I grew up in purity culture (Here’s an article that looks helpful after a quick look, for anyone looking for a definition/examples of this). From a very early age in Fundamental Evangelical Christianity, I learned things about my body that I’m still struggling to untangle. This could probably be 100 blog posts. This could probably be the work of my life.
Since I have yet to actually figure anything out though, I’ll start small.
From my mother I learned that cleanliness is indeed right next to godliness and now that I’m an adult I wonder HOW THE HELL DID SHE KEEP OUR HOUSE SO CLEAN? While I sometimes wish her magical cleaning abilities could have transferred to me more smoothly…as a child in one regard I took this to an extreme.
I came to my body as a stranger, and decided to control it as much as possible. I took Christian purity culture’s teachings on modesty to an extreme. I decided that fashion was of the devil (not really, but I seriously had other things on my mind). I founded an excellent and thorough cleaning rhythm. I cried when I got my period, and thought my life was over. I hated it when my body started to develop, and couldn’t understand the shame that had wrapped and tied itself around me.
Once I changed my mind about fashion, I began to shape my image, my persona, through colors and patterns, through haircuts and shoe choices. It changed many times, with each change inviting me to a new bit of freedom, a new bit of delight.
Recently, friends, I began to ask myself why I do certain things. Why do I shave my armpits every day? Why do I feel like I can NEVER leave the house without a bra? Why do I care if other people think I look younger without makeup? Why do I feel like I can only wear “women’s” clothes? Why do I only wear things that are “cute”? Why why WHY do I care that I don’t have a flat stomach?
And I realized something. I’m doing this because I think that I should. And where did that should come from? And why is it still there?
These questions have a thousand answers and yet none that fit quite right. So I decided to give myself permission. Recently my mohawk has grown out enough to put in a top bun. I wore it that way a few times, and felt my inner critic/anxiety yelling YOU LOOK RIDICULOUS. YOU LOOK LIKE A CHILD. NO ONE IS GOING TO THINK THIS IS COOL. My inner voice can be quite rude.
After a while, and many assurances from those close to me, I discovered that people mostly thought it was cool. And then, I decided that it didn’t matter what people thought – I REALLY like wearing my hair like that. So I did.
I gave myself permission to wear what I wanted to, and fired my inner fashion police. One day I wore flannel, stretchy skinny jeans, and a top bun. Another day I wore a dress, hair all curly and out, and an aqua flower headband.
Oh that’s another thing. For SO LONG, I expected myself to be a certain clothing size. I had that as my acceptable mark, and just kept buying things in the same size. Except HELLO TWENTIES, my body changed and that size is just too small, too tight, too uncomfortable. I hated shopping and dreaded having to stuff my body into claustrophobic pieces of fabric. One day I thought “FUCK IT”, and tried on things that actually fit my body. I went through all of my clothes (several times – it’s a process), said thank you, and let all the small tight things go.
People, I have to tell you, it’s a lot more fun to wear clothes when you actually like them and they actually fit your body.
This last week I went to the beach for a few days of rest and retreat. And I didn’t shower for 4 days. I believe this is the longest I’ve gone without showering in my entire life (that I can remember at least, I may have experienced this phenomenon as a child, yet to be determined). I didn’t wear a bra. I stayed in my pajamas. I accepted the small amount of body hair and body smell that came with it. I let go of caring about my body being perfect, about my body being a performance; I let go of shame and needing to control every part of myself and needing to be a certain way.
And guess what? I still live and breathe. And now I have a little more room to be me.