And another issue: Modesty

Recently there have been a lot of posts about how Mormons view Modesty. Even from fellow Mormons, it seems there is a broad misconception out there. I can't find the article I read the other night, but the general gist was this: Women in the church are confused, because we are supposed to dress "sexy" enough to get a man, but modest enough to get a man who is a nice, worthy priesthood holder who doesn't like girls who dress immodestly. Apparently, us girls are lost and confused because we just don't know how to walk the fine line between beauty, and the ugliness that is modesty.
I was pretty surprised at what a big deal it was. I don't claim to be perfect, but the church's guidelines for modesty, unlike a schools or workplace, have always been very clear. After you go through the temple, it's even more simple: cover your garments. It's like drawing with a connect-the-dots. It really doesn't leave much up for discussion.
Let's go back a little bit here and let me just say: I get it. I get the pressure that we are supposed to dress a certain way to "be hot". However, that pressure does not AT ALL come from the church, it comes from the world. And the thing is, we know it's true. Despite anything you believe, no one is comfortable when they are dressed immodestly. You feel exposed. You feel like you're on TV and everyone is watching you. You feel like you need to keep "fixing" yourself (pulling your shirt down, fixing the sleeve length) because you're so uncomfortable.
All of this is general knowledge, but last year I uncovered a new layer to modesty that I had never understood before. Caleb and I were at a drive-in getting some food, and our waitress came over wearing short shorts and a low-cut shirt. I didn't think much of it until she leaned over to talk to us, and her shirt fell, leaving little to the imagination. This was obviously not the first time something like this had ever happened to me, but it was the first time since I'd been married. The second it happened, my blood started to boil. Now don't get me wrong, Caleb is NOT the type to have looked, and when I asked him about it later he had no idea it had even happened, but I was still so angry with the girl. Suddenly, she wasn't dressing to keep herself cool at work. She wasn't dressing to impress her friends, her boyfriend, or other boys. She was, in that moment, dressing for my husband's attention. Suddenly, all the times in my life that I had heard I should dress modestly came rushing back: is this what I was doing every time I stepped outside showing a little too much skin? Whether we intend to or not, when we dress in the morning, we are dressing, specifically, for each and every person we see that day. For our friends, our families, strangers in the store, other people's husbands or boyfriends, people we see at work, little girls who look up to us. And they are all looking at you and whatever you are exposing because you're putting it up on a pedestal for all to see.
There is a thing in Child Development studies that happens in Young Adults called Imaginary Audience. Remember in Middle School feeling like everyone was watching you all the time, when really everyone was too focused on themselves to notice anyone else? Well when you dress immodestly, you get that same feeling, except this time, your audience is anything but imaginary.
I wasn't a girl who liked to wear short shorts, as I just never felt confident enough in them. But I still remember arguing that tank tops weren't that bad, who cares if someone sees my shoulders? And all my mormon friends were wearing short shorts, so why not me?
I thought I understood. We've all heard the reasons. But that day was the day I realized the ultimate one for me: I don't want other women dressing to catch my husbands attention, and I don't want attention from anyone but my husband. So despite what that article said, No girls aren't asking for it when they dress a certain way and get treated a certain way because of it. We all have the choice. But I think it would have changed my mind to realize what I was actually doing when I dressed that way and stepped out into the world every day.


About a year and a half ago, I had the awesome experience of being a counselor at Retreat for Girls. The counselors are all 18-23ish, single girls, and each of us were paired with 12 girls, aged 11-15. My group were all 13-15. Retreat was and is one of my favorite memories. I grew so much, and still love each one of the girls in my group!

During my two weeks at Retreat, I got really close with each of the girls. I thought that because I was only a few years older than all of them, I remembered what it was like to be their age. I had lived it, I survived. I could be a big help to them! I was pretty surprised to find out how much I had forgotten in the years since I escaped High School.
Primarily, how much Beauty matters back then.
So this is to each of those girls, and to any other girl, in the hopes that your experience will be better than mine.
Now, I won't be so bold as to say it doesn't matter now. Of course it matters. I worry every day about how I look, otherwise I would never bother to do my hair or put on makeup. But at that age, it's an obsession. It's on your mind almost constantly, especially while you are in school. It's all you think about, you worry yourself sick about your bony knees or your ghostly white skin or your zits even though everyone has them or how your hair is too poofy or your clothes aren't what's "in". You worry so much, that you fail to see yourself as you really are.

One of the girls in my group said during a devotional one night that she loved to come to Retreat because she always felt beautiful there. Why was that? Well, partly because Retreat is all girls, and the only boys you see for the entire week were the director's families, and the boys we passed from EFY. (Which they were forbidden to talk to, or I would shout things like, "How is that rash of yours clearing up?" I am going to be such an embarrassing mom.) But I think the biggest reason she, and the other girls (myself included) felt beautiful at Retreat was because we all felt loved. We started every morning with a devotional and scripture study, said prayers at every meal, and spent all afternoon listening to gospel-centered talks. It was hard not to be on a spiritual high 24/7, even as exhausted as we were. I learned that when the Spirit is with you that strong, the things of the world really do fall away. Because we know that Heavenly Father doesn't care what we look like. He would never send us away or forbid us blessings because our mascara is clumped or our teeth are crooked. 
It broke my heart to send my girls back out into the real world. In the year and a half since then, I have watched them grow, turn 16 and start dating. I have watched some of the things they post online. Some of them make me beam with pride (seriously, SUCH an embarrassing mom) and some make me cringe. But I know how they feel. We are all living in a world that demands that we be beautiful. We can never be completely satisfied with the way we look, because someone will always look just a little bit better than us. 
And beyond that, I can promise you that you do not see yourself the way others see you. All those self conscious girls in my groups, and I would have killed to look like any of them. Look at the people around you. Why do they all seem just a little bit more perfect than you? Do you really think none of them look at themselves and wish they looked like you? I promise you, they do.
To top it off, the more we worry about ourselves, the more self conscious we make others. I see girls who are much more tan than I am obsessing about their pale skin, and all I can think is how white I must look in their eyes. I see girls post super-photoshopped pictures in their newest, cutest, most expensive outfits, and my heart sinks. Why don't I have as much money as her? Why won't my hair do what hers does? And I can tell you, I would much rather be jealous of someone because of the fun trip they took, or the lifetime dream they achieved, than because of the outfit they're wearing.
I'm talking to you, everyday-selfie-takers.
To my girls and any girls going through the rough Middle and High School years... it gets better. But don't let it get you down now. I promise you the day will come when you will see a picture of yourself today and think, "Wow, I looked really good!" You may not see it now. You may be so blinded by your little imperfections that you can't see yourself the way God sees you, or even the way others see you. But if you just try to forget about those things, take a step back and decide that you are happy with yourself the way you are, I can tell you from experience THAT is where you will find true happiness. Not at the end of a 5 mile run on a treadmill. Not at the bottom of a crazy hair cut. Not after a long shopping spree. But right where you are, right now, perfect as can be.

Who You Marry Matters

When Caleb and I were dating, we spent a lot of time at his parents house playing the Wii. Although I preferred the "girly" games that didn't show off my lack of gaming skills, eventually we'd get tired of tennis and bowling and basketball and he'd want to play Super Mario Brothers.
Now don't get me wrong, I can hold my own when it comes to ATV Offroad Fury 2 (yes, it HAS to be 2), Tony Hawk, or Twisted Metal, and very few people on the planet can beat me at SingStar. (Sensing a theme here? We had a PS2, and that's about as far as my gaming skills go.)  And although I realized SuperMario Brothers isn't a super difficult game, I still struggle. Bad. I am just not coordinated enough to run, steer, and jump on that 2D plane, and when those giant Venus Fly Traps on steroids start biting at you, I just panic too much to reasonably handle the situation.

It's ok, I'm not upset. I'm good at other things. And hang in there, because I DO have a point.
The point is, we would eventually end up playing this game and all I would do was drag us down. It didn't take long for Caleb to figure out that I wasn't going to be the turtle-fighting companion one desperately needs in the Nintendo world. I wasn't the Luigi to his Mario. It was enough to break up any good relationship.
If Caleb was any other guy I've ever dated, things at this point would have gone one of two ways:
1) He would demand that we spend the next several months practicing until our fingers ached. He would yell, mumble, and roll his eyes whenever I somehow missed that jump and fell to my death. He would be frustrated that this is not an area I excel in.
2) He would go back, turn the game to 1 player, and suggest that I watch him play, or maybe go make him some cookies while he plays, because he "needs to beat that level."

Instead, he did something completely unexpected. Caleb figured out how to pick me up (I should note, this function is supposed to be used to pick up someone and then throw them) and he carried me through the whole level. I was in a serious fit of hysterics watching this cute, tiny Mario carry cute, tiny Toad to safety. At the very beginning of the level, he would run to me, pick me up, and then proceed to make it through the rest of the level with me sitting on his little mustached head.

I realize you can take this story many ways: the serious gamer is probably appalled that I would give him such a gamer's handicap, but I think it perfectly describes my marriage, and why I fell in love with Caleb in the first place. First and foremost, he takes care of me. He never complains about how much harder I make things for him, he just wants me there, along for the ride.
There was a time I thought I would never be able to end up with someone like Caleb. I dated someone for almost 2 years who only treated me good for maybe 2 weeks of that relationship. Then, one day, I was sitting in Testimony meeting and this younger guy in our ward stood up to bear his testimony. He had this cute wife and a bunch of darling kids, and he spoke about them with such love. I watched him and my heart sunk, and I distinctly remember thinking, "I'll never have that, because I'm with so-and-so." As soon as that thought hit me, it was like I was lifted out of a two-year trance. I suddenly realized how much I was settling, and how poor my self-esteem must have become to stay with someone like him despite how unhappy I was. After we broke up, I went through my "I don't want to get married" phase, which every 20-something girl these days at least pretends to have, and I dated a few more not-the-ones before Caleb came along. I remember thinking that I could never trust someone enough to marry them, because every boy before had broken my trust. I had a lot of ridiculous relationships that are the topic of another blog post, someday. But I just couldn't imagine there was a guy out there worth all the trouble. 

Well, Caleb was worth all that trouble and then some. I know this is the most cliche thing I could possibly say, but he really did make all those bad relationships worth it. I can't tell you how many times a day I just stop in wonder at how I ended up with someone so great. Our relationship is one of my favorite things about my life: I love the way we talk to each other, the way we don't fight, the kindness we have toward each other.
Here is my other point: the sanctity of marriage is, and has been for some time now, under attack. What I have is not what we are supposed to want anymore. You are supposed to want a career, money, and a life of being single. A marriage isn't about a marriage, it's about a wedding. Little girls grow up dreaming of their wedding, a brief, one-day affair that is over before you can have a slice of your own cake.
The other day I saw this David's Bridal Commercial that kind of shocked me. I get that they are just trying to sell dresses here, but it so perfectly describes the way we view weddings these days: it's all about the bride. She's the Princess, and everybody better bow down to her. The wedding isn't about him it's not even about both of them it's about her. No wonder the divorce rate is so high.
I remember when I was younger asking my mom something about her wedding, if she was nervous or something along those lines. What she told me is something I have never forgotten. She said, "I just couldn't wait for the wedding to be over. The wedding was just an obstacle to get to him." I just thought that was the cutest, most romantic thing I've ever heard. And whether I realized it or not, I think it profoundly affected my own wedding day.
Don't get me wrong, I loved our wedding day. I have very fond memories. But the days that have happened since then have all been exponentially better. I am so glad that I never stressed myself out about wedding plans, I'm glad I didn't ask our parents to spend a fortune or alienate lifelong friends so they would wear the dresses I picked for them. Our wedding was a party, a celebration, the day we became a family.

Marriage isn't about choosing the "hottest" person who will choose you. It's not about giving up your dreams or your career to become a housewife who drives her 10 kids to soccer practice in a minivan. It's not about having a spectacular celebration where you are the highlight of the whole day. It's about finding someone to spend the rest of your life with. Someone who sees you without makeup and doesn't even see a difference. Someone who will pick you up, even when you're being nothing but a burden, and carry you past all the flying turtle shells to the finish line.