Utah, the Oversexualization of the Body, and Why I’m Wearing Booty Shorts

Theatre in Utah is weird. I mean, it’s really weird. It can be easily said that theatre worldwide is an oddity — after all, it’s a group of individuals, some introverted, some extroverted, some straight, some gay, some religious, some not, who all get together and pretend to be other people for a brief period of time and bond over it in an “I’ll braid your hair at our next sleepover if you braid mine” sort of way.

Weird stuff.

But in the heart of Mormonland, in a place where religion tends to trump all, things get kind of tricky. [Before I get too much further, for those of you who haven’t been reading this blog the past few years, I am a Mormon (not begrudgingly, I go to church when the Spirit moves me to get out of bed, which as of late has been less frequently, so maybe I need to work on that, but my testimony is otherwise intact)]. A quite liberal art gets watered down, it’s more conservative, rehearsals and performances don’t fall on Sundays because of the whole keeping of the holy Sabbath day. I’ve found the last part of that to be pretty helpful since I am, as aforementioned a sentence ago, a Mormon who keeps her Sabbath as holy as she might.

But a semi-conservative liberal art is, well … weird. And while our Sundays are holy, the desire to pay respect to songwriter and playwright words certainly is NOT (one of my biggest Utah pet peeves, if we’re going to be frank with each other — if it’s too offensive for your theatre, then don’t perform it, or better yet, find audience members who are more chill). MTI fees be damned — we’ll take the risk of being fined for breaking the law because religion. (And yes, the contradiction of this is absolutely not lost on me.) And for the record, the language they’re editing out for the sake of their audiences (who really should be more familiar with how theatre works) isn’t even particularly offensive in the first place. Except that maybe it might be to someone, somewhere. So. Laws are broken.

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Backstage is even a weirder place because that’s where we have to change our clothes. And, of course, heaven forbid we actually see each others’ bodies.

Look. I understand the basic principle of modesty. I adhere to it, I trust it, I find it to be an important part of my life. In society’s terms, I am probably a real prude when it comes to modesty because of the whole conservatism of this aspect of my religion (note that I did not say the entire religion is conservative, but we are just not going to open that can of worms today or probably ever). Do I believe women should be able to wear whatever they want whenever they want without risk of being assaulted? Well absolutely. But do I also believe the body is sacred and modesty is a key factor to that? Yes. My religion, however, is not for everyone, so I live life pretty judgment-free. Wear what you like, just know that I probably won’t be wearing it too.

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Photo courtesy My Trendy Clothe

But — of course there is a but — there comes a point when the oversexualization of the body (and I need to say right here that I don’t believe modesty is necessarily indicative of that, but it can lead to it) goes too far. At the end of the day, our bodies are just bodies, all pretty similar, with muscle and fat and bones and organs and skin and hair that maybe grows in places we’d rather it not. There’s a reason why locker rooms/dressing rooms in gyms are wide open spaces where we’re all naked together. Because it’s kind of not a huge deal. If you need a place to change your clothes, that’s where you do it. And certainly if you were to start ogling a stranger while there, then we’d have a major problem, but if you’re a couple feet away and braless at the same time, but also not paying attention to each other, then it just is what it is.

At no point during any show have I ever needed to be fully naked in front of anyone, and it’s safe to say I would not be participating in a show that had that sort of requirement. But underwear? Hosiery? Sure. Quick changes are just that — they’re a change of costume in a quick manner because you’re short on time and need to drop trou right then and there to replace them with something else.

I’m not an exhibitionist — I like people seeing me without clothing about as much as they do, which is not very much I’M SURE, but I’m also not going to go out of my way to uncomfortably get out of one costume and into another in a brief space of time like a contortionist so no one sees my back skin. I’m going to take my costume off and put another one on like a normal person THANK YOU VERY MUCH, and I think that really doesn’t need to bother you one bit. Because it’s an inherent part of theatre, it comes with the territory, and you signed up for it in the first place. Don’t like it? Don’t do theatre anywhere else ever for the rest of your life.

In Oregon, where I grew up, people would often forego the separate men’s/women’s dressing rooms and change in the common space, or they’d leave doors open, and costume changes were a non-issue. In Utah, it is an enormous issue — the sort that I imagine most Utah actors (in particular I’m thinking the conservative Mormon crew) wish could be done away with once and for all. Why can’t we simply do an entire show in just one costume? After all it works for the Simpsons, Arthur, and Kim Possible (is that still on? Do kids still watch that? They should.)

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Photo courtesy Merrick’s Art

I’m rambling now. The bottom line is, the body has been oversexualized here, and it annoys me to no end, and sometimes when I’m backstage and I need to change my costume, I’m not going to get awkward about it because I will still be wearing underwear, thus making the private parts of me still private. Also I assume none of my fellow actors are actually paying that much attention to my body because there are certainly far better things happening in the world that deserve more. I’ve been cast in shows here in Utah in which that has proven to be a problem for some people — my lack of what they consider modesty, my liberalism with my body, the fact that I don’t feel the need to hide it under a safety layer of skintight nude colored tank tops that, at the end of the day, are certainly no more modest. So I had to resign myself to, at the very least, booty shorts. Again, not really any more coverage than regular underwear, but it soothes the masses, so … whatever helps them sleep at night I guess.

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