Lately I've been really consumed by modesty and how many times we take it for granted. There is so much contention about it and so many people who have so much to say, that sometimes the things that matter most get lost in the deluge. The following are a few things that I think are most important when we think of why we dress modestly.
Bodies = Temples
Since I was a child, I have been taught that my body is a temple. It's been pounded into me so many times that I, and many other people, treat it more casually than we should -- like when your parents told you to eat your vegetables and you heard it so many times, you stopped caring if you ate them or not, despite knowing that they were good for you.
Can we pause for a second, though? Can we take the time to truly internalize the statement "our bodies are temples"?
We know that they are, or at least, we know that we should know that they are. Our parents have told us, our leaders have told us, and, most importantly, prophets have told us:
“Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
But what does that mean, exactly? What does it mean to be the temple of God? We've all heard the cliche' analogy that you wouldn't write on the temple walls, so don't write on your own. Let's go further than that.
Pictured here is one of my favorite temples (mainly because it's the one I get to see every day).
“For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19–20).
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16–17).
What do you notice about it? Most of the windows are draped, right? Well, why? Why not pull up the curtains and let a little light in once in awhile?
You know where I'm going with this. I don't even have to tell most of you, really. And I realize that "my body is a temple" comes with many layers -- clothing, skin, reproductive organs, souls, etc. But it really comes down to covenants, ordinances, and sacredness. We don't cover what goes on behind temple walls because we're self-conscious or embarrassed or because we have something awful to hide. We cover it because we know how sacred and precious it is, and how giving it attention would distract from its ultimate purpose of bringing God's children closer to Him.
If our bodies are not only like a temple, but, according to the above scriptures, the temple, then the way we conduct and dress ourselves should mirror the way our architectural temples are dressed. Temples create a calm and peaceful atmosphere, and they embody and celebrate the culture of their roots. They function as places to participate in holy ordinances as well as perfect examples to help us understand what it means to be a temple.
The phrase "what matters most is what's inside" is as true for us as it is for temples, but it is often our justification for wearing whatever we would like to wear. In the words of a prophet:
If you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit of our Father in Heaven and exercise a wholesome influence upon those around you. To be unkempt in your appearance exposes you to influences that are degrading (see The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 220).
When we dress in the morning, our aim should not be to steal any kind of show or devalue ourselves. Our aim should be to respect the spirit and give him a place he'll feel comfortable, a place where his sacredness and the sacredness of our bodies will be protected.
Not being endowed, the things I know of the temple are limited. One thing I do know, however, is that when endowed, we are given sacred garments that remind us of our covenants and, like the things that go on inside of the temple, must be protected from outside eyes. By wearing garments at all times (excluding swimming, showering, etc.), we promise our Heavenly Father that we are committed to him and committed to our covenants at all times. That's what dressing modestly prepares us for -- it makes us comfortable enough to wear our garments and it makes keeping our covenants that much easier.
These days, a lot of people will tell you that your body is your body and what you do with it, how you display it is nobody's business, specifically no one's problem, but your own. Okay. Let's take that train of thought and run with it for a moment.
If how you display your body is nobody's problem but your own, it's still a problem. Here's why:
In his book, The Holy Temple,
Elder Boyd K. Packer
of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained succinctly why it is so important to wear the garment properly.
“The garment represents sacred covenants. It fosters modesty and becomes a shield and protection to the wearer.
“The wearing of such a garment does not prevent members from dressing in the fashionable clothing generally worn in nations of the world. Only clothing that is immodest or extreme in style would be incompatible with wearing the garment.” 8
We are literally given protection when we wear our garments properly and constantly. When we wear things that won't protect our garments from view, when we discard them for a moment to be fashionable or to cool off, we are literally discarding what the Lord has provided to protect us and figuratively discarding our covenants. We are saying that our appearance and our body temperature is more precious than our promises to the Lord. You can see how that is a major problem for us.
Garments are our outward expression of an inner commitment. If we are unwilling to dress in a way that accommodates them, then we are unwilling to entirely commit ourselves to God. He will not give what we are unwilling to work for; furthermore, if we don't commit ourselves to him, why would he commit himself to us?
Representing Jesus Christ
I remember walking through the local mall one time with my mom, my sister, and my youngest brother. My siblings are big into snowboarding, and with snow season approaching, my sister wanted to find a cool, new coat to wear on the slopes.
We stepped into a store that's pretty well known for its boarding gear and clothing. Immediately my eyes were drawn to the two employees managing the front desk. They were both young men who looked to be between the ages of 17 and 19. Both were wearing dark jeans with seats that noticeably and embarrassingly dripped several inches below where they should have. They both wore electric blue shirts that were at least two sizes too big and fell to mid-thigh. Barely perched on their heads were matching gray, Smurf-like beanies.
As we wandered around the store, I found myself getting irrationally annoyed by their outfits. Looking through breaks in the coat rack at them, I'd wonder who their manager was and why they thought it would attract customers to make their employees look so careless. At the check out, I noticed the way they shifted around behind the desk, slumping with their shoulders up and swaggering because they couldn't do anything else in those pants. I wondered why this was the standard management wanted to represent the company. Their employees looked like they didn't care for themselves, the job, or the people they were employed to serve.
When I think about that, I think about other things, like the way I dress as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Every week in Sacrament Meeting, I take upon myself the name of Christ and covenant that I will remember him by representing him well. This is his church, he is CEO, and I am, to an extent, his employee.
As an "employee," I have been asked to follow the managers he's selected to lead his church. I know, through them, that the Lord does not want himself or his church to be represented by a relaxed dress code. It doesn't matter that I want to look cool, it doesn't matter when I feel the desire to wear shorter skirts or sleeves. As a member of his church, I have committed myself to representing him, and that means that I must sacrifice my wants to dress the way he as asked me to.
What is his dress code? This:
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.
Prophets of God have continually counseled His children to dress modestly. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and you can be a good influence on others. Your dress and grooming influence the way you and others act.Never lower your standards of dress. Do not use a special occasion as an excuse to be immodest. When you dress immodestly, you send a message that is contrary to your identity as a son or daughter of God. You also send the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval.
Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner. Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance. Young men and young women should be neat and clean and avoid being extreme or inappropriately casual in clothing, hairstyle, and behavior. They should choose appropriately modest apparel when participating in sports. The fashions of the world will change, but the Lord’s standards will not change.
Do not disfigure yourself with tattoos or body piercings. Young women, if you desire to have your ears pierced, wear only one pair of earrings.
Show respect for the Lord and yourself by dressing appropriately for Church meetings and activities. This is especially important when attending sacrament services. Young men should dress with dignity when officiating in the ordinance of the sacrament.
If you are not sure what is appropriate to wear, study the words of the prophets, pray for guidance, and ask your parents or leaders for help. Your dress and appearance now will help you prepare for the time when you will go to the temple to make sacred covenants with God. Ask yourself, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?”
Working in a bakery, I have learned that the minute I put my collared shirt and my apron on, I am my store and should be and act my very best. The thing with Christ's church is that we are always
asked to be in the proper attire, every second of every day. The Lord has a higher standard for us.
In the manual The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part A, (2000), 60–65,
Since the time of Adam and Eve, the Lord has asked His children to cover their bodies. Until Eve was tempted by Satan in the Garden of Eden, she and Adam did not know they were naked. After eating of the forbidden fruit, they became aware of their nakedness. They tried to cover their most sacred parts with aprons of fig leaves. However, the Lord’s standards for modesty are greater, and He gave them coats of skins to cover themselves—even though at that time they were alone in the world. (See Moses 4:13, 27.)
If we have a deep understanding that the Lord knows how to operate his church and guide his people, then we should be doing everything we can to follow him and those he has chosen to lead us. That means that we must dress and act with modesty.
I think there's this tendency for society to say that just because you wear gauges and over-sized shirts, doesn't mean you're a rebel. Or just because you wear plunging necklines or don't wear dresses with sleeves, doesn't mean that you're asking for trouble. The thing we don't say as often is: just because you're a child of the most powerful Being in the universe, doesn't mean that you should wear whatever you want; in fact, it means the exact opposite.
We marginalize ourselves when we marginalize modesty. We like to eliminate our influence by saying that what other people think about us is not our fault, how other people perceive us has nothing to do with us at all. We know through countless studies and surveys that media and marketing heavily influence how we think and act without us realizing it, and yet, we deny that human beings, the ones behind it all, can do the same thing to us with or without our consent. That clothing and the lack thereof can do the same thing to us when we are weak and fallen. And we all are.
When we understand how powerful our influence is as a child of God, we dress in a way that respects ourselves and the weaknesses in other people. When we understand the Atonement and our covenants, we don't get defensive about our clothing, but instead, choose to defend Jesus Christ by dressing as if his name is our own. If we take the Sacrament each week, his name is our own, and we degrade it by not representing it as purely as we can.
Modesty is a sacred distinction through which others can find the Savior. If we don't dress with that distinction, other people may never ask and never find it in us.
That's why modesty matters so much.