The Truth About The ‘Mom Uniform’ (Or, My Truth, Anyway): Real Talk On Body Image
To quote the best musical ever: Can I get real a second? For just a millisecond?
There’s something lovingly referred to as the “Mom Uniform.” It looks something like this: yoga pants or leggings, a tank top or two, maybe an oversized sweater or sweatshirt, two-day-dirty hair piled into a messy bun, and a cute child on the hip. And I look like this pretty much every day. Not because I’m trying to conform to the beauty standards set forth by the band of young moms that frequent the same grocery store, drug store, and coffee shop that I do. But because I am trying to ride that very delicate line between “I look good” and “I actually don’t give a shit about how I look.”
It’s not easy, looking slightly rumpled while also strategically hiding the parts of myself I loathe in such a way that maybe you notice my finer points. I’m tall. Leggy even. I have an alright rack. (I really hate that term, because my breasts are mostly used for feeding my young and I don’t actually give a shit about being sexually attractive to anyone at the moment.) I have a couple tattoos I’d gladly share with the world. I’ve been told that I hide the extra ten to fifteen pounds that I’m carrying these days.
I want people to notice these things. Or, rather, I don’t want people to notice the other things. Like the fact that I can’t seem to avoid a little muffin top, no matter how many slightly-tight camisoles I wear, or the mega-wide elastic band my generous yoga pants offer. Or the fact that my arms are just a little too jiggly up by beautiful tattoo. Or that I’m pretty sure the fat under my chin is noticeable. Or that my thighs have about as much cellulite as probably any young thirty-something should have.
I want people to think I put more effort into what my kid is wearing, (“Oh my GOD, I love a baby boy in a fun striped romper! Look at those little superfluous shoes your non-walking baby is wearing!”) than I put into myself. (See: that same mom uniform I wear every day.)
But the truth is, I tried on about a dozen shirts this morning. I tried on my sports bras because sometimes minimizing my breasts makes me look a little slimmer. But then the uni-boob that created just made my gut suddenly noticeable. I tried on my regular bra with some camisoles, my good old go-to combo. But then what to put over the camisole? It’s hot out today, hotter than it has been all year. Do I go with a flowy tank top? Maybe, but I really only have one or two that I like, and they’re both dirty. No, not “I wore it already” dirty, but rather “my baby was rubbing his snotty nose on me and then I dripped guacamole on myself at some other point” dirty. So I go to my sportier looking tank tops. They’re ribbed and racerbacked and fit snugly. But, no, those looked good on me ten pounds ago, but now they just scream BIG ARMS. So I try a crew neck t-shirt. But ohmygodno, you cannot have boobs that have breastfed three kids and wear those, no matter how good your bra is, because suddenly your boobs look like sit squarely in the middle of your torso, closer to your navel than your neck. (In truth, they do.) A co-worker lovingly referred to them as “orangutan-boobs” and she’s not wrong. Crew-neck t-shirts look good on waifs with perky breasts, I decided. See also: billowy shirts that look so cute on the hanger at the store. “Oh, this’ll be nice and breezy” I think to myself. HA! How naive! On women with breasts, they make you look like a round blob. But I tried on a billowy t-shirt I always hope will work. I hoped it would work so hard that I walked out of the store with it. Nope. None of these tops would do.
Perhaps the problem was the pants. Ah, yes. Shorts are terrible things. But it’s hot out. Maybe a skirt? Maybe I can go with the whole Earth Mother thing and wear a flowy skirt that is so magical and floral that no one will even notice my upper body, which I have already established is never going to look good no matter what. But I seriously don’t have the right shoes for these skirts. So back to yoga pants I go.
Before I know it, I have an actual pile of discarded clothes. And I kind of want to burn them all. But, surely, I’ll actually lose some of this baby weight at some point, right? I can’t get bring myself to get rid of this mountain of clothing. I’ve already been holding onto it for almost two years. Last summer, I was pregnant. So my non-maternity summer wardrobe is two years old. Two years ago, I was ten pounds thinner. So you can imagine how well anything without an elastic waist fits. I would buy a whole new wardrobe, but as the at-home parent who already bought new clothes when I was pregnant, I’m sort of at the bottom of the list in my family where new-clothes are concerned.
And I get stuck in this loop of self-loathing. I spend so much time getting dressed, that you’d expect me to have some superb outfit picked out. I could have straightened my hair or done an elaborate braid that clearly takes time but also perfectly borders that line between put-together and bohemian. But I can’t very well go out with well-coiffed hair while I’m wearing the same yoga pants and tank tops as I always do. So my hair gets put into the messy bun. I hardly have to put it there. It has a memory and goes into that shape with little to no coaxing on my part.
So: Mom uniform. To me it represents comfort. It represents feeling, if not a tiny bit confident, then at least lacking the deep self-loathing I feel when I’m trying on my prettier options.
Worse than the self-loathing about my (most likely totally fine and maybe even good) body, is the self-loathing that comes with hating my reflection and the guilt over caring so damn much about something that really shouldn’t be that important.
I’m a good person! I care about people! I’m a loyal friend! A nurturing mother! A creative type that sometimes makes art things I’m proud of! Why does it matter at all if I spent my time parenting and creating and not sculpting the perfect body? Why should I be miserable with a migraine that inevitably comes if I don’t keep my blood sugar up (read: eating endless amounts of trail mix)? I know I could be unhealthy and starve some pounds off real easy. I’ve done it before. (Like all through college.) I have three kids. Three kids that I adore and am proud of. Three kids who have stretched out my body. I earned this “lived in” look, damn it! I should wear it with pride.
But I don’t. I feel self-conscious and wrong. I can’t remember the last time I felt at home in my body. I just don’t. A mom uniform makes me feel halfway there.
For the record, I don’t want to subscribe to unattainable body standards. Intellectually and emotionally, I know they suck and are actually unattainable for most people. I’m not looking for perfection. But I am looking for clothes that fit well. I’m looking for shirts that are comfortable and that hit me in all the right places. I’m looking to put on an outfit, look in the mirror and decide “yup, this looks good” without changing a million times.
I don’t know if anyone will find this at all helpful. Except I would put money on the fact that I’m not the only person who feels this way. I’m rocking my mom bun today. And I’m wearing shorts, dammit! Because all my comfy yoga pants are guacamole-stained.
(Yes, I like guacamole.)