I sorted through the box of pictures looking for a snapshot of my dad to show my kids. Instead I came across a picture of me and a couple of girls from my Primary class at about age 10. All of us had on very short shorts. And nobody thought anything of it. I remember wearing a tiny pair of terry cloth shorts to Girls’ Camp and no one batted an eye. My mother is a very faithful and strict member of the church so if modesty had been an issue back then, you can believe she would have been on board. (This is the same woman who bought a tote bag that said Coca-Cola and she wrote “caffeine-free” above the logo with a sharpie.)
I called my mom to ask her if I was remembering things correctly about the clothes I wore growing up. “Oh, everything you and sister wore had spaghetti straps. It wasn’t a big deal back then.” I could hear my mom’s friend chime in in the background, “Back when I went to BYU in the 50s we wore strapless dresses to the dances! And we wore the cutest sundresses to class that had teensy little straps.”
“Oh yes,” my mother added, “I wore a strapless dress to the Gold and Green Ball at church when we lived in Provo.”
Wait just a minute. Strapless dresses at church dances? Booty shorts at Girls Camp? What kind of bizarro dress code is this where things get more modest as time progresses, not less so?
When I asked my mother what she thought the reason for this might be, she couldn’t come up with a decent answer. And neither can I. She offered a lame explanation about young men’s imaginations going wild at the sight of scantily clad young women. But surely if shoulders create torments of lust in young men in 2016, they did back in 1956 too. Yet there were no modesty lessons for the teenage girls back then. And besides, that’s not the point. Men are responsible for their own choices and thoughts; it’s insulting to treat them like animals who lack any self-control. Are we forbidden to own a fancy car because it might cause our neighbor to feel envy? Of course not; his feelings are his own problem.
So here we are in this church that has decided that the top two inches of a girl’s arm are risqué real estate. And that girls at Girls Camp must wear a one-piece bathing suit for modesty even though these girls are changing in front of each other every single day. And don’t even get me started on those zealots like the bishop of our old ward who insisted that even a modest bathing suit wasn’t modest enough; the Young Women must also wear a dark t-shirt and shorts over the top. Why didn’t he just assign the girls to wear burquas to the pool party?
I don’t really have a conclusion here. Only that I dropped my 15-year-old daughter off at the mall this afternoon and she had on capris and a loose tank top and although in reality she had plenty of skin covered, I still had the knee-jerk reaction to tell her that she needed a shirt with sleeves. Which she didn’t. She looked pleasant and modest and like a sweet girl, not a hooker. Why isn’t that good enough?
*That’s me with my back to the camera. I was about to climb onto poor Henry Ford’s lap.