HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Fidget” is a pseudonym.
How I Learned that My Mom Didn’t Maintain the Belief that She Owned My Body and the Way my Father Thought He Did
When I was fifteen, on a rare trip to Kohl’s with three of my four approved friends (yep, the only four girls I talked to when I was fifteen), I bought myself my first cute panties. Out for the five pairs I bought that day, the most memorable were black and had a butterfly composed of hearts (or a heart composed of butterflies) screen-printed on the back. None of them were thongs, and they weren’t particularly sexy or risqué or anything, they were just cute and feminine and fun, but I was nervous about owning them. Before, all I had ever worn was plain Hanes– the ugly animal print granny panties with a waistband that cut into your skin no matter how big you bought them– that came in six and eight packs at Walmart, so lace waistbands seemed lavish and taboo to me. It felt like I was putting myself in danger when I bought them, and in reality I probably was on some level.
Like a lot of homeschooled girls I know, all of my clothes had to meet my father’s approval.
There were unspoken rules about how I was allowed to dress, rules that my father applied at random whenever I was about to go out, and that changed at his discretion. I wasn’t allowed to wear padded bras, because they were ‘too slutty’ (yeah, someone explain that one to me), I wasn’t allowed to wear bright red tights no matter how long the shorts or skirt was on top of them, because they ‘drew too much attention to me’. It wasn’t just about modesty, though that was often given as an excuse. My father didn’t want me to look like a ‘freak’: he demanded that the little mosquito bite marks on my legs and arms be covered (point of interest they never scared, they would fade before the summer ended), he wanted me to keep my hair long and naturally colored, my face naked, and my nails were never supposed to be painted black (they almost always were).
He believed that my image was really his image, and therefore his tastes were the only ones that mattered when it came to the way I dressed.
(Another side note: I’m now about the most goth looking girl I know and wear my hair cropped and dyed, and even then I had already chopped my hair for the first time and dipped my toes into the kiddie-pool of ‘emo fashion’, so there goes his image).
Naturally, I kept my new panties secret, wearing them on special days and washing them separately from the rest of the family’s laundry (this is a major perk of being entirely responsible for the whole family’s dirty clothes). They stayed secret until a family trip to a lake house in Virginia. The chore rotation that we followed at home didn’t apply on vacation, so I found myself folding laundry with my mom while my father and all of my brothers played in the lake (I could go on forever about how my four perfectly capable brothers weren’t required to help just because we were on vacation, but whatever). I had miscounted days and not packed enough, so my secret panties were in the pile of clean laundry, and disaster was looming. I was prepared to snatch all of them and shove them into the pockets of my cargo capris (so sexy) before my mom could see, but she beat me to it. She picked up the butterfly-heart-butt pair. I braced for her to run out and report to my father that I was a huge whore (despite only knowing three boys my age and almost never seeing them, and certainly never touching them, and despite not yet knowing the word ‘clitoris’ or even ‘orgasm’ and with the most clinical understanding of sex possible). My heart was in my throat, and I felt tears in my eyes already. I wondered if apologizing and throwing them out would make the shouting and threats that would surely follow any less awful. I seriously doubted it, so I decided I would fight for them, damn the cost.
I was already used to being told off for being rebellious and selfish and spoiled, so who cared if I was going to add whore-in-cute-underwear to the list of things wrong with me.
“Are these yours?” My mom didn’t sound mad, but then again she rarely did until she was shouting.
I nodded, mute with terror.
“They’re cute.” and she folded them and handed them to me.
“You like them?” I was blown away, this didn’t make any sense, I was prepared for a fight, I was prepared for shouting, and all she had to say was that they were cute?
She fished another pair out and smiled at me, “Yes, I think they’re all cute, nice choice.” No condemnation, no anger, no shame, just ‘cute’.
My mom and I almost never talked about clothes, and I can’t recall ever having a conversation with her about my image that was particularly empowering. She never talked about body positivity or treating myself well, and never commented on the way my father treated me about it.
With her approval of my panties, my mom very subtly taught me that she didn’t think she owned my body.
Without meaning to, I’m sure, she gave me approval to start exploring my image and developing a healthy relationship with my clothes and appearance. She didn’t comment on them ever again, but she didn’t need to. That stupid afternoon of extra housework was one of the most import ones all because she didn’t get mad at me. My father never found out and never called me a slut over them (he would have, no doubt). My mom was okay with them, she was okay with me. It was all okay.
As a side note: he did call me a slut over other things. Side-side note: NO UNDERWEAR IS EVER IMMODEST EVER. PERIOD. NO DISCUSSION. It’s UNDERWEAR for fucks sake, no one is going to see it, unless you want them too, and in that case ‘modesty’ is really not much of a concern