Once I stopped growing — 5'4" (or close enough), size 4–6 (depending), foot size 7 (wide), 34C — it became clear how I measured up: an inch, maybe two, shy of my mother from head-to-waist, hip-to-toe, fingertip-to-tip. If I'd known just how important a role these dimensions would play in my sartorial future, I would have hung from my feet every night, eaten more vegetables, been more diligent about those bust exercises the girls in Judy Blume novels are always doing. But whatever I did or didn't do, I did not keep growing.
At seventeen years old, my body settled into its shape, bulges and curves morphing here and there but always in different places than my mother's, our aesthetic ambitions seeking different heights. Only sometimes, if I'm lucky, there will be a dress, a sweater, maybe even a shoe that we can both wear, and when my mother grows tired of this item or she is feeling generous, I'll inherit the relic for my own wardrobe, which is, of course, full of clothes my mother bought me.
My mother is both beautiful and glamorous. Blonde, blue eyes ever-ringed in mascara, she is, in my mind, always wearing lipstick in shades like Kiss Me Coral and Ravish Me Red, filling cars en route to parties with organic hairspray. It's she who taught me to consider measurements like the ratio of hair height to nose size. My mother told me that pursuing glamour is both fun and easy, unlike, for example, getting a Ph.D. or raising two children. When I was small, we would collaborate in the craft of my cuteness, but as a teenager, I resisted my mother's glamour. Somebody — was it television? — taught me real beauty was effortless. It seemed my mother wanted me to try too hard.
A hint of this dynamic surfaced early: second grade, picture day. I was wearing the outfit my mother had bought me for my cousin's bar mitzvah. A black lace mini-skirt paired with a black flower-printed blazer, gold buttons, and shoulder pads. My mother used to plait my long brown hair in braids after my bath so in the morning, once the braids were undone, my mane would be crimped and voluminous. I was missing teeth, but I looked, as my friends accused me of while we waited in line by the playground, "like a teenager." At home, I had enjoyed the thrill of that velvet collar and those gleaming buttons, but as soon as my friends at school surveyed my opulence, it was like I'd arrived on a basketball court in heels. I felt I was sporting glamour I had not earned. This was not Hollywood, or New York City. This was Brookline, Massachusetts, puritanical home to our country's academics and engineers. I longed suddenly for utilitarian pockets and no-frills snaps. With my buttons and my lace, who did I think I was?
This indictment — that I was trying to be something I was not — haunted closets and mirrors and fitting rooms for much of my childhood, as if my mother didn't have to accommodate enough of my textile neuroses already. Anything the slightest bit itchy sent me into fits. There was my "cinch everything" phase: a compulsion for headbands and belts. I felt my body might disintegrate if not held together with buckles or bands.
It's not that I did not want to be given clothing, but I was categorically opposed to the wools and suedes and A-lines my mother pulled from the racks. I remember the flannels and five-pocket corduroys I'd finger lovingly as my mother led me through Jacobson's Children's Shop to the dressing rooms, each with our respective armful of clothes for me.
"I think you don't want to look good," my mother once accused me. Teenaged and test-driving my woman's body, I was probably avoiding a striped and studded two-piece we'd bought from a real grown-up shop on the streets of New York: '90s mod bell-bottom suit pants and a black tank top, faux-suede collar ruffled and studded with silver eyelets. Or perhaps this was later, on a visit home from college, freshman-fifteened and refusing to wear lipstick, batting away the hairspray. I had an aversion to ornamentation. It wasn't that I didn't want to look good. I wanted to look good just exactly as I was.