Monday, February 21, 2011

Whooo Are You?

My daughter B turned 11 this month. She is an amazing kid (aren't they all?); she is confident and funny and shy and serious. She likes to read but then again, she doesn't. She loves to play soccer but she gives me fits when it's time for practice. She's tall and strong and her heart is as big as the sky; it breaks over injustice and small differences. She's a lover and a giver. Unless we're talking siblings.

She received a gift card to spend at a department store. Unlike her mother, this child loves to shop. She still loves to play dress up, and she thinks it's even more fun when you get to bring those things home and wear them around and then leave them on the floor of her room, but whatever. The day we went to use her gift card, she was abuzz. The excitement of spending money on whatever she wanted was just too much to bear.

We wandered the aisles, her siblings and me making suggestions, offering opinions. She told us to buzz off. We did. She made her selections and tried them on. We left with a bagful of new garments, a mother approving of her choices, a child thrilled with new goodies.

She waited a week for an opportunity to wear her new garments: a brown and olive print skirt with a wide brown belt, a brown embellished tee with a square neck and a soft white cardigan. Oh, and bronze sandals from the women's department. Girl's feet are bigger than mine. Yesterday she put on her clothes for church and we oohed and aahhed about how pretty and grown up she looked. Her face grew dark and she followed me into the bathroom while I finished my own morning toilette. You know, hair, makeup, shoes...

"Mama." She said. She looked sad in her pretty spring clothes. "Do you think I still look like myself?"

Of course she looked like herself. "What's wrong?"

"I'm afraid," she told me, after hemming and hawing, "that putting these different kinds of clothes on will change me."

Her question, of course, spoke to me, her mother, on so many levels: the child beginning to wrestle with identity, groups and styles, plus the insecurity that comes with it; the growing young person balanced between kid and woman, unsure how to walk this balance beam. Her question digs to a deeper level about who we are and how we present our selves to the world.

Are we the clothes we wear? Are we our glasses or the music we listen to or the car we drive? Is it true that "the clothes make the man?"

Many of these things do send off certain vibes: hipster, fashionista, athlete, academic. But these are just the first glimpse others get of us, and sometimes our clothes just mean: I'm working out or I'm going out or I'm staying in. And we can alter our attitudes, I think, a bit by how we choose to dress. When I dress in sweats and a tee, I'm a bit lazier. When I put on shoes and an actual outfit, I'm ready to work.

But the ME putting on those clothes has not changed. I am the same person, despite not having showered yet today.

My daughter hit on something big and I know we'll be talking about it for some time. How do we reveal ourselves as complex creatures under the limits of a superficial world? By superficial I mean that we all make snap judgements largely predicated on how something or someone appears. So, who are you? Just a pile of cotton and wool or a crazy mixed up salad bowl of traits and characteristics? How do you shine through?


  1. Jen, I loved this blog. So often we don't even think about these things, for our daughters. I assume C doesn't care about how she looks and I make comments along those lines. I now wonder what my comments are doing to her psyche. I will be more careful now to see clues about what she may be thinking or feeling and how confident yet insecure she is all at the same time.

  2. Hmmm. I'm currently doing a wardrobe purge, and in so doing I'm getting rid of things I haven't worn in a while. It's hard to let go of pieces that have memories...even if they don't fit or fit who you are anymore.

    Somehow I skipped the whole body image crisis for the most part, my mother was more concerned with things matching. No blacks with navy, silver with gold. I rebelled, of course, but when I get selfconscious, it's more about colors, design, than fit.

    But this is a hard one. Does my haircut truly define who I am? When I first got contacts, for months I couldn't believe that was ME in the mirror.

    I'm glad that you and your daughter can talk about these things.