Female Grooming Mandates That Aren’t That Hard
It’s a strange kind of clothing that is completely see-through, offers no protection whatsoever from the elements, and breaks when you wear it. Pantyhose break when washed, too, if you throw them in the washing machine with the rest of the laundry. The few pairs I own that haven’t fallen apart yet are often unavailable to me because I don’t have time for hand washing. Wearing hose in cold weather is useless; in hot weather, they get sticky and cause infection.
Skirts ride up when I carry a toddler on my hip, and aforementioned toddler likes to yank on the skirt or run under it. Skirt-wearing complicates all sorts of otherwise simple human motions: bending over, running, sitting cross-legged. Wearing a skirt precludes commuting by bike; biking in a skirt is possible—I did it as a missionary—but it is dangerous, messy and immodest.
Almost every lipstick I buy, regardless of the color it claims to be, eventually morphs into a garish shade of fuchsia on my lips. I’ve researched this and it has something to do with my body chemistry. It doesn’t happen right when I put it on, so I can’t tell if a lipstick will work for me simply by trying it on at the make-up counter. It often takes several purchases before I find one that works. Even for women who are blessed with less fuchsia lips than mine, lipstick can be expensive. And it has to be reapplied after eating, drinking, kissing, perspiring or just breathing too much.
I can’t think of any downside to walking—or better yet, running to catch a bus in the rain on a cobblestone sidewalk—while wearing little stilts on my feet, so I’ll stop here.
Wear a little lipstick, we’ve been told. It’s not that hard. I wonder how the man who said that knew; had he tried wearing lipstick?
I have, and I can bear testimony that wearing lipstick is not that hard. Neither is wearing pantyhose, skirts, or heels. At least, not in comparison to climbing Mount Everest or curing cancer. In spite of the drawbacks, I often do wear such things.
But it’s not as easy as a man who has never worn any of these things might assume.
I have certainly never worn a skirt for bike-riding since my mission. I marvel that the LDS missionary program, which seems so obsessed with safety in most matters, still requires most women to wear skirts even while biking, in spite of the hazards of biking in a skirt. Recently, the church relaxed its dress code to allow sister missionaries to (usually) comply with health officials’ recommendations to wear pants during mosquito-borne illness outbreaks but still requires them to risk it in a skirt at least once a week. Maybe it’s not that hard, but it’s not that safe, either.
Welcome changes have come to the church’s dress codes for paid female employees, removing the pantyhose mandate in 2011 and as of a few weeks ago, allowing women to wear pants to work. Female worshippers could enter Mormon temples wearing pants beginning in 2010. In response to Wear Pants To Church Day in 2013, a church spokesperson stated, “Generally Church members are encouraged to wear their best clothing as a sign of respect for the Savior, but we don’t counsel people beyond that.” However, some local bishops continue to chastise women who attend church wearing pants.
Sexist dress codes have never been unique to Mormons. For example, workplaces that require women to wear high heels have been in the news of late in the United Kingdom. When announcing the new LDS church employee dress code, Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both men and women.” *
I hope that going forward, we will be. Regardless of how hard female-specific grooming mandates are or aren’t, let’s not create an extra burden on women—and only on women—through sexist dress codes or by preaching prettiness standards over the pulpit.
* In contrast to many of his predecessors, Elder Cook’s General Conference talks indicate that he is concerned about making workplaces woman-friendly and making the church less judgemental toward working women. Establishing a more equitable dress code, even if it is too late to be at the forefront, demonstrates his sincerity. Moreover, the most recent dress code change was accompanied by an announcement that the church would begin offering paid parental leave, which is progressive in the United States, where the LDS church is headquartered. Only 12% of American employees have access to paid parental leave.