“Believe it or not, the rise in Mormon breast implants and $100,000 Jewish dowries can explain why you’re alone on Friday night.”
That’s the lead-in to a recent article in Time magazine about the “dating crisis” plaguing young singles, particularly those in religious groups, such as Mormons. Seriously, how could you not stop and read this article with a hook like that?
Essentially, the author argues that a gender imbalance in both Mormon and Jewish cultures has created a dating scenario where women have to compete for men. He cites the fact that in Utah, there are 150 Mormon women for every 100 Mormon men, according to the American Religious Identification Survey. The gender gap can be blamed on any number of factors, he says, including the fact that men generally have higher rates of apostasy.
The result? Men have all the power when it comes to courtship, and women are left competing for dates and wedding rings.
So far, I think the author has a point. The gender imbalance is obvious if you’ve ever walked into a singles ward, jokingly referred to as “meat markets” among LDS singles. My single female friends tell me how women have to work harder to get noticed, while men are able to sit back and be choosy. That’s a particularly hard pill to swallow in a religion where marriage and family are paramount, adding pressure on women.
But then, the author makes another assertion that I’m not sure I fully believe. He links a rise in breast implants and other cosmetic surgeries in Utah to this gender imbalance, arguing that perhaps Mormon women are changing their bodies to better compete for the attention of men.
He references a 2007 Forbes story labeling Salt Lake City as “America’s Vainest City” because it had four plastic surgeons for every 100,000 people (2.5 times the national average). Salt Lake City residents also spent a supremely high sum on beauty products compared to residents of other cities of its size.
I cringe when people start using trends like this to generalize that all Mormon women are obsessed with appearances and are in a culture-wide catfight to win and keep their men. I’m also not sure I buy the connection between breast enhancements and a shortage of marriage-worthy Mormon men.
It’s basically impossible to know why someone opts for any physical enhancements, whether it’s plastic surgery or eyeliner. That’s an individual choice and really no one else’s business. Someone with store-bought double-D’s may be the most humble person you’ll ever meet, and someone who never wears a trace of makeup may be the most vain.
But this author isn’t looking at individuals; he’s talking about a larger trend going on among Mormon women in Utah and asking the question: How does a religion that stresses humility and modesty produce a culture where women increasingly enhance their bodies artificially?
It’s a question worth considering, and frankly, it is difficult to answer. Truly answering that question means taking a real look at when a healthy pride in appearance crosses the line into vanity and into competition with other women (for men, pride or whatever reason).
The truth is, I don’t know why Utah women are some of the nation’s best patrons for plastic surgery, but this article has made me look at my own attitude toward appearances and ask myself this question: Am I engaged in a subtle competition with other women or am I living the values of humility and individual worth?
I may not have gone under the knife, but I have enough padding in my bra to make a sizable Tempur-Pedic pillow. It’s all part of the same spectrum of vanity, and I don’t know where the limit is. That’s something everyone has to decide for themselves. It’s not like I’m going to go throw out my Wonderbra or let my natural hair color (whatever that may be) start growing in tomorrow.
What I do know, though, is I’d hate to see my two daughters grow up to think they have to compete for men or anything else based on their looks. I don’t want them thinking they need a little lift or tuck or extra enhancement to be worthy of either the attention of a man or the envy of the woman down the street. I look at my children and see perfection, just as I’m sure God looks at all of us.
Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her 8-year-old and 5-year-old daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her.