You know Bryce Harper, yes? The outspoken, goofy all-star outfielder for the Washington Nationals? We’ve talked about him aplenty on This Week in Mormons, and we enjoy Brother Harper being who he is: openly active in Church while eschewing traditional Mormon stereotypes.
Now do you remember Lindsey Stirling? She’s a lovely, kind, and talented violinist whose music has reached millions. She’s also active within Mormonism and an example to many. And I’d also argue that she doesn’t fit a “classic” Mormon mold.
So what’s my concern? One of these individuals is appearing naked while the other is clothed. If I had to ask you to guess which one would be the most contentious within Mormon circles, you’d likely say the former. But guess what? Not so much.
A few months ago, Lindsey Stirling appeared at the Billboard Music Awards wearing what I thought was a totally normal dress. However, many within my faith thought the dress was actually see-through (it’s not) and not in line with expectations surrounding Lindsey’s overall brand and appearance, and worst of all, was not appropriate for how an active, card-carrying LDS women should present herself.
How provocative! How enticing! My teenage sons’ minds are now swimming with inappropriate thoughts!
Mormons everywhere wept in frustration that Lindsey, who is clearly somehow responsible for the upbringing of their children, would renege on her modesty covenants. Lindsey was effectively crucified by her own flock on social media.
I should note that most comments regarded her appearance. Very few individuals expressed disappointment that Lindsey or her friends in Imagine Dragons – also Mormons – broke the Sabbath by attending an awards ceremony on Sunday. So right there we have to ask ourselves why we harp on an allegedly inappropriate dress but not Sabbath observance. After all, if’ we’re going to take people to the Sanhedrin, let’s be thorough.
Now let’s talk about Mr. Harper. He recently agreed to appear in ESPN Magazine’s upcoming “Body Issue,” wherein the phenomenal machine that is the human body is celebrated by showing athletes in the nude. (Prince Fielder’s appearance was nothing short of outstanding.) While the athletes in question are, indeed, nude, the more private areas are obscured by various poses and props.
Harper is on the record saying, “God gave me a body so I’m gonna show it off.” I’m not the one to judge, but I’m pretty sure that attitude runs against the oft-cited counsel in For the Strength of Youth when it comes to the display of one’s body and the attitude around it.
And yet, where is the Mormon Internet’s rage over Bryce Harper? Why have I not seen scathing, Pharisaical comments galore about how much of a disappointment Bryce is because of his choice to appear nude, or how he sets an example for someone’s son and bears some responsibility for setting an example to Mormons overall, particularly youth?
Now to be clear, I am not a Mormon with deep belief in the alleged endemic patriarchy within our faith. I am, however, extremely sensitive to hypocrisy and unfairness (while fully recognizing I am guilty of both more often than not). That said, why is the onus unfairly on women to fit into a mold of what’s “appropriate” as opposed to men? Why has no one said a peep about Bryce? Are the standards not the same?
For example, I guarantee that if Noelle Pikus-Pace were appearing in the “Body Issue,” we’d have Dressgate 2.0. Young Women’s presidents everywhere would express sorrow over Noelle’s poor choices and how she is letting down their girls. Noelle would be verbally stoned. This would happen. I guarantee it.
Yet Bryce skates by, and Mormon men are free to appear shirtless and make a display of their Athenian bodies to general applause and fanfare.
Ideally, of course, we cast no stones. I’m in no way advocating for a general social media rebellion against Bryce Harper to somehow offset how poorly Lindsey Stirling was treated. That won’t fix anything. But I think it behooves us to think about why we care so much about Mormons in the public eye, and why we unfairly hold women to a different standard than men. Heavenly Father’s standards for us are no respecter of gender.
We could go down a lengthy rabbit hole here and have entire discussions on “becoming pornography” and the like. For the record, I think naked Bryce Harper is more dangerous to female libidoes than skin-color-dress Lindsey Stirling is to male ones.
Lest I be misunderstood, I am a firm believer in the concept of modesty. Modesty isn’t just about our sartorial choices, it’s about drawing undue attention toward ourselves. I believe our bodies are sacred and we’re better not to flaunt them, monetize them, or desecrate them.
That said, Mormon culture’s uncanny ability to demonize women for not hitting the mark while overlooking men’s own failings is troubling. We can do better and we should do better.
Am I off base in feeling this way? Is this really just because Bryce Harper himself isn’t regarded as a role model for LDS men in the way that a fireside-speaking Jeremy Guthrie might be, and gender itself isn’t the issue? There might be some element of that, but I doubt it’s the dominant factor.
So Mormons of the Internet, I encourage you to modesty-shame Bryce Harper as you did Lindsey Stirling. It’s only fair, right? OK, not really.
But I do think it would be wise to back off from previous comments about Lindsey and embrace a better reality where we live our standards, but don’t freak out about the actions of more famous Mormons, and avoiding shaming our brothers and sisters. Let us not be hypocrites.