Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Manifesto on Male Modesty (1 Peter 2:9)

Provo has an inordinate amount of shirtless men. They are always out running, or playing basketball, or playing tennis, or just walking around the apartment courtyards. If you are an average Provo-dwelling guy, you are probably not as keenly aware of this fact as girls (and guys like me) are.

Is it just me, or does there seem to be an air of hypocrisy in this? BYU's campus newspaper is constantly running letters to the editor from men on campus complaining about the general lack of modesty of some of the girls on campus. I know of at least one instance of a guy who has made such complaints and who I regularly see running shirtless. And how many letters does the newspaper get about the modesty of men? I have yet to read one. So this is my own declaration of what I feel is an important but oft-neglected component of the modesty discussion: the need for increased modesty among men.

Elder Robert D. Hales of the quorum of the twelve taught the following in an article from the Ensign Magazine, August 2008:

"Some Latter-day Saints may feel that modesty is a tradition of the Church or that it has evolved from conservative, puritanical behavior. Modesty is not just cultural. Modesty is a gospel principle that applies to people of all cultures and ages. In fact, modesty is fundamental to being worthy of the Spirit. To be modest is to be humble, and being humble invites the Spirit to be with us."

He also taught in that same article that modesty was one of the first lessons taught to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, where God made coats of skins for them to cover their nakedness. "Like Adam and Eve," he continues, "we have been taught that our bodies are formed in the likeness of God and are therefore sacred."

 When I was younger, before I had faced and confronted my attractions, I used to think it was silly how many guys turned their heads and really struggled when they saw immodest girls. I thought it was just a lack of effort on the part of the guy to keep his heart and thoughts pure, mostly because I didn't experience much of the same sensation and it thus wasn't very hard for me to not look. I just thought they needed to try to be more righteous or something. Confronting my attractions though has made me realize how much harder it is for me to not look when I see an attractive guy running by with no shirt (and for whatever reason, the inordinate amount of shirtless men in Provo all seem to do an inordinate amount of working out). I now empathize much more with my non-SSA peers who struggle when they see an immodest girl and actually respect the great effort they are making evident in their struggles.

And yet, it seems that more and more I hear related to the topic of modesty a refutation of the effect on others as a valid reason for modesty advocacy. I hear people claim frequently that if a guy can't keep his thoughts clean when he sees a less-than-modestly dressed girl that it is HIS fault not hers. There is actually a lot of truth to this, and it is something that is important to consider. New York Rabbi Dov Linzer has said the following wise words on the matter: “By saying that all women must hide their bodies, they are saying that every woman is an object who can stir a man’s sexual thoughts. Thus, every woman who passes their field of vision is sized up on the basis of how much of her body is covered. She is not seen as a complete person, only as a potential inducement to sin.” This is a very important point to consider, for the great object of modesty is to de-objectify individuals, and we thus need to be careful to be sure that our very discussion on modesty doesn't in fact objectify anyone all the more. And it is true that it ultimately IS the responsibility of each individual to "watch [them]selves, and [their] thoughts" as King Benjamin taught (Mosiah 4:30). Nobody is responsible for your thoughts but YOU. Admittedly, it isn't always very easy to control them and sometimes they control us instead, but I've addressed that in greater detail in other posts.

Understanding that it is the responsibility of each person to guard their own thoughts regardless of whatever outside factors are thrown at them, we still shouldn't be making excuses for immodesty. If a person wants to quit smoking, it is much harder if others are offering him cigarettes all the time. We will never eradicate temptation, but where it exists and we can do something to lessen it, we should if by lessening it we can help more people be better. I get concerned when one person's call for greater modesty gets shot down by someone saying, "well, it is your fault that you have bad thoughts when someone dresses that way." The logic seems to be that the weakness of one person excuses the actions of another. Bob is not perfect, but that should not give Sally free reign to do whatever she wants. We have a responsibility to each other, and when Sally's actions aid in causing Bob to stumble when she could choose another option that wouldn't do so, it is the right thing to do for Sally to make the choice that better enables Bob to be better. Bob still needs to work on his own problems independent of what Sally does.

Furthermore, as mentioned above from Elder Hales, modesty is a commandment. Regardless of the effects on other people, the moral compass of a member of the covenant points towards obeying what God has asked of us. If I lived in a society of blind individuals who could never see how I am dressed, it would still be my responsibility to dress modestly because it is what I have promised to do. None of the others in my hypothetical world would ever know if I chose to walk around shirtless, and thus none would ever by stimulated one way or another, but I would know and God would know. Modesty, like wearing garments, is an "outward expression of an inward commitment." It is a reminder of where I have placed my allegiances. In that blind world, there would still be great benefit in my modesty for me personally, as it would serve as a reminder to me of my relationship with God and the fact that He has loved me enough to make promises with me.

So, thus far what I've written has MOSTLY regarded the topic of modesty generally--these things apply equally to modesty in both men and women. I conclude with a return to a specific focus on male modesty.

As mentioned before, we don't talk about this subject as much. Perhaps it isn't as frequent an occurrence as immodestly among women. Nonetheless, I think it is a bigger problem than we often realize. It seems part of the reluctance to address it also seems to stem from some misconception that for whatever reason it isn't "as bad" for men to dress immodestly as girls do. Could it just be that women are better at controlling thoughts than men are and so it doesn't seem like such a big deal? Well, while I'm sure that women probably ARE as a general rule better at controlling thoughts than guys are, I know they aren't perfect or immune (and I KNOW it has an effect on guys like me). Bob has as much obligation to Sally as she does to him.

Besides detrimental side-effects a shirtless guy can have on a girl, he also isn't doing a favor to his fellow men. From my own observations, and this does not apply to everyone, but when men parade shirtless there seems to be an increased "show-off" factor to the immodesty. As I mentioned before, an unusually high percentage of those who I see running by bare-chested everyday seem to be not only in shape, but quite well-toned physically. Once again, I'm not saying that every physically fit guy who runs shirtless has a Narcissus complex or even that he's consciously trying to impress ANYONE. But there often does seem to be pride hiding in immodesty, just as much as that earlier quote from Elder Hales tied modesty to humility (in fact, the words in some contexts are used as synonyms). The "show-off" aspect occurring in much of male immodesty harms the soul of the immodest man by pride, and can be a detriment also to the self-esteem and confidence of his fellow men. Once again, Bob is not directly responsible for the feelings of esteem in Johnny any more than he is for Sally's thoughts, but he does still serve as a negative influence rather than a help.

Finally, as I said already, the ultimate reason a Mormon man should remain modest is because he has made promises to do so. It was fascinating to me as I was looking up modesty in the Topical Guide (a study reference index of topics included in the back of the LDS edition of the KJV Bible) that after the main list of scriptures it gave on the subject, in the "See Also" section that points to additional related passages, it listed 1 Peter 2:9. I found it kind of odd to see that verse listed as relevant to modesty as that is not usually what we use that verse for. However, with some thought I began to see how very relevant it actually was to the subject and that it is particularly addressed to the men of the Church. It says:

"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light."

Brethren: we of the priesthood have a responsibility to SHOW (the older English form "shew" is used in the verse) the world our praises of God. There are other verses that talk about singing our praises of God or proclaiming them. This one says we SHOW them. And what greater praise can we give to God than to keep the promises we've made to Him? The actions we show publicly are the first indication the world has of where our allegiances lie. I understand the convenience of running shirtless, because I run a lot and I sweat inordinate amounts whenever I do. But by wearing a shirt, perhaps especially when it comes out as soaking wet as mine do, I leave no room for doubt that I've chosen to be modest in my appearance. I pray we may all as priesthood brethren reflect the royal army that we are. And this army has no need to show off rippling pectorals, for there is a greater need for examples of those who consistently work-out spiritually.

So this is my manifesto: let us spread the word to gladly encourage our brethren to live up to the same standards we always ask our sisters to maintain. I don't often ask for you, my loyal readers and supporters, to share my posts, but I'm making a plea this time. If you agree that there is an importance in emphasizing modesty for BOTH men and women, please send this along if for no other reason than to stimulate discussion on and awareness of the matter.

My best,


P.S. Perhaps sharing this post will also scare some of the more machismo shirtless men into modesty since they may not have realized previously that in trying to impress girls they may have also been turning the heads of guys like me along the way. ;)


  1. "Who told thee thou art naked?"

  2. I can understand this, the desire to have more men run with shirts.
    However I also think we shouldn't judge those that chose to run shirtless. I feel that this is similar to judging those that drink caffeine. I don't think there is a problem with drinking caffeine occasionally. I think it is only a problem if someone is abusing caffeine and drinking it repeatedly for these unhealthy reasons.
    The same goes for modesty. I run often and occasionally take my shirt off on warmer days. What matters are my motives. I'm taking my shirt off for the natural convenience of allowing my body to cool itself the way it was made to cool itself down. I'm not taking my shirt off to show off; in fact I have a large birth defect that a shirt normally covers. I was ashamed of this for years, and running without a shirt for the first time was great at de-shaming my thoughts about my body. It's natural to run without a shirt, and I think God's totally fine with it.

    There seems to be a larger issue here, where we oversexualize everything in our culture. We make flesh of any kind this forbidden thing. Let's face it we all have bodies, and it's natural. We don't need to feel shame about seeing another guy run around shirtless, or running shirtless ourselves. Yes he may look great, take note if you want, but then move on with your day. I really believe relaxing about this issue can go a long way toward not having it affect you as much.

    1. Anonymous, why shouldn't women be allowed to run without shirts on warm days, by your own logic? This is the exact double standard I believe Obadiah is trying to discuss.

  3. There is a long-standing double standard regarding objectification of the sexes. Women have been more the subject of objectification for most of history. This double standard permeates everything, including the policies of the Church's universities. It includes the discrepancies you have described. Thanks for standing up for modesty.

  4. You don't know me but my friend shared with me your post. THANK you for this. I love it and I love how eloquently you put everything...especially considering modesty. So many people do not understand that though we are not responsible for what thoughts others have in their heads, we are responsible to be a help rather than a hindrance...which is what charity is all about. Thank you and if you don't mind, I am sharing this. :)

  5. Very good post. I really appreciated this. You got me thinking about several things:

    I found it interesting because in your writing, you seem to subtly infer that the immodestly dressed person is a bit at fault for causing the less virtuous thoughts of the other person. (You do say though, that, yes, that person is accountable, so I'm not saying you blame the immodest person.) As a woman, I think we're more likely to say a guy should just control his thoughts; so, it appears, that as a man, there's a bit of a tendency to blame the immodest person for causing the thoughts. I wonder how true that is in general. It makes me think of the people in the middle east who require their women to be covered. If a woman is raped, it's her own fault for not being modest enough -- the blame is put on the woman, not on the thoughts of the man. Anyway, just got me thinking.

    We try to have our son dress modestly just as our girls -- usually we have our son wear a swim shirt, too (it's easy to justify at an outdoor pool, a little harder for indoor). We figure that garments for men and women cover both upper and lower body, so maybe men/boys should aim to cover their upper bodies, too.

    The comment about shirtless men being a point of attraction for other men also reminded me of all the teenage girls trying to look cute for their male peers -- what they don't realize is all the 40 year old men are also checking them out. If they realized that, they'd be so grossed out.

    In response to anon #2, hmmm, I wish I could just throw off my shirt when I get hot, too. I could run in my sports bra, but that just doesn't feel right.

  6. Great post. I wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts.


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