In a few weeks, we will head to South Carolina for a family visit. It dawned on me yesterday that we should probably make sure that M has something suitable for the (hopefully) warmer weather. Sure enough, last year’s shorts and t-shirts are just too snug anymore. It called for some summer clothes shopping, which was good timing considering that it was raw and rainy outside, with snow in the forecast. We needed the distraction from Mother Nature’s prevailing mood.
Before heading to the store, there were a couple of shirts that I tossed into the “storage” pile. She could still get them on, but they certainly did not fit her growing, lithe body. I was surprised when she was a bit upset that they did not stay in the “keeper” pile.
But, Mama, they’re my favorites. They’re comfortable.
It wasn’t lost on me that growing children do not have the same luxury as adults of adopting long-term comfort clothes. If you look in my closet, you’ll see that I still favor a few shorts and pajama pants that are relics from the late night study sessions of my first year of law school . . . sixteen years ago. Still, despite their threadbare status, they give me comfort more than chills and so they remain.
But children? They can’t get attached like that. Maybe that’s a good thing. It means they’re growing, right?
When we got home from our very short shopping excursion—she needs no convincing when it comes to soft cotton dresses—it was still quite bleak outside. She was going to play princess in the living room while I cut up some potatoes for the night’s dinner of salad and homemade fries. The front door was open to let in as much light as we could on that dreary Tuesday.
Then I noticed it: the way the light hit the tulle of her dress in the doorway. These mere photons of light propelled me backwards along the space-time continuum with such unexpected force.
I was immediately transported back to my mother’s house when M received that dress for Christmas in 2011. Unsure if it was mere minutes or light years ago, I could still remember how smitten she was to have received her first “fancy princess” dress. I took this picture that day, seeing a future bride, perhaps, but certainly the love of a little girl and her Daddy.
Yes, the hem hits higher on her now lanky legs, and it’s a bit harder for her to bend and breathe. The outer layer of tulle has since been trimmed away due to the snags incurred from years of dancing. But this dress? It still, somehow, has enough room left to provide her with the comfort that youth and imagination have to offer. It is still fit for a queen.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
We live along an elevated edge of an abandoned granite quarry. Though it is pretty densely populated around here, the adjacent topography—the contours of the land that surrounds us—gives way to a wide expanse of sky. We are lucky in this way.
Our backyard and deck face the west, and the kitchen window above the sink looks out this way too. This means that, at the end of the day, perhaps when we need it most, we are privy to some of the most glorious of sundown skies. From our vantage point, though we cannot see the sun go down below the horizon, there is a lovely progression of dimming light that we do get to witness.
This is the cardinal direction that I favor most, the time of day when I feel most connected to the earth.
And yet, there are times, though not often, when I am roused enough by the morning sun and all of its offerings at the front of our house. The early light seems more like a promise, rather than the affirmation that the dusk provides. I’m not sure about you, but I have more faith in affirmations of what was, rather than in promises of what might be. But that scent of hope that a promise provides? It’s quite attractive sometimes.
The other morning was one such morning. It was a cotton candy sky—both the blue and the pink I suppose, though I am a traditionalist when it comes to spun sugar. I prefer mine pink. I lifted the shade and stood at her tiny dormer window for just a moment, stealing this view all for myself.
M was still waking up in her bed, but I knew if she didn’t hurry, she’d miss the morning light that was filled with her favorite color. I told her to come look. She’s never disappointed when I do that, though usually it is in the evenings and not when she wants to stay warm under the covers. She crawled onto her window seat and uttered her usual, whispered refrain, “Wow. It’s so beautiful.” Indeed it was. Somehow we were both able to see past the intrusive utility lines and the ugliness of the neighbor’s rotten shed. We were consumed by the rosy glow.
Ever since she’s voiced her affinity for pink, I’ve come to notice it more myself, especially in the sky. I now deliberately point it out to her, and she to me, so that neither of us misses a particularly spectacular show. Almost anything we’re doing can be momentarily stopped to revel in the bounty of light offered by the sun and sky. Before her, I probably would not have stopped so deliberately, and certainly not as often, to take note of the colors.
Now, the sundown sky often reveals the smallness of our time here. Since M entered my world, she has become the yardstick by which I measure this time. It’s not my parents’ lives. It’s not even my husband’s. No, the one thing that has made me take note of it is her. Before her, there were discrete goals that helped me measure time: attending and completing school, finding and advancing through a job, getting married, buying a house. These were but things on a list that needed to be checked off, and there was plenty of time to do it.
Once all of those things were accomplished, the rest of the time ahead of me felt more open-ended. I was slightly uneasy and irresponsible with it. I was wasteful. Then M was eventually born, and time instantly felt more finite. I felt a certain kind of deliberate call to action about how I was going to make use of what time was left. It all leaves me feeling a bit frantic.
I think we all have something that becomes our touchstone for measuring time, especially what we have left. For me, I’m now realizing, it’s my daughter and watching her grow. No matter how many more years I’ve got, I know it will not be enough. I think we’re all slightly greedy in this way, or at least I am. But, by ticking the time away night after night with sunsets that give us pause, or those sunrises that nudge us out of bed a few minutes early, I try to slow it all down just a bit. I’m pretty sure it’s not working, but at least we are enjoying the show together. And, I hope she will learn, earlier than I did, to give pause for all of those skies she will one day see without me by her side.
Much of my Instagram feed (where these images also have appeared) is filled with my sky-obsessed photos. If you like that kind of thing, come find me over there: @littlelodestar.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Last week, on a rainy afternoon, I felt like painting and adding some color to the dreary day. I wanted to try the salt technique I had recently read about.* M was definitely NOT interested in my suggestion. So, I went ahead without her. Once she saw the dynamic of color and water change with a mere sprinkle of such a basic element, she wanted to join in. How I missed this cool trick in six years of painting with M, I do not know. I found our stack of dried paintings this morning. I didn’t notice it last week, but she included some stars in her painting; stars that she only learned how to draw just days before. But the smiling girl? That’s always a constant in her art.
The impetus for today’s post is this article here on Huffington Post. I get that it (and other articles like it) is supposed to be an uplifting, “we’re making forward strides” kind of piece, and to a large extent, it is. But, ultimately, articles like this gnaw at me on some level because they make me question whether we really are making progress when it comes to describing women, particularly in media. This open letter is my response.
An Open Letter to Everyone Who Continues to Use the Word “Plus” When Describing Women (or Their Clothing) of a Certain Size:
Stop. Please, please stop. The use of the word “plus” to qualify (and quantify!) the size of a woman or the clothes she wears—it has got to stop.
I write this letter because I’m almost 40 and if I’m honest with myself, I am effortlessly a size 14 and with more discipline (read: no ice cream) a size 12. There, I said it out loud. Maybe a size 10 during a good span of consistent healthy eating and exercising, like right now. But I am well aware that 12 and 14 continue to lurk in the shadows of my running shoes and reveal themselves often. But I’m old enough to now know, accept and appreciate that there is a vast range of body sizes and shapes amongst us. I don’t need you or your ad copy to go out of your way to make the point.
I also write this letter because my daughter is 5 and a half years old. She is not yet aware that there are such adjectives used to describe the size of the female body or clothing. And, if you listen to me here, maybe she will never have to. Though it’s going to be hard as she soon grows out of her size 5 clothes. This size 6x that rests on the racks between 6 and 7—what exactly is that? Never mind, don’t tell me. I think I already know.
Think about it. “Plus” size. Plus what? Why do we use this kind of descriptor only when it comes to clothing size?
Correction: Women’s clothing size.
I’m not trying to suggest that there are not folks (like me) who are bigger than others. Of course there are. And of course you need to give sizes to things so we can find, order or buy them. It’s a range, like everything else. But considering the average size of women, why do we not instead call our sisters wearing sizes 0 (!?) to, say size 10, “minus-size” or “inferior-size”? I’ll tell you why, it’s because those sound silly. Just like “plus”.
And, while we’re on the subject, how can anyone even be a size 0? Zero is nothing. Nada. Zilch. So if there is a tag that says size 0 (or, insanity at its best, 00), why is there a pair of pants attached? What’s next? Size infinity with an endless bolt of fabric just clipped to the hanger? Don’t even get me started on vanity sizing. Though it does beg the question of what we’re even talking about anymore when it comes to size.
How come we don’t ever hear about “plus-size” male models? No, they are merely big (which can be equally offensive, in my opinion) or tall. How nice for them.
Let me make my point another way. We also don’t ever hear about “plus-melanin” skin or “plus-age” individuals, just to use two easy examples. Indeed, to do so would be derogatory and discriminatory because it inherently sets an arbitrary, if not idealistic, benchmark of what society and the media supposedly finds minimally (or maximally, as it were) acceptable. Maybe this particular point is best highlighted by the pomp and circumstance that is generated when an average sized woman makes the cover of a major fashion magazine, like today’s article on Huffington Post about the new Elle Quebec cover featuring Justine LeGault. Don’t get me wrong. I love that she is on the cover. LOVE. How can anyone not?—she is stunning. But I don’t care for the singling out that often ensues because of her size.
Or what about the fact that plus size clothing is too often sold in different sections of a store, or a different store altogether, even though the women who wear all of these clothes collectively gather and mingle together as friends and family. Or how about the cutesy ads and reminders from retailers that they have the latest trends in “my size” too. The size of a woman or her shirt shouldn’t be newsworthy nor should it be exiled to the far corners of retail shopping with pejorative labels.
If these women are truly models, then, by definition, they are simply meant to display clothing to prospective buyers like me. Buyers of all sizes. Under that definition, we should be able to see, on a regular, uneventful basis, women with whom we might just as easily share clothes. Certainly not all of the time, but enough of the time so that it is mainstream. Prospective buyers want to know how those dresses and pants will look on them, not some unattainable, unrealistic ideal. But by rarely using anything other than smaller sized models, media and the fashion industry are turning these models into an ideal. An ideal that the rest of us cannot relate to. An ideal that ultimately causes the unnecessary media frenzy when a larger woman makes the front page.
Here’s a thought. Focus your energy on selling and showcasing beautiful clothes and models—in all sizes. Describe the fabrics and the handcrafted details of the dress on the cover. Tell me about where the model is from and what she loves to do on the weekends. I don’t need you to add in whether or not she is “plus” size, I can take note (if I choose) all by myself, thank you very much. But please, above all else, stop using the word “plus” and patting yourselves and each other on the back when an average-size (or ANY size) woman is featured on a cover. It makes a spectacle out of the models and the rest of us women like her, including, quite possibly, my daughter someday.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
It’s sometimes challenging to be the parent of a young girl, at least in the context of balancing things like wearing make-up (which I do, minimally), beauty and self-esteem. Especially when you read stories like this.
I’ve written about this topic before, about a year and a half ago, when M had just turned 4. Since that time, looks and make-up have not really come up too many times, though I have noticed a slight uptick in recent weeks. Wanting to wear certain kinds of shoes because of what some of the other girls are wearing. Not wanting to wear her hair in pigtail braids (after she had just begged me at home to make them) when she arrives at school and sees that everyone is wearing their hair down and in sparkly headbands that day (she owns one, but hates wearing it, and so never does). M has always preferred the comfort of plain cotton clothing like leggings with loose long sleeved t-shirts, but her peers tend to wear things like jeans, puckery or flowy shirts, skirts with layers of ruffles and polyester tights (which she also owns, but hates wearing them, and so they stay cloistered in her drawers). The internal tension between her comfort zone and doing what everyone else is doing is palpable some mornings.
But looks do seem to be on her mind more lately. Here’s an example from just this morning, while I was putting on some mascara and blush after my shower:
M: Why do you wear mascara?
Me: Because as you get older, sometimes your eyelashes thin out and you want them to look longer and fuller.
Me: (trying to find the answer that will be honest but not plant any more weed seeds about accepting yourself only if you conform to society’s [the media's] ideals) Well, I guess it can sometimes make you feel even more beautiful than you already are. So, I guess that’s why.
M: But they’re not really any longer or fuller.
Thank you, M, for pointing that out.
She then proceeded to tell me about this woman she saw in Great Cuts last weekend (where she gets her hair cut–her dad takes her for those appointments):
M: Mom, last week I saw this super posh lady at Great Cuts. She had really dark red lipstick, really red cheeks and lots of eyeshadow. She was so posh! [can you tell we've been reading some Fancy Nancy books lately?] She was old and had lots of wrinkles around her mouth, but I didn’t tell her that.
I didn’t know how to respond to that, but I all could envision in my mind was her:
And then she went on to tell me that today I am looking like a dinosaur. Not because of my age (I think) but because my hair, apparently, is spiky in the back. So just call me Stegosaurus.
Today’s brief beauty discourse reminded me of two separate but closely timed exchanges that happened over the weekend.
First, what she said to me as we were snuggling on the couch one morning, and she was looking at my face:
Mommy, you have a moustache. It’s really thick. It’s like a MAN’S!!!! Did you know you have a moustache?
At which point I went upstairs and reacquainted myself with one Ms. Sally Hansen.
Then, she said this to her dad, while he was contemplating out loud whether or when to shave off the beard he’s grown since the fall and go back to just a goatee for the summer:
No, Daddy, don’t shave it off! Then you won’t look like Daddy.
Seems to me as though there is some facial (hair) discrimination going on around here.
But it all just made me think, that this girl, the one who likes to pretend to put on blush with the glitter on greeting cards she receives, is reaching this next level, if you will, of figuring out what beauty is. Of what is acceptable. I find it a little jarring for her to be entering this stage.
When it comes to makeup, depending on the age, it seems to be about trying to accelerate time, stop time or go back in time. Is it more about how something makes you feel inside rather than how others view you? For me, probably yes and no, as evidenced by the fact that I was fine living with my ‘stache staring me down every morning . . . that is, until I was inspected by Revlon’s future CEO.
And is it more about hiding our “flaws” or accentuating our “gifts”? Is it to show the world that we are “trying” or, at my age at least, have not “given up”? Yes, it’s fun, I haven’t lost sight of that part of it. And I think that is still ultimately the draw for M right now. The forbidden fruit-flavored lip gloss, if you will. She looked at that lady in Great Cuts and likely thought, “Wow, she gets to wear as much makeup as she wants and no one tells her no!”
But again, when we are making the all-too-fast ascent toward the double digit ages where romantic love and self-love, confidence and self-acceptance will all be intertwined on some level with how she views herself, and how she decides to weigh the importance of how others view her, it’s becoming a permanent fixture on my radar. This is the time that I have to perhaps be most aware of the seeds that I and the rest of us are planting in young minds like hers, and give her the tools that will help her weed out the invasive, thorny messages she receives along the way. Though I do find some solace in the exchange that took place right before the mascara conversation:
Me: Put down those tweezers, they’re sharp, trust me.
M: (sarcastically) Oh don’t worry, Mama, I’ll trust you until I’m fifteen.
Yes. Exactly what I’m afraid of.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
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