Sunday, June 9, 2013

Boxy Tops and Skinny Jeans

Two of my beautiful friends, April and Emily, have Instagram accounts and daily post their #ootd (that's "outfit of the day" for you non-hipsters out there).  Both girls are fashionable and have a great sense of style that seamlessly blends retro, romantic, and modern pieces.  (Emily has the additional cool-factor of sporting a lot of superhero gear, too, but I don't think that's really April's thang, so I can't hold it against her.)  My mom-of-three friend Jaime and I laughed and said that we'd start posting our outfits of the day, too.  We wondered how many "likes" we would get on her baby-vomit-stained sweatpants and my cat-hair-covered leggings.  At the time I was unemployed...but I don't think my current job's balloon-print scrubs would really gain the attention of any haute couture houses, either.

That's not to say I don't like to play dress up.  Quite the opposite.  Have you seen my shoe collection?  I pretty much need to rent the T.A.R.D.I.S. just to find room for all of them.

Anyway, I think I first became interested in fashion through the influence of my Aunt Marianne.  To my ten-year-old self, she seemed intensely fashionable.  She always smelled pleasantly of exotic perfumes, wore expertly applied make-up that flattered her skin tone, and dressed in the funky fashions of the 80s and early 90s.  She seemed the exact opposite of my Chic jeans-sporting madre.  Mom wore the same Cover Girl foundation and thin coat of mascara that she'd worn for years.  You know the kind of girl - Blistex instead of lipstick.  And even then, only when necessary.  In fact, this past February, after she'd passed away and I had the chance to look through Mom's belongings, guess what I found?  Yeah.  So, naturally, Aunt Marianne fascinated me.  Someday, I wanted to be the Glamorous Aunt.  Even if I never had nieces or nephews of my own!

In high school, I desperately wanted to have a body type different than my short, stocky frame.  At that time (the mid 1990's), "curvy" had not yet been recognized as a marketable body type by fashion designers, and the concept of "juniors' sizing" was still long off, so I was stuck in mens' shirts and jeans.  In college I tried in every way humanly possible to look like a member of the crowd.  I wore clogs and flare-leg jeans, blow-dried my wavy hair, made my make-up as natural-looking as possible.  

Thing was, as a plus-sized petite girl, it wasn't easy to have a "style" all your own.  You were - and, in some ways, still are - assigned one.  Apparently, if you reach a certain size, designers must assume that you have (1) given up on your appearance or (2) never cared about it to begin with.  You're given minimal choices in regards to the pattern and cut of your clothes.  and undergarments, for the record.

A few years ago, I started to fight back.  I didn't realize I was doing it, of course.  In fact, I was fighting myself as much as I was fighting the "fashion system".  Yeah, it's an institution, same as the government or education.  I'd even go so far as to say there's a level of indoctrination happening, considering how closely that fashion and media are linked.  I mean, they're in bed together.  Each feeds the other in a vicious cycle that usually involved making women of all races, shapes and ages feel somehow "less than" the others.  

I weighed around 158 pounds after my first miscarriage (only 10 pounds less than my heaviest weight).  Trust me, I felt ugly in every way possible at that point in my life.  I guess maybe it was a boost in one area, though.  Maybe I was looking for some way to express myself, but, in spite of my weight, I did something that changed my life forever.

I tried on a pair of skinny jeans.  I broke my unspoken rule: no skinny, no eighties.  Ever.  (Except the music.  And some movies.  Just not the clothes.  Ever.)  Only God himself knows why I did it, but, shockingly...they were comfortable.  They looked...okay.  Not amazing, but not bad, either.

Little by little, I reached out to test the waters of current trends (mostly this revisiting the 80s thing everyone's throwing on the racks).  I disregarded my body type and all the "rules" associated with it.  You curvy girls out there, you feel me, right?  No boxy tops, no midi-skirts, no necklaces that hit mid-bust (yes, I read that one somewhere).  

And guess what I've learned?

1. I rock skinny jeans.  Yes, I've lost almost 16 pounds so far this year - which feels great! - but I was rocking them before I lost the weight.

2. I don't need to embrace every trend I try - but I don't need to be afraid of any, either.  (For example, this neon thing?  Not really for me.  In small doses, like on my fingertips, is fine, but I'm not all about this sherbet-colored maxi-dress thing.)

3. Question fashion's "rules" and the reasoning behind them.  Now, listen.  I'm a conservative girl.  I'm a by-the-book Christian.  I try to follow the rules at work.  I am a stickler for the speed limit (usually).  I'm all for rules.  Call me old-fashioned.  Call me lame, but I believe that rules exist to keep order.  

That being is my wearing the "right" shape of sunglasses for my round face keeping any type of "order"?  Is the American gold standard going to drop again if I wear last season's shade of teal instead of this year's mint? 

Always, always, always question the "rules" of fashion.  Some things are certainly "classic" and there's nothing wrong with that.  But just because a magazine editor suggested that your body type should avoid a certain cut of jeans, guess what?  Who cares?  That editor knows nothing of your personality, your activity level, your favorite color, your budget.  Consider those articles a launching point - not a rule book.  Honestly, if I'd paid attention to the "advice" offered in Cosmo, Seventeen, and Allure, I wouldn't have half of my wardrobe now!  I'd be wearing mostly black, and all my dresses would be done in small prints, with a mock-wrap belt.  Plus, I wouldn't be rocking the bangs and long layers I have cut into my hair (which I am still getting compliments on, six months later, thank you very much).

And I wouldn't have the confidence to start posting my own #ootd pictures.  Because you know something?  Those magazines are not designed to inspire a healthy body image in anyone.  When I stopped lusting after an airbrushed body, when I stopped speaking negative things about my own body, when I started wanting to lose weight for my health and not to "look hot", things started to happen.  I started to change from the inside out.  I started bending the rules of fashion, then breaking them.  Now I ignore them altogether.  

Dangit, I might even wear white after Labor Day this year.

I am such a rebel.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


My step-mom used to be the children's church teacher at Berean Fellowship, and she led the kids in a simple game they called Ketch-Up.  She took an empty Heinz ketchup bottle (we're Pittsburghers, so the kids literally rejected the Hunt's bottle I once tried to substitute) and passed it down the line of kids.  When a child had the bottle, he or she had a few minutes to share something - whether it was a worry about a test at school, an upcoming vacation, or a Christmas list.  The other kids were not permitted to talk when one of them had the bottle.  Not that that part of the plan always worked, mind you.

Well, I wanted my first blog after my unexpected hiatus to be deep, significant, and thoroughly thought-out.  But ain't nobody got time for dat, so here's my "ketch-up" version.  Don't interrupt.  Read on.

1. I got a new job.  I now work in a pediatricians' office.  I'm still adapting to working full-time after 6 months of unemployment (part of the reason I haven't written lately).  I generally like it quite a bit.  Sometimes my heart aches when newborns come in, but most of the time I enjoy what I do.

2. I'm back on the weight-loss train.  After stalling out after my mom's passing, I'm now exercising five times a week (35-45 minutes of brisk walking during my lunch hour, which for me equals around 2 miles).  When I told my family I was planning on signing up for the Great Race in September, they smiles politely and said nothing.  Which is the response I also got from my husband.  Completely understandable, given my history of (a) hating exercise; (b) having trouble completing tasks, and (c) hating exercise.  But I'm still going to try.  I am starting out with teensy-tiny baby steps so I don't get discouraged.  My blood pressure is going up again - inexplicably - and I know this will help.

3. Ross is still actively looking for a better job.  He had an interview with Duquesne, which was something that we hardly even imagined would happen.  He was one of only three people considered for the position, but he did not get an offer.  I had a harder time than him about it, and had several temper tantrums that were directed at God for being "unfair" and "tricking us".  Yes, even we "mature Christians" struggle to understand how and why God allows certain things to happen that don't seem to make any sense at all.  I've calmed down considerably, but we are still fighting discouragement about his career situation.

4.  We're going to Disney!  I'm not telling when, because then all my Facebook stalkers (pfft, yeah, 'cause there's hundreds of them) will loot my house while we're away...but we have plans, it's paid for, and I'm crazy excited for my first-ever trip to the Magical-est Place on Earth!

5. Loki now plays catch in addition to playing fetch.  If I bought into the theory of reincarnation, I'd say it was 100% evident that kitten was a Golden Retriever in a previous life.  WHOSE CAT DOES THAT?

6. I found a pair of red snakeskin-print stilettos at K-Mart for $3.99.

Now, here's where we take a more serious turn.  Another huge change that took place recently is that Ross and I made the difficult decision to step down as the youth leaders at Berean Fellowship and North Church.  It was a choice that was, unfortunately, a long time coming.  Around the time of our third miscarriage, we began to struggle a little with our obligations.  It became more of a chore than a joy.  Then I lost my job, and even though I had more time to work on youth-related events, it was something I was forcing myself to do.  Ross and I repeatedly heard ourselves saying "no, we have church on Saturday" when our friends or family wanted to make plans.  (Don't get me wrong, Pastors Mark and Steph are NOT slave-drivers!  We could have taken off days here and there when we needed them!  But, for our purposes, things were often last-minute and we couldn't really find a pinch-hitter two days before we were due to teach.  It wasn't fair to the people we'd be asking for help.)  We loved our church (and still do) but were lacking the fellowship of our circle of peers (many of whom we'd met at the now-defunct young adults' group The Bridge).  Ross's sister Lindsey was in town twice (we only see her a few times a year, at best) and both times we were unable to see her.  Then, his dad had a stroke right before Christmas, the healing from which has been complicated by his Parkinson's.  And then, in February, my mother died.  (It still sucks royally to even type those words.)  And I still wasn't finding work.  My unemployment was running out.  Things were really ugly.

Dealing with the pressures of so much loss in such a short period, we weren't treating the kids the way we wanted to - heck, we weren't treating ourselves the way we should have been!  Ross and I went back and forth debating, discussing, and even arguing about what was best for us, for the kids, and the church.  We were concerned that the kids would feel we had abandoned them.  We were concerned that we were giving up simply because the job was tough.  We were concerned that we were letting down our church - and God.  We were concerned that people would fear we were leaving the church (that fear WAS confirmed as several members of the congregation did approach us with concerned whispers, asking if we were heading elsewhere - at least they came to us instead of letting their imaginations run wild; we were grateful for that respect!).  We prayed about it and finally brought it up to Pastor Mark - but God had already given him a hint as to what was in our hearts.  We received nothing but encouragement and understanding from him, which confirmed that we had made the right choice for this season in our lives.  Our goal right now is to focus on our friends and families - to spend time with them.  To help Ross's dad with his antiques business.  To see our nieces' recitals.  To grill ridiculously delicious burgers on my aunt and uncle's patio.  To hop from estate sale to estate sale with Deana as she hustles for eBay treasures.  To see our friends' new babies.  To reconnect with the many relationships God has given us.

We love our church family dearly.  We love serving.  We love being trusted as leaders, even if we don't carry a title anymore.  We love our pastors, who never made us feel like failures - or even that we were giving up at all!  We love the kids we taught, and we're still a part of their lives.  We love talking with them and staying in touch - even if we're maybe not quite as cool as the incoming leaders, Tim and Victoria.  But we're grateful that God's voice is persistent, and he kept telling us what was most important in our lives right now.

We still want children.  Desperately.  We feel that God is using this season to draw us closer to him and the network of loving friends and family we have in order to make that dream a reality.  We have a "plan" in place, but experience has taught us that God loves wrecking our plans because we dream TOO SMALL.  His goals for us are so much bigger than we can wrap our minds around...and sometimes we have to take a step back and be willing to wait for his next step to be revealed.

That's where we are right now.  Waiting with a purpose.  

Yeah, that doesn't make it any easier.  But here we are.  Go ahead, God.  I'm watching for you.