Jessica Finnigan and I are conducting research into body image and garments. We’ve had an abstract accepted by a journal and now we’re in the survey stage. Please help us out by taking this survey.
When the topic of women’s bodies comes up within Mormonism, we’re usually referencing some element of modesty culture. But for many of us, our bodies and our religion continually interact every day through the wearing of garments. Both men and women wear garments, but men and women have very different experiences with their bodies and we hypothesized that men and women may also have very different experiences with their garments as well.
A lot of people have been asking why we would research such a taboo and personal thing. Don’t we know that asking questions about people’s underwear is inappropriate? I can’t speak for Jessica, but I can tell you that my relationship with my body and my garments have changed a lot in the ten years since I’ve been endowed.
Over time, my experiences with my garments have changed, largely as a result of changes in my body. When I went through the temple for the first time, I had a very positive experience with the initiatory, the ordinance associated with receiving garments. Thereafter, my garments were an extension of that positive experience. I was also surprised that garments had such short sleeves and weren’t calf length. I had been dressing hyper-modestly for years in an effort to not offend God and I was relieved and excited to wear short-short sleeves. Initially, garments freed me from my excessive modesty. They were almost liberating and a sign of my sincere commitment to the gospel and to God.
But they never stayed in place, with the legs always rolling up and the lacy necklines trying to climb out of my modest shirts. The lace was always itchy and the waistbands dug into my skin. I got rid of all of my feminine hygiene products with wings.
Despite difficulties, I still saw them as holy. Pregnancy changed my body and I tried to find garments that would accommodate my growing and changing form. My new state left my body feeling extra sensitive and the poorly-placed seems and limited fabric options of maternity garments led me to buy my preferred fabric in much larger sizes.
When my daughter arrived, I tried to continue wearing my bra over the garment top, but it just didn’t work. Even my most traditional and believing relatives said that nursing tops were a waste of money. That summer, temperatures rose to 117 F and I wore skirts daily to promote air circulation around my swollen legs. Pregnancy and childbirth had not been kind to my body.
At that time, garments became a hair shirt that I wore to fulfill a religious duty. I had never seen them as a sacrifice before, but the sacrifice of wearing them in extreme heat with a swollen body was a difficult physical sacrifice on a top of the many I was making with a breastfeeding newborn. I knew that I could not take a break from them because to do so would be to lose my temple recommend, a symbol of my worthiness before God.
At that time in my life, I felt I had little worth. My garments were a symbol that God was demanding and ever-present. I didn’t like my garments or my duty to wear them, but I wore them anyway. I struggled with my body and I struggled with my garments and I felt that God was in the mix somehow.
Today, my relationship with my garments is different from what it was then. My body is scarred with the marks of pregnancy and childbirth, but its general shape has returned to normal. With my garments, the legs still roll up, the lace is still itchy, and I still can’t use hygiene products with wings. I am still committed to the gospel, and even to wearing garments, but I do not see God in my garments anymore and I am happier for it.