Today I had to buy bigger jeans.
I’ve been putting it off for a while, but at a certain point, you have to look in the rearview mirror of the minivan and have a heart-to-heart with yourself about the rubber band that you’ve been using to fasten the clasp on your jeans.
The rubber band is great old pregnancy trick for when the button won’t reach — except for you’re not actually pregnant.
“Hey girl,” You have to say to yourself in the rearview mirror with all the compassion and sternness you can muster. “It’s time.”
And then you have to drive to the nearest Marshall’s. And once you’re in there, you have to go past the rack of jeans that are the size that you still secretly imagine that you are (the size you were in high school when you were thin as a rail and wore teeny flared jeans with t-shirts you bought kids’ section of the thrift store).
Then, after that, you have to go past the jeans that are the size you have been cramming yourself into for the last three or four months. (You kept thinking that if you could just lose five pounds, you could make this work, but of course you haven’t lost five pounds, and it’s not working at all.)
And after you’ve let go of all that magical thinking, you still have to go bravely into the uncharted territory of bigger, bigger, bigger.
Why is this so hard?
Why does sizing up feel like failure, even when you understand that skinny is a false currency — a Chuck E. Cheese coin that is no good outside of the funhouse.
But then, all the world seems like a kind of funhouse, everything a little distorted, a little loud and bright and addictive. On Pinterest, models are decked out in skimpy “winter fashion” that shows off their preposterous thigh-gaps and could never actually keep them warm. The magazines in the Target checkout aisle show slimmed down versions of movie stars just weeks after giving birth, and I recently read an article in which Jennifer Aniston mentioned that she plans to rock a bikini in her 80s.
On Monday nights, the Bachelor contestants strut around in tiny dresses, tiny bathing suits, — tiny, tiny, tiny — and I watch to the hypnotic drone of funhouse music, comparing myself and feeling fat and unattractive in my sweatpants and ratty t-shirt…
But then, of course, healthy and tiny are not the same thing (as is evidenced by the emotional turmoil of the girls in the bikinis, sobbing in the camera and all turned around about what love really means.)
And for me right now, healthy looks like brown-crusted bread, fresh from the oven, insulating me from the cold. It looks like long hot showers that dry out my skin and then gads of Bath and Body Works lavender chamomile lotion. It looks like croissants and coffee and curling up with a good book. It looks like a glass of red wine and a bad Hallmark Valentines Day movie. It sometimes looks like a run on the treadmill, but mostly for the endorphins, not the caloric burn.
For me, at 32, healthy does not look like Size 0 or flat abs or scrambling to lose five little pounds.
In the dressing room, I have to peel myself out of the old pants that don’t fit, and when I do, I find that they have left harsh red marks on my abdomen.
The new jeans, in the size I have never worn before, are generous and forgiving. They button without hurting; they fit.
And of course I need new jeans. After all, I have spent the last two decades expanding.
I’ve made room in myself for big questions, for complexities, for entire seasons and landscapes that I didn’t know existed. I made room for two humans to spark into being and then grow into babies — 9 pounds 3 ounces; 7 pounds 10 ounces, respectively.
My heart holds a vastness of love at 32 that I didn’t know existed at 14, when my stomach was a flat board and my hips were nonexistent and the boy I liked scoffed and told my friends he’d never date a toothpick like me.
In the past two decades, I have eaten fresh jiaozi made by old Chinese women in their tiny closet of a restaurant in Pinghu. I’ve eaten bruschetta made from fresh tomatoes that we grew in our yard and bread that I kneaded with my own two hands. Lefse that my Grandma Grace taught me to make. Grandma Betty’s cheesy potatoes.
There have been glasses of wine with friends over deep, belly laughs and glasses of wine that I drank alone, trying to drown a deeper pain. And there has been grape juice playacting as wine in church to symbolize blood of Christ, poured out for you, and all of it is important. All of it matters.
It has expanded me into this person in the mirror, this grown-up, mother-person who is holding so much in her imperfect body.
“See?” some wise voice says from the deep place of my heart. “You are too old and too awesome to wear things that don’t fit you.”
And it’s about the jeans…and it’s not.
It’s about my body…and it’s not.
It’s about letting go of what doesn’t fit anymore, of who you used to be, of who you thought you might turn into. (You are too old and too awesome for all that nonsense.)
In the mirror, the reflection you see is not one of failure but of courage as you expand, expand, expand more fully into yourself.