Guest post by Collette Charles, who blogs here.
I always dreaded the day when I would give up my cute tank tops, sundresses, short-shorts, and panties for the mysterious white garments my parents wore. Of course, I never would have admitted that out loud back then. But whenever I’d catch a glimpse of my mother changing, I would notice how high waist-ed the bottoms were, or how the tops had such large portions set aside for the breast area, and I would think, those look so uncomfortable compared to my low-rise “booty shorts” and cute lacy bra. It was confusing, because I desired a temple marriage, wanted that promise of forever, but I didn’t understand why all sexiness and comfort had to be sacrificed to achieve it. And the fact that I wouldn’t find out what the symbolism of the garment was until the moment I was supposed to commit to wearing them didn’t ease my dread or worry.
Many of my leaders in the Young Women’s program advised us girls not to buy clothing that wouldn’t be garment compatible. “It will be harder to switch over if you have to change the way you dress.” A phrase I heard many times. And then there was the one Young Women’s teacher who surprised me with, “Enjoy it while you can, wear whatever you want.” I suspected I wasn’t the only person who resented the looming dread of eternal modesty.
When things started getting more serious with my now husband, Travis, I started to consider the clothing purchases I was making. Should I start buying clothing I can wear with garments? For the most part, I took the advice of “enjoying it while I could.” But soon, we were engaged and setting a date for our endowments and sealing. My mom took me to the distribution center to buy temple clothes and garments. Somehow, I was supposed to know which fabric and style of garment to buy without being able to try anything on. The dread and subsequent guilt mounted.
Then, the day of the endowment arrived. As I stood in the temple, trying on my garments for the first time, the only thought running through my head was, I can’t do this. I can’t wear these for the rest of my life. I’m going to have to back out and quit the church and everyone in my life will disown me. Somehow I made it through the rest of the night.
The next morning my mom and I set out to find a pair of garments that fit me correctly. The size bottoms we had picked out were too small. The tops were too big. The waistband of the bottoms came up to my rib cage, taking “high waist-ed” to a whole new level. The garment top had these “boob bags” that were even too large for my C cup bra. I couldn’t stand the sight of myself in my garments. How was I supposed to feel about my soon to be husband seeing me on our honeymoon the following week? How was I ever supposed to feel sexy again?
At the distribution center, I tried to explain to the sales women what the problem was. “Do you have anything that isn’t quite so high waist-ed? Do all the bottoms come clear down to the bottom of my knee cap?”
The women seemed to think I was trying to “get out of” wearing garments or that I was trying to find a size that would allow me to show more skin. “You’re just going to have to realize that garments don’t fit like your old underwear because they are more modest.” I was told. I tried to explain how I was uncomfortable with a tight waistband that exaggerated the area of fat I have around my belly button. I was in tears and my mom was angry by the time we left, because I felt so bullied and judged by those women.
Meanwhile, my fiancé Travis was adjusting to his garments quite easily. And why shouldn’t he? Besides being a few inches longer than his boxer briefs, they fit the same. He told me he preferred sleeping shirtless, so wearing the top at night would be an adjustment, but other than that, no major life changes for him. He assured me he would find me beautiful and sexy no matter what I was wearing, which did help a little, and when he did see me in my garments, he told me over and over how much he liked seeing me in them, that I looked beautiful. Plus I finally found a size and style that fit me right.
But several months after we were married, I was still having trouble with wanting to wear my garments. I wore them dutifully, albeit begrudgingly. I was afraid to talk to anyone about how much I didn’t want to wear garments, how it seemed my whole identity had changed to this matronly, boring, restricted old married woman. I was the first of my good friends to wear garments, and I felt such jealousy about their freedom to wear whatever they wanted. To be able to walk up stairs wearing a skirt and not worry that the person behind them could see white peeking out. I kept thinking, why Heavenly Father, why do I have to wear these things?
Then one day I understood something big. Travis and I were home one rare afternoon at the same time and naturally, planned for some intimacy. I changed into something sexier, as I didn’t (and still don’t) like wearing my garments while “getting it on.” As we were laying there together, making out, I took notice of something simple. Travis was wearing his garments. I was wearing a white bra and white panties. We were both wearing white. But he was wearing the white that God required, while I was wearing white that our culture dictated I should wear.
Later on, I thought more about the contrast between my garments and my old undies. Thought beyond just the comfort factor. Thought about what it means that my male counterpart and I are required to cover the same amount of skin with our garments. Thought about the difference between boxer briefs and g-strings. Or little black dresses that barely cover the essentials and a comfortable tuxedo or suit. So many differences between what our culture dictates women and men should wear, women zipping themselves into tight, low cut, low rise sexy everythings, heels so high we can’t walk straight, clothing sizes meant prepubescent bodies, while men wear t-shirts, jeans, and shoes created for comfort. What does it mean if the clothing God commands Travis and me to wear, is the same?
Hint, I think it means that we are equal. That God doesn’t value me for how hot I can look in a thong. That maybe the notions I have about how important it is to be sexy aren’t what really matters.
But here’s the thing. Somehow our idea of what it means to be modest has gotten all messed up. Like how you can wear clothing that covers your garments, but still isn’t modest. Like how all the BYU student wards are meat markets. When I was single and going to student wards, I got dressed on Sunday for one purpose: to look smokin’ hot in a tight skirt, high heels, and fishnet stockings. How else was I supposed to attract a “worthy eternal companion?” It was clothing that could be worn with garments, sure, but in no way was it modest.
And what about the time one of my friend’s husbands complained to me about how “boring her garments are.” Or the time my friend, who happened to be a new convert, was preparing to be sealed to her husband. One of her male friends told her, “What a bummer for your husband, having to have you switch from sexy panties to garments.”
Kind of seems like we are missing the whole point here, about garments and how God wants to help us love our bodies for the right reasons. And can we please do a better job teaching the Young Men to respect the women, instead of the Young Women always being told to help the men “honor their priesthood.” Maybe the women’s priestess-hood could use a little more honoring.
Don’t get me wrong. I love clothes. I love sexy clothes. I wear a bikini to the pool. Gasp, are you sure that qualifies you as temple worthy? I have a giant sack full of lingerie in my closet. When I go to the gym, I wear spankies and a tank top. I’m not saying we should never get to feel hot and sexy or appreciate our attractive bodies. I’m just saying that garments are there to remind me, (among other things that I covenanted not to talk about) that men and women are equal in God’s eyes, and that He values me for so much more than my body. And how great is that.
P.S. It is a true fact that women’s garments are super uncomfortable and could use updating in the way they fit. I would love to get into designing them. If anyone knows how to break into that market, please let me know? Kthanks.