Tag Archives: clothes

When I happen to catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror these days, I have the odd sensation of not recognizing myself at first. Then, when I realize the person I am looking at is me, I have this overwhelming sense of disgust. I’ve been struggling with my weight for about four or five years. Actually, when I really think about it, I’ve been struggling with my weight for about a decade, however, I’ve been losing the struggle for about four or five years. At first, I was able to keep my weight down by exercising more. However, when I got to the point that I was exercising an hour and a half a day, I realized that simply adding more exercise was no longer an option. Making matters worse, I don’t actually like exercising. I’d finish exercising feeling like I hated myself, hated the world, hated my life. Why, I would ask myself, I was trying to stay in good health to prolong a life I hated? Anyway, a bout of tendonitis a year ago did prove that I’d reached the point where increasing my exercise was no longer an option.

I should probably add, before I go farther, that I’m not looking for diet or exercise advice. That’s always the danger when you bring up this subject. Every self-righteous asshole wants to lecture you about what to do. Frankly, I’m probably smarter than the people looking to lecture me (Who’s the self-righteous asshole now?), I’m perfectly capable of doing research and have done so in order to maximize my efforts. If I want advice, I’ll ask. And in the past I have. I worked with personal trainers on a couple of occasions to develop exercise routines. I’m not dismissing professional advice. It’s just that I’m not looking for it at the moment. I want to talk about how I feel about my body.

So, it’s taken a long time, but I’ve finally accepted the reality. No matter what anyone says, as I’ve aged my metabolism has slowed down. Thyroid tests come back fine and I’m in pretty good health otherwise, so I’m not really worried. It used to be something of a truism that your metabolism slowed down as you aged. People don’t seem to say that anymore. I don’t know if it’s actually been disproven. However, I have heard people say things like people shouldn’t be told that their metabolism is slow because it will give them and “excuse” to be fat. Oddly, since I’ve come to terms with the idea that my metabolism is not what it used to be, I’ve finally lost some weight. I just said to myself, “Look, you can’t eat like you used to.” I’ve stopped trying to eat in the manner that experts would consider “healthy.” The truth is, I eat a lot less.

As I mentioned, I’m still in reasonably good health. I am officially overweight according to the doctor, but I probably wouldn’t stand out of crowd on account of it. I just come across as a sort of dumpy middle-aged woman. You probably wouldn’t notice me at all. The thing that causes the disgust when I look in the mirror is not so much that I look fat as I look matronly. It’s not simply a matter of attractiveness. It’s a matter of self-image, self-conception.

You see, I’ve always seen myself as being a little bit androgynous. This was long before talk about gender identity was commonplace, and I don’t know quite how this fits into that, if at all. Still, I’ve always felt that I wasn’t a typical girly-girl. I wasn’t a tomboy either. Although I never had a truly boyish figure, I wasn’t really curvy either, and I’d wear a lot of menswear. Actually, my buttocks were too big to fit into things actually cut for men, so I’d look for “menswear” inspired women’s clothes. The seventies had been a heyday for androgynous clothes, but they were usually of the casual sort. I found that I was far more influenced by the figure of the male dandy.

I never tried to pass as a man and it was only rarely that I’d be mistaken for one. When I was younger, it came across as Marlene Dietrich. Now, I’m afraid I look like one of the guests in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

So, now, I’m somewhat conflicted. I look far better in dresses and more feminine things than I used to. But now, what I look good in, and what my personal taste is are totally different. My sister tells me that I should wear what I like and to hell with trying to look pretty. My mother tells me I look fat.

I was looking at fall 2016 runway photos, trying to get some ideas for future sewing projects, and I saw this:

Animal print suit by Dries van Noten

I would so absolutely love to wear this. Of course I can’t afford it and my sewing skills are not to the point where I can copy it.

After having successfully made my pants and a shirt to go with them, I’m now looking at my next project. I’ve been dying to work with neoprene. It was the trend last summer, but I didn’t quite get it since it seemed too warm to me for summer. Now with fall coming, however, I want to make something out of it. I was going to make a sheath dress. I wanted to put a big black zipper down the front as a sort of nod to scuba suits. However, when I was looking for an appropriate zipper, I came across this:

rhinestone zipperSo, I guess it’s going to be a little less sporty.

I’ve been trying to read Eliot Rodger’s, the Santa Barbara shooter’s, 140 page suicide note. In the year following the Newtown Massacre, there were at least 16 mass shootings, defined by the FBI as killings involving four or more people. Since the shootings in Santa Barbara there has been another mass killing in Florida. (H/T Skip Intro at Little Green Footballs.) Only a small portion of these capture the public’s imagination. For that reason, I wanted to write about it, but I felt that before I did so I should do my homework and, among other things, read the long autobiography the killer left behind. Doing the necessary background work has taken more time than I expected and the final result will probably come in two parts, one addressing the autobiography and another addressing the public’s reaction. Interestingly, the event seems to have functioned like a Rorschach test with various commentators projecting their own preconceived notions on the event.

In the meantime, I thought I would put up a few random thoughts.

Needless to say, I have abandoned my attempt to help my mother get into better shape. Her doctor has said that it’s necessary for her health and that was why I was willing to make such a big effort to help her in the first place. Unfortunately, the usually mother/daughter relationship dynamics kicked in and were exacerbated by the fact that we were spending so much time together. She seemed to forget that I was there for her sake, not mine. However, since I got on the exercise and diet kick, I’ve decided to continue it on my own. I guess one good thing came out of those two weeks was that I’ve started going to the gym again. It’s always, for me, the first couple of weeks that are the toughest. My first day back I was barely lifting any weight at all. At my peak I was bench pressing about sixty pounds (slightly more than 27 kg), which was about half of my weight, so doing curls with a twenty pound barbel was a little frustrating. When exercising cardio workouts are only one part of what I do because I really need to feel that it’s about health and overall fitness, not appearance. The looks-weight-health equivalency is something I really try to avoid, although subconsciously I’m subject to the same incorrect assumptions as most people in this culture.

I was looking in the mirror to make sure my form was correct and I couldn’t help notice that I looked like I had a ridiculously little pinhead on top of my body. Most of my adult life, I’ve kept my hair very short, although being a lazy slob it often is an outgrown shaggy mid-length mop. Since I gained weight, I’ve really been struggling, not just with a loss of prettiness, but with a shift in my self-image. For instance, I’ve always seen myself as being somewhat androgynous and have always incorporated lots of menswear, frequently actual men’s clothing picked up in thrift stores, like my favorite red satin smoking jacket, into my wardrobe. Once upon a time I looked kind of cute in that. However, now that I’m heavier, feminine dresses are more flattering to my figure. I feel between a rock and a hard place. What is flattering doesn’t fit my personality, or so I feel. More recently, I felt that it would be mentally healthier to dress in a way that suits my taste and to hell with whether or not I look attractive. For instance, I’ve been wearing more pants even thought I think I look dumpier. So when I was in Paris last year I walked by a salon and saw a photo that looked like the kind of haircut I liked when I was young and could wear anything I chose. I walked in and said, “I want that.” Humorously, I later read some text under it that said that it was a “retro-style” meant to evoke the eighties. Dang.

This morning, when I walked into the bathroom and saw my short hair plastered against my head, I remembered the pinhead look in the mirrors at the gym. I know that once I take a shower and fluff it up it won’t look quite so bad. This led to a bit of musing about my appearance. Short hair like this can actually look stylish when I’m fully made up, however when dressed down I look like someone who doesn’t care. Somehow this put me in mind of dating. For a while, when I had a profile up on a dating site, I got so many emails from men saying that they liked women who wore high heels that I added to my profile that I don’t wear them. After that, I started getting notes from men saying that they liked the “type” of woman that wore jeans and flip-flops. This made me equally frustrated because I’m not a type. Sometimes I dress up and sometimes I dress down. Some days I’m somewhere in between. I’m still the same person. I’ve had boyfriends in the past who have significantly preferred one version of me more than the other. It’s frustrating because I want to have both modes.

So, I’m headed out to the grocery store. I probably won’t put gel in my hair or blow it out, although I’ll probably fluff it a little with my fingers. I’ll put on some causal pants, my sneakers and whatever short-sleeved shirt is clean at the moment and I’ll look like the type of woman that goes to the grocery store, which is inevitable for all of us who are not the type of woman who has a full-time housekeeper. At another moment, I’ll be the type of gal who takes photographs while wearing practical clothes with lots of pockets that I picked up from REI. Sometimes I’m the type of gal who wears gym clothes while lifting weights. Or I’m the type of gal with a full face of make-up, dainty shoes and fashionable dress in a trendy restaurant. All of these things are me. I’m even a blogger in a bathrobe sometimes.

This past week, the theme of WordPress’s Weekly Photo Challenge was nostalgia. Fittingly, while looking at some other people’s photos I was reminded of an evening when I was younger, an evening I might have otherwise forgotten.

I have mentioned before that my mother had several close friends all of whom had children born within a few years of one another, all girls except one. My mother met these friends during her early years teaching, when she and the others were young women with no children and their first jobs. For years, they all lived in our suburb, one within walking distance even for a toddler. Three of them, including my mother, continued to inhabit the same lower middle class suburban world throughout my childhood.

The movie The Ice Storm fascinated me because it so accurately captured the details of the early nineteen seventies, at least as they played out in the East Coast suburbs, that I found myself watching it with intense feelings of nostalgia. On the one hand, it felt so accurate. On the other, my own experiences of the same cultural changes were so very different. Perhaps there was some odd fortune to being lower middle class rather than being like the rich people in Connecticut who inhabit the film. My mother and her friends were never as self-indulgent at those fictional parents. Maybe, they couldn’t afford to be. The cultural changes documented in that film, did indeed mean liberation for us rather than disintegration. Except, perhaps, for one.

We’ll call her the Beauty Queen because that’s what she had been. Her husband had his own business which did well and by the time my own recollections kick in, they inhabited a step above us on the socioeconomic ladder. But the Beauty Queen became disenchanted with the boring suburban life. In keeping with the “me decade,” she would go looking for herself, which would eventually lead to a divorce and a sprawling apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. New York City was at its nadir, and that apartment didn’t imply the level of wealth it would today, but it housed the Beauty Queen and her two children, Kitty and Puppy, in comfort. Later, I would find that she would come to regret the divorce, though I strongly suspect she would have regretted staying had she stayed. With the bill being foot by the ex, Kitty and Puppy were sent to a Hoity-Toity Academy, a private, pretentious “prep” school in Manhattan.

Puppy was a few months older than I and the first boy I kissed. The less said about that ill-advised idea the better. Kitty, was tall and, as you might expect as the daughter of the Beauty Queen, beautiful. However, she was far too intellectual to consider her beauty of any real interest. She would eventually grow up to be very sophisticated as well, a writer with a degree from a top college, a graduate education in Europe, work experience in Latin America and Africa, but that lay in the future. As a teenager, Kitty was very close to Hera, the daughter of another of my mother’s friends. Although close to neither, I was friendly with both. Kitty would invite both of us, sometimes alone, sometimes together, to stay with her in New York City for the weekend. It was in the company of Kitty that I would first go to a discothèque. Studio 54 was a year or two past its prime, but still fun, and others were soon to follow. She was a good companion since neither of us drank or took drugs and we were only interested in dancing. Typically, she had a pile of free passes that people promoting various nightclubs would distribute at Hoity-Toity Academy. Looking back, I wonder about the prevalence of these cards at a high school where almost all the students were certainly underage.

Kitty’s birthday fell in the fall and for her sixteenth birthday, her family threw her a big bash on the Binghamton. The Binghamton was a former ferry that had been turned into a fancy restaurant. Parked on the New Jersey side of the Hudson river, it had enviable views of Manhattan. I do not know how her Hoity-Toity friends got there, but get there they did, as did relatives and family friends from the ‘burbs. I came home from college for the weekend to attend.

College girls only look good in movies. As I recall from my own days in school, if I managed to take a shower and run a comb through my hair before grabbing a bagel at the cafeteria on my way to class, that was a lot of primping. I’d only been away for a couple of months, but my mother was already aghast at how I’d let myself “go to pot.” A little make-over would be the perfect mother daughter bonding experience. She made an appointment for me at a moderately fancy salon in town where, for the first time, I got my hair cut short, really short, parted on the side and frankly boyish. When it was done my mother was surprised. “I wouldn’t have expected it,” she said, “but short hair suits you.”

Off we went to the shopping mall to get a dress and shoes for the occasion. The dress was a knee-length knit with long sleeves that skimmed my body from my shoulders to about mid-thigh, body revealing without being tight. The maroon and black vertical stripes outlined every curve. It was probably this dress that made me fall in love with stripes, graphic, severe, sexy, hard and feminine all at once. Another item I’d wear for the first time that night which would become another staple, was a pair of shoes with a spool heel. The social pressure to wear high heels can be intense. However, I had decided that no matter what I did, I would always draw the line regarding clothes and fashion at anything that injured my health. If a man would prefer watching a woman fully dressed, with a full face of makeup, a helmet of sticky hairspray and stiletto heels on the other side of a crowded room to rolling around with a sweaty naked one in bed, then he’s not the man for me. The spool heel was a revelation, high enough to quiet society, low enough to walk without pain. I bought a patent leather pair with a t-strap in a dark red. My mother insisted with my new boyish haircut, I had to wear big, big earrings. With the shape of my ass, the likelihood that I would be mistaken for a boy was about nil. Her concern speaks volumes about gender expectations. She thrust one pair of big, jangly pieces of costume jewelry at me after another. Finally, I went for another severe, geometrical item, a pair of big, perfectly circular hoops. A pair of dark tights and a wide black belt and I was ready to go to the party.

Sweet sixteens and proms are funny things. They’re like nights to play dress up, practice for being an adult, and I felt very womanly, balancing on my dainty heels in dress that emphasized my waist and hips. I was beginning to understand what was flattering and what wasn’t. The restaurant where the party was held was far fancier than I was used to and I spent the evening dancing and flirting and generally having a good time.