Guest Post — I Want to Take My Body Back: My Struggle With Garments
Several months ago I shared my experiences on Exponent about feeling suffocated during circle time in Relief Society because of the years of abuse and trauma I suffered in childhood. Now I want to open up about my experience wearing large underwear under my clothes at all times as a requirement for entering the kingdom of heaven and being with my family forever.
As somebody whose mental health issues involve a daily struggle with claustrophobia and a pressing need for space, I have a very hard time with Mormon doctrine that says I must wear a full-sized shirt and full-sized shorts on under every outfit that I wear in order to maintain my temple recommend-level worthiness and marriage covenants. In the super-hot muggy summers of the humid climate where I live, I wear FOUR layers on top and bottom during my period, for a total of EIGHT layers on my body:
1) Maxi pad
2) underwear to hold the maxi pad
3) garment bottom
4) long, garment-length shorts or capris
5) garment top
7) modesty top [because I am busty so most shirts aren’t garment standard over my chest unless I wear a giant sweatshirt]
(Note: that I received my endowment decades ago, when women had to wear bras over garment tops. I hear that that younger women aren’t doing this anymore, which is deeply upsetting because nobody ever updated me about this, which would have alleviated a lot of my suffering. I talked to temple matrons, garment store workers, and bishops about my bra-over-top suffocation issues at least annually, but nobody ever updated me about this change in the rules!)
These eight layers are extremely oppressive and make me feel like I can’t breathe. I’ve developed rashes and had fungus outbreaks in my vaginal area during the hot summer months because of all the moisture that collects underneath all those layers after a long day spent cleaning my house or working in the garden. I live in a large, older home that doesn’t have central air, just window units, because it is too old for a central cooling system, so I am never fully dry in the summer. I envy my neighbors who aren’t Mormon and are free to dress in clothes or underwear styles of their choice.
While traveling to a tropical climate that is humid like my home state, I met Mormon women in little shorts who told me that their local leaders gave permission to sisters there to skip garment-wearing due to infections or fungus problems like what I have been experiencing for years. This upset me greatly because my physical issues have always been compounded by my PTSD and other mental health issues related to my childhood trauma, but the leaders where I live never once granted me any relief from my garment-related problems. When I go in for temple recommend interviews and have to report to adult men about my underwear (which is a separate issue that we should be discussing, ladies!), I never received any relief for my complaints about the garment—I only heard testimonies about how protective the garment is and what a blessing, what joy, etc etc. But my garments haven’t protected me, not once. Just the opposite, they have been harming me for decades.
I’ve gained a lot of weight since I first went to the temple and started wearing garments. Over the years, my weight increased slowly so I barely noticed at first. When I was single, I always slept in pajama bottoms and a tank top or bottoms and a sports bra, so I used to see my skin out in the open and be very in tune with my body. Walking around my apartment with my abs and arms fully visible to me like that, I’d pass by mirrors and notice every pound gained, every slightest bulge, then I’d silently recommit to skip dessert for a week or two, or I’d drop and do a few pushups before bed if I noticed my arms looking a bit flabby. But ever since I was commanded to wear this extra layer of clothes in order to see my family again in the eternities, I am no longer as in tune with my body because my body is always hidden from sight under garments, so it slowly began to swell from extra pounds without me even noticing it.
It upsets me that when I was single, I could remove my bra or tank top in bed and sleep all night topless on my baby-soft sheets. What a boon this might have been to my marriage! But I married in the temple where I was instructed to sleep in my garments. Sleeping in garments, however, is a tangled up and uncomfortable affair that induces insomnia. I also feel frumpy and uncomfortable in my own skin now, whereas when I was single I luxuriated in cute intimate apparel instead of wanting to hide my ugly undies under the covers. I still wear cute special occasion pajamas sometimes, but I only wear them temporarily, then my garments must go back on, per church rules. I wonder how many Mormon self-esteems and marriages would improve if women were allowed to select their own intimate apparel and sleep in whatever clothing (or lack thereof) they deem appropriate, rather than in a full-sized shirt and shorts chosen by old men in Salt Lake City.
I want to be able to move and sleep, unencumbered by so many layers. I want to take my body back, but when I try talking to my husband, friends, or family about it, they practically accuse me of apostasy. My feelings about garments have nothing to do with my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, however. I love the Lord with all my heart. I am just struggling to believe that a savior who gave His life for my sins would require me to wear uncomfortable, humiliating, alienating underwear as a demonstration of my love for him.