We went to Easton Town Center to see a movie.
If you are a Millennial from Columbus, Ohio, you can probably imagine the evening we had just enjoyed. Easton was brand new back then and the most exciting place imaginable. As a group of teenage girls we would get together on a Saturday evening and go to Olive Garden, or to Cheesecake Factory for an extra special treat. We would go to the Gap and try on clothes. We would go to Bath and Body Works to scrub our hands with the sample scrub. We would go to Starbucks even though it was too late for coffee, because drinking coffee at a mall is the most exciting thing in the world when you’re a sheltered teenager and Starbucks is brand new in your state. And then we’d see a movie.
Of course, if you haven’t been a deeply conservative Catholic girl, you might not be able to imagine how complicated the process of “seeing a movie” was. All the parents had to approve the movie, after looking it up on some horrible turn-of-the-millennium Christian website first, even though some of us were seventeen and could legally go see a movie of any rating we liked. A parent or two came with us as chaperones, just in case. Depending on which chaperone, we might be instructed to cover our eyes during the trailers, or if an otherwise innocuous movie had an “inappropriate” scene.
There was also the complication that I didn’t like any movies my friends liked. I liked movies about adventures and dragons and magic; I also liked science fiction and light sabers. My friends liked cutesy bubblegum romances. We were allowed to see The Lord of the Rings films because Tolkein had been a devout Catholic, but I had to go see them on my own, because my friends were disgusted by them for being too scary. We were allowed to see A Walk to Remember, where I sat squirming with boredom for two hours while my friends cried happy tears. Still, I was glad to be included.
I think we were seeing Ocean’s 11 this particular night. I don’t remember a single thing about Ocean’s 11 except for a scene where a man sets off a bomb that makes the electricity go out. I assume there were some moments when we were supposed to close our eyes. I remember that for once, all of us had fun at the same movie. I liked the action and hijinks and my friends liked the beautiful men.
After the movie, we were riding the escalator from the theater down to the mall, chatting away. My friends were swooning over how beautiful the men were. My friend Leah was reminding us that we were only allowed to have a crush on so-and-so, the actor who had never been married. We mustn’t have a crush on such-and-such, the actor who was divorced, because divorce is a mortal sin. Marrying a divorced man was sinning with him. We weren’t even allowed to fantasize about such a thing in our wildest imaginations. I was trying not to admit that I couldn’t even tell the difference between one interchangeable male actor in a suit and another, let alone develop a crush on one. Being queer was also something we weren’t allowed to think about. This was normal after-movie conversation for our group of friends.
“I hope you ladies are guarding the innocence of your thoughts!” said the chaperone.
Near the bottom of the escalator was the Victoria’s Secret.
We all knew to look away from the scandalous photos in the windows of the Victoria’s Secret. We’d been lectured again and again about how those models were sinning and the corporation was exploiting them. We must never mislead our brothers in that way.
“I am going to go in there,” said my friend Rachel, “And tell them that I’m personally offended by their degradation of women.”
“I’ll go too!” I said, chastely.
We all wanted to go in and tell the manager how offended we were by photos of women in their underwear outside the underwear shop. We wanted to inform him that we were going to boycott.
And then the chaperone spoke up.
She meant to say, “You know, girls, it’s not a sin to buy a fancy pair of underwear to wear to put on and please your husband.” But that wasn’t what came out of her mouth.
What came out of her mouth, in her loud squeaky voice, outside the Victoria’s Secret in a crowded mall on a Friday night, was “YOU KNOW, GIRLS, IT’S NOT A SIN TO BUY A LACY PAIR OF UNDERWEAR FOR YOUR HUSBAND.”
And every one of us chaste girls laughed hysterically.
That is one moment from my upbringing I would like to have over again.
So what’s your funny purity culture story?
image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.