Originally appeared on Role/Reboot. Republished here with permission.
I threw away all my underwear today. Scratch that. Today, I threw away all of my underwear that would be classified as “lacy little things,” “thongs,” or, in Victoria’s Secret parlance, “cheekies.” Scratchy, itchy, barely-there? It had to go.
I have never lived alone, but in two weeks I will be moving into my first solo apartment. I will be sans-roommate, single girl-ing all up in this city; I am woman, hear me roar! Among the many horrid chores of moving, there is one beacon of joy: the Great Purge. I am a packrat by nature — note every 5K bib I’ve preserved, the melted plastic cup twisted by a deck fire, the tile from the floor of a hostel in San Juan — but moving is the kick in the butt I need to separate what I hoard sentimentally (all of the above) and what I hoard lazily.
The underwear is lazy. No pair has been purchased in the last four years. No pair has been worn more than five times. No pair brings a smile to my face or a steamy memory to the forefront of my mind. The truth, quite simply, is that I hate them all. About a hundred bucks and eight ounces of lace and elastic are now buried by garbage and I feel fantastic.
When you are 19 and have, for the first time, someone who sees you naked on the regular, you think differently about undergarments. Where you used to gravitate toward the comfy and smoothing, preferring anything that didn’t leave lines in your hips or ride up your butt all day, you now gravitate toward the skimpy and the tiny and, ironically, the stuff designed to ride up your butt all day. You used to enjoy a nice stripe or polka dot, and now anything with peekaboo lace, adorable bows, or mesh sections at odd intervals becomes the favored pair.
Let’s be clear, your lingerie obsession is not because this new person who sees you naked has expressed any preference about your choice of undies. In fact, you’re pretty sure he would prefer you didn’t wear any, and when you do, he pays about as much attention to them as he pays to your nail polish choices. Your underwear purchasing habits are the result of what you think he thinks is sexy. Or maybe it’s what you think he thinks you think is sexy? Who knows. The point is, neither of you care, and yet your first drawer is suddenly full of this diaphanous crap that you bought 3 for $25.
The underwear is, of course, symbolic of your attitude toward sexuality, which has thus far been lived out in the privacy of your own fantasies. Now that another person is involved, your version of sexy collides with both his version and the version sold to you in glossy magazines, four-minute free porn clips, and billboards and cab-toppers advertising XXX: Gentleman’s Club. You are young and the backbone of your sexual preferences is still in the early days of formation, more flexible cartilage than solid foundation. So, unsure, you sign up for someone else’s vision and you hand over a credit card for shit you really, truly, don’t want.
Now, some of you may be reading this and preparing your emails about sex-hating, fun-squashing feminists who would burn the bras and lock the men away, but hear me out. This essay is not about dictating your boudoir style. It’s about me owning my sexuality as it truly exists, rather than performing it as I believed I was supposed to. For you, lingerie may not be a performance at all, it may be a fun and authentic way for you to explore. If you love your lacy little things, if they make you feel beautiful and elegant, please, go forth and conquer in the tiniest scraps of fabric you can find.
If, however, you are like me, and you were young and incompletely formed and you caved to the nearest, most obvious vision of sexuality, then throw it all away. If these pieces of clothing do not bring you pleasure and joy, chuck it, and chuck it hard. You do not need to smoosh yourself into the shape of someone else’s desire. You do not need to put on a costume to fit some ideal splayed on the pages of a pink catalog, unless that costume truly pleases you. If it makes you feel like someone else, instead of the sexiest version of yourself, it has to go.
Before I threw away all of my underwear, I tried on every pair. Most had been worn once or twice, in the early stages of a relationship. I stood in my room in each pair and wished I had my money back to spend on yoga clothes, froyo, a new book, a plane ticket.
I thought the accoutrements were essential to the exploration, but without that underwear, I would still have found that first relationship. I would still have explored my sexuality with someone who wanted to explore it with me. I would still have had all of the experiences, good and bad, I’ve had while searching for sex and intimacy and love, and all the combinations in which they overlap. I might have been more comfortable during the process, is all, if I had just owned up and been myself. Myself is not pink, not lacy, there are no bows, laces, or peep-holes. These days, I keep it casual, black, and heavy on the lycra, thank you very much.
[Image of woman wearing lingerie via Shutterstock]