Willing To Be Frumpy For God: A Crisis Of Knee Length Shorts

“Spot The Mormon” is a game I am always unintentionally playing. Recently I spotted one on an airplane.

I was seated, as were most of the passengers, when she boarded a bit late. She made her way briskly down the aisle, wearing a bright yellow shirt and a face full of stress. 

She was also wearing knee length shorts. 

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She stopped right at my aisle and went to put her carry-on in the overhead compartment, and when she did, I saw something that confirmed my suspicions: a white undershirt tucked in to her shorts, covering her midsection. 

I'll admit this was an invasion of her privacy. But curiosity has made me a creep in this regard. 

Strangers though we were, with just a half-inch of white cloth where her belly button should have been, we were suddenly linked by a shared faith and history and tradition. We didn’t talk and will probably never see each other again. But in that moment we shared a bond: we both wear knee length shorts. 

I am becoming convinced the Knee Length Short is the defining symbol of Mormonism. It is for me the great test of faith when, after months of thinking I’m a pretty great Mormon, summer rolls around and I am faced with the choice: will I be hot and sweaty and miserable, or will I wear knee length shorts?

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Knee length shorts became a necessity when I decided to be a full-blown member of my church. When I went through the temple, I committed to wearing garments, essentially a white tee shirt and, well, knee length shorts, under my clothes. The best explanation I have found is to think of a yarmulke; something I wear at all times to remind me of my commitment to God. (I have great respect for those who wear yarmulkes, as I complain enough about wearing my commitment under my clothing.)

It's just that if left to design my own underwear, I would not in a million years land on this variation. There is a sacredness to my garments that I connect with deeply when I learn about them in the temple, and for those moments, I’m fully on board. But then I step out into my day-to-day life, and the disconnect begins.

When I express negative feelings about garments, I think people are offended. My family becomes concerned for the state of my testimony. They react as though expressing this signals disrespect or belligerence. But to me, the two seem like entirely separate, true facts: I am deeply committed to God and also knee length shorts are ugly. 

An especially offensive batch of knee length shorts.

An especially offensive batch of knee length shorts.

It took two years after I started wearing garments for me to buy my first pair. I found them, by some miracle, at Target. They are tight and stretchy denim. They are, when I think about it, the exact shape of my garments, and now I'm wondering if by some logic this makes them immodest?

When I first wore my knee length shorts, I felt a quiet sense of belonging, like I had finally chosen full membership in the club. I was fully on board with Mormonism, fashion be damned! Maybe strangers would see me and know what I was. Maybe now I would get over my pride!

If only.

Because listen, I’m aware it is superficiality that keeps me from partaking wholeheartedly in the convenience of the knee length short. But I can’t seem to get over it.

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I spent all of last year working for a clothing company, which shone an unhelpful spotlight on my already fraught sartorial situation. 

Any time a new collection was launching I would scan through it and subconsciously note which pieces I could not wear: Tanks, miniskirts, regular skirts, regular shorts, tank dresses, sleeved dresses, V-necks, boat necks, anything low-backed, anything with a sort of wide armpit, and let’s not forget the blasted cold shoulder top. When asked what pieces I liked, I would offer my opinion, noting to myself that what I liked and what I could wear had very little overlap. For my co-workers, clothing was a hobby, a source of self-expression. And I suppose my clothing does express something about me: my belief. But it is expression through inhibition, identity by conformity. 

I understand that with enough time and energy and money, I could probably find clothing that feels attractive and expressive. But the more likely option, if you are lazy and also cheap, is knee length shorts. 

An annual showdown with the dreaded question: am I willing to be frumpy for God?

The internet seems to think wearing them with heels makes them better. I cannot say I agree. 

The internet seems to think wearing them with heels makes them better. I cannot say I agree. 

This is, of course, the great conundrum, because I am very much into God. And when I go to church and I sit and sing and serve, I feel my heart swell up like a hot air balloon. I feel the warmth and goodness and love within my religion as irrefutably as the fact that knee length shorts are an atrocity to my senses. 

I am aware of all the churchy answers that my response to this is prideful or missing the mark or ungrateful for my temple blessings. But I can’t help it. It rankles me to have to conform to this standard, it riles all my stubbornness and contrariness to the point where I do wonder if I am spiritually fourteen. 

It’s just I really want to believe there are many shades within Mormonism, that this is an open, flexible place for people of all stages of belief. I hope it can be that. And yet my thoughts always come back to garments, and the gobsmacking black-and-whiteness of them. Because there is no half-wearing of garments. There is nothing casual or accidental in it. This is an all-day-every-night reminder that you are not like the others. I suppose it is intended to make me feel special. Why does it only make me feel weird? 

Wait how does she look sort of cute in her knee length shorts? Am I doing it wrong?

Wait how does she look sort of cute in her knee length shorts? Am I doing it wrong?

Try as I might, my mind simply cannot seem to reconcile that a belief in the greatest, deepest, most expansive power in the universe can be represented in this utterly arbitrary piece of clothing. And yet in so many ways, that sums up Mormonism. 

A people living and working and existing amidst ‘the world,’ yet with a wholly separate history, community, language, and way of life. It is the ultimate mashup of sacred and mundane; a modern manifestation of Old Testament rites. It is a thing I deeply believe and a constant sandpaper on the mind. 

They are my stumbling block, the mote in my eye, the riches I cannot bear to forsake. They are, to me, the ultimate symbol of Mormonism. 

They are Knee Length Shorts.  

Bad Movie Night

The first time was an accident. Me, Carly, and Shelley were in the throes of singlehood and PMS-ing in sync, so naturally we got together on a Saturday night for Girls' Night In at Shelley's place. Carly supplied pizza, I brought dessert. We all wore yoga pants.

We settled in on the couch, expanding into our forgiving waistlines. Shelley sported her home-sewn remedy for cramps -- a little heart-shaped pouch of steaming dry rice that fit perfectly in the nook of her crotch, like she was being censored. 

           Please go eat this pizza! It's in Culver City. Please!

           Please go eat this pizza! It's in Culver City. Please!

We began aimlessly scrolling Netflix, when someone suggested a recent Indie their boss had helped make (it was very LA). Given the personal connection and our assumed impeccable taste, we dimmed the lights, certain we were in for a good time.

We were wrong.

The film told the story of a modern couple's broken marriage, attempting to be good by being all real, but it was the kind of real where you realized, with a sudden burst of insight, that the point of movies is to escape reality, not rub your face in it.

We hated it. We couldn't turn it off. We bonded.

A month later, our cycles told us it was time (who knew this would turn into a period post? news to me!). We donned our knits, ordered greasy pizza to Shelley's, and when we went to select a movie, we thought -- well why not pick another terrible one? Our uteruses (uteri?) are already screaming. And thus it was, that Bad Movie Night was born -- a tradition that lives on nearly four years hence.

As time has passed, the practice has evolved from a simple form of amusement to an actual quest to find the perfect bad movie. Because what you learn when you are consistently and intentionally watching bad movies is that there are many subgenres within this sprawling category. There are Hallmarks, Lifetimes, Cheapy Horrors, Weirdly Vulgars, and Nicholas Sparks (**visible shudder**). There was the one where J-Lo the schoolteacher was seduced by the hot 16-year-old neighbor and ended up gorily poking his eyeball out (it escalated VERY quickly). There was the one where Naomi Watts and Robin Wright start dating each other's sons (honestly what sickos are behind these plotlines??) There is the yearly batch of Holiday fare, that always tries and always fails to top A Christmas Kiss. 

Can you feel how awful it's going to be? Can you just sense the accidental elevator kiss??

Can you feel how awful it's going to be? Can you just sense the accidental elevator kiss??

Whenever I tell Scott I'm headed to Bad Movie Night, there's always a flicker of confusion before he cheerily tells me, "have fun!" How it must baffle him to see his wife, who hates nothing more than she hates wasting time, subject herself over and over to hours of horrible entertainment. But it doesn't feel like time wasted to me. It feels like time spent pursuing my life's (albeit unorthodox) calling. 

On the other hand, maybe Bad Movie Night is time wasted. Maybe that's the joy of it -- the setting aside of an evening to be spent on absolute garbage. Squandered in empty calories; irretrievable as the thousands you've spent on tampons. 

Maybe Bad Movie Night is some version of empowerment. Of reclaiming the right to pick our miseries rather than having misery thrust upon us.

When life gave us cramps, we turned them into Bad Movie Night. 

I think it's a pretty fair trade. 

 

Bad Movie Night happens once a quarter, and is open to suggestions.

I'm Sorry Your Product Is Faulty!

It wasn't until I was dropping the final tiny screw into a snack-sized Ziploc bag that I realized I might be insane.

I was returning a Target floor lamp, see, and despite the fact it was incredibly cute and despite having fully assembled it, the lamp did not give off much light. Like at all. And so, with regret, I realized it had to go back.

I dutifully dissembled it, re-wrapping each part of each leg in its brown tissue paper, re-taping each box, making sure all the packaging fit together just as it had when I bought it.

But as I looked down at my little baggies of organized screws, it occurred to me -- did I need to have spent 30 minutes taking this apart? Would they not have taken it back fully assembled?

Then I stopped -- did I do this because I am nice? Or some star customer? No. I did it because I felt badly for returning the lamp. 

I felt badly. For returning a lamp.

Because, what if it inconveniences the workers? Because I probably did something to make the lamp not work well anyway! Because I am hardwired to apologize when anything goes wrong. 

I placed the perfect package on the returns counter, wondering if the cashier would check to make sure it was still in good shape and everything was accounted for. She barely gave it a second glance.  

As she mechanically scanned this and typed that, I thought - but my perfectly organized baggies! The light bulb box, the allen wrench - it's all there!

"The money will go back on your credit card," she said, holding out my receipt, not making eye contact.

It slipped through my hand and I dropped it. "Oh sorry!" I said.

Woe is she. 


Saved By The Brits

I have had some very real woe lately, over things I'm too upset to write about. But would you believe that what has saved me is The Great British Baking Show?

There is nothing spectacular about this show - ten amateur bakers compete for the title of star baker. It's not a new format, it's not winning any Golden Globes. But it has provided what I have been unable to summon for myself this month - an unfailing dose of cheer.

As Scott and I have watched, we've been trying to figure out what the winner gets. Surely, there must be a cash prize! A book deal! A bakery with the winner's name on the door! But this is no American game show. 

In this show, the hosts are two goofy women who are allowed to make fools of themselves. There is no behind-the-scenes drama or pitting contestants against one another. 

In this show they say things like, "bang on!" and "whack it in the oven for a bit." Cookies are "biscuits," puddings are nothing close to Snack Paks. Each challenge produces amazing little works of art that leave my mouth watering. Did I mention that the judges' are named Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood? Scott refuses to believe it, now matter how many times I Google. The music is spritely and cheerful and almost convinces me to try my hand at a Swedish Princess Cake.

We watched the Season One finale last night, and it was confirmed -- the winner wins a cake stand and a bouquet of flowers. That's it. But Nancy, Luis and Richard will never know how many doses of simple cheer they supplied me, when I truly deeply needed them. 


Red In The Face

"Do you know why this happens?" I point an accusatory finger at my near-purple face as I walk past the check-in desk after yoga.

The instructor shrugs. "It's just part of your constitution," she says warmly.

I make a face.

"It's part of your dosha - part of who you are," she continues, growing more serious at the realization that I perhaps do not appreciate my God-given dosha. "It probably means you're a fiery, passionate person with a type A personality who craves stability and control."

Now I'm uncomfortable. She's pegged me in 30 seconds.

"Does it have anything to do with why I sometimes get lightheaded in class?" I ask, to change the subject.

She nods, "It could."

"Is there anything I can do to lessen that?" 

She smiles, sensing my fiery dosha at work, attempting to correct this problem, all problems, until I am red in the face. "You can stand up more slowly," she says. "Or squeeze your butt."

"Squeeze..my butt?"

"Yes, squeeze your butt when you stand. It'll get blood flowing away from your brain."

I shrug, "Okay. I'll try that, thanks."

She gives me a gracious parting nod.

As I walk out to my car, I make a mental note: When red in the face, squeeze butt.

Could it really be that simple? Could it be that the solution to my control issues, the key to a less-fiery self was here in my butt all along? 

I sit in the driver's seat and try it a few times. My face bounces up and down in the rear view mirror. It makes me laugh, and then I contemplate the hilarity of flexed butts in general, and in my happiness I feel my red face begin to wane.

When red in the face, squeeze butt!

Alternatively, find a reason to laugh. 

Leotards Of Woe

I have recently discovered that there is something worse than swimsuit shopping. It is swimsuit shopping in the winter.

I'm swimsuit shopping in the winter out of necessity, since we have a trip coming up in February and it has dawned on me that I don't love any of the suits in my drawer. 

So on Saturday, when Scott and I found ourselves at Target picking up a few groceries, I for some reason thought it would be possible to just "try on a few swimsuits real quick."

The first option fit great - classic black one-piece, no-brainer for a family trip. The second had the general chest coverage of a wrestling singlet (is side boob what kids are into these days?) and the third almost fit, was super cute, and on clearance. This third suit was the trifecta of woe.

"Oh good, you found some options!" Scott said encouragingly, as I emerged from the fitting rooms holding suits one and three. "So which are you going to get?"

"Well," I sputtered, "it's not that simple." 

"It's...not?" 

I gave him a teenager-y look of duh. "Of course it's not!"

I tried to explain the woe of swimsuits, how bikinis sometimes show too much, tankinis are so convenient but so frumpy, one-pieces can make you look five years old and present bathroom challenges.

"Okay," he said, nodding, "Totally makes sense. At some point we should get this ground beef in the fridge."

"I know!! Okay, I know, but it's not as easy as just deciding which I like - this suit is on clearance."

"Okay...?"

I tried to explain how you can't overlook a suit that's on clearance, because you can't just come back and buy it later, and they don't have any more online, and if I don't get it now I'll never get it!

"Well just get both and I can help you decide at home?"

I bought both. We got in the car to drive home.

"I'm just trying to understand so maybe I can help," Scott said, reaching over to hold my hand. "Swimsuits always seem so stressful for you."

"Because they are stressful!" I protested. I wanted so badly for him to understand, and could see he so sincerely wanted to help ease this stress. But how to explain it? How could he ever understand?

How can one understand if one has not been subjected to wearing a leotard to the beach? Or to the water park, or to pool parties, or co-ed lake trips, or hot tub dates? How to convey the stress of wondering, does this particular leotard showcase my strengths? Does it hide my flaws? Does it support my boobs? Will it fall to my ankles if tumbled in waves? How much waxing will it require? How much of my salary? 

"Maybe we should figure out what you need and how these fit in," he said. "How many swimsuits do you think you need?"

"Like....five...ish?"

(An answer I deeply regretted, when once at home we found that I own eight.)

I own eight swimsuits. I don't love any of them. 

This happens when your swimsuit buying pattern is: avoid avoid avoid, shop a bit, feel outraged at the expense of so little fabric, buy one you sort of like because it's on clearance, only to find out you can't return it.

(Did I mention? I'm not sure whether I can return the clearance suit. The guy at the cash register said I could, but he seemed new.)

Together, Scott and I sorted my suits into categories, based on coverage vs. cuteness vs. convenience. (plus a one-off category for this one suit I've had since high school that is not cute anymore, but I just know I'll be happy to wear when I'm pregnant). 

Gradually I came to accept that I have a swimsuit shopping problem. It is the strange bi-product of body insecurity and cheapness. It is unhealthy and needs to be addressed. 

Because I already know I will try to return the clearance suit.

I know I'll have woe next time I swimsuit shop.

I know he can't understand.