Meridian recently ran an article on modesty in the fashion industry by J. Scott Askew, owner of KneeShorts Clothing Company. Two aspects of the article interest me. The first concerns the following passage.
Later that same week, a couple of teenage girls were at the gym. One was dressed in loose-fitting sweat pants and a baggy t-shirt â€” quite modest compared to the popular â€œspandex and skinâ€ look. But printed on her t-shirt were a woman’s silhouette and the brand name â€œHustler.â€ I was shocked that a young girl would wear that shirt. What was she thinking?
Does she know that Hustler magazine graphically displays deviant sexual behavior? Does she know that its founder Larry Flynt is the most notorious pornographer in U.S. history? Did it occur to her that she was a walking billboard for sleaze and aggressive sexual behavior? Did she realize her shirt invites assumptions about her sexual attitudes? Do her parents know she owns that shirt?
Does she know that Larry Flynt defended every American’s free speech before the Supreme Court? Let’s be fair in acknowledging the good as well as the bad. But I digress.
The young woman in question probably knows some of all that Askew mentions, and that—I would venture to guess—is exactly why she chose to wear that shirt. She probably wanted to send some of the sexual messages that the author received. Whether that level of sexuality is healthy for a woman of her undisclosed age is another question.
Askew’s writing is riddled with pejorative words which lack commonly accepted definitions. One person’s pornography is not another’s. A woman showing her calves in public is pornographic in Muslim Saudi Arabia, but not in Mormon Utah where that is perfectly acceptable. So “deviant”, “pornography”, and “sleaze” betray only the author’s attitudes, not an absolute standard from which the author can safely cast stones at the attitudes of others. The author might defend his attitudes as derived from God’s own, but as a recent Jesus and Mo comic noted, a person can’t say that their own ideas are the same as God’s without proclaiming that they infallibly know the mind of God. I can’t take that idea seriously.
I grant that Askew is writing to a Mormon audience and might expect that their attitudes are generally aligned with his own. However, the reason that he wrote this article is precisely because his own attitudes aren’t largely represented in his target audience. He wrote the article to convince this audience to stop purchasing what he considers immodest clothing. He wouldn’t need to persuade his Mormon audience if they all shared his views on modesty. (If I were a smart ass, I would point out that his sexuality is actually the one that deviates from the norm—but I’m not, so I won’t.)
This brings me to the next interesting aspect of the article.
LDS consumers also can use their economic power to support the fledgling modest apparel industry. Modest clothing companies, mostly based in Utah, have sprung up over the past ten years in response to immodest trends. These companies have as core principles modesty both in product and marketing.
Askew uses most of the article to subtly guilt his readers into patronizing clothing companies like his own and to accuse the fashion industry of being a threat to the health of our youth. The author clearly has a vested interest in people choosing to buy clothing that he sells. Meridian Magazine runs advertising, but journalistic integrity requires that advertising is clearly separated from editorial content. I give kudos to Meridian for disclosing in the sidebar that the author is the owner of a related company. I disagree with their decision to run an article at all that amounts to an advertisement for the author’s company in the guise of religion.
This isn’t the only example of the entanglement of business and Mormonism. For a long time, I’ve wondered at the entanglement of the LDS church and a profit-making company like Deseret Book. It is reasonable for a church to be able to publish its own views when other publishing houses are unwilling to do so, and yet taking advantage of a customer’s religious views to make profit may lead to abuses such as those demonstrated in Askew’s article.
In the end, which is better: to take advantage of customer’s appetite for erotic materials to sell clothing, or to take advantage of their guilt and sense of religious duty to sell knee shorts?