Thursday, November 1, 2012


I Dreamed of Being a Plus-Sized J.C. Penney Catalog Model

My mom always told me I could be anything I wanted as long as it didn’t involve taking my clothes off for money. Her dream had been to be an airline stewardess, but, as she often used to tell me, that dream died the day she confessed it to her own mother. My tough-loving grandmother had replied, “You’ll never be a stewardess. You’re too tall and too fat. You’re just too big for the plane!” “Too big for the plane,” she would repeat, over and over, with a wistful look in her eyes. “The thing I’m trying to say,” she would say to my young, bewildered face, “is you can be anything that you want to be. As long as it isn’t a stripper or a whore, I just won't stand for that!”

My mom ended up weighing truck scales, and although (or possibly because) it introduced her to my father, she always told me not to end up like her. “Do what you love,” she would say, “as long as you never get married or have children, and you make a lot of money.”

So, for a while, I wanted to become the first female president. My parents had responded proudly to my brother when he'd put his dibs on this goal a few years earlier, so when he gave it up to pursue his dream of playing professional basketball, I saw an opening. I announced my plans one evening after my mom had made beef stroganoff, when I knew my parents would be more receptive.

“Mom, Dad,” I said excitedly, “if I ran for president, would you vote for me?”

“Of course,” my mom said with a smile. “As long as you were running as a conservative Republican with good moral values and not some of this baby-killing environmentalist crap the women politicians are trying to push today.”

“No,” came my dad’s voice flatly from across the room where his face was hidden in that morning’s newspaper. I couldn’t see his expression and was convinced that he was joking, but when I ran over to him and pulled the paper down, I could see from the look on his face that he was dead serious, and apparently annoyed by my question.

“Why not?”

“Because,” he said, putting down the paper. “Women have no business in politics. They’re all liberal and don’t know what they’re talking about. Besides, a woman could never be president — someone would assassinate her before she could take office. Women have no right running for president.”

Fearing that my own father would have to take it upon himself and his large gun collection to keep me from running, I retracted my declaration on the spot. My dreams of grandeur did not stop there, though. If I couldn’t be president, I would be the next best thing: I was going to be a model. And not just any model, a J.C. Penney catalog model.

Until I was 13, the two biggest highlights of my year — with the exception of gift-receiving holidays — were receiving the J.C. Penney Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter catalogs in the mail. I'd flip through the women’s section until the pages fell out. To a home-schooled teenager in Aberdeen, Washington, it was Vogue. I secretly held a fantasy that one day I would be on those pages, posing in my flared Arizona Jeans Company denim.

The only thing I knew about modeling was that you had to be tall, beautiful, and very, very thin. I was tall. I convinced myself that my enthusiasm and willingness to pose in the plus-size section would make up for whatever I lacked. I didn’t tell anyone about my dream until the 1996 Fall/Winter issue arrived.

That year, on page 396 of the juniors section, there was a beautiful, long-haired brunette wearing a tiny plaid t-shirt and tight jeans smiling suggestively at the camera. I was inspired to confess my dream to my family. Who knew, maybe if my parents saw how committed I was to this endeavor, there could be a trip to Seattle's Barbizon School of Modeling in my future. And, if I looked the part, it would be so much easier to tell my family what I wanted to do. And this was a look I knew I could recreate. I locked myself in the bathroom for two hours, curling my hair and using my mom’s makeup. I was limited in my options there, as her daily makeup consists of black liquid eyeliner, red rose blush, and fuchsia lipstick, but I did my best.

I didn’t want my family to see me until everything was perfect, so once I’d finished making my face look like something Dolly Parton would have considered garish, I snuck back into my bedroom to select my clothes. When I had first seen the picture, I had thought I would be able to recreate the outfit exactly, but after a careful re-review of my wardrobe, I realized there would have to be a few minor alterations.

I owned plenty of plaid, but it was all long sleeved and flannel, so I decided to put on my best hole-free plaid button down and just roll up the sleeves. It wasn’t tight and baby blue like the one in the picture, it was maroon and green, but the color wouldn’t matter — I just had to accessorize. I tucked the men’s shirt into my size 16 tapered K-Mart jeans and looked in the mirror. It still didn’t quite look right. I added a braided leather belt and an oversized denim newsboy cap. Now we were getting somewhere. I put on the black patent leather pumps that I was only allowed to wear to church and gave myself a thorough once-over. I could totally pass for a model! I knew my parents would be proud. Modeling was definitely a feminine job, it was about as far away from politics as I could get, and I was going to make lots of money at it.

I strutted out into our kitchen, doing my best model walk — which I had learned from watching years of Miss America pageants — but my mom had just mopped the tile floor, so it was kind of slippery. As soon as I stepped on it, picking my feet up like I was walking through a mud field, I tripped and fell across the kitchen counter. Before my family could react, I jumped back up into standing position, repositioned my cockeyed denim newsboy cap, and continued my strut.

“What on earth are you doing,” my mom asked as my brother looked at me and snickered, “and why do you have my makeup on?”

I was about to explain that her daughter was about to become the biggest thing to ever happen to department store catalogs, but then, looking at my outfit, she said, “What are you doing wearing your good clothes in the house? And those shoes are for church!”

I was thrown. This wasn’t how I had planned on telling them. I was supposed to walk out, have her take one look at me, and insist on calling Barbizon immediately.

“Go change, we need to haul some firewood before your father gets home, and then—”

“Mom!” I finally blurted out, “I’m going to be a J.C. Penney catalog model!” She and my brother looked at each other, and then burst out laughing. They laughed at me until their faces were red and tears rolled down their cheeks. I think my brother fell to the floor. Until that point in my life, the only time I'd ever seen my mother laugh that hard was at a John Candy movie.

I ran back to my room and slammed the door. I ripped off the hat and the oversize flannel shirt and cried. After a while, my mom realized I'd been serious and came in to console me. She sat down next to me and put her arm around me.

“I’m sorry, honey,” she said. “It’s just that I don’t think you’re cut out to be a model. You’re just too big. Models have to be skinny and beautiful, but I know how you feel. When I was younger, I wanted to be an airline stewardess, but my mom told me—”

“I know, Mom!” I shouted back. “Your mom said you were too big.”

“That’s right, but I’ve always said that you can be anything you want to be, as long as it’s not a stripper or a whore.”

“Or a model."

“Yes, I don’t think you’ll make it as a model.”

So, much to my mom’s dismay, I became a writer. Now, when she tells me that I’m never going to make any money from it, I remind her that I’m not a stripper or a whore.

“Well,” she replied one day, “at least they make good money.”


Shanna Green is a 5 in a city full of 10s, but at least her cat has an IMDb page. You can read more of her mundane musings at averageinla.tumblr.com.

122 Comments / Post A Comment


Oh man. This brought up so many Feelings. I have not recovered from being 13.


@slutberry I don't think anybody ever does.


It's really great to read these takes. Thank you.@t


Ohhhhh nooooooooo!!!!! I want to smack your Dad one.

Blackwatch Plaid

@OhMarie I wouldn't mind smacking both of them.


@OhMarie Who says that?? And in the 90s?? *gah*


@swirrlygrrl Yeah based on the first few paragraphs and the picture, I was ready to be like, "man, the 70s were a really crazy time," and then we got hit with that 1996 business and I goggled. '96?? We'd already had Geraldine Ferraro!


"Until that point in my life, the only time I'd ever seen my mother laugh that hard was at a John Candy movie." !!!!!!!!


@melis Who, I would like to point out, wasn't even assassinated a little bit, much less all the way.

Also, it is at this time I would like to say, I am fully aware I won the parent lottery. Thanks, mom and dad.


@OhMarie Ohh nooooooooooo was my exact reaction as well.


@melis I just assumed it was the 70s too! I was shocked to realize Shana is about my age. :(

fuck fuck fuck

this...made me slightly unhappy.


@fuck fuck fuck If only slightly, don't read again - the rest of the unhappy is waiting for you there.


Oh man. I used to read the JC Penney catalog cover-to-cover, from the chic lace-up ankle boots up front to the ruffly "dusty rose" valances and bedskirts in the back. My grandmother used to take us to JC Penney every summer to buy a back-to-school outfit (she got the employee discount) and I was always bummed when I couldn't recreate a catalog look exactly from the selection in the store.

Also, yikes to your parents. I hope they have other, better qualities!


@cuminafterall I learned to read from the JC Penney catalog!


@cuminafterall I dug that catalog. I remember it cost $5 but there was a $10 off coupon inside. My family went through JCP catalog phase for a year or two. I bought a skirt there recently, both because it was really pretty and because they include gay couples in their catalogs now.


@cuminafterall I spent literally hours gazing at the lacy bedskirts and satin comforters/bedspreads. I was totally sure that my adult self would definitely have a bed sheathed in lace and dark maroon satin: it seemed the apex of grown-up elegance.


Your dad reminds me of my stepdad, which, ugh.


It sounds like you're well cut out for being a writer. I'm given to understand one of the requirements is growing up miserable with assholes for family.


@hopelessshade Somehow, on my first read through, I misread both the original article and your comment as "waiter." Then I was wondering if there is something I do not know about waiters and their families.

fata morgana

Ughhhhhh. Ouch.

Daisy Razor

Wow. From the image and the attitudes towards women, I absolutely did not expect this to be set in 1996. That is depressing.


I want to hop in my time machine and give the thirteen year old you a hug.


Your mother is a staunch conservative who is against marriage and children? The lady contains multitudes.


@JessicaLovejoy I vow that no one hates men as much as a conservative woman. But, like, a secret hate.


So much JC Penney flannel in my life in the 90s.


Ughhhhhh your dad. What the hell!


@Scandyhoovian I thought this was satire, I was like, that guy's gonna get a large cast-iron frying pan to the back of the head annnny time now.


Yeesh. It's kind of amazing to me that parents can be so great and so awful at the same time. I love my folks, but they've both been real assholes at one point or another.


I...kind of hate your parents. I'm sorry! But ugh.


13-year-old me is really excited that you're from the same town as Kurt Cobain.

Okay, let's be real, so is 23-year-old me.


Arizona jeans are the worst.


Hey at least they gave you a bunch of material for your writing. My mother has "jokingly" apologized to me in the past because I inherited her body shape :( I will NOT be making those kind of comments to my daughters, and they can ABSOLUTELY be Presidents if they want to.

Daisy Razor

@iceberg My kid is currently aiming for rock star, astronaut, and mother. I told her she could totally be all three.


@iceberg My dad once said to me "All your friends are a bit thinner than you are, aren't they?"

He also once said "But you're NOT a skinny girl" when in describing a random stranger I denoted her as being thinner than I was. (I am now! Suck it!) Also, I love my dad and have a wonderful relationship with him. Still have not and will not forgive these remarks.


@iceberg : My mom, too. Thanks for the body dysmorphia, Ma.


@Ellie If you asked him, I think my dad would say I'm "a pretty, young woman," BUT there were those years when I was a chunky pre-adolescent that he consistently referred to me as "solid" AND that time like a year or two ago when he said, in contrast to my sister, that I didn't need to be pretty because I had "personality." He was trying to be nice with that last one.

To CLARIFY: my dad is a very good dad, even though we disagree on just about everything; he just manages to say some not so great things on occasion.


@MoxyCrimeFighter What is it with dads and "solid"? Ugh. Mine said that about me and my sister, but the way he said it, it was like he was proud of it - like we were cars or something. He's a great dad, really, but - solid?

Also, my own grandmother told me that I was "pretty inside" in contrast to my sister, who "lights up the whole world with her beautiful face." I feel your pain,

baked bean

@iceberg Reasons like this are why I used to be glad I never had a sister. Sometimes my parents would talk about which sister in a family was prettier. Doesn't happen when it's a boy and a girl.

I think it's just a thing that our parents' generation and older does. They talk about how people look a lot. I have never heard any of my friends have these conversations, but maybe because my friends aren't conventionally pretty. I've heard people our age, but very rarely, not like the older folks.

Part of me is secretly ready for the baby boomers to all die because that will drastically cut down on racism, sexism, homophobia body-shaming, and just publicly-accepted judging in general. Yeah, there's still going to be some assholes, but they'll become the minority. After all, MLK Day was a thing for us, and Sesame Street showed us kids in wheelchairs. We just grew up being taught more acceptance.


@baked bean You are so right! I had sons. No one (but me) ever told them they were pretty (or not). They were smart, clever, interesting, funny etc etc. Girls, however, only hear that they are beautiful, lovely, gorgeous etc. ITS SO WRONG! It sets us up for a lifetime of judging ourselves by how we LOOK rather than by how smart, funny, interesting we are. And its not just a baby boomer thing. Look around you - pay attention to how people talk to babies and small children - this stuff is everywhere and its as prevalent as it ever was. Grrrrrrrrrr

baked bean

@playingpossum Yeah, I'm sure that it helps that my crowd does not have children. The whole gendered baby/child thing makes me really mad. My cousin was expecting twin sons, and the fact that they were sons overwhelmed any conversation from that point. Someone at my cousin's baby shower actually complained that they were at another baby shower where the woman was expecting a girl and someone gave her a blue jumpsuit with a dinosaur on it. I debated her on that, but I don't think anyone else was on my side :(

I guess I was more referring to peer judging. Like, "Did you see so-and-so's new girlfriend? She's so ugly!" I've heard that from those I do not associate with, but rarely compared to, "That one sister is pretty but the other one, she's homely looking," from the older folks in my family.

tea sonata

Good grief. How insensitive, even to a teenager.

Go on, make money. Make money and don't tell them how.

fondue with cheddar

UGH. Well, at least he didn't say he was afraid she might launch a nuke while on her period.

Lily Rowan

The several other stories I just read on Shanna's blog are also incredible. (In both the good and bad ways!)

Hot Doom

@Lily Rowan Holy GOD, I just read a few posts involving dudes in LA and it is painful. So painful, yet being from LA, so familiar. Augh.


@Lily Rowan I read a few, too - those were great!


I feel like this sort of scenario is much more common than we'd like to think? It reads like a play, it's so unfamiliar to me. But then again, my life goal as a child was to own a crystal shop. Yay sparkly, shiny things.


@eraserface That's adorable. I work in one and it's pretty decent! It wasn't my childhood dream, but I'm really glad it was someone's.

Blackwatch Plaid

Anyone have any sad/good terrible dad stories? I'll start: mine accused me of being a lesbian when I was 12 because I was bookish and chubby. (He turned out to be half right but that's neither here nor there.)


@Blackwatch Plaid My dad was largely a pretty damn good dad, and his transgressions were so out of the blue and weird that remembering them seems unreal.

However, I remember clearly though when I was 13 or 14 (and so, SO far from being sexually active) and we were having a screaming match and he called me a slut! It was so absurd that I think even he was kind of taken aback by the words coming out of his mouth.

Blackwatch Plaid

@yeah-elle Patriarchy, man. It does weird things to otherwise good people.


One time my dad slammed a sliding van door right onto my hand! I spent that entire weekend with my puffy, puckered-skin knuckles icing in a sink.


TO CLARIFY it was an accident and he felt terrible. His face went as white as anything I've ever seen when he saw what happened and he perched on the toilet for the next two days reading Greek myths aloud to me.


Still though, watch where you slam things, Dad.


@Blackwatch Plaid Yep. Over the years, he's improved in questioning some of the things he always thought were given (like victim blaming, or assuming that women care about their appearance for the sake of men), but it only goes so far. It's like trying to clean a lake-sized spill with a tiny hand towel.

Blackwatch Plaid

@melis I like your dad.


@melis My father once vomited on me.


@Blackwatch Plaid My Dad is pretty solid and a good feminist even though my parents are super Catholic (examples--he is a hardcore Steelers fan and hates Ben Rothlisberger "because I have daughters" and went behind my mom's back to offer me money for birth control in college) but MAN he sucks about homosexuality.

When I was about 8, Don't Ask/Don't Tell was in the news and I asked what gay meant and he said, "HAPPY! They don't want happy people in the miliary!" Last week we had an extremely dismaying conversation about the upcoming Maryland same-sex marriage vote. I feel like he's the classic example of an old guy who doesn't know any gay people and doesn't really get it.


@Blackwatch Plaid My dad has this bizarre ability to be outwardly (while a really outspoken liberal) soo sexist - saying things like, "Miley Cyrus is looking like a skank these days" or what have you and bitterly calling me a "femi-nazi" whenever I bring up like, considering women's issues as a substantive idea, or calling my mother "HYSTERICAL" when she has emotions and argues without hiding them. Also hilarious because Rush Limbaugh is his worst enemy and I'm pretty sure Limbaugh popularized the "femi-nazi" vocab word.

However, by his actions in raising his daughters and how he generally interacts with people he is a staunch feminist. He never had any of that strange patriarchal claim on his young teenage daughters' sexuality like an archetypal shotgun on the porch, have her back by nine pm what are your intentions, son type father; contrarily he never gave one hoot who I dated, considering it "My business," not caring who I lived with or what have you.

And he taught me from the youngest of ages that self reliance is of the utmost importance, to be the judge of my own strength, to explore without reservations, to always stand up for myself without fear, to challenge authority, to start a fire with flint and steel and make a tarp shelter.

I know he helped me shape my sense of independence and confidence, but I also know he is woefully emotionally inept, greatly due I'm sure to his upbringing. C'est la vie, at least I can cross country ski and have a deep appreciation for awful horror movies and Star Trek.


@cuminafterall aaaand i may or may not have just laugh-snorted V8 juice all over my keyboard.


@LaLoba Your dad sounds kind of like what Ron Swanson would actually be in real life if he didn't have a bunch of script-writers making him awesome.


@Blackwatch Plaid my dad is pretty much The Best but i have this distinct memory that once he told me he would be "disappointed" if i married someone outside of my own race. but then sometimes i think it might be one of those conjured-memory things? because recently i asked my parents if they would be okay if i married a woman and they were both pretty casual about it and said "sure."


My dad fell off a roof when I was in high school and I broke his fall, as well as my ankle, in the process!

That was an accident obviously, but he was physically abusive. When I was about 13 years old we got into it over something stupid, he gave me a good smack across the back of my head, the kind that makes your ears ring, and something inside me snapped. I was starting to put together that this was not typical punishment (thanks Lifetime?) so all this anger was building up inside of me. I screamed at him that he couldn't treat me that way and to never hit me again. He didn't lay another hand on me after that. I'm the youngest of 6 kids, my adult aged sister was in the room when it happened and tells me to this day how shocking that moment was. We were all so terrified of him. He would regularly refer to me as stupid and useless growing up, but that was easier for me to tune out.


Reginal T. Squirge


"Sure... [as long as she's a white woman]"


@Blackwatch Plaid Dad took me sledding once when I was six; he was a little nervous that I was too close to the road, though, so he told me to move to the other side of the hill. I promptly ran into a metal standpipe that was set up on that side of the hill and broke my nose. He hadn't seen it. Mom later told me that she thought he was going to crumble under the weight of accumulated years of Catholic guilt all breaking over his head at once.
There was also the incident during my kidney failure years that involved him tripping over the line leading to my dialysis catheter, giving it an alarming yank where it was going into my stomach. I was totally fine. Fine! He had a minor freakout though. Poor Dad.

cecil hungry

@Blackwatch Plaid We may have the same dad (but probably not really because then you'd be my sister and I don't think you are). My dad's also really pretty cool about everything (his general reaction to my dating life is "your business is your business"), but he's also iffy on the gay stuff. Then again, he grew up wealthy in the Deep South in the '50s, so it's probably surprising that he doesn't have more issues. He's got a few fairly good gay friends, but he doesn't like it when they "flaunt it." AKA you can be gay but I don't want to hear about it or see it. :/

sudden but inevitable betrayal

My dad - who in general is great, though I can count on one finger the number of times he's told me I was pretty - once took me out for ice cream, and when I went to town on the thing, making a total mess of myself, screeched, "don't you have any PRIDE?!" I was maybe 4 or 5 at the time. He doesn't remember it happening...but I sure do.

oh! valencia

@klaus Oh my god, klaus, I just went through your past comments trying to figure out if you are my baby sister, because I swear everything (Everything!) in your post happened in my family (of 6!) as well, only when my dad fell off the roof, he didn't land on anybody. I don't think you are, but man. I am sorry your dad was as bad as mine :(

Blackwatch Plaid

@cecil hungry My dad's dead, so I think we're in the clear.

polka dots vs stripes

@Blackwatch Plaid My dad can be vaguely racist/homophobic at times, but then he does things like sees a "Real men love Jesus" bumper sticker and says "Real men love men" accompanied by a smooching sound.

He's pretty A+. A B+/A- on his bad days.

Blackwatch Plaid

@klaus I wasn't sure how dark this thread would go and I didn't want to start it on this note, but my dad was revealed to be a practicing pedophile after his death last year. So there's that. *clears throat*

Blackwatch Plaid

@Blackwatch Plaid (Sorry for the downer guys! I'm still liking your dad stories!)


@Blackwatch Plaid I...wow. I am so, so sorry that you have to deal with that. If you want to talk about things, we're here and we're listening.

Blackwatch Plaid

@area@twitter I've had a decent amount of time to process at this point. One (small) consolation is that we hardly had a relationship, so I was able to distance myself a bit. Honestly, hearing about peoples' positive (or at least not abusive) experiences are nice, and helping me not to be overly cynical. Thanks everyone!

cecil hungry

@Blackwatch Plaid OH I'm sorry for everything you've revealed and also want to clarify, for the sake of my dad, that I apparently replied to the wrong person and meant to reply to OhMarie asking if we have the same dad. My dad is actually awesome (despite some latent homophobia) and is in no way abusive, a pedophile, or dead.


@oh! valencia @Blackwatch Plaid I was feeling very self conscious about posting that story until I read your comments! I didn't mean to go that direction, but it seemed insincere not to mention the irony that he intentionally hurt me through most of my childhood. I tend to bury this stuff so deep down that I end up convincing myself that no one could relate, though that couldn't be further from the truth. There's so much common pain, it feels good to let it out sometimes. +1 for The Internet.


@melis Aw, yours does that too? Mine read me the Iliad when I had food poisoning.


@MoxyCrimeFighter AAhahaha that is kind of true?? All my friends were always sort of afraid to talk to him even though he never did anything especially threatening. But he does consider himself the neighborhood vigilante and takes it upon himself to prevent any undue hooliganism in the park behind the house ("I don't care if you're smoking pot back there, I just would rather you weren't being STUPID about it.") Undue silliness is met with a prolonged and audible sigh. He gave me a flask and a bottle of mid shelf whisky for my birthday. And he honest to god enjoys scaring children. As noted before I grew up watching all sorts of insanely inappropriate horror and sci-fi while my mom worked the night shift, and when we went to Disneyland and saw the laserlight show with the giant dragon and some poor sap of a kid started whimpering and asking where Mickey went, my dad turned around and said, "Oh, don't worry I saw this last night. Mickey dies. The dragon wins."

superfluous consonants

@Blackwatch Plaid

me (paraphrase): i got promoted at that job i love! i'm full-time now, and insured, and my salary has more than doubled!
dad (VERBATIM): you should go back to grad school.
me: that hurts my feelings. this is a really big deal for me.
dad: yeah...but you should really go back to grad school.

ps: i have a masters, in the field in which i currently work! it's not like i quit in the middle or anything!


@melis My dad ran over my foot by accident when we were going to visit my relatives. He didn't realize I wasn't in the car yet, and just...started driving. He didn't read me Greek myths, but he did get me a drink once we arrived at my aunt's house. (I was 27.)

Springtime for Voldemort

@Blackwatch Plaid I have a slight "it gets better" (for me).

Both my parents were/are abusive/neglectful (more of a Mommy Dearest variety). My mom and I don't talk any more, but my dad has very slowly gotten better after he divorced my mom when I was 18, to the point where he's more mediocre dad/neglectful dad than abusive dad, but usually in ways where it's more acceptable to be when your kid is mid-twenties than 12. It's gotten to a point where he helps me through school, and we have dinner once every month or so, and I like that and wished him a happy father's day for the first time this year (since leaving home and thus not being forced to), complete with the "L" word and calling him Dad (I normally shy away from using the "L" word and call him by his first name) and it was a really nice moment between us.

Also, for a guy who did the whole Stepford deal with his first wife (my mom) and then left her for his nurse practitioner (he's a surgeon), he's shockingly feminist/queer friendly. Coming out wasn't really a bigger issue than saying I had a bunch of homework that night. He doesn't bat an eye if I bring a girl home, or say "orgasmic birth"; when I told him to make sure our insurance covered abortion during the whole Obamacare debate, he was all "yup, I'm on it!". He's really good about being totally hands-off about my relationships and politics. (Downside being, it's hard to tell if it's a respect for my boundaries or a total indifference, because he also didn't get pissed or emotional or have almost any reaction when I told him my boyfriend had raped me. So, that he will never chase after a boy/girlfriend with a shotgun is a double-edged sword.) But it's definitely gotten much better over the years. He's opened up a bit about the stuff he goes through, and was really supportive of me both emotionally and legally when my mom went totally batshit crazy on the both of us, and it was a really nice feeling to have him being protective and backing me up. He's started saying he's really proud of me the past couple years, which was something I really didn't hear growing up. (And yes, I am terrified that he's just honeymooning.)


I knew a girl in high school who had done one of those modeling training school things, and whose picture actually got used in their ads that they'd place in Seventeen. As far as I know she never had a modeling career, though.

mc coolfriend

@anachronistique incredulous open mouth, wild eyed smizing? Hand on one cheek, Home Alone style? Was that her? Bc that image is stuck w me from the back pages of Seventeens all throughout the 90s.


Oof, this piece! So well written, but ouch.

This reminds me of how, at 11, it took me months of working up the courage to ask my mom if I could have a training bra, and when I asked, she was so surprised and incredulous (I was so flat-chested), she started laughing, and I immediately started crying.

Then in turn it reminded me of how that was probably the most insensitive thing my mother ever did in parenting me, which is incredible, and now I want to call her and thank her for being so amazing.

Your dad, though. WHAT. I want to strangle him with a pair of flared Arizona Jeans.


@yeah-elle I feel like that happened to me too (training bra). Later, in 12th grade, I asked my mom to take me shopping for a prom dress. Her response: "Why? No one is going to ask you!" Yiiiikes.


@yeah-elle I would have been devastated. Aww!


@whateverlolawants Oh, I was. I still remember today how humiliated and heartbroken I was, which seems silly, but such is puberty. My mother, bless her, realized almost instantly (once she caught her breath from laughing and saw me crying, oops) how much it mattered to me and took me to Mervyn's that weekend. More than a decade later (and many, many cup sizes, argh), she still commiserates with my bra-shopping woes. Ahh, I love my mom!


@yeah-elle Aww!

I was completely oblivious to the concept of bras and never asked to get one. When I started to develop, my mom was super-awkward about bringing up the idea of me starting to wear a bra. She ended up making a lot of passive-aggressive remarks like "That dress would look really nice WITH A BRA," I guess in the hopes that I'd take the initiative and ask to go bra-shopping? I just remember feeling weirdly pressured and uncomfortable and embarrassed about the whole situation, which made it even less likely that I'd ask for a bra.

I did eventually start wearing bras, but I don't remember how I started. My guess would be that my mom finally got fed up enough to just tell me directly "You need to wear a bra" and bought me some bras.

(Mom and I have vastly improved our communication skills since then, by the way.)


@yeah-elle This is basically what happened when I asked if I could shave my legs, but rather than laugh because I didn't need to she made a joke about how hairy I was (even though she was the one who had prevented me from shaving up until then). But that probably was the most insensitive thing she ever did growing up, which is pretty awesome. I think it's just easy to forget how much you FEEL things when you are young.


@snowmentality The "first bra" experience - shockingly similar in the feelings, and the Mom awkwardness, though fewer passive-aggressive comments, more "jokes," and not just from my Mom. My whole family lacks boundaries sometimes. So I freeboobed till I hit a C cup, gorwing ever more awkward and uncomfortable about my body with a heaping helping of weird shame, and now haven't been braless in public since I was 11. Though now of course I have people ask me why I'm so uptight and wear a bra all the time. *gah*


@Punk-assBookJockey Shaving! In like 5th grade or whenever it was that I decided that I had to start shaving because EVERYONE ELSE was, I badgered my mom forever, and she had some arbitrary age I needed to be. Then I asked one time and she said "You don't even need to shave; let me see you leg!...Oh, it is pretty hairy."


@professionalmess Oh man, shaving and bra-wearing were so fraught with anxiety for me too. I skipped a grade and was really petite, so puberty was already gonna be weird time-wise in relation to my classmates. And then I was nervous about asking about bras and shaving, and my mom got cancer when I was in 6th grade... god... I'm glad you guys get it. My mom was really awesome about the bra thing, and made sure that I got my first 5 bras right before she went into a major surgery, so I would be stocked up during her months of recovery. She kept it low-key, too, which I definitely needed.


@professionalmess Oh man, I remember asking my mom if I could shave my legs. I had already been shaving them on the sly for a good few months and when her reply was, "Why? Your legs are hairless!" I was like, MOM BECAUSE I'VE BEEN SHAVING THEM WITH A RAZOR I STOLE FROM YOU. Oops.

Miss Maszkerádi

@yeah-elle My mom pretty much ignored puberty, Feelings of an Adult Nature and (horror of horrors) dating as conversation topics entirely. She wasn't trying to "shelter" me or anything, I think it was a combination of her being a bit embarrassed, and assuming *I* was simultaneously too embarrassed to want to talk, and blithely uninterested. (I was also homeschooled, so wasn't getting much of anything through the preteen grapevine.) My mom is quite great, but looking back on it this was a little ridiculous - what nerdy bookworm 12-year-old is going to voluntarily go up to her mother all like "Mom, can we have a frank yet optimistic talk about the emotional dynamics of sexual relationships?"
My folks, both quite feminist/progressive and both with advanced degrees, also made sure always to compliment me on my intelligence or serious dedication to some study, not my looks, because I guess saying too often that I was pretty would turn me into an insecure tool of the fashion magazine and make me lose all sense of worth except for my appearance. Again, extremely good intentions, awkward execution. The upshot of all the awkwardly avoided topics was my preadolescent subconscious reading too far into things and setting up this weird assumption that being pretty, fashion, dating and (eek) sex were all things for Other People, and would never be for me because I was a Serious Intellectual. It's embarrassing and funny as hell to write now, except I've still kind of got that weird subconscious idea lurking around and convincing me i'm already a doomed spinster.
My parents are absolutely great and I have a very good relationship with them both, but looking back on it they had even less idea how to handle female puberty than I did.


You know how some people in the old folks home never get visitors?


i laughed, i cried. from the quickies to the arches - a really enjoyable read. thank you, shanna green!



Everything about this, from being stuck in assfuck nowhere Washington state, to a father who refused to see potential for women outside of Home and Babies, to a mother who dumped her body dysmorphia on me...

Oh, girl.

I just want to hug you.
And then go get very, VERY drunk together.

Hamburger Hot Dog

Dag - I was already feeling cruddy after hearing my coworkers talk about the calorie content of everything, because didn't you know that's the most important thing about food and also life, and then I read the article. It was terrific and I am glad I read it, but, also - holy toledo, people. Now I am going to distract myself with the fact that a hedgehog sanctuary exists and you can totally sponsor a hedgehog. http://www.prickleshedgehogrescue.org.uk/


@Hamburger Hot Dog Your username is making me want to curl up with a bologna sandwich for moral support. Or some of those little weenies in crescent rolls. ::om nom nom nom::


@Hamburger Hot Dog Oh gods, they call it a "Hogspital." I'm literally crying from all the feels right now.

George Templeton Strong

One of the happiest and saddest days of my life was when my sister called me at work from a doctor's office to tell me that after years of trying she was pregnant and it looked like the pregnancy would be successful (sorry, I'm a childless gay guy, that's probably not the best way to put it.) In my exuberance I called our mother to bask in the good news. My mother said to me "I just hope it isn't a girl." I almost dropped the phone. My mother explained that having a girl was much more work than having a boy, harder to take care of, have to watch them all the time, especially when they're teenagers, you can just let boys go off and do whatever but WITH GIRLS, and I said to my mother:

"Did your mother believe that about you? Did you believe that about [my sister]?"

She said, "Absolutely. All mothers know this."

Our mother, mind you, was a secular, very funny, extremely well-read woman and from whose thousands of flea market-bought paperbacks I read The Brothers Karamazov at the age of 9 and later The Feminine Mystique and God knows what else. French textbooks. The entire Sidney Sheldon oeuvre. Every play GB Shaw ever wrote. In second or third grade our teacher asked us to find a poem and write it down. My mother burrowed into her stash and came up with one of those 2,000 page poetry anthologies and said, "Here, pick one." And she pointed me to Larkin's famous "Your Mum and Dad/ They fuck you up..." (She was happily married to my father and after his death she never remarried.)

Where was I? Oh yes! So even the most progressive, forward-thinking, loving parents can harbor strong and counter-intuitive feelings about what they want for their children.

cecil hungry

@George Templeton Strong My mom has always said that she was disappointed that my sister and I were both girls because she thinks boys generally have an easier time in life. Can't say I disagree with her there, but I love being a girl.


@George Templeton Strong LOLOLOL at Philip Larkin, sorry but I don't know HOW ELSE to phrase that. I hope you brought it into school so bad.


Aw, man! That is just a real bummer in the summer to hear. My mother (an only child) had a really challenging relationship with her own mom - one that's gotten better as my grandma's gotten older, but was really fraught and often painful growing up. When she (my mom, that is) ended up having not one but two daughters, she later told us that she started crying because she didn't think she deserved to have two girls since she never felt like she'd been a good enough daughter. But she was! And she was an amazing mom, I don't really know where this story is going, it feels good to be done with Evil Melis month, moms are great.

George Templeton Strong

@George Templeton Strong The story gets even better, if anyone is around to read this. My mother and I weren't alone when she pointed me to the Larkin poem. My father and my grandmother and my younger sister were there. (My sister would have been around 6 at the time.) I dutifully started reading it aloud. When I got to "fuck" I pronounced it "fook" and asked what that meant. My father helpfully said something like, "it's when two people love each other very much and they..." and at that point my grandmother had had enough and grabbed the book out of my hands and rifled through it until she found Wordsworth's "I wandered lonely as a cloud/That floats on high o'er vales and hills" and said "Write this down and read this. I don't know what your parents are thinking." So that's what I read. My childhood was a little strange, to say the least. But I was the most literate 5th grader my school had ever seen!

George Templeton Strong

@George Templeton Strong ETA that after the second or third grade write-down-and-recite-the-poem episode I had moved on to The Brothers Karamazov and, later, at my mother's urging, turned my hand to The Adventures of Augie March. When we "graduated" from 5th grade my mother suggested that I give "Augie" to my English teacher. He'd never heard of it. I reported back. Into her pile she went. "Here," she said, "see if he knows what this is." I presented my 5th grade teacher with a dog-eared copy of some college freshman's castaway copy of "The Stranger." I can't believe I can remember all of this so vividly.


@George Templeton Strong Wow. Lots of resonance over here. My mom had two daughters, and struggled (and still struggles) with both of us. And she had a strange relationship with her mom, but my grandmother and I got along great. Now I have a daughter...who gets along better with my mom than I do. There's a pattern here maybe...


@George Templeton Strong
Thankfully, I don't think my parents felt that way at all. My mom was an only child, raised mostly by her dad in a fairly gender-neutral way, and my dad just had a brother. Maybe that helped. They only had my sister and I, and never complained (except the occasional joke about how my dad was all alone in his man-ness.) Since we had no brothers, I couldn't say for sure if they would have treated one differently, but I have no reason to think so. But that attitude is so prevalent. :(

George Templeton Strong

@George Templeton Strong This is my last comment on this subject, and will probably be lost to posterity. My sister's first child was indeed a boy, to the delight of my mother, a widow by then, and subsequently my sister had another child, this time a girl. My mother was very sick by then and didn't really get to spend a lot of time with her. Now both those kids are teenagers and, as my mother's son, my feeling is that the boy should go to my alma mater (which is not in NY) and the girl should come here, preferably to Barnard, and do the whole "live in the dorm freshman year" thing and then live with us. It's completely irrational. My niece is perfectly capable of watching out for herself, but my misplaced paternal instincts tell me "Keep her under your roof and feed her decently and keep her away from the predatory male creeps and crazies that haunt every college campus." My sister (the best mother in the world) said "I think it should be the opposite. We'll try to get the boy into Columbia and he can live with you and you try to live in a one-guy frat house with the mess and the smell. The girl is off to [my alma mater] and you're going to be her alumni interviewer!" (I am an alumni interviewer but you're not allowed to interview your own relatives, obviously, although people get their friends to interview their children, or so I've heard.) We compromised. Like sane adults we decided the kids can go wherever they want. (Oh please let it be my alma mater, or somewhere in NYC!)

Bus Driver Stu Benedict

So how much does a truck scale weigh?


Oh my gosh, I am literally overwhelmed by the wonderful feedback and hilarious (and heartbreaking) stories from everyone in the comments. I want to get a drink with you all! Thank you for your warm welcome to The Hairpin!

living internationally

You know what makes me happy? This girl grew up to write for the Hairpin.


This is great. It's disappointing to see so many people saying they hate the author's parents and calling them assholes. I think relationships with our parents are so complex that even when we tell stories that make them look really terrible, it hurts for other people to call them names. Thanks for bravely telling it how it was Shanna! (And hilariously.)


THIS is why I harbor fears of having children. What if I tell them horrible things like this? They will be scarred for life!


That is such a bummer that your Mom couldn't see how she was just playing out the same shit her mother did to her. You are awesome and I loved the JCPenney catalog too.

Hiroine Protagonist

I can *smell* that catalogue right now.

Jane Dough

Ah, the transgenerational putdown. Like when my grandmother said to me: "you've got your mother's figure. You'll always have to watch it."


This is sad and funny and David Sedaris-y and I love it.


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