Juggling a Balanced Life: The Clothes

the clothes

I enter the dressing room and suddenly it’s as if all the other lights have been turned off and there is just one big, bright spotlight shining down on my body. It’s an interrogation chamber.

I look at the pieces I brought into the dressing room to try on and sigh. I was confident and loving myself until I walked in here and now every flaw is broadcast in this three-way mirror that should not be legal in stores. I mean, seriously, those things should only be found in the haunted house at the circus. Speaking of which, this mirror is telling me that I belong in the circus.

Sometimes, I walk passed a mirror or a window and I think to myself, “That can’t be accurate.” This is one of those times. I left the house looking decent but somewhere along the way I turned into an extra on The Walking Dead. Right now I have several different angles telling me that this is real life and as in-your-face accurate as it gets.

Now that I’m in a great mood, I begin to try on clothes. I always play it safe and pick out a size that I can basically guarantee will fit. Then, if it fits and there is room I will try on a smaller size and hopefully bask in the glory of a lower number on the tag of my jeans.

Not today. Today, my safe size in pants has created a muffin top that would make the Pillsbury Doughboy jealous. Maybe if I do some squats and lunges these pants will cooperate. As I am engaging in my dressing room calisthenics, it occurs to me that the pants are tight enough that I am dangerously close to enacting the you-bust-through-the-seams, you-buy-it policy that most stores have in place.

Cripes. What gives today? Obviously not my pants. Stretch fit my foot.

Why don’t we move onto the shirts? As I take the shirt that I own off, I stare at my torso in the circus freak mirror. It looks like I have more stretch marks than I thought I walked in here with. Normally, I am aware that I am pretty fortunate to have had two children in less than two years and walk away with only the amount of stretch marks I have, but right now I am a human road map. I go through some positive affirmation phrases in my head and remember that this is the price of life and it’s a price that I would choose to pay over and over again.

I try on the first shirt and it’s a disaster. I can’t even pull it down over my boobs. The second shirt looks decent until I catch a glimpse of my back in the mirror and see that it’s like the rolling hills of South Dakota back there. When and how did I develop back rolls and how do you get rid of them?

So let me get this straight – in an effort to make a profit, stores and clothing designers actually want you to buy their products, right? Then why in the world would they put the most unflattering mirror combined with the most unflattering light in the dressing rooms? I’m pretty sure this lighting just showed me that I have cellulite on my wrist – I didn’t even know that was possible. And why would designers cut their clothing to fit a 12-year-old girl and not a woman’s body? This chest would make a 12-year-old topple over. Not only do I NOT want to buy anything, but it’s a good thing I’m not at the mall or else I would march straight to the food court for a cinnamon covered soft pretzel right about now.

I take a deep breath and think about whether or not I should even bother trying on the last item I brought into the dressing room with me. It’s a dress. When I picked it up off of the rack, I thought that maybe it wouldn’t work for me – it might be more form fitting than what I usually wear.

Well, I brought it in here and I’m already in my underwear so I might as well give it a shot.

Once I get the fabric situated, I finally glance in the mirror. “That can’t be accurate,” I mutter. This time I have a smile on my face. This dress hits my body in all of the right places. I check my figure in the mirrors and all three angles show that there is no muffin top and my back rolls are gone. I don’t even need to do any stretches to see if they will help the dress to fit. It is not inappropriate in any way, yet it is sexy. I channel my inner Beyoncé and dance around the dressing room Like. A. Boss.

The dress I bought is a Large, but that is not what I think of myself when I wear it. I feel beautiful.

I have learned that it does not matter what the size tag says on my clothes. It is all about how I look and feel when I wear the clothes. We have all seen people walking around who are clearly trying to squeeze into a size that is not appropriate for them. Just because the button buttons, doesn’t mean the clothes fit. Also, I have found that if the fit is better in a bigger size, I look smaller. I don’t go around pulling the back of people’s jeans out just to see what size they are wearing. Who cares? But unfortunately, I have lived a decent chunk of my life feeling way too concerned about the number or letter on a stupid tag. And for what reason? All that has done is make me feel badly about the way I look when there is absolutely no reason to feel that way.

I would classify my style as ‘modern modesty.’ I want to be in-style, yet I still want to be age appropriate. What worked for me several years ago might not work now. For example, I recently tried on a pair of jean shorts that I have had for many years. They still fit fine, but when I walked downstairs, my son said, “Mom, why are you wearing jeanie underwear?” Perhaps they were a little short and now they’ve got to go. It doesn’t matter if my husband thinks they look great, if my son believes that I am walking around in public wearing underwear and not shorts, that’s a problem.

I’m working on treating my body well with the food I eat, and the things I do, but I also need to be kind to myself by choosing clothes that reflect who I am on the inside. Not everything is made for me nor will it all look nice on my body, but when I find the things that do it’s wonderful. Part of keeping myself balanced involves the thoughts that I think about my body. Just as I wouldn’t want to go around tearing others down, I shouldn’t be tearing myself down either. I spent years hating the way that I looked and now I know what a shame that was. I was bought at a price and I need to treat myself as Christ treats me – worthy of love. I am determined to keep a godly mindset for all things in my life, which includes balancing health, wellness, and body image.



Mothers, Children, and Body Image

My favorite accessories

Before I had kids, I told myself that if I had a girl I would turn things around.  I wouldn’t beat myself up when I looked in the mirror.  I wouldn’t frown when I saw the size label on my jeans.  I would never let her hear me say that I was fat or hated my body.

Instead, I would be her rock.  I would teach her to love herself and to focus on her inward beauty.  I would show her what it means to walk the fine line between confidence and humility – knowing what she is capable of, yet keeping the perseverance that is required of hard work.  We would talk of societal standards of beauty versus God’s standards of beauty.  If I had a girl, she would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is perfection in my eyes.

As of yet, I do not have a daughter – I have two handsome sons.  Somewhere along the line, I forgot all of these promises that I made to myself.  I thought that they only applied to girls and that whether or not I had a positive body image wouldn’t impact my boys.  I was wrong.

Call it an epiphany, an “Ah-Ha” moment, the light bulb went off – whatever it was, I realized that my boys needed me to be their rock too.  They need to see me happy in my own skin.  They need to see me live with confidence and humility.  They need to know the difference between societal standards of beauty and God’s standards of beauty.

Right now, I am the woman in my sons’ world.  Yep, it’s all about me.  My attitude is shaping their opinions of women and how a woman ought to appear and behave.  In fact, they don’t even know it yet, but their expectations of what their future wife will be like and all that she will be capable of is being formed by how they see me.  My words of encouragement and affirmation are also building the framework for how they see themselves.  A daunting task, to say the least.

Obviously, as a mother I know I am to be a positive example in the lives of my children.  But it’s easy to forget that body image needs to be part of that positive example.  I don’t want my sons to see me fear the beach (a place I love) because my body just ‘ain’t what she used to be.’  Frankly, even if I didn’t have kids, I would be willing to bet that my body wouldn’t look the way that I wanted it to either; gravity is a real, and ever-present danger.  So, during the summer, I will stuff myself into a bathing suit and run all over the sand, plop myself down and dig holes and build castles, and jump the waves all while trying not to think about how many rolls may be showing or whether or not anyone can see a thigh dimple as I walk hand-in-hand with my son to the water’s edge.  I can tell you right now that my sons do not care if I have rolls or dimples showing while I’m in my bathing suit.  Not once have they made a comment about anything like that.  All they care about is that I am right there doing these things with them, which means that is all I need to care about as well.

Hey, Mom, you weren’t expecting us both to jump into the pool to you at the same time!?  Well we did and your trusty one-piece suit had a wardrobe malfunction. But you caught us and that’s all we noticed because that’s what we expected of you.

Speaking of wardrobe malfunctions, I am also responsible for teaching my sons about the concept of modesty as it relates to body image.  This is quite the uphill battle given our culture, but I still have to try.  I want my sons to see me as a woman who carries herself with grace and dignity.  While I believe that all women (and all people) should be shown respect, I think the way we clothe ourselves can have just as much of an impact on the respect we receive as the person we are on the inside.  Yes, you should never judge a book by its cover, but that’s not really the way we operate, is it? If you had never met me and I had never spoken a word to you, but you saw that I was wearing an outfit that allowed my chest to hang out and my legs to barely be covered, what would you think of me?  Would you think I was a good mother?  Would you think I was an accomplished professional?  As a result, I need to make wise choices when I dress myself.   Being modest does not mean that I need to be frumpy or out-of-touch with fashion.  (Side note: I think many women try to be modest, especially when they become mothers, and what may be modest for one might not be for another, so let’s give each other a touch of grace in this area.)

Again, my goal is to show my boys what a woman is capable of on the inside and out, just as I would show my daughter.  They need to see that I can roll up my sleeves and am not afraid to get dirty or work hard.  They also need to see that I can dress up and look and feel beautiful when I go out for dinner with their father.  These things don’t just do wonders for my sons, they do wonders for me as well.  When I am showing my sons what a woman is able to do, I am also showing myself the same things.  In fact, I don’t know if I have had a more positive body image in my life than I have in recent months.  I haven’t lost any weight or changed my hairstyle, but I have started to shift my attitude.

Proverbs 31 is a popular passage of scripture.  I really began to study it a few months ago and decided that I wanted it to be the blueprint for my roles both in and out of the home.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness. Her children stand and bless her.  Her husband praises her: ‘There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!’  Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the LORD will be greatly praised.”

Proverbs 31: 25-30

I felt like I was doing pretty well with the ‘watching everything in my household’ part, but other than that I knew I needed a lot of work.  This passage of scripture is exactly what I would want to teach my daughter about her gifts and abilities as a woman, so why wouldn’t it be exactly what I want to teach my sons about women?  How amazing would it be if my husband could look at all of my accomplishments as a woman and say that I ‘surpass them all’!?  In striving to embody the Proverbs 31 Woman, I have begun to feel beautiful in ways that I never had before.  Nope, I’m not a size 2, but I’m healthy and able to work, take care of my home, and chase my children around.  Body image is about so much more than the outward reflection we see of ourselves; it’s the combination of so many things about us.  I know for a fact that my husband and children do not look at me and see physical flaws first, so I’m not going to look at myself that way either.  Just like everyone else, I have so much more than physical aspects to offer.

The other evening, after some hardcore playtime outside, I came into the house and went into the bathroom to wash my hands.  I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror – I was filthy from playing in the dirt, my hair was falling out of my ponytail, and I had a smudge of who-knows-what on my flushed cheeks.  I took a seat in the living room and the boys immediately crawled up on my lap.  My oldest said, “I love you, Mommy.  You are just the snuggliest!”  I sat there, dirty, sweaty, and grinning from ear-to-ear because I had never felt more beautiful in my entire life.

Linked to these great blogs: Holly Gerth, Serving Joyfully, Equipping Godly Women