There is a moment in every mother's life as she exhaustedly shops with her preteen daughter for yet another $300 designer handbag, when she asks herself the inevitable question, "Why can't raising my daughter be as easy now as it was back then for my mother? I sure wouldn't be giving her any attitude about spending this kind of money on me!" But the truth is, growing up back then was tortuous for most of us, and we have the memories too prove it.
We may fondly think back to that time of innocence when we felt lucky just to get that prized Barbie™ doll for Christmas with a few boxed separates to dress her in. We appreciated the few, paltry gifts we got each year. Yes, life for young girls was much different back then, kind of like medieval times was compared to our computerized world of today. Back in the 60's and 70's, our mother's commandeered our lives to the point of being a drill sergeant. Of course, it was always for our own good. The rights, liberties and extravagances we now give our daughters today without question were foreign concepts to young girls back then. There was no such thing as independent choice and free will to dress the way you want, hang out as late as you want, and buy whatever you want. There was very little to choose from like there is today, but even if there had been as many cereals, candies and designer bags, no adult was going to let their child have them. Anything we wanted to buy over $1 in price was to be begged for.
As a young girl growing up in the 1960's, I was raised with strict guidelines on my "proper body image". There was a way I was supposed to look, sit, move, and touch my body that followed specific standards of protocol. No adjusting the crotch area or a bra strap in public, sitting with legs together, always wearing clean underwear; preferably cotton for better absorption. You get the point. There were rigid rules on the clothes I could wear; from the length of my skirt to the type of gym shorts I was forced to put on that made me cringe in the shadows of my gym locker. Life in my early teens was always painstakingly difficult and embarrassing. My mother made me check my pants for that red stain from my period continually and always checked that the pad wasn't bulging out too obviously from my clothes. These were the days when SPANX® didn't exist to suck in every unintentional bulge. Yes, there were girdles, but they were reserved for grandmothers and had become old relics of an era gone by. I was always being chastised by my mother about showing too much bra strap under my sleeveless blouse or told my bra did not look good under my top because it showed too much of my size 32B breast outline in an unflattering way. (like that was even possible
). I constantly checked the mirror to make sure there wasn't any Clearasil on my face. I could only wear make up that was "sheer" giving just a hint of color, which meant it covered nothing on my face and every zit stood out mercilessly.
As I grew up, conscious of every flaw, bulge, clothing stain, and inappropriate body exposure, I watched my brother and male cousins play baseball and spew phlegm without one worry about their appearance or their public hygiene. I admit that I always envied the freedom they had growing up; being able to scratch their crotch and walk shirtless in public, fart in front of each other with wild abandon, and pick their nose whenever the urge struck, without any recrimination. Not that I ever wanted to do those things in public, but it sure would have changed the way I felt about myself. There were no reprimands for such arrogant public display, just lots of laughter and mocking each other about whose fart was the loudest. It just wasn't fair. Here I was, petrified at being inspected by my aunt whenever she visited me as she assessed the development of my breasts like a weatherman assesses the day's weather: "It's still mild out, no clouds coming out, maybe one day the winds will pick up". How horrifying to be mocked about being flat-chested, in front of relatives in such a cavalier way. I felt as if adult woman in my life were put on this earth for the sole purpose of humiliating me. Why? To build my character? It certainly wasn't to build my confidence. By the time I was 13 I felt like a physical freak of nature.
Then there was the relentless teasing from boys at school. My mother would always say, "If a boy teases you, that means he likes you". But that was just to make me feel better. I knew it wasn't true. Boys teased girls to feel superior to girls; to claim their manhood; to vent their frustration at being forced to eat broccoli the night before for dinner; for finding our hairy unshaven legs or zits or breath repulsive. Boys teased because they could get away with it. The only time they teased us and actually did it based on "liking anything about us" was when they played with a girl's hair who sat in front of them. But even that was a power trip: when they could proclaim to the class room world "Even though she has beautiful blonde hair, I can still put a pencil in it and make her life miserable."
And who can forget the inevitable time all the boys and girls were on line waiting in the hallway at school (to do something like take a test) just as the janitor hauled a load of tampon boxes to the "girl's bathroom". That perfect moment frozen in each girl's memory forever as the boys laughed and snickered to each other and the girls just stood there frozen with shame as those cartons passed us by. You can bet those boys knew about female menstruation and sex before we even found out about it. Most of us never spoke about getting our periods with our mother; we were taught what we "needed to learn" (which just made us more fearful about our bodies) in health class; or on the day "the curse" arrived. And here were our fellow boy classmates, laughing and pointing to the boxes and talking to each other about it, as if it was some joke they were all in on, while we watched in mortified silence.
That's just how life was for young girls back in the 1960's. Dealing with our body image was one struggle after another; from those hard, painful plastic hair rollers we slept on overnight just to get our hair curled perfectly to our not invisible acne cream that always stayed on our face after washing it off. Head pain in the morning, anyone? Acne medicine on your face all day, anyone?" And, just to get more sympathy from any young girl reading this article, who still doesn't think life back then was so bad, did I mention that coffee was a drink completely off limits? I wasn't allowed to drink coffee at all, no Starbucks® catering to teens and college kids in the world back then. I was lucky if I got to suck on one of my grandmother's well hidden coffee candies.
My mother's chocolate milkshake breakfast routine in the morning was no free will at its best. It seemed to start with the notion she had that my thin, frail weight problem could be fixed with raw eggs, just like it beefed up body builders. So, every morning my mother would make me a "shake" of chocolate syrup, milk and a raw egg. Yes, I did say "raw" egg. I can still see the image of her in the kitchen, beautifully dressed and ready to go to work with barely a minute to spare, quickly making the shake in a Tupperware® shaker and serving it up to me. She ignored my protest and pleading to give me anything else
for breakfast, like a hardboiled egg with chocolate milk on the side. Yes, other children ate sweet puffs and sugary flakes of cereal for breakfast, and their mother was grateful for that, but my mother insisted on the raw egg shake. She believed in the power of a raw egg. She put it in mashed potatoes and stuffing, and any other meal she could slip it into. Needless to say, my mornings before school often consisted of my spending time in the bathroom gagging. And no pleading would change her mind about that shake. Of course my father always managed to leave to go to work before breakfast in the kitchen was served. I suspect around the time I was gagging on the chocolate milkshake, he was sitting in a diner eating a nice breakfast of hard boiled egg, toast and bacon.
And forget about delicious tasting frozen food; back then frozen food tasted like cardboard. We had to eat healthy vegetables like string beans which were always made in a frenzied panic in the pressure cooker. It became a ritual for me and my brother to hear the pressure cooker ready to explode its lid like some evil possessed demon force and run frantically into the kitchen to shut it off. My mother was always nowhere in sight, oblivious to the noise, but I will always be grateful to her for making me eat whole foods, what I owe much of my good health to.
The point of my childhood tale is this: Life today is a lot like that milkshake. It could taste so amazingly good, but there's always something lurking on the surface that makes it imperfect. There is no perfect world; each generation had its share of difficulty with rules and free will rights of kids. Just remember this: the lid never explodes...but it sure does shake a lot.
For more insight about our parental influence on our love life and our lives see www.isthistruelove.com
Looking "hot" and alluringly sexy was not a concept back then for young girls. Yes, there was always the token "hot girl" in class who looked like Britney Spears does today and every girl longed to look like her. But she was always the town slut. It wasn't until the 1980's and the advent of girls wearing jeans to school, that the world slowly started to change for girls. Thankfully, a new world for preteen and teenage girls embracing a more liberal body image took off full force in the 1990's. The greatest influence on young girls has been Brittany Spears. She was the first one to successfully mix being cute, innocent and sexually alluring in an acceptable way. She changed how girls in high school were allowed to dress almost overnight. Suddenly there were belly button piercings and low hipped s jeans barely covering lower abdomens. No more hair in curlers, flat ironing took care of that, and no more worry about stains, at least if there was one we certainly didn't feel the world ended if anyone saw it. Girls put away their knee socks and bought thongs. Teens were targeted to buy fragrances with seductive names that only their mothers were supposed to buy decades earlier. Catalogues for undergarments catering to teen and college girls became more like Fredericks of Hollywood® with bras revealing cleavage everywhere. Victoria Secret® push up bras gave young teens cleavage and that ability to look more like a dangerous vixen from the neck down and "the girl next door" from the neck up.. Girls were no longer innocent about their body or sexuality or inhibited about showing bra straps or breasts. Yes, before Brittany there were bra straps worn in public by Madonna; making it cool to wear a bra as a top by itself, but she was the rebel look, the exception to the rule. Now every young girl could flaunt their assets shamelessly. That became the new rule.
This was truly revolutionary, suddenly girls could wear any kind of top and bra, and wear make up to school and no one cared. No one recriminated. Girls became free of those reins of intimidation and shame about their appearance and hygiene. A new world of freedom finally arrived.
Believe me, I never want to see those "knee sock wearing, curler sleeping, makeup deprived" days again. I want young girls to always feel good about how they look, and I want them to feel that their sexual/physical behavior is all about pleasing their needs
and not just to please some guy's needs. A guy who just wants to bond with his buddies by shouting encouragement at two girls kissing each other is not about our freedom; it's about his freedom
. Feeling good about our physical freedom is not about needing to use it to attract that kind of attention from guys, it's using our physical freedom to please our needs and desires
about how we want to look, how we want to be perceived, how we want to be appreciated; how we want to be sexually pleased; and how we want to be respected; regardless of how we look.
Yes, young girls have come a long way since those days of gym shorts and sticky acne cream, and we need to appreciate how important this journey has been for all women. I certainly can appreciate it. I've just flat ironed my hair and I'm wearing my favorite sexy Victoria Secret® bra because I like to feel sexy for me. As I look in the mirror, I smile to myself when I think about my past. My aunt will be proud to know I'm now a full fledged "D cup".
Ah yes, that thing called "love". My mother programmed me to think of my life as "nothing" without a man in it. Her life mission was to infuse me with so much guilt about being single that I married the first man who wanted to live with me. Now, many years later, after a divorce and all those mind numbing years of dating bland men, psychotic men, mommy's boys, and destructive "I'm about driving too fast and f....the world" men; just to name a few, my true love has finally come into my life.
I now know what love is, or at least I know what it is for me. Being in love with a man is like having around that favorite stuffed animal that just keeps getting more and more tattered but feels so familiar and comfortable dragging around. It's that strange sensation of feeling life just isn't right when he's around and it just isn't right when he's not around: Oh, the bliss and the torment, the craving and the repulsion, the desire and the dread? the "yin and the yang" of loving a man.
But my mother didn't have to warn me at all about the way my life would be with a man in it? after all, I was her daughter, and I was trained at a young age to take a lot of the bad with the good.
You see, my mother, a Jewish teacher in New Jersey during the 1960's, was my role model; my "life coach" so to speak. She was tall and classy and dressed in short knitted mini skirts that showed off her curvy legs. My father worshipped her. Women envied her in that Jacqueline Kennedy sort of way: she looked great and had that unapproachable "you can look but don't touch or come close to me" aura about her. What no one knew except my family was that she was a bargain-shopper who swore me to secrecy about where she bought her designer clothes. Many of them were from a store in the Cuban section of a New Jersey town with the name of "Bargainland". Discount clothes shopping was my mother's life obsession, along with collecting antique Limoges China, eating ice cream and eating chocolate. My mother would never buy any garment full price. But it wasn't because of saving money. She just could buy a lot more when things cost less. And the more she could buy, the more she crammed into all the overstuffed closets in our home. I learned how to spot my mother's favorite discounted designer label before I knew how to dress myself.
Oh, how I wanted so much to be my mother. When I was a young girl, I was obsessed with drawing pictures of women in beautiful clothes. I didn't realize it back then, but I do realize now that I was just drawing versions of myself as her: my mother with her hair up, my mother in a black and white mini dress, my mother in a fur collar coat... it was the only way I could accept not being her. I would look at her old Vogue magazines stored away in the garage, and imagine those beautiful women in beautiful dresses being me. If only they would jump off the pages and become me. Then my life would feel right.
My father was a typical store owner of his generation: he inherited my grandfather's upholstery business after my grandfather died. He married my mother after a year in the navy, as soon as she graduated college and he bought our family's first house on a GI loan. Those were the days when a door to door salesman could support a family by selling toothpaste from a suitcase and dry cleaners made deliveries to your home and then catnapped in their truck in front of your house without anyone caring. Everything was easier and more innocent back then, from driving down the street without a car cutting you off, to knowing everyone's name and not wondering about the creepy guy living down the street because everyone knew who he was, where he worked and who his mother was.
My father's life consisted of going to work and golfing. My main interaction with him was at dinner time. And then it was only to watch him come home, throw his pocket change into his dresser drawer, which I loved to secretly open and play with, and sit down to a dinner which my mother left on the stove. She was always off teaching some student at night to make extra money to pay for all those clothes. And I usually served him the food and put his dirty dish in the sink? which was my first "what life is like being in love with a man training" at its best. See, I told you I learned about loving a man from my mother.
My mother raised me by the motto, "I can say anything and you will listen and obey me "because I'm your mother and I love you". This motto justified her keeping candy, chips, cookies and cake completely out of my reach every day of my life. Yes, I was the only kid I knew who had a mother that never kept a bag of potato chips around. "You can't eat that junk because I care about your health "because I'm your mother and I love you," was her explanation. Those 8 words gave my mother justification for anything she did. It gave her power. What could you say to words like that? I had a slight curvature of the spine and hunched shoulders, due to poor self esteem, so I she forced me to take ballet. I endured pain in my legs and joints for days just to get good posture. Then there was the issue my mother had with my weight: I was very thin and each outfit I wore always seemed to enhance my thin appearance in her eyes. "That outfit makes you look too frail and skinny. You need to wear layers with blouses and sweaters. I tell you this because I'm your mother and I love you." she'd say. I thank her to this day for always making me feel too thin, because now, I look in the mirror and never see body fat. It pays to have a mother who gives you a negative body image that becomes fashionable.
For almost 25 years of my life, I obsessed about my appearance, my skin, my posture, how I dressed. That just seemed natural to me. And I shopped for clothes every day just like my mother. Layaway was my best friend. Yes, I learned all about the bad with the good in life from my mother. I remember eating healthy vegetables like string beans which my mother always made in a pressure cooker. It became a ritual for me and my brother to hear the pressure cooker ready to explode its lid like some evil possessed demon force and run frantically into the kitchen to shut it off. My mother was always nowhere in sight, oblivious to the noise, much the way my boyfriend is, oblivious to the sound of the alarm clock in the morning. I can still feel the way my heart raced and see the sight of that pressure cooker ready to blow every time he snores through blast of the alarm clock.
The point of my childhood tale is this: Love with a man is a compromise, just like that milkshake. It could taste so amazingly good, but there's always something lurking on the surface that makes it imperfect. I think about how what loving a man is like for me, and it's just like life was with my mother. There is always that feeling that without one in your life, you would never survive. Then they go off to work, and you breathe a sigh of relief. The lid doesn't explode... but it sure does shake a lot.