Reconsidering Modesty Lessons

UPDATE: This amazing article from Meridian Magazine spells out the dangers of overemphasizing Mormon modesty way better than I did! Check it out for further thoughts.

Many leaders are reticent to do a modesty activity with 8-11 year old girls, but they aren’t quite sure why. If any of these reasons resonate with you, rest assured that modesty activities are NOT required in the Activity Days program! At the very least, think carefully about what you are/are not teaching about the concept of modesty at this young age.

  • Elder Boyd K. Packer, in speaking about the moral values of modesty and virtue, said: “The responsibility and the right to teach these sacred [things] rest with the parents in the home. I do not believe that it is the responsibility of the public schools, nor is it the responsibility of the organizations of the Church. The contribution of the Church in this respect is to teach parents the standards of morality that the Lord has revealed.” (TeachYe Diligently [1975], 256).
  • Modesty is not mentioned in any of the Primary Manuals except the Faith in God booklet. It is also not mentioned in the Gospel Principles manual (used for teaching new members the most important church doctrines). I think it is safe to assume that modesty is not “core doctrine” that you should feel like you “have” to teach.
  • With only a few dozen activities a year, doing a modesty lesson may convolute the importance of this principle. Consider what other principles you could teach your girls that may be more important.
  • Clothing guidelines are mentioned in “For the Strength of Youth,” which is meant for 12 and up, not primary children.
  • If you choose to do a “hemline modesty” activity (such as “head shoulders knees and toes” or making modest outfits out of newspaper), you are only introducing your girls to a small part of the definition of modesty. (LDS.org defines modesty as “an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior.”) At this age, Activity Days participants are just beginning to learn the meanings of important gospel principles, so we need to be accurate in our teaching of these principles (not overemphasizing one small aspect of modesty).
  • “Hemline modesty” activities may accidentally teach our girls that the most important part about modesty is exactly where the lines of clothing on their body are, instead of teaching them that the line in their heart is most important.
  • Modesty is an abstract concept that can be difficult for even adults to grasp. It cannot be boiled down to lines on a person’s body, and when we try to simplify it, young girls may get wrong assumptions about parts of their body (such as thinking that showing their shoulders is inherently sinful).
  • Girls in Activity Days are at the prime age for bullying (7 and 10-12 are the peak ages). Teaching girls a lesson that focuses on outer appearance not only contradicts scripture (1 Samuel 16:7), but it encourages them to judge others and be wary of other kids who are not dressed the same as they are.
  • Phrases like “Modest is Hottest” introduce ideas about sexuality that are not appropriate for eight year olds.
  • At this age, girls don’t have as much control over their wardrobe as teens do. Imagine that an investigator or recently reactivated family with little money brings their daughter to Activity Days and you do a modesty activity. The girl becomes self conscious about her wardrobe and expresses her concerns to her parents. Her parents can’t afford new clothes for her. She’s now too uncomfortable to return to Activity Days in her normal clothes.
  • If you do decide to teach hemline modesty, please consider including this quote: “Remember that even as we teach and exemplify modesty, we never condemn those who choose short skirts or rainbow hair. Always we exemplify compassion and Christlike love for the individual while we remain loyal to the standards the Lord has set.” Sister Carol F. McConkie, First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency
  • If you still feel prompted to teach modesty to your girls but want a more appropriate jumping off point than the FTSOY manual, this article by Elder John H. Groberg talks about modesty in more general terms, with some good examples and stories.
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8 thoughts on “Reconsidering Modesty Lessons

  1. Can I just tell you that I love you for this post?

    I found you site tonight as I was searching for activities outside the norm of crafting, baking, (insert gender skewed activity here), etc. Add to that the fact that my AD counterpart suggested a modesty lesson for our next activity (I worked for years with girls with eating disorders and know the damage that focusing on outward appearances can cause, not to mention how ‘modesty’, when referenced in the scriptures, has nothing to do with clothing and everything to do with the heart) and finding this came at the perfect time. You took the words right out of my mouth and said them much more succinctly and even included links. 🙂

    I have really liked many of your ideas, but THIS, this makes me just love you. Thank you so very much!

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    1. Emily, thank you so much for your welcome affirmation! My baby is having a grumpy morning so your comment gave me some much needed joy and encouragement. I’m so glad you like the site and hope you will continue to contribute comments, pictures, plans, etc.

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  2. I love your site but my HEART was changed by this post. I joined the church when I was 14 and my first calling was Sunbeam teacher after school on Tuesdays. The Primary President pointed out that my skirt was too short during a Primary activity and I was mortified and embarrassed and not sure what to do since it was the ’70’s and all my skirts were short.
    I’m now an Activity Day Leader in my 50’s and a YW leader asked me to teach the AD girls about modesty since they were having trouble with it in YW. I was struggling with it, especially since we have a girl who doesn’t come to church very often but comes to every AD and I was worried about offending her.
    You’ve given me great ideas about what is important and age appropriate and I am grateful to you for helping me to decide not to even go there. I will continue to love and accept all the girls just as they are.
    Thank you!

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Laurie. Over half my group are not members of the church. I think an overemphasis on modesty can hurt girls who are members, too, but I especially think it can deter potential converts from attending, if we are always pointing out the flaws in their upbringing.

      Feel free to pass this link on to the Young Women leader in your ward. I feel that the overemphasis on outward appearance when I was a teen warped my understanding of the Gospel. I hope other youth can avoid the experience I had.

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  3. I LOVE this a million times over!!! This is perfect!! Thank you for your insight! A lot of this information could also be considered when talking about modesty to teenagers in YW/YM. Literally everything you said is exactly how I feel and Im grateful to see that quote from an apostle of the Lord. Thank YOU!!!! 🙂

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    1. I feel the same way. It’s one of the main goals I had in creating this site, to share my thoughts about the overuse of the modesty topic! I’ve gotten some pushback about this post, too, but I urge anyone who reads this post to make it a matter of pray and thoughtful consideration for what is best for their group. That way you’ll always make the best decision. 🙂

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  4. In the Primary 2017 outline for sharing time we are encouraged on pg 13 to listen for what parts of their body should be covered using For the Strength of youth dress and appearance section. I understand what you are saying and agree with most of it but I also understand that in todays world children need direction at a much younger age. Maybe that is why it is now being included in the sharing time outline. I believe that this information has been carefully considered and prayed before being included in the curriculum. You’re thoughts?

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    1. While it’s nice to think that each part of the Primary 2017 outline is inspired by Heavenly Father, we all know that personal opinion and bias can sneak their way into lessons written with best of intentions. That’s why it’s important to use your own gift of personal revelation, conscience, and knowledge to determine what the best course for you and your children are. I personally believe that introducing the concepts of modesty and hemlines during the concrete development stage results in Pharisaical behavior. My belief is based on the results of numerous studies. When I weigh my knowledge of the negative affects of teaching modesty too early, with the remote possibility that every word on page 13 of the handbook was directly inspired by God, I find my answer. Your answer may be different than my own, and that’s okay.

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