"Making my body my own again": Seven stories of Saints who’ve chosen to stop wearing garments
[Note: In the comments section of this post, please feel free to discuss your own experiences with this topic. Any comments that criticize or condemn the authors of these anecdotes will be deleted.]
In speaking with many liberally-minded Mormons, I’ve discovered a range of attitudes toward wearing garments. For some, wearing the sacred underclothing isn’t a trial and doesn’t complicate their relationship with the church. However, it seems that most find garments uncomfortable, unwieldy, and unnecessary. Many, though still active in the Church, have chosen to stop wearing their garments or only wear them when they attend Church functions. Below are the anonymous stories of seven women and men who have chosen to stop wearing their garments.
1) I remember anxiously waiting to be endowed. Going through the temple and wearing the garment is one of the primary rites of passage into Mormon adulthood. I was highly aware of which peers of mine had already been endowed, and looked forward to joining the club. The line above my knee or on my back, or the white peeking out at my waistband or sleeve would be easily picked up by the trained LDS eye and would show that I was a full-fledged, card carrying adult member. I couldn’t wait.
I remember coming home after receiving my endowment, changing into my pajamas, and looking down at these saggy garments I was wearing. I went into my mother’s room and told her I thought they were too big. “No, that’s how they’re supposed to fit” she said. I wore my garments three sizes too big for the next couple of years. For some reason I accepted that it was normal for them to create huge bags around my waist, and that basically garments just weren’t supposed to fit. To me this has become symbolic of many things about my church experience. A number of things didn’t quite fit, and created discomfort, but I continued to accept them without questioning. I eventually did get garments that fit, and realized that I had been putting up with terrible discomfort for no reason at all, besides that I believed what my mother told me.
My ultimate decision to stop wearing the temple garment came after considerable angst and frustration. I was increasingly uncomfortable with the modesty rhetoric in the church, culminating with the infamous “walking porn” statement. I was frustrated with the way our bodies are oversexualized by the way youth of the church are taught to view them. I felt like the institution was trying to control my body, by saying what I could wear, what I could or could not eat and drink, having a say in my sexuality. I didn’t have any particular desire to dress any differently than I had been, and I had no plans to do anything harmful to myself. However, it became very important to me to take my body back. Removing the garment made my body my own again and gave me a way to symbolically reject demeaning attitudes toward women and their bodies that I have found in the church.
It was not a decision I made lightly. I have been guilty in the past of thinking highly judgmental thoughts about people who I knew had been endowed and were clearly not wearing their garments. At one time I had worn them day and night, and even at the gym. Now they are folded and put away in a box. I am at peace with my decision. My body is my own and I honor it in my own way. I try to spend more time focused on the state of my heart, and to see others for who they are, and focus less on outward appearances and orthoprax behavior.
2) I stopped wearing garments shortly after I went inactive in the church. Though I loved the initiatory ordinance when I received them, and I had fairly positive temple experiences overall, the garments began to symbolize the parts of the church that I resented. For example, I disliked temple recommend interviews when my Bishop would ask me about my underwear. I also felt that my body was a gift from God and I didn’t feel happy with the way it looked clothed in garments –I often had to wear 4 layers of tops and long pants to cover them. More than anything, I could no longer trust in a God that cared so much about my underwear.
I still have my garments, though. They are in a box on my top closet shelf with my temple clothing. I don’t know why I can’t just throw them away. But there’s some part of me that just needs to know that they are still there.
3) I HATE EVERYTHING about garments: the way they look; the way they feel; the pharisaical way we judge people who don’t wear them; the ridiculous lengths we (especially women) go to find clothing that covers them up; the way they are never covered up (despite said ridiculous lengths); the urban legends that revolve around their protectiveness; and on and on and on…
Shopping for clothes with my wife is an exercise in futility. 95% of what I like (and she likes) cannot be worn with garments. I hate it when she dresses “Mormon.” I see nothing skanky about seeing a woman’s upper arms, shoulders, back, or thighs. So now we’ve got women who wear one layer (garments), a second layer (i.e. a “shield”) to cover their garments, a third layer which is the shirt or blouse they would normally have worn as their first layer, but can’t because it doesn’t cover the garments, and even a fourth and fifth layer if it is cold outside. Amazing.
The fact that we might only have one go-round at life on earth and we spend it covering our beautiful bodies feels criminal. I’m not arguing for bad taste — I’m as disgusted by sleaze as anyone else — I’m just arguing for a little maturity and some common sense. Can I wear a T-shirt and shorts without two inches of white cotton fabric sticking out below my shorts hemline everytime I sit down, and an inch or more sticking out at my neckline? Must I essentially wear two shirts everytime I get dressed? Can my wife wear a tank top and shorts and not be mistaken for a prostitute, without setting Brother So-and-So’s heart aflame with wanton desire? Surely God, if s/he exists at all, looks down on this and just shakes his/her head in dismay.
We now only wear garments about 25% of the time, basically when we are around other Mormons. So we’ve maintained two sets of underwear throughout our marriage, our freaky Mormon underwear and our “normal” gentile underwear. It’s expensive, but helps to maintain our sanity.
4) I was raised in a mormon family in Utah, and am 6th generation mormon on some lines, so just expected to wear garments forever. Even the long time inactive folks in my family wore them– they’d usually attend church long enough to get married in the temple and then quit. I had seen temple clothing — my grandmothers used to embroider the aprons, and of course, you often see dead folks in temple clothes in Utah, if you go to the endless round of viewings and funerals.
Probably I wouldn’t have quit wearing mine if I’d had a better reaction to the temple. I’ve never been to a live session. Maybe going to a live session would have helped. I was also endowed before the changes of the 1990s. The first time I went to the temple, I had one of the worst migraines I’ve ever had. I couldn’t quite believe the penalties, etc. The sight of the men all wearing baker’s hats was also overwhelming, even though I suppose I’d see the hats before. It just hadn’t quite sunk in. Anyway, it was a shock to find that these warm, kind, quaint folks I’d grown up with went off to the temple and took vows to ritually disembowel their enemies. I can’t say that the rest of the ceremony was uplifting to me. I hate doing church by TV or movie, so that was off putting, and it seemed that most of
the ceremony was boring, repetitive, and dull. Then weird or scary or creepy. And that’s not even getting into the women’s issues. The celestial room, which had always been described as wonderful, struck me as something out of a nice hotel lobby. But then I’ve been an architecture snob since I was ten or so. Anyway, that’s all prelude: The temple has always been a problem for me, since then, but I managed to get around it by living in the midwest for a long time before the days of the “Templettes”. So even though I was endowed 28 years ago, I don’t think I’ve gone more than ten times.
I am tallish and was very thin when I first went through the temple, and it was still the days of the one piecer. My choices were wearing some that fit me horizontally, but gave me a perma-wedgie, or else buying them too big around, but long enough in the crotch, which is what I went with. Of course that was really unattractive without clothes, and left them all bunched up around the waist. Fabric then was either heavy cotton, or else nylon, and maybe a polyester blend. We moved off to the midwest the summer after we were married, and I suffered through with them. A couple of years later there was a switch to the two piecers, which was a great improvement. (A funny story– our bishop told us he didn’t like the two piecers because he didn’t like sitting on the cold toilet seat. ) The two piecers at least were not TOTALLY weird, but they had their problems too. The tops never fit me then– my boobs were fairly high and perky then, and all the tops seemed designed for women whose boobs had dropped to half mast. (Like mine now). The bottoms seemed designed to give wedgies, and if you want to use a sanitary napkin with adhesive, you’re doomed, since there’s not a flat surface to adhere one to. Part of my mormon girl upbringing included learning to make underwear in home ec in middle school, and the garment bottoms break several of the good design rules I learned then.
We lived in student housing with no air conditioning, and there usually was not air conditioning in the university buildings either. With very high humidity and heat, I really had a hard time. I don’t deal with hot weather well at all, and the humidity was awful. So I gradually started not wearing my garments on the hot days, but sleeping in them. I noticed that a lot of people in the ward seemed to be doing the same thing. I think I stayed at that level for another 10 years, trying different varieties of design and finding most of them to be annoying or uncomfortable. We lived in Arizona for awhile, and that’s when I pretty much gave up on them, since it was always hot. I’m not sure when I quit sleeping in them, but as I have become more and more uncomfortable with the temple ceremony and some other aspects of the church, I’ve also noticed that I didn’t get struck by lightning for not wearing them. And I came to feel I’d be hypocritical to wear them. So even when I go to church, I don’t wear them, but I also don’t dress in a way that it’s obvious. (Well unless someone’s looking for the lines. ) I will confess that when I go to visit my parents, I throw a few pairs in the suitcase and then throw them into the laundry. My mom still insists on helping with my laundry if I do it there, and it would really bother her if I didn’t wear them anymore. I figured we’ve bothered them enough with both kids being totally inactive, so I just keep up appearances for her. And I am pretty much totally unable to feel comfortable in a tank top, or shorts, after all these years of wearing garment-friendly clothing.
5) I haven’t worn garments for many months. I realized in the last trimester of my pregnancy when I was so hot and misshapen that garments were not going to happen. I felt ok about it because I had a medical reason. And then when I was breast feeding it was also easy to justify not wearing them.
Now that I’ve just about weaned my baby, I have to figure out what to do next. I know my husband would like it if I would wear them. And to me they do symbolize in some way my marriage. And, of course, there is the matter of me solemnly promising to wear them the rest of my life. But they also bring back unpleasant memories of the hearken covenant in the temple, and I’ve really enjoyed the freedom I’ve had this past year. And I can’t imagine God cares enormously about my underwear. So I’m at a crossroads at the moment.
6) I don’t wear Gs now. I did, for a long time. Then, I took a vacation with my wife. Both of us left the Gs at home, and the vacation was sexy and exciting and provided us with a great connection as a couple. It helped us bond, and see each other in a new light; in a lot of ways, it saved our marriage. And since then, I’ve avoided Gs (and I like it when my wife does the same), because it reminds me of an important time in our marriage when we really connected, on a personal and a sexual level.
7)I don’t think I was ever ashamed of my garments–even when I saw the 50s ad for men’s underwear and they looked exactly like the two-piecers I wore daily. I was pretty open with my gentile coworkers when they asked (disrespectfully) about them.
“Do you wear that funny Mormon underwear?”
“Of course! You wanna see?”
My feigned untucking motions were usually enough to kill any further inquiry.
What’s odd is that I felt more embarrassment immediately after I stopped wearing garments. What if my extended family members caught sight of the orange waistband of my boxers? Did my Elder’s Quorum friends notice the lack of hanging, stretched out white cotton conspicuously peeking when I sat down in my baggy shorts?