The other day, as I was driving out of the CVS parking lot, I saw my friend Leigh walking into the store. I waved and slowed the car. She gestured to me like she had something important to talk to me about, so I stopped and rolled down the window. She approached my SUV with purpose.
“Hi! Ohmigod, I’m so glad you’re here!” She said. I wasn’t sure why, but suddenly, so was I! It was great fortune for us to meet up like this! Leigh stepped back from my window and gestured to her legs. “Are these pants too tight on me?”
She was wearing skinny black Capris and a black button down. “No, they are perfect,” I said.
“No, seriously,” she said.
“Seriously!” I answered.
“Like, look again. They aren’t like way too tight?” She turned this way and that. Someone honked and I checked my rearview mirror to make sure I wasn’t blocking traffic.
I tried again. “Seriously. I just saw you walking here, and, in a flash before I recognized you, I thought, there goes a thin woman.”
“No, but seriously.”
“Leigh. You look like what’s-her-name, Audrey Hepburn, in those capris.”
“Because, you know, I’ve recently lost weight, and –“
“I know! You’ve lost a lot of weight. More weight even than you had before.”
“Yes! And so now I have no idea what fits me. Like, I looked at the tag on these pants that I haven’t worn in years and was like, no way an I fit into them, but here I am!” She said, excitedly. But then she reconsidered her potential joy. “Unless they are too tight.”
“Ugh! They are perfect!”
“You need to be a good friend. You would tell me, right? If they looked bad?”
“Yes, I would tell you! Of course I would.”
Notice the interesting shift here. My role in this exchange quickly morphed from fashion advisor/giver of an unbiased opinion to “good friend.” Why was I accused of being a liar and, perhaps, not a good friend? Because of my flattery? If I told her she looked like a fat cow, would I have been deemed an honest, good friend…or a bitchy and jealous wench?
Was there any way to quote-unquote win this, or, at the very least, conclude it and get the hell out of the CVS parking lot in one piece?
Leigh paused. “You aren’t going to put this in your blog, are you?”
I smiled. “Yes, Leigh, I think I am.”
What is it with us women? Why can’t we accept a compliment, or be a fair judge of our own appearance? Why is it that, more often than not, we crave the supportive thumbs up from a wingman? Is flying solo with our fashion choices and body image really that hard?
I think the answer is a complicated yes and no.
The first problem that messes with our womanly bodies and heads is childbearing. I’m not one of those people that goes around blaming her children for her fat ass, but I will say that my body definitely changed post-baby. When we get pregnant, we gain a lot of weight, and then we lose a lot of weight. Then we have another child and do it again. And perhaps, again and again. Or, perhaps, we inject hormones and try in vitro and that messes with our bodies (and heads) in an even more extreme way. And then, once we have these children, we are too tired to exercise. For the better part of a decade, our bodies may be in constant flux as we ramp up up up and down down down, perhaps not losing all of the baby weight in between pregnancies.
And, throughout, we look at ourselves in the mirror, and go, huh. Like, at 7 months pregnant, we go, look at my boobs! And, then, seven months after the completion of breastfeeding, we go, oy, look at my boobs. And my hips. And my stomach.
And my arms.
Fine, my atrophied arms are probably not related to pregnancy or childbirth, but they are different now than they were before. Which brings me to point number two.
Age. Whether or not you’ve had children, you’ve had time. And time is a bummer on the body. Gravity pulls things down. The jowls, the butt, the aforementioned arms. Suddenly, we feel insecure about parts of ourselves that used to be just fine, or points of pride, even. Spanx helps some of it, and exercise remedies a lot as well, but the fact is, my face is slowly sliding off my skull like the California coastline into the Pacific, and no amount of lotions and push-ups and antioxidants can really prevent that natural downward drift.
And these are just a few of the reasons why we might ask a friend, “how do I look?” Because we don’t always know anymore.
But here’s the upside of time: it means that I’ve stopped caring so much about what other people think of me. Of my weight, and my face, and my butt. I don’t even care that much whether people like me anymore, although I certainly try to be nice. Not caring….it’s so refreshing!
And so, I think we can all agree that a healthy self-image is top priority, because, ultimately, we can’t get younger or taller. (I’ve tried.) And we can all agree that feeling good is much more of a from-the-inside-out process than an outside-in one. And, yet, I do give some thought to how I dress when I leave the house, and I do like receiving compliments from time to time, so I understand Leigh completely: no one wants to be walking around in pants that are too tight.
Long ago, my mother imagined a device that would allow women to see themselves in motion from behind, like when walking down a New York City street. Do these pants really make my butt look big? Should I be wearing different underpants with these white jeans? It’s a mirror-like gadget called “Ass Backwards,” and she’s currently working on an app for it that she feels might help save women’s lives.
Which brings me back to Leigh, her Capri pants, and the CVS parking lot. Leigh had finally lost her baby weight - and more - in time for her son’s bar mitzvah. It’s been a while since she had seen herself as a smaller person and she didn’t know what to make of it. Her insecurity came not from insanity (okay, fine, maybe a little bit from crazyland), but mostly from complete unfamiliarity. She was tall and newly thin…and her hair was highlighted and her skin was tanned, because, she explained, her best friend’s son was also becoming a bar mitzvah, and Leigh was being called up for an aliyah on the bimah. (For those of you unfamiliar with Jewish-isms, this means that she would be standing on a platform in front of a room filled with hundreds of people, so she wanted to look her best. Not just before God, but before the Bernsteins and Shapiros, too.)
So, Leigh, even though we know appearances aren’t everything, I want to declare here, in my blog post, so loud that everyone on the World Wide Web can hear it: those pants look great.
Columnist and blogger Julie Gerstenblatt writes with humor and candor about her life in Scarsdale, her friends and family, and the particular demands of motherhood and wifedom in modern-day suburbia. She recently published her first novel, Lauren Takes Leave.