My mom has fully embraced purple as this season’s “in” color. When I got home to the Chicago ‘burbs on Thursday night, I noticed that she wasn’t carrying the black leather handbag she’d mentioned picking up at Marshall’s a few weeks back. Instead, she was carrying a purple patent Kathy Van Zeeland shopper that caused me a moment of shiny aubgergine alarm. Friday morning, she came downstairs wearing a purple long-sleeved tee, and as she pulled on her sandals, I noticed that her toenails were painted a deep plum. The woman goes whole hog, and I dig that about her.
Mom and I feel the same way about fashion mags: They’re cheap thrills, and we both sift through them as a way to select the seasonal trends that we’ll embrace, and identify the ones that we’ll discard. We chat about what we see, and generally agree on the best new looks. Even though we are so physically different as to barely look related and have vastly different tastes in clothing, we usually hone in on the same styles.
But I’d never seen her adopt a trend so enthusiastically before. Usually, if we’ve agreed on the fundamental acceptability of a magazine-endorsed style, one or both of us will show up wearing it when next we meet. But this purple-palooza was unprecedented. And after spending the weekend with her and noting how much we talked style and fashion, I began to worry that I was actually, factually peer-pressuring my mom. That maybe my increased interest in and activity surrounding matters of style had made her feel like the had to bring her A-Game. Her profoundly purple A-Game.
Growing up, my mom never pressured me to wear anything … or to NOT wear anything. While Dad moaned and groaned at my overall-clad scarecrow-girl phase and begged me never to cut my long hair, Mom just kept her mouth shut. She trusted me to find my own style, and I’m certain that her quiet faith helped me explore and experiment to my heart’s content until I found the me I wanted to look like.
But in addition to allowing me breathing room – a passive kindness – she also did me two active favors: She dressed impeccably to her body type, and she seldom expressed frustration about her own figure.
My mom knows exactly how to flatter her bod and highlight its best features. She wears her fiery hair down every day, and makes sure to minimize distraction from it by wearing simple gold earrings. She shows off her arms and chooses tops that accentuate her strong shoulders. She embraces skinny jeans to show off her great gams. She is careful with color, sticking to a palette complimentary to fair skin and red hair. She is the queen of the statement necklace, and has an enviable collection that rivals my own. The first person to teach me that regular-person bodies can look superbly stylish was my mom.
And although I remember a few flip comments about her quirky shape, Mom never beat herself up about weight or shape or body. She laughed it off, and focused on more important matters. Perhaps she was secretly frustrated, but I never saw or felt her frustration growing up. And I became doubly grateful for that just last week.
Because last week I went to a body image lecture by author Courtney E. Martin. She said a lot of things that surprised me, a few that annoyed me, and several that rang through me like bells. One of which was that moms who turn to their daughters and say, “Honey, you’re beautiful and perfect just as you are!” but then turn to the mirror and say, “God, I’m so fat. I hate my body,” contribute to disordered body-image thinking and behavior in their girl children. That mixed message is powerful stuff coming down from the matriarch. And although I obsess and flagellate and cycle like nearly all women do, I can safely say that none of my body-centric neuroses were handed down to me from my mom.
I’m not sure what to think of Mom’s purple passion. Maybe she’s feeling pressure to keep pace with me, or maybe it’s narcissistic for me to believe that my influence prompted any change in her shopping habits. Regardless, I knew that I had to trust her as she has always trusted me. So even though the sight of her KVZ patent shopper caused me to involuntarily furrow my brow, I kept my mouth shut. I have complete confidence that she will find her own stylistic path through exploration and experimentation at 64, just as I am still doing at 31. And if that stylistic path includes shiny purple handbags, I can totally work with that.