"In all of living have much fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured!"
~ Gordon B. Hinckley

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Modest Argument

I've been seeing a lot of posts and comments and threads floating around facebook of varying ideas regarding modesty. A lot of them are in response to Jessica Rey's presentation The Evolution of the Swimsuit.


In her presentation she brings up a study that looked at brain activity in men when they viewed pictures of women wearing clothing of varying modesty. They found that when viewing pictures of women in bikinis, the brain activity in the frontal lobe (the part that you use when interacting with other people) completely shut down. Instead of thinking of the women as people, the brain activity in the test subjects showed they were using the same parts of the brain associated with thinking of tools and objects, such as a hammer or screwdriver. The women literally became objects for them to use, instead of women to interact with, just because of what they were (or weren't) wearing.

What I want to put my two cents in about is actually not specific to what kind of swimsuit you wear; It's regarding the comments I've seen regarding the topic of dressing modestly in general.

Nearly everything I've seen recently has either been completely in support of the video, or completely against it, and the people seem to be pretty equally split between the two sides. Those supporting it say things along the lines of "Ew, who would ever want to be thought of completely as an object! I'm never dressing immodestly again!" or "Girls, remember this and dress modestly!". Those passionately against it argue things like "They need to stop teaching that guys are incapable of controlling their thoughts. Girls are not responsible for what guys think and do" and "Guys are not animals. How they think about women shouldn't just be an automatic response to what she is wearing".

I've seen excellently worded and structured arguments and comments for both sides, and I think both sides have a lot of right in them. So here's my take:

First off, modesty is not a measure of the number of square inches of skin you cover up, and it frustrates me when people assume that it is. Modesty is kind of like propriety, and it can refer to mannerisms, thought, speech, hair style, life style...basically every aspect of your life and how you present yourself. This conversation is specific to modesty in dress. To me, modesty in dress means you are showing through how you dress that you understand your body is important - sacred even - and that you respect it as such. Kind of like being modest about your talents instead of being an over-eager braggy show-off. You're not ashamed that you can do awesome things, you just are respectful and protective of your talents, and are respectful to those around you who maybe don't want to hear about how cool you think you are every 2 seconds (even if you really are super talented). Because you value and respect your body, choosing to dress modestly rather than showing yourself off is also kind of like how if you wrote some major song or had some brilliant idea for a product, you'd want to copyright or patent it instead of just handing it out, or like how you lock up valuables in a safe, or keep your grandma's antique china protected and on display in a china cabinet instead of keeping it laid out on your front lawn for everyone to see and step on. Ok, maybe those aren't the best analogies ever, but you get my point. Hopefully. Anyways, moving on.

So to address the issue of who's fault it is if a guy is having a hard time not thinking of a girl as a body instead of a person, I have another analogy.

photo source: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/blueberry%20cheesecake

I LOVE dessert, especially fatty, creamy, death-by-everything stuff. If you have the most divinely delectable piece of cheesecake and you set it in front of me and tell me not to eat it, I'm going to have a hard time. I know that it's your cheesecake, not mine, and that if I eat your cheesecake it will be stealing and it will make you sad. I also know that I am lactose intolerant, and that cheesecake in particular - while one of my favorites - has a LOT of ingredients that will make me very sick if I eat it. Will I eat your cheesecake? Most likely not. I have more self control than that, and I am a better person than that, plus I know it's bad for me and I don't like to be sick. Will my natural animal instinct be to want it reaaaaally bad? Absolutely. And will I have a hard time not imagining eating it and drooling like crazy all day? Heck yes! So if you really value your cheesecake and want to be nice to me, why on earth wouldn't you just put your cheesecake in a box in the fridge with your name on it instead?

photo source: http://m.bakerella.com/cheesecake/

I'm not a guy, so I'm not claiming to be an expert here (and please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong!), but I'm guessing it's kind of a similar thing with the way women dress. If a girl is parading around flaunting her cheesecake, that doesn't mean that every boy will go crazy and steal it. Some boys might, some might mistakenly think that she is offering free samples, and some might want to but end up settling for just imagining taking her cheesecake. The best ones will feel bad for wanting her cheesecake and will do whatever they can to not think about it, or will just find a way to get away from all that cheesecake because they'll remember that they are actually lactose intolerant. Regardless of the girl and the cheesecake, the boys are responsible for their thoughts and actions, and while they may not have complete control over how their body naturally responds initially to the cheesecake, they ultimately choose how they react to the situation and how they think about her cheesecake.

photo source: http://www.thecheesecakefactory.com/menu/Cheesecake/white_chocolate_raspberry_truffle

But on the other end of the equation, girls! Keep your cheesecake someplace safe! If the thought of tons of boys constantly plotting how to steal your cheesecake, or breathing all over it, or getting germs and bugs and drool and gross things in it and contaminating it makes you sick, take better care of it! It can be very damaging to those lactose intolerant boys (let me clarify, once they get married they are cured from their lactose intolerance, but only for their wife's cheesecake :)), so there's no need to make it hard for the ones who are trying to be good and stay away from dairy! That stuff can be very tempting! Taking good care of your cheesecake is better for everyone in the long run.

photo source: http://www.thecheesecakefactory.com/menu/Cheesecake/oreo_dream

As for what exactly constitutes "flaunting your cheesecake" as opposed to looking great and dressing to flatter your body, there are tons of guidelines you can refer to. But ultimately you know without asking. Are you thinking about how many guys will be checking out various aspects of your cheesecake, or are you just being a great representation of you. Are you dressing to be seen as a body? Or as a daughter of God? As much fun as it may be to have everyone craving your delicious awesome cheesecake, being a daughter of God is waaaaay better :)

photo source: http://www.hugsandcookiesxoxo.com/2012/05/rolo-cheesecake-barsinsanely-delish.html

Another thought that I've seen discussed a few times is that saying an immodestly dressed girl causes boys to have bad thoughts opens the door to assuming that if a hot looking girl gets raped, it's because she was asking for it and the poor guy who raped her just couldn't help himself because of how she was dressed. Obviously that's a bit extreme, which is kind of the point of the comment. I don't exactly agree with it though. Like I just pointed out with the cheesecake, although guys are responsible for how they choose to respond to situations and stimuli, how girls choose to act and dress (in addition to speaking volumes about how they respect themselves) can make things significantly easier or harder. And honestly, most rapists aren't nice boys who are trying to do the right thing and then some scandalous girl walked by. How a boy thinks and acts is his choice, but girls can help him make good choices.

photo source: http://www.thecheesecakefactory.com/menu/cheesecake

Here's another analogy I like. It's one I learned from my bishop as a teen. He was very adamant about the importance of dressing modestly, to show our respect of our own bodies, and also to help keep the young men on track. I can't even tell you how many lessons we had about it. In one particular such meeting he told us about some TV series or something where they get this top-of-the-line trained break-in guy and they have him go to top security buildings and homes and find a way to get through all the security and break in. Kind of like a real-life break in scene from one of those movies where they spray mist or powder to find all the lasers...you know what I'm talking about. Then they can use what he did to find where the flaws are and make even more secure systems for the future. One thing the break-in guy said on the show is that the dinky little locks we have on our front doors and garages really don't do much against anyone who is trained. If a thief wants in, he will find a way to get in. The purpose of those locks is not so much to keep the real big bad guys out, as it is to keep the honest men honest. It's so when some guy in the neighborhood walks by and thinks "hey, nice TV!", and tries to sneak in the back door only to find it locked, it will be enough of a nuisance and deterrence for him to remember that stealing is wrong and he doesn't really want to go to jail, and he'll go back to living a good honest life.

Covered, covered, covered...and still not immune to rapists and perverts

Relating that to modesty, if a rapist wants to be a rapist, it probably doesn't really matter immensely if you're wearing a bra and fishnets, or a moo-moo. Sure one will be more alluring and spark a lot more interest, but he wants what he wants, and he will find a way to get it regardless. (That being said, there are several things you can do to prevent rapist attacks. We're not completely helpless here) If a pervert wants to be a pervert, he will find a way regardless of how much is left to his imagination and how much he is actually seeing. Dressing modestly is (in addition to speaking volumes about yourself) a way of helping the boys who are trying to think good clean thoughts and treat women with the respect they deserve. It helps keep good boys good, and hopefully help the ones who are trying to be better achieve that too. It also shows them that you appreciate their endeavors to think good clean thoughts :)

So lets take good care of that cheesecake, ladies!

photo source: http://faimouioui.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/the-cheesecake-factory-seattle/


  1. You are so cute and this is so perfectly said. Thank you. It does seem like everyone takes things to one extreme or another and you hit the nail on the head here with truth. THANK YOU. And I love your definition of modesty...people often forget the real meaning. Great post!

  2. The study used in the orginal video you reference was never published, was not peer reviewed, had a very small sample size, and did not actually find what the woman in the video says was found. Men were shown pictures of women in bikinis, but the photo only showed them from the neck down. When you remove the face from a photo of a person, the brain no longer sees a person. THAT is why the frontal lobe did not activate. THAT is why certain of the men saw these women as objects. (And only a small percentage of this small sample size did...the ones who scored high on tests of sexism.)

  3. A comment from a friend who is having trouble commenting here:

    What we are pointing out, are the problems with the way modesty doctrine is taught or defined and in turn, often, nearly exclusively, objectifies women as much as cultural trends. I don't think anyone is saying "don't be modest" or advocating for immodesty, or dismissing the value of actual modesty in expressing disagreement with the video or similarly bad elaborations of what modesty is (and in some cases isn't) or why it is important.
    Of note- using object lessons, is one of the most benevolent ways to objectify women.

  4. My biggest objection to the video from the swimsuit woman is that she is selling swimsuits. Therefore, this is not an educational video. It is an advertisement. I read the study, and Sarah makes an excellent point.

    I appreciate within your post that you focus on the fact that men are not all rapists but that a rapist will rape regardless, but then I am confused when you talk to women about hiding the cheesecake. I'll take your analogy further. It's my cheesecake (I'm not willing to refer to women as desserts). What are the odds that a random stranger will walk up to my table in a restaurant and eat the cheesecake that's in front of me? Zero? He would get kicked out of the restaurant. We have laws and societal norms that govern behavior.

    There was a great post from a Mormon man today on what these modesty norms within LDS culture are doing. It's shocking to read. This isn't modesty leading to respect for women, but the opposite. http://bycommonconsent.com/2013/06/18/men-sex-and-modesty/

    Also "muumuu" not moo-moo. (you can delete this editorial note - just thought you would like to know)

  5. I liked the way you said it, Karin. And the funny thing is that your post really demonstrates the power of visual suggestion. Because now, I really, really, really want cheesecake and it's very hard to think about other things. Or to remember that it's 2:30 in the morning and the likelihood of me obtaining cheesecake right now is very, very low.