Church History Museum. She urges everyone to learn something new about Church History, and especially about the incredible women of LDS faith.

6 thoughts on “Modesty: Our Decisions Determine Our Destiny

  1. Rozy

    Such truth, Jan! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The older I get the more the notion of modesty in dress, actions and speech affect me. I make it a point to compliment any young woman who is dressed modestly, and mention specifics so she gets positive reinforcement for her choices. Not sure how much good it does, but al least she knows someone notices. I am appalled at what mature women wear sometimes. And the body shape revealing clothes that pregnant women wear are simply revolting to me. I’ve been pregnant five times, participating in the miracle of creation and feel that it is such a sacred time, rather than one to be flaunted about in public. Young women don’t understand that point of view either. I don’t verbally criticize, I just turn away and wish I didn’t have to witness all the bodily displays. There is a huge difference between the prudish not acknowledging of a woman’s state of pregnancy and the desire to cover the body modestly so that every bump and crevice isn’t in full view of the public. Keep up the good work.

    1. Jan Tolman Post author

      Thanks, Rozy! Wholesomeness is its own sexy or maybe replaces sexy with something so much better and more beautiful. 🙂

  2. Saundra Guest

    I am surprised at the prom dresses some LDS young women are wearing. Not a lot different from their peers. The fashion trends are extreme low cut, very high slits, bare midriffs, spaghetti straps and some young women are following suit.

  3. A.

    Mothers and fathers have such a huge role in how their daughters dress modestly. I really like your point about the First Presidency letter to the members when you said:

    “Today, it is still the mothers who need to be reminded to set the standard in their homes, teach their daughters, and be an example of virtue and modesty.”

  4. Karen

    So glad that your Church is encouraging young women to dress modestly as our church is!

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