Friday, January 25, 2013

A Matter of Size

It's hard to explain to anyone who hasn't struggled with his or her weight how difficult it can be.  I'm a pretty determined person and able to accomplish most things I set my mind to.  But getting down to a weight where I want to be and staying there?  I'm starting to think it's impossible.  Which is frustrating.

I try not to beat myself up too much about it.  I'm doing better at incorporating regular exercise into my schedule (I swim a mile in the morning about five or six days a week), and I'm trying to make better choices about what I eat.  But life gets stressful and I betray myself with decisions I know are bad but seem irresistible in the moment.  When I start to question my sanity and lack of will I think about how if Oprah with her infinite resources and all the incentive in the world to keep her weight down still struggles, then there is probably more to it than I realize and shouldn't feel like such a failure.

But does anyone who cares about me really love me less when my jeans are getting tight again?  Do I care less about anyone based on his or her size?  No.  So why do I obsess?  Why do I dislike myself so much over it?  I'm not sure, but I don't seem able to escape it.

Back toward the beginning of the school year I went through all my kids' clothes to figure out what fit them and what didn't, what should be handed down, and what should be given away.  We seldom have to shop for Mona since she is delighted to inherit whatever clothes no longer fit her sister, but each time Aden grows we end up walking down the street to Target and stocking up on some new shirts and leggings and skirts.  Easy enough.

But Aden has finally reached the limit of what the girls section at Target has to offer.  She's tall, like I am, and the biggest size girl clothes are 14/16, which are getting too short on her.  We looked around at things she liked, but realized anything we bought would likely not last the whole year.  So we had to move over to the older girl/women's area of the store.  And it wasn't good.

There was nothing there that was Aden's style.  She's a kid.  She likes being a kid and is in no hurry to dress older.  The clothes in her size expect her to have breasts, and an attitude, and a desire to look sexy and a little dangerous.  My tall, sweet girl walked among the racks looking sad and a bit appalled and didn't see one thing she wanted to try on, and I couldn't blame her.  And my heart kind of broke.

I took her hands in mine and made her look me in the eye and told her that I was sorry, but the sad truth is that the average store caters to average people, and our size put us in a not average category.  I have always had trouble as an adult finding clothes that fit, and my daughter will, too.  BUT.  But, I told her, and made her hear, this did not make HER wrong.  Popular stores may not offer cute shirts with sleeves that are long enough or pants that will cover her ankles, but that had to do with some calculated business model and nothing to do with her.  I wanted her to understand that she is fine.  It is not wrong to be tall, and some stupid racks of clothes at Target should not make her feel that way.

She smiled a little and frowned at the same time and then we went to Kohl's which did have a better selection of things that fit that she actually liked.  Not as convenient as being able to just pop down the street to get her what she needs, but hey, I'm not complaining.  Because the worst case scenario would be that I learn to sew for real and figure out how to make her what she needs, which for Aden I'd be willing to do.

I worry about my girls and their sense of body image and wonder how to talk about size without drawing undo attention to it.  I don't want them to end up in the place where I am, feeling self-critical about their bodies, only able to see what they don't like in the mirror instead of appreciating the overwhelming amount of good reflected there.  I want them to be healthy and confident and know they are loved for the people they are, not for a number on the scale or on the tags inside their clothing.  I appreciate the irony that the thing I want for them is the thing they already grant to me.

So I will keep swimming because I know it's a good thing to do even if I don't see the results.  And I will keep trying to eat better because I should. (I wish I were capable of moderation, but no, I'm safer just cutting out whole categories of food and pretending they aren't there.)  My kids make me feel beautiful and my husband makes me feel sexy, I just wish I could look in the mirror and like what I see there as much as they do.


  1. I don't think it is really possible for any woman (or any person, for that matter) to look in the mirror and actually SEE herself. Everything is relative. It's not just weight and size: it's age (skin) and coloring (how gray do I look today), it's the amount of sleep we get (or do not get) that puts itself between you and your image in the mirror.

    You are at a wonderful time of your life. You can see and embrace change outside of yourself watching your kids grow (every growing girl with every growing body type has particular challenges with clothes and, later, with body image). There will be a time when your own body becomes phenomenological again, and it simply ain't fun.

    You can feel absolutely necessary for your kids at every moment of the day, which, when you think about it, is a pretty great thing. Life after kids grow up means that there is a lot of room to doubt what you are doing, why, and for whom. Even the craziest problems of the adult world are dwarfed by the issues of the kid world. I look back on your time of life with great nostalgia--even the difficult parts of trying to help intense and inventive kids find their way in their confusing world.

    Taking good care of your physical help will, in the long run, help your kids understand the importance of taking good care of their physical health.

    1. Some wonderful perspective, thank you so much for your comment.

      I just get frustrated with myself when I know better, and I understand intellectually what matters and what doesn't, but can't shake how I feel about it when it doesn't match. Especially since I know I will look back someday at what I look like now and wonder what I thought was so bad.

  2. It can be incredibly hard. I think it's important to look in the mirror and like what you see but sometimes getting there is a loooong road. Knowing that you're working toward it the best you can should make you feel just as good! Keep up the good work.

  3. Boy this is true: " I appreciate the irony that the thing I want for them is the thing they already grant to me."

    And, wow, what truth to Aden. She's entering that phase where kids mature in weird leaps and bounds, right? Just so awkward all around. I am glad Kohl's had some good options for her to feel normal. I remember there being brand pressure growing up, and not wanting those brands because I thought the whole idea was stupid, yet hating the feeling of not fitting in either.

  4. Have you ever read anything on the Health at Every Size philosophy (HAES)? Writing I've seen referencing it asks a lot of really thoughtful questions about what weight and size mean to you, while also emphasising healthy, intuitive eating, and exercise. You may not agree with it but you might find some of the questions and approaches helpful.

  5. My trouble is I was a lithe, skinny minnie until I had children and I vividly remember being there and hate where I am. However, I love sweets and breads and pastas and there are times my self-control is simply shot. I lost 35 pounds last year and then gained back 10 over the holidays. Gr. I know what causes it, but in times of stress my self-control is severely tested.

    I feel for Aden. I went from girls' 14 to a women's 5 all within the space of three months. Thank goodness the clothing choices I had were a bit more appropriate.

  6. If you figure all this stuff out please let me know. My daughter is six weeks old and I am already feeling anxious about this stuff. I have been heavy all my life, and in some ways I think I had it easier than the girls who were super skinny as teens but got bigger after kids, etc. but it's still a constant struggle.

  7. I'm filing this away for twelve years from now. We just found out we're having a little girl, and as excited as I am, I've also been getting nervous about just this topic. Body image is such a hard topic. I like how you described that a company's calculations are not a measure of a woman. Good luck to Aden! I'm sure with a supportive mom, she'll find her way.

  8. Swimming is never going to make you thin, but so what. Here in Maine there's this woman who is an inspiration to all of us half-assed swimmers--she's 60 years old and has done 4 of 7 ocean swim challenges, including the English Channel, Catalina, and some strait in Japan with jellyfish and sharks. She recently did a cover shoot for Oprah's magazine (last weekend, I heard it was--outdoors, in a swimsuit, 20 degrees tops) and when the magazine people called, you know what she said to them? "You know I'm 60 years old and overweight, right?" Honestly, forget about what you weigh, please!

    1. I'm trying! When I remember to see myself through my kids' eyes it helps. Aden once told me she loved my stretch marks, and since then they don't bother me anymore. I'll get there about the rest of me too, I hope. (And what an amazing story--thanks for sharing.)