As promised, I’ve gathered my notes and tried to type up a summary of the fireside I recently taught (for both women and young women) called “The Beauty Paradox: The Surprising Relationship between Righteousness, Self-Image and Power.” The links to my quotes, references and study materials are all listed at the bottom of this post. Sorry, but there was no way to do this briefly and do it justice. Grab a cup of cocoa and settle in for a while.
There is opposition in all things.
For everything good and powerful and designed to bring happiness, Satan creates a counterfeit. He sets easy traps, and when we fall into them, we cannot enjoy what we wanted in the first place . . . the real deal.
Even when it comes to beauty.
People have many different opinions about beauty and modesty and self-image. Even among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’ve found that some take modesty standards more seriously than others. Some think that standards must be more closely followed and enforced, and some think that we should just teach general doctrines about the body and divine nature and stay away from specific standards. Some think that women and young women should not be held responsible for what men think about their clothing choices, and others would argue that females should be taught to dress themselves modestly with a better understanding of the inner workings of the male psyche. All these (and other) different approaches have valid points, but they make it quite difficult to teach principles of beauty and modesty without some serious inspiration. Luckily, my inspiration came one morning during my daily devotional time, otherwise known as a shower. After many weeks of study, the previous evening I had studied a talk by Sister Elaine Dalton where she taught about the principle of “deep beauty.” The ideas began to flow, and I literally wrote them with my finger on the foggy shower door in hopes of not forgetting them. When I finished, I wrote it all down as quickly as I could. This is what came into my mind that helped me organize all the principles I had been reading and pondering:
I know it looks crazy, but it truly gave me the direction I was seeking. I’ll start at the top, then left column, then right column.
Dictionary.com defines Beauty as:
“the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from  sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.),  a meaningful design or pattern, or  something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).”
The first of the three defined sources of beauty-satisfaction is what makes up SURFACE beauty. The last two fit more meaningfully in the category of DEEP beauty. Surface beauty is the element of beauty that Satan has latched onto and the world-at-large has bought into. Deep beauty is what God sees as beautiful and wants us to strive for.
Surface beauty is measured by outward appearances: usually by clothing, body, and makeup/hair. These are the elements of beauty most embraced by our media culture and most flaunted by those who try to copy it.
Clothing: (It’s important to distinguish that from here on out, any advice to young woman can and should apply to adult women as well, and vice versa.)
Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke to mothers about their daughters and asked them to teach the following:
“Our daughters as well as your sons are coming of age in a world that openly embraces early, casual, and thoughtless promiscuity. Immodest, unchaste women are glamorized and all too often celebrated and emulated. While there are steps that we can take in our homes and families to minimize our exposure to these unsavory elements of contemporary living, your daughters cannot entirely avoid the blatant sexual messages and enticements that surround them. You need to have frequent, open discussions during which you teach your daughters the truth about these issues.
For example, they need to understand that when they wear clothing that is too tight, too short, or too low cut, they not only can send the wrong message to young men with whom they associate, but they also perpetuate in their own minds the fallacy that a woman’s value is dependent solely upon her sensual appeal. This never has been nor will it ever be within the righteous definition of a faithful daughter of God.”
Notice that he talked about sending the wrong message to young men. A Catholic blogger recently wrote an article called “The Death of Pretty,” in which he lamented the prevailing trend to abandon “pretty” in favor of “hot.”
“Once upon a time, women wanted to project an innocence. I am not idealizing another age and I have no illusions about the virtues of our grandparents, concupiscence being what it is. But some things were different in the back then. First and foremost, many beautiful women, whatever the state of their souls, still wished to project a public innocence and virtue. And that combination of beauty and innocence is what I define as pretty.
By nature, generally when men see this combination in women it brings out their better qualities, their best in fact. That special combination of beauty and innocence, the pretty inspires men to protect and defend it.
Young women today do not seem to aspire to pretty, they prefer to be regarded as hot. Hotness is something altogether different. When women want to be hot instead of pretty, they must view themselves in a certain way and consequently men view them differently as well.
As I said, pretty inspires men’s nobler instincts to protect and defend. Pretty is cherished. Hotness, on the other hand, is a commodity. Its value is temporary and must be used. It is a consumable.”
I remember talking to some young men that I taught in seminary and asking them if it was hard to fulfill and focus on their priesthood duties at the sacrament table if there were women and young women in the congregation that were immodestly/provocatively dressed. They vigorously nodded their heads to the affirmative, and the young women in the room were surprised by their answer. Now, some may be on different sides of the argument about how responsible a woman should be for the way a man views her. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, I think we can probably agree on a few simple principles as outlined in the Proclamation on the Family. When the Lord sets forth the divine roles of women and men with regards to families, he proclaims that men are to “provide” and to “protect.” I think it’s very interesting that these same concepts are mentioned by the blogger as being naturally inspired by the virtuous and modest appearance of women. The proclamation also states that within our divinely appointed gender roles and interactions with one another, husbands and wives — and I think it’s safe to extend it to men and women in general — “are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” We can, and should, help one another to be our very best selves and to fulfill our divine roles as outlined in the Proclamation. While acknowledging that men are ultimately accountable for their thoughts and attitudes toward women, we can promote respect by showing respect for them and for ourselves. Modesty in dress is one way we can do that.
I want to back up a minute to Elder Ballard’s quote again and focus on the part where he says that when young women dress immodestly, “they not only can send the wrong message to young men with whom they associate, but they also perpetuate in their own minds the fallacy that a woman’s value is dependent solely upon her sensual appeal. “
A fallacy is a lie. Satan is the father of lies. And this particular lie happens to pretty much be his war cry where beauty is concerned: “You have value if you are sexy.” (sensual, hot, spicy … whatever.) So if we rely on the world’s definition of beauty– surface beauty– we buy into this claim:
Power = Sensuality/Sexy
This fallacy is also promoted in the world’s view of the body.
The prophet Joseph Smith taught: “We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the Celestial Kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The Devil has no body, and herein is his punishment.”
Sister Susan W. Tanner added (and I highlighted the part I really love):
“Satan learned these same eternal truths about the body, and yet his punishment is that he does not have one. Therefore he tries to do everything he can to get us to abuse or misuse this precious gift. He has filled the world with lies and deceptions about the body. He tempts many to defile this great gift of the body through unchastity, immodesty, self-indulgence, and addictions. He seduces some to despise their bodies; others he tempts to worship their bodies. In either case, he entices the world to regard the body merely as an object.“
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke directly to young women (and women) in general conference, and said the following about current body-image trends:
Frankly, the world has been brutal with you in this regard. You are bombarded in movies, television, fashion magazines, and advertisements with the message that looks are everything! The pitch is, “If your looks are good enough, your life will be glamorous and you will be happy and popular.” That kind of pressure is immense in the teenage years, to say nothing of later womanhood. In too many cases too much is being done to the human body to meet just such a fictional (to say nothing of superficial) standard. . . . . In terms of preoccupation with self and a fixation on the physical, this is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive, and it accounts for much of the unhappiness women, including young women, face in the modern world. And if adults are preoccupied with appearance—tucking and nipping and implanting and remodeling everything that can be remodeled—those pressures and anxieties will certainly seep through to children. At some point the problem becomes what the Book of Mormon called “vain imaginations.”
I don’t have much to say about makeup and such, but the TV and magazines sure peddle a lot of beauty products, don’t they? I love what Elder Holland said: “One would truly need a great and spacious makeup kit to compete with beauty as portrayed in media all around us.”
The world’s (and Satan’s) definition of beauty tries to convince us that only by using clothing, our bodies, and our looks can we have power and gain approval. The approval that surface beauty seeks is the approval of men. And women. I have often wondered why women who are active Latter-day Saints, endowed in the temple, married (and therefore more informed on how men work) still choose to dress immodestly. I do not think they are seeking attention from other men. I think they seek attention and approval from women who have also bought into the importance of surface beauty. I can’t fairly make any sweeping generalizations about this, but it’s important to ask the motive-question: why would I choose clothing that portrays “sexy”? It’s important to note that when we seek the approval of other people, that approval is fleeting and fickle. Trends change, and we can easily find ourselves on a treadmill of shopping, beauty procedures, and self-absorption just trying to keep up with what the world of fashion demands. Elder Richard G. Scott warned:
“Satan has unleashed a seductive campaign to undermine the sanctity of womanhood, to deceive the daughters of God and divert them from their divine destiny. He well knows women are the compassionate, self-sacrificing, loving power that binds together the human family. He would focus their interests solely on their physical attributes and rob them of their exalting roles as wives and mothers.”
In the end, surface beauty can get you NOTICED, but the attention you receive is likely based on what Elder Ballard called “the wrong message,” and is not, therefore, an accurate representation of who you really are or who God knows you can become.
Let’s move on to deep beauty. Real beauty. The beauty that your Heavenly Father sees in you and that can also be recognized and admired by others. This beauty, by contrast, gets its power from virtue. Satan’s version of power is a counterfeit of the power Heavenly Father can offer, and falls short of His glory. Virtue is real power. We often associate virtue with sexual purity, but it is much more than that. It is the power of righteousness, accumulated drop by drop through obedience and faithful choices. Remember when Jesus Christ walked through the street in a crowd, and a woman with an issue of blood wanted to reach him and be healed? She stretched out her hand and touched the hem of his garment. He quickly stopped and asked, “Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.” (Luke 8:46, see also 6:19) Surely he didn’t mean that he had lost some portion of sexual purity, but that a real, tangible power had left him when the woman’s faith had drawn upon it. This is the power of true virtue. And when He gives us commandments and standards, it is with the purpose that we might become virtuous. And powerful. So, in the context of deep beauty:
Power = Righteousness/Virtue
Armor of God:
The world’s version of beauty tells us to put on sexy clothes. Deep beauty tells us to put on the armor of God. When the First Presidency wrote the standards as outlined in For the Strength of Youth, they asserted:
“The standards in this booklet will help you with the important choices you are making now and will yet make in the future. We promise that as you keep the covenants you have made and these standards, you will be blessed with the companionship of the Holy Ghost, your faith and testimony will grow stronger, and you will enjoy increasing happiness.”
Since Satan has waged a war against our happiness and our safety, obedience to the principles in For the Strength of Youth can protect us like armor. I have a deep testimony of a living prophet and apostles. While some people may not want to focus on the dos and do nots of modesty, I cannot overlook that the First Presidency felt it was important enough to list some very specific guidelines in this pamphlet. If it is worth the mention of a living prophet, those guidelines are worth following, even “with exactness”– the way the stripling warriors in the Book of Mormon obeyed the counsel from their leaders in a time of battle. The guidelines state:
Prophets of God have continually counseled His children to dress modestly. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and you can be a good influence on others. Your dress and grooming influence the way you and others act.
Never lower your standards of dress. Do not use a special occasion as an excuse to be immodest. When you dress immodestly, you send a message that is contrary to your identity as a son or daughter of God. You also send the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval.
Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner. Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance. Young men and young women should be neat and clean and avoid being extreme or inappropriately casual in clothing, hairstyle, and behavior. They should choose appropriately modest apparel when participating in sports. The fashions of the world will change, but the Lord’s standards will not change.
Sister Silvia Allred, of the general Relief Society presidency, taught:
“One of the challenges members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints face today is obeying principles of modesty in an increasingly immodest world. Difficult though it may be, we can show our discipleship to the Savior Jesus Christ by obeying the Church’s standards of modesty. … For Latter-day Saints, the way we dress demonstrates our understanding of and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ”
Elder Holland cautioned us to be so careful in our clothing choices:
“Choose your clothing the way you would choose your friends—in both cases choose that which improves you and would give you confidence standing in the presence of God. Good friends would never embarrass you, demean you, or exploit you. Neither should your clothing”
Now, a quick word about the temple garment. The garment is sacred and is given to us as a shield and a protection from Satan. Perhaps one of the ways that it protects us is in its function as a template for modesty. The word template actually comes from the word temple, and means “a pattern or guide.” If you have to adjust, remove, alter, or purchase the temple garment in a smaller size in order to wear your clothing, then that clothing is probably not modest. If you have to adjust or pull or tug your clothing in order to cover the temple garment, then that clothing is probably not modest. When we wear the temple garment as it is intended, we are truly “endowed” with power.
The For the Strength of Youth pamphlet makes the following challenge:
If you are not sure what is appropriate to wear, study the words of the prophets, pray for guidance, and ask your parents or leaders for help. Your dress and appearance now will help you prepare for the time when you will go to the temple to make sacred covenants with God. Ask yourself, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?”
Body + Spirit = Temple:
The world would teach us that the body is an object. Deep beauty relies upon the doctrine that the body is a sacred vessel for the Spirit. The scriptures teach that when we are righteous, the body is full of light. This is what Sister Tanner taught about appropriate goals for our bodies:
“Happiness comes from accepting the bodies we have been given as divine gifts and enhancing our natural attributes, not from remaking our bodies after the image of the world. The Lord wants us to be made over—but in His image, not in the image of the world, by receiving His image in our countenances. . . .
Our bodies are our temples. We are not less but more like Heavenly Father because we are embodied. I testify that we are His children, made in His image, with the potential to become like Him. Let us treat this divine gift of the body with great care.”
We should not strive for makeovers, but conversion. Such conversion brings us closer to Christ and gives us a better understanding of our divine nature. Elder Holland echoed her plea:
“In this same vein may I address an even more sensitive subject. I plead with you young women to please be more accepting of yourselves, including your body shape and style, with a little less longing to look like someone else. We are all different. Some are tall, and some are short. Some are round, and some are thin. And almost everyone at some time or other wants to be something they are not! But as one adviser to teenage girls said: “You can’t live your life worrying that the world is staring at you. When you let people’s opinions make you self-conscious you give away your power. … The key to feeling [confident] is to always listen to your inner self—[the real you.]”And in the kingdom of God, the real you is “more precious than rubies.”Every young woman is a child of destiny and every adult woman a powerful force for good. I mention adult women because, sisters, you are our greatest examples and resource for these young women.”
I know repentance seems like a weird fit here, but Heavenly Father gave me the word in the shower, so I’m going to roll with it. The world tells us to use makeup and products to cover up our flaws. The Savior teaches us to use repentance to wipe away our sins. Imagine how much deeper our beauty could be if we would dedicate the same amount of time we usually spend on hair and make up to repenting of our sins. Romans 4:7 says, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” Now that’s a cover-up worth having in your tool kit.
When we apply these principles of deep beauty, we are blessed with the power that comes from virtue. We are filled with the light of Christ, and we are beautiful to God. (Some scriptures that helped me ponder God’s version of beauty can be found in 1 Nephi 11:15, 4 Nephi 1:10-12 and 15-16, Words of Mormon 1:8.) I absolutely loved Sister Elaine Dalton’s testimony about deep beauty that she shared during the April 2010 Young Women’s broadcast. To see the clip I shared in the fireside, begin the video at about the 7:10 mark and watch until the end.
[I cannot figure out how to embed it, but you can go here and then click “Watch” on the right side of the page to view the video]
In the end, surface beauty causes us to seek approval from mankind and to get power from the wrong source. Deep beauty, however, earns the approval of of our Heavenly Father, plus self-approval and self-respect. This approval is lasting and unwavering. Our virtue gives us confidence. If you can look in the mirror each day and look into your eyes at your deep beauty, and feel the love and power that comes from living the gospel of Jesus Christ, then you are prepared to face whatever challenges may come your way with confidence. Surface beauty gets you noticed, but deep beauty makes you PRAISEWORTHY. When you are virtuous, you are worthy of respect and you are an example to others. You wear the countenance of Christ, and you can comfortably draw upon Him for power and confidence.
I know that Heavenly Father loves his daughters. I know he wants us to live up to our divine privileges, to be safe, and to be happy. I know that obedience to his commandments and standards as set forth by scriptures and living prophets will afford us the blessings and protection He longs for us to enjoy.
“Let us encourage every woman who questions her value to turn to her Heavenly Father and His glorified Son for a supernal confirmation of her immense individual worth. I testify that as each woman seeks it in faith and obedience, the Savior will continually prompt her through the Holy Ghost. That guidance will lead her to fulfillment, peace, and a consuming joy through magnifying her divinely appointed, sacred womanhood. I know the Savior will do that.” — Elder Richard G. Scott
[Okay, guys. This is crazy. When I finished typing this up, I went to the For the Strength of Youth website to cut and paste some of the links/quotes that I used. There was a new icon next to the Dress and Appearance section with a message that there is a new video available. It was not there last week while I was preparing all of this. It is called “Deep Beauty.” Go see it. Chills.]
ADDITION: Here are all the resource materials I used in preparing this content.
These reference listed below explore modesty, the sanctity of the body, the power of virtue and having the Lord’s image in our countenance, deep beauty, confidence, and our ongoing call to be disciples of Christ in all that we do (and wear).
Remember Who You Are! Elaine S. Dalton, General Young Women’s President
Modesty: A Timeless Principle for All By Silvia H. Allred First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency
Mothers and Daughters, M. Russell Ballard Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Guardians of Virtue, Elaine S. Dalton, Young Women General President
Stay on the Path,Elaine S. Dalton ,First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency
To Young Women, Jeffrey R. Holland, Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Personal Purity , Jeffrey R. Holland Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
“The Death of Pretty,” Pat Archbold, National Catholic Register
“Should Christian Women Wear Bikinis?”, Jason Evert, YouTube video
“Beauty by Adobe”, YouTube video