Last week I was able to visit one of my favorite places in the world. Thousand steps beach is just up the coast from Laguna Beach and it is breathtaking. It has always felt so peaceful and secluded to me with the giant cliffs looming over the pristine beach.
As my husband and I were lying on our towels soaking up the sun, I noticed something that disturbed my peace. Three teenage girls set their towels down a few paces from us. I observed the girls as they spent a straight hour taking selfies in their teensy bikinis. They switched from taking selfies to taking pictures of each other, always making sure to include a lot of skin. They didn’t seem to notice the crash of the waves, or the salty smell of the surf, and instead were completely engrossed in getting the best Instagram shot for the day.
As I sat on my beach towel and reflected on what I was seeing, I thought of what I would say to them. I have always been opposed to the “traditional” way that modesty is taught. The idea of having to cover your body so someone does not have sexualized thoughts about you, or act on such thoughts is faulty. This sends the message that people cannot control their thoughts or actions, and that if you are victimized it is somehow your fault. In reality people are responsible for their own thoughts and actions. It is not your responsibility to make sure the boys and men around you keep their thoughts clean. I didn’t want to preach “modesty” to them in the traditional sense.
What I wanted to say to the girls I saw on the beach is, “Stop, you don’t have to do this, you do not have to show your body this way to get love or acceptance, or attention, you are a PERSON not an OBJECT.” Objectification means treating a person as a commodity or an object without regard to their personality or dignity.
I wanted to let them know that, “modesty” is not about covering up your body. It is about respecting yourself. I didn’t want the girls to cover up because they should be ashamed of their bodies, I wanted them to stop worrying about their bodies all together and enjoy a day at the beach. I wish that teenage girls didn’t get the messaging that all the world is a giant competition for how good you can look, and that this is what truly matters. As long as girls and women believe this, we will spend precious time and energy objectifying ourselves that we could be using in a more positive way.
I thought back to some of my classes in college, and learning that the entire world is geared toward something called the “male gaze.” The world is depicted from a male point of view in art, television, movies, etc. I was shocked when I realized that even commercials for female products, like soap or shampoo show pictures of naked girls in the shower. I thought about how these Laguna Beach teens had been indoctrinated by a culture of obsessive perfectionism about women’s bodies. I never saw them relax or play, just snap picture after picture.
The reality is that sometimes being modest in our dress and appearance is a challenge. We see the kind of attitude that the world has toward image, and see in our media that it seems like the way to get acceptance and attention is to look good. We get a never ending and compelling stream of media showing people that are using their bodies to feel good about themselves and get what they want or who they want.
I believe modesty exists so that we can recognize where our true value and source of light comes from. If we could spend half time we spend thinking about our bodies helping someone else, learning something new, or striving towards a goal, we would feel a lot more empowered and better about ourselves. Modesty is about rejecting the idea that whats on the outside is more important than what is on the inside. Modesty is about a commitment to respect ourselves as equal members of the human race, and to be known for our ideas, our compassion, and our spirit, not for how we look in a bikini.
I love the talk by Elder Holland given in the October 2005 conference entitled, “To Young Women.” In his talk he says, “I want you to be proud you are a woman. I want you to feel the reality of what that means, to know who you truly are. You are literally a spirit daughter of heavenly parents with a divine nature and an eternal destiny. That surpassing truth should be fixed deep in your soul and be fundamental to every decision you make as you grow into mature womanhood.”
My hope for all of you teenage girls out there is that you get off of Instagram, stop watching “Pretty Little Liars” and stop dreaming about getting boob jobs. Get other dreams, figure out what you want to learn and what you want to accomplish, and who you want to help. I can guarantee that as you do this that modesty will come easily, and you will feel confidence like never before.