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Mormon magazines talking more and more about female modesty

Published June 4, 2014 5:59 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's not just Utah high school yearbooks that are concerned about the sight of women's bare shoulders or upper arms — LDS Church magazines are, too.

The importance of female modesty — including the aforementioned body parts — has been on the rise in official LDS magazines since 2000, according to a survey published Wednesday in a Mormon blog, Zelophehadsdaughters.

A researcher who goes by the handle Ziff used Google to search three LDS publications — the Ensign for adults, the New Era for teens and the Friend for children — for mentions of the words "modest," "modesty" or "immodesty," from 1971 to the present.

Here's what Ziff found:

• The rise in modesty rhetoric appears to have started around the turn of the millennium.

• Women and teenage girls have definitely had more modesty rhetoric targeted at them. The increase for men and teenage boys is slight in comparison.

• Looking at results for the New Era, it's clear that young women have the most modesty rhetoric aimed at them, and its volume still appears to be going up.

• There is a small downturn for girls in the Friend; no modesty references in it since May 2013.

"This may not sound like a big deal, but there have been several such articles per year for the previous several years," Ziff writes, "so I wonder if it might not represent a genuine change."

That is a change from recent years.

Two earlier issues of the Friend carried stories about young girls who were advised to choose shirts or dresses with sleeves to be modest. One of them tells of little Hannah, who wanted to wear to the zoo a red-and-white sundress that her grandma had given her, but she noticed it didn't have any sleeves. So her mother put a T-shirt under it. "Now I am ready to go to the zoo," said the child.

Bare shoulders are generally off-limits in LDS Church publications. An illustration in the December 2011 Ensign, the official magazine for adult Mormons, even added sleeves to female angels in one of painter Carl Bloch's masterpieces.