Last week, popular LDS music artist, James The Mormon posted this photo with his girlfriend, Lindsey from their New Years Eve celebrations. Clearly, it is a darling photo of a young and happy couple. #goals
Sadly, as so often happens when people can remain essentially unaccountable for their actions online, the comments got shady. Strangers with zero context or connection to Lindsey quite brutally shamed her for her clothing selection. A lot has been said about this incident, I think very best by Lindsey herself and so I don't feel a need to rehash that whole situation. However, it has encouraged me to share an experience from my life that I had planned to mostly keep to myself.
So here are my two cents.
For better or worse.
When I was 16-18 years old I modeled internationally with Elite Model Management. I have spent the last ten years speaking to Young Women groups and Relief Societies about my experiences as a model. Every ward is different, but I can always count on two things: 1. The leadership will ask me to address modesty at some point in my talk and 2. during the Q&A portion someone will ask "how did you stay modest while modeling?"
First, I will answer the question "How did you stay modest while modeling?"
Answer: I didn't.
I entered the modeling world, with my parents' complete support, understanding this would not be a couple of years of "For the Strength of Youth" appropriate shoots. THERE WOULD BE NO KHAKIS. Just as a gymnast or ballerina spends her professional hours in a leotard or swimsuit, I, too, would have a unique job uniform. That being said, my parents and agents helped me set some hard boundaries to guide my career.
No alcohol or smoking.
I cannot begin to tell you how hard little-insecure-teenage me worked to maintain those rules. I will forever be proud of little me for all the times I said "no" to influential and intimidating adults when it would have been so much easier and so much more financially beneficial for me to bend the rules a little.
At the end of my two years, I wore a few scars from battles fought, but I was confident I had won the war. In my 18 year old mind, I had done it. I was sure I deserved some kind of medal for what a good little Mormon girl I had been.
Time passed and one day my mom and I were discussing modeling when the idea of "regret" came up. I triumphantly stated that I didn't regret a single shoot. My mom, totally supportive and proud, lightly said she kinda sorta wished I could take back that "child prostitute shoot."
HOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLDDDDDDD UP, Mom.
That child WHAT shoot? When the heck in the world did I do a child PROSTITUTE shoot? My brain raced for any memory of participating in something so disgusting and deplorable. Lovingly my mom reminded me of this shoot.
The shoot took place in a dilapidated motel on Coney Island. The room consisted of four bare and heavily stained twin mattress stacked two deep and shoved in a corner. There was one bashed up wooden chair and a dead rat behind the broken radiator. Luckily someone brought a flat bed sheet to cover the mattresses to create a barrier between me and the cockroaches crawling inside them. The photographer rented by the room by the half an hour and there was a communal toilet (no sink) in the hall. I was 16 years old. Call me naive, but it had never crossed my mind that prostitution motels even existed.
I just thought they picked the location because it looked different.
As the makeup artist rouged my cheeks, I eyed my wardrobe for the shoot. Nothing looked more revealing than a one piece swimsuit. As the stylist laced up a vintage Dior leotard (read: corset) I felt relieved. I wouldn't have to push back or defend myself today. They posed me and coached me. The shoot went off without a hitch. The strangest part to me was the crew insisting I rub hand sanitizer on my body every time I got off the bed or floor.
It wasn't until years later, with the help of my caring mom, that I understood what I was depicting that day. Child prostitution is one of the lowest and most vile institutions on this earth and at the hands of a room of adults, I, a child, glamorized it. While it may seem silly to some, this shoot introduced a immense sense of shame and pain (rhyming unintentional) into my life for quite some time.
With time, therapy, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ I have found peace, but I think this will always be a sore spot on my soul. (Note: As an innocent participant, I in no way had sinned. Luckily, the healing power of the Atonement is for so much for than that.)
Until now, I have never completely shared this story or these images. Why? Fear and shame. I feared the day that someone would stumble onto these images online and treat me exactly how people treated Lindsey. This shoot has caused me to think a lot about modesty and after watching Lindsey's experience I knew it was time to move past the fear and share.
No one is perfect. We all have made and are making mistakes. The good news is we already have a perfect example and He is real good at His job. I'm inspired by the examples of Alma, the elder, and Alma, the younger; two really good dudes with really shady pasts. When appropriate, they were open and honest about their experiences and the role the Atonement played in helping them become more like Christ.
I am not perfect nor do I have it all figured out, but my hope is this experience can maybe help someone somehow. So there is it.
This is what I have learned thus far.
If modesty was just about girls covering their shoulder, tummies, upper thighs and wearing one-piece swimsuits then this shoot could be a New Era special on appropriate swimwear.
I hope we can all come to better understand, as is so clearly evident by this photoshoot,
Modesty is more than body parts to cover.
Modesty, a principle taught in scripture to both men and women, is a commitment an individual makes privately with his or her Maker. If an individual's modesty, or any private commitment to God, was up for public opinion we wouldn't wear our garments underneath our clothing. Modesty is about who we are as children of God and how we act accordingly. Modesty is about treating ourselves and others with love and respect. It's having the inner confidence and peace that makes others' gaze and praise (rhyming intentional) unnecessary and unimportant.
While we are on that topic... modesty is many things but it is NOT about being HOT. May "modest is hottest" die a peaceful death and drift far away never to be heard from again. Why? Because we aren't fooling anyone and can we really imagine Heavenly Father teaching his girls that they should be modest so the boys will think they're hot? Really?! RIP
Let's not short change our young women OR young men by denying them of the opportunity to learn the meat of the doctrine of modesty. If we really believe these are elect spirits reserved for the last days, don't we think they can handle it? Teach them correct principles, and let them govern themselves. Sound familiar? When I speak to YW groups I choose to never mention what body parts to cover and how much. Today's little women are smart. They are powerful. They are learning and growing disciples of Christ. They, like all of us, need room to safely try things out without being ostracized or shamed.
I'm not saying we tell the MiaMaid who shows up to mutual in a mini skirt she looks like a total babe. In fact, unless you have a relationship of love and respect with her and are in private, it would be best that you not say anything about her appearance at all. Instead try out "So glad you are here!" or "That's a really good point you made." or "Wow! You're really good at that."
My experience in understanding the weight of my innocent choice while modeling could only be safely facilitated by my loving mother. Not everyone has that blessing. This guidance may need to come from a loving leader, sister, or friend. Regardless of the trusted role we play in a young woman's life, let's be sure we help her understand what modesty is really about. Help her feel the love of her Savior. It may not happen overnight, but as she comes to understand the love and respect He has for her, she will outgrow anything ill-suited to the queen that she is.
Lastly, as daughters of God, we are all in different phases of our "queen training." However we all know that Lesson One teaches us to love one another; never shame.