I Don’t Want To Fit Into My Kid’s Clothes

And even if I could, I won’t wear them.

:::Deep breath::::

Ok. I am writing this with complete cognizance and mindfulness. I am not a fan of mommy wars or shaming. My message is not that of judgement, but more of awareness. Read this as a cautionary tale, of sorts, from someone who has struggled with body image issues for many, many years. That is my disclaimer.

Something has been bothering me about modern day mother-daughter relationships and I am going to attempt to articulate this the best I can.

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I always viewed my mother as a beautiful human. Inside and out. Still do. I cannot remember exactly when I became aware of how beautiful she is but I remember hoping to look just like her when I grew up. I remember thinking how pretty her skin was, her hair, her nails, her jewelry. I took notice of how she took great care of herself and how she always looked so put together. Nothing extravagant or out of the ordinary, but she was gorgeous and I knew it. I’m pretty certain we all believe our moms are beautiful and we idolize them. Or many of us do, especially when we’re little. Nothing shocking about that.

But what I remember most, from a very young age, is being very aware of how thin she was. Not that she was abnormally skinny, but definitely thinner than other moms. It was an observation that stuck with me, for sure.

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When I was young, as in elementary school age, I was stick-skinny. I ate and ate and was just long and lean. People used to ask me if I even ate food at all.

Until I hit puberty.

Then I became long-ish and round-ish. I quickly became well-developed (read: size C boobs at age 12) and packed on an extra 20lbs or so above my “recommended” weight. (I use that term loosely since weight charts are complete bullshit.) Point is- I grew fast and furious, as humans do. My body did what it wanted while I continued to eat what I wanted, within reason, as I believe kids should.

I was acutely aware of how fast my body was growing in those terrible middle school aged years when all of this body image shit starts. I remember being one of the only girls with big boobs in 7th grade and the boys would say things like, “I bet you can’t touch your elbows together behind your back”. Being young and naive, I would try it, as all the boys would laugh and look at my new developments. Middle school was the most evilest of years for me. I digress.

By the time I was in 8th grade, my mom and I were able to share clothes. I continued to grow taller, a bit thinner again, and my mom, who remained consistently thin, was able to fit into my size. She was young and fun and progressive so I didn’t blame her for shopping in the same clothing department where I found mine. (Mind you, this was the late 80s so think high waisted Guess jeans and oversized shirts. Nothing like today’s style.) And, I didn’t see the harm in it, I didn’t find it odd, and didn’t think too deep into it most of my adult life.

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Approximately a year ago, when my daughter was 7, she and and I were in the shower together. She was staring at my belly, then would look at her own and poke at it. She said, “I’m chubby. I’m not skinny like you”.

I literally stopped in my tracks.

“CHUBBY?! NO YOU ARE NOT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW.”, almost yelling.

I wanted to immediately and completely erase those thoughts from her mind. And my mind spun with how this vocabulary even got into her brain since I was always cognizant of using words like “chubby”, “fat”, or any sort of negative connotation in relation to body image since I spent several years of my adult life being overly concerned with how much I weighed, at one point even being diagnosed with anorexia. If I’m being honest, I’m still far too preoccupied with weight. However, I am bound and determined not to bring these issues into her life.

It turned out that someone at school that day had called her chubby so, on that very day, she became aware that she has a body and that we have societal views of perfection. And it made me sad. And it made me angry. And it made me reflect on my own image of body awareness and perfection.

It made me realize, I always wanted to be skinny because my mom was skinny and skinny equaled beautiful. I fault society for telling us this everyday, and I also saw it at home. I wanted to always fit in her jeans because she fit into mine and that’s how I started to measure beauty. Because as women, our measurement of beauty has no other option but to start with our mothers. They’re our yardsticks for everything so body image and beauty are certainly no exception.

Listen. (Especially to you, mom. Listen.) Do not misunderstand. I do not blame my mom for all of my body issues because we shared a few pairs of jeans in 1989. She did nothing wrong.

It’s certainly more than fine that my mom was thin and healthy. It was wonderful to grow up with a mom who valued healthy eating and fitness. It was absolutely ok. And I do not begrudge moms for taking good care of themselves, being fit, looking younger than their ages, getting botox or whatever else women do to become their image of beautiful. I.do.not.judge. I exercise, I shop in the junior department, and I even dye my hair pink. I love pretending to be younger than I am.

However.

I believe what we need to be careful of is creating competition with our daughters.

The thing is, our daughters are their own people with their own bodies and their bodies shouldn’t look like our bodies, and vice versa, even if they do indeed look similar in size and shape. When we buy the same clothes as our daughters, share clothes with our daughters, it’s riding that fine line of wishing we were still their age, almost pretending we are still their age, and being more of a peer to them than their mom. We’re forcing them to draw comparisons to us when we share these intimate similarities with them. They can’t help but compare how their bodies look in the same article of clothing. It’s a natural response to compare. These can be dangerous messages no matter how much of a bond it feels like you’re creating by sharing things.

Multiply in the additional pressures of growing up today: the advances in technology that give us a voyeuristic view into how celebs look and dress. The make-up, the lip fillers, the shorter shorts, the diet fads. Christ, the Jenner girls alone have made girls feel like they all need to be supermodels and look all grown up by the age of 14.

So, we need to be there for them on a different level. Because we’re their moms, their safe place, their rock, their elder, their role model, but we also have a responsibility to show them that beauty looks so very different on everyone.

Does this mean we all have to wear mom jeans, Polo shirts, matronly dresses and ditch every stitch of sexiness to show the hierarchy of motherhood? Of course not, but there has to be a balance and because I lost my parenting manual, I don’t know that I have a formula for that balance, but what I do know that putting an emphasis on still fitting into a jean size that I was in high school isn’t something I need to impress upon my kid, even if it boosts my ego. I do not need to create the belief that this is of importance in life. Because it isn’t.

I obviously hope that she picks up on my healthy habits- exercising, making decent food choices, good hygiene, etc. All of the things we try to pass down to our kids to make them the healthiest version of themselves, but emotionally, I don’t need her to value a body shape or size over another. Therefore, my jeans will be different from her jeans, even if they happen to be the same size.

It’s a lesson to me, too, which is really the point here: self acceptance. When I learn to do that, so will my daughter. And also? To accept the aging process, to acknowledge that a woman in her 40’s really has no business shopping at Forever 21, even if they can. Because we aren’t 21 forever. And that is ok.

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Be My Friend So I Can Beg You To Stay My Friend

I’ve always had a problem with fitting in. Not exactly the proverbial “I hated high school because I was an outcast” type of not fitting in. My problem always has been wanting everyone to like me. And I mean everyone.

I moved to Florida from the suburbs of Chicago when I was 10. It was the perfect age of late elementary school, early hormonal issues, to be transplanted in a new environment. It was just enough of a wake-up call to realize that the world is much bigger than it had previously appeared.

I noticed from the first day in my new place that I didn’t fit in like I did back in Chicago. My friends had been my friends since toddlerhood back in my comfort zone but now? Now I had to make new friends with different personalities, being the dreaded “new kid”.

It wasn’t easy for me.

I’m an introvert by nature, which some have a hard time believing about me, but it’s true. I come off as standoffish in new environments, around new people, because I’m not very confident. I’ve always been this way. So, in fifth grade, in my new school, I was bullied for being a “bitch”, which was really just me being…a quiet and scared introvert.

I didn’t make friends easily and what that taught me back then was that I needed to try harder, only I didn’t know how to try the correct way by just being myself and attracting others most similar to me.

I ended up joining “team bully”, trying it on for size, throughout 6th and 7th grade so people would like me. It didn’t feel right, but I did it. It momentarily felt good to be a part of something, of a group, instead of the outsider. I tended to become the people I wanted to be around, even if those people weren’t good people. I wanted to be liked. I would chameleon myself to fit in, I would say and do things to fit in, I would gossip just to be the person “in the know”, to get attention.

By 8th grade, the bullies started to fade away, for the most part, and I found my people, I found my tribe, a healthy tribe. I was popular in high school, but only because it was way too high on the priority list for me. I tried too hard. I wasn’t always myself to achieve that popularity. I tended to be who others wanted me to be or expected me to be.

I wanted to be perfect for everyone.

Clearly, none of this is drastically uncommon for these teenage, school years.

Only, it didn’t really change in high school, or college, or beyond that for me. Well, some of it changed just by merely maturing and getting to know myself, but underneath the surface, I always really want people to like me.

There’s my confession:

Hi. I’m Vanessa, I’m 40, and I still really want people to like me.

Ridiculous, right? I know. But it’s who I am.

Many of you reading might say, “Oh, I stopped caring what others think a long time ago!”, and if that’s 100% true, good for you. I want to be you when I grow up, but if you think back, I’m guessing there have at least been a couple of interactions or situations in which you were maybe the smallest bit concerned with how you were perceived. Maybe you bit your tongue when the other soccer mom was yelling on the field, maybe you changed your shirt because you felt like you looked pregnant, maybe you lied about the reason you canceled plans… Dig deep.

So, that phrase we hear all.of.the.time. of, “Who cares what other people think of you? You shouldn’t care and just be yourself!”.

Yes. True. That’s very true. But it’s not so easy. I care too much how others perceive me.

Therefore, when I lose someone, a friend, a relationship, I have a really, really difficult time letting go. Or even when I argue with someone I care about, I need to fix it right.away. I need to work through it, over-talk it, over analyze it, until its the deadest of the dead horses.

I’ve been ghosted by quite a few friends within recent years and my marriage failed within those years, too. Literally, friends that I had for years that I’ve never heard from again without any kind of falling out. No response to texts, phone calls, etc. I think this is a bizarre way to end any kind of relationship but I’ve done a lot of work trying to figure out why it’s happened.

What did I do wrong?
How could I have done things differently?
What can I learn from these losses?

All healthy questions to ask myself, all normal responses to try to validate the loss, but where it becomes toxic for someone like myself is when I believe this is solely on me as an individual, that there is something inherently unlikable about me, or maybe many things, that must be changed. That if I change- I change my ideals, my beliefs, pieces of my personality, as much as I possibly can, I will then be loved. That maybe, if we don’t say what I want to say out loud, I keep our feelings to myself, I just blend into the wallpaper, that I will at least have the security of people liking me.

But here’s the thing: that’s not how it works. This thought pattern is unhealthy and exhausting. 

There’s a fine balance between introspection, (working on my flaws, acknowledging downfalls, realizing where work can be done), and flat out changing who I am for others. It’s a tight rope and it’s tricky.

We all know that begging people to be, or stay, in our lives doesn’t make sense. If you have to beg with incessant one-sided communication, it isn’t worth it. If you have the perception of being the one putting in all of the effort to a relationship, it isn’t worth it.

Neither is changing yourself for others’ comfort or attention.

Some things just aren’t worth trying to figure out or fix. But when you’re a fixer, when you’re a control freak, and when you truly care about someone, this is the toughest part: letting go.

Let it go. Let.it.go. LET.IT.GO.

So, I’ve come to realize that this might just be my biggest character flaw. This need for people to like me, even when it’s clear that I’m the one driving the relationship. I’ve realized this probably too late in life, but at least I’ve realized it.

I’m working on it. Working on liking who I am, always, and learning to turn the obsessiveness off when others don’t like who I am, what I say, and what I stand for. Working on realizing that not everything can be fixed or mended. Working on realizing that sometimes…it’s them, it’s not me.

And that’s ok for them not to change who they are, too. We can’t expect that from others just as we can’t expect that from ourselves. We all are who we are.

The quote “People come in your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime” is one to live by.

Not everyone is meant to stay forever. We are ever evolving, always learning, always growing, so it cannot be possible that all people can stay in our lives forever. You can’t always stay on the same path, you can’t always grow together, and ultimately, dynamics shift and if your relationship stands that test, wonderful, cherish that with every ounce of your being, but it might not always be the same and it might even fall apart completely. And that’s ok.

Self accept. Self love. Be who you are and say what you need to say. It will work out how it’s supposed to.

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How I Failed My Marriage

I have written a couple of deeply personal posts about my divorce and all that surrounded those circumstances. My divorce was the one reason I came back to writing, to connect with my emotions about the whole situation, to help grieve the loss. Right or wrong, I laid it all out there.

Here’s one notion that I didn’t touch on about my divorce: I do not blame my ex for our failed marriage. I failed him just as much as he failed me.

We all have a difficult time accepting responsibility when anything goes awry in any situation, professionally or personally. At least I do. Blaming comes so much easier. Accepting responsibility requires a lot of energy and self-reflection. I’m certain we are all guilty of finger pointing. It’s natural. But how do we grow from placing blame and not going through the process of self-reflection?

When I got married, he was a perfect partner. He was my fairytale. He was the definition of who I needed by my side. We were together almost 6 years before we got married. 6 years of a wonderful relationship that people envied. I had never been more sure of anything in my entire life the day I married him.

But here’s the thing: I married someone 8 years my junior…And that’s on me.

I dare you to tell me that age doesn’t matter in a relationship. Relationships and marriages are difficult regardless of age, absolutely, but a sure fire way of having an additional mountain to climb- add a significant age difference, especially if you’re in your 20s.

He was 23 when we got married, I was 31. There was no ultimatum, there was no gun-to-the-head moment, there was no “well, I’m getting older and I need this to happen soon” discussion. Sure, I wanted to get married and I knew I wanted to marry him, but I was well aware of our age difference. Mostly because everyone continually reminded me about it, as though it never occurred to me. There were plenty of discussions about it but literally no red flags.

I thought we were different. I thought my immaturity and his maturity balanced out this numeric equation that didn’t add up for everyone else. I thought we beat the age difference odds, but here’s where age does matter and what I failed to ignore: he wasn’t ready.

Certainly there are many 23 year olds that make a life-long commitment to someone and they have a happily ever after outcome. He wasn’t one of them. But how was I supposed to know this if this man willingly proposed to me, married me and knocked me up on our honeymoon? How was I to know if he didn’t say a word about the fear of all of this? How was I to know that he proceeded with all of this because he thought it was the right thing to do and he was too afraid to lose me?  I gave him so many opportunities to walk away, to live a more independent life in his early 20s. How was I supposed to see through this bullshit he was feeding me about being ready for all of this?

The answer to all of this was so simple but too difficult for me to grapple with. The answer was this: I was significantly older than him and I should have let him go.

I remember watching an Uma Thurman movie, back when my ex and I were dating, called Prime, I believe. It was all encompassing of our situation. She was 37 and he 23, so a larger age gap, but they fell in love. I was rooting for them the entire movie thinking, “YEAH! This is me! This is exactly why age doesn’t matter!!!”… only for it to end super horribly with her realizing they’re on much different paths and ultimately…she let him go. Once the movie ended in such a way that didn’t match what I was hoping, I was dismissive of the plot because, after all, it was just a movie. Only, I should have applied the principles to my own situation.

I should have let him go experience what I was able to in my early 20s. I should have recognized that allowing him to figure out who he was without me was necessary for him to assess what he needed and wanted out of life. I should have looked at it on paper and saw that this person was with me from the age of barely 18 and that not much life experience came with him at that age.

I should have stopped being a control freak for two minutes to realize that life was laughing hysterically at my “plan”. “If he says he’s ready, he’s ready. Face value. Let’s move on with THE PLAN”. I always had to have a plan. We both had a semblance of a career, we both wanted to get married and have a baby? Then THAT’S what we were going to do right.that.moment. Maybe that’s why I chose someone so much younger, because I have a controlling personality and he was malleable? I’m sure that’s part of it, but I digress.

It wasn’t until our daughter was a little over the age of 2 that things started to unravel. Reality was setting in for him, while I remained in denial. He wasn’t ready to be a husband and a father. I saw, and felt, how he wanted less responsibilities in life instead of more. He didn’t make any of our family decisions, I did. He was barely participating in our relationship. I was suddenly parenting two people, navigating everything for all of us, watching my “plan” fall into this pile of disconnected fragments of a relationship. We were both more lonely by our third year of marriage than we are now as a divorced, co-parenting couple.

I ignored the obvious for a long time as our arguments increased and he started turning to drinking more and more and coming home less and less. I wanted to blame the symptom, not the actual disease. I’m not talking about alcoholism, I’m talking about denial. I was in denial. I wanted to blame him for the unraveling. I wanted to blame the drinking, the cheating, the lying, and yes, shame on him for any and all of those things that applied, and double shame on him for not being honest with me about so many things. However, this was a part of him that went undeveloped. He didn’t know how to be honest and true to himself, let alone to me, because he didn’t get to explore outside of his comfort zone and his comfort was me.

It was my responsibility to him, as the woman who loved him, the older woman that loved him, to have seen the forest through the trees, or whatever the hell that saying is. He needed more than a plan derived by me and me alone. He needed independence and self worth and he needed to find that on his own. I failed him by not giving this to him. I failed my marriage by being too controlling and not taking a step back to realize that one of us was just along for the ride. That was my portion of the responsibility. That was how I failed.

So, what’s the point? The beautiful, amazing, self righteous point is that I’ve grown and I’ve learned. I’ve learned that relationships and life do not thrive on a plan. I’ve learned that by attempting to control any and all situations in a relationship, you’re setting yourself and your partner up for failure. I’ve learned that age does matter but it’s not a deal breaker, it’s a challenge that cannot be ignored. I’ve learned that independence, even within a relationship, is so important. I’ve learned that letting go is truly necessary so many times throughout life.

I can only apply all of this knowledge in the future, obviously. My marriage failed and that is what it is. This was a priceless education and I don’t regret any of it for one single moment. Failures are far more beneficial than successes sometimes, aren’t they?