Saturday, October 22, 2011

Strange Mormon Customs #3

Britney and me in London

Mormons believe in being modest at all times and in all places. With that said, let me tell you a story about my bikini.
I was ten years old and shopping with my mom when I saw it there, hanging on the rack. I have a vivid memory of what it looked like: it was white with a purple and turquoise palm tree print and purple piping around the edges, and it was darling. I asked my mom if I could have it. What do you think she said?
Before I tell you, let me give you some history on my mom. When she was a child, she was tended on Santa Monica beaches by the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee while my grandmother mowed the lawn in her swimsuit. When my mom was a teen she became Miss Malibu. Though she grew up to become a devout Mormon, at heart she was still a Californian.
So I got the bikini. It was a while before I could wear it since we lived in Jackson, Wyoming, where it is warm enough to swim outside for only two hours of the year. But one weekend my family went to St. George, Utah and stayed at a motel with a pool. I was so excited to finally try out my cute suit.
There was only one problem. We got there late Saturday night and the next morning was Sunday. (Another Strange Mormon Custom: Mormons don’t swim on Sunday.) I looked longingly out at the pool.
Hoping that rules could be bent, I asked my mom if I could go swim for just a little while, even though it was Sunday.
This time my mom paused for a moment. But she still said yes.
Gleefully, I peeled off my clothes, strapped on my bikini and pranced out to the pool.
It was morning and I had the pool all to myself. I splashed around, having a great time, looking down at my body every now and then to glory in my cuteness.
Before long another person entered the pool area. It was a boy; chubby boy who was a little older, maybe 12 or 13. He watched me for a while and I toned down my frolicking. He eased himself into the pool continued to watch me with a strange smirky smile on his face. His expression gave me a weird feeling I had never felt before; as if suddenly I was wearing nothing at all. And even though I was young enough to have a chest so flat you could iron your shirt on it, I could feel that somehow I crossed some mysterious boundary of decency, and that by crossing this boundary I had let myself become prey for a wolf in fat-boy’s clothing.
I left the pool and never wore that bikini again. Since then, I never had any desire to wear a bikini. Not once. If you are trying to teach your children about modesty, I don’t recommend this strategy, but it definitely worked for my mom. I often think back on my mom’s willingness to let me dress like that and wondered if she knew what she was doing all along.
The unfortunate reality is that men have always been, and will always be, more influenced by a woman’s appearance than what comes out of her mouth….for better or for worse.
But that isn’t the only reason I dress modestly. As a Mormon, I see my body as a temple. Have you ever tried to enter a Mormon temple when you haven’t met the proper requirements? Sorry, buddy, you can’t get in.
It is the same with our bodies. This is the reason Mormons don’t smoke, don’t drink…our bodies are temples. Protecting the sanctity of our bodies is just as important to us as protecting the sanctity of our temples.
But that doesn’t mean we go around wearing turtle necks and skirts that go down to our ankles. Our bodies are not barns, not skyscrapers, not supermarkets, not strip malls, not condos, casinos or cabins. They are temples, and temples are exquisitely beautiful. Beauty and cleanliness are a reflection of the respect you have for yourself. I think people forget that that is part of modesty, too. Out of respect for my body I always try to make the most of what I have and be as beautiful to look upon as possible.
After all, I am the daughter of Miss Malibu.

Here are the guidelines our church gives the youth about wearing appropriate clothing.
Check out this great website the church has put together on the dress standards for our young sister missionaries….I bet you’ll like it.


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  2. I love this! You are such an incredible writer. I love the "lesson" your mom taught you, and how you mentioned that we are to be "exquisitely beautiful." Perfect. I hope some day your book is published so I can buy it off the shelves of Barnes & Noble. Just make sure I can purchase it in Canada! ;) (**I had a slight grammatical error in my first post!!!) :)

  3. This is a great story and demonstrates once again that you can't have really given your manuscript a fair chance if you've already shelved it. You are a great writer!

    I do have an opinion to insert, though, since it's something of a pet peeve of mine: Modesty is not decided by and modest standards are not set by the lewd looks of the men or boys who have dirty minds. If that were so, nothing short of a hijab would do, and even that wouldn't always be enough. It is not our job as women to police men's minds or keep them clean. Keeping our bodies modest, treating them with respect and as precious gifts, these are appropriate--but should never be confused with taking responsiblity for the sensual thougths of someone outside ourselves.

    This is something I feel strongly about, and hope to make clear to my daughter and anyone else who will listen. A great deal of damage is done when a girl feels she is somehow responsible for a man or boy's thoughts and actions. She is responsible for her own choices, and of course her choices impact others. However, when someone else crosses the line (as the boy in your story appeared to) from honest and wholesome behavior into dirty or degrading, she is not responsible and should not be made to feel that she is.

    Sorry if that comes across as heavy-handed, but this is not something which should ever be implied or left for a girl to conclude.

  4. Suzanne, I totally agree with you! I'm glad you added that.

  5. Loved reading this. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I'm so grateful for my eloquent friends these days as I feel a dearth in my own well, eloquent-ness. (See like I typed out eloquent-ness and it took me quite a bit to realize that I meant eloquence...anyway...) Thanks for writing about a topic I've thought a lot about lately. Fantastically said, Chelsea. Someday I hope to get my thoughts all orderly about it. When my brain works again.

  7. "The unfortunate reality is that men have always been, and will always be, more influenced by a woman’s appearance than what comes out of her mouth"

    That is remarkably judgmental, as though you know the thoughts of all men.

    As you attempt to rebut the argument in your mind, consider that some men are blind. Now attempt to consider other points of view.

  8. You have every right to wear a bikini. If a man makes a woman feel objectified by what she is wearing, the problem lies with him, not her.