self-inflicted torture: adventures in jeans shopping

It is common knowledge among my close friends that I do not wear pants. Not only do I not wear them, I legitimately hate them. Most of my business casual work-appropriate outfits consist of skirts, tights, dresses, and leggings. The only pants I consistently approve of are yoga pants, which I probably wear far more often than I should, especially considering that they make me look like a soccer mom on her way to pilates. But I honestly think soccer moms might be on to something, because my ideal outfit is equal parts comfortable and cute, something that yoga pants are, and jeans and dress pants definitely are not. I feel restricted when I wear regular pants; I usually have to wear a belt which makes it worse, and the whole time I’m wearing them, all I can fantasize about is changing into leggings or yoga pants, with my legs all wrapped in stretchy, cottony comfort. When I’m wearing comfy pants, I feel moderately empowered because my legs are not imprisoned in a cage of thick/rough/stiff/uncomfortable material and I’m also not as worried about the lacy band at the top of my underwear making a surprise appearance anytime I need to bend over or make any unusual movements.

There was a time when I thought that jeans themselves were comfortable casual wear. As a teenager, my go-to outfit was jeans and a hooded sweatshirt — I was not a fashionable sixteen year-old. Then, when I became an adult and my daily wardrobe could no longer include jeans before 5:00pm, I abandoned them in favor of more comfortable options in the evenings: yoga pants, sweats, leggings with weird prints on them. That was the point of no return. I had found a new Pants God to worship, and it didn’t have zippers or buttons or a waistband that was too tight when I was on my period.

Lest this blog post sound like the mundane ramblings of a crotchety old woman, I would like to insert here that I have recently begun coming around to the idea of jeans again. This is partially because I like the concept of jeans more than their actual physical manifestation. I think they’re cute paired with any one of my many sweaters. I like them tucked into boots. I sometimes think they make my butt look good. But shopping for them and actually wearing them is a different story. However, the other day, as I began a giant (much overdue) purging of my closet, I discovered that I was in desperate need of a pair of jeans that actually fit me well. All of my pairs were too big around the waist, too short, or too bunchy around the ankles. And regardless of how infrequently I may actually reach for a pair of jeans when I get dressed in the morning, I decided that, as a 24 year-old semi-professional young woman, there was no excuse for me not to own at least one or two pairs of nice jeans that actually fit my ass.

So I did what any mature young lady in need of jeans would do: I enlisted the help of my friends. Because I can’t even decide when to pee without consulting my Google Calendar, I sent my friends Ellen and Kate an invitation that included the phrase “HELP ME FIND JEANS THAT ACTUALLY FIT ME,” and early* on a Friday morning, we set off into town in search of a pair of jeans that would hug my curves, not fall down, and not make my butt look flat. A noble, if somewhat frivolous mission.

Our first stop (after sucking down our morning doses of caffeine at the coffee shop) was The Gap, and as soon as we walked into the store, I was reminded why jeans shopping is so overwhelming: the vocabulary is ridiculous. “What are you looking for?” Ellen asked me. “I DON’T EVEN KNOW,” I cried out, exasperated, as I surveyed the stacks of denim surrounding me. The words listed around the store boasted a cut for every body type, but I didn’t know which one I was looking for. Sexy bootcut? Real straight? Skinny? Super skinny? Sexy boyfriend? It was like trying to order a latte at Starbucks, which, by the way, is one of the most overwhelming processes ever for an analytical control freak like me. I was reminded of that quote from Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail:

“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”

Except, in this case, you have to choose your cut (bootcut, skinny, straight), fit (regular, relaxed), wash (dark, light, fancy non-denim colored), size, and length (short, regular, long), and once you’ve done that, you have to try them all on under hideous fluorescent lights, while the fitting room attendant judges you for hauling ten pairs into the room with you because you don’t know what you want and you just want to make sure you’re trying on all the options available to you before you shell out $70 for a pair of pants, and, hopefully, reach that “absolutely defining sense of self.”

What’s worse is that every store decides it needs its own fancy terminology to describe its denim. So, after I tried on fifteen pairs in every size, length, and cut available at The Gap, we moved on. Each store we went into had a different selection, different names, and different sizing. I tried on regular lengths that were too short, and long lengths that were too long. I tried on bootcuts with too much flare at the bottom, I tried on boyfriend jeans that were too baggy in the butt, I even tried on skinny jeans with ugly rhinestones on the pockets. With each ill-fitting pair, I got more and more discouraged. But Ellen and Kate, being the committed, beautiful humans that they are, forged onward. Ellen marched around each store, throwing pair after pair over her arm, and running back and forth to the fitting room, pulling different sizes when something didn’t fit correctly. They told me how things really looked, instead of the way I perceived them to look after standing in multiple fitting rooms, sweaty from changing my clothes so many times, with messy hair and very little self-confidence left.

Eventually, we ended up at JC Penney. Discouraged, I reluctantly tried on a few picks from the juniors section and a couple random pairs from the misses section. Ellen, who at this point had thrown out all the rules and joined me in my little fitting room, was taking things off the hangers and handing them to me, then sorting them into piles based on how they fit.** All of a sudden, I had more jeans in my “maybe” pile than in my “no” pile, and I actually had to narrow down my options! I ended up with two pairs of dark wash jeans, approved by both Ellen and Kate, that fit well AND made my butt look good, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what the actual names of the jean styles are. I just know they fit, and I am the luckiest person in the world that I have two friends who were willing to dig through the skinnies and the bootcuts to help me find the ones that did.

So jeans shopping will probably always give me anxiety. I still don’t know what stores have the best fit for me or how I stumbled upon the couple pairs that I ended up buying, and the next time I go out, I’ll likely be just as clueless as this time. You also probably won’t see me wearing jeans more than a couple times a week (I still love my leggings and yoga pants), but it’s nice to know that my frazzled, sweaty, caffeine-fueled expedition was worth something.

Now just wait until I’m forced to go bra shopping. I’m sure that will yield some more great material.

* 9:00am is early when you work in residence life at a boarding school. Too early, probably, as Kate pointed out: “I don’t think I’ve ever been in town this early. Are the stores even open yet?”
** Because she’s an angel from heaven.

“I can’t believe I actually do this for fun now”: how I became the most unlikely runner ever

I’ve never been even remotely athletic. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, this probably comes of no surprise to you, after reading countless rants based around my artistic frustrations with no mention of any sporting pursuits. But throughout my youth, the only athletic endeavors I attempted ended in miserable failure or just plain disinterest. Why would I kick/throw/hit a ball around for no reason when I could be memorizing lines and blocking for a play? Why bother running unless I was late for choir rehearsal? What was the point of learning to do anything less than the required minimum in my P.E. class if my gym teacher, plucked straight out of a 90s sitcom, tracksuit and all, was still going to be biased towards those shining students who participated in extracurricular organized sports? It all seemed like a waste of time. Also, I am clumsy as hell.

When I was in elementary school, I tried out the community youth soccer organization. I lasted one day and then threw a tantrum when I got home about how ridiculous it was that you’re not allowed to use your hands in soccer. In P.E. class, I regularly ended up the last person left standing on my team during “trench” (the less violent version of dodgeball we were allowed to play in public school), not because I was good at the game, but because I was so afraid of being hit by the flying Nerf balls that I would hide and dodge them in the corner until every last one of my teammates got out. I also spent several pathetic years in dance classes, which I only survived because my sense of rhythm turned out to be better than my coordination. Then in middle school, I tried out a community volleyball league with my sisters, and it soon became clear that my coach’s supposedly endearing nickname for me, the “Digging Machine,” really just meant he was aware that digging was the only thing I was physically capable of doing during a game, and that I was mostly useless at everything else.

After the volleyball attempt, I shied away from any other organized sports as an adolescent. The only other remotely athletic thing I participated in was the marching band colorguard, of which I was a member for two years and captain for one of the two. The only reasons I joined in the first place were because A. I had given up on the clarinet because I hated the stupid thing, and B. I still wanted to hang out with my band geek friends on the weekends. Surprisingly, I turned out to be better than average at this specific form of choreographed flag-twirling. Now, I’m as shocked as you probably are that I was able to spin, throw, and catch a flag or rifle while simultaneously moving across a football field, but for some reason, my lack of hand-eye coordination did not translate to this activity. Mind you, this wasn’t enough of a confidence booster for me to try out any other athletic things, but hey, at least I had really strong arm muscles for a couple years in high school (which turned out to be really useful when I was painting/moving sets for theatre, my one true love at the time).

Since then, the only mildly athletic thing I’ve attempted has been yoga, which I enjoy mainly because it’s not competitive or fast-paced. Yoga is my kind of exercise, even though I’m not remotely flexible and sometimes get extremely worried about farting during class. (If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you get it.) So, you can understand why, when I decided to start a couch-to-5K training program at the beginning of last summer, I probably had so little faith in myself sticking with it that it’s shocking I even started it in the first place.

If you’re not familiar with the couch-to-5K type of running plan, it starts you out by alternating brief running intervals with walking. Gradually, the intervals get longer, and you continue until you can actually run for more than 30 seconds without wanting to run yourself right off the edge of a cliff. Each run is about half an hour long and you only need to run three times a week — it is literally designed to take a lazy non-runner and train them to run a 5K by the end of eight weeks. I was skeptical, but after hearing testimonials from multiple people who had successfully done it, I decided to give it a try.

At first, I wanted to die. The intervals were tough, and every time my walking portions ended, I wanted to just keep on walking. After a certain point, though, it stopped feeling like a chore and started feeling like something I wanted to do because it made me feel good. After my first successful 20 minute run, I felt like a million bucks for running that long without stopping, and after that point, I actually itched to be running on my off days. I stopped looking at the training program as something I was just trying out, and started feeling like a runner. I finished the program and started tracking my distance and time each time I went out. I started getting up earlier and earlier to avoid the ridiculous midwest summer humidity. I bought moisture-wicking running clothes and fancy expensive running shoes from a store that videotapes your feet in order to find you the right kind of shoe (not even kidding). I looked forward to my post-run breakfasts of oatmeal and coffee on my parents’ porch. I fell in love with the routine and the sound of my feet hitting the pavement. I shocked myself.

If you had told me six months ago that, come fall, I would be running four miles every other day, I would have laughed in your face. But now I do that, and it’s part of my daily routine that I actually look forward to. Sure, it’s hard getting up and running on weekdays when I could be sleeping in for an extra hour and a half, but the feeling I get when I finish is worth it. I love the fact that the perfect song on my playlist can convince me to run an extra half mile, or that one simple run can turn an awful day into a great one. I am amazed that, even if the first mile of my run is rough, I can push through and feel energized and inspired by mile four. I like that the only person I have to depend on when I run is myself, and that every time I hit the pavement, I’m proving that more and more. I look forward to stopping next to my “stretching tree” at the end of every run and feeling that weird mix of exhaustion and exhilaration while I let myself finally rest. Mostly, I am so proud of everything that my own body can accomplish that I never thought it could.

Maybe I’ll be a runner for the rest of my life, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll eventually run a marathon, maybe I’ll only ever run 5Ks. I don’t know. But the important thing is that I now know I am capable of doing it, and that all it took was my mind sticking with it for me to get there. And that’s enough for me right now.

these feet were made for running.

obligatory feet pic from my first 5K at the beginning of October.