All my life I have associated modesty with clothing, but a recent experience taught me more about the importance of modesty as about much more than hem lines and neck lines.
Over Labor Day weekend my family and I took a trip to a public beach that we had visited only once before. It is a gorgeous sheltered cove with clear water and a wide white sanded beach. With my children in tow, we hiked down the bluff and scanned the beach for a perfect place to set down our blanket. As my husband and I neared the waters edge, we started to take notice of the people around us. Several couples had brought picnic lunches and were smiling and chatting nearby, but at the far end of the beach there was a suspicious group of sunbathers.
With furrowed brows and squinting eyes, I had the unfortunate experience of taking in an eyeful of nudity. I called out to my husband, “Are those people naked?!!?” He confirmed my fears and we quickly rounded up our kids and shuttled them back up the steep grade we had just descended. On our way back up the hill, just 20 feet from us was a sunbather whom I had missed on the way down, laying fully nude in our path. AAAAH! We had no warning. No way for escape. We were able to distract our children’s eyes with songs and stories, but it was a very close call.
When I reached the car, I was upset. There were no signs labeling this a nude beach. It was a public, state-run beach. Since I was a vacationer, I had no idea that this beach might have a certain reputation for nudity. It was a cold, windy day at the beach. Most people were wearing sweatshirts and jeans. Why on earth would these people need to be naked? The entire situation felt overt and blatantly immodest in spirit as well as form. Not because I’m a prude who fears the human body, but because of a lack of modesty, my rights and my children’s rights to a peaceful day at a public beach were infringed.
Because of this experience, modesty took on a broader meaning for me than just choosing whether or not to wear a low cut blouse or a mini skirt. In my mind, modesty had always been inseparably tied to self-respect. But now, I can also see how choosing to be modest shows my respect for others.
In the For The Strength of Youth pamphlet, a guide for spiritual living for Mormon youth, it reads:
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? … The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Your body is God’s sacred creation. Respect it as a gift from God, and do not defile it in any way. Through your dress and appearance, you can show the Lord that you know how precious your body is. You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Prophets of God have always counseled His children to dress modestly. The way you dress is a reflection of what you are on the inside. Your dress and grooming send messages about you to others and influence the way you and others act. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and can exercise a good influence on those around you.
Never lower your dress standards for any occasion. Doing so sends the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval and that modesty is important only when it is convenient.
Immodest clothing includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and other revealing attire. Young women should wear clothing that covers the shoulder and avoid clothing that is low-cut in the front or the back or revealing in any other manner. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance. All should avoid extremes in clothing, appearance, and hairstyle. Always be neat and clean and avoid being sloppy or inappropriately casual in dress, grooming, and manners. Ask yourself, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?”
When I’m dressed modestly I feel comfortable. I feel like people are seeing me, the real me. They can focus on my smile or my humor instead of what I am or am not wearing. Modesty gives me confidence in myself and allows me to show respect to those around me. For me, modesty is about respect for myself, for others and for God.