Thursday, October 3, 2013

My Shameful Mormon Breasts

  I was reading in the Blogosphere today about the new Mormon temple movie.  Let me backpedal a bit. In Mormon temples, there is a sacred ceremony called the "Endowment Ceremony".  What happens is you watch a movie that explains some things about church beliefs (via Adam and Eve), the creation, Satan, and the Original Sin.  Also in the ceremony, you make covenants to adhere to Mormon tenets of belief.
   Anyway, back to the movie.  The last time the church produced a movie was 20 years ago.  Up until August, that movie was still used in every temple around the world (except for those 2-SLC and Manti-that use live readings).  The old movie had terrible hair, bad acting, and some decent photography.  Adam and Eve are the stars of the movie, and the interesting thing I've always noticed is that there was always coincidentally placed ferns, rocks, animals, and flowers to cover anything below the shoulders.  Apparently the new movie has artfully placed leaf-baskets, animals, and other stuff.  A blogger that I read was torn to shreds in the comment section about his review of the film, and using the phrase "naughty bits" several times in his blog.  (It's sexist! It's immature!)
   Which got me thinking.  If our bodies are as sacred and as special as I was taught (the body is a temple for your spirit!), then why is it so hidden in a film about our first parents?  Parents who, incidentally, were naked for a good long time.  I realize that showing naked people in a sacred ceremony might be misconstrued, but embracing nudity is almost less...I don't know...offensive than so obviously hiding it.  And isn't "naughty bits" the real way Mormons (or conservative religions in general) think about their outward sexual characteristics?
   Women's breasts can't be shown.  In fact, cleavage at all is an issue, a male stumbling block, and a plea for attention.  That got me started thinking about my own breasts.  -This may be a TMI post, fair warning-
    I started developing breasts when I was 8.  The first time I ever thought about them was in kid's Sunday School.  I had been wearing a dress that I loved. It had flowers, and a petticoat, and lace.  It was also a year old, so it was a bit tight, and a bit short.  But it was my favourite.  It was, apparently, also a bit low cut.  I don't know how much cleavage I was showing, but a Primary teacher took me aside and told me that my dress was immodest, and I should cover myself better next time. I didn't want to cause problems for boys, did I?
   I'll repeat, I WAS 8! I didn't even know what problems boys could have, except cooties.  But that was the first time I felt that my body was disgusting.  I was ashamed of my body, ashamed of being called out.  That wasn't the last time, though, that I would hate how I looked.
   Throughout all of my church going years, modesty was preached.  Women shouldn't wear things too short, too tight, too low cut, too revealing, too see-through.  Our bodies were special and sacred, and only for our husbands.  This created somewhat of a problem with me.  It wasn't that I wanted to attract attention by my chest, it's just that I was large-chested.  My mom refused to acknowledge this except to buy me one constrictive, crushing sports bra when I was in 7th grade.  I wore it until I was a freshman in high school.
   I don't know if she just didn't notice my chest, or didn't want me to grow up too fast, or what.  But every time I wore it (and I was a D-cup by 6th grade), I was reminded that I was immodest, shameful, and ugly.  I hated that bra.  I suppose I could have asked for another one, but I was too embarrassed that I was growing so big.  It wasn't until freshman year in high school, when I overheard some kids talking about my...reaction to cold weather that the sport's bra didn't hide, that I took action.  I stole one of my mom's bras.  It was far too small, but it was better than what I had.
   I hated going to Young Women's, because it was full of skinny girls with perfect bodies.  They could wear dresses and shirts that weren't 2 sizes too big.  They didn't have to worry about showing too much cleavage.  I hated my body because it betrayed me.  I wanted to be a good girl.  I wanted the respect of guys, not just the animal lust that my breasts would bring out.
   As I got older, and eventually got better fitting bras, the problem didn't go away.  Dresses and shirts that would fit my chest would be too big around the waist. If I wore a dress fitted to my waist, it would be too tight across the chest.  There was no middle ground.  So in high school, I wore boys 4X T-shirts and men's denim shorts. I hid my shameful body in baggy clothes.  At church, I would wear jumpers over turtleneck shirts, regardless of the weather.
   The few times I dared to wear something more fitted to church, I was given the modesty talk (in private by someone who "just had my best interest" at heart).  I was told that my body was a sacred temple, to be shared only with my husband. I was informed I was putting the "goods on display" and that boys would think I'm easy.  I would come home from church, go to my room, and cry because I couldn't win.
   Things got easier in college.  I went inactive in college, and changed my wardrobe.  Thanks to a Lane Bryant card my mom would pay for, I could buy what I wanted.  And what I wanted was to show off what I had been forced to hide.  I didn't want to become a slut (something I was warned would happen if men saw even a hint of my breasts), but I wanted freedom for the girls.  But then I moved back in with my parents, and things changed again.  If I wore a keyhole shirt, I was told (at 20) to change or put something underneath.
   One of the rules of living at home was that I had to attend church.  And then I realized something.  Large girls with big chests have little options for modesty.  Either it's trendy and immodest, or it's matronly and ugly.  There aren't many cute boutique shops that cater to large girls. Even camisoles are no match against Double D's.  At 21, my options were to live in turtlenecks, or tempt men with my chest.  My mother made sure to inform me that the way I dressed impacted how men thought.  "Do you want to advertise yourself to your stepdad?" she would ask.  "What about the Stake President?"
   I felt disgusting.  I was ashamed.  My breasts were not my fault! I didn't wake up one morning and say "Golly, I want a huge pair of knockers! Wouldn't that be great?"  But here I was, being told something out of my control is, not only my fault, but my responsibility to hide. Did I want guys breaking the Law of Chastity, just so I could be fashionable?  Was my personal style so important that I would risk breaking Mormon standards for it??
   I wrestled with those questions for years.  Even after I got married, I was told things like "Wow, that shirt is awfully low-cut"  or "Why don't you think about the men that look at you?"  or "When you are getting a blessing, do you want the Priesthood to look down your shirt?"  or "Breasts are for nursing children or intimate times with your husband."  I was even lectured on how I obviously pulled my garments lower, so I could wear immodest clothes.
   And then I had a revelation.  My breasts are not my husbands, my potential child's, a detriment to the men around me, or an embarrassment.  My breasts are a part of me, a part of my femininity, and a part of my body.  Why should I be ashamed?  Why should I be responsible for other's thoughts when they look at me?  Frankly, if I'm wearing something that makes me feel beautiful and special, and someone thinks "Nice tits!", is the problem really mine?
   I AM MORE THAN MY BREASTS.  I AM MORE THAN A PIECE OF MEAT ON DISPLAY. Yes, my body is between me and my husband, but that doesn't mean I have to be uncomfortable.  That doesn't mean I have to feel ashamed.  That doesn't mean that I am the sum total of my "naughty bits", whose only purpose is to bring people into this world, and provide my husband with pleasure.  It's makes me sad that I grew up hating myself because I was different.  I wish I could go back in time, and tell my 8 year old self that I am beautiful, no matter what my cup size.  I wish I could tell my 14 year old self that getting a bra that actually fits will do wonders for my self-esteem.  I wish I could let my 20 year old self know that I was worthwhile, large chest and all.
   I can't tell how many times I have taken my Mormon friends into Lane Bryant, or Victoria's Secret and had them get fitted for the correct bra size.  I can't describe the glow their faces would get when they saw how they looked (and felt) with proper support.  It is one of the best feelings ever.  And it's a step towards loving the body that LDS, Inc says is shameful and should be hidden.
   If I had more courage, I would go back to church one last time.  And I would stand up in Sacrament Meeting and bear my testimony that I have worth.  I would tell everyone that my breasts and my body are beautiful, and that I refuse to be ashamed of them anymore.


13 comments:

  1. Oh dear lady, I physically understand where you are coming from. Even without that horrible shaming hanging over my head I went through phases of trying to hide the girls. I have enough body issues all on my own, I cannot imagine adding the mormon edits to them... Rock on with your bad self, mamma, for taking ownership of your ta-ta's!

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    1. Lol. We should start a club! We'd need a catchy slogan, though. :)

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    2. No kidding! Perhaps we don't need our own club, we should just get the "Save the Ta-Ta's" breast cancer awareness shirts and then roam around in packs!

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  2. This is so sad to me. I was actually a late bloomer and the very last of my friends to require a bra by a few years so I was delighted when I'd finally managed a C cup. I was self conscious about it but not from a modesty perspective. I didn't really experience shame about my breasts until I became a nursing mom. Both of my babies absolutely refused to nurse under covers once they were 4-5 months old. Generally I tried to find as private a place as possible to feed them but sometimes it was unavoidable that I'd have to feed them in public. (I won't hijack this by delineating why all the so-called solutions to public nursing are absurd.) Even uncovered there's usually not a ton to see while a woman's nursing because of where the baby's head is positioned but people still get riled up about it. They compare it to public urination, strip teases, etc. Actually I can think of no less shameful use of a breast but society tends to disagree. And constantly we're exhorted to think of the poor men who will spiral out of control because OMG they saw a baby eating! Our society is nuts. And as usual the Mormons love to kick it up a notch higher. I was actually attending BYU when that infamous letter about immodest backpacks (ones that have a strap bisecting the breasts) was published in the school paper. I hope you do work up your nerve someday. That's a fast and testimony meeting I'd love to see.

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    1. Lol. I'll be sure to invite you if I ever decide to go through with it. I'm sure I'd be excommunicated for sure!

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    2. Meh. When I was attending a ward in inner city Baltimore a woman actually ripped off her shirt in fast and testimony and wasn't excommunicated. In the middle of someone's testimony we all heard a slurred voice from the back yelling, "Oh, it's hot in here!" When we turned around we saw a woman staggering around the back of the chapel waving her shirt around and wearing only a bra and a skirt.

      Actually I have to say I'm pretty impressed with how it was handled there. She was quietly escorted out of the chapel and helped in getting her shirt back on. Then as it was obvious she was in no condition to turn out into the streets she was given an empty room to rest in until church was over and then was driven home. I think that being an inner city ward that people were a lot less naive about issues like poverty and addiction and more inclined to react compassionately than what I've seen in Utah.

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    3. That's actually a really good way to handle that situation. I don't know what I'd do in that situation.

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  3. Good grief, sounds like my world growing up. I didn't have breast at 8, but I had to wear suits to swim at that age. It's all so stupid and hurtful. Men have no idea what it's like to grow up as a teenage girl and deal with it.

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    1. So true! It's like they think "oooh, this makes me have naughty thoughts. Clearly I'm not the bad guy, so the other thing must be the problem!"

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  4. I loved this article. I'm not Mormon, but I grew up Baptist and the constant rules built around female modesty always got to me. Skirts/shorts had to be fingertip length, no more than a palm's breadth between your collarbone and neckline, never wear a dress without a slip or a button down without a camisole or a camisole without a sweater. And even following all those rules, when I started dressing myself as a preteen girl (instead of an elementary school boy, haha)...the looks and lectures I got were heartbreaking. Getting properly fitted for a bra changed my life at the age of 14. From poorly fitting Victoria's Secret 36D's to a beautiful Chantelle 30F! (and by now, at 23, a 28GG, but that's another story)

    I'm writing this to tell you that if you're getting fitted at Victoria's Secret...you haven't seen anything yet. If you have a Nordstrom or a specialty bra store in the area that uses the "+0" method, rather than Victoria's Secret's faulty "+4" method, I highly urge you to get a fitting...just for the heck of it, even if you're completely satisfied with your current bras. For your boobs and clothes and "modesty" and body confidence, give it a shot.

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    1. Thanks for the tip! I love bra shopping (now).

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    2. Seconding gabrielle.hunt.10's recommendation - Victoria's Secret does NOT size bras properly. As a general rule you want AT LEAST one cup bigger + one band smaller than they tell you.

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    3. Lol. I'm too plus-sized for VS, sadly. :(
      I walked in once, a salesgirl took one look at me and said "We don't have your size here...Lane Bryant is 3 doors down."

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