It all started as a simple Instagram photo. James the Mormon posted a picture of himself and his girlfriend—a beautiful woman who was wearing a black shirt that showed her shoulders.
That's when the attacks began: people commenting about how disappointed they were in James, people asking where the woman's garments were, and others pointing out she was not "modest."
It made my stomach churn. I felt sick that people were reducing a human being to what she wore, and nothing else. In their split-second judgment, none of these commenters stopped to think about who this daughter of God was, what her story may be, or any of the good qualities she possesses.
► You'll also like: Why We Need to Stop Humiliating Others in the Name of Modesty
I feel like I need to stop right here and clarify something: modesty is far more than what a person wears. It requires a humility and inner reflection—one that I hope would give us the self-confidence to love ourselves and others, without making snap judgments.
While I was fuming, James the Mormon had a much better reaction. Instead of retaliating and continuing the biting, hurtful conversations, he responded with calm, with sincerity, and in a way that showed just how amazing of a woman his girlfriend is.
In addition, he reminded me how hypocritical I had been for judging others based on their one comment, without understanding their background and reasons for speaking out (which I am sure were well intentioned).
On Twitter, he wrote:
When I met my girlfriend Lindsey at 22, she hadn't gone to church since she was 16. She made youthful mistakes and was ridiculed and judged for it. When we met I let her know I didn't care what she's done. I saw her as a child of God just like I look at anyone else. I invited her to church and shared my testimony. On her own accord she began to pray, read her scriptures, and want to come to church again. Now she is beginning to prepare for the temple. Not everyone is where you are. Not everyone has the same testimony as you. Before you choose to judge, instead seek to understand
I hope one day our church's culture will match our name. For goodness sake, [we] are the church of Jesus Christ! Christ looked at people for their full potential. It doesn't matter where we are, but where we are trying to go.
What an important message to remember. Women are so much more than what and how they dress. When we obsess over what others wear, we waste time we could use loving others and perfecting ourselves. And pretty soon, all we start seeing are clothes and accessories, not humanity, not our brothers and sisters.
The purpose of modesty is to respect our bodies and focus on that which is most important. As lds.org states, "If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves." Couldn't we add "and to others" to the end of that phrase? If we respect our bodies in that way, shouldn't we give others the same courtesy?
So please, let's stop obsessing, judging, and criticizing and try practicing a little more love and empathy—for everyone.