Thursday, January 14, 2010

jeans and body image

I had a meeting with a friend at a coffee shop this morning and the Barista (that's the person who makes the coffee...) said, "Wow, you are rockin' the boyfriend look. Where did you get those jeans?" I had no idea what she was talking about. Apparently, my ill-fitting, over-sized, road salt-stained jeans from Old Navy are fashionable. I love these jeans because they are comfortable and functional. I also love to wear pretty colors and flowy dresses, and sometimes more form-fitting clothes in anywhere from a size 8-12 depending on the clothing item. My mom would hate these jeans (and would not hesitate to tell me.) Now, as thrilled as I was to be informed that I was trendy, it made me think about clothes and how they fit and how we feel in our clothes and in our skin and mothers and weight...

These jeans are too baggy for her taste. It reminded me that all the clothes I have bought with my mom, or that she kindly offers to buy me are invariably too tight and uncomfortable. She wants clothes that are "slimming" or have stretch. (Of note, she is quite fashionable and did come of age in the 60's with the bee-hives and mini-skirts.) I used to protest that I couldn't breathe right or bend down during fitting room negotiations, but she would usually convince me to allow her to buy me the smaller clothes. Even now, the message I hear is, you don't look skinny, and how other people perceive your size matters. Recently I did a talk in a pair of my black "work" pants and couldn't get a deep breath. I literally sat down and unbuttoned them during the talk. (Hey Wisconsin workshop attendees, did anyone notice?) I wondered if all that wonderful bread I was eating was changing my body. Then I realized these were pants I had bought with my mother...

One mom of a now college-aged girl lamented that she had tried to motivate her daughter to lose weight, already in middle school, by buying her nice and trendy clothes in sizes that were too small. She has a good relationship with her daughter, but her daughter does struggle with body-image and eating. Her daughter recently told her how hurtful that was, and how it made her feel bad and fat and ugly, and that her mother would love her more if she was smaller. This was not her mother's intention at all...

We should love ourselves and our children as we are. Find and buy stylish clothes (if that is important to you) that fit and that are comfortable. When kids pick up on, or are told directly that they are fat, or too big, or that you would prefer them to be any other way than they are, they can't feel good about themselves. In fact, kids who think they are too big feel flawed in every way. They feel less smart, less capable, less lovable and are more likely to engage in counterproductive behaviors like dieting, disordered eating and less physical activity. See my article on "Talking to your kids about food."


  1. It's hard to be a mom isn't it? We try so hard, but sometimes you don't know that what you are doing is hurtful until so much later.

    My mother bought me clothes that were too big when I was a child because she saw both herself and me as too fat. Ironic because I was actually thin back then. I was also desperately unhappy. I bought into the idea that if I could just have the "right" body, I would be happy.

    Now I have a body that is "wrong" in the eyes of the culture at large, and I am happy, well-adjusted, married to an attractive and wonderful man and have two beautiful children, both of whom are relatively slim. I try very hard (with more or less success) to avoid weight talk of any kind in my house. I try to convey to my children every day that I love them just the way they are, and I hope I will do that whatever size and shape they ultimately turn out to have. I try to feed them well and support their love of movement and activity. I hope it will turn out well...

  2. Wow! Great post, Katja: it really made me think! My mom never bought me clothes in the wrong size, but she clearly was really unhappy with her own body, and I think that looking back, my sister and I trace our own body issues in part to that unhappiness.

    I just wish it weren't so hard!

  3. Earlier today I had just finished reading this posting when Conor came home from school and said, "I am the BIGGEST kid in my class." After talking to Conor I am pretty certain that this had to do with some sort of measuring/numbers least I sure hope so! But an activity that points out the biggest kid in a class..I'm not so sure if that is the right thing to do after reading your posting about body image??
    P.S. I did not notice when you unbuttoned your pants, but I was sitting in the back row!

  4. Great comments. SO much to think about. Clio, we do the best we can don't we and hope for the best! I think this information about feeding is so helpful to parents, I just want to give them tools to maybe avoid some of the feeding messes we see. It will get harder as our kids get older though. Jean, having a kid has certainly made me be kinder to myself, if only to set a good example. You get a grip on the negative self talk. I think to myself, I wouldn't want M wasting time hating her butt or whatever, so I try to extend that same kindness to myself. It works! Thinking consciously about loving your body becomes more unconscious over time.
    AATB, interesting comment Conor made. Would you feel differently if her were a girl? I don't think we should pretend differences don't exist, so it's not necessarily a bad thing if they were learning about estimating, or units, but if they were measuring for "health" or putting judgment on it of any kind then I think it's not helpful.