I recently inherited a pretty epic vinyl record collection that had been stored in my grandparents basement for several decades. The records have been trickling their way to me from Utah over the past year, and I’m just now organizing and putting them away. While sorting through the hundreds of records, I’ve found various relics and treasures tucked between them, like some sort of weird random time capsule. I found an old dentist bill showing that my grandfather had a tooth pulled on March 27th, 1968 for $9. I found an old Hillcrest High School musical program for My Fair Lady from the 60’s. My favorite thing I found, however, was this old Mormon pamphlet titled For the Strength of Youth, the 1966 edition.
Apparently, this publication has gone through several renditions. In fact, I remember reading and living by the 1990 edition as a teenager. It detailed, in black and white, how Mormon youth ought to behave and represent themselves. Keep in mind, the 1990 edition was 44 pages as opposed to the mere 16 pages from the 1966 version. I was completely shocked at how the books differed, so I started doing a little research. Did you know that this pamphlet, For the Strength of Youth, has had 9 revisions?
The 1990 edition that I grew up with was very harsh, especially with the verbiage they used about same-sex attraction. Homosexuality wasn’t mentioned in any of the previous 6 pamphlets, but they hit the issue pretty hard for 90’s youth. In fact, they even categorized homosexuality in the same classification as rape and incest.
“The Lord specifically forbids sex perversion such as homosexuality. Homosexual and lesbian activities are sinful and an abomination to the Lord. Unnatural affections toward persons of the same gender are counter to God’s eternal plan”
The 2001 version of the book removes any mention of “unnatural affections” and “abomination” and states instead, “homosexual activity is a serious sin. If you find your-self struggling with same-gender attraction, seek counsel from your parents and bishop. They will help you.” This is a much gentler way of telling you that you are going to Hell vs. what I read in the 90’s. Imagine being a teenager that was handed a book that more or less tells you that you are a pervert and an abomination to God. Dude, talk about some heavy cognitive dissonance. That’s a lot of weight to carry on your shoulders as a teenager. I wonder if I can get my 10% tithing back so I can pay my therapy bills. (Is Mormon tithing refundable? I’m sure they kept copies of my receipts…)
The 1966 version has a much softer way of telling Mormon youth how to live. Instead of black and white, it leaves a lot up for interpretation. The pamphlet focuses on a few broad themes like dress, manners, dating, dancing, and clean living. The book was more of a suggestion in the 60’s, stating they “hope that all members of the Church, not only the youth, will familiarize themselves with suggestions herein…”
Let’s dig in to this historical gem that I’ve found and enjoy it together. Feel free to click on any image to zoom in. You’ll find my favorite parts as quotes below.
“Girls should dress to enhance their natural beauty and femininity. Clothes should be comfortable and attractive without calling attention to a person’s body.”
“Strapless dresses and spaghetti straps are not acceptable either on sun dresses or evening dresses. Few girls or women ever look well in backless or strapless dresses. Such styles often make the figure look ungainly and large or they show the bony structures of the body.”
“Pants for young women are not desirable attire for shopping, at school, in the library, in cafeterias or restaurants.”
“Tight-fitting sweaters and figure-hugging clothes of any kind are not appropriate LDS dress.”
“While traveling to and from the beach or swimming pools, young men and women should be fully dressed, or at least their swimming suits should be covered with outer clothing.”
“It is not appropriate for young men to wear extremely tight-fitting pants.”
“Shorts may be worn during actual participation in active sports.”
“Girls should always try to look feminine in their dress. They should not dress like boys or try to imitate a masculine appearance.”
“A ‘real lady’ does not go out in public, to the market, or to shops with her hair in curlers.”
“It is not polite to run in and out of motel or hotel rooms late at night, making a disturbance which keeps other guests awake.”
“The selection of a life’s partner can be made more wisely when many associates are available during courtship.”
“Necking, petting, intimacies, and improprieties of every kind should not be indulged in at any time in dating or in courtship.”
“Church standards prohibit dancing that is suggestive or sensual in any way. The dance should not be a grotesque contortion of the body such as shoulder or hip shaking or excessive body jerking.”
“When dancing, young people should avoid crouching, slumping over, trying to do a backbend, or having too close a body contact.”
“Members of the Church should be good dancers and not contortionists. Extreme body movements-such as hip and shoulder shaking, body jerking, etc.-should be avoided.”
“An extremely loud beat is discouraged because it is inconsistent with church standards.”
“We would very much prefer that you avoid the current trend of what, to many of us, appears to be vulgar dancing.”
I’d be interested in reading the newest version of this pamphlet to see how the communication to Mormon youths has changed in the last 50 years, especially regarding homosexuality. It seems as though my teenage years were hit the hardest with the anti-gay messaging that Mormon’s deployed. I am hopeful that one day, likely in the distant future, Mormon’s along with everyone else will change their viewpoint on homosexuality, seeing it as a natural occurring behavior, and not some sort of weird sinful made-up nonsense. That’s a huge hope of mine, however, especially considering that bigotry is alive and well throughout the world today. Sigh, I’m still going to hold on to my hope.