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