Reverencing Womanhood

Susan Bednar


Brigham Young UniversityIdaho 6th Stake Fireside

September 16, 2001



I've had several young women come up to me this past week and tell me how excited they were about coming tonight, and I told them I was excited too. I just hope that now you know the subject of this fireside you are still excited to be here and are glad you came.

As many of you know, we have three college-aged sons; so I know a lot about boys. I know how they can put down a bag of potato chips in about ten seconds flat. I know when they go away to college they wash their sheets once a semester. I've come to know what the phrase "It's a guy thing" means. I've been outvoted four-to-one on almost every event choice. When the choice is between watching a "chick flick" or Sports Center, we watch Sports Center. Because I'm so accommodating, I've affectionately been designated an honorary member of the "Bednar Boys Club." I love our sons. But in the secret desires of my heart, I have always wished for a daughter. And now I have thousands of them. As I look over this congregation tonight, I feel so blessed to be here, thankful for the opportunity I have to serve with my husband at BYU-Idaho and be with you beautiful young women.

I hope you young women know that I've sought inspiration for several months about the subject of tonight's fireside. I'm here at the invitation of concerned ward and stake priesthood leaders and Relief Society presidencies and advisers who have sensed a need in their wards and stakes and have asked me to come and address that need. After prayerful consideration, I accepted this assignment because I feel I'm in a unique position to help you young women see some things from perhaps a different perspective. First, I'm a mother and I care deeply about each one of you. I want you young women to know I truly do love you. Second, I'm the wife of a university president and have a great responsibility to assist our

campus wards and stakes to preserve the spirit that exists here. And third, as the mother of college-aged sons who are worthy priesthood holders, I feel I have a special perspective about how your modesty as young women has a powerful influence on the men on this campus.

I desire for the Holy Ghost to be here with us tonight. I've prayed earnestly to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord. Will each of you have a prayer in your heart tonight for me and for you that we may be taught by the Holy Spirit and be edified together?


To continue our topic of discussion, I'd like to refer to three quotes by different prophets. While I'm reading the quotes that will be projected on the screen, I'd like you to guess in your minds the prophet who said them and the year in which they were said.

Quote No. 1 -- Speaking in a session of October general conference, this prophet said:

. . . I have another matter that weighs upon my mind . . . with respect to the women, and more particularly with regard to the manner in which they dress. Never, perhaps, at least within the period of my life--and I have lived in the world nearly seventy-five years--never, I say within the period of my life and experience have I seen such obscene, uncleanly, impure, and suggestive fashions of women's dress as I see today. Some of them are abominable. I lift my voice against these audacious practices and these infamous fashions . . . (Joseph F. Smith, October Conference, 1913, Life of Joseph F. Smith, p. 405).

Who was it? When did he say it? Sounds like President Hinckley could have said this today, doesn't it?

Quote No. 2 -- Listen to the words of another prophet in general conference:

I am ashamed, as I walk the streets of our cities, at the lack of modesty in the dresses, not only of our young people, but our mothers and even grandmothers. I will rejoice when there shall come over this land again an increased respect for the sacredness of the body and a willingness on the part of our good, pure, upright ladies to dress themselves in a more becoming manner (Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, April 1926, p. 8).

Who was the prophet? What was the year?

Quote No. 3:

Be modest. Modesty in dress and language and deportment is a true mark of refinement and a hallmark of a virtuous Latter-day Saint woman. Shun the low and vulgar and the suggestive (Ezra T. Benson, "To the Young Women of the Church," Ensign 16 [November 1986]: 83).

Who was the prophet who said this? When did he say it?

As you can see, issues regarding modesty and dress and grooming have been on the minds of prophets for a long time. In fact, if you stop to think about it, modesty kind of started with Adam and Eve when they discovered they were naked in the Garden of Eden and covered themselves! We seem to need constant reminders that we should treat our bodies as temples of God. We speak often about magnifying the priesthood; tonight we will talk about "reverencing womanhood."


I realize some of you don't need to hear the message I will present tonight because you already dress modestly and don't need a reminder. But, after observing the dress on our campus the past two weeks since school began, I am convinced that many young women on our campus do need to hear this message. My question is, "How will it be received?" Sadly, some who may benefit from this message aren't here tonight; and there will be others who do need the reminder who will be offended and may go home thinking I'm a self-righteous, pious old "fuddy-duddy." But I'm willing to take the chance that you may think this in hopes that tonight I might touch the heart of just one young woman.

The outcome I am hoping for this evening can be explained through relating a personal experience I had on our campus a year or so ago. Though this experience is not about modesty, the principle still relates. It's a principle about humility and a willingness to take correction.

For many weeks I observed a group of noisy, disruptive students sitting high up in the bleachers of the Hart Auditorium during our devotional services. Week after week they came to socialize and kept bothering other students around them. Finally, at the encouragement of my husband, I mustered the courage to climb up the stairs and speak with them one day after devotional. My heart was pounding when I got to the top of the stairs because I wasn't sure what I was going to say. I expressed my love for these students and then asked why they bothered to come to devotional when all they wanted to do was talk. I suggested if they didn't intend to pay attention, they should stay home. Devotionals are a worship hour, not a social hour. Surprisingly, the students were very polite and respectful and thanked me for the reminder. The next week when I looked up in their direction, they waved at me and then folded their arms. When Elder Haight visited our campus a few weeks later, they dressed in their Sunday best for his visit. After the last devotional of the semester, these students approached the stand and gave me a hug and a homemade greeting card with their pictures and a note that said, "Sister Bednar, thank you for reminding us to act like young adults when we were behaving like Primary children."

I appreciated the humility of these students and their willingness to be corrected. The experience turned out as well for them as it did for me. We were all edified by what happened. In his fireside address last Sunday night, President Hinckley made a comment similar to this. He said, "Wise is the man who can acknowledge mistakes pointed out by others and change his course." These students were wise. And as we spend some time tonight talking about course corrections, I hope we will have eyes to see and ears to hear and resolve to improve, for we are daughters of our Heavenly Father.

I want to warn you that I intend to be blunt in our discussion tonight. I hope my candor and frankness isn't offensive to anyone. I was talking recently with a male employee on our campus after he and other adults with whom he works had discussed with student employees expectations for how they should dress for a campus job. The adults thought the students understood. But within a few days a young woman was sent home to change her clothes because she was dressed immodestly. This employee's advice to me was: "Don't beat around the bush about modesty. Be specific."


The Encyclopedia of Mormonism defines modesty as: "A quality of mind, heart, and body, modesty is an attitude of humility, decency, and propriety that may be evidenced in thought, language, dress, and behavior (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, MODESTY).

Can we see how all encompassing this principle is? It's mind, heart, body, thought, language, dress, behavior. Modesty is truly the hallmark of who we are.

Under the heading of DRESS AND APPEARANCE in the pamphlet For the Strength of Youth, we read:

Servants of God have always counseled his children to dress modestly to show respect for him and for themselves. Because the way you dress sends messages about yourself to others and often influences the way you and others act, you should dress in such a way as to bring out the best in yourself and those around you.

Let me tell you of an embarrassing experience I had when I was your age and a student at Brigham Young University. I was wearing a tight turtle neck similar to most of the turtle necks and tight shirts I see you young women wearing. I'd gone into the 7-Eleven store to buy something to eat when I heard two sleazy boys make some extremely vulgar comments about me. The way we dress does send a message, and I sent a message I didn't intend to boys I didn't have any desire to date, much less associate with. I felt violated by their comments; I felt dirty and cheap. Inside I just wanted to say, "I'm not that kind of a girl." But the top I was wearing didn't reflect that. I never wore that top or anything tight like it again. I want to warn you, many of you are sending the wrong message about who you are by the tight tops you wear.

As you may know, Elder Bednar and I sometimes go tracting on Sundays. We spend a few hours knocking on doors and visiting with students in their apartments. One afternoon we caught a glimpse of a young woman in a bikini top who disappeared quickly when she saw us. Another young woman who invited us into her apartment felt so uncomfortable by the way she was dressed that eventually all the decorative pillows from the couch on which she was sitting ended up on top of her as she tried to cover up her immodest clothing.

I talked with a father who is serving as a priesthood leader on campus. Recently when he went to pick up his daughter at her apartment complex, he was disappointed to find two girls with navel rings sunbathing in their bikinis. Young women, what kind of a message are we trying to send?

We frequently have important visitors to our campus and off-campus areas. Let's dress in such a way that we bring out the best in ourselves and those around us and so we don't send the wrong message and won't ever be embarrassed if we run into a Church leader unexpectedly.

This isn't only about modesty; it's about reverencing womanhood.

More than 71 years ago Elder Melvin J. Ballard said:

The most precious thing that a girl has is her modesty and if she preserves this in dress, in speech, in action, it will arm, and protect her as nothing else will. But let her lose her modesty, and she becomes a victim of those who pursue her, as the hare is of the hound; and she will not be able to stand unless she preserves her modesty (Melvin J. Ballard, Conference Report, April, 1929, p. 68).

Let me share an experience I had not long ago at the minor league baseball field in Idaho Falls.

Our family was sitting in the grandstands at the baseball field when a group of men who had been drinking came and sat in front of us. Not long after these men sat down, two pretty young girls with cute figures wearing tight tops and short shorts walked in front of the grandstands not far from where these men were sitting. I listened to these vulgar men verbally and visually undress these young women in their minds as these girls walked by. It was disgusting. These girls would have been so embarrassed if they had heard the way these men discussed their anatomy. Shortly after this incident, our family got up and left the game.

What was hard for me about this situation is that these young women could have been BYU-Idaho co-eds. They looked just as innocent as you girls look, and they weren't dressed any different than I see many of you dress when you are in your apartments and off campus. But you need to know that when you leave the protected environment of this special place, you are asking for trouble if you don't dress modestly. You will "become the victim of those who pursue you, as the hare is of the hound" if you don't take a stand on modesty. Please, let's all remember the motto from Young Women and also the words of the Relief Society Declaration, "Stand for truth and righteousness."

This is about reverencing our womanhood.

In the priesthood session of general conference in April 2000, Elder Scott was speaking to the young men about honoring womanhood. He told the young priesthood holders in attendance:

Many [young women] dress and act immodestly because they are told that is what you want. In sensitive ways, communicate how distasteful revealing attire is to you, as a worthy young man, and how it stimulates unwanted emotions from what you see against your will" (Elder Richard G. Scott, Ensign, May 2000, 36-37).

I'm reminded of an experience our son had when he asked a young woman to attend the senior prom with him. He had dated this young woman once before and felt uncomfortable because of what she wore. But after he mustered the courage to ask her again, he sheepishly added, "And by the way, please wear some clothes!" I don't know that our son was very sensitive in the way he communicated, but this young woman honored his request and wore a modest formal that made him feel at ease on his date with her that evening.

Nearly a year ago a young man on our campus affiliated with the Scroll attempted to express his feelings about immodest dress. In quoting selected portions of his article entitled "Epidermis exposure is too common," this young man wrote:

Many young women at Ricks College are showing too much skin. Every day I see at least one girl sitting somewhere with a substantial part of her lower back exposed. It has become way too common of an occurrence. It is thoughtless, inappropriate, and embarrassing. Any time that I see such an occurrence, I cannot help but think how ignorant these young women are. Exposed skin and immodest clothing can introduce thoughts into a person's mind that would have never existed otherwise. Such thoughts can be overpowering and lead to improper and immoral actions. Good people can stumble because of seemingly small situations (John Wilson, Scroll, "Epidermis exposure is too common," November 7, 2000).

The content of this letter caused an outrage on our campus. The Scroll was filled with spirited debate on the issue. Letters from men and women who were angry at this young man for expressing his opinion, as well as letters supporting his point of view, filled the Mailbox section of the Scroll for many weeks. I have to admit, ladies, that the wording of this editorial probably wasn't all that smooth and caused some misunderstanding. But I read this piece as a cry for help from the men on this campus for you girls to wear appropriate clothing.

Let me read the thoughts of Emily Eyring Robertson, a former student body officer at Ricks College who is now married and attending BYU. She is looking at the problems of immodesty and pornography from a newfound perspective--as a wife. I have permission to read a portion of a letter she wrote.

Rather than being disappointed or confused by girls who dress immodestly in spite of the Honor Code, I find myself getting angry at them. They subject my husband, other women's husbands, and men in general who are trying to stay clean, to seeing more than they want to of something that is naturally hard for them to avoid. When they do so, they contribute to the breakup of marriages and families. It seems like a drastic conclusion, but that's what it comes down to, not to mention the dreadful effect it has on the girls themselves.

It just makes me sick at heart to think of my brothers, friends, and all the men I interact with having to fight such a terrible temptation. I want to do all I can to fight it, and I think everyone should (Emily Eyring Robertson, used by permission).

This is an issue that goes both ways. Young women, you have a responsibility not to invite unwanted thoughts into the mind of a young man by the way you dress; and, obviously, a young man has the responsibility not to dwell or act on those thoughts. Please, let us magnify the priesthood by reverencing womanhood.

I've thought of my own college-aged sons the past two weeks since school began as I've seen young woman after young woman dressed immodestly. You can't believe all the female students I've walked past who were sitting in a chair, and when I looked down I could see their bikini underpants or even worse. I think you know what I mean. I'm sorry to be so blunt. I'm just telling you what I saw. When I looked into the faces of these girls, I could tell they probably weren't even aware of what they were showing. But young women, for the sake of the priesthood holders on this campus, you cannot continue to be unaware.

These past few weeks I've been shocked by all the low-rise jeans, short tops, and navels I have seen on campus. Ladies, your pants just barely cover the private areas of your bodies. They are so revealing. You can't tell me that girls who wear this type of clothing don't know what they are showing because they can see it when they look in the mirror.

For more than a year now, I've been so disappointed by all the tight-fitting, low-cut tops I've seen. I want you young women to know that you are revealing much more than you intend to. Some of the tops you wear show every bump and every curve on your breast. They fit you like a wet swimming suit with no padding, and they are showing every bit as much.

I know I've been frank, but this is the kind of dress I am seeing on this campus, and it shouldn't be here. When a young man walks into a movie that's inappropriate, he can get up and leave. When he sees something unsuitable on the television channel, he can change the channel or turn off the TV. But when he has to sit behind or by the side of a young woman who is dressed immodestly in a class, there isn't a whole lot he can do. And a young man on this campus shouldn't have to "hum his favorite hymn" all day to chase out thoughts that he didn't intentionally invite, especially on a campus where we have all agreed that we will obey an honor and dress code by being chaste and virtuous and adhering to the guidelines in the pamphlet For the Strength of Youth.

A few months ago I was sitting on the stand in this building when I counted the girls on the front row who were wearing dresses for devotional, and then I noted how many of them were sitting modestly. There were just a few. Now you might say, "Sister Bednar, come on, lighten up. They wore dresses. Give them a break." But girls, when you wear a dress, you need to sit with your legs together, close together. When you are sitting up in the bleachers, put your feet down in front of you, not up on the next bleacher; you'd be amazed at what you can see. You need to make sure that when you cross your legs your dress isn't so short that you can see to high heaven! I felt sorry for the priesthood leaders on the stand with me that day because of what those girls revealed. You would have been embarrassed, too. You can wear a modest dress and still be immodest by the way you sit.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie has said:

Modesty in dress is one of the identifying characteristics of saints. It is an aid in preserving chastity and an outward sign that the modest person is imbued with humility, decency, and propriety. Immodesty in dress is worldly, excites passions and lusts, places undue emphasis on sex and lewdness, and frequently encourages and invites petting and other immoral practices. It is an outward sign that the immodest person has become hardened to the finer sensitivities of the Spirit and been overcome by a spirit of vanity and pride (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 510).

The creeping immodesty on our campus reminds me of a story I read once about some frogs who were boiled alive in a cauldron of water without any resistance. You see, they were put into a pot of water when the water was just lukewarm. Gradually and almost imperceptibly, the temperature of the water in the pot was raised slowly. It got hotter and hotter without the frogs realizing what had happened. They accommodated themselves in their new environment until it was too late (see Ensign, April 1996, 4).

Ladies, it's time for us to stop accommodating an environment of immodesty and jump out of the water before we get boiled alive by the seductive and evil influences that are a result of continued immodest dress. This is about reverencing our womanhood.

President Ezra Taft Benson made a blunt statement about immodest dress when he said: "Keep your dress modest. Short skirts are not pleasing to the Lord, but modesty is. Girls, do not be an enticement for your downfall because of your immodest and tight-fitting clothes" (Ezra T. Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 562).

When I am choosing my wardrobe, this is what I try to do; maybe these guidelines can help you. I stand in front of a mirror and carefully scrutinize what I am wearing. I sit down in front of the mirror. I cross my legs in front of the mirror. I bend over; I lift my arms in front of the mirror. And you have the added luxury of asking your roommates what they can see if you choose to try this suggestion. I'm sure none of us are seeing ourselves as being immodest when, in fact, we really are.

We need to reverence our womanhood.

Elder Hugh B. Brown has stated: "Young ladies, being ladies you must constantly wear the hallmark of modesty. No decent man admires an immodest woman" (Hugh B. Brown, The Abundant Life, p. 61).

Last year my husband and I attended a fast and testimony meeting where a young woman stood to bear her testimony, profess her love for the Savior, and her desire for a temple marriage in a terribly immodest and inappropriate outfit. The skirt hung down around her hips; and the top she wore was not only tight, but short--it didn't meet the top of her skirt. Every time she moved, she revealed her bare back or her stomach. In my judgment, this is the height of hypocrisy. If we love the Savior, we will follow the counsel of his leaders to dress modestly. If we desire a temple marriage, we will dress so as to qualify for that blessing.

Now, I know the desire of each young woman in this room is to someday find "Prince Charming." Let me share a story of romance that I believe relates to modesty. I know of a returned missionary who was dating a special young woman. This young man cared for the young woman very much and was thinking about making his relationship with her a bit more serious; in the back of his mind he was thinking about marriage. It was during this time that President Hinckley counseled the Relief Society sisters by reading a statement from the First Presidency asking the women of the Church to wear only one earring in each ear. This young man waited patiently for several weeks for the young woman to remove her extra earrings, but she didn't take them out. Her message of noncompliance to a prophet's pleading was a valuable piece of information for this young man. He finally stopped dating the young woman because he was looking for a girl who had the courage to follow the prophet. "No decent man admires an immodest woman." I said this at the beginning, but let me reiterate it again. As a mother of sons, I want you young women to realize the positive influence for good you can have on the life of a young man when you incorporate principles of modesty in your life.

Elder Scott has said:

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 (Elder Richard G. Scott, Ensign, May 2000, p. 36).

We live in an evil world. Satan is alive and well in the fashion industry. I clipped an Associated Press article from the newspaper a couple of weeks before school started where a mother described the fashions available for fall this way:

I see midriffs, shirts with necklines way too low, and all those leopard fabrics . . . . They look like they're for lounge singers. Whether you go to K-Mart or an expensive department store, all I see are risque outfits.

Girls, you're being used--used by the fashion industry to make money. They don't care what kind of clothing they sell to you or what part of your body you reveal. I went to the mall in Salt Lake City this past spring to look at Easter dresses. I was appalled to find that the dresses being marketed for pre-teens had thin shoulder straps and looked like evening gowns rather than Easter dresses for young, innocent little girls. The standards of the world are creeping lower and lower and are being targeted toward children who are younger and younger. Some day the little girls who are the innocent victims of the clothing industry may be yours. Learn now to reverence your womanhood so you can teach the principle of modesty to your own daughters.

When I was a student at Brigham Young University, President Harold B. Lee made this statement:

Do not underestimate the important symbolic and actual effect of appearance. Persons who are well groomed and modestly dressed invite the companionship of the Spirit of our Father in Heaven and are able to exercise a wholesome influence upon those around them (President Harold B. Lee, "Be Loyal to the Royal Within You").

You can have a positive influence on the people around you. The April 28, 2001, edition of the Church News tells of a Young Women group from Kansas City who became frustrated by the immodest fashions being marketed by retailers to teenagers in their area. They expressed their concerns to Nordstroms and were invited by the store to make a presentation to store managers. The managers were sympathetic and expressed a desire to help these young women. Their courageous story appeared in the Kansas City Star, was picked up by the wire service and printed in the Wall Street Journal, and also resulted in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation. These young women have received e-mails from sympathizers all over the world. They are in the process of gathering 250,000 signatures in support of their cause for modest clothing. If you want to help them, their Internet address is


The bottom line to what we have talked about this evening is this: If we desire the companionship of the Holy Ghost, we must invite it by dressing modestly. If we desire a temple marriage, we must prepare now by dressing modestly. If we truly consider our body to be a temple of God, we must show our appreciation for this precious gift by dressing modestly. If we desire to honor the priesthood of God and those who hold that priesthood, we must dress modestly. And though we have discussed mostly outward appearance tonight, we need to remember that modesty encompasses much, much more. It involves the mind, the body, the heart, thought, language, dress, and behavior. It is an identifying characteristic of who we are. Modesty is truly about reverencing womanhood.

May I end tonight with a quote by President Gordon B. Hinckley?

Of all the creations of the Almighty, there is none more beautiful, none more inspiring than a lovely daughter of God who walks in virtue with an understanding of why she should do so, who honors and respects her body as a thing sacred and divine, who cultivates her mind and constantly enlarges the horizon of her understanding, who nurtures her spirit with everlasting truth (President Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, September 1988, p. 11).

Sisters, what we have talked about tonight is true. I bear my witness of the importance of the principle of modesty. May our dress, our thoughts, our actions reflect that we understand who we truly are—"a lovely daughter of God who walks in virtue," in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.