Re-envisioning my garments

LDSgarment

CW: brief mention of a suicide attempt

A few months ago, my garments were causing me all sorts of angst. I hated the way they looked, the way they felt, and I felt like I was constantly tugging at them; I was always pulling here and tucking there. They never seemed to fit right, and they were also causing minor hygiene issues that I won’t go into. In addition to the practical discomforts, they also seemed to symbolize both the gender-imbalanced covenants in the temple, as well as how much the institutional church was involved in every minor detail in my life, both of which were a source of resentment to me. I already had other major sources of stress in my life, and my garments were quickly becoming the push that would send me over the edge. I would go to put them on every day and have a physical reaction: some days, I would get nauseated just thinking about them, and many days, I burst into tears as I got dressed. I hated them so much, and I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile my feelings towards my garments with the temple covenant I had made to wear them throughout my life (that I fully intended to keep). How could I make my garments meaningful instead of a source of anxiety?

After much prayer and thought, I finally gave myself permission to take a break. I told myself that I could take one day off a week, or more if I needed. If they were going to cause me such anxiety, I could simply wear regular underwear. It may seem like such a simple thing, but after 12+ years of wearing garments every single day, almost without fail, it felt like a huge decision to make. I decided that I would give myself permission to make a choice every morning as to whether I wanted to wear them. If they were triggering, I wouldn’t wear them. But if I planned to attend church or the temple, or if I planned to fast or otherwise try to maintain a spiritual space during the day, I would wear them. I wanted wearing my garments to have meaning again – I didn’t want them to be a bother, but instead a source of strength and protection, as I believe they’re intended to be. But I needed my garments to be something that I was participating in on my own terms, because of my commitment to God and the covenants I had made, not something I felt forced to do.

So I got myself some comfortable cotton underwear that fit properly, and I started to take a day off here and there. Already, I felt like the stone on my chest was being lifted and I could breathe. Glorious, glorious freedom! My underwear fit, my clothes weren’t slipping or riding up, and I wasn’t constantly tugging and pulling. I admit that after going a couple of days without garments, I absolutely dreaded putting them back on.

But not too long into this experiment, a close friend’s daughter attempted suicide. Immediately, I began to do all of the rituals that I do when I’m praying for a friend from afar – I immediately said a prayer. I lit a candle to remind me to pray for them throughout the day. I planned a day in the upcoming week to fast for their family. And then I went upstairs, and changed back into my garments.

That day, I prayed so hard. I consciously stepped into a ritual space of trying to mourn with her and to send the best energy and light that I could towards her from hundreds of miles away. I did my best to shoulder any small part of her burden that I could. And even though my garments hadn’t magically transformed into comfortable, easy wearing that day, every time that I pulled or tugged at them, I was reminded as to why I was wearing them. Every tug, tuck, and pull was a prompting to keep my friend at the front of my mind. What was previously an annoyance became a call to prayer.

Since then, every morning, I look at my garments and try to think if there is a reason for me to wear them. Some days, I’m working in the yard, running errands, and on my period, and I don’t really feel like garments are a good fit. But most days, there is somebody who I want to remember throughout the day. It could be a sick family member, a friend with an upcoming doctor’s appointment, a neighbor whose spouse just died, or any number of things. On those days, I put on my garments and I use them as a way to remember the needs of those around me, as well as the covenants I have made to minister to them the best way I know how. And after doing this experiment for a couple of months, I’ve gone back to wearing my garments virtually every day, because it has made me more aware of the struggles and the needs around me.

I don’t know if my church leaders would necessarily condone this experiment, but I do know that this has radically reformed my relationship with both my garments and, to a degree, with the institutional church. Instead of wearing them because I’ve been told to (accompanied by a detailed paragraph in the temple recommend interview telling me just when I should and should not be wearing them), I wear them as part of my worship. I’m actively choosing them, rather than being passively instructed to, and that subtle mental switch has caused my anxiety about them to virtually vanish. Yes, they still fit horribly, they still have all sorts of hygienic issues, and they still sometimes remind me of the patriarchy in ways that make me angry. But in making them part of a ritual space, I have become more prayerful, more thoughtful, and more deliberate in my relationship with both Deity and those around me.

Liz

Liz is a reader, writer, wife, mother, gardener, social worker, story collector, cookie-maker, and hug-giver.

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23 Responses

  1. s says:

    Golly this is lovely. I hate garments, every moment I’ve ever worn them, and I dread the thought that because I couldn’t bear to wear them somehow I won’t be with my family forever because I wasn’t righteous enough to overcome my revulsion toward them. This still makes me afraid I won’t ever get to a place where I can do this, but I am glad the author found a way to make them bearable. Found a way to make them the reminder of suffering around them.

    What if I can’t is the lingering question? What does that mean about me?

  2. Elle says:

    This was so beautiful. Thank you. I too have been having resentment building toward my garments lately, but my coping mechanism has been to just not think about them much, and I think your way is so much better. I have given myself permission to not wear the bottoms when I’m on my period and to sleep naked with my husband sometimes, and that has helped. It makes me feel empowered to feel like wearing garments is a choice that I can make for myself based on my circumstances. I also wear my bra underneath the top because it fits better that way, and if the marks show through my shirt, I don’t care. I love the idea of incorporating garments as a form of worship, of making them meaningful by giving them meaning. Thank you for the ideas.

  3. Emily says:

    I had a similar experience! I made the same experiment and found so much more meaning. I’m glad I made garment wearing s choice. It has really changed how I feel about them.

  4. Caroline says:

    Love this, Liz!

    I think your approach is so healthy. I’d like to get to a flexible middle space where I wear them sometimes when it is meaningful and not wear them other times, but I think part of me has bought into the black/white, all/nothing dichotomy. I want to change that. Thank you for this post!

  5. Patty says:

    I loved the idea of wearing garments intentionally. For me, after 40 plus years, it’s just a habit and not something that I reference much. I just put ’em on and go without any further thought, so wearing them as part of my spiritual path is an eye-opening concept. Thanks!

  6. Marrah says:

    That is beautiful that you were able to find more meaning and come to peace with wearing them. I tried and tried to come to the same conclusion, prayed for days, I just can’t do it. It feels to Cultish to wear them, its just too much for me. Maybe some day I will come around, I still pray about it but that coupled with a million other things about the church have lead me to an entirely different place. Shelf collapsed. I am at a place where I am trying to just stick around, I am finding beauty in the little things that the church has to offer at this point. Things like community, singing hymns on Sunday with a congregation, the sacrament, etc. But thank you so much for sharing this. It is comforting to learn that others struggle with the same things I do, maybe not to the same degree but its nice to know I am not alone. I came to a completely different conclusion but thats okay.

  7. Cathy says:

    I started to cry after reading the first paragraph. I relate to everything you wrote! After 20 years of faithfully wearing the garment I have become conflicted about them. So many questions, and no answers. The strict interpretation that has come into effect is what pushed me into crisis. I don’t mind reminders of their importance, but all of a sudden something I thought I was choosing to do, became something I felt forced to do. Your physical reaction is parallel to my own experience.

    Thank you so much for being open with your struggle, and solution. I want to feel like I wear the symbols of my covenants intentionally again. I want to get out of this resentful place. I had thought that ultimately I would be forced into a “quit or submit” situation within my own mind. I am encouraged to find someone who was able to find peace somewhere in the middle.

  8. laurelpedersen@aol.com says:

    I have not had this struggle with my garments for most of the 44 years I have been endowed. I have felt enveloped in them, and have appreciated the changes over the years that have made them more comfortable. As I have needed more protection from age related “leaks”, I could not figure out how to protect myself and clothing with the current fit of my garments. But, the new garments just released at the distribution centers I just purchased are amazing. The spandex and new elastic are extremely comfortable and solved my problem with keeping needed padding just where it needed. I suggest to all to try them!

  9. Violadiva says:

    I really like how you describe finding a meaningful, daily purpose in wearing the garment, apart from its other more obvious connections.

    I’ve often wondered why the recommend interview paragraph gives more restrictive guidelines for wearing it than the actual endowment ceremony does. I wonder where the specificity of the interview paragraph “Night and Day” came into play versus “throughout your life” we hear in the initiatory. I thought we didn’t covenant to wear them, but that we were “instructed” to wear them? Or is it all the same?

  10. Hi-D says:

    I was told when I was interviewed, not only by my Bishop, but my Stake President as well that how I wore my garments was no ones business, and I should not judge others as to how they wear theirs. This touched my heart in two ways. 1.) Because I had been judgmental of my sisters and how they wore theirs. One of them is in denial of her size and buys and wears ones smaller than small, one wears them faithfully but then goes to the beach in a bikini (I couldn’t understand it) and the third sister was not worthy to wear them yet. I felt terrible. I felt petty and asked immediately for their and my Father in Heaven’s forgiveness.
    The 2nd way it touched me was very personal. I was born with a very rare condition called exstrophy of the bladder in a time where they did not know how to fix it. So while others learn to hold urine, I was busy getting surgeries and just trying to be a normal child. So my bladder has grown hard and non pliable. So I am constantly leaking. Underwear have become a mental sort of dam for me. I feel that if I have underwear on then I have some control over my leaking.
    I worried my entire life as to what I would do when I was old enough to wear garments. The day came and after I was read the “how to’s” and “wheres” I began to ask the Bishop about my issue. But before I could even say a word, he lovingly told me that no one is to judge how we choose to wear them as long as we are not altering them.
    I then had my Stake President interview and he, without any word from me, stopped at the part of how to where them and said he felt impressed to tell me that no one was to judge me on how I chose to wear them.
    I tried for a week to wear just the garment bottoms, but those of you who know, know that pads do not sit well or right. So I decided to wear my underwear and then my garment bottoms. It is how I have to do it.
    I know my Heavenly Father is very mindful of my situation and does not judge me for having something between me and my garment. It is just what needs to be done for me to feel safe and comfortable.

  11. D says:

    I think so many women have a strained relationship with garments because of of the same reasons you mentioned. I feel that wearing garments is much more meaningful when they are worn freely and not out of obligation. I reached a point where garments were really stressful . I was lucky enough to have an unconventional bishop (a guy that hyphenated HIS name when he got married) that told me I could pray about it and come up with my own conclusion.

    I take my instruction to “wear them throughout (my) life” seriously. For me this means to wear them to sleep, to church, and to the temple but I leave the rest between God and I. (I’m not saying this is what everyone should do, but this is where I am at.)

  12. Jenny says:

    I really love this Liz! I have to admit that when I saw the title of your post I couldn’t bring myself to read it right away because my anxiety over my garments is still pretty high. I can relate to everything you said. I have had so much anxiety over my garments for the last year, and even now when I’m not really wearing them, I still have anxiety over it. I know that people have started to notice my lack of garments and I hate that we have this awful culture of judgment that is so invasive it even includes our underwear. I love the approach you have taken because it feels like freedom to me. Being so proactive about using your garments for worship, not because you’re expected to sounds amazing! I keep trying to tell myself that I can wear my garments if I want to, but I don’t have to. But deep down I know it isn’t really true. I feel like it has to be all or nothing. Sometimes I look at my garments and I actually do want to wear them, but I have this little nagging voice inside me that says, “You gave that up. You’re no longer worthy to wear those.” So I love your post and I love the idea that I can be completely in charge of my own underwear wearing and my own worship. I think only Mormons would understand such a crazy dilemma with underwear!

  13. Jenn says:

    I was having huge issues with my husband. I did the same thing you did. I decided that I would give myself permission to make a choice every morning as to whether I wanted to sleep with him. If I did, I w0uld stay home. If not, I would get on Tinder and find a quick hook up for the day. Just like yours, my life is much more relaxed and stress free now. I should have done this years ago.

  14. Liz says:

    Thanks all!

    Violadiva, I think you make an interesting point. I’m pretty sure you’re right that we don’t specifically covenant to wear our garments, but instead are instructed to. I like that they’re linked with the initiatory, which promises blessings in conjunction with our faithfulness, so I guess I wouldn’t consider not wearing garments as breaking a covenant. Possibly we would miss out on blessings? I’m not sure. I’m going to think about that further.

    Tbat also relates to Jenn’s comment, which I assume is sarcastic and suggesting that because I’m finding meaning in my garments now, it’s virtually the same as being unfaithful to my spouse. I find that kind of black-or-white mindset to be unhelpful at best, dangerous at worst. Obviously you’re welcome to disagree with how I’m going about this and choose a different path for yourself, but questioning my righteousness or commitment to my covenants is in direct violation of our comment policy, and totally disrespectful.

  15. spunky says:

    I’m late to the game, but I love this post.

    I think inside of my heart and head, I have this fear that I’ll not get blessing if I don’t wear garments, but I also have this dreaded self image wearing garments a s well– in my head, I am overweight *because* when I wear garments, I struggle to feel good about myself and tend to overeat/ not exercise. I wish there was a better way to enable the idea of positive body image with garments, rather than having them as a “shield and protection” — shielding the word from seeing my ugly body? protecting me from feeling worthy to pray just as I am? I don’t know. But I like ytour approach, and hope to create a space for me that I can feel allowed to feel the spirit and good about my body at the same time— with or without garments.

  16. One Step says:

    Love this thought process. I don’t think we’re a cult but when we wear funny, ugly underwear without a second thought 99% of the time, I see where outsiders get that idea. It would be great if we had the option to wear them with real intent so that we could get see and identify the promised blessing as she did.

  17. Em says:

    I like your post too. I’m struggling with the same thing. I stopped wearing mine because of pregnancy problems (they triggered nausea from the fit etc etc) and then breastfeeding I just wasn’t even going to deal with it. Now I am to a point where the physical reasons are gone, but I don’t really want to wear them. I love feeling comfortable! And like others have mentioned, the leaking problem does not work with garments, at least for me.

    I’ve started wearing them some days, but not forcing the issue with myself. I’m more aware of them now, and to me they’re a way of signaling to my sisters that I’m part of a group that means something to me. Even if no one is interpreting it that way, for me that is what it means.

  18. Anonymous on this one says:

    I have always found garments to be uncomfortable, but recently, they have become so much worse for me. In Conference, Sister Reeves said they protect you from being unchaste. I fully believe that they are designed to kill your libido, but since I do not feel tempted to have sex with anyone besides my husband, the chilling effect on my libido manifests by making me not want to have sex with my own spouse. (Yes, I know you can put on lingerie for sex, but I need to feel sexy on the date that proceeds sex in order to get warmed up and my garments inhibit that.) And I resent that the patriarchy is monitoring my underwear habits and messing with my sex life. Yet, I can’t just take them off for the sake of my marriage because my husband believes in strict adherence to the many, many, garment wearing rules and when I don’t wear them it upsets him–which isn’t good for foreplay, either. It’s such a catch-22. I just hate them.

    I am impressed that you found a way to make them meaningful for you. Lately, I have tried the first part of your experiment–giving myself permission to take them off sometimes, when wearing them feels most frustrating to me, but I haven’t tried the second part, putting them on specifically for spiritual reasons, instead of just because I have to keep wearing the darn things to keep my temple recommend. So maybe I should try that.

  19. Hilary says:

    Liz,

    At the end of your first paragraph you state:
    ” I hated them so much, and I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile my feelings towards my garments *with the temple covenant I had made* to wear them throughout my life. ”

    You are in error. There is no covenant that is entered into regarding the wearing off the garment. None. Zippo. Zilch.

    In the endowment ceremony there are three references made to the garment. The first occurs as introduction before the Creation drama begins, and states that when you received the garment during the initiatory you were informed it “represents the garment given to Adam and Eve when they were found naked in the garden of Eden, and which is called the ‘Garment of the Holy Priesthood.’ ” Then comes the only explicit language regarding how the garment is to be worn: “This you were instructed to wear throughout your life.”

    The second reference regards the purpose of the garment (that was “placed upon you in the washing room…to cover your nakedness and represents the coat of skins spoken of”).

    The third reference is who instructed whom to make the garment (Elohim tells Jehovah to “make coats of skins as a covering for [them]”).

    Again, at no point in the initiatory or endowment ceremonies does the individual enter into a covenant with deity regarding the wearing of the garment.

  20. MJ says:

    I love this so, so much! I have always struggled with my garments–mainly because I struggle with the temple and they seem to be a daily (and uncomfortable) reminder of the problems I see there. I’ve also long struggled with what feels like the church’s attempt to dictate the minutiae in my life: how I should specifically spend my time, what I should hang on the walls of my home etc, etc…down to my underwear! I love the idea of reclaiming wearing my garments as something I do with purpose, on my terms, rather than something I “have to” do.

    On a side note, I think we live in the same town–but I am in the “other ward”. I think you were briefly on our side of town while looking for a house? I’m not much of a joiner in the extracurriculars of the church, so I don’t get to know a lot of people.

    • Liz says:

      What?! Hit me up on FB – I’d love to connect in person! You’re exactly right – we were in the other ward for a few months but found a house over here. Let’s hang!

  21. Melissa says:

    I have never struggled with wearing my garments. I have only ever felt love for them, and what they represent in my life. But I want ed you to know how much I love what you wrote. I have felt anxiety over other matters in the church, and I know it is a terrible, and even scary, feeling. Here is to giving each other love while we are wending our way through life. Thanks for writing so openly about your struggle to give other women permission to talk about it too, and not feel alone.

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