When I was in junior high school, I begged my parents to go in on a purse that I was desperate to buy.
Not just any purse. It was a Gucci Speedy/Doctor bag. (We didn’t call it that then. I only know that’s its name from researching this…it is now considered vintage! Ouch!) It probably cost a couple of hundred dollars, which was a lot in those days (at least to my family) to pay for a purse, or anything, really.
Everybody had one, or so it seemed to me.
I went to a large public high school, so there was a mix of economic and racial backgrounds, kids from many different backgrounds.
On any given day you would see the many different lifestyles reflected in the fashion of the different groups. Sometimes what a kid was wearing reflected their socio-economic status, but not always.
There were “Stoners” (or “Partiers.”) The “Kickers” (this was Texas after all — so these kids were cowboy/farmer types.) It being the 80’s, there were the “Punkrocker” or “New Wavers.” ( I know, this is beginning to sound like the movie “Pretty in Pink.” That movie resonated for a reason, right?)
It was the height of the Preppy or Preppie craze, and though Houston, Texas was not NYC, we did get the fashion trends, albeit maybe a season or two behind. So the other main group was the “Preppies.”
The majority of kids in the Preppies definitely came from upper middle class to wealthy families. Looking back, for a public school, there were quite a few kids that came from great wealth.
I didn’t really fall into any one group. While my family was white-collar, sort of upper middle class, my father, having come from next to nothing, wanted to be sure that we were not spoiled. We never wanted for anything, but we lived fairly simply in comparison to some of the other kids in my school.
I was never one of the popular kids. I was an outcast until I lost a bunch of weight at 14, when suddenly I became of more interest to the “in” crowd. Though my outsides changed, my insides were the same. So though I was allowed around the in crowd now, I never felt a part of it.
There were others like me. We found each other and created our own group. We didn’t have a name, at least that I know of.
We were sort of mysterious: people knew we had fun going out to clubs and bars and hanging with older college kids. Though we had friends across all the groups, we would hang with just each other outside of school. We dressed in a mix of all of the fashions of the day.
But back to that bag. The bag that “everyone” was getting. I just had to have one. I had some money from babysitting, but not enough for THAT bag. So through the implementation of Chinese water torture on my dad, I promised over and over dramatically that “I would never need to buy another purse again for as long as I lived if I had that bag!”
Eventually, I wore my parents down. I got THE bag.
I have no recollection as to whether or not obtaining the bag actually brought me any pleasure whatsoever. I ‘m pretty sure that the amount of time I actually used it was very brief, much to my father’s chagrin.
Years later, after my Mom died, when we were sorting through some of her things, my Dad reminded me of that bag and that promise. We laughed about it, but I felt a cringe of guilt at how easily I had let go of that bag after having fought so hard to get it.
I think it’s because I really had no connection to the bag itself. Only to the way I wanted to be seen carrying it. The lifestyle to which I wanted to be associated. Which was not reflective of my own style at all, or even who I really was or even wanted to be.
But I wanted to feel like, or to be wanted by at least, (or to be seen by others as being wanted by or as one of “them,”) those popular girls, and so I got the bag. It didn’t make me feel any more a part of the “it” group than I ever had. I was an outsider and I always would be, bag or no bag.
It makes me sad that the girl I was then didn’t feel good enough in my own esteem to have seen that bag for what is was: a status symbol. It wasn’t the bag I really wanted. I wanted status. How I wish I could go back in time and tell that myself that being an outsider was actually pretty cool. Now I know the kind of status I needed would never be able to come from anything outside of my own heart. I wish I hadn’t sold myself so easily and so cheaply.
After my Dad died, I found that old Gucci purse in a box in the garage, where my Dad had kept it for me all these years. It was in mint condition, barely used.
Maybe you are hoping I’ll say I started to use it again. Or that I sold it at a profit on Ebay.
I gave it to the Salvation Army, where I hope it became a found treasure for someone who really wanted it for its beauty. I hope it is being put to good use in the world, as should all things.
Today I carry a very practical Lug Moped Day Pack bag as a purse. It costs about $35.
It’s light, leaves me hands free and has just the right ratio of open pockets, zippered pockets, divisions and space. (As it turns out, I am quite finicky about a handbag’s function, would love to design my own ideal bag, but this is as close to my ideal as I have found to buy.)
I have no interest in designer handbags. I may admire their beauty sometimes, and be amazed at and appreciative of the women who pay for them, love and carry them. But they were never my style and probably never will be.
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.
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.