Towards the end of my morning walk the cell phone, with my eldest’s ringtone, rang. Mom. Where are you? I need help finding clothes. I quickly jogged home to find my eldest amidst clothes strewn across the bedroom floor. Yesterday the flyer came home, belatedly, informing parents that formal pictures were taking place, today. Not one article of formal clothing fit on this son’s rapidly growing frame. Distressed he raided his father’s closet searching amongst the suits and ties rarely worn; except on the hub’s ushering Sundays.
This same scenario had just transpired last Sunday as the middle son raided his older brother’s wardrobe. Nothing fits. The argument ensued. You’re bigger, to which the other replied, are you calling me fat? It got ugly…look at those things all over your face (zits) to which the other retorted about the white dry spots on the middle son’s face; that reoccurs during the winter. When the youngest tried to intervene the older brothers called him the skinny skeleton. Finally disgusted with the whole affair I bellowed from my bedroom down the hall.
Body image. It is a fallacy to think that only girls feel this pressure to look thin and beautiful. My three sons, all with different body frames and profiles, were just as affected by these issues. With rapidly growing body parts, raging hormones (or lack of them) my sons were tearing each other’s appearances apart. All this to find adequate church clothes to wear on Sunday. But what is more disconcerting was that the older two boys altar served, and so these clothes would not even be seen beneath the robes and crosses.
And so I took the time away from my harried morning routine to help the eldest. He fretted and groaned and finally we attempted to awaken the hubs from his deep sleep. It mattered to this man/boy that his Dad leafed through his closet to find something for him to wear. But in the end this son had to wear his tight and short clothes. Nothing fit. Thankfully his picture would be taken in second period, and he packed his normal clothes, to change into, in his backpack.
Our kids pay attention to how we view body image. I am always careful to not make remarks about others in front of them. But they do hear me lament my shortcomings to the hubs. To his credit, the hubs loves to rub his rounded torso jokingly; teasing the boys to get into my belly! (Austin Powers). My boys hear me talk of aging; saggy belly, stretch marks, dimpled thighs and facial “laugh lines.” A family member, several years back, underwent gastric bypass. When I do hear the innocuous comments of various sizes and shapes I listen intently. Each and every time I remind them what defines a person.
Beauty comes from within.
And though I say these words I continue to self-berate myself. I talk-the-talk but need to walk-the-walk. I do not look at others and judge by appearance; I truly do look deeper to see if a person has depth. But I exclude myself in that process. The blade always cuts deeper when I wield it.
As I talk this out with my girlfriend, today, I realized that this statement isn’t totally true. Yes, I am vain. But what drives me to wake up at 5 AM in the morning to walk, bring it or dig deeper isn’t solely for vanity. I want longevity. I want to grow old with my health; to continue to be active. I envision dragging my hubs on early morning walks before sunrise. Hiking amidst foliage to gorgeous valley overlooks. Snorkeling and swimming in warm, tropical waters. Traveling to Stonehenge, the Great Wall and walking the halls of the Vatican. I’ve met active centenarians in my studies in gerontology. One can age successfully. I know this and have seen it.
Each morning I gaze into my closet. I tend to choose the same, boring clothes to wear week-after-week. My triple door sliders were full of clothes that I held onto for sentimentality. Last September I had also strewn them across my bedroom floor; packing them in bags and giving away the days where I could fit into some of them. For years they took up space, taunting and flaunting the youthful body I used to own. The form-fitting outfits that dominated my wardrobe became matching sweat outfits; the days when I chased my young sons around. The business suits are now delegated to weddings, funerals or church holidays. These days my uniform consists of jeans and hoodies; my work attire of choice. Preferably, black.
But I emphasize to my sons to be accepting of all shapes and sizes: short, tall, round, angular. I’ve been watching the week long segment on my morning show about selfies; and learning to love them. Rarely do I take my own selfie shot; usually the hubs is in it with me. It takes, at the very least, eleven camera shots with photo image filters altering the lighting before I stop the madness.
Later I asked the younger sons; who had helped their Dad clear the building roof before the rain, to define terms of skinny and fat. It was quite a learning experience; listening to the words they hear on the playground each and every day. How clothes and brand names define a person’s worth and status.
Their images of beauty are based on what their peers see and I wondered if they could look beyond the superficial to discover the person within. We talked of social roles, ideals of popularity and acceptance; as well as those on the fringes. I want my sons to be able to maneuver through all of these things; plainly and simply, with compassion and empathy. I want them to see beyond the veneer; just as I want my sons’ defining features to be the beauty that emanates from within. Social graces. Humility.
But you can only be beautiful if you are happy with whom you are. This is a work in progress for all of us. The strewn clothes are carefully being picked up and folded. Tonight we are going clothes shopping to find something that fits.