“Modesty is the Best Policy” even for the very young

modestySome of you aren’t going to like what I have to say.  Dressing our babies in cute little sleeveless dresses or bikinis is adorable and completely harmless, right?  Maybe…and maybe not.  I’m not going to outline for you WHAT modesty is.  I think that has been clearly defined many different times by various church leaders and pamphlets designed for youth.  What I intend to discuss here is WHEN, not HOW.  Because I am seeing a pattern that is confusing for me.  We dress our little girls however we want, and somewhere as they start to progress towards their teen years we begin to “enforce” modesty. Oftentimes these girls, who are beginning to assert their independence, will rebel against changing the way they dress.  Even when we do START to teach, we argue over HOW it should be taught and WHY it should be taught.  I am suggesting, that instead we should just make it the policy from day 1.

At age 2 my daughter started telling me she didn’t like the dresses with sleeves. ” I want the bathing suit dress,” she would say.  “I like to see my arms!”  I was shocked to discover that not only did she notice the difference, she had a preference.  So I started working to choose only modest outfits for her.  We have been arguing about clothes ever since.  She is 5 now, and will pointedly enforce modesty herself at this point, although she is ALWAYS working to define what it is.  She never fights me about wearing sleeves now, or shirts under her dresses, and she never argues about how long her skirts are, or shorts.  Now she fights me on leggings.  She loves to wear them without a skirt.  So now the conversation has shifted from what we are covering up, to high tight it should be.

“Why do I bother?”   “After all, she’s only 5 right?” Its not like she has anything to Show off”. “Besides, does she really understand?”   “What difference does it make?”  These are all questions I have gotten from well meaning friends, usually after they have witnessed one of our “conversations”.   And its sad really, that they have to be asked at all.

Why do I bother?– I bother because this is my daughter and I love her fiercely, I want her to respect her body, to keep it sacred and special, and to dress in a manner that reflects the person she is inside.

“It’s not like she has anything to show off?- I have a really hard time with this argument, because it is insinuating that we are teaching modesty only as it applies to sexuality and covering up our bodies to prevent unworthy thoughts in others.  Therefore it wouldn’t matter if a 5 year old is dressed in a sleeveless, or spaghetti strap dress.  But if you, INSTEAD, define modesty as “having or showing regard for the decencies of behavior, speech, dress, etc.;” then you will find that is a valuable lesson for a female or male of ANY age.  When you look up decent, you find the words “Respectable, and Worthy” as the definition.  So basically modesty is directing your behavior or dress towards that which will help you be respectable and worthy.  How can we as parents put an age on when its appropriate to start teaching this to our daughters?

“Does she really  understand”  Yes, I assure you.  She does.  Does she get that boys will be turned on by girls uncovered bodies? NO…and again, thats NOT THE POINT.  The best point is, when you teach your daughter about modesty at 2, or 4, or 5 (because trust me you will be talking about it at all of these ages) you are teaching her that she should value her body enough to dress modestly.  You are teaching her that Heavenly Father gave her a beautiful body, so she should respect it and keep it sacred, not display it to the world.  Sexuality doesn’t even enter into the equation.  Nor does fashion, or popularity.  No one is going to tell a 3 year old that she isn’t cool because her shorts are too long.  At our house modesty is part of the everyday conversation, and my daughter is very conscious of what is and isn’t modest.  In fact our most recent conversations have evolved into not judging others, because she likes to be the modesty police.  Its really embarrassing when your daughter points out a friends daughter and says “SHE’S NOT MODEST” at top volume.  I, of course, do not want her to think less of those who might make different choices, and am trying to teach her to understand that we value people based on who they are, instead of judging them by how they dress or look.  But yes, she understands.  I just asked her as she walked through the room, “why do we dress modestly”?  And she replied, “because Jesus gave us our bodies and he wants us to protect them.”  Simple answer, but exactly right.

“What difference does it make”?

I could tell you it makes a difference all day- but instead I will SHOW you.  Let me introduce you to Natalea McCombs, who is a stunning example of a beautiful and MODEST young woman.


Beautiful and Modest

Beautiful and Modest

Photo credit to Living Legacy Photography

Doesn’t she just look BRILLIANT!  I am lucky enough to know this beautiful young woman, so I asked her to share with me her feelings on modesty, and why she chose to wear a modest dress to Prom.  And let me note that I understand it is difficult to find a modest prom dress, especially an affordable one.  I get that, I really do.  But I know for a FACT that this particular family is NOT well-to-do, in fact they have 9 children.  Yup, NINE!  They just made modesty a priority.  Let me share with you what Natalea wrote back to me.  I am not going to edit this at all, just share it in her own sweet words. I also want to note that she had NO idea I was writing an article about modesty from a young age.  I just asked why she chose a modest prom dress.

My knowledge of modesty started at a young age. My mom only bought me clothes that were modest. Haha as a little girl because of the standard my mom set, I did the same for my dolls. I knew that if it was important for me to be modest, I wanted my “dolls” to be modest too. Over time I grew to truly understand what being modest meant. It means nothing revealing, low-cut, too tight, too see-through,etc… Because I was taught from a young age to always wear modest clothing, now that I am older it’s not a temptation. I wouldn’t even consider wearing an immodest dress to prom or an inappropriate shirt to school. I choose to wear a modest dress to my high school’s prom because I know of my worth. There is nothing more valuable than a precious daughter of God. I am priceless. I want to marry a virtuous man someday. And guys worth it aren’t interested in girls wearing spaghetti straps, or low-cut shirts. Once I had a boy thank me profusely for wearing a modest prom dress, it meant the world to him. He expressed how he had asked a girl to a dance once and she choose to dress immodestly. He showed up at her house and immediately felt really uncomfortable. He didn’t know how to tell her. She wore a strapless dress. He expressed it was the worst date ever, as all night he wasn’t sure where to put his hand on her back. And she kept having to pull her dress up in front with her hand. He just couldn’t thank me enough. Why sell yourself short? My mom taught me from a young age to dress modest, ultimately it was my decision what to wear to prom. I would never consider wearing an immodest dress as I would never feel comfortable wearing such a thing. I am far to precious to show that sacred part of myself. My body is like a temple I would never expose the precious sacred part of me to the world. I am in the world but not of the world. Because my mom had taught me from a young age we had had numerous conversations on the subject, as a result I plan to teach my kids from a young age to dress modestly. It’s kind of a scary thought, how you raise your kids today won’t just affect them, but generations. I also have set my standards high. I don’t lower my standards for those who refuse to higher theirs. Being virtuous is something I value, guard and cherish. Putting on an inappropriate outfit would jeopardize my virtue and guys worth it aren’t wooed by girls in mini skirts and short shorts. Being modest allows room for the spirit to dwell there. I don’t want a man who is attracted to me for my “body” granted there has to be some attraction, being emotionally, and spiritually attracted to me means more to me. I want a man who simply likes me for me, not what I wear. What I wear is a direct reflection of who I am inside. If I wear terrible clothing, I will only attract awful guys. However if I wear clothing conducive for the spirit to thrive with me, I will attract amazing men.(Men like Moroni). I am of infinite worth. I know who I am, I am a daughter of Heavenly Father who loves me and I love Him. I dressed modestly for prom because I want to stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things and in all places. When I question if something is immodest I often wonder, would I feel comfortable in these clothes in God’s presence. I am so grateful for a brilliant and amazing mother who taught me from a young age that being modest was worth it. There are so many blessings that come from dressing modestly. I hope that everyone teaches their children to dress modestly, as it doesn’t just affect their kids but generations. I am so grateful for what a great influence my mother has been to me. I wanted and still want to be just like her. I would have been a totally different girl had my mom not lived the things she taught me. I’m so thankful for a mother that has always dressed modestly no matter what, and always been someone I could look up to as a role model in dressing modestly as well as many other aspects. My life would have been a lot different if she had chosen not to teach me of the importance of being modest. My mom’s decision to teach me this important lesson has helped shape the young woman I am today. I love my mom, I hope I can always emulate her character and be like her someday. I plan to teach my kids the importance of being modest just as she has me. I plan to marry a man who has been preparing himself for me just as I have him. Modesty is always the best policy. Never forget who you are and of your divine worth and potential. Heavenly Father sent us here to achieve great things. A mother is one of the most sacred callings one can ever receive. I hope I can be just as great a mother as my mom is. I know if I can, my kids and future generations will be destined for great things. There is nothing more impacting and influential than the example of a righteous mother. My heart is filled with immense gratitude for the manner in which my mom taught me the principals of being modest. Truly being modest is definitely worth it. I am far too precious to sell myself short. I love who I am , shaped ultimately by my mother. 

This is how I want my daughter to feel about her body and how she dresses when she is 16 years old.  For Natalea, dressing immodestly wasn’t even an option.  She never even considered it.  I love her sweet beautiful words about her mother, and how much she appreciates that her mother always “lived the things she taught me”.

So, does it make a difference?  Yes it does!  I have read article after article arguing the controversy of modesty and HOW to teach it to young women.  The reality is, we should’t HAVE to teach it to young women, we should be teaching it to children.  Then, as young women we are just reinforcing, encouraging, and setting an example.  As Natalea put it, “Modesty really is the best policy”.  For women young and old.

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Aleesha Bake - I don’t think the specifics of modesty matter as much as setting a limit for yourself or your daughters and following it. I make a point of this with my own daughters frequently. Each of us chooses for ourselves and we should always respect others regardless of the differences. I am Mormon, and we have specific guidelines on modesty that have been defined by our church so we make an effort to follow those as our definition, one of those is sleeveless clothes. THat line is drawn for girls age 12 and up, younger girls aren’t expected to follow that guideline particularly. Will each person find the same definition- NO! And that’s okay. I watched a movie about orthodox jews recently and was shocked to believe that they feel it is immodest for a married women to show her hair, so they cover it with a wig or a shawl. My first thought was, “that’s just crazy! What’s wrong with hair?” And then I realized it’s just a line they have drawn in the sand and where they decided to draw it.So I repsect that. I don’t think it is BAD to dress a little girl in a sleeveless dress, or that its somehow damaging for the child. I shouldn’t have used that particular modesty line as my analogy because its pretty peculiar to mormons. So I guess I’m fringe 😉 I’m okay with that though.
The MAIN point I really wanted to convey in the article- and its pretty outdated, I should really rewrite it, is that WHATEVER line you decide to draw for your teenagers, you should enforce with them as children as well. Because sexuality isn’t part of the equation. I do not want to teach my daughters that they are sexual objects and have to cover up so Male’s won’t be tempted or some other such nonsense. That is not what we believe. We believe that modesty is simply…well re-read that part above- I did a much better part on that. You’re right though- I focused way too much on sleeves for this article to be relateable to someone who doesn’t follow a mormon set of guidelines for modesty. And let’s face it- we can seem pretty weird 😉July 13, 2016 – 7:48 pm

Cynthia Gee - There is nothing wrong with dressing babies (or little girls, or grown women!) in “cute little sleeveless dresses”, as long as the armholes are fitted correctly so that you can’t see into them..
…unless you are a Mormon, or a Moslem, or an ultra-Orthodox Jew, or an SSPX-er, some other flavor of unbeliever/extremist/heretic.
Modesty is a virtue, but did you ever notice that it is always the fringe groups, not orthodox-believing Christians, who go way overboard when it comes to covering up women?
Why is that, do you think?July 9, 2016 – 3:44 pm

Aleesha Bake - Thank you for your words! Sounds like our daughters are about the same age, so you know exactly what I am talking about! I love the “sisters in christ” statement, because its so true! There are no strangers 🙂May 26, 2014 – 12:49 pm

Vanessa - Hi I saw your article shared on facebook by a sister that used to be in my ward, I am a convert and have been a member for only 3 years, my daughter was 2 when I joined the church and I immediately adjusted the way I dress her, everything sleeveless goes with an undershirt and such, and being the only member in my family has brought me a lot of criticism for it, but I’ve felt exactly how you do and yes it does matter, so thank you for putting it to words so eloquently by the way, now instead of scrambling throught my foggy brain and utter a scattering of incomplete sentences when asked why? I can just direct them to your article or use your words, because you explained it so well! Thank you, thank you thank you!

a complete stranger but still your sister in Christ (isn’t that wonderful)May 25, 2014 – 11:05 pm

Lissette - I taught my and daughters about why and what a glorious, peaceful feeling it is to dress modestly. My daughters are now mothers and they are continuing the tradition with their sons and daughters.May 25, 2014 – 8:03 pm

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