“A Mother who radiates self-love and self-acceptance actually VACCINATES her daughter against low self-esteem. ”
― Naomi Wolf
Jeff and I attended a wedding on Friday night and since I haven’t been to a wedding in YEARS, I wanted to dress myself up and enjoy a wonderful night out. First step: new dress. Years of nursing having taken their toll, I needed something that had some decent support for m’ladies. I found a delicate and wonderful dress at a little retailer I like to call Banana Republic.
I will confess that part of the draw for the dress was the ample shoulder straps and my impression that it was part of the Mad Men collection, specifically “the Betty.” Now, I am not sure if that is even true. I like the fantasy so much that I declined to check my imagination with Banana’s website.
Early in the week I had decided to eschew the Spanx. I was going to embrace by beautiful jiggles and my childbearing adipose tissue. I thought of the wonderful message I would be sending to both Sadie and Simon: Mommy loves her body and refuses to stuff her almost-40-year-old body into a “garment” that may very well cut off circulation to her trunk.
Nope. No, thank you, Spanx.
But, then Friday afternoon came. Jeff was already dressed in his dashing suit he wore for our wedding. I was standing in the bathroom summoning all my rebel courage. I was still committed to the vision of wearing the dress without the punitive piece of femininity that would only serve to undermine my power in the world.
It was settled.
When I was looking for the appropriate alternative to Spanx, the ever roomy thong I thought would be perfect for the occasion, I decided I would at least see if I even knew where my Spanx were. When I couldn’t find them, I felt relieved. I was off the hook! I couldn’t wear them even if I wanted to. Hurray for feminism and hurray for me.
Then, when I was looking for the right bra, I saw them. I saw them in the corner of my lingerie drawer (that is mostly athletic socks and sports bras because I am THAT kind of sexy). Uh oh. Now I have to face a choice. Crap. I wished I hadn’t seen them. When I found myself searching for justifications to put them on (Sara Blakely, owner of Spanx, is a woman entrepreneur– I am supporting female-owned businesses! I am dripping with feminine power right now!), I knew I was going to put them on and wear the hell out of them. Nevermind that I hadn’t had them on since before I was married or had two children. Never mind that when I pulled them out of the drawer they looked more like a garment for Sadie who is 29 lbs (6 of which is her hair). I shimmied myself right into those Spanx and vowed to get more clarity (for next time) about where I stood on the complex issues involved in wearing something that was going to possibly curtail my ability to eat a full meal.
The world didn’t end because I wore the Spanx. I am not even sure that it made any difference at all in my appearance. My appetite remained hearty, and my ability to eat PUH-LENTY at the dessert table indicated that the Spanx weren’t that tight. But I do think it seems wrong. I have read the section in The Snowflower and The Secret Fan about the ancient practice of Chinese foot binding (the Chinese Republic legally ended the practice in 1911). Certainly, 5 hours in Spanx is not crippling and it did not doom me to a life of dependency on Jeff. But, I do think it’s on the spectrum. (Sorry, Ms. Blakely, I do.) Some of the differences between my Spanx and Chinese foot binding are significant: I bought the Spanx with my own money, and I chose to put them on myself. Also, there is a line of Spanx for men.
But still. Those things are not comfortable, and there is no escaping that the whole point of them (in my case) was to keep my body from being exactly what is is: soft and overflowing in some places where I wish it wasn’t.
I sort of wish I didn’t even know about them, but with a gushing endorsement from Oprah and their soaring popularity, I was robbed of blissful ignorance.
Honestly, the only reason I am still perseverating about this is because I have two small children. They pay attention. They imitate the things that Jeff and I do. Sadie talks on her pretend phone and says exactly what I say when I am on the phone. She says, “oh, sh*t!” innocently, because she hears me say it all the time. (Outlaw Mama is not proud of her potty mouth.) Sadie likes to wear my shoes and both of them love to carry my purses around while they are playing. There’s the simple fact of imitation.
There is also what is in the air in my house, that non-verbal information that swirls in the atmosphere carrying my attitudes, beliefs, and feelings. That’s the stuff I can’t begin to control, and I know my kids are picking it up. So even if neither of them sees the Spanx, which is a symbol of my own disapproval of my body, there is no escaping that I carry an attitude that I should be taming my body and stuffing into this magical mix of nylon and spandex.
How effective is the parenting model where you say to your child: “Do as I say, not as I do”? So when Sadie comes to me right before her prom or before her performance at Carnegie Hall and wants me to get her some Spanx, what will I say? Will I say, “Sweetie! I want you to love your body the way that it is. I want you to wear your outfit confidently and not wear those uncomfortable Spanx!”
I am pretty sure I stand a better chance of raising a daughter who doesn’t believe she needs Spanx if I embrace my own Spanx-less figure.