I am in Ohio this week visiting Mark Johnson. It is about a two and a half hour drive from my house. I like to be comfortable when I am traveling in the car. Yet, I also have a desire to look cute when I arrive at my destination. Especially after not seeing my boyfriend for a week.
When we started dating in the summer, I could just throw on a sundress and flip flops for the ride down there. It had the benefits of being both cute and comfortable. But now that the weather has changed, it is more complicated. I could wear jeans in the car, which are cute, but not as comfortable. Or I could wear yoga pants, which are definitely more comfortable. Mark Johnson would argue they are equally as cute, but I feel like they are better suited to hanging out at home.
On Monday, I tried to find a middle ground and pulled out a pair of black leggings and my favorite black and green striped sweater - which is just long enough to cover my back side. I finished off the look with a pair of lace up black boots that I bought recently. They look like Doc Martens, but they are actually cheaper and more comfortable.
As I was heading out of the house, I felt like a flash back from the 90's. The leggings, the long sweater and the "mock Doc" boots. But then it occurred to me. I would have never worn this outfit in the 90's. Back then I was way too self conscious about my body to pull this look off.
I have always had round, shapely hips and thighs. And my calves are not as thin as I would prefer them to be. For years I avoided wearing leggings because I thought they made my hips look too big. I also avoided the skinny jean for the same reason. Luckily, I came around on that issue a few years ago when I noticed that the right pair of knee-high boots could balance things out.
Even as I type this, I find it fascinating that I am able to analyze my body in such great detail. Of course, I know it better than anyone else and I have been making accommodations for my perceived body flaws my whole life. But yesterday, as I went out to meet Mark Johnson in my leggings and my mock Docs, I felt amazing. I felt young and hip, and even kind of sexy.
So why does the 44-year old version of me feel this way, when the 24-year old version of me, with arguably a much tighter body (and definitely less cellulite!) would have been embarrassed to walk out of the house this way.
Of course, a large part of it comes from the comfort of knowing and accepting yourself - qualities that seem to evolve as we get into our middle years. Or at least, luckily they did for me. And I think there is also a component around expectations. When you are 24, you look around and think that you should be looking better for your age, compared with everyone else. Whereas now that I am 44, I look in the mirror each day and think: Hey girl, not bad for 44 years old!
There may also be a societal component, or what I like to call the Kardashian factor. I can't say that the Kardashian family has added much of value to the social dialogue in the past five years, but the one thing they have contributed is the idea that curves can be beautiful. And if that causes women to embrace their shapely hips and thighs, then so be it.
For me, the practice of yoga has also really helped me to love and accept my body. However, I am not sure if that is true for all people. I still see many of the women in yoga class struggling with body image, not to mention so many women who won't even attend a public yoga class because they feel inadequate about their physical appearance.
Researcher Brene Brown tells us that the number one shame trigger for women is body image. As I watch my three young nieces growing up and quickly approaching the self-conscious teen years, it makes me wonder what I can do to move this dialogue along.
Part of me wants to tell them to wear what they want, whenever they want and not to worry about what other people think. But then I remember how I felt at that age, and how effective it would have been if someone had said that to me. I probably would have responded with a sentence that started out with "But you don't understand what it's like..."
Assuming I would have said anything at all. It took me so many years to get comfortable in my own skin and to find my own voice. And it is a continual process. As much as I try to be supportive and set a good example for my nieces and any other young women that I may have the chance to connect with, a lot of this learning and growth has to come from within.
For now, maybe the best approach is to keep wearing my leggings - and whatever else makes me happy. And just hope that they can sense my joy, and perhaps decide to seek it out for themselves someday.
The good news is that fashion is a repetitive cycle. So whatever they miss out on wearing in their 20's, they can get a second chance at it when they are in their 40's.