“You are built just like your father.”
Who, especially with such obvious annoyance, says that to her 4 year old daughter and continues saying it past the daughter’s fiftieth birthday?
Who? My mother, that’s who.
My mother, although a warm, self-sacrificing and loving parent, inadvertently, on many occasions, ran roughshod over my self-esteem. Recognizing a serious flaw in the design of my body, she devoted much of her life to not only reminding me consistently of the noted defect, but also working assiduously towards its circumvention.
I deserved a break on that one.
It’s called genetics. My mother was a small woman, 5’ 2” and probably weighed about 100 pounds when she married my father. Pretty, in an exotic way, big dark eyes, heart shaped face, defined features. Beautiful figure. Betty Grable legs. A tiny waist.
And then my father. A short man, about 5’6”. Broad shouldered. Muscular. Exceptionally handsome, with a deep cleft in his chin, dark wavy hair, and a most charismatic smile.
Now put the two together, stir up the genes a bit, and you get me, their first child, a baby girl with her mother’s dark eyes and her father’s smile, an absolute delight to her parents.
The problem arises later, when my mother, the perpetual seamstress, starts making clothes for me and discovers that whatever McCall pattern she uses has to be altered drastically to suit my body. When she starts buying ready-made clothes, the problem gets worse.
What is the problem? Complex.
From my mother, I inherited a petite stature, and slim, shapely legs. Ok, no issues there. But, unfortunately, my father’s contribution to my body, broad shoulders and a boxy torso created a sartorial nightmare for my mother.
“She’s built just like her father,” my mother complained to the saleswoman in Macy’s. “I have to buy a size 8 to fit her shoulders and then tailor the rest down to a size 4.”
My teen years were tough. Thankfully, my dowdy school uniform, shrouding my imperfections, spared me from hearing her biting criticism every day. When the first boy, however, showed interest in me, my body image became one of my mother’s obsessions. I accepted “guilt” and the ensuing punishment for somehow deliberately sabotaging my body blueprint. – No typical teen clothes I so coveted, but “more mature” things, which I despised and felt ridiculous wearing.
Once, my mother tried making matching outfits for my younger sister and me. The only real resemblance between the two dresses, however, was the fabric. My sister, blessed with proportions like my mother’s, got a dress with dainty puff sleeves and a belt. My sleeves were raglan to minimize my shoulders; my waistline, dropped, to create the illusion of a long body and small waist.
When we were both teens, my sister and I, for the first time, shopped for bathing suits, without our mother. In Bloomingdale’s, we bought very similar royal blue, two-piece swim suits. I was sure my mother would be pleased for I had chosen a squared neckline which she had always told me looked good on broad shouldered women.
“What possessed you to buy a two-piece suit?” she demanded. “You just don’t have the waistline for that.”
She was right, of course. A one piece suit would not have cut my short torso right in the middle. Keeping my purchase, however, was one of my very few acts of adolescence rebellion.
In the years that followed, fittings for prom dresses, bridesmaid dresses, even my wedding gown elicited the usual, “God, she’s built just like her father,” although my mother’s words were now uttered with a slight laugh, the edge gone from her voice. After all I had turned out reasonably attractive and, like her, had “a good eye” for clothes.
For several years before she died, my mother, I am happy to say, celebrated my annual yearbook nomination for “Best Dressed Teacher” in the high school in which I taught.
Today, I still shop often with my “little” sister. Last week in the Lord and Taylor dressing room, I gave her several, small-waisted, delicately pretty dresses I stumbled on in my search through the sale rack. And she handed over the raglan sleeved sweater she always seems to find for me.
When the saleswoman suggested a pretty blouse which would absolutely not work for me, my sister and I laughed and said simultaneously, “You are built just like your father.”