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January 29, 2014
Raising the Rising Generation
Why I Teach My Children to Dress Modestly
by Emily S. Jorgensen

I took my oldest daughter bra shopping for the first time today. It is a good thing she doesn't read my column or she would be horrified that I am telling the world about this.

She is at that awkward stage when she has outgrown the girls' sizes in anything, and so we made our way over to the women's department to look through needed items in the smallest women's sizes.

It was an eye-opening experience. Soon after arriving in the intimates department, my daughter looked around and asked, "Why is all this underwear so pretty? Why would anyone want such pretty underwear? The only reason I can think of is if you were only going to be wearing underwear for people to see. And who would do that?"

I blinked a few times and smiled and said, "Good point. Let's look over there."

My daughter knows the basics of the facts of life. She knows where babies come from and how they get started. However, she hasn't yet reached that stage in her own life where she can fathom why anyone in her right mind would ever want to have sex. I am pretty sure she assumes her own parents have only done that disturbing deed four times -- once for each child in our family. We have decided not to disabuse her of this idea quite yet.

And so, her question made me change my entire perspective of the women's department, as surely as if someone had flipped me upside down and hung my ankles from the rafters.

When I looked around at the items for sale, looking at it from a young woman's perspective rather than a middle-aged happily married women, I was truly disturbed. Why on earth does everything for sale here have to be so sexy?

Indeed, we had to search for a long time to find items that were just plain and normal -- comfortable, useful, in colors that wouldn't be seen through her school uniform shirts.

The more I thought about it, the more upset I got.

I know who I am and I am comfortable with it. I consider myself to be intelligent, talented, compassionate, helpful, a tiny bit snarky, somewhat scatterbrained, and behind closed doors, when it is just my husband and I, even a bit sexy.

But my daughter is still figuring out who she is. It disturbs me that the pressure to be sexy is so omnipresent that she is already noticing it.

This brings me to the first reason I teach my children about modesty and encourage them to dress modestly. It is not for anyone else, not at all. It is for them. I want my daughters to view themselves as attractive, feminine, pretty or cute, but not sexy. I don't want them to buy into the idea that a woman's sex appeal is tied to her value as a person.

This lie -- that a woman's value is measured by her sexual desirability -- is so pervasive in our culture today that one cannot seem to escape it. I cannot make the world change its mind about this, but I can have some influence on my children about it.

I can teach them to value and respect others as the people they are, not as objects. I can encourage them to dress as though they are a person worthy of respect, rather than a person who is using their body to get attention.

I can do this by adding modesty to the list of conversations that are always on the table in our home -- topics such as the dangers of drugs and alcohol, the importance of healthy eating and exercise, puberty, sex, and the other somewhat-uncomfortable-but-absolutely-vital dialogues that we parents must make sure we have with our children, over and over through the years.

The second reason I teach my children to dress modestly is the same reason my five-year-old takes the sacrament. The sacrament, technically, does him absolutely no good at this age. He has not been baptized yet (obviously), and so has made no covenants to God. There is no reason to renew covenants, which is what the sacrament is for, because there are none to renew.

So why do I have him take the sacrament? It is for the practice. He practices this holy ordinance in preparation for the time when it will actually matter.

My younger sister served a mission in Missouri. Her mission had a motto, "Righteous routines lead to holy habits." I have known a person or two who had to toss or adjust a lot of the contents of their closet after going through the temple for the first time.

The important thing, of course, is that one stays true to the commitments made there, which includes dressing modestly. But, it seems a more mature approach is to be living in such a way that no sweeping changes are needed.

I believe it is a righteous routine to purchase only clothes for my children that meet a certain level of modesty. That does not mean I freak out if my eight-year-old's growth spurt leaves her with legs much longer than a few months ago and so her skirts are all above the knee now. I just gradually replace them over the next few months as my budget allows.

Nor do I have a fit if someone gives my toddler a sleeveless dress for her birthday.

But, I want them to develop this holy habit -- to feel most comfortable when their bodies are covered. I don't shame my preschooler when she lifts up her dress in the middle of church and shows everyone her underwear. I just put her skirt back down and whisper that this is not modest and we should keep our underwear covered.

Over time, I have seen my older children develop their own sense of how much of their body should be covered in public. I set the routine as a parent; they make it a habit.

The third reason I teach my children to dress modestly is because God said so.

I decided to enter the fray of this topic after reading numerous other articles by Christian authors all debating whether modest dress is important to God and inherent to being a good Christian.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have a distinct advantage over other Christians in the world regarding this topic: we have modern-day revelations detailing exactly what modest dress means, and what God expects of us.

Here are some excerpts about modesty from For the Strength of Youth:

Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner. Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance. Young men and young women should be neat and clean and avoid being extreme or inappropriately casual in clothing, hairstyle, and behavior. They should choose appropriately modest apparel when participating in sports.

If you are not sure what is appropriate to wear, study the words of the prophets, pray for guidance, and ask your parents or leaders for help. Your dress and appearance now will help you prepare for the time when you will go to the temple to make sacred covenants with God. Ask yourself, "Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord's presence?"

Although these are the words of counsel from the prophet to our youth ages 12-18, I feel it is wisdom to begin this lesson as soon as my children are able to understand it. So I teach my children to dress modestly because it is what God has commanded us to do.

We don't formally commit to God to dress modestly until we are adults and enter the temple for the first time, but why not practice a righteous routine before then?

I love the Church's approach that says we cover our bodies because they are a gift from God and He has given us direction on how to treat it. Also from For the Strength of Youth: "Your body is sacred...Through your dress and appearance, you can show that you know how precious your body is. You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and that you love Him." We don't cover it because it is inherently evil, or something to be ashamed of.

I have no doubt that as my children move into the teen years this will be a topic that we discuss again, and again. I plan to do so with love and encouragement rather than shaming or lecturing. As with all of God's commandments, we should follow this one out of love. Love for our God, for the gift he has given us of a miraculous body, and love and respect for ourselves.

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