Size Up

Size Up: On New Jeans and Self-Acceptance

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.

61 thoughts on “Size Up

  1. I love that wise voice. We are all too old and too awesome for things that would constrict our expansion. Great read, Addie.

  2. Me too Addie! Me too! This post reminded me of a famous quote- “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” ―by C.S. Lewis. Thanks for sharing this. This too is my struggle. And what I found was that the bigger jeans (the ones that FIT) made me feel better because they made me look better. No rolls or red marks or rubber bands or self-loathing…and they are sooo comfy when they fit!

  3. Great way to start the morning. I would be lying if I said I didn’t long to be “skinny” sometimes, but I would MUCH rather live my life and enjoy the wonderfulness that it includes.

  4. Is there any way at all that we can make this required reading for every last American? It’s the best writing on self- and body image I’ve seen. By far. Brilliant, Addie.

  5. I love the permission you granted ME in this post. Although I do know I should work out more, there’s a whole lot of life that’s happened while I’ve expanded. PS Wait until your 40 and your metabolism all but retires… ahem.

  6. “But then, all the world seems like a kind of funhouse, everything a little distorted, a little loud and bright and addictive.” brilliant line. And frankly, it explains some of my constant exhaustion if the world is really a giant Chucky Cheese. oiy.

    “I have spent the last two decades expanding.” What a good way to think about time passing. I tend to think of it as having had things fall apart or wear down. But expanding is more true. I have to keep reminding my daughter that growing is good, even if it means she doesn’t fit in the shirt with the sparkly purple heart any longer. This points out to me that I need to tell myself the same thing. Outgrowing things can be good. Even if I don’t fit in to the world the way I used to.

  7. After 2 pregnancies & deliveries, and 50+ years on this planet, I can say a big Amen to this post on every level. My one-size-smaller pants are still in my drawer, but they may be making their way to a thrift shop soon. Besides, my new larger ones are all skinnies — something I never thought I’d wear after 50! 🙂 When I wear them, I can breathe, which is a good thing. Thanks for reminding us that the person we are now is OK. I always love your posts.

    1. I agree. I’m hanging on to mine because I’m more active in the summer…but if I don’t get back to them, that’s okay too. I’m making peace with the bigger jeans. Thanks for the kind words Jeannie.

  8. I recognize that I’m young (21 years old), but even in spite of that I was so moved and encouraged by this post. I put on a lot of weight the last few years of high school due to an eating disorder (mainly due to family stress during that time).

    Now that I’m a junior in college, I haven’t gained any weight but I also haven’t lost any, either. I feel so much pressure to work it off, to eat less carbs, to “go paleo” or go to the gym every day. But for me, healthy right now is giving me space to be my size—135 pounds isn’t anything to feel sorry for. A better version of myself isn’t necessarily a thinner version of myself.

    Thank you, Addie—you are always giving me so much courage and hope for the days ahead of me.

    1. “Healthy right now is giving me space to be my size.” Love this. It reminds me of an annual checkup some years ago, where I came in overweight. I said to my nurse practitioner (who’s known me for years), “I’m not as worried about my weight as my obsessing over my weight,” and she couldn’t agree more.

  9. As the years go up, apparently metabolism goes down because even though I’m fairly active physically and my diet is reasonable, my weight is inching up every year. And I have many slacks that don’t fit well or at all anymore.

    A further analogy to this article could be that trying to wear and fit into clothes that no longer fit might make you sick by constricting internal organs. I’ve noticed that if I wear ill fitting clothing for too long, I often feel sick at the end of the day.

  10. This is beautiful! I am so with you. The scale continues to give me very unfamiliar numbers. I spend most of my life in denial and am almost out of clothes because I’m too scared of what size I might be when I do. Thank you.

    1. The first big pile of jeans I grabbed were too small. It’s humbling to have to go back out there, put back the size you THOUGHT you were, and go higher. But also, who cares? Who even knows? And they BUTTON! And they don’t HURT! Worth it. xo

  11. Wonderful thoughts! I love the idea of people “expanding” in more ways than one. I have gone up two sizes since I got married 15 years ago. It happens. I rarely get on the scale anymore. I finally stopped letting my body dictate my happiness. I am bigger than I have ever been, but I am also more secure with myself than I have ever been.

  12. Wow wow and wow. SO needed to read this. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been but also the happiest with my body. My body that has fought and won against infection, gone thru soon to be three major surgeries–the next one of which to replace my faulty hips that prevent me from exercising well/without pain, hence struggling for years to lose weight. I’m saving this post for a re-read.

  13. Wow! I needed to hear this!! Thank you! I know it sounds stupid but I don’t feel so alone now. Great post!

  14. YES. YES. YES.

    You have said this beautifully and it’s so deeply true.
    Here’s to a glass of wine and some laughter with you soon.
    May you continue to expand in all the ways that matter.

  15. This is just perfect. I’ve just recently had to buy the bigger jeans and I’ve been learning to let go of the things in life that just don’t fit. I feel so much freedom and lightness (not from buying bigger jeans but in letting go of the other things….). I’m making peace with the jeans.

  16. NAILED IT. (again.)
    (and that’s both about the skinny flared jeans and kids’ t-shirts and also, especially about “letting go of what doesn’t fit anymore, of who you used to be, of who you thought you might turn into.”) rock those new jeans.

  17. I LOVE THIS SO HARD. Thank you. Healthy and tiny are NOT the same thing. I’m right there with you, sister. After having twins, trying to find my new “healthy” and what it means to be motivated by self-care and not my jeans size. Sharing this everywhere.

  18. Expansion of any sort absolutely is a great thing – provided it doesn’t dim the alertness of the mind and provided it doesn’t stand in the way of dancing all night, or climbing up that tree, or playing chase with those super-fun kids if one feels compelled to join.
    Expansion of any sort is very much welcomed provided it only contributes to expanding the person’s happy.

    1. Yes. This is true. What I’m talking about here is more the natural expansion (and inevitable weight gain) that comes simply from growing up. Obviously there’s a tipping point where it’s no longer healthy.

  19. Having just turned 55, I love this article for many reasons. Whether you are still raising your children, or like me, they have grown and have children of their own, life is about choosing your own happiness. I actually have lost a few jeans sizes in the last year and a half but did not gain the toned body I had in my youth. You know what, that’s okay. I have new freedoms and choices to accept who I am today, rather than looking back to what I once was. I love this stage in my life and look so forward to what the future holds for my husband and myself. We’ve expanded in ways that have nothing to do with our bodies; ways that I wouldn’t trade for all my past years of my youth!

  20. I’m just 24, and I don’t have kids yet, but I lived it this year when I took a pill that made me unexpectedly put on almost 20 pounds. I had exactly two pairs of pants that still fitted me, and they were still pretty tight. But I was never able to go and buy bigger pants. I just stopped that pill and wore dresses and skirts while waiting and hoping for the weight to go down. I luckily lost half the weight and can fit in enough other pairs not to need to buy new ones, but I’m still not back to where I was, and I doubt I’ll ever be. I’m actually bigger now than I ever was before last year, and I’m okay with it now (I still hope not to gain any more, but that’s mostly because I hate shopping, especially for pants).

  21. I love this. I live in Asia, a place where people can talk about your weight and it AIN’T NO BIG THANG to them (usually). 😉 Unfortunately, I learned the word for “fat” in the majority language. I’m a white girl. A 5’9″ white girl, who has had 4 kids and totally looks like it. I went shopping in our local mall, the only place where a person my size could possibly buy clothes that fit, and heard the girls there giggling about the size I was shopping for. Later, that same day, I went for a haircut. “Fat,” I heard one smirking woman, to another, “REALLY fat”. I didn’t shop or eat anything in public for nearly 6 months after that. And then one day I thought, “Gosh. This is stupid. So what if they think I’m fat.” So off I went, as an F-U to the proverbial “Man” who ever made me think that fat= worthless, lazy, and stupid. I went back to the same shop. Tried on the same size. And I I tried it on I heard the voice of God screaming to me “I LOVE you! I LOVE THIS! All of this. Battles have been fought and won for YOU!” A battle has been fought for me. Like a princess in a tower. An intrepid knight, in the form of Christ, has waged war for me. ALL of me. My husband, even at my heaviest, even at my “REALLY fat” stage liked what he saw. And I’ve never battled body issues since. (Kidding… of course… but MAN that helped a lot!) Enjoy your jeans!

  22. Fantastic post, Addie. So wise and true. I’ve been thinking about it all week. xo

  23. Odd. Your premise is that expansion of the self and life experiences are reflected by an increase in clothing size. But really I just see a flowery description of excess and inactivity. I suppose it’s subjective, but my observation of those who truly grow in knowledge of Themselves And God are better served by moderation and temperance in the self and excess in the thou (the other). Mother Teresa comes to mind. My wife is another. Four kids and a size 00 at 40 with a new baby. Why? Hard work. Determination. Pain. Love. Strength. Resolve. Humility. Privation. She chose to set a goal of running a half marathon and did it through healthy training while pregnant. She swapped croissants out for organic eggs and spinach and robust but time tested healthy foods and snacks. She studied medical books in between caring for three boys under six. She fought for her right to attempt a natural childbirth after two c sections (they were breech) and won. My wife and her close friends don’t have time to worry about what size they are. They set goals, sweat, live healthy, live an active lifestyle and Taste Life.
    Everything good and holy in this world requires work and sacrifice. Instead of shopping at Marshall’s with a rubberband on her pants, she goes to Ann Taylor Loft and gets to wear the model size jeans with a two month old in tow. Ive heard the comments and see the stares. Funny that they come from the women who accepted increased jean sizes as easily as they did the extra pastry and another glass of wine. Remarkably, she stays quite warm despite her leg gap. Hard work ladies. Grit. Determination. Stop eating the poison, processed sugars the West is feeding us. You’re unhealthy. You’re husbands dont find it cute or attractive. They know your increasing waist is a sign of some weakness or lack of effort, but their love overrides their disappointment and hides the fear that maybe the same weakness will find them divorced someday. They look to the trim 50 year old and wonder why their 32 year old wife lacks the drive to care enough to care. You’re dying inside and your minds are clouded. It’s a Stockholm Syndrome and modern ideas of pleasure, ego, and excess are the prison masters. Getting fat and increasing in jean size is not indicative of aging and it is NOT natural. It’s indicative of laziness and lack of self control. “Eat, Pray, Love” is a selfish myth that ends in divorce, cancer, and spiritual antipathy. Your words are a sadly repeated falsehood of the West.

    1. I just clicked on Jim Dillon’s name (at the top of his comment above) and read some of his other comments. Like this one, many of those are sharp-tongued and short on the compassion I see in everything Addie writes. Consider the source.

      1. My comments seem sharp by today’s standards because a) I’m a man who doesn’t mince words b) I don’t believe in false-compassion. It’s deadly and killing JudeoChristianity and Western culture. These aren’t times to play around with lives, and most importantly, our eternal souls. Her article celebrates letting yourself go and indulgence as the hallmarks of “expanding” as an individual. Physical science and history would disagree. I look around me and see a Western world absorbed in self-congratulatory ego stroking. This prevalent acceptance of self apart from objective truth (I.e failure to recognize that getting larger and fatter is not natural or healthy) manifests in cultural acceptance of all sorts of evil. i stated that my opinion is subjective, and I’m open to criticism and differing points of view. I found Addie’s piece lacking in compassion to those women who work hard to maintain or better themselves, physically and spiritually. Temperance and self denial are the ingredients for true growth. Note, I do agree that obsessing about smaller sizes has its own dangerous implications. My point is that we should be celebrating the most healthy and wholesome person we can be by always striving to examine ourselves and better ourselves always holding Christ up as the model of perfection. I’ve got a thousand more weaknesses and flaws than everyone commenting. But I don’t accept them as inevitable or ideal.

        1. Jim, I can tell that we will disagree, vehemently, on many areas, including our approach to faith in general. I can point up the aspect of your comments that disturbs me most–a thoroughgoing lack of compassion–and you will likely call me an example of false compassion. OK. So allow me to pick up on one statement we agree on: “obsessing about smaller sizes has its own dangerous implications.” I would submit that sometimes the danger we confront has to be the danger most prevalent in our society. Right now, I see the shaming of anyone who, for whatever reason, cannot get to size 00 a far more devastating trend than a general trend toward “letting yourself go and indulgence.” If we were talking about rampant cultural gluttony with vast health implications, I’d be inclined to agree with you. And yes, we do have that too, in other segments of society, and that’s a problem too. But that’s not Addie’s point here. Her point (if I get it correctly) is that those of us who are unconsciously influenced by our cultural ideal of physical perfection–which is its own idolatry when followed far enough–can give themselves grace in the face of a natural tendency to spread as we age.

          Then there’s her other point, which I think dovetails with your “celebrating the most healthy and wholesome person we can be”: Addie, as I read her, is encouraging us to do exactly that, but with a focus on the most healthy and wholesome INNER, SPIRITUAL person we can be. That inner health, I believe, would lead us to give ourselves the aforementioned grace.

          My two cents. Boy, I hope other folks chime in.

  24. This is such a beautiful way to describe our bodies expanding with the expansion of our souls.

    “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.”

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