Liv Siddall | Contributing Writer | Wednesday, 12 August 2015

My Life Began When I Threw Out My Uncomfortable Underwear

My Life Began When I Threw Out My Uncomfortable Underwear

The Debrief: When did you start buying your own underwear? For me it was on shopping excursions into the town centre, armed with under ten quid’s worth of collected pocket money, bustling through the city like a businesswoman on the way to a meeting with MI5

John Lennon said that life begins at 40, but I’d be inclined to disagree. For me, a new life began following a bout of thrush at the age of 18 that encouraged me to remove all the synthetic underwear from my haphazard drawer and replace them with sensible, breathable, cotton briefs.

When did you start buying your own underwear? For me it was on shopping excursions into the town centre, armed with under ten quid’s worth of collected pocket money, bustling through the city like a businesswoman on the way to a meeting with MI5, aged 13, swinging an overly womanly handbag and wearing a ludicrously short skirt. Shopping felt so grown up. Check me out, I’m just going to 'pop into Starbucks' for a caramel blah blah. I’m just going to go and 'do lunch' (Boots meal deal) with a friend. Oh, I must just 'whizz into Tammy' for a new chunky belt. I wasn’t a gawky prepubescent waif, oh no, I was a fully fledged wo-man with cash and time to burn.

Following a fleeting glimpse of a girl’s buttocks in our school changing rooms I was shocked that someone would go commando in the terrifying social atmosphere of year eight, but it turned out she was wearing a thong. Inspired, I charged into town on Saturday to Tammy to the three-pound bargain box to rifle through the flimsy bits of fabric for one to call my own. Adorned with messages such as 'Park and Ride' and 'Princess Bitch', these thongs were more than just pants: they were a status symbol. If I wore that, AND my Libertines badges under my school uniform, I’d be really saying something.

And so I started a collection of thongs. The cotton, multicoloured scraps from Tammy were seen exclusively by me and the friends I discreetly revealed them to at sleepovers or in the changing rooms pre-netball. A visit from a Canadian friend introduced a new design that ramped things up a couple of notches: a G-string. A couple of nerve-wracking trips to the 18s-and-over Aladdin’s cave that was Ann Summers provided me with a couple of lacy new items made of what appeared to be made out of sequins and cobwebs. Brilliant.

Now what really makes me shudder, I mean vibrate with embarrassment, is the fact that throughout this period my poor mother would stoop to collect my laundry basket and be confronted with what can only be described as a basket of filth. I can picture her now, humming in the back garden as she pinned up tea towels, hankies and fluorescent, lace g-strings that sometimes had little charms dangling off them, or vile messages written across the front. My poor dad reading the paper on a sun lounger not knowing where to look.

School was interesting. I clearly recall wearing a thong to school for the first time and being so irritated by the feel of it, taking it off in the bigs and stuffing it into my Homer Simpson bag. I challenge anyone to sit on a wooden science stool in nylon tights and pants and not feel the itch, but with a piece of synthetic fabric wedged up your bottom it was utter, utter torture. And for what?! What was the point? When you’re wearing 'fat trousers' or a baggy school skirt the risk of the dreaded VPL that so many teenage girl magazines warned us about was low. Why did we bother?

Turns out it was for boys - apparently, boys liked the idea of girls wearing thongs. Back then the odds of having the video for Hot in Herre or Ride Wit Me or any number of sex-fuelled Nelly songs on a TV screen in your peripheral vision were high, and it was from this we took our style cues. In the early noughties there weren’t a huge amount of music videos that included fully-dressed women, let alone women wearing breathable cotton underwear, so we followed suit. We’d drop cues to boys we hung around with out in order to gauge what they wanted, plopping references to underwear into the conversation and then pausing, eagerly awaiting their reaction and recording that in our brains forever. Unsurprisingly, they all praised the thong. 

Getting off with boys felt great when you were wearing tiny pants. How grown up. You were practically Christina Aguilera on a romantic romp in a Parisian hotel, not clawing at a pubescent, pizza-faced youth in the dark of a spare bedroom. On the days your dutiful mother was washing your thongs and you had to resort back to that pair of greying pants with the fairground horses on which you had since you were seven, making out was a terrifying race to get them off and hidden as quickly as possible.

Over time, the underwear – and our bottoms – grew. Tiny fluorescent thongs evolved into knickers with string either side of small triangles of fabric, and it became just a bit sad to wear suspenders underneath your school uniform, or anywhere. Boys started realising that when it came to girls, funny was better than easy, and we all started spending our hard-earned pocket money on pints rather than pants. We were all getting a bit too old to bother what people really thought of us, especially concerning something so trivial as what is essentially a hygienic cotton sheath between jeans and vagina.

The final straw came when I contracted thrush in the summer of 2007 and was driven to tears by itchiness. I opened up my drawer of socks and underwear, laid it all out on my bed and began sorting it into piles of throw away and keep. Looking at all in a ragged pile was pretty shocking: aside from it looking like laundry day in a brothel, most lacy synthetic pairs were shrivelled by washing machines and some were stained irrevocably by blood. I stuffed suspender belts, g-strings, thongs and synthetic, wedgie-creating lace french knickers into a plastic bag and chucked it in the bin, leaving only sensible, breathable, cotton briefs. It was one of the first times I felt I was making a conscious decision about my personality: a realisation that I could actually do what I want and not care what anyone thought. Since that day I am wedgie, thrush and itch-free in my black cotton M&S classics, unconcerned with VPL and utterly uninterested in anyone’s opinion on what I choose to wear beneath my clothes.

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