I guess I don’t know when I decided to be defined by a pair of jeans.
Maybe it was the slim-lined denim clad legs that ran across the screen of my youth’s TGIF. The girls that could fold their legs into so many origami shapes as they lounged on couches talking about boys and nails. Maybe it was the billboards along the 110, giant women with long legs - one button of their pants undone, one lip held between white teeth. The jeans they wore were more messaging than clothing. Or was it something deeper? That once my foremother’s fought the battle to wear pants, we lost our courage? Maybe the men and women that came after felt the need to imbue jeans with symbolism and stereotypically feminine qualities? With washes and wears that tightened and cuts that flattered and created the illusion of ideal? Because whether bound in corsets or faded denim, damn us all if there isn’t an ideal.
I read article after article in sneaked copies of Seventeen, Border’s visits with Vogue and supermarket stops into Cosmopolitan. Before I knew my times tables, I knew there were certain pants certain bodies could wear and certain pants that certain bodies could not. I knew that some girls were pear shaped (like me) and that was something to hide - luckily, that could be done with the right wash, waist and leg style. I knew some girls were athletically built (not like me) and that was something to celebrate - luckily Seventeen said they could pull off any kind of shape, especially The Boyfriend. The Boyfriend was a slouchy, straight-legged cut I spent the better half of seventh grade coveting even thought Elle had informed me I should never get involved with either it or a tapered leg.
Would I never learn? (Note that this is also a comment on my social life at that time and the next, ahem, eight years. The only boyfriend I was worried about was a pair of jeans.)
For most boys (and most likely many girls), pants were just pants. For me, by about the age of fourteen, they became the ultimate litmus test that revealed how I was doing as a woman. The size (Please God, don’t let me grow out of the store, 5-7-9. WHICH THERE WAS A STORE FOR TEENAGED GIRLS NAMED FOR THE SIZES THAT COULD SHOP THERE??? Behold, the trauma of American girlhood.) the wash, the cut - the ones I could “pull off” helped me to understand my place in the spectrum of acceptable girlhood. With my zaftig thighs and bottom, there weren’t many magazine approved options. So - and this sounds ridiculous, but the truth often is - what I gathered from that was that I wasn’t really a great option myself. I was something that needed draping, hiding, contouring and shaping. I needed to be bound into the right silhouette and dark washed into looking like something I wasn’t. And, even though I eventually abandoned the perfect pair of jeans for a closet full of skirts, that thinking took years and years to leave me.
I still don’t really wear jeans. Because, with all my woman power rhetoric and whatnot, I don’t like that you can see the shape of my thighs through them. Let’s just be honest in this space, I am a thirty year old, 135 pound woman in a successful marriage with healthy kids, an uncertain but welcoming future and a bright past that is worried about you seeing the shape of my thighs when covered by fabric too thick to cut with kid’s scissors. Because….maybe they’re just not good enough, Seventeen magazine said fifteen years ago that they might not be.
I was looking at the sale section on Anthropologie the other day. All sale items were an extra 30% off. You know how it goes, one minute you’re laughing at the Lounging Safari Mountain Climber Sherpa dress that had been discounted from $589 to $389…and the next you’re trying to figure out what 30% off $389 actually is…Anyways. There was a pair of jeans on sale. Not the right wash - too light. Not the right waist - too low. And heaven knows the fact it was called a denim legging instead of a jean didn’t speak well for the potential “holding in” qualities of the material. But. I liked them. They had swirls of flowers across the the light blue and at 30% off sale price, they were affordable. Not sherpa ball gown “affordable”, like…actually affordable. So. I bought them. Because it’s getting cold here and pants are more comfortable than my 1950s skirts and sometimes it might be nice to be able to actually tumble with Viola at the park. After the jeans were delivered, I put them on and looked…well, exactly how I really look…I didn’t panic.
Here’s the thing.
The way I look - zaftig thighs and bottom and tummy that no longer sucks itself in - is pretty damn fine. I walk up hills with these legs and wrap them around my husband at night. I chase babies with them and dance in the kitchen with them. Yes, they are a little rounder than they used to be and there are constellations of scars and silvery bands of stretch marks. But they are also just so, so beautiful. And - this is bold - I would say they are not just subjectively beautiful, I would say they are also objectively beautiful. I think when we here “objectively” we think only of impersonal consensus. But that isn’t really what I mean…although, I would say that applies, too. No, rather I really mean objectively as relates to it’s original philosophical sense, “considered in relation to its object”. Your body - as it was formed, thighs, freckles, the long of it and the short of it, is exactly what you need for your objective here in this life. It is a well-considered and well-formed thing for a well-considered and well-formed YOU.
Sisters, absent cuts that flatter and colors that diminish, you are objectively beautiful. Not in the way Vogue would have you understand beauty - something that is attained and maintained and refrained. I mean beautiful like the light that expands from a supernova, like the summer storm that rolls in over the mountains. You are wildly beautiful. From your heart that pumps the blood to your veins, to your heels cracked from walking every path life has given you - even the ones that have taken you uphill, to your faces lined with living and your lips dry with breathing in and out, in and out. You are masterpieces of form and function and the best examples my daughters have to understand their own beauty. Please, know that you tower for me now the way those billboards towered for me then. You are so beautiful I cry from the awe of realizing your magnitude and then I rejoice that I get to be beautiful alongside you.
And today, in my jeans that show exactly what I look like right in this moment, right in this life, I am going to do just that.