Young Women: Modesty matters
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When we speak of modesty, I am reminded of what Tevya, a character in the musical "Fiddler on the Roof," said when he spoke of his beloved village of Anatevka. He said, "In Anatevka ... everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do" (Great Musicals of the American Theatre, 2 vols., ed. Stanley Richards [1973–76], 1:393). For me, that is the bottom line of any discussion on modesty.
Modesty is often talked of in terms of dress and appearance, but modesty encompasses much more than the outward appearance. It is a condition of the heart. It is an outward manifestation of an inner knowledge and commitment. It is an expression that we understand our identity as daughters of God. It is an expression that we know what He expects us to do. It is a declaration of our covenant keeping. A question in the For the Strength of Youth booklet really is the question each of us must consider: "Am I living the way the Lord wants me to live?" (See For the Strength of Youth, 42.)
Like the people of Anatevka, do we know who we are? Do our daughters and young women know who they are? In speaking to members of the Church, Peter said: "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). He clearly defined our identity. His use of the word peculiar did not mean "odd." It meant "special." (See Deuteronomy 7:6.)
In the Book of Mormon, the Lord's chosen people are described in this way: "Ye are the children of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers" (3 Nephi 20:25). Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve said, "Once we know who we are, the royal lineage of which we are a part, our actions and directions in life will be more appropriate to our inheritance" ("Thanks for the Covenant," in Brigham Young University 1988–89 Devotional and Fireside Speeches [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1989], p. 59). Even the Young Women theme reminds us that we are "daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us" (Personal Progress, p. 3). When we truly know that we are daughters of God and have an understanding of our divine nature, it will be reflected in our countenance, our appearance and our actions.
Several years ago, a dear friend married in the Salt Lake Temple. She was a convert to the Church from India, and her entire family came for her wedding. They were not members of the Church, so they waited patiently outside for the wedding to end and the bride to exit the temple. They were dressed in native Indian attire and looked beautiful. When they walked onto the temple grounds, all eyes were upon them. The thing I noticed most was how elegantly they moved and carried themselves and how modest each was. They were not apologetic for their appearance even though it made them stand out in the crowd. They simply knew who they were and were not ashamed. In their actions, movements and conversation, they were dignified and lovely. I thought how much I would like every young woman and woman in the Church to have that same attitude — an attitude of understanding something deeper on the inside that was reflected on the outside.
A prophet has said, "Of all the creations of the Almighty, there is none more beautiful, none more inspiring than a lovely daughter of God who walks in virtue with an understanding of why she should do so, who honors and respects her body as a thing sacred and divine, who cultivates her mind and constantly enlarges the horizon of her understanding, who nurtures her spirit with everlasting truth" (Gordon B. Hinckley, "Our Responsibility to Our Young Women," Ensign, September 1988, p. 11).
If our young women know this, they know much more than how to dress — they will know how to live. And they will have the courage they need to avoid the moral decline of the world in action, in thought and in dress.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, we are admonished to "arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations" (Doctrine and Covenants 115:5). President Spencer W. Kimball suggested we establish a "style of our own" ("On My Honor," Ensign, April 1979, p. 3). And as wickedness progresses in the world, we may have to do just that. We cannot lead if we are like the world. Instead of spending our energy and our money to look like the world, perhaps we should set a pattern that they may choose to follow. We must have the courage and the gospel understanding to be modest. Modesty will not only set us apart from the world, but it will also protect us.
Are we willing to obey the standard of modesty "at all times and in all things, and in all places" (Mosiah 18:9)? Modesty is about more than hemlines, necklines and revealing clothing. It is the appropriate dress for the appropriate setting. It is caring to dress appropriately to show respect for people, places and settings. "In your attempt to follow the styles ... do not offend good taste. When we go to worship the Lord, we ought to be dressed in our finest, cleanest, and best" (A. Theodore Tuttle, "Your Mission Preparation," Ensign, November 1974, p. 71).
When we understand modesty, we know how to be appropriate in any given situation. We know how to dress to run a marathon as well as how to dress to attend a priesthood ordinance. We understand that having young men wear a white shirt and tie to pass the sacrament is more, much more, than a rule. We invite the companionship of the Spirit by the small things we do that show not only our attitude but our understanding.
Mothers teach modesty in the home and model it through their example. Are we, as mothers, at fault for our daughters' immodest dress and actions? Are we more concerned about popularity than purity? Some say, "My daughter is a good girl. I don't want to make an issue of her tight clothing or skimpy T-shirts." They say, "I won't die on that hill." It's not about hills; it's about hearts. It's not about confrontation, it's about covenants. These are battles in which we should be engaged because modesty has moral implications. This is a different world. By encouraging our daughters to be cute and trendy, we may unknowingly be putting them at great risk.
When we are modest, we reflect in our outward actions and appearance that we understand what God expects us to do – that we understand the covenants we have made at baptism to "always remember him" (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77). Our actions and appearance invite the companionship of the Holy Ghost. We are told in the Book of Mormon that the Holy Ghost will "show unto you all things what ye should do" (2 Nephi 32:5). In the world in which we live, can we risk being without this sure compass and companion? The pressures of the world must not push us into places where the Spirit cannot dwell.
In For the Strength of Youth our prophets have issued the call to young women and women to arise and to be worthy of imitation. Our standards are clearly outlined for us and they carry with them infinitely great rewards. We are promised by prophets of God that if we live the standards, we will be blessed with the companionship of the Holy Ghost, our faith and testimony will grow stronger, we will enjoy increasing happiness, and we will be worthy to attend the temple, where we can perform sacred ordinances for our ancestors and make essential covenants. (See "First Presidency Message," ii.) What more could a mother want for her daughter or for herself?
The people who assembled at the Waters of Mormon were converted to the gospel. They were about to be baptized and enter into a covenant that included "standing as a witness of God at all times and in all things, and in all places" (Mosiah 18:9). When Alma asked them if they were willing to do this, "they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts" (Mosiah 18:11). Why was it their hearts' desire? Because, just as it was in Anatevka, they had been taught and understood who they really were and what God expected them to do.
To read this address in its entirety see "Arise and Shine Forth," Elaine S. Dalton, BYU Women's Conference, 30 April 2004. [Link: speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=8582].