As women, we are bombarded with impossible expectations about our bodies through social media, movies, television, the internet, and almost everywhere else you can imagine. It seems everywhere we turn we are told that our worth comes from our appearance and we will never be enough.
Of course, these are all lies—falsehoods that the gospel contradicts entirely. At church, we learn truths that combat the negative stereotypes and messages found in the world. We learn that we are daughters of Heavenly Parents, that we are powerful beyond imagining, and that our worth and potential encompass so much more than outer beauty.
However, despite the valuable doctrine and spiritual lifelines we’ve been taught, occasionally some of our experiences in the world can, unfortunately, still seep into our culture. Here are just a few myths Latter-day Saint women sometimes hear at church about their bodies.
Modest is hottest.
While I love the catchy rhyme and I understand the sentiment behind it, something about this phrase misses the entire point.
When young women hear someone talk about their deeper worth, their divine talents, and their spiritual, mental, and emotional beauty, the entire message can quickly become derailed when someone adds, “Besides, modest is hottest after all.” That message snaps everyone’s attention right back into obsessing over physical appearance and worldly standards.
Let’s be real. The word hot is never used to express something beyond skin-deep attraction. No one ever calls someone’s ideas or their capabilities or their expressions hot. "Hot" is a word the world has reserved only for physical appearance—an appearance that is supposed to capture someone's attention or admiration, not their respect. So in that sense, I’m sorry ladies, but modest will never be hottest.
And that’s okay. In fact, that’s wonderful. If we free ourselves up from worrying about being flawless and "hot," maybe that will give us a little more time to focus on developing true beauty—the kind of beauty that emanates from every part of who we are.
As Lynn G. Robbins says, “The gospel teaches us that true beauty is more than skin-deep. A young woman whose countenance is aglow with both happiness and virtue radiates inner beauty.” Instead of focusing on eradicating our outward blemishes and flaws, we should focus a little more time on those things that truly make us happy and beautiful.
Men just can’t help themselves.
I’m sure you’ve heard this one and its many variants. “You know how men are.” “Boys will be boys.” “They are just wired that way.” "Men just can't help themselves."
Yes, they can. And they do on a regular basis.
I know at first glance this appears to be a myth we tell ourselves about men—and it is. But on the flip side, it also sends a harmful message to women. It tells women we should always be self-conscious about our bodies because that’s really the only—or at least the most powerful—thing that men respond to.
That’s simply not true. Sure, some men might struggle with addictions or impulses, but then so do women. And yes, there are a lot of things women can do to help men live up to their priesthood and eternal potential, but most of that has nothing to do with what we wear. Women help men the most by believing in them, by recognizing and appreciating the good they do, by setting examples, by caring, loving, guiding, and encouraging.
So please, stop demoralizing men, and stop objectifying yourself. Men are already frequently demoralized in the media today, where they are portrayed as dim, bumbling oafs who can hardly get anything right. They don't need to be told on top of that that they should give up and give in to their impulses because that’s just the way they are. If women can begin to see and encourage the divine potential in themselves and the men they interact with, it will help all of us find a valuable place building the kingdom of God.
Because here’s a secret: men are just as moral and virtuous as women. Over the decades, we have heard both extremes, but the fact of the matter is, we both are spiritually strong. Anything that tells us otherwise is a ploy by Satan to degrade us into thinking we are less than we are and to keep us from becoming what he knows we can become.
►You’ll also like: 4 Myths Latter-day Saints Often Tell Themselves About Virtue
Once it’s crumpled, a dollar bill cannot be crisp again.
In response to some of the object lessons that compare women and their virtue to dollar bills, cake, or gum, I would like to share this short story from President Thomas S. Monson:
“Another principle of truth which will guide us in our determination is that boys and men [and girls and women] can change. I’m reminded of the words of a prison warden who taught this fact. A critic who knew of Warden Duffy’s efforts to rehabilitate men said, ‘Don’t you know that leopards can’t change their spots?’
“Warden Duffy responded, ‘You should know I don’t work with leopards. I work with men, and men change every day.’”
These examples or object lessons hurt women in many ways. When we tie a person’s sense of worth and wholeness to one thing—sexual purity—we limit their potential and create many unintentionally harmful scenarios.
For instance, what message do these lessons send to those who are sexually molested, raped, or abused? Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and raped as a 13-year-old, shared at a forum on human trafficking at Johns Hopkins University:
“I was raised in a religious household where I was taught that sex only happened between a married man and a woman. After that rape, I felt so dirty . . . can you imagine going back into a society where you are no longer of value? Where you are no longer as good as anybody else?”
And even if a woman makes a conscious choice to disobey the law of chastity, we limit her inherent worth and limit Christ’s Atonement by saying she can never be whole again. Of course, we all live with consequences—both from our own choices and others—but the Atonement is real. It’s powerful. It can heal and cleanse anyone who has the faith and desire to change.
Women are not dollar bills. They are not cake. They are not gum. Women are daughters of Heavenly Parents. And when we make mistakes, we can change. We can access the Atonement, which is real and powerful.
Stay clear of the line.
Here’s a secret the prophets and apostles and every couple who has ever dated already knows: when it comes to dating, there is no one, solid line. In fact, thinking of dating as a list of do nots can take the romance out of it and tempt some to see how much they can flirt with that imaginary line they’ve created.
But the myth of the line persists because it’s easier to follow a list of rules than it is to gauge your feelings and those of the person you are dating. But here’s the problem with thinking of dating in terms of lines: it is again missing the point. We are trying to turn sexual purity into a whole book of rules just like the Pharisees and Sadducees did with the Law of Moses.
Dating is not a challenge for us to get through, a test to see how long we can hold out until we are married. Intimacy—physical, emotional, and spiritual—is a delicate balance we continually work on throughout our life. Dating is our chance to build that balance in a new relationship. And when we focus so much on the physical side of things, everything else gets out of whack.
In dating, we should be conscious of what emotions and desires are being aroused within us, try to stay clear of those that arouse strong sexual desires, and try to keep a healthy balance in our relationships. We should also think less of our own immediate gratification and think more of the person we are with and how our actions might be affecting them. In short, it all comes down to respect: respect for yourself, respect for the person you are dating, and respect for the relationship the two of you are building. Instead of looking for "the line," focus on being the best you can be and helping your significant other reach their potential as well.
Yeah she's gorgeous, but I still can't see why he'd be interested in her.
I am ashamed to say I’ve used a variation of this phrase in the past, and I've even sat by when I’ve heard it used by other people. This insult, veiled as a compliment, usually ends with something to suggest that there’s not much to a woman beyond surface-level. In effect, we're saying, "Yes she's beautiful, but there's not much else there."
This is absolutely and completely false. She is a daughter of God, and I imagine He wouldn’t be too happy that someone just insulted His child.
Women sometimes complain about the way men objectify them, but we often fail to realize the many ways we objectify ourselves. This phrase and the way we talk about one another is a prime example. Or the way we so often compare our bodies to another’s, the way we obsess over famous actresses, or the way we hyper-focus on another woman’s appearance, even in compliments. That’s not to say we shouldn’t ever compliment a woman on her appearance. But are we so focused on how everyone looks that that’s all we ever comment on or even notice?
► You'll also like:3 Compliments that Hurt Women More Than Help Them
As Elder Holland notes, “The danger of unhealthy comparison is that it can lead to depression, spiritual digression, lack of self-confidence, ingratitude, and delighting in the misfortunes of others. The challenge for a disciple of Christ is to move from competitiveness to cooperation, from love of self to love of others, from comparison to connection.”
Sexuality is a bad thing.
Sometimes in our haste to discourage young members from having sex before marriage, we forget the part where we explain that sex is an amazing and beautiful thing that is so sacred we should wait for the right person and the right time. Sometimes we focus on the negative so much we begin training young members to feel guilty about or disgusted by their own bodies.
But sex is not scary, hateful, or disgusting.
► You'll also like: How Living the Gospel Enhances My Sexuality and Spirituality
And sexuality and spirituality are not opposing forces. Sexuality is not something that needs to be stamped out of us or hidden in embarrassment. It is an exquisite, sacred thing—something that enhances our spirituality if we treat it with the proper respect and reverence.
In fact, sex and sexuality expressed in the right way help us learn our divine identities as spiritual sons and daughters of Heavenly Parents and help us experience an uninhibited love where we can give our whole selves to another. We should never feel self-conscious about this divine power when we are striving to use it in the right way and at the right time, because, as Elder Holland shares:
“Sexual intimacy is not only a symbolic union between a man and a woman—the uniting of their very souls—but it is also symbolic of a union between mortals and deity, between otherwise ordinary and fallible humans uniting for a rare and special moment with God himself and all the powers by which he gives life in this wide universe of ours. . . .
“And I submit to you that you will never be more like God at any other time in this life than when you are expressing that particular power. Of all the titles he has chosen for himself, Father is the one he declares, and Creation is his watchword—especially human creation, creation in his image. . . . Human life—that is the greatest of God's powers, the most mysterious and magnificent chemistry of it all—and you and I have been given it, but under the most serious and sacred of restrictions. You and I who can make neither mountain nor moonlight, not one raindrop nor a single rose—yet we have this greater gift in an absolutely unlimited way. And the only control placed on us is self-control—self-control born of respect for the divine sacramental power it is.”