An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘LDS women’s images’

YW Personal Progress

YW Personal Progress    1/01/10

Personal progress, albeit with different names, has been part of the YW program for decades. And the main focus has always been on preparing LDS girls for homemaking roles. My mother’s Beehive book from the 1930s listed goals for beautifying the home including planting vines around the outhouse. Either Mother was a slacker or she lacked a green thumb. I remember the old outhouse by Grandma’s corral and a luxuriant growth of greenery never disguised its function.

When I entered the Beehive program the summer after 6th grade, our teacher presented each of us with a blue felt banderol (we said bandalo, but spell checker provides this spelling).  We were instructed in blind stitching so we could sew the ends together and wear it across our chests from left shoulder to right hip. As we accomplished each Beehive goal, we would receive a felt emblem to sew onto the banderol to show the world, or at least our ward, our success. Filling the band with awards would promote us to Honor Bees. The first emblem for our band was one we would create ourselves—our personal symbol. The rest of that Mutual class time was devoted to choosing, designing, cutting and sewing our personal emblem. My friends busied themselves drawing and cutting blossoms, trees, and song birds. I had never thought of myself in non-human imagery and had no idea what to choose. Not that it would matter. I had no ability to draw, so nothing I chose and constructed would be recognizable. I finally cut a piece red felt and stitched it in place, answering, “A red gooney bird” to anyone who asked about my symbol. No further emblems ever graced my banderol. Externally created goals meant nothing  to my 12-year-old self.

        By the time my daughters reached YW age, Personal Progress expanded to include frequent goal-setting meetings with advisers. Although multiple goals were possible using the YW Values, the emphasis on lessons—especially for the Laurel age group—was on achieving the “divine role” of marriage and motherhood. Our eldest daughter, Lolly, loudly denied any desire to marry and have children. The YW president asked me one day if Lolly’s denial might not be based on a fear that she wouldn’t have the opportunity to marry. Bingo! Our daughters didn’t date much in high school. Girls without boyfriends appear a bit pathetic if their stated goal is marriage.

While the content of the 2010 YW Personal Progress program doesn’t look too different from previous programs, the packaging may present a problem. A description of 21st century girls as “pink” and “soft” and listing “wife, mother and homemaker” as the only career choices may have as much appeal as a bowl of strawberry Jello nestled among tapenade, sushi, lamb-filled gyros and tiramisu at a smorgasbord . An unintended consequence may be the disengagement of girls who aren’t dating or who don’t identify with pink and softness. Since school and other secular activities provide worthwhile guidance for adolescent girls, non-involvement with YW Personal Progress may not be individually negative. The institution, however, will suffer a loss if the program turns bright girls completely away from the LDS Church .

I Never Learned to Dress Myself

A posted photo of an invitation to a recent Provo area stake fireside for women caught my eye. The cover art of busty, leggy women in provocative poses was a curious choice for a program titled “LDS Image Integrity”— with the stated purpose of showing sisters the effect their clothing choices have on achieving “earthly and eternal goals.” But if I still lived in the Provo area, I think I would have attended. I’m not sure my poor sense of fashion will affect my eternal life, but it’s certainly impacted this life.

I learned not to trust my own taste in clothes the first day of seventh grade. My mother had died the year before, and I was left to outfit myself for junior high alone. My dad, totally unknowledgeable about shopping and prices, provided $20 for the occasion. I ventured downtown alone and returned with serviceable brown loafers, a bright Kelly green jersey sweater with angora trim on the collar and a blue silk pleated neck scarf complete with fake fox head slide to cinch around my neck. Aunt Betsy Ross made me a bright purple corduroy skirt for the first day of school. Unfortunately, Aunt Betsy didn’t know that skirts for junior high girls had to be long and full enough for multiple layers of petticoats to poof them out. I didn’t know about the length and breadth requirements for junior high skirts either and thought I looked like Debbie Reynolds as I set off to conquer Dixon Junior High, waving to my cousin Buffy on her way to Provo High.

Buffy swooped down on me with fifteen-year-old vengeance when she returned from school. What was the grand idea of my disgracing the family by wearing a purple skirt, green sweater, blue scarf, yellow sox (the top ones in my drawer) and brown shoes to school? I wilted under Buffy’s attack, but it did prepare me for the fact that the adolescent world I was so eager to enter promised more pain than pleasure.

In the fifties in Utah, homemade clothes were much more fashionable than off-the-rack clothing—not to mention less expensive. My aunts and grandmother all breathed a sigh of relief when I began the required sewing class the second semester of seventh grade. At last my wardrobe dilemma would be resolved. I would learn to sew my own clothes and save my dad money. Unfortunately, I had no aptitude for sewing. No one understood why I had such a difficult time. My aunts tried to help me, but finally decided my problem was stubbornness. Not until Howard Gardner came up with his list of multiple intelligences did I understand my difficulty. My lack of spatial intelligence prevents me from comprehending how a flat piece of fabric can be cut and stitched into a three-dimensional garment.

Nowadays students in beginning sewing make simple things like wind socks and drawstring bags. Not so in the fifties. Our first project was a gathered skirt. I pulled and broke strings until I finally gave up and put a waist band on to fit the skirt, not my waist. Aunt Charity took pity on me and made the buttonhole so I could turn in a completed project. The next project was a blouse to go with the skirt. Making a blouse to go with a skirt eight inches too big around defeated me from day one. Putting the sleeves in was a nightmare. My home ec teacher finally gave up having me make a wearable garment and gave me a C for conscientious effort.

All eighth grade girls were required to take a second year of home ec in the era before ERA. Second year students were expected to make a dress combining the skills we learned in seventh grade. No alternative was offered to girls who hadn’t learned any skills in seventh grade. I knew I couldn’t put sleeves in, so I picked a halter-top pattern. Trying on the completed dress revealed my bra straps. Going without a bra was not an option in the fifties, even for a skinny thirteen-year-old, so I bought a strapless bra which refused to stay up. Modeling our dresses in the spring fashion show was a class requirement. I still have occasional nightmares about walking out on a lunch-table runway wearing a halter-top dress with a padded strapless bra around my midriff.

On second thought, I would not attend the Image Integrity Fireside even if I lived in that stake. I have enough self-image problems without learning that the effects of my mismatched wardrobe may reach beyond this life.

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