I’m in a [I don’t work a corporate job] Style Slump

Will someone please nominate me for What Not to Wear?

I have been in a major style rut for the last 18 months. When I first lost my job, with it also went the obligation to “dress up.” (But truthfully I wasn’t so upset about that.) Then I got pregnant – and for the nine months I spent hovering over or around a toilet, I wore nothing but maternity clothes in the form of oversized sweats.

So I was pregnant – that was my first excuse. Then I had the baby – and well, the wardrobe didn’t change. In fact, I am still wearing the SAME sweats I wore throughout my pregnancy (complete with paint stains and three inches too long) — and not because I haven’t lost the weight. At this point in my life, elastic waistbands just trump the button/zipper combo. (OK so maybe there’s an extra five pounds lingering around the middle.)

I should note that I’m not a big shopper. Even if I did have money (of which I have less than zero), I spend the pennies on my kids, rather than on stupid clothes for myself. Especially since I don’t have to go to a “corporate job.” I’m the opposite of one of those women who has shoes and purses to match everything. My footwear is either flip-flop in the summer or Ugg boots in the winter. It’s these in-between seasons where my feet really struggle.

The way I get dressed in the morning would certainly make most Manhattan women cringe. I look over to the large, leather armchair next to my side of the bed (I knew it was a bad idea to put it there) and pluck whatever sweatpants and shirt from the stack, most already inside out and worn several times over. It is not usual that I would wear the exact same thing three days in a row to drive my son to school. I get away with this especially in the winter, where my over-sized jacket hides my embarrassing, draping schmatas. The parking lot attendant who works where I pick up my car has seen me in the black down jacket and furry boots for the last six months.

I wear make up rarely, even though it’s my only vanity vice. My hair care regimen consists of conditioning my long curly hair and typically putting it up within five minutes of showering. (Conditioner, for the record, is not a vanity product – but a necessity, without which, I would have a head full of frizzy dreads within a few days). The days I choose to wear my hair down are probably the same days I decide to wear make up. You know, events like date night, parent-teacher conference, or any other day where I’ll see another human that knows me by name (maybe that’s why I haven’t given my name to the parking attendant yet).

I do have some remnants of my old life. Translation: jeans with rhinestones around the belt; 3 colors of the same corduroy pants from the Gap; and at least two pairs of black pants – one extra wide and one extra tight. The Bebe satin “hot pants,” are also slightly splitting in the crotch area, but that does not stop me from wearing them. I have a pair of red cowboy boots that convince me I’m stylish and a few silk scarves that I used to wear as belts when I no longer needed them to hide the scar on my neck.

I don’t even carry a purse – or a diaper bag. I use a canvas tote from the Strand Book Store or a very deteriorated Vivienne Tam straw tote with embroidered butterflies on it (it has traveled the world with me since it weighs half an ounce.) Don’t let the fancy brand impress you; my aunt works for Vivienne and everything with the fancy label on it, came courtesy of my darling aunt’s good decisions during sample sales.

The ugly truth is nothing fits me like it used to. My body just changed. After my first baby (nine years ago next week), I put my pre-pregnancy jeans on within three weeks. This time, even though I was able to button my jeans (doing the famous jean squats and laying down on the bed to close them) – they resulted in a lovely muffin top.

Recently I had a revelation: maybe this is just my new body. I’m 36 years old, I’ve had another baby, and am clearly not interested in exercise that involves the free gym upstairs (that I’ve ignored for the entire time I’ve had access to it).

Maybe I can learn to love my new body … and buy some new clothes … in … gasp – a larger size?

Last week, in the 30-second elevator ride to the lobby, my mother and I continued our conversation about my body issues. We have had conversations like this for the greater part of three decades. I have been aware of body (and unhappy with it) for most of my life. Only now do I realize how ridiculous I’ve been. I let a little rendezvous with baby fat taint my entire perception of myself. A perpetual battle with my own brain and my eyes as a distorted mirror. I am every woman – fighting a battle of real life reflections against what we are shown as beautiful in the outside world. I digress.

Back to the elevator.

“I just don’t think it’s realistic to try to kill myself to get back into size zero clothing,” I told my mother. “It’s just ludicrous. I think I just fit into those pants when my thyroid was overactive.” I tried to justify it to myself. I loved using the thyroid excuse, when the truth was – even after they cut out half my metabolism – I was still wearing the same size clothing.

There was a third person in the elevator; a man in his 40s dressed in a standard Wall Street suit and loafers. He looked over at me, without trying to do the elevator eyes (he wouldn’t have seen much with me bundled up in my North Face Arctic Parka and clearly said, “A size zero is just too small. That’s just absurd.” He chuckled. I nodded with an, “I know, right?” to boot.

Having a baby girl has also shed some light on beauty and perceptions and the hyper-criticism that is taught and supported by our society.

When I wrote a short piece about how I view my body, my mother started crying. It broke her heart to know that her gorgeous daughter saw herself in such an ugly light. I scrutinized every inch of myself, looking only through a set of media-brainwashed glasses. I never considered how my words could sting her.

Now that I have a daughter, I understand my mother. Just like she predicted. (How long have you been waiting for that, mother dear?)

My 9-month-old’s baby pictures resemble mine to the degree that it’s frightening in a way that only genetic biology can be. At first I didn’t see it, but then there was a picture of my daughter that stopped me in my tracks. This familiar face was starting back at me – but how could the likeness be so remarkable? She was too beautiful to look like me.

How I’ve always criticized my baby pictures; scrutinizing them with the harshest judgmental eye. I was too chubby or too serious or my smile was too lop-sided. All of my baby pictures are black and white; my father shot and developed them in our bathtub in Kiev. I cherish these dearly – for the ingenuity it took to print them – and for the art they’ve become. These photojournalistic prints, with their curled corners, served as the springboard to my lifelong love of photography.

But instead of focusing on the captured moment; I just focused on the fact that I wasn’t a pretty baby.

Now I look at my Mackenzie Riley – certainly a cherub if I’ve ever imagined seeing one. She has these eyes that make people stop in their tracks; soulful, expressive, gorgeous. Her porcelain skin, her naturally rosy cheeks and her perfectly-shaped little lips (only one of which she likes to show since she sucks the bottom one).

I witnessed her coming to life and now I watch her grow. I feel her energy. Her gaze pierces my soul like a poem. She is what daughters are meant to teach you. She has given me the gift of new eyes; a renewed perspective.

I look at my pictures differently now. I realize that every picture is just a representative of one tiny moment in time – a split second immortalized and then we put it up for eternal critique – especially our own. Especially my own.

But even with my girl … I dress her up – much nicer than I do myself. I put the little barrettes in her hair and I tell her she’s pretty (whether we’re supposed to or not … if I don’t use it as a ‘compliment’ – is it still OK?).

So shouldn’t I give her a good example of a mom who takes care in herself and puts herself “together” – as my mom used to say: “Take yourself in your hands.” (Sounds better in Russian.)

In conclusion … if anyone wants to nominate me for What Not To Wear… here’s where to do it … and good luck getting a photo of me wearing my “outrageous fashion choices.”

4 thoughts on “I’m in a [I don’t work a corporate job] Style Slump

  1. A very honest post. Creative spark comes from so many places. Love the comments about photography. I also love the pic of mother and daughter I hadn't seen before. What if we all wear sweatpants? Will that make you feel better?

  2. It would not make me feel better. There are so many layers of yuck that I'm feeling about the way that I look – or present myself – but they all come from deeper issues than my friends wearing fancier jeans than me. At the very least – I need to buy newer sweatpants that are not stained or drooping and too long. Thanks Mich!

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