Heidi Kyser

Journalist, writer

Of underwear questions and other indiscretions

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The thing about underwear questions is, they’re usually reserved for people you know pretty well. The media gets abundant latitude in the name of the public good, but still – I felt awkward inquiring about a complete stranger’s  skivvies, even if it was for a story in City Life.

I had to, though. It offered the perfect example of what I understood the story to be about, on more than one level. First, there are some crazy rumors floating around about Mormons (e.g., they wear magic underwear). Second, they kind of set themselves up for it (they do actually get special – although not magic – undergarments through the Temple). It’s time people grew up and learned to air their fears and suspicions in reasoned discussion with their fellow humans. Yet, it’s tough to do that when somebody’s most sacred beliefs are at issue.

In other words, how do you respectfully ask about something as delicate as a stranger’s underwear, if doing so may help dispel prejudice and promulgate truth?

I chose the preemptively apologetic approach: “I’m really sorry to ask this, and I don’t mean to offend you, but you said you were open to anything anybody wanted to know…”

Ladies' underwear advertisement, 1913Awkward,  but effective. After my source Aaron Lowe told me the church’s reasons, as he understood them, for mandating the use of specific undergarments, I felt satisfied with the answer. He described it as a close and constant reminder of his religious faith and duty. He said he could completely understand why other people might find it weird, but as I listened, I didn’t think he sounded weird at all – and someone so reasonable wouldn’t buy into anything crazy. Right? …

Lord knows, there’s need for public debate about all kinds of religious beliefs and practices, but how people engage in that debate can be as revealing as the subject matter itself. Consider reports of evangelical Christian preachers banning their congregations from voting for Romney because he belongs to a cult. If Romney does get the GOP nomination and Mormonism takes center stage, prepare to see lots of people, on both sides of the debate, exposing themselves.


Written by Heidi Kyser

January 21, 2012 at 9:00 am

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