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What We're Still Missing About Modesty

Discussions about modesty have saturated the internet and the news feeds of Church members for a while now, leaving a lot of us with little desire to read yet another article about it. I’d hazard to say that interest in the topic has begun to die down, after endless rounds of “Yes, yoga pants!” “No yoga pants!” and of course, “Stop talking about yoga pants!”

I won’t be discussing the merits of spandex as outerwear in this article, because that’s been done to death. I’d rather address the subject of “modesty” from a Book of Mormon standpoint. We believe that the Book of Mormon was written for our day, so the principles about modesty taught therein should be especially poignant to us. 

Surprisingly, references to clothing in the Book of Mormon never talk about covering up, unless you consider the war stories. (Who goes to war in a loin cloth? Check yourselves, Lamanites!) Rather, the references to clothing in the Book of Mormon are nearly always focused on the pride that goes hand in hand with “costly apparel.” 

Jacob addressed the Nephites by saying, “Ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel.” (Jacob 2:13)

Jacob was criticizing an unrighteous focus on outward appearances. In all our discussions about modesty, how often do we focus on the length of the skirt and not the unnecessary expense of the skirt? The tightness of the dress rather than the desire for attention and compliments the dress will receive? Do we think splurging on 10 “super cute” modest, designer one-piece swimsuits is different from buying one affordable bikini? (I am not advocating for bikinis, but I am trying to illustrate the principle that purchasing clothing in excess is not a modest way to live, just as an excessively short skirt is not modest.)

(NOTE: Modesty applies to men just as much as it does women, but I’ve used female examples because I am female and that’s what I best relate to.)

If you search “modesty” on LDS.org, part of the given definition says, “If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves.” 

I’ve come to understand that “undue attention” refers to far more than simply a lot of skin showing. If we are using the clothes we wear to get attention, we are not being modest. 

When you look good, you feel good—there’s nothing wrong with that. We should be “neat and comely” like the righteous people in Alma. But if our confidence comes from the way we look, we probably need to reassess what we value the most. Said Elder Glenn L. Pace of the Seventy, “The Lord endows us with confidence as we practice ’charity towards all men’ and have righteous thoughts.” 

Another scripture from the Book of Mormon that speaks loudly and clearly about the subject of true modesty (and kind of gives me chills) is in Alma 31:28, which says:

“Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented with; and behold, their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish.”

I really connect to the last part of this scripture. The people, so obsessed with how they looked and the things they had, cried unto Heavenly Father and thanked Him for making them a “chosen people.” How often have I thanked God for my blessings while remaining ignorant to the ways He wants me to help others? I wonder if the people in Alma were aware of the principle Jacob taught:

“But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” (Jacob 2:18-19)

I can't imagine Christ wearing expensive or flashy things during His time on Earth. Why would He use His limited resources for something of zero eternal value when He was so devoted to helping others to the maximum degree possible?

Elder Christensen, a former member of the Presidency of the Seventy, said,

“Our resources are a stewardship, not our possessions. I am confident that we will literally be called upon to make an accounting before God concerning how we have used them to bless lives and build the kingdom.” 

Talking to the people in the latter days (hey, that’s us!), Mormon said,

“For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?” (Mormon 8:37-9)

Some strong words and an important warning right there from Mormon. We need to strive to minimize the importance we place on the way we look, the clothes we wear, and the material things we own, and remember what’s really important—our relationship to Jesus Christ and how we offer help to His children. We need to replace extravagance with generosity and luxury with humility. I think we’ll all be a lot happier, and so will those we’re better able to help. 

Samantha is a British copywriter who believes in fresh air, doing good to others, and eating whatever you like. She moved to America to attend BYU-Idaho, where she graduated with a degree in Communication. Check out more insights from Samantha Shelley at her blog, whatsoeverisgood.com. 

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