Sunday, April 12, 2015

Baptism is Not Wedding Prep for Little Girls

Okay, first things first, my disclaimer:

Beware, all ye who read this. I would like you to read this because I believe it is important, but please consider what you read for a few minutes before responding, and definitely read the entire post, especially if it makes you angry, because this is my feminist rant about LDS baptismal traditions.

Before I am accused of being apostate: I do think that 8 year olds are capable of making the decision to be baptized, I do think they shouldn't feel pressure to choose it, and I definitely think that it is an important step to make in one's religious journey.

I do not, however, think that little girls who are only just becoming capable of making their own decisions should be led to believe in any way that baptism is the last big step before marriage. (Read on, angry reader. Read on.)

I remember sitting in Young Women's when I was 13 or 14 being taught that a good LDS girl wears only three white dresses in her life. This is a common lesson that I heard more than once, complete with handouts that stayed pressed between the pages of my journal for far too long. The three white dresses are her baby blessing dress, her baptismal dress, and her wedding dress (for the record, this teaching also kept me from buying more than one gorgeous casual dress because I understood that I wasn't allowed to wear other white dresses).

And these are the most boring three white dresses the artist could find.
There is a poem to accompany one handout, which states (in part):
Now I've reached the age to judge
The wrong road from the right,
And I am here to be baptized
In this dress of white...
And if I try my very best,
Then richly blessed I'll be,
Wearing inside God's holy house
White dress number three,
So today I make this pledge:
I'll strive to choose the right,
Through this sacred baptism ordinance
In my second dress of white. (Linda Gay Perry Nelson, 1993)
Okay, the sentiment is sweet and I in no way mean to lessen the value of wearing white at your baptism or anything along those lines, but the lesson was clear as day to me, even as a young teen: The only important things you do in your life are get blessed, baptized, and married.

This is a lie.

I promise I look nothing like Umbridge.

There are plenty of important things a young woman does in her life that matter. She can do charity work, serve family members and friends in need, help out at home, stand up for a friend or group that is being bullied, vote, teach ethics to friends and others who do not yet understand social contracts, become entrepreneurs, lawyers, activists, community figures, and so much more that is beyond the scope of our imagination. There are entire websites devoted to the accomplishments of intelligent and fierce young girls who know this. I didn't know this for a long time.

A frightening trend I have noticed lately completely highlights this false gap between 8 and 18 when a girl can legally marry (and hopefully she waits a bit longer because few girls are ready at 18). The trend I'm seeing is baptismal dresses designed specifically to get 8 year old girls thinking about marriage.

Exhibit A:

This dress, sold at White Elegance, looks to me like a wedding dress for a child bride. The only thing that sets it off as being for a little girl instead of a full-grown woman is the large flower on the waist. The skirt is one seen fairly often in wedding dresses, and I have seen several of my friends wear such similar dresses.

Exhibit B:

This dress looks like the top from Exhibit A plastered onto a full taffeta skirt. It is another design borrowed directly from bridal looks popular in the last few years and again features a large flower to make it appear more child-like than the rest of the dress suggests.

Exhibit C (for the unconvinced):

Do I have to say anything? They sell veils. For little girls. Getting baptized. A veil. I understand that perhaps there are other religions who use these, but this one is sold on an LDS site that advertises temple dresses, and the veil widely used as a general symbol of the wedding day.

Finally, I present to you Exhibit D: The results of an image search for "lds baptism dresses":

Yes, some are appropriate choices for a little girl. But frankly, the amount of tiny wedding dresses shown is nothing short of disturbing to me (just look at the third one on the top row).

Honestly, I get that the white represents purity, and what 8 year old girl doesn't want a nice new dress to show off? I don't blame the little girls for picking out the overdone dresses, because so many little girls want to look like adults. I don't blame parents for buying them because I know how hard it can be to say no to a kid who has her heart set on something special. I blame the designers, manufacturers, and other rungs of corporate ladders for creating the market for tiny wedding dresses. There are plenty of white dresses out there that actually look like dresses made for little girls.

I give you Exhibit E:

This dress is far more simple and still special. It doesn't look like it was made to be form-fitting at the top, and it's not made to echo popular wedding dress styles. It's a simple, white dress made for a lucky little girl. It's also no longer sold online or in stores.

I know I was very pleased with my the lovely white dress I got to wear after my baptism, but I would have been happy in any dress. It's not like I wore the nice dress for my actual baptism--I wore a huge jumper that I kept thinking could fall off me at a moment's notice.

Point is, the clothes shouldn't matter that much. The very first transfer on my mission, a group of four young girls got baptized together. They all brought their favorite clothes to wear for after they were baptized, and no one cared that they wore bright, fun, little girl colors after they were baptized in white.

Stop teaching little girls that their biggest achievement in life will be their wedding. Stop setting them up to believe that baptism and wedding will be the only two important choices they make in life. Definitely stop dressing 8 year olds like brides. Yes, they'll feel beautiful and special, but baptism makes you feel beautiful and special no matter what you wear.

I don't have kids yet, but if I have an 8 year old little girl, and if she decides she wants to get baptized, I'll probably buy her a special dress in her favorite color. One that was made with a little girl in mind. One that was made to run and jump in after the pictures are taken. One she can be proud of but that doesn't have to hang in a special closet in a special room until she wants to look at it. One she can wear over and over again and think about how special she felt the first time she got to wear it.


  1. I was talking about this with my wife. She pointed out that for Catholics, communion is treated as a mini-wedding in its symbolism, and that we are probably borrowing trappings from Catholicism for our own rituals for girls. Not that this makes it better or acceptable, but I wonder if this is where we are coming from here. Those dresses and veils may have originally been meant for Catholic girls.

  2. I loved this point: "Stop teaching little girls that their biggest achievement in life will be their wedding." Yes yes yes!! I will be quoting you.

    I shall also quote this "baptism makes you feel beautiful and special no matter what you wear." Wow. I love that. Perfect and profound.

    One point I don't necessarily agree with is that these look like bridal dresses. I think they look the same as any Easter, Christmas, or Special Occasion dress with the exception that they are all white, similar to a bridal gown. The veil? Too much. This is just my opinion from what I have seen and shopped for over here in girl world. I love reading your thoughts Brooke! Thanks for writing about this.

  3. I'm Catholic and wore a dress like one of these, with a veil, for my first communion. I've never heard that it's anything like a mini-wedding in its symbolism. I always just thought first communion was associated with a really fancy white dress and a super-cool veil (though I did later probably use my veil to play pretend bride, if my mom let me). I now suspect the veil might be a holdover from the traditional Catholic practice of women covering their heads in church.

    As a Catholic kid, though, there wasn't much marriage talk directed toward me (if any). I could see the apparent bridal symbolism being more troubling in a culture with more of an emphasis on marriage.

  4. On the one hand, I can kind of see your frustration. But, on the other hand, I think you're over reacting and this is the least of our issues as a culture. Personally, I'm a bit more worried about the issue that people still think its proper for women to cover up when they are nursing and the fact that we are culturally addicted to cookies and punch and all sorts of refined foods to the point where the blessings promised from the WoW are pretty much non-existent at this point. I'm also WAY more concerned about many, many other issues. But, then again, I'm one of the little girls that wore a pink dress after my baptism and although my own daughter wore a white one from Costco that you might think looks like a mini wedding dress- she picked it out knowing full well she could choose any color and any style (that was modest) that she wanted. She already likes to dress more adult like because she is somewhat mature for her age. Occasionally, she'll indulge in being a little girl and wear very little girl things- and we are overjoyed when she does that. I certainly don't want my kid trying to skip years of their childhood because they feel pressure to be an adult and do adult things. But, I just didn't think that very many of these dresses really look all that wedding dress like. That's just my opinion.

  5. Sometimes I wonder if I'm in the same religion as everyone else. I've never in my life heard the three dress thing. Maybe because I'm male and over 50?

    I've never heard of a blessing dress needing to be white. And I've never heard of having to wear a white dress after baptism. Until I got to the end, I thought you were talking about a white dress in the font. I think the white blessing dress and the white post-baptismal dress and the whole three dress thing are invented by the people who sell white dresses. And what about the white dress you wear when endowed and every other time you go to the temple?

  6. Somebody gave one of my daughters that picture with the accompanying poem. It might even still be in a closet somewhere. I have made elaborate blessing dresses for my two granddaughters because it was fun. My daughters were blessed in . . . cute dresses. I have them labeled and saved in a box somewhere. But I was just post partum and rather blurry. Currently I'm helping my two college aged daughters make white dresses for their aunt's wedding. As an older first time bride, she decided to skip 'bridesmaids' per se and simply ask all of the unmarried girls of her family to wear the white dress of their choice and join her as 'attendants.' I've had someone tell me that the girls shouldn't be wearing white to a wedding, but since the bridge requested it . . . they're doing what she asked. And anybody who is worried about it seriously needs to get some more significant problems.

  7. I agree the dresses overshadow the real message of these 3 events. I have never heard the 3 dress story, but the message I believe being conveyed is that these are not just 3 major events, but sacred covenants made in our lives. Making covenants are major events in the life of an LDS person and yet the event of making the covenant is only the beginning. Renewing those covenants is what comes after, and personal growth through partaking of the sacrament to renew our baptismal covenant and to be cleansed anew, and attending the temple for our ancestors and those who have passed on to remind us we are eternal families are so very important, beyond the fancy dresses. Emphasizing only the events of blessing, baptism, and marriage, take away from how they truly affect our lives. I was baptized in a traditional jumpsuit (I'm 58 years old) and married in a simple but beautiful wedding dress in the temple-- I didn't need a temple dress AND a wedding dress. We need to ask ourselves what are we teaching our children through the clothes we choose?

  8. My 2 daughters are 17 and 11. I am a very active, raised in the church Mormon. My daughters did not have white dresses for their blessings. They did not have white dresses at their baptism.
    I am now in a ward that seems to do this, but I don't think anyone is teaching about it in primary.

  9. When my daughter was baptized, she wanted a special dress, just like the other girls in the ward. It was important to my husband and I that her baptism focused on the ordinance and her choice to make her first real covenant with her Heavenly Father and not to focus on a 'party.' We wanted her to feel extra special and fit in, but we did not want her to remember her dress more than she remembered her ordinance. We ended up buying a dress from the LDS distribution center, one for children who are getting sealed to parents in the temple. It was white, elegant and I have never seen my sweet girl look more beautiful. She truly looked like an angel, with the light shining from her face and her heart, rather than the satin and sparklies of a dress. It was the perfect choice for our family- a special, new white dress that was modest, elegant and allowed her spirit to be what really stood out on that happy day. I'm tearing up just remembering it,lol.

  10. It is the most fashionable foR me to find this sexy wedding dresses with sleeves. I t looks so elegant for me that it is showing a noble atmosphere.

  11. The point of the three white dresses poem is to prepare to make covenants and the dresses being symbols of the covenants. "Dress number three" could very well be a temple dress as much as a wedding dress. There is nothing wrong with aspiring for a temple marriage. Just because temple marriage may be the last significant new covenant (versus covenant renewal) does not mean that we're saying it's the only thing in a person's life. Some baptism dresses do look like pageant dresses. I think it's a little tacky, but who am I to judge? You took a beautiful covenant, observed different behaviours, read way too much into the behaviours, and twisted it into something evil. I was looking for a simple baptism dress online for my daughter and I unfortunately stumbled across this blog. I choose to buy a white dress for her because it represents purity and so she can wear it during her baptism. Your opinion on white baptism dresses is not how I see things.

    1. I agree with Mandy. I love the idea of wearing white for its symbolism of purity. By no means do I feel like other colors are inappropriate, but even to this day, I love wearing white to the temple. With a daughter getting baptized next year, she wants to wear white, also. I have never once in my life thought of baptisms compared to a wedding. And I grew up hearing of the 3 white dresses my whole life, too. I never once felt I couldn't be a thousand other wonderful, powerful things like you mentioned. I believe in both. Women should feel empowered. Wearing or not wearing white has nothing to do with that.

  12. Hm, where should I start? First, I don't believe that you understood (and maybe still don't understand) what the point of the lesson was. You said, "the lesson was clear as day to me, even as a young teen: The only important things you do in your life are get blessed, baptized, and married." This is NOT what the Church teaches. These are all very important steps in a person's life, however nowhere in Church doctrine does it say that these are the only important things that a girl will/can do. You said that your understanding of the "3 white dresses" lesson kept you from buying more than 1 dress in your life b/c you thought that you couldn't wear any other white dresses. Again - completely misunderstood. I'm sure part of it is because you were a child and if none of the adults in your life ever taught you the correct meaning, then shame on them. You also totally contradicted yourself. You are completely disgusted by the "mini wedding dresses" and yet, your caption for the picture of the 3 white dresses is, "And these are the most boring 3 white dresses the artist could find" and then you go on to find a dress that is, in fact, more boring than those pictured, as a perfectly acceptable dress. I do not believe that girls (and their parents) are buying these fancy dresses because they want to look like mini brides. Yes, the veils are too much, and yes some of the dresses are, in fact, over the top. Yes, the focus should be on the ordinance. However, in all my life, I've never seen an LDS girl wear a veil to her baptism. Also, I think that most girls (and their parents) choose the fancy dresses because - news flash - girls like to be fancy! Almost every little 8-year old I know loves glitter and frills and anything fancy and pretty. The reason the dresses are white is because white represents purity. When one is baptized, they are made clean from the sins of this world. There are many references to white clothing in the scriptures and they are always tied to purity and goodness. It's fine if a parent or a child chooses another color. However, I think that before you go on a rant about the audacity of parents dressing their girls like brides because somehow that will demean them and make them feel like their only other purpose in life is to then get married, you may want to study up on the doctrine first. Also, I agree with another who commented, saying that there is nothing wrong with preparing to go to the temple. In fact, a person should be preparing to go to the temple from an early age and yes, baptism is a step in that direction.

  13. I have no problem with white dresses...and the style is a personal choice...the real 'issue' is that we are a lay church...we have doctrine, however, our lay instructors, male and female, leaders who use their agency, intellect, inspiration, and experiences to teach those doctrines from their own perspectives...hence, huge variation everywhere! I grew up learning some stuff that would curl your hair today!...I don't believe the Lord would be a fashion policeman if he were here today. There is a standard of modesty and even that standard varies from ward to ward, country to country...just chill and live the GOSPEL of JESUS CHRIST the best you know how....the rest is just stuff!...

  14. We are catholic and finially baptized our daughter at age 14 in the spring baptism class.Our parish highly stresses purity and innocence before marriage so all of the girls 17 and under are baptized as babies and have to wear a poofy,white,short sleeve,top of the knees dress with a bonnet,undershirt,cloth diaper,rubberpants,lace socks and white mary jane shoes.The daughter looked very cute and pure in her outfit even tho she wasnt happy about having to wear the bonnet and the diaper and rubberpants.For their First Holy communions,they had to wear the baptism dress with a veil,and had to wear white tights over their diaper and rubberpants with the mary jane shoes.For her confirmation at 16,all the girls had to wear a white,short sleeve,floor length dress with the veil,gloves,camisole,the cloth diaper and rubberpants with tights over and white shoes.The daughter got 3 times use out of the diaper and rubberpants,but felt it was unfair that the girls had to wear them,but yet there was no underwear requirements for the boys!