Modesty: Are we thinking about it all backwards

 This article first appeared in the May/June issue of LDS Teen Magazine. Read it here.

 You should dress modestly.

 …when you read that, what was your gut reaction?

 If you are anything like me, the word modest might bring up a feeling of exasperation, mixed in with strained memories about endless hours hunting for dresses with sleeves, or embarrassment remembering that one time you cried at EFY because your counselor told you that your skirt was an inch too short.

 I have to admit, the word “modest” immediately puts me on the defensive. But why? Why do I feel like that, when I know that modesty is a good thing? As I asked myself this question, I realized that I might have been thinking about modesty wrong my entire life.

 Have you, too?

 Modesty! Far too often, we speak only of the don’ts and the can’ts……we all know what IMMODESTY is…right down to the nuts and bolts…but knowing what immodesty IS is not the same thing as knowing what modesty IS. But I’ve come to learn that if modesty were a recipe, it would be 99% do’s and only 1% don’ts. I am happy to report that real, true, full-fledged “modesty” is beautiful, freeing, stunning, comfortable, lovely, bold, and feminine.

 Hold on now. Are we talking about the same word here? Let’s break this down.

 Modesty is defined as “an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior.”  For now, we will focus on the “in dress” part of this definition.

Modesty is not (and let’s keep this snappy! We already know it!)

  • Too short, too tight, sheer, sleeveless, or low cut.

  • Not sure what “too” means? As a baseline, we’ll call it anything that would make you feel uncomfortable to be wearing, if, per say, you were suddenly called out of mutual to sit down for a temple recommend with your bishop.

So…that is what modesty is not. But what IS modesty, exactly? Surely it is not just the absence, or opposite of the “nots” above? If too tight is immodest, does that mean modesty is….too baggy? If too short is immodest, does that make too long modest?

 Not exactly! Just like being “healthy” is more than simply not smoking or drinking (there are things you need to DO…like eating lots of fresh food and be active!), dressing modestly is more than simply not dressing immodestly.

 So what? Why would a girl want to be modest anyway? Let’s take a look at all of the things modesty really means!

  • calm, collected, confident

  • an attitude of propriety

  • decency

  • goodness

  • wholesome

  • evidence of how comfortable you are in your own skin

  • lovely

  • tasteful

  • beautiful

  • feminine

  • being well groomed, clean, and healthy

  • divine

  • designed

  • thoughtful

  • taking care of your body

  • a physical representation of the kind of woman you aspire to be

  • a symbol of self-respect

  • intentional

  • dignified

  • shows how much you cherish the calling and greatness of your potential as a future mother

  • proof that you know who you are

  • evidence of love and trust

  =We don’t want to be boring, drab, or to hide our beautiful bodies! That was never the point. Modesty is all about intentionally presenting yourself in the very best, most pure, amazing, flattering, wonderful, confident way possible.  It’s about making sure you feel lovely and confident in your skin, that you will be well prepared to take on the world…to uplift, care for, love, learn grow, and make the very most out of this short time on earth.  Modesty, like all aspects of the gospel (if you stop and think about it!) is all about joy.

 When I think of “modesty” I also think of the commandments. When we are little, we call them “rules”, but the more I think, the more I realize that “rules” of any kind exist solely for two reasons: 1. To protect us and 2. To teach us to BECOME someone. Some examples:

 “Do your homework” – protects your from being unprepared or doing poorly on exams, and teaches you to be diligent, successful, and curious.

 “Be nice to your sister” – protects you from fights, hard feelings, or bad relationships. Teaches you to be kind, loving, and patient.

 “Dress modestly” – protects you from the kinds of activities and crowds that often lead to hurt and heartbreak (trust me! All of these are well worth avoiding!), and teaches you to become lovely, confident, and beautiful.

I am not so far removed from your situation that I don’t get it…I went to high school in New Jersey, after all! I know what it feels like to want to fit in, to have friends, to be one of the fun girls. So how do you do it? How do you, actually, dress modestly when everyone else around you isn’t?

First, you must decide why it is worth it and why you want to do it. Think about it. Look for examples of beautiful, kind, amazing women you admire. Write it all down.

Then, you must be bold. Trust me – nothing is more attractive and lovely than a girl who holds her head up high, smiles, and walks confidently into the room. If they sneer, if they question, if they look at your sideways…the more you can be bold (but kind!) and unwavering about your commitment, the less anyone will even notice anything other than how brightly you shine. They will admire and respect you.

Next, you must be consistent. It is SO much easier to be 100% in instead of 99% in. How hard would it be to quit eating sugar if you had cake every Wednesday night? 100% adherence to the goals you set for yourself makes achieving these goals much easier.  It’s doing things halfway or part time that is exhausting and impossible.

Always, you must be smart. True, finding a dress with sleeves to wear to the prom that you LOVE will require extra work. As will finding a swimsuit, shorts for summer…you know, the list goes on. But being extraordinary in anyway, by definition, requires more than the baseline amount of effort. And you, my friend, are not here on earth to be moderately dissatisfied, moderately uncomfortable, and moderately unhappy…as many unfortunately are. You deserve more! This may sound so strange to hear right now, but everything the church teaches you is intended to give you more. I promise. Read that again, and believe what everyone has been saying to you! It is all here to give you peace, joy, confidence, and success. (And isn’t that amazing!?)

So perhaps the easier thing to do, before deciding what to wear, is to decide what kind of girl, daughter, sister, teacher, woman, and mother you want to BE. I’m serious about this! Write it all down, dream up the details. How will you act? What will your habits be? What talents will you share with the world? How will you love and take care of your friends and family? What legacy will you leave behind? And then…what will you wear while doing so?

“Dressing modestly” means dressing the way the very best, most dreamy, kind, loving, smart, bold, amazing version of yourself would dress.  And guess what? There isn’t anything standing in the way of you becoming exactly who you want to be. Not a single snarky girl, school norm, financial situation, or picked through dress department that can keep you from being you: Divine. Perfect. Lovely. Kind. Feminine. Safe. Joyful. Loved.

So….. modest.  Hear the word now and smile. It’s all looking up from here.

Rebecca Palmer is the Founder & Editor in Chief of Arlais Palmer – the first eDepartment store for fashion-forward, modest clothing.

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  • Oh I really like this post! Do you mind if I share some of your ideas with the girls in my activity days group? Hope you and Oliver are doing well! Let us know when you’re in DC again. And let me know if you ever do style coaching– I need an intervention! – Savanna

    • Hey Savanna! Not at all! 🙂 We miss DC loads and are aching for an East Coast fix! We will all have to get together next time we visit! – Rebecca