The other day (Wednesday, to be exact) a friend called me up and told me JCPenney's had a good sale on baby clothes (like $3 an outfit/piece kind of good sale). So, I dragged my unwashed self to the mall, bedecked in maternity pants and an orange button-down shirt that could probably best be described as vaguely feminine. I managed to park at the opposite end of the mall from JCP's (and pay $2 for the privilege--grr) which gave me ample opportunity to people watch as I walked through the open-air mall. The vast majority of the women I walked past were dressed very stylishly, which is to say, in tight, form-fitting, often expensive clothing. They were young and sexy.
As I walked toward JCP's, I admit, I looked down on those attractive women, just a bit. At least, I rolled my eyes at the effort and the resources they spent on looking so attractive, apparently mostly for the benefit of the other women roving the stores and the few slobby guys slouching around in gawky, awkward packs. Sure, I could appreciate the beauty of the women around me, but it all seemed so superficial, so silly to waste so much time and energy, especially as a woman with a small, rather time-consuming baby. I admit, I felt a little smug in my functional unattractiveness; felt celebratory about my misshapen midsection that, after all, had housed an entire baby not two months ago.
Then, I spent an hour shopping. In JCPenney's.
JCP's isn't exactly the hippest store. I associate it with relatively inexpensive, relatively conservative clothing preferred by women older than me. That's not a great characterization any more--they'd hardly be in business if they didn't have some cool clothes--but they are a place that still carries stretch-waisted jeans. After pouring through the women's and junior's clothing sections I realised the only pants that fit me would be the stretch-waist jeans.
Walking back to my car I looked at the beautiful women around me with envy. I wanted to be sexy like them, not thick in the middle with a baby-ravaged body. I don't think that's a great thing. I am quite understandably out of shape right now and I shouldn't feel bad about the way I look, yet even a little exposure to the images and messages about how I should look left me, 33-year-old, mother of two, smart, accomplished, and generally quite happy with my body, feeling inadequate. Because, less than two months after having a baby, I don't look young and fit and sexy. I can't imagine being a teen today. I know, we old people are always saying the world is going to hell in a hand basket, but the sexualization of media images, and of women and children is a documented trend. But oh, man, I worry about my children and how to teach them to look at themselves and the people around them when I can't do it myself. Sure, there are strategies to fight back, but they all sound so inadequate, especially since I, apparently, haven't really absorbed the message myself.