To Wear Or Not To Underwear?
Earlier today I was putting away laundry. As I casually tossed my underwear into my top drawer, I came to a pause. I sat staring at the drawer, kind of dazing off and considered what a road it has been to get here. How 5 years ago, at 31 years old, I finally gave myself permission to decide what kind of underwear I would allow myself to wear.
I realized as I put away my “intimates”, that my underwear is quite a story in and of itself. I have felt so complete in my skin the last few years, so at home, I’ve sort of miscounted the depth of this journey. The implications of it. I haven’t given it the credit it is due. I set things right and sort of moved on. But I realize my road to underwear liberation deserves to be documented. Underwear- It sounds like a simple thing, but it’s been monumental for me. I’ve had a few notable moments in my relationship to what kind of underwear I would wear. The first is the day I put on my temple garments for the first time, forever replacing what I had worn up to that point.
I always knew when I entered the temple, when I got married, I would begin to wear sacred garments as underwear from then on. They would sit nearest my skin and serve as a reminder of covenants or promises I made in the temple. I guess I figured when I got to that point, that I would want to wear them. That I’d even be eager to do so. From what I had seen of family friends and siblings, it didn’t seem to be an issue. It’s only discussed as a small detail of passing through the temple. In fact, I haven’t ever heard anyone talk about the experience of the transition. I will be the first I know of to share it even as these words accumulate here on my page. I always assumed it would be seamless. That the grass was definitely greener or I would have been surrounded by a sea of groaning adult Mormons. Wearing the garments someday never sounded remotely appealing to me growing up, other than it being a milestone, a symbol, I was on the “right” path. A small aspect in the evolution of my life as a Mormon girl.
Somehow, in the excitement of meeting Tyler leading up to our wedding, I never stopped to think about how my clothing would change once I had been through the temple for the first time. I just kind of forgot. It wasn’t until the morning I was going to the temple that the realization washed over me. Caught up with me. Just hours away from this small but very permanent change to my lifestyle. I remember catching my gaze in the mirror as I was doing my makeup, and pausing. Much like when I put the laundry away today. I just froze for a minute, letting my mind catch up. I had this sinking feeling to realize that the briefs I was wearing would be my last. Blow drying my hair while singing and dancing in a bra and panties would be a thing of the past. That I would leave the temple later that day and forever wear a top and bottom covering my shoulders to my knees. I thought of several favorites pieces of clothing that I would no longer have use for. I hadn’t known that the last time I wore my cut off jean shorts that it would be my very last.That I wouldn’t wear a tank top and feel the sun kiss my shoulders anymore. I hadn’t said a proper goodbye. It was one of those mental hallways that if I went down, I knew I wouldn’t find my way back. I had a lot of those hallways. I knew what to do. So I closed the door and quickly focused back on the joy I’d feel to have finally made it, worthily, to the temple. At 19 years old, a worthy temple marriage was the summit of my Mormon life. And it was happening that day! My parents were proud and I’d never been more sure I was on the right path, by the look on everyone’s faces. From my first day, I struggled to feel comfortable in the garments, always under my clothing. I have some sensory issues with clothes so the extra layer of a body suit wasn’t doing me any favors. But I faithfully wore them. I took them off only as prescribed- for the three “s’s”-sex, swimming, and showering. Other than that, I had them on.
When I was 22, I had been married for over two years and was at home with a one year old. I had arrived at the place I had always dreamed of feeling ultimate peace and accomplishment...and I still felt hungry. Unsatisfied. Restless. Church was on Sundays, but the garments were a constant. I continued to wrestle with my faith as well as my wardrobe. I started finding reasons to not wear the garments. Opportunities. The hours without them led to days and eventually I was flirting with the idea of going several days at a time that I didn’t wear them. I hid it well though. Or so I thought. At a family reunion, I wore a tank top over my bra and under my T-shirt, hoping no one would be the wiser. I thought maybe it was personal whether I wore them or not. Maybe I’m thinking it’s a bigger deal than it is? No one seemed to notice until, while casually walking, my sister reached into my shirt searching, and commented, “you’re missing a layer in there, girl”. I don’t know what my face did, but on the inside I was beet red. I was caught. Word made it’s way around the family and the next thing I knew, my entire character was in question.
I sort of lost my mind for a few months after that. I felt so alone. So trapped. A bad combination for me. For anyone. I don’t think I knew how to be honest and change my circumstances without a lot of drama. I had never seen it done. I then found myself in a position to no longer be “worthy” of wearing the garments. I was counseled to remove them until I was told again when I was worthy to wear them, after nearly two years. Something about the shame I felt took the joy out of wearing traditional underwear during that time. I wanted to wear that kind, but not due to unworthiness. I’ll never forget the feeling when the bishop told me, after a year of bimonthly meetings, that again, I could wear temple garments. I felt so much relief to be back in the good graces of all I saw as good and holy. I had earned my way back. Putting them on again also meant that I could pray in church, receive the blessings of paying tithing and speak publicly in church meetings. I could also partake of the sacrament, after two years of passing it along to the worthy person beside me. I was back in FULL fellowship. It was a package deal. It was a landmark. And it was a big day for me. Like a piece of physical evidence that I had been forgiven by God. It felt so good. So assuring. My assurances always used to come from authority outside of me. Even though I had earned them back, I still didn’t ENJOY wearing the extra layer. Especially in summer weather. The truth is, I didn’t enjoy several things about the lifestyle of being Mormon, but I also knew that life wasn’t about being comfortable. The Lord’s way would not always be what I wanted, but it was the right way. I remember being at a girls night with several women from my ward laughing about the awkwardness of wearing garments and bra shopping. If the sales person is overly helpful, they sometimes end up in the dressing room to make sure the fit is right. They are always baffled by garments and why on earth we are wearing our bra on top of them! If you aren’t in Utah, this concept really stumps people. We were in a fit of laugher and my friend said “don’t you just love being a “peculiar people?!” She was quoting a scripture and the idea that Mormons aren’t meant to fit it. I felt my blood run cold at the sobering effect the rhetorical question had on me. Something in me wanted to scream “NO!”, but instead I silently took note of how little I still seemed to fit in with my friends at church. I am amazed that I got through the discomfort of three pregnancies with an extra layer, even though at times, I thought I’d loose my mind. I remember stripping down completely naked and crying out of frustration many times. Being physically uncomfortable became my normal. But the sweetness of knowing I was right with God made up for it.
I used to think I was a faithless person. A rebel. A “doubting Thomas”. I only realize now the level of faith or trust I had in my beliefs. It was complete. It was pure trust, nothing else. Either most of the Mormon women I know enjoy wearing the garments, or they don’t mention it out of respect for the sacredness of them. I have a resistance to “sacred” or secret stuff though. It makes it really hard to tell the truth. Wearing the garments seems to be a non issue for most Mormons from what I can tell. I personally struggled every moment of wearing them, but did it anyway, because I trusted what I had been taught. If modesty is what it takes to enter the kingdom of God, I needed to find joy in it or at the least surrender to it. I’ve since learned how little modesty tells of what is actually going on inside a person and that its often used as a convenient way to judge someone without having to really dig into who they are. I’m sad I used it as a measure of my own worth for so many years.
It breaks my heart that it took my oldest sibling questioning the foundations of her faith for me to feel free to finally question mine and the discomfort I had felt for so long. After 30 years, and a decade of wrestling with my soul and my underwear. When I started to dissect my own belief system, it unraveled pretty quickly. Every aspect of my beliefs boiled down to trust in others. Each piece I picked up turned out to be hallow. I know a lot of Mormons taking stock of their faith journey now, and the removing of the sacred garments is usually one of the last frontiers for them to challenge. They become that much a part of who they are. They become a comfort and a personal sign of their level of commitment to promises they’ve made. So removing them is a big deal. For me, it was the first thing to go. I felt like I needed to think clearly about the gravity of my choice to separate from my religion. To think clearly, to feel like me, I had to live with one less layer of confusion. Fully discontinuing to wear the garments was however, still a big moment for me. A grown up choice. After a decade personal battle with them, I took them off and have never looked back again. I’ve had to trust that how I FEEL about wearing them matters to the God I believe in. That it’s all that matters about my relationship to them and the promises I made. I disposed of my garments and headed to purchase matching panty and bra sets like an awkward teenager. To this day, wearing underwear that I feel good in is a luxury. It’s a novelty that has not worn off. I love that my husband gets to see and enjoy my body in a bra and panties. I love that I finally feel sexy again. And when I feel good and honest with myself, that is when I feel close to God.
I feel naked writing this. I feel like I’m standing in my underwear for the world to see. I feel vulnerable sharing my experience about something so sacred and spoken of so little in my community. But I often think about what will be left of me. What will be known of my experiences after I leave the earth. What is it all for? I think we’d like to believe that our experiences matter. That somehow, what we’ve lived can benefit someone else. Or ease a burden. I felt alone for so many years in this very personal struggle. Largely because, out of respect, the garments are discussed so little. What I have learned though, is that we are rarely alone in a struggle. Which is why I am breaking my own silence on this underwear journey I have been on. I’m giving myself permission to be honest. And honesty, to me, is sacred.
Sometimes I get so hard on myself. Why has it taken me so long to take responsibility for my choices? To use my agency? How did I become responsible for three children before I even was the leader of my own life? How was I so unaware of my pure heart and it’s ability to guide me in doing what is right? How have I survived with such a distrust of myself?! Sometimes I want to pull my hair out in shame and frustration with myself! But, I have to remember, it took me over 30 years to take ownership over one of the most simple and personal choices I could make- my underwear, so I have to shown myself grace. I have to give myself a break. If I couldn’t decide THAT on my own, what hope did I have to trust my other decisions? So, my story of stepping into the driver’s seat of my life experience started with deciding what underwear to wear. That was MY big pivot. From deciding what the first thing to touch my skin will be, I moved outward into my life and took stock. I’ve continued to make edits and changes to my life, but it started with my undies. Who’d have thought?!
I hope I never open my top drawer without a small sense of pride for what it took me to get to this point. It seems so silly, but a drawer full of regular underwear took me blood, sweat and tears to arrive at. Many would see this as an embarrassment, but not if you know the climb. I thought it deserved a moment of time. A collection of my words. A pause as if to etch “Cami was here” on this part of my life before I move on to a brighter future and colorful undies.
Writing about what underwear I wear- Does it seem super personal? None of anyone’s business? I couldn’t agree more.