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Modesty: It's for Boys, Too

Jamie Lawson - May 02, 2013

LDS girls are constantly reminded to be careful of their hemlines and sleeve lengths. But are we doing enough to teach our boys about modesty?

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Recently, my 13-year-old son began lifting weights after school. As a result, he has developed large, well-defined biceps. Anxious to show off his new muscles, he asked me if we could go shopping for a tank top—a request that I immediately denied. "Why not?" he argued. “Because modesty isn’t just for girls,” I replied.

Now, before I go any further, let me stress that I do not proclaim to be any kind of authority on modesty—I simply did what I thought was best for my son. I fully acknowledge that there is a wide range of opinions about how and when to address modesty issues with our children. Some parents choose to dress their kids in garment-friendly clothing from the beginning. Others allow more freedom until their children become teens. And some choose not to wage the wardrobe war at all, allowing their children to wear whatever they like. But this experience has caused me to reflect on how well I am teaching my two boys about modesty.

On LDS.org it states:

“Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to ‘glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit’” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

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It goes on to explain, “In dress, grooming, and manners, we should always be neat and clean, never sloppy or inappropriately casual. . . . We should express ourselves through clean, positive, uplifting language and actions that bring happiness to those around us.” (Read the full statement here.)

This is a good reminder that modesty is about much more than the length of our shorts, but this is often where the focus lands—especially when it comes to the wardrobe choices of girls and women. (I can’t help but notice that an LDS girl can be thoroughly criticized for showing her knee caps, even though I see plenty of LDS boys and men showing theirs.) So, what is considered modest dress for guys?

In For the Strength of Youth it reads:

“Immodest clothing includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and other revealing attire. Young women should wear clothing that covers the shoulder and avoid clothing that is low-cut in the front or the back or revealing in any other manner. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance.”

Perhaps there are more guidelines for young women than young men because of the varied nature of women’s fashions. Even within the FSOY guidelines, there is plenty of room for interpretation—what one might consider to be modest, another might not. How short is “short”? How tight is too tight? How does a young man “maintain modesty” in his appearance?

As the mother of boys, I have taken the stance that “what’s good for the goose is what’s good for the gander.” If young women have been counseled to cover their shoulders, then I think my boys should follow that same counsel. I have also talked with them about practicing good grooming and good manners and keeping their shirts on while playing sports or mowing the lawn—out of respect for themselves and others around them. 

We’ve also had many discussions about the importance of respecting girls and women and valuing them for more than their appearance. Yes, I understand that males are visual creatures and that it’s natural to be attracted to a beautiful girl, but I want my boys to know they are ultimately responsible for controlling their thoughts regardless of what she is wearing.

They are also responsible for their language, which, in my opinion, includes refraining from swearing, telling or listening to off-color jokes, or engaging in inappropriate conversations. And, of course, I’ve emphasized the importance of making good choices and behaving in a way that is pleasing to Heavenly Father.

So, what have I missed? Do you agree or disagree with me? Are we doing enough in church and at home to teach boys about modesty? Or is it primarily a topic that should be left for the young women? Share your thoughts below.

© LDS Living 2013
Comments 28 comments

amyjo57 said...

06:46 AM
on May 02, 2013

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I applaud this sister! For too long the whole modesty conversation has been directed at young women and sisters. The responsibility for a boy or a man's wandering eyes has been laid at the feet of women, and men and/or boys have been left feeling no responsibility or accountability for inappropriate ogling. I dress modestly and taught my daughters to wear temple ready clothing, even when young. I am glad to hear someone expressing what I have been thinking for so long, modesty is a two way street, not a one way!

matellicblue said...

07:20 AM
on May 02, 2013

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I have to completely agree. I have two sons and a nephew who is in our care. We have taught them the need to be modest, as-well-as taking responsibility for their wondering eyes. We have taught them that they can only control their own actions. They will be held accountable for what they do and think. Being a male I have also taught my boys to respect women. As-well-as our thoughts are so important. It is the gateway to letting the adversary into our lives. Every act we do starts with a thought. If we do not control our thoughts we can be led into bad situations and choices. I believe that the church should address the modesty issue with the boys and young men also. Having grown up in the church it can be confusing for young men on what modest is for them. It is also up to the parents to help direct their son's choices.

johnrpack said...

09:24 AM
on May 02, 2013

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I enjoyed the article -- it's definitely a subject needed by the young (and not-so-young) men. Modesty should be taught from an early age, so that it's not a fight later. I remember my own father trying to persuade my sisters to change out of their soccer shorts (much shorter in the 70s) after practice/games to no avail -- because they hadn't been taught to be modest earlier in life. I remember them unjustly accusing him of being a "dirty old man." However, the idea that, if only men would exercise self-mastery, that women wouldn't need to worry about stringent modesty is an error. As a male, I guarantee you that my brain is wired to notice every aspect of femininity -- from hair, eyes, smiles, curves, and clothing to skin and underclothes. I can and do control what I choose to do AFTER having noticed. I do not choose to associate and hang around with women who dress immodestly, but suggesting that I shouldn't observe what's on display (or should feel guilty for having done so) is the equivalent of asking me to change my DNA. By the way, I am every bit as attracted to a beautiful woman in a Sunday dress as to the girl in the bikini at the swimming pool. Skin makes that attraction about sex rather than beauty. A young women (or young man) should wish to be attractive in a positive way rather than merely for his/her body. My stake YM presidency discussed modesty at dances last night. We agreed that we can't create a "too tight" standard without risking an incident over a recent weight gain. We have to rely on the youth to draw that line for themselves. So, no matter our disagreements, you can be certain church leaders are very sensitive when it comes to these issues.

bethanymom said...

10:21 AM
on May 02, 2013

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Thank you for including the sentence: Some parents choose to dress their kids in garment-friendly clothing from the beginning. I get a lot of flack from my family and my friends (who are all LDS) because I refused to dressed my toddlers in anythign different than the way I expect them to dress when they are teenagers. Now they are elementary school aged, and they can see their friends dressing differently. They have pushed backa little, but when I explained the rules, and the reason behind the rules they quit pushing back and asking to dress in tank tops, and in short-shorts like the other kids. It is nice to know that there are other parents who are chosing to pick one dress standard and having their kids use that standard at all ages.

shereeb said...

01:16 PM
on May 02, 2013

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This article was perfectly said! What is good for the goose is good for the gander. We have taught our young women to be modest so as not to lead our young men astray, like wise our young men need to be modest as not to lead our young women astray. I think teaching your children to dress as if they had garments is the best standard.

katiefrankie said...

01:46 PM
on May 02, 2013

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Thank you! I was so impressed with the way you taught your boys, and I can see them becoming great men. I was brought up to dress modestly as a non-Mormon, and when I joined the Church in my teens had only a few changes to make to fit right in. It's great to see young men adhering to the same standards the young women are looking to - and girls notice that! And as I noticed as a young woman, it is by showing a loving and positive example that we become the best and most persuasive teachers.

mishqueen said...

02:07 PM
on May 02, 2013

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I have long been worried about the attitude that virtue and chastity (not mutually inclusive words) are for girls. Is the chastity of our boys not just as important? Why only influence half of the equation? We love our boys and want them to respect themselves and others. A part of that is dressing respectfully and modestly. Yes, just as much as the girls.

daverosk said...

02:43 PM
on May 02, 2013

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Great article! My thoughts on modesty (which applies to both male and female) Both YM and YW programs as well as the FSofY standards are designed with the intent of helping young men and women prepare to make and keep covenants in the temple. Modesty standards in our family are consistent with temple standards. Nothing should be worn that could not be worn with the temple garment without modification. If both male and female (adult and youth)adhere to this standard and learn what it means to wear the garment appropriately, then the question of modesty guidelines is pretty clear. Youth are preparing for adulthood, they should understand what that means in our faith.

ulvegaard said...

02:53 PM
on May 02, 2013

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I agree that modesty is also a subject for young men. But I also feel that there are times and places for various types of dress. I would never wear a bathing suit to church, nor would I wear a suit to the beach. A bathing suit (not a speedo) is perfectly fine for swimming, but would be quite immodest at church. I feel that parents, taking church guidelines into full consideration, need to be the ones who make the decisions for their families --- without a lot of outside criticism. Their is a fine line between "teaching correct principles - and allowing people to govern themselves" --- and taking dominion over people and their choices because we feel they won't make the "right ones" otherwise.

glennsmith said...

10:28 PM
on May 02, 2013

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Yes, modesty is for boys, to, says this father of five sons. While I think some attitudes in the post and comments are Pharesitical , I am pleased to see the modesty discussion including boys.

rinman said...

03:15 AM
on May 03, 2013

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The author wrote: "If young women have been counseled to cover their shoulders, then I think my boys should follow that same counsel." Well, we counsel YW to wear one piece bathing suits that cover their chests (do I dare write the br--st word on a LDS site?). Do we suggest that boys wear women's bathing suits, or a men's version that covers the same territory? How about (a) we teach correct principles and let people govern themselves, and (b) we be slow to judge others for their conduct. They have judges already if LDS. If we make a statement that boys shouldn't wear tank-tops, then we begin to condemn and criticize and gossip about boys who do, and about their families. It is important to teach decorum and good sense. Of course one should not wear a tank top to church. If a parent lets her 13 year old son wear a tank-top while riding his bicycle, or lets a 9 year old take off his shirt while cutting the grass, then leave that parent alone. Sometimes parents have to pick their battles. If a young man is otherwise living the commandments, then so what if he wears a tank top. On the other hand, parents are free to set whatever rules they fell are appropriate for their children. What we should not do is make definitive lists of what boys should or should not wear. Why? The list is not doctrinal or canonical, although it can quickly become canon in Utah. It is the doctrine that matters. Like I said, if a boy (or girl) is otherwise living the commandments, including honorong his father and mother, then I'm happy. And as for starting early, there is nothing wrong with a baby in a one-sey that shows his or legs above the knees.

bazinga said...

09:32 AM
on May 03, 2013

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Re: Swimwear...my boys wear rash guards. It's great because I don't have to slather sun screen over half a naked body, and it covers what needs to be covered. I don't have a problem with boys not wearing them, but it works for my family.

mormonismism said...

11:43 AM
on May 03, 2013

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I disagree. Making upper arms and shoulders sexual is a mistake. It perpetuates a myth among youth that their bodies are only sexual and will only be seen that way by others.

bless1ngs said...

05:52 PM
on May 03, 2013

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Thank you! This is a great article I will be forwarding on. I love how you explain the need for modesty in our boys and girls as well as the need for each parent to do what is right for their family. I like to have my kids wear clothing that keep the garment lines covered. Growing up, I had friends and roommates that had to get rid of their entire wardrobe when they went through the Temple, and it was tough on them. That is something that can so easily be averted by early adoption of a good dress code. I also appreciate each individuals right to choose. It is between you and The Lord. Thank you for this great topic and giving us a good reminder to be equal in our modesty education.

jtfairborn said...

09:59 PM
on May 03, 2013

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When I was in the Young Men's program, we used to play shirts & skins basketball all the time in the stake center. Bishops, YM leaders, stake leaders in and out constantly. Nobody ever objected. The adult men did too when they played. It was normal. Were we all wrong and immodest? What makes being shirtless disrespectful to oneself and others, as the author suggests? These are sincere questions that I hope the author will answer.

rinman said...

11:38 PM
on May 03, 2013

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In some parts of the world, a speedo is what every man wears to the beach or pool, and it is only sexualized by Americans. Even nakedness in a north European sauna isn't a sin--it can be appropriate in the context. In our "offfical" art, Nephi doesn't cover what garments would cover, and neither do the stripling warriors. Didn't garments go to ankles and wrists at one point? We should not tell a young man that he sins if someone sees his shoulders or his pecs. We should teach him to dress appropriately for the place and time, and for who he is.

jtfairborn said...

11:47 PM
on May 03, 2013

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And I've had friends who served missions in Europe tell me of ward beach parties in France where all the women were topless, including the bishop's wife and Relief Society president, because it was the custom there. No LDS church rule prohibits this. An American missionary objected to the bishop and was told to mind his own business. Another friend who served in Holland told me of paging through a Dutch bishop's family photo album and seeing pictures of the whole family on a clothes-free beach during vacation. In many places in Europe this is totally accepted and totally non-sexual behavior. And the LDS church does not teach against or restrict it.

bless1ngs said...

09:08 AM
on May 04, 2013

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I think people are getting a little off topic here. The idea is to teach modesty to our daughters AND sons. Nowhere does it say "you Must do this", or "here are the new guidelines to follow". Just an idea that boys modesty has a time and place in our world as well. Very well done article. I received positive feedback from the family I forwarded it to and think the author did a great job.

taiwanmom said...

01:53 PM
on May 05, 2013

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I definitely agree it was a great article and puts the responsibility upon the parents to decide their own standard of modesty. We all understand the importance of teaching our children and I agree that it is important to teach our sons to be modest and to respect their own temples as well as the temples of women.

johnrpack said...

02:00 PM
on May 05, 2013

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Think about holding a ward activity in Europe that would be inappropriate for a North American missionary to attend. That's all you need to know to understand that when one is in Europe, one should not do as the Europeans do. 'nuff said. As for sports using "shirts and skins," I'll just say that every young man I know has felt uncomfortable with it the first time they end up on the "skins" team. I hated it and still do. Do not impose such immodesty on your young men.

angela52689 said...

12:08 PM
on May 06, 2013

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Modesty doesn't have a start date or a gender preference. We should dress as though we've been through the temple (cap sleeves, non-revealing neckline, knee-length, no bare midriffs or tight clothing - and make sure all of these criteria still apply while bending over, etc.) from the beginning for both guys and girls. If we "train up a child in the way he should go," it will be a lot easier for them to accept these standards and they won't have to alter their wardrobe later. My kids will be modest from the start. How can an 8-year-old know right from wrong clothing choices when we haven't been teaching them? I had sleeveless dresses when I was little but my daughters won't. The men in my life keep their shirts on to do work and sports. I don't like seeing shirtless guys running around. If you work up enough of a sweat that you feel like it's not showing enough respect for your garments, then remove them for that activity (I do for zumba - I don't want to get my garments nasty), but put them back on when you're done. My mom once dated a guy who liked to hang around the pool all summer with his shirt off. Not swimming - just hanging around. She saw that as him finding excuses to show off and not wear his garments, so she broke up with him.

bookworm said...

12:36 PM
on May 09, 2013

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I'd like to offer my input as a teenage girl. I want to say that girls do notice when guys are immodest, just like guys do. We may not notice as much or get influenced by it as much, but we do notice. But I don't think boys need to be as strict as girls with how much they cover up because they aren't as sexualized. They just aren't. I don't mind if guys don't wear shirts while playing sports. I would rather they did, but I don't think it's wrong when they don't. I think a big thing that decided whether we are modest or not is our attitude. If the reason a guy takes his shirt off is because it is too hot, that's okay. But if he takes it off because he knows he has a great body and there are lots of girls watching, that isn't modest.

ahappyhubby said...

01:01 PM
on May 09, 2013

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The article is good, but the comment above from bookworm brings out my point. My point is that I think the LDS church and culture are redefining "modesty" to be equal to "modestly dressing". Modesty is defined as, "The quality or state of being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one's abilities." If you as a non-LDS person if someone dresses modestly or not, they will probably not think so much of a sexual aspect. They might very well think of someone overdressing for an occasion and having excessive self-confidence. Read bookworms last comment and she points out the difference. If a guy takes off his shirt to "show off", that can be considered not being modest. The same can be said of some other words such as "virtuous". I bet LDS and non-LDS would describe the characteristics of that word much different.

savagemac said...

11:47 AM
on May 10, 2013

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As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints since birth, I find some of the comments to this article perplexing and mystifying. The idea that geography somehow changes proper decorum is in my view somewhat ludicrous. By this same logic, because I live in a society that encourages tattooing of body & piercing of body parts I should now be quite confident that it is OK for me to allow my sons and daughters to partake of this fad? To say that The Church as I know it condones of frolicking naked on a beach in Europe simply because it’s normal there, is no different. Anyone who has been a member of this church for any small length of time, has been instructed by their scriptures and by their prophets that we are to “Be a Light Unto the World”, and that we are to “Live in the World, but Not of the World”. What more instruction do we need? I have also been instructed that “My Body is a Temple” and a gift from my Creator. I should strive in every way possible in my week mortal state to not defile it! Just because society is accepting does not mean that I should condone worldly behaviors. Should I accept and condone “Pro-Choice” just because the world as a whole sees no problems with abortion? Should I not appose “Same Sex Marriage” just because the world as a whole finds nothing wrong with it? If I know that my actions are against the will of and sadden My Father in Heaven and Savior, should I not do what I can to show them my respect? There are no double standards for behavior based on geography in the eyes of our Creator. And yes, from birth, I want my sons and daughters to know that they have been given a great gift to have the knowledge of the gospel that they do, and that with that gift comes great responsibility to be a positive influence in the world.

dutchreader01 said...

05:06 PM
on May 10, 2013

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I agree with the author that modesty is not something for young women only. That does not mean that all rules for young women apply to young men under all circumstances. I attended a school (in a non-LDS community) where boys were expected to take off their shirts for certain sport activities. I did not like that, but respected my teacher's instructions - and on the other hand, he taught the boys they should never be seen in their underwear where they could be seen by others - I know of many who wouldn't mind. Recently, I visited a volleyball tournament for LDS teams, and I saw one or two young men wearing tank tops, but most of the players (there were dozens of them) wore T shirts, which could be considered more or less a non-official standard. In the Netherlands, there are beaches for nudists and there are swimming pools in particular hotels where people are expected not to wear any swimwear. We don't have to go to these beaches and these swimming pools: in all others, people are expected to wear swimming suits. (I remember hearing comments from young women's parents when a stake president's wife who was in a young women's camp had been seen in a swimming pool wearing a bikini, which was rightly considered a bad example - would it be a wonder that this same sister and her husband are now inactive?) I totally agree with savegemac that geography makes no difference for what is modest or what is not. We are not "of the world", and there should be limits to how much we adapt to what the world considers to be 'normal'.

rinman said...

03:47 AM
on May 12, 2013

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I think that it is important to teach the principle, and modesty is for boys, too. The problem is in the judgment. The author wrote: "I can’t help but notice that an LDS girl can be thoroughly criticized for showing her knee caps, even though I see plenty of LDS boys and men showing theirs." This is wrong. I am in no position to criticize a girl for showing her knees, and to gossip about her and her family. angela writes: "We should dress as though we've been through the temple... from the beginning for both guys and girls." How about this: "I have decided that I will show modesty by dressing as though I've been through the temple and I will dress my children the same way." ulvegaard wrote that he would not wear a speedo for swimming, but I can't read in what he wrote that he condemned speedos in all times and at all places. Let's remember: what is modest is time and place specific, and it can change. Remember when men at BYU had to wear socks and could not wear shorts? Girls couldn't focus on their studies if boys showed a little skin! Our garments used to extend to wrists and ankles, did they not? A woman wearing a dress that covered her knees but left her legs bare would have been seen as immodest not that many years ago. Men used to wear full body suits when they went swimming. Nephi and the stripling warriors didn't dress as if they'd been to the temple, according to LDS art. I agree that we need to practice modesty and we need to instill it in our children, boys and girls. I just ask that we be slow to judge others. There is way too much judgment of others in our Church.

junquemale said...

03:28 PM
on May 14, 2013

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Interesting topic and conversation. I am grateful that the author brings up the issue of modesty for boys (of all ages!) Personally, the issue is long overdue! Boys and MEN need to be more aware of the choices they make and how it relates to the principle of Modesty. There are many views on this subject. As a YW leader I was asked to enforce a 'shorts to the knee' guideline for girls camp only to have the stake leadership back off because it was too hard to find them in the local stores. In another ward, the youth came up with a dress standard for activities only to have their PARENTS object because the guidelines were too strict! I lived in Europe and we faced the issue of 'accepted' nudity quite often. -- I feel that the statement from lds.org that was quoted in the article is a wonderful guideline. It stated: “Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to ‘glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit’” (1 Corinthians 6:19) The counsel to be slow to judge is a good one. But it would be good for all of us to take a good look at OUR OWN dress, grooming, language and behavior and see if we are living in accordance with the teaching of the scriptures.

kenra said...

10:12 AM
on Jun 12, 2014

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Modesty -- we often have double standards -- women cover the top men do not, girls/women wear form fitting swimwear but boys/men should not. Should we all (boys/men, girls/women) only swim in tee shirts and shorts to the knee? If a woman can wear a swimsuit next to her skin why can not a man?
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