Look At This Fucking Mormon

Being both religious and cool is difficult in a society that increasingly scoffs faith, and being religious and cool is especially difficult if your religion demands that you do totally uncool things, like eschew beards and tattoos or wear religious garments under all of your outfits. So, how do young Mormons cope?

The New York Times reports that a new ad campaign, "I'm a Mormon," showcases the eclectic and hip side of the faithful, which is I guess supposed to convince the public that every mainstream Mormon doesn't look like an Osmond. Brandon Flowers, lead singer of The Killers, even lent his famous face to the campaign, as have several others who don't have matching Provo haircuts and Ken doll hair.

This ad onslaught has brought attention to the fact that Mormons walk among us, undetected, like clean-shaven Canadians. It's also brought to light some of the struggles young Mormons face in reconciling their church's beliefs about personal conduct and presentation, social expectations, and their own individuality, sometimes with hilarious results.

I don't know if you kids have been listening to Iron & Wine or Fleet Foxes or one of those other bands that sing about being in love in the woods and having a flannel ax but not being able to chop down any trees due to lack of arm strength, but nowadays, it's cool for white guys to grow beards. Unfortunately for students at BYU, beards are expressly banned by the student code of conduct; in this way, being a BYU undergraduate is sort of like playing on the New York Yankees, except with much less dating of crappy actresses. Students who wish to don a beard on campus must get permission from school administrators by proving that it's impossible to grow a beard without supreme discomfort. One beard aspirant told the Times that he had to shave for three days, then try to use a special razor to prove that he had sensitive skin and needed to be allowed facial hair. When that didn't work, he got himself cast in a movie wherein he played Jesus and was finally granted the coveted "beard card" he sought. (Note that the beard ban at BYU only applies to the kind that grow on a man's face, not the kind that drinks wine alone in the kitchen while her husband watches his worn copy of Cher's Burlesque for the sixtieth time.) Even though beards are not banned among Mormons who are not missionaries and are not BYU students, they're frowned upon. One church official compared having a beard to carrying around an empty liquor bottle, as neither one proves wrongdoing, but both imply wrongdoing; the liquor bottle implies drinking while the beard implies hippiedom.

Clothing choice is also an issue. Many Mormons choose to wear something called "temple garments," which are plain boxer shorts/tee shirt type clothing that is supposed to be donned beneath one's regular clothing. This means that for many Mormons, tank tops are out, which means men can't follow the confusing hipster trend of dressing like a turn of the 20th century bodybuilder at the beach during the summer, and women can't wear spaghetti straps or short shorts. Circa 1955 nerdwear to the rescue! Thanks to a Mad Men-fueled resurgence of mid century modesty in clothing, both Mormon genders can enjoy looking stylish while secretly sporting their temple garments.

The church frowns upon tattoos as well, which is unfortunate for people who spend time around people who work for tech companies or play in heavy metal bands on weekends sometimes. Some have defied this recommendation outright, but compromised by getting a Mormon-themed tattoo like a beehive, which is a church symbol used to the value of working together and a just plain regular symbol of stabbing your enemies with your butt appendage. One Mormon man who runs his own tattoo parlor has faced family derision due to his art, which the church considers self mutilation, but hasn't been completely ostracized. Yet.

Perhaps the toughest Mormon rule for cool kids to follow is the one that outlaws drinking alcohol. One man interviewed for the Times piece said that most people just assume he's mysterious and in recovery when he spends parties sipping water and being sober. Other Mormons choose to socialize with each other rather than go to regular drunk people parties, instead spending their evenings focusing on sobriety and dessert consumption.

While this marriage of efforts on the part of young Mormons to be true to their faith and also be cool is both amusing and endearing, it leaves an important question unanswered: can non-Mormons come to Mormon dessert parties if they promise to be good and not roll in smelling like whisky? Asking for a friend whose tolerance lately has been for shit.

Young Mormons Find Ways to Be Hip [NYT]