Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Modesty, Garments, & Nudity? - Part 2

To not be lost, catch the first part of the discussion of modesty in Part 1.
(My apologies, it's a bit late for coherent writing, but I wanted to finish this before time gets away from me.)
So, back to modesty. What is it really all about? I think it's about avoiding pride. If we look at it this way, the admonition to be be modest in our dress has more to do with dressing so as not to intentionally draw undue attention to ourselves, being "free from conceit or vanity." Wearing a swimsuit to church would be immodest, because it would serve to draw attention to myself. Going swimming in tuxedo would likely have the same result. It seems that it is all about our attitude in the clothing choices we make. The outcome we desire has an impact on the correctness of an action.

If our attitude is what determines our level of modesty, I have a hard time seeing a problem with going naked at a nude beach. Assuming one's desire is not to have others be impressed by one's physique, the situation seems analogous. The nudity would not attract any undue attention, because others would be nude, and expecting to see nudity.
What this implies is that there is nothing wrong with nudity per se. It can be non-sexual. That is not to say that any nudity is modest. Certainly, the contrast is easily seen with a strip club. There, regardless of how much skin is currently being shown, the revealing nature of the clothing worn is designed specifically to gain attention (what's more, in a sexual way). This is most obviously immodest. But it doesn't seem to be the nudity itself that is immodest, but rather the intent of the stripper, the way she behaves in attempting to draw attention to herself.
Now, anyone who wants to say there's no such thing as non-sexual nudity has forgotten what it is like to be a kid. I don't know how many times I've seen my nephew bolt from the bathroom, leaving a towel lying somewhere in his path, and running around the house naked. Why? Because he doesn't enjoy clothing. They bother him. He hates shoes. Pulls his socks off constantly. And if you leave him alone long enough, he'll remove everything his little hands are able to.
For me, I've worked in a health care setting for a few years. I've seen naked body after naked body, and I can tell you that the amount of sexual tension in that encounter is entirely dependent on me. If I have it in my head that nudity is sexual per se, then every time I see a patient that's going to be an issue. But if I get used to the idea that nudity is simply... nothing. It's not anything. It's a lack of something. It's like zero, not even a real number (I'm not talking about actual sets of numbers), it's the absence of numbers. It's "clothlessness." For me, at work, a body is simply, a body. A diagnostic tool. A source of information. And, more importantly, a person... just without all the trappings.
For me, I seem to have become a "nudist" without ever really thinking of myself as such, or participating in a nudist lifestyle. I don't think there's anything wrong with the naked body. When I go to work and see nudity, it doesn't ever cross my mind that it's sexual in any way... because it's not. (To be honest, the first few times it happened, it was at least a little sexual for me. But that was due to my incorrect perception that nudity and sexuality always go together. It's no longer an issue... really) When I get done exercising, and shower at the gym, I see lots of other guys nude... but it is again not even remotely sexual. When I give my nephew a bath, I see him nude. But guess what... still not sexual.
Some of the most beautiful art ever created was of the naked form... seeing David in person was breathtaking for me. I think we need to remember that art is an imitation. As great as Michelangelo was, he cannot compete with the beauty that God has created in us, in giving us our bodies. I think it is tragic the way we have linked all nudity to sexuality, teaching even small children that there is something dirty about their bodies, such that they must be covered. They are beatiful creations. God said they were good. Who are we to argue with that, or to say that they need decoration to look appropriate?
(I'm tired, so I'll just briefly mention this, since it is likely to come up for some people: I think it is flat wrong to teach the young women of the church that it is their responsibility to control the thoughts of the young men, by dressing in a way that would not be sexually appealing to them. It tells the girls that if they do get inappropriate attention, ogled, harassed, or raped, that somehow it is their fault. And IT'S NOT! If I can be expected to not look at patients in a sexual way, there is no reason that all men (young or not) shouldn't have the same expectation in daily life.)
If I can do it at the office (as in, not equate nudity with sexuality), why not at the beach? Or a pool? Hot tub? Party?? Home?
For the interest of full disclosure, I'm not sure how I feel about the whole social nudity idea in relation to Mormonism, but I am having trouble finding good scriptural reasons for its proscription.


  1. Thank you for taking the time to write this up. I'm surprised nobody else has commented. I found your thinking clear, concise, and logical. It does make one think.

  2. Thanks Bryan! Glad to hear someone out there enjoyed it.

  3. I think you do bring up good points. Some I agree with some just make me think. For me, whether or not there are scriptures to back up modesty doesn't matter so much but rather that the living prophet today receives revelation today and he has told LDS members to be modest. It is a way of showing our faith and respect to ourselves and Heavenly Father. I agree that a naked body doesn't have to be a sexual thing but to far too many it is and you just never know who has a problem with it(porn, child porn). I also agree that children shouldn't be taught that their body is dirty, but beautiful and one day they can share their body with an eternal spouse, but until then they don't need to be showing certain parts. Also I think for any couple about to be married that is trying to stay temple worthy, being modest would probably be a big help for them. If the guy loves her and is attracted to her and is always seeing her cleavage and such I would have to imagine it would be a bit more difficult than to not be seeing that. Anyways I am sure I could go on and on but the real reason for me to follow modesty as a dress standard as well as behavior is because the Prophet of the lord has said to do so. And I will. No questions asked.

  4. Thanks for reading...

    You mention that modesty is a way of showing respect... This is something that is brought up so frequently when talking about modesty, but I just don't understand the "how." Why is it respectful to cover something? As already mentioned, I think sculpture, such as the David, is a beautiful way of showing respect and admiration to Heavenly Father... shouldn't we also not be afraid to display his actual creations?

    Second, you're right that we never know who has a problem with porn, but that argument rests on the assumption that we are responsible for the thoughts of others. I just don't think I can accept that.

    As far as the engaged couple goes, I think there might be something to that, though I wonder how much of the temptation of cleavage, etc. is due simply to the fact that it is always covered. If they weren't always kept covered, they'd be more common, just another body part. Would a guy instinctively find them attractive? Absolutely. Just as he does her legs, face, hair, hips, etc.

    Finally, I don't believe we've ever been commanded, or even divinely encouraged, to follow any mortal man "no questions asked". In fact, we've numerous times been told specifically not to.

  5. I guess one's ubringing has as much to do with our modesty as our culture with respect there is an interexchange. Interesting to know if true nudists and naturists are less likely to watch porn or any types of sexual deviency. I ask this as it would seem those folks may be more aware of the body types and not tend to sexualize the scenario !

  6. Bryan's SaturdaysOctober 29, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    OK, I know I'm late to the party here, but I just have to comment.

    CoriAnton, I wish so much that your views on modesty were more wide spread. It's sad, really, that for the vast majority of church members, the word "modesty" is now inseparably linked with sexuality. Modesty now seems to mean "hide any hints that you may or may not have sexual body parts", and completely gone is the scriptural notion that modesty means humility and lack of pride.

    I fear the emotional damage this approach to modesty has on our youth. The unspoken implications here are vast:

    1) It teaches our youth that their is something wrong with their bodies. We are basically telling them, "Your bodies will cause others to sin, so keep it covered."

    2) It teaches our youth to fear their bodies. I've read some anonymous posts from teenage girls who say they abhor and fear nudity so much that they won't even look at themselves naked in the mirror, afraid that doing so might be a sin. I've also seen girls in my ward refuse to go on temple trips to do baptism because they are afraid to come out of the font all wet, knowing that the jump suit will cling to their bodies and reveal their outline.

    3) It teaches our youth that their bodies can be used as a weapon to yield power over others. All I have to do is show a little skin, and people around me will start having immoral thoughts.

    It seems that the church's current push with modesty is a backlash against the rampant immorality we see all around us, especially from the media. Sex and skin are pushed at us from every angle and sold as enticing, luscious, and wonderfully naughty! So while the world is pushing "Show more skin! It's hot!" the church's response is "They are right! So do the opposite!"

    The problem with the church's response, as I see it, is that it only serves to reinforce the message being sold by the media. We are saying:

    "The media is right!! Showing too much skin IS sexy and luscious and enticing, so you shouldn't do it."

    I wish instead we would just say: "The media has it wrong. Showing excessive skin is not sexy. It's just prideful. All it does is show a lack of depth from the people who show it. They think their value lies with their outer skin, and not in their inner person, and they are trying to get attention in all the wrong ways."

    Satan, above all, would have us believe that mankind is carnal in nature, that we can't control ourselves when we are presented with human flesh, that we are just simply genetically programmed to become horny and start to have impure thoughts when we see skin.

    And the church, when we push the current, unfortunate definition of modesty, falls right instep with that line of thinking. Why should we cover up? Because your body is carnal and sexual, and if you don't, you are committing a sin and you might be causing others to sin as well.

    I've got so much more I could say on this subject, but... it's not my blog :-) Thanks again CoriAnton.

  7. Amen, Amen and Amen. Thank you for the thoughtful post. You have been able to encapsulate many of the feelings and arguments I have been trying to express about modesty for years now. I've boiled my own feelings down to the simple statement. "It isn't what you wear, it's why you wear it." Thanks again for your effort and ability to put your thoughts into words.