There are a lot of reasons not to buy clothes. These reasons congeal into giant orange hazard cones when you’ve given birth semi-recently, breastfeed a couple times a day, and/or feel like you are not fully existing inside your own body! I scroll through these reasons every time one of those tailor-made ads pops up on a blog I’m reading, creepily reminding me of my searches for “good price, nice underwear” or “flattering harem pants” or “soft black sweatshirt”.
I’d recently gotten in my head that a soft black sweatshirt was going to potentially change my life for the better. What’s taken me so long, I shouted at myself. Why have I never even owned a soft black sweatshirt? I’d seen a neighborhood mom wearing one recently and a cartoon cloud burst above my head, coating me in the soft rain of realization. Hey hold on, you know what, if I was wearing that, things might actually be OK!
First of all, I’d feel like I was constantly being held in a gentle embrace. Second, I’d look like I knew what I was doing, like I knew who I was — a mom — but the chic, unfussy kind. Like a mom who wakes up in the morning, takes a quick shower, throws on her soft black sweatshirt, and could subsequently be photographed at any moment afterward in a state of supreme calm. When her son turns stone-faced and throws pieces of waffle under the kitchen table like he’s playing Cornhole, this woman is matter-of-fact but amused; when that same son falls to pieces himself, thanks to a delayed afternoon nap, this woman kisses him, turns the volume down on her baby monitor (who am I kidding? she doesn’t even use a monitor!), sips a cup of organic tea and really takes in all the relevant details of an important article in The New York Times about climate change.
I could be this woman, I think. I put the sweatshirt in my online shopping cart. Everything feels really attainable in that moment, like all my ambitions for myself as a human being and a mother and an effective manager of time are actually attainable. I don’t have to feel anxious anymore! I just have to enter my billing and shipping address and credit card information and everything will be not just OK, but beautiful.
Hold up, though.
I’m not a fucking idiot. I see through the seduction before anybody’s pants are unzipped! First of all, I’m going to look like a garbage bag in that sweatshirt. I mean that literally, I will look like a black bag filled with garbage in that soft black sweatshirt because it will undoubtedly be too baggy on my undersized upper body, causing me to look like I’ve stuffed old rags and takeout containers into it, the way you do with a bag of garbage. Secondly, it will be too hot. It’s getting hotter outside by the day, so that warm embrace will turn into the clammy Gumby arm entrapment of the accidental boyfriend you never should’ve started dating in the first place. And so it goes from there. I think about the money that could’ve been better spent on food or a babysitter. I think about my perfectly fine cardigan and the head-sized hole in its left armpit that only adds to its draping charm.
You get it. There are a lot of reasons not to buy clothes. And online shopping has only furthered my manic and crippling indecision. I can buy things for other people, no sweat. I can receive clothing as gifts - what a generous relief! And I can certainly click through ten pages of an extra 30% off sale, filling up carts and abandoning them all over the internet. But, ultimately, a sale only serves as a reminder to me that the best deal is not making a deal at all and instead, slipping on that trusty pair of Old Navy ankle length sweatpants that look better than you’d think. But still pretty bad.
I do not want to join the chorus of beautiful new mothers who have succumbed to the societal expectation that they despise their bodies and must exercise and diet them back to some sort of perfect ideal that actually isn’t. And to be honest, I don’t hate my body. But I don’t feel like I know it. I feel like I’m keeping it at an arm’s length because knowing it would mean accepting that it is different now; that I am different now; that even though my clothes still fit, and though I mostly look like the person I was before I grew a kid inside myself, my brain and my skin and my muscles are altered. For example, my hip bones apparently MOVED to let a baby go through. Did they move back? WHO CAN SAY? (Please don’t say.)
But all these bones and muscles and all this skin, it’s all still working. It’s squatting to pick up a 22 pound toddler and it’s climbing up playground ladders and squeezing down slides and thundering into a pile on the couch at the end of the day with the force of something seven times its size. It deserves the warm embrace of some sort of fabric, I know. But if I buy new clothes for this new body, if I buy nice clothes, clothes to be seen in, then I’m pretty much saying, I like you. I want to do nice things for you. I want you to go out and do fun things, with or without the baby who sleeps in your apartment. I am not afraid of you, body! I am not afraid of how you are not at all familiar to me!
And if I say that, I probably have to mean it.
Or do I?
Maybe I just need to buy a fucking soft sweatshirt. I don’t want to believe that it’s that simple. It probably isn’t. But, come on, Katie, you can always return it. You have to try! You have to live! You have to clean the butter dish! You know what I’m talking about, fellow dubious shoppers, misers, and other reluctantly positive people. Nobody wants to clean a butter dish. Is it even worth it? There will just be more butter! More butter, more breadcrumbs on the butter, more jelly on the crumbs on the butter! Shouldn’t I just let it ride for a few sticks at least before performing this tiresome charade just for the sake of keeping up appearances? But then one evening, when I’m not thinking about it, I’m just talking to my husband as he flosses loudly (yes, you can floss loudly and he does) in the bathroom, the empty butter dish finds its way into my hands and I soap it up and rinse it until it looks fresh off the Crate and Barrel shelf. I put a new stick of butter on top. I put it in the refrigerator in its cozy little butter dish compartment, and for a minute, everything doesn’t just feel attainable. It actually is. I can just wash a butter dish or I can just click PURCHASE or I can just do some jumping jacks in my living room and make my kid laugh and feel the soles of my feet on the cold hardwood floor.
I can see myself in a mirror and, though I won’t know who it is I’m seeing, I can choose not to be alarmed. I can think, hey, I know her! That lady in the weird black sweatshirt, I know her. Or, maybe I don’t. But I want to. Hey lady. What’s up.