A couple weeks ago the Primary President pulled me out of my Sunbeam class to talk about Avery. It had been reported to her that Avery does not sit like a lady in class, and the boys are commenting on it. I will note first that my daughters dress even more modestly than I did when I was their age (and my mother was a STICKLER on modesty), and that the particular skirt Avery was wearing that day reached an inch or so below her knee and was not tight, but yeah, she sits with her knees far apart, in a fairly slouchy manner. Avery has two male teachers; the one who did the reporting is a very nice childless man who probably felt awkward about talking directly to her but wanted to fix things. (When this happens in Sunbeams, I just tell the girls to pull their skirts down. Sometimes I say that ten times in twenty minutes.)
On our walk home from church I reported the conversation to my sensitive ten-year old and told her she had four options: 1) continue as she is, and realize that boys talk about things like underwear when it’s visible (and probably even when it’s not), 2) wear leggings/bloomers/shorts, 3) sit “like a lady,” or 4) go shopping for some nice trousers to wear.
Giving her that fourth option was a little like reverse psychology, hoping she wouldn’t go for it or balk at the other choices if she knew that (as far as I’m concerned) wearing pants wasn’t forbidden (and therefore desirable), but not really like reverse psychology because if she had given me a spiel about it not being fair that boys can sit however they want and that she wanted to wear pants too, I would have taken her to get some nice pants to wear. (Note: I didn’t point this out to her; the world is sexist and unfair and she’ll figure that out and be bothered or not by it in her own time.)
She thought it over for awhile and the next Sunday she wore leggings under her skirt. We haven’t talked about it since.
Yesterday I read a BCC post (it’s really just two links and a provocative comparison) that pointed me to the new dress and grooming guidelines for missionaries on LDS.org. The other link was to an interesting article on Huffington Post about how, if we want to encourage girls in the life of the mind (my awesome phrasing), we should ask them what book they are reading rather than telling them they’re pretty upon first meeting. (I have thoughts on that too, because I tell my girls they are cute all the time, but maybe that’ll be another post.)
I hadn’t seen the dress and grooming pages, and when I did, I was flabbergasted. Flabber-gasted. Really, you have to go there now and flip through all the pages. Don’t forget the makeup gallery and the makeup tips and the hair style gallery and the accessories page with the colorful ballet flats that would be so practical for walking on cobblestones for ten hours.
Then I got on Twitter and said that the pages seem superficial, condescending and creepy to me, and they are not the message I want to send to my daughters. Several women chimed in for the next two hours (though mostly they disagreed with me). Someone on the original BCC post said they recognized some of the skirts as costing $120 at Anthropologie; someone else calculated how much this kind of wardrobe (all “outfits,” no coordinating separates) would cost ($10,000). Most interesting was that two women who served missions in Belgium said the pages were great and necessary. Then one of those ladies went back and actually looked at how extensive and detailed they are and said she felt like she was on Pinterest (a website where design/crafter/hipster-types collect images of things they like).
A friend on Facebook echoed other comments that the pages seem necessary because immodesty is such a problem. I was surprised that many thought the pages were an attempt to get sister missionaries to tone down their appearance and makeup, when I thought they were clearly sending the message that women need to spend more money, time, and energy on their appearance in order to be good missionaries/Mormons.
Are the pages a call to frump up or frump down? Probably depends on how (non)frumpy you consider yourself, so my umbrage may certainly have to do with feeling inadequate and plain ugly (and middle-aged) compared to the models.
And I haven’t even mentioned that the Dress and Grooming guidelines only showcase women. I know there are strict guidelines for men, but they are not online (yet?) for some reason. And even when they are published, I doubt they’ll have an equivalent to this nugget of advice:
Tinted moisturizer with SPF is another quick way to get color and base. To minimize the appearance of dark circles under your eyes, use a yellow- or pink-toned concealer lighter than your skin tone to blend.
More subtly, the makeup section does have an “If you choose to wear makeup, here are some tips,” disclaimer, but this is the front page:
Huh. I wonder if makeup would help you look your best for the elders at zone conferences?
I have nothing against preaching modesty (so long as it’s taught as something a girl does for herself because she loves and honors herself and appreciates the wonderful body God has given her, not as a means of saving boys from themselves). And I also think it’s pragmatic and whatnot for the Church to have missionary guidelines and standards, to encourage/require a professional, be-your-best-you missionary force. But these pages go too far in suggesting that looks and clothes and accessories are all-important for women.
And here’s where I morph into a comment on the priesthood and how I feel about women not holding it. Doctrinally, it’s not a big issue for me. I like being able to do the things I can do as a woman that men can’t do, and I’m okay with different gender roles and biology and etc. But the practical ramifications that seem to follow, in our culture, from the fact that men, by virtue of holding the priesthood are in charge of correlation, in charge of what gets approved for curricula and the website and policies, in charge of telling women how they should look — it seems really unfortunate that women do not have a similar say in these matters. Can you separate doctrine from practice? Can I be a good Mormon if I don’t shop at Anthropologie?
(If you’re on the Twitter and want to catch our next impromptu chat on #mormsandmakeup (TBA), you should follow @imaginaryzina, @compulsivewrtr, @grouchyteacher, @andrea_aka_mom, @hollywillnot, @oneinamelia, @jet_set, @suedonym, @thatfig, @lesliehatch and @emihill There are many, many other cool Mormon women on Twitter, and, of course, all heresies and infelicities of thought are my own. Just to give credit for lovely ladies helping me think this through, hope I didn’t miss anyone. I’m @seagullfountain.)
And don’t tell me that this whole set of pages was done at the inspiration and execution of women — I don’t think I could handle the disillusion.