Courtesy of a comment on an FMH thread, I read an article from the October 1972 issue of the New Era that must be shared. It’s awesome. It is entitled, “A Letter to Girls about Lady Missionaries”, by Lana Mangelson, a returned lady missionary.
First, I’m so glad I live now and not then. I mean, technically I was a few months old when this came out, but I don’t remember it.
Second, let us analyze how much has changed in the ensuing 37 years. And be grateful.
But before that, an admission: this isn’t entirely fair. It was a different time and I’m going after this article with the fallacy of presentism. But I can’t seem to stop myself! It’s fun!
She talks about covenants and sacrifices. It starts out fine. But then it quickly diverges to, “One of the most apparent sacrifices that a sister must make grows out of the fact that in many ways proper physical appearance is more difficult for her to maintain than it is for an elder.” And then she stays on appearance for the rest of the article.
Really? This is the most important piece of information that should be passed on to prospective missionaries? REALLY?
Oh yes, I’m glad I didn’t live (or, rather, remember) then.
Now, I agree that appearance is important. Appearance is an immediate social indicator, for better or worse. I completely and totally agree that missionaries (both elders and sisters) should look nice. And, frankly, both get “look nice” lectures and direction in the MTC and at zone conferences (at least we did in my mission). And frankly it didn’t bother me because it wasn’t the main focus of the zone conferences; it was a few minutes out of several hours of spiritual feasting. Hey, I’m a pragmatist; I can handle a few minutes of “look nice”.
But this article…. I didn’t realize my mission was not as successful as it could have been because I didn’t obsess over my appearance and weight. My bad.
Appearance is one area where a sister must sacrifice the tendency to rationalize by claiming she has neither the time nor the opportunity to keep herself neat and clean. It takes ingenuity and planning, but it can be done if she sees its importance.
I don’t actually know what mission rules and schedules were like in the early 70s (though apparently they could ride motor bikes; after spending hours on your hair and makeup, wouldn’t that be kind of… annoying?). In the mid-90s, when I served my mission, we got up at 6:30 and were out of the apartment at 9:30. That provided us with 3 hours to get ready and study (I served an English-speaking mission, so no language studies were necessary; that, to be fair, freed up some time). I don’t ever remember feeling like that was an excessive amount of time, nor do I remember thinking it was too little. It seemed fine for what we needed to do. Frankly, I can handle showering and getting dressed and doing my hair and praying and reading scriptures and doing companion study and eating breakfast in 3 hours. What sort of grooming requirements would take so much longer? Admittedly, I wore makeup only occasionally, but my makeup wearing companions seemed to have no problems.
The Holy Ghost works only in a certain type of vessel. The Spirit may work through an individual who is pure in heart, but it works at its greatest strength through a person who is in all things pure and clean.
A sister missionary may be a wonderful person inside, but she must try to keep her physical appearance just as radiant; otherwise, the Holy Ghost cannot influence her in the fullest sense, and she will miss out on needed guidance and comfort.
Yes, the Holy Ghost only helps the pretty people. Okay, as someone who, while not (always) a slob, puts forth little effort in looking fabulous (I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of woman, and I almost never wear makeup), I don’t get this at all. Obviously I wasn’t a jeans and t-shirt woman on my mission (well, I was, but it was suppressed), but still, my minimalist essence was there. And frankly I felt the Spirit working in my life then as I have since. So, let’s just accept that this is simply… wrong. Equating obsessing about physical appearance with being “a pure and holy vessel” is just wrong.
Let’s look at the “Suggestions to Sister Missionaries” one by one. It’s fun!
Exercise for a few minutes every morning; then eat a good breakfast and do not piece before lunch unless you want to put on weight.
The suggestion to exercise is a winner! Yay for good advice! Exercise is our friend. Of course, if you’re in a walking or biking area, you’re probably already getting plenty of exercise, but if you’re in a car (or motor bike) area, exercise will do your body good. Also, I have no objections to eating a good breakfast. You need energy to help you face the rejection that will be coming your way once you walk out that door. I’m guessing “do not piece before lunch” means do not snack before lunch (is this a British English phrase? It’s a totally new phrase for me), and while I actually would argue that if you get hungry mid-morning, a healthy snack is actually fine, this is a minor quibble. The “unless you want to put on weight” part makes me cringe. Really, was it necessary to add that?
In some places you can save a lot of time by eating your hot meal in an inexpensive restaurant or boarding house.
Do boarding houses still exist? I actually would not have even guessed they still existed in the early 70s. Also, with the weight obsession, I’d think that eating at an inexpensive restaurant would be absolutely forbidden, what with all the fat and calories.
Make weekly menus and shop for as long a period as possible. This saves time and money and you will not buy as many high-calorie treats.
No arguments. Though I’d just say “unhealthy treats” since something with low calories isn’t necessarily good for you. But I certainly agree that planning ahead when shopping saves time and money and minimizes junk food.
When cooking, make enough at one time for at least two meals.
Do not have a food fad where you eat the same things every day.
Eat at least one hot meal per day.
Random, but sure, whatever.
If you are one pound overweight, it is too much. Take it off!
Cringe. Major cringe. Hello, eating disorder.
Instead of stopping at a bakery for a quick lunch, stop at the store and buy a yogurt, some cottage cheese, or some such prepared, healthy food. Carry an apple or raw vegetable to tide you over until dinner. (We always carried a spoon in our handbags for meals away from the apartment.)
No arguments. Healthy food keeps you going as you run quickly from appointment to appointment. Or as you drearily drag yourself from door to door while tracting. Whatever the case may be. (Oh how I hated tracting. But that’s a different subject.)
When invited to dinner you do not have to say you are on a diet; just take small helpings, no seconds, and cut down the next day. This way you do not offend the host, and you can still accept invitations to dinner.
I’m not sure how practical this is, though it depends on where you serve your mission. And it seems a bit obsessive.
Never, never eat late at night! When you come home late after a discussion and you have not had time for dinner, eat a little salad or fruit and then go straight to bed and think how much skinnier you will be by not eating a large meal until morning.
Do any of you read pro-ana websites? Suggestions like this would fit in really well there. If it weren’t for the “think how much skinnier you will be” part, it’s not horrible advice.
Chew gum only in the privacy of your apartment.
You’d think gum chewing would be encouraged, as it help keeps you away from that evil food that will only make you fat. But, less snarkily, I agree with the suggestion. Gum chewing is annoying.
Elders’ most frequent complaints are about sisters’ hair. Have a neat and easy style—not too short or it will look like the elders’, and long enough so that it can be curled on Sunday and for special occasions.
I’m fairly certain that if an elder ever complained about my hair, I’d slap him. This would violate a suggestion that’s coming up soon, as well as be, you know, assault. It’s generally bad to have criminal charges against you when you’re a missionary. The church frowns on that.
However, I don’t object to the advice to have a neat and easy style, though I may quibble about the specifics.
Sleep on a satin pillowcase; this preserves hair style and also femininity.
This one is just weird. I mean, if you like satin pillowcases, go for it. Personally, I’m a cotton woman.
Do not feel that because you are a missionary you cannot wear makeup. Do wear a minimum, but do not go completely without it.
Another weird one. Was there really an issue back then where missionaries thought makeup was inappropriate? I’m not opposed to makeup at all, it’s just not my thing, so I almost always went completely without it. It’s amazing people I taught actually got baptized anyway, isn’t it? Must have been because of my companions. Of course, not all of them wore makeup either….
Buy clothes that are easy to care for.
No arguments. You need to save time in the mornings for doing your hair and makeup.
Whatever your wardrobe or climate, put on clean underclothes every day (even if it means taking five minutes the night before to rinse them out).
Not only do I have no arguments, the alternative (dirty underclothes) is just plain gross. Yes, missionaries should wear clean underwear. This is a very good suggestion. The fact that this is actually one of the suggestions tells me this may have actually been an issue. Ewww.
Do not carry one of those suitcase handbags that sister missionaries are so notorious for. Carry only the essentials in a medium-sized one, and put pamphlets or books in a separate plastic or leather case. (They will not get dog-eared this way.)
I have to admit, I can’t picture either the good suggestion or the bad suggestion. Too much has changed between then and now. I used a backpack much of my mission. Towards the end of my mission, my mission president wanted us (both elders and sisters) to not use them. He thought it looked too sloppy.
Carry a combination rain-wind bonnet, some tissues, and a couple of disposable, scented towels in your handbag. (The towels are nice for freshening up during a day away from your flat.)
I’m not sure bonnets are in anymore, but I would agree that carrying a few useful things in your handbag (or backpack or messenger bag) is good. Tissues, always useful. Disposable towels, love the things.
Spark up those drab colors with scarves and bows.
Sisters, step away from the bows! Just say no to the bows! But I’m a fan of scarves.
Learn how to make those quick, no-bake chocolate cookies for branch picnics.
Recipe please. But won’t this make me fat?
Do not ever slap or poke an elder.
No problem, as long as he refrains from commenting on my hair. (Though, was this really a problem in the early 70s? Was there an epidemic of elder poking?)
Expect and then allow elders to open doors, help into cars, put on wraps, and start your motor bikes. Do not ignore their efforts, but do not be obnoxious if they should forget sometimes.
We’ll assume this topic has been hashed out elsewhere in the universe. The “start your motor bikes” part is the only part that’s… weird. Maybe it’s because I can’t quite picture missionaries on motor bikes.
Have a BNTE Week (Be Nice to Elders Week) where you either cook something good or do something nice for your district. If you do this, remember that this week especially you must work like a whirlwind so no one can say that you borrowed the Lord’s time. Make it a top week in service and in work also.
No arguments. It’s nice to be nice.
Always participate with the elders on preparation day. If it is something you cannot do, then at least be there to watch or cheer. This does wonders for mutual respect between elders and sisters.
No arguments. I’m not sure if it helps with mutual respect or not, but it’s certainly more fun to participate. On the rare occasions when we had a district or zone activity (my mission president forbade us to leave our areas on p-days except once in a while, which meant such activities were very rare), I was always game to jump in and play.
If you get depressed, set aside a little time that day to do whatever raises your spirits. For example, spend extra time on your hair, take a long shower, schedule a time for meditation, and then pray earnestly for help from the Lord. Lose yourself in the Spirit and work very, very hard.
It actually ends with good advice. Go figure.