Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Problem with Tank Tops

Growing up as a child of Mormon parents is a very unique experience that many people never escape from. Meaning that when you grow up in a Mormon household, chances are, you become a Mormon adult and never get the opportunity to take a step back and view the experience from a viewpoint other than one tinged in the noxious muck of it. It's tough, I know because I lived it.

One quirky aspect growing up was the issue of sleeveless clothing. This wasn't an issue of modesty. I was never ever under any circumstance able or allowed to wear a halter, tube, strapless or spaghetti strap top. That crossed over into being indecent and slutty.

For example, back in 1997, I was in the Miss Brea pageant. My Mormon grandmother bought me a strapless dress to wear for the gown portion of the pageant. It was a beautiful, floor length empire waist burgundy gown with boning and a shawl that matched. It was beaded and fit so wonderfully. I couldn't believe the amount of money my grandmother spent on it and I knew I could wear it to my next formal dance, so it wouldn't be wasted on just one event. I loved it.  I tried it on for my mother to see how beautiful it was and I will never forget the look of disgust on her face. I thought my mother was going to lose her shit over it. She was livid that my grandmother would purchase such a inappropriate dress for her 17 year old daughter.  I was heartbroken that the experience of choosing a dress with my grandmother and the excitement I had felt up to that point was ripped apart with one look from my mother.

It was my no means indecent. My back and shoulders were covered with the shawl. My cleavage was fully covered and the dress touched the floor. Even as a young daughter of god, I thought the dress was nothing short of epic and I couldn't believe that I driven to tears over something so simple. But with how my mother was, it had been a long time coming.

All my swim suits had been one pieces my entire life. Bikini's or even a tactful two piece were always out of the question.  Even some of the other Mormon girls or my quasi-Mormon cousins were able to wear bathing suits with push up bras or cut outs. Not me. At the time it wasn't a big deal. I wasn't much of an outdoorsy or beach type girl. I rarely found myself in a bathing suit anyway.

But the Miss Brea pageant mattered to me. It was important because I wanted to show my family, mostly my mother, that no matter what she found wrong with me, that I was pretty enough. Silly teenage thoughts, I know, but at the time it mattered.

Looking back, I realize now how silly it was. I know my mother didn't believe that wearing a strapless dress to a pageant would turn me into a slut. I think she was more concerned with what the other Mormon mothers would think of her letting me wear something that I couldn't wear with garments. That was the problem with tank tops, that I couldn't wear garments with them.

Now, for those not 'in the know' about garments, they are the items of clothing every Mormon who gets their temple endowment receives. They are to be worn against the skin, under your underpants and/or bra and some people outside of the religion refer to them 'magic underwear'. Mormon men, and sometimes women, usually get their garments when they go on a mission. (Mission = Garments) Mormon women, and non-missionary men, usually get theirs a little before marriage in the temple, which is usually called a temple sealing. I never received my endowment, so I never received garments.

Why wear tank tops if you couldn't always wear them? Why buy them as an adult if one day they wouldn't be usable in your wardrobe? Why get into the 'habit' of showing your shoulders if that wasn't decent enough for god?

So I wore a long, simple, dark blue gown with a velvet top and satin bottom. I didn't win the gown part of the pageant. Hell, I didn't place in the pageant, which was okay with me; I went up against some really smart, beautiful college girls. I did win the essay competition though, which for me, was enough.  I tried my hardest, was walked down the stage by a Marine, and won a massage. And I learned a very important lesson about my mother.


Mae said...

This is my first understanding of the mormon church, and probably what brought me to start following your story. I had never heard of robes either. It's all very interesting to me. Though, I am truly glad that being atheist means not feeling the pull to do random things for no reason other than it's what is the "tradition." Things like saying prayers, or following holidays I don't resonate with, going to church on a perfectly beautiful Sunday ... the little things that we spend our time doing because "someone" is watching us. It is liberating in itself really. Thanks for sharing this story, i enjoyed reading it.


postmormongirl said...

This was a very poignant story - I'm sorry that you had to go through this.

Dean said...

I am sorry that your mother did not let you wear the dress you chose with your grandma. I am glad that my mom did not try to enforce garment standards on her non-endowed children.

Garments were first thing to go when I started questioning the church. It was such a relief. It was difficult for some of my family to accept. Dad said he was disappointed, but it was between God and me.

Richard Gumsley said...
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