You Probably Think This Post is About You

When I was about 11 years old, I owned a few necklaces, a couple of bracelets, a CTR ring and probably another ring, and had just gotten my first anklet. I though wearing them was fun and dressy and every Sunday, I made sure I had a necklace, a bracelet for each wrist, my rings, and my anklet on when I went to Church. It was my Sunday best and I loved it.

One Sunday in my primary class, we read this scripture in 2 Nephi 13:

17 Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts.

18 In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments, and cauls, and round tires like the moon;

19 The chains and the bracelets, and the mufflers;

20 The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the ear-rings;

21 The rings, and nose jewels;

22 The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping-pins;

23 The glasses, and the fine linen, and hoods, and the veils.

24 And it shall come to pass, instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle, a rent; and instead of well set hair, baldness; and instead of a stomacher, a girding of sackcloth; burning instead of beauty.

And in the corner of the room, I heard one of the boys in my class tell another boy, “Like Heather.”
After that I stopped wearing any jewelry to church. I don’t remember what the lesson was on, but I did know I was the kind of person that God destroyed. I had been shamed by my peers and they had the scriptures available to prove they were right in doing so. I stopped wearing the things that made me happy. Part of me is mad at those boys for shaming me. And part of me knows that they were right a little bit: some of the reason I wore the jewelry was vanity.

I think about this every year when Mormon fashion sites blog about the “modest” styles on the red carpet and all the subsequent comments about how really no “red carpet” dress could be considered “modest” because of the price tag. But dressing up is fun, I think to myself, and I can’t fault the celebrities for that. I feel like we are the little boys in my primary class, whispering to each other, and judging and shaming.

I thought about it a couple weeks ago when my oldest, who is 8, wore multiple bracelets and her necklace to church. Will she get vanity-shamed from a primary lesson as well? Do I say something to her before we go to church? Or do I let her wear what she wants and risk it?

I’m wondering whether or not other people discuss vanity with their kids. Is there a way to do it without shaming or judgment- either making the kid feel bad or by pointing out “other” people who demonstrate vanity? Have you dealt with kids being shamed for vanity? Have you been that kid yourself?


TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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11 Responses

  1. Anne says:

    This is on my mind a lot. I love makeup and coloring my hair. I like seeing pretty painted nails when I play the piano or do the dishes. I like to dress nicely and look my best (not fancy by any means but I do make an effort). All of this weighs against the thoughts in my mind about social injustice, people going hungry, and huge needs around the world. I know if we spent less time worrying about ourselves we could effect a lot of change. It’s hard. Excited to read the comments here.

    Also, I’m so tired of people (so often men) telling each other what to wear or making clothes an excuse for things (“she was asking for it”). I just want everyone to let go of the attempts at control and look past it. I don’t want my little girls to hear their shoulders are tempting and need to be covered. I want Church to be about the good stuff, how to help others and treat each other better.

  2. Caroline says:

    I haven’t thought about this much yet, though I probably will as my little daughter ages. I am concerned that she is going to obsess over her looks and be hyper conscious of her appearance. I’m sure I did the same as a teen, and I look back and wish I could shout to my adolescent self to not worry about it so much. But society puts so much pressure on females to be attractive — it might just be a losing battle from the start. I’m desperately hoping church can be a place where she can forget about superficial things like clothing and appearance… but if her YW experience was anything at all like mine, there will be plenty of time devoted to teaching girls about “proper” female appearances. I hope she emerges from YW not too damaged or shamed from this.

    Sorry to hear about your terrible experience, TopHat. Wish I could slap those boys — how cruel to taunt you like that. People just need to be given space to express themselves through clothing/accessories and others need to just shut up about it.

  3. Guest Post says:

    Er, sorry. I was logged in under “Guest post” and it’s putting up Jana’s picture with my comment. It really is me, Caroline. 🙂

  4. Karen H says:

    I really like John Bytheway’s “Look at me” definition of modesty–one’s gaze should automatically be drawn to the face and eyes, not to what you have on. I think it is a better measure of what is appropriate. So on the red carpet (where wearing an evening gown could be considered a job requirement), wearing a tee and maxi skirt would draw the wrong sort of attention and might be considered false modesty.

    I’ve tried to help my daughter learn to find joy in being neat, clean, and in style without being obsessed with having every new fad that comes along. I think sticking to a tight clothing budget has helped. (Although in high school she had friends who were into anime and cosplay, so we’ve also had chats about the inappropriateness of wearing a bright orange wig to school. Sigh.)

    I wish your Primary teacher had taken the time to talk with the class about offering our best to the Lord–maybe discussing how you felt about your “Sunday best” versus being haughty and wanton as described in 2 Ne 13:16.

  5. Ziff says:

    Wow, TopHat, I’m sorry. That sounds like a punch in the gut of an experience.

    My daughter is only five, and I’m not aware that she’s run into stuff like this yet, but I really don’t know how I’ll help her with it when she encounters it. For the millionth time, it’s so awful that women and girls are so policed and shamed for what they wear.

  6. spunky says:

    This post has been haunting me. I had a similar experience being judged by too much bling, but also being …er.. Not well-to-do, I was also judged by my lack bling.

    I’m doing my best to teach my daughters to just be happy with their choices and that nothing anyone else says matters. They generally do well, but still… One church friend of my daughter’s- just 6 years old, invited her to do a “modesty fashion show”- because my daughter’s Frozen Elsa constume sleeves were opaque. Bling wasn’t the issue. And yet…

    This scripture haunts me. Its inspired application and judgment haunts me more.

    Thank you for writing this post, it means a lot to me.

    • TopHat says:

      It’s so invasive, isn’t it? I hope that if my daughter hears anything like this, she’ll be strong enough to ignore it and be her awesome self anyway. I hope she’d tell me about it. But I bet my parents hoped the same thing and there was no way I was telling them about this- I felt so embarrassed, I didn’t want to tell them and risk them agreeing with the boys.

  7. Robyn Campbell says:

    Long before I removed my name from church membership (after new gay guidelines issued), I began attending LDS meetings less and less and UU congregations more. I wanted to feel uplifted, good, joyous about living and inspired to love more when I walked out of a service. I am 65 years old now, and recently got a very bright tattoo… a flower of life/dream catcher (sacred geometry), and I’m feeling a lot of anxiety about letting my 95 year old father see it. How pathetic is that?!

  8. Deborah Jones says:

    Where was the teacher to correct the boys’ behavior?

    • TopHat says:

      He was there, but he may not have heard them, or if he did, he may not have thought it was a big deal or maybe even agreed with the boys. I don’t know. It wasn’t something that they boy said loudly.

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