Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Less superficial than the last one, I promise!

So, to make up for a fluffy post about clothes, and in light of our recent discussion about modesty, I thought I would bring up another appearance-related topic. My RS lesson last Sunday was about a BYU devotional given last fall by Douglas L. Callister of the 70, entitled Our Refined Heavenly Home. I thought it was pretty interesting. Elder Callister describes his remarks as an attempt to

[P]eek behind the veil that temporarily separates us from our heavenly home and paint a word picture of the virtuous, lovely, and refined circumstances that exist there. I will speak of the language, literature, music, and art of heaven, as well as the immaculate appearance of heavenly beings, for I believe that in heaven we will find each of these in pure and perfected form.

The entire devotional was pretty interesting, and I definitely took some "action items" away from it. However, I was intrigued/puzzled by the section on appearance, which begins with this anecdote:

Many years ago an associate of mine decided he would please his wife by sharing with her a very specific compliment each night as he arrived home. One night he praised her cooking. A second night he thanked her for excellence in housekeeping. A third night he acknowledged her fine influence on the children. The fourth night, before he could speak, she said, “I know what you are doing. I thank you for it. But don’t say any of those things. Just tell me you think I am beautiful.”

She expressed an important need that she had. Women ought to be praised for all the gifts they possess that so unselfishly add to the richness of our lives, including their attentiveness to their personal appearance. We must not “let ourselves go” and become so casual—even sloppy—in our appearance that we distance ourselves from the beauty heaven has given us. Every man has the right to be married to a woman who makes herself as beautiful as she can be. Every woman has the right to be married to a man who keeps himself clean, physically as well as morally, and takes pride in his appearance.

Obviously, Elder Callister feels strongly that appearances matter. I don't disagree with him, but he never says why. Also, his story doesn't sit quite right with me, either. Again, it's not that I disagree with the premise that a couple telling each other that they are beautiful is appropriate and good... but why should complimenting your spouse on their superficial appearance be more important than their actual accomplishments? Also, I was struck by the dichotomy that women should "make themselves beautiful" while men should be "clean".

Maybe I'm just reading it too hostilely :) And really, I did enjoy this talk a lot. And if there's discussion on it (which I hope there is!) I don't mean for it to be about only this aspect. Any thoughts?


Courtney said...

Emma, I totally agree with you. I do think there is some value in caring for how you look, and I do appreciate it when my husband tells me he thinks I am beautiful (and I think he's rather attractive as well). But I would think it was more important to admire each other's skills, contributions, characteristics, etc. Those are the things which last.
One of my major problems with church (especially Young Women) discussions about modesty is, as you mentioned, there are rarely reasons given for these matters. Modesty is not important based on a woman's responsibility to keep a man's mind out of the gutter. Nor is a woman's responsibility to be well-groomed to appeal to her husband's senses. These are nice perks, but they should not be the reason behind the action.
I have more to say, but I have to go to work. Great post! I'm excited to the see the discussion this generates.

Emma said...

Good point about modesty discussions, Courtney... I've been thinking a lot about the body lately, in a lot of different ways. Bodies such great things, but what is the relationship between celebrating our bodies and respecting them? What is, in fact, the reason for modesty?

One random thought that comes to mind is that if the whole world had always followed Church standards, I doubt we'd have any nude models, and therefore no nude art... Does it follow that all nude art is unkosher? (I'd personally hate to get rid of Venus Dormiere and the David.)

Courtney said...

Wow, I had never thought of that. I think it would be a very small group to call the David immoral.
I often wonder what the point of modesty is. I wonder if the "forbidden-ness" of nudity (or shoulders?) increases the sexuality of the body-- and not in a good way. There is the argument that in Europe, people are much more open and free with their bodies, without the sexual, lusty aspect like in America. I don't know if that is necessarily true, I haven't lived in Europe since I was 14. But I wonder if the whole modesty issue exacerbates the wanting-what-you-can't-have dilemma.
I think there is an aspect of respecting our bodies involved with modesty. But does the respect come from the sexualization of things like shoulders and knees? I really don't know what I think. And I certainly am glad there were men and women willing to shed their robes and model for artists such as Da Vinci.

Monica said...

I'm sorry for anyone who read my original comment - I've made a few emendations. :)

I'm sorry about my delayed comment, but modesty is an issue that I feel is very important for many of the reasons that church leaders say it is (including protecting virtue in thought). I think that women have a hard time understanding why modesty and appearance are so important to and have such a great impact on men because our brains are wired differently. I used to buy into the idea that the view that women should dress modestly to protect the thoughts of men somehow makes men weak, until I heard it reiterated this way by men themselves time and time again - including by my own husband. Part of the reason that modest dress helps us show respect for our bodies is because it protects virtue, whereas immodest dress communicates an inappropriate openness with our bodies and disregard for the same. If their was no temptation or harm involved in dressing immodestly, I doubt very much that it would be as much of a necessity. Obviously, women are not responsible for men's actions or thoughts in regards to their dress, but they are responsible for how they dress and what kind of message their dress communicates to others. I commented on the other modesty post as well, but I fear that my post was so late (weeks actually) that it won't ever get read. But, if anyone's interested in a more lengthy response to the modesty issue, it'll be there.

As for modesty creating a more lustful attitude towards body parts that aren't shown - I disagree with that. First I feel I have to qualify my comments to say that I know that in Europe there are still many people who remain modest and try to protect virtue, despite an onslaught of media and popular ideas to the contrary. I have lived in Europe and I would have to say that freedom of expression as it relates to dress is not exclusive of a freer attitude in regards to what constitutes appropriate sexual relations; it does not reduce the inherent sexual aspect of immodest dress, an aspect I think generally affects men in a very different way than it affects women. Anywhere in the world where people are more accepting of immodest dress, there is also a greater acceptance of other aspects of sexuality as well as how the media displays the body, including pornography. Far from disconnecting lust and dress, this dangerous attitude marries the two as both acceptable practices. Even in America, lust has begun to be portrayed as love, corrupting the beauty of real love, marriage and family. Protecting virtue in our dress helps to keep us above these ideas and reminds us of the sacred nature of our bodies.

As for the story - I don't think that he is saying that it is more important to praise appearance, just that appearance should not be left out. I used to scoff at the idea of making myself pretty for my husband (as I'm sure most feminist thinking tomboys do), until I realized that some of those things that really emphasize our femininity in the eyes of our husbands can enrich our relationships with them. Besides, how many of us wouldn't like to hear that we're beautiful a little more often?

Courtney said...

Monica, very interesting comments. (Um, I guess I forgot we already had a modesty discussion, because I think my previous comments said just the same exact thing I said on another post. Oh well.)
Anyway, I rather like what you said, because it was very well-balanced (where as I tend to fly off the handle with emotionally charged responses).
In regards to the Europe thing: I also think you are right. Maybe the problem is that people ARE more open and free with their bodies in Europe. I think they have more publicly accessible pornography than in America (at least in Amsterdam-- and obviously I live in Provo, not Las Vegas).
Teaching modesty is such a difficult thing, for all the reasons pointed out. So what is the best way to teach modesty to young girls AND boys? I'm not sure how I will go about it, and that makes me nervous. Does anyone have any bright ideas about how to teach modesty in an affective and correct way?

Michaela Stephens said...

Modesty is important because our bodies are sacred.

When something is sacred you don't go showing it off to everybody, because that would be desecration. Sacred things are held back for those who do something to deserve them. (Examples: temple worship, baptism, priesthood)

Being able to see our unclothed bodies and have sexual relations is a privilege that is reserved for our spouse.

When we dress immodestly in public, we are nonverbally promising to others besides our spouse what we must not deliver--a full view & sexual relations.
Promising what we do not intend to deliver is lying.

This is the best I can do at explaining why modesty is important.