Bodies For Sale! Teaching Modesty

50PercentOff“…Everyone is selling something,” I said as I talked to a young girl one evening.

Her mother had just made a comment about how the outfit the girl was wearing was “too revealing” and so she would need to go change it. The fifteen year old girl tilted her hip and rolled her eyes as she smirked at her mom. This smile meant, “I don’t care what you say. I like this outfit and I’m not changing it.”

Parenting teenagers can be difficult. This mother was frustrated. I could tell that if I had not been sitting there she would have started a power struggle with her daughter and told her in a very loud voice to go take that outfit off.

The strong willed girl would have fought back and either worn the mother down and by so doing destroyed the family’s modesty policy, or would have given in while displaying great emotion, and probably tried to hide other outfits from her mother. Either way the relationship would have been damaged.

I hear some parents say, “Well, just let them wear what they want. They’ll grow out of it. Clothes don’t make them immoral. It’s not worth the fight.”

To these statements I say, if you are what you eat, why wouldn’t become what your wear? One choice in the wrong direction can encourage us to justify more and more deviation from the path we know we are supposed to take. I also say, parents should never fight with children. It’s not necessary. No issue is worth destroying a relationship over, but that doesn’t mean a parent should stop teaching standards either. What about “honor thy father and thy mother?” If that basic commandment doesn’t apply to our relationships then they are already in jeopardy of not being successful. There are more than two choices for handling a situation like this.

If we are only bodies and emotions, then maybe our choices are only to fight and get angry or give in. But, we are not just bodies. We are much more! This is why there are more than two choices. We have hearts which can direct us toward virtue and goodness and minds which are strong enough to control our bodies and our choices. Our understanding of goodness and principles coupled with our agency and ability to self-govern are the keys to our future strength.

As I looked at this defiant teenager, I felt that the mother wouldn’t mind if I said something. I began, “You know why your mother cares about what you wear don’t you?”

“No,” she said.

“It’s because everyone is selling something. Each person you meet is selling ideas, morals, standards, agendas, and products.”

“Products?” she questioned.

“Sure, if you like a certain kind of phone and you buy it and use it you are advertising for that company. If you listen to a certain song with your friends you are encouraging them to like that song and maybe even go buy that CD. Likewise, if you tell a lie and then laugh about it with your friends because you got out of a responsibility, then you are selling the idea that lying is okay as long as it serves you like you want it too. And, if you wear that shirt which shows a lot of your chest, your mother knows you are selling your body. You are advertising that you are happy to show what you have. Which leads boys to think you would also be willing to share some of it with them. Those boys would never treat you as respectful as they treat the girl who sells that she values her body. They would treat her like a lady and you like an object. Your mother doesn’t want that for you. She wants you to have the best boys liking you and she wants them to treat you right. You should respect yourself. And you should respect your mother and go change your outfit.”

“Okay” the girl said as she walked away.

The mother looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Thank you!”

I didn’t do anything really earth shaking. I just told the girl in a really assertive way what she was doing. I described the messages she could be sending and how much her mother loved her. Nothing any good friend wouldn’t do.

Assertive communication is truthful. Telling the truth to children is always better than trying to shelter their feelings or trick them into good behavior. Truth is respected even if it is hard to take.

Just so you know, teaching children modesty should start when children are young. Don’t let them wear one thing when they are young and then change the rules when they are older. Keep a firm family standard the whole time. Our family’s family standard not only tells about what we consider to be modest clothing, but also talks about language, accessories, hair, jewelry, substances, media, electronics etc. Deciding upon your family’s standard as it relates to all of these topics and writing it down and discussing it often will protect your family, not only from deviating off the desired course, but from needless contention as well.

I could go into great detail about how to tell a child no and have them accept it, and how to help them calm down when they get upset. These are all skills families should learn to be happier and more self-governing. But, no matter what skill you apply to your family structure, it will not be effective unless it is assertive.

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24 thoughts on “Bodies For Sale! Teaching Modesty

  1. Doesn’t telling girls to wear modest clothing buy into the patriarchal concept that men cannot control their sexual urges? Could it be that girls wearing revealing clothing is actually a form of liberation from restraints imposed on them by men?

  2. MT: That bit about “patriarchal concept that men cannot control their sexual urges” is an old canard dealing with attempts to assess blame in cases of rape. It is an exercise in obfuscation to attempt to use that as a rejoinder to Nicholeen’s points about selling ideas and using the behavior of dress to influence others’ opinions. How we act, speak, and dress is constantly communicating something to others. There is more than a grain of truth in “the clothes make the man”, and woman too. The things we communicate to others has a direct bearing, though not an absolute control, on how they treat us.

  3. I find your approach to teaching modesty highly problematic, Nicholeen. I worry it teaches reinforces the worldly notion that women are objects. You’re trying to teach them to become a different kind of object, but an object nonetheless.

    Modesty is far more than an outfit, and self worth is far more than physical appearance.

  4. I’m not sure what happened, but some random progressive spirit possessed my body earlier today and wrote that first comment. I am deeply embarrassed. It does not, in fact, represent my personal viewpoints on modesty.

  5. MT, sorry, I didn’t know you well enough to realize that you were playing devil’s advocate.

    And for those who didn’t get it, the Daniel reference is from the Merchant of Venice, Act 4, scene 1.

    Trevor, I don’t see how your assertions counter Nicholeen’s assertions that clothing sends a message, and that people judge you by the clothing you wear, and will treat you according to their judgements of you.

    The idea that self-worth is more than physical appearance is true, but it doesn’t negate the importance of clothing choice (on communicating to others what our self-image is) in those situations where we do have a choice. In other words, its not a rejoinder to her argument/assertions.

    You object to Nicholeen’s approach but you said nothing but a non-sequitur and a gratuitous assertion that Nicholeen perpetuates the idea of women as objects.

  6. It does seem to be a bit of a non sequitur to suggest that by encouraging girls not to be mere objects, you are treating them as mere objects.

  7. “Selling your body” is a very controversial way of saying and presenting it. I am sure we will hear from people objecting to this phrase. I would put it slightly differently. First impressions DO matter. People will judge you based on your appearance and how you present yourself. This is why missionaries dress a certain way: they are sending a message by their appearance. This is also why young men are asked to wear white shirts when they pass the sacrament. By the same token, women are sending certain messages as well based on how they dress. Revealing clothing sends a different message than more modest clothing. That is just reality.

  8. Michael/Bookslinger:

    My concern about this approach is certainly not novel and has been thoroughly treated across the bloggernaccle. My initial reaction is like Geoff says, “selling your body” sounds very harsh. (See “slut shaming”)

    I won’t dispute that what we wear sends a message. But I don’t like methods that make young women feel like their bodies are the most important thing about them (for good or for bad) and that should be unduly concerned about the horrible things other people might think of them.

  9. I think it is easy to look at this backwards. When someone dresses to show off their body, THEY are the ones saying that their body is the most important thing they have to offer. Visual information is already the most easily assessed aspect of us as individuals. When we accentuate that visual aspect in certain ways, we are emphasizing it even more.

    I think Nicholeen’s approach does the exact opposite. It teaches people that their bodies are NOT the most important thing about them, so it benefits them to not make a spectacle of them.

  10. Really wish I could read something on modesty for girls that didn’t involve what boys will be thinking.

  11. starienite – But that’s exactly what modesty is about. The messages we send to others and how those messages are interpreted. If you have a rational argument that it is, in fact, something else, please share.

  12. I thought this was a great post. Of course how we present ourselves is how we “sell ourselves”. The currency that others spend on us, is not money, but time and attention. I think we do our daughters a disservice when we don’t teach them the power they hold in how they present and carry themselves.

  13. “Really wish I could read something on modesty for girls that didn’t involve what boys will be thinking.”

    Well, let me know when we ban boys. 😉

    “My initial reaction is like Geoff says, “selling your body” sounds very harsh. (See “slut shaming”)”

    Sorry, but I don’t see “selling your body” and “slut shaming” as the same thing at all. Hearing the one phrase doesn’t push my mind towards thinking of a person as a slut. Does “emphasizing your body” make it kindlier, gentler? Also, I suppose that “slut shaming” has gone the way of the Dodo, perhaps we are now into “slut esteeming” in our enlightened 2013?

    “I won’t dispute that what we wear sends a message. But I don’t like methods that make young women feel like their bodies are the most important thing about them (for good or for bad) and that should be unduly concerned about the horrible things other people might think of them.”

    It’s not logically obvious to me that the above statement applies to the article, or to any situation where a parent or guardian corrects the clothing of an adolescent. I’m not sure how it automatically translates into “your body is the most important thing and you should be worried what others think of you”, simpliciter. I won’t deny that it shows that your body is, in fact, vital, but I don’t see how the message “this is the most important thing, ever!” comes across.

  14. These are some really interesting comments. Thank you all for taking part in the conversation. I only wish you could see the look in the eyes of any of the youth I have shared this idea with. They are absolutely liberated. They don’t feel that I have insulted their genders at all. (I share this with both sexes) They recognize an important method of communication; visual appearance.

    Every time I go for a job interview I take visual appearance into consideration. I want to sell myself as a suitable employee. When we meet people or go on dates it is no different.

    We are all influenced by personal appearance more than we know.

    I have a lovely neighbor who has noticed we have a dress standard in our family. We have never said a word about our standard. But, when she is working outside in the Summer with the children she goes inside to put a modest shirt on. I told her she didn’t need to go to that effort. But, she said, ”Nicholeen, I know your family dresses respectfully. So, when I am with your children I don’t want to give them conflicting messages. I would never want to confuse such a great thing.” Does how we dress send a message? I think so. We should not be afraid to take the modesty principle seriously. It is a message to the world. We should all respect ourselves more.

  15. “They are absolutely liberated. They don’t feel that I have insulted their genders at all. ”

    Imagine that — teens blissfully ignorant of gender oppression! 😉

  16. This is a different way of stating that everything we do signals something.

    The way we frame signaling, either as selling, or advertising, or sharing or encouraging has various effects, and communicates to different audiences, but it is the underlying point.

    I’m not sure that there is one right way to communicate signaling.

  17. Signaling is a good word too. I like that. I just use selling since most everyone knows what selling is.

    Yes, my neighbor is wonderful! She is one of my dear, dear friends. Real friendship like ours is shown by real love and real support. So many people now days are selfish friends. She and I try to be the kind that lift each other up and make life better on either side of the fence. It is a wonderful relationship. If the world was like my neighbor, we would live in a different world.

  18. I am a little troubled by the power struggle between the mother and daughter in the story. Teens need to be allowed some freedom and independence to grow into adults. It doesn’t have to be dress. But parents are unwise to try to force teens to conform based on parental authority or to guilt them into something because of how it reflects on the family (a family modesty policy? what the heck is that?).

    Here’s an alternate response to get the girl to cover up. Simply tell her that Brother so-and-so (pick a random old guy at church) thinks that outfit looks GREAT on her. Then raise your eyebrows at her. She’ll change clothes, after she vomits.

    I had a similar experience as a teen when my shirt was riding up over the waistline of my skirt while I was reaching up high for a room key (I was at work as a motel desk clerk). The old geezer whose key I was retrieving said “If that shirt goes up one more inch I’m going to have a heart attack.” I still feel queasy just thinking about it.

  19. “Here’s an alternate response to get the girl to cover up. Simply tell her that Brother so-and-so (pick a random old guy at church) thinks that outfit looks GREAT on her.”

    I thought that what men think didn’t matter with respect to modesty. Either men have to put up with girls wearing skimpy clothing and keep their mouths shut or they have to exert some kind of moral excellence where the half naked female didn’t incite their lust. At least, I’ve read this tack from feminists ad nauseum.

    Also….I’m a bit confused by the use of deceit in this approach. You would be lying to your daughter. Also, I think it’s hardly fair to the old geezer at church for a teenage daughter to think of him as a lecher. Most of the geezers are looking at the widows, anyway.

  20. Well, DB, I took the night to think.

    I had, and I have seen, a better and more postitve response when the lesson is that modesty is a pattern of behavior rather than a solely how long your hemlines are. That this pattern of behavior is achieved by honoring our Heavenly Parents. Yes, that includes dress, because we are made in their image. That if we can look at what we are wearing and feel that it respects Them, than that is all that matters. What others think, or feel won’t matter because I am pleasing my Parents. I am not saying that what we wear sends a message, but if we behave and dress in a way that pleases Them, the rest falls into place. I never dressed with an eye to wonder if boys will have bad thoughts, simply, does this honor Their image and love for me. The choice to dress and behave modesty is a personal one.

    I am not saying that what we wear doesn’t send a message, but that when the focus is always on someone else and their thoughts, instead of helping someone find their reason to dress modesty it can lead to more problems.

  21. Hawkperson, you need to read all of Nicholeen’s posts before you have kids. She and her family are famous in England for turning around hooligans. The two kids they took in from England ended up loving them. Watch the videos online!

    every parent needs to read nicholeeens books before their kids are old enough to talk.

  22. starienite – So you’re saying that you’re only concerned about how the messages you’re sending out are interpreted by your Heavenly Parents, all the while ignoring how those messages are interpreted by any one else and pretending that your Heavenly Parents are ignoring the fact that you’re ignoring how any one else interprets the messages you send? How is it pleasing to your Heavenly Parents that you’re ignoring the messages you send to others when you know how those messges are being interpreted by others? Seriously?

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