When I was growing up, entering that oh-so-excruciating time known as adolescence, there were only a few jean brands on the market. It wasn’t like today where designer jeans are so much the norm that they don’t even call them designer jeans anymore. There’s just a huge selection.
Not so in my day. There were just three brands: Levi, Lee and Wrangler. Or maybe those were just what was popular in my junior high school in my home city of Houston, Texas.
Everyone wore Levi jeans. Maybe some of the “Kickers” (the label that identified the farmer and cowboy types) wore Lee’s or Wrangler’s. But all the really cool kids, those known as “Popular,” wore Levi’s. So of course, I wanted to wear Levi’s.
And not just any Levi’s. Red-label Levi’s. For some reason I cannot for the life of me now recall, the red-label ones were somehow thought to be superior to the orange-label Levi’s.
This presented a real problem for me. I did not have a Levi body. While most of the other girls looked fantastic in these jeans that were basically men’s jeans, I looked awful. You see, this was before they started making jeans to actually fit a woman’s body. I mean there were women’s jeans, but they were still very shaped to fit a very narrow or boylike form. Most of the Popular girls were quite “petite” and had “atheletic” shapes, so they wore red-label Levi’s and looked terrific.
Me, not so much. If they fit me in the waist, I couldn’t get them over my upper legs and hips. If they fit my legs and hips, the waist was huge.
This was a source of major ego suffering for me. All I wanted was to fit in and to look as good as I could. I already knew I looked different: I weighed more and was much taller than the other girls. I was also very fair and quite shy.
But despite all these external characteristics that I just KNEW made me a social pariah, I was desperate to be noticed and appreciated anyway. I can still recall going to Sears or Macy’s or Lord and Taylor or wherever, only to try on pair after pair after pair of never-fitting jeans. I would leave feeling like a grotesque and misshapen loser, cursing God and the family gene pool that had created me. I felt that I was such a disgusting specimen of the female species.
I soon equated being able to fit in the Levi red-label jeans with being socially worthy. As I could not fit into these jeans, I decided that I was socially misfit.
I decided that jeans were just not meant for me, and neither was the Popular group. So I found some other social misfits and formed my own group. I don’t know that we ever had a name, but we were known to be “party-ers” and sort of mysterious, and maybe even somewhat wild.
I said, “Screw Levi’s” and started to wear a lot of black clothing and red lipstick and nail polish, which at that time was not in fashion in Houston, Texas. It being the 80’s and all about New Age music and Madonna and punk, I also had big hair and sometimes wore lace gloves with the fingers cut off and other “New Wave” kinds of things. I look back at some of those fashion choices and think, oh my, what were we all thinking…but for the most part, I look back and think I actually had a unique and interesting style that was sort of ahead of its time.
But I never wore jeans, and I never felt worthy.
And then, as if that weren’t enough, came The Time of the Designer Jean.
Now, Designer Jeans actually made their appearance in the 1970’s. But they didn’t trickle into the popular culture of Robert E. Lee High School until the 80’s. Suddenly, there were so many more options: EJ Gitano, Jordache, Guess, Girbaud, Sergio Valente, Chic, Zena, and Sassoon. Gloria Vanderbilt! And of course, Calvin Klein.
Oh, those Calvin Klein ads. They poured more poison into my fragile teenage mind-ego, creating even more pressure and myth around the importance of jeans to my self-worth and social worthiness.
Calvin Klein ad with Brooke Shields
Designer Jeans were expensive. They were also still not really made for the Real Woman body yet. Though they were better than the Levi’s, they still did not really look good on my body with its curves and extra weight; my “big” hips and my slim waist and “thick” thighs just did not work in those skin-tight designer blues. At least not in my eyes.
Needless to say, my self-ban on jeans continued throughout my college years and beyond.
I actually didn’t buy and wear my first pair of jeans until I was around 26 or so. It was a big deal for me. Finally, through extreme diets and over-exercising, I had whittled my body into a shape that I deemed worthy of jeans. I had arrived. I was finally worthy.
Well, of course, that was an extremely short-lived triumph. That pair of jeans didn’t make me feel any differently about my body or my self. I was still that girl who felt unworthy and disgusting, albeit much thinner on the outside.
Years of therapy would be needed to create change around my body image and sense of self-worth. I have had to unravel the popular-culture-and-advertising-influenced logic that shaped my fragile-and-emotionally-immature ego-mind. I have had to wake up to the real world and out of the sleep-spell cast on me in a youth spent immersed in television and magazine ads and movies and such to discover the reality that was alive underneath the layers of fantasy. It has been quite a journey.
Today, I finally enjoy wearing jeans, free of all that media-inspired hysteria. Today, there are many more choices. So many brands that actually are made to fit real women’s bodies. Hallelujah!
Today you can find jeans for just about every shape of body. Today, I don’t put a type on my body nor do I subscribe to words like plus-size or thick-thighed or skinny or big-booty or all the other descriptive words that are used so often in popular culture and advertising when discussing our bodies. They tend to be derogatory, and they always assume an IDEAL from which all else derives.
Sometimes, I catch myself comparing my body to that fictitious ideal of the ad world, but not as often and not for as long. I nip that self-torturous compare and despair in the bud when it comes up. My body and my mind deserve more from life than that.
I don’t buy that crap anymore. I know two things to be real and true. Women have shapes, and women wear clothes. Sure, go ahead and ascribe some sizes to clothes to make it easy to categorize and buy them. But don’t think I am going to buy into the ascribing of worthiness or some ideal of beauty (or imply the lack thereof) to any of those sizes. Any of them. I am awake today, and I know better.
Today, my thighs are the perfect size for my body. My ass is too. As are my waist and hips. My body is just perfect. Perfect for me.
You want to know what comes between me and my feeling good in jeans today? Nothing.
4 thoughts on “On Jeans”
Still to this day I will try to fit into Levis… Thinking magically I will someday look like my cousin did in them … 35 years hasn’t changed a thing
It’s amazing, isn’t it? Those early impressions get in us so deep.
I’d love to see a pic from high school – in all black!
I wish I had some!