Guest Post: Mormons, Garments, and Body Image: A Survey

By Nancy Ross

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.

Nancy Ross is a life-long member of the LDS Church. She is an assistant professor in art history at Dixie State University and conducts social science research on Mormons in her spare time.


Jenny graduated from BYU with a bachelor degree in humanities. she teaches yoga classes and spends her time hanging out with her four kids, reading, writing, and running.

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17 Responses

  1. Regina says:

    “I didn’t like my garments or my duty to wear them, but I wore them anyway.”

    Amen, sister.

  2. Melissa says:

    I am glad this topic is being discussed!
    For myself, I have decided to stop wearing them for several reasons, here are but a few: One, I didn’t like my faith to be judged by the sight of having garment lines -showing or not showing were I sit ‘worthy’ wise.
    Two, did not believe anymore in their ability to protect me from life’s hazards such as a potential fire (story of man being burned, but only around the garments), or protect me from wanting an affair, or even rape (cause it makes it harder to remove!?!) Oh and now I can say too that they harder to remove and get into the mood with my hubby. Hello sexy panty shopping..

  3. Liz says:

    I think this is a fascinating study, and I’m also curious as to the history of garment-wearing. I know they used to be longer in the legs/sleeves, and I’ve heard some people suggest that they were originally only worn ceremonially instead of regularly. Anyways, this is fascinating stuff!

  4. alliegator says:

    I’ve never resented garments until recently. They used to remind me of covenants, and I found them comforting. Lately, the push on hyper modesty has left me feeling more that garments are an enforcement of modesty standards for women and are not consistent for men. My husbands garment bottoms, although they are much too big around the waist, are much shorter on me than my own garment bottoms. He is nearly a foot taller than me. I’m trying to regain the feeling of comfort they used to bring to me, but the modesty craze is making it difficult.

    • Nancy Ross says:

      Alliegator – my husband is a foot taller than me and I’m also dismayed that my garments are longer than his. I can handle the idea that garments are supposed to be a reminder of my covenants, even if they don’t do that any more, but I really hate the idea that women’s garments are supposed to police modesty.

    • Rachel says:

      In a Gendering Mormonism course I took at CGU, Patrick Mason mentioned the fact that when garments were initially introduced, almost every American dressed the same level of modest, which was very nearly completely covered. At that time, garments were not about modesty at all. It has only become a secondary byproduct. This was comforting to me.

    • Lori says:

      I was surprised by this because my own garments are much shorter than my husband’s. I used to have longer ones, but only because the woman who helped me buy my first pair recommended sizes that were way, way too big. I was rolling them up on my wedding day when I discovered that the dress I bought for exiting the temple (which I thought was plenty modest) still showed several inches of garments in several directions. I suppose body shape makes a great deal of difference as to how exactly even the correct size fits, as it does with all clothes, which is one reason why the ultra-specific modesty codes are unreasonable for so many people.

  5. Melissa says:

    The history of garments is fascinating. I think what surprised me the most was the Joseph Smith took off his garments before going to Carthage Jail and advised others to remove theirs too.(Hyrum Smith and John Taylor removed their garments, and Willard Richards continued to wear his) John Taylor an eyewitness to the martyrdom, said that garments were sometimes removed because of hot weather. Why this shocked me was how we are told as members, and women we can’t alter or remove the garments-to wear them day and night.

  6. d says:

    Stopped wearing them. Best day ever.

    • Sarah says:

      I wore them for ten years almost perfectly. Between body image, temperature, and sensory issues, it was miserable. I’ve been without them five years now, but dress to cover them because that’s how I “should” dress, but also to avoid conversation about something so awkward to me.

  7. Mario says:

    Hi there! My name is Mario. I was hoping you could answer a question I have about your blog. Send me an email when you get a chance. You can reach me at trucillo.mario (at) recallcenter (dot) com

  8. Kjoh says:

    I am totally fascinated by garments and our relationship to them. I don’t mind wearing them, in fact I kind of like that the bottom waistband sits pretty high, they’re kind of control top-ish. However, what I do resent is buying dresses, skirts, and shorts that are all knee length and STILL having garments hang out. They’re modest for crying out loud! Because this is sort of a taboo topic we son discuss very often, I think the majority of women are probably wearing garments that are much too big. The terrible (terrible!) sizing guides provided by the church, plus the inability to try them on before purchasing make it really hard to buy properly fitting garments. I am certain that this heavily influences body image; one can’t help but feel frumptastic.

  9. MB says:

    If it helps, the instructions in the temple handbook are clear that temple matrons and workers are not to proscribe how garments are to be worn (under bra, over bra, in relationship to hygiene products, with or without underpants, etc. etc. etc.) but are to tell patrons to do what works best for them.

    Not all temple workers know that, but they should.

  10. neva trejo says:

    it was helpful for me to read in the scriptures regarding the (under) garments proscribed by the Lord to moses & aaron and their sons as a requirement for temple service.yeah,basic modesty is there,but this is primary,as other clothing could also satisfy this.more important is the concept of “holiness”,”seperation” & “concecration”;purity of purpose,the specianess of the priesthood,as well as the symbols whose presence and form are well known,while their rich symbolism remains veiled (unfortunately) to most,even those who wear them.if you start from the premise that they are intended as Blessing and a privilige,investigating the Truths they represent covering our bodies and every move,for me,at least,my issues of annoyance pretty much dissipated,and since their value was primary,lo & behold,i found ways to make them work,utilizing also some god given common sense.thanks for sharing.

  11. Christina says:

    I’m going to be pretty blunt about this issue: Garments make me feel fat, ugly, and unattractive. I’m in my 20’s and as someone who is trying to recover from bodydismorphia and an eating disorder, they don’t help. There have been stretches of time since going through the temple that my bodydismorphia has been worse than ever and I have felt crushed from depression from the issue. Is it all the garments’ fault? Of course not, but they do magnify it. Recently my husband (who has always been a much “stronger” and more believing mormon than I) even came to me and said he thinks I need to stop wearing them because of how ugly I feel in them with all of my other issues.

    Not looking for sympathy, but this is my experience.

    • ZenMama says:

      I didn’t have any (major) body issues until AFTER I started wearing garments. And my body issues have now negatively impacted my sex life with my husband. I hate feeling frumpy and dumpy in the exact same outfit I used to feel pretty.

  1. June 5, 2014

    […] 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 …read more […]

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