When I anticipated motherhood, I only pictured two phases of their childhood – baby through Kindergarten, and when they were off to college. Somehow I never visualized the gangly stage that my son is in during his 7th grade year. While he doesn’t seem to eat very much, he’s still growing at a rapid rate, and has almost reached my height.
One of the ways that I measure his growth is by how much sock I can see between the bottom of his pants and the top of his shoes. At the beginning of the school year, I bought him all new pants that definitely touched his shoes, and now there’s an inch or maybe two of space to spare. Occasionally he wears white socks with his black pants, and I grimace as I watch him approach the breakfast table. When I deride him for not putting on dark socks so as to minimize the effect of his short pants, he usually retorts, “No one is looking at my feet, Mom!”
I have to press my lips together to avoid forcing him to change them anyway, since it seems I am more uncomfortable with the possibility of him being teased about it than he is. When I was in 7th grade, having pants that were too short meant that you didn’t have enough money to buy new ones, and in many of the kids’ cases, including mine, that was true. They were snidely referred to as “flood pants,” meaning that they wouldn’t get wet if a flood came through. (For this reason I have never been able to wear capris.)
I’ve always been sensitive about my clothing, feeling like I never had enough clothes to wear or the right clothes to be “cool”. Even into my adult years I had a limited wardrobe, feeling slightly uncomfortable and envious of other women who seemed to shop with ease and always looked “put together.” As a result, I’ve kept my wardrobe very simple, yet always yearned for more. Because I hated shopping, and could never seem to find anything I liked, I avoided it unless absolutely necessary. Like many women, I was “just waiting to lose that last 5 lbs” or didn’t want to buy anything unless it was on sale.
When I got pregnant, the problem compounded itself. I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a wardrobe I would only need for a few months. I was sharing my frustration with a friend about how buying clothes was even WORSE than usual, when she gave me a confused stare. I asked her what her confusion was about, and she told me that as a woman who had been overweight most of her life, she just assumed that because I was “thin” buying clothes was easier for me. That was an “aha” moment for me. It made me realize that my difficulty in buying clothes had nothing to do with how much money I had or how thin I was, and everything to do with my lingering doubts about my ability to choose pieces that worked for me and that others would find attractive. Always so cautious about what judgment I might face, I limited what I bought and then floundered in my frustration of not having clothes I liked.
A friend of mine, JP Patrick who is a personal shopper and organizer (visit his page here) has been inviting me to go with him to buy clothes. After several months of his encouragement (see, there’s that resistance again) I finally took a day to go with him. He took me to a consignment shop where the already low priced designer clothes were half off for clearance, so I was able to purchase many items at a wonderfully low price, but the best part of the experience was trying on clothes without having to do the work of sorting through racks and racks of clothing. He and the store owner brought me things to try on and then gave their opinions on each one.
It was with exuberance that I brought home my purchases. I organized them in my closet (with JP’s help of course) and let go of older clothes that didn’t work anymore. Then a funny thing happened. The very first time I got dressed in my new clothes, I looked at myself in the mirror and got a tight feeling of discomfort in my stomach. Now what were people going to think? I found myself shrinking from the possibility of people noticing my clothes but in a different way… I didn’t want to appear to be “stuck up” or “rich.” Did these new clothes reflect the real me? And what was the real me? Oy.
Ok, another “aha” moment. So it seems that having or not having clothes that I like has nothing to do with the physical items, and everything to do with how concerned I am about what other people will think of me. “Let it go,” I told myself. “It’s a belief that people will think I’m stuck up because I’m wearing certain clothes.” This is just another example of undermining myself because I perceive someone else may feel uncomfortable. As Marianne Williamson says, there’s nothing enlightened about that.
Do you look to outside validation as a way to get more confidence? What ways would you be willing to express your authenticity if you weren’t concerned about what other people think? Watch my video “To Thine Own Self Be True” for more ideas on giving yourself permission to be who you want to be.