These are sad days for my wardrobe. I am fully aware that I look like a "before" picture, slumping around town in V-neck shirts and capris. These days, my nicest clothes are the items without noticeable stains or too many wrinkles.
In case you're considering an emergency call to the producers of "What Not to Wear," I've got some shocking news of my own to relate: I wasn't always such a mess. Until my pregnancy weight gain about two years ago, I had an entire wardrobe of stylish fitted jackets, colorful tops, and straight-leg jeans designed to flatter my pear-shaped body. These days, the show's producers could feature me in a special episode: "When Busy Mothers Let Themselves Go."
Before I was sleep-deprived and scatter-brained, I lived by the motto of dressing for the career and life you want. When I went out, I was careful to put together a flattering ensemble, appropriate for the occasion. The clothes I deemed "comfy but too casual" were set aside in a special drawer designated "around the house only." Each time I left the house, I selected from among a collection of colorful handbags. These days, my red Asian-print diaper bag is my perpetual carry-all, except on our all-too-infrequent Date Nights.
I never thought I'd be one of those mothers who wore shapeless shirts and practical shoes, too distracted to put on makeup, spending their entire clothing budget on cute kiddie outfits. Now, I long for an invisibility cloak to hide my fashion crimes. "Don't look at me yet," I want to scream, as I keep hoping to shrink back into the clothes which I know await me in storage bags.
It gives me some comfort to know I'm not alone. I'm a card-carrying member of the League of Fashion-Challenged Moms. Whether carrying an extra five pounds or nearly 50, we run fingers through our unwashed hair, living for the future. It's not just moms, either: anyone walking around in a "before" body can relate. We wear our clothes like disguises, feeling awkward and frustrated in our flesh-suits. We wince at our reflections, wishing this part were smaller, this part rounder; longing for a change of one sort or another -- a prettier package to carry our brains around in.
Some years ago, writer and spiritual thinker Deepak Chopra said it was a depressing idea, reducing a human being to a consumer, as if we were all ravenous mouths and demanding eyes, bent on using up everything. So I try to remind myself that worrying about my appearance is a surface consideration; my soul is what I should nurture. But until somebody figures out a work-around, there's no escaping the mind-body duality. Chopra might not understand, but sometimes the body just wants to look pretty.
As these ideas rolled around in my head, I pushed my son's stroller through the sweltering heat. Across the street, I noticed a curvaceous plus-sized woman in a wine-colored top, wearing a broad black belt to highlight the smallest part of her waist. She grooved through the heat in lightweight pants that barely grazed the top of her metallic ballet slippers. On an impulse, I called out to her: "You're beautiful!" For a second, she looked confused, perhaps wondering why that sweaty mother in the shapeless floral top was calling to her. Then, she smiled. I smiled, too, thinking, "That could be me."
Maybe it's time to stop shoving all my hopes into storage bags. Next weekend, I'll ask my husband to watch our toddler while I go clothes shopping. It's time to stop living as a "before" picture.
Much gratitude to my beta reader, roina_arwen, who provided some valuable editing services.