I remember quite vividly a day back in high school when I had purchased a pair of white jeans from a thrift store, with my afterschool job earnings. I remember checking my backside in the mirror, trying to determine if they were flattering, or if they made me look fat.
For any high school girl, body image can be a tricky subject to navigate. Constant comparison to others is a given, and I was no exception. But when I coupled that with also being a ballet dancer, forget about it. My 5’2” and 115lb frame appeared to me to be all wrong in every possible way. I saw myself in a distorted way. My hips, thighs, and bottom seemed to me to be enormous as I compared myself to others in my dance classes. Why oh why can’t I just have a normal thigh gap? I would lament to my reflection in the mirror.
I knew even then that my distorted view of myself was because I spent so much time critiquing it in front of a mirror in nothing but tights and a leotard. It was inevitable that every possible flaw was illuminated before my critical eyes. But I just couldn’t help myself. I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be the version of normal that only exists in the eyes of a teen girl who has no clue what normal actually means.
So as I stood that day in front of the mirror, I almost chickened out and changed my outfit. But I decided to brave it instead if only to prove to myself there was nothing wrong with my body. I wanted so badly to believe the truth that I was loved unconditionally and that the size of my backside didn’t really matter. So I held my head high, anticipating that I would receive compliments on my new fashion find.
That, unfortunately, was not the case. In Spanish class, I remember walking up to the whiteboard as requested by my teacher, and I remember hearing someone comment about a “fat @ss.” In retrospect, I am pretty sure the comment was about my poor teacher, who did indeed have a rather large bottom half and was regrettably a constant target of ridicule. But that day, as I struggled to find my self-worth in a pair of jeans that I was sure made me look fat, I was positive the comment was about me.
When lunchtime came, as I stood in the quad with my circle of friends, I remember asking if my jeans looked ok, explaining that they were new and I wasn’t sure if white jeans were my thing. My bestie assured me they were fine. But what happened next, to this day, I have never truly understood.
There was another girl in our group, one who also danced ballet at my same studio, who was standing across from me at lunch. Now, this girl was kind of a frenemy, meaning, she was kind of mean to me. She would tease me regularly about how I was short, or insignificant in some way. I would play along and joke back to her about myself, because it made her laugh, and covered up any hurt I felt and tried to ignore. I wanted to fit in, and I didn’t really know how to confront her about it.
So anyway, there I was, standing in my new white jeans feeling a little self-conscious. My bestie was just getting done telling me the jeans looked fine and I shouldn’t worry. Then out of nowhere, my frenemy stepped, nay stomped on a mustard packet on the ground in the middle of our circle, spraying yellow mustard all over my new white jeans. I remember looking down, horrified and embarrassed. My frenemy laughed a little nervously, exclaiming at the same time how sorry she was.
I don’t actually remember what I said, or what anyone else in our group said either in the face of such a high school horror scene. I just remember I rushed to the bathroom, trying to get as much of the mustard off as I could with paper towels and water, but it was no use. The mortifying yellow blotches all over my jeans were there to stay.
And I had to wear them for the entire second half of the day, covered in yellow globs of mustard. I played it off like it was no big deal. But on the inside, I vowed never to wear white jeans again. They had become a symbol of ridicule and unacceptance. They were an elusive privilege that I felt would never be mine.
I felt weakened, insecure, and insignificant. I felt the very things I had tried so hard NOT to have to feel while wearing those white jeans. In my head, I had pictured all my insecurities as a high school teen vanishing because of those jeans. I had unknowingly pinned my hopes and self-worth on a pair of pants. And now my dignity laid in blotchy yellow ruin on my bedroom floor.
Stay tuned for Part II!