A personal recount of how genes affected Tierney’s relationship with jeans. (photos of Tierney Finster by Gilly Studio)
My mother and I have similar bodies. During the late 1960s, she was thirty pounds “overweight” for her age demographic and was brought to see a diet doctor for treatment. I don’t know exactly what amphetamine she was prescribed before puberty (because I don’t want to text her and let her know I’m thinking about it) but I gave known that the diet doctor was a fact of her childhood since I was little.
It usually came up in conversations between my mom and her eight siblings. I learned mostly everything about my family, and a lot about life, by being a welcomed eavesdropper. I heard them talking on the phone almost every morning, eventually becoming able to decipher who was on the phone and what they were talking about without ever hearing the other person’s voice. Often times I learned things about my mother while eating at Chi Chis Pizza in Northridge, where we all order our salads the same way (dressed in their most astringent vinaigrette and topped with extra fresh mozzarella). We butter sourdough rolls while we gossip about one another and self-disclose.
My mom probably wasn’t the only one of her siblings to see a diet doctor, but she was the first. Decades later I was the first one out of my dozens of cousins to be fat too. They always had nice jeans, pairs I could never fit into even when they were offered to me as hand-me-downs.
Some of these cousins wish they were skinnier now. Some are still skinny. Many of them are athletes. Some are athletes who wish they were skinnier. Many of them are shocked by my fat grace and incessant, public nudity, but they like it.
“Thirty pounds,” my mom scoffed in bed the other night, wearing nothing but underwear and a tank top in the security of her own home (she would never wear sleeveless shirts in public. This was the first time I heard this number. My mom is a great dramatist. She knows by saying nothing more than “thirty pounds,” I will understand this isn’t much weight. The amount of weight she was “over” as a kid hardly seems to warrant the lifetime of losing weight and feeling bad about not losing weight it causes. My mom has spent decades feeling bad about her body because of what, retrospectively, feels like thirty measly pounds. How sad to wish to be riding the crest of one of your own waves of yo-yo dieting.
My mom never took me to a diet doctor. My mom never bought less than two of any pair of pants that fit me well. My mom never denied me access to anything, including my own dreams, because of my weight.
My mom’s lifelong fashion dream is to fit into a pair of Levi’s 501s and to wear them with a white t-shirt and buttery, black, leather boots. I always found my mom’s skinny-body-Levis-fantasy incredibly boring. I wanted to be skinny too so I could become a movie star and wear pink Versace gowns, not to break my nails buttoning up pants designed for gold miners.
It’s not like my mom wanted me to be fat. “You like clothes too much,” she told me at ten or eleven, insinuating I wouldn’t be able to have fun with fashion if I didn’t lose weight, even though she never finished the rest of that sentence.
My mom believed I wouldn’t have access to nice, artful clothes if I remained as I was, if my body remained so similar to her body. My mom got a migraine the first time she realized I now needed to shop in plus size section at Target. Headaches are emotional. But she didn’t put me on pills or put a lock on the fridge, as my neighbor’s mom did to her, inspiring misery and resentment and more weight gain.
In terms of the diet doctor, my grandma simply wanted to be able to take my mom shopping. There was never any clothes for fat girls. There still hardly is, despite some increased visibility in fashion
My mom had all the resources to be a fashion capitalist, but none of the designers kept her in mind. She wore men’s shorts from surfer stores and t-shirts. She liked them. She looked beautiful, but she didn’t have many options. Her body was ignored and so she wished she could ignore it.
My grandma was beautiful and lovely and outrageously generous. She grandma was Marilyn Monroe’s body double six weeks after birthing her six child in 1960. She drank Wolfschmidt with water and smoked Lucky Strikes and craved Almond Joys and Milanos. She picked me up from preschool on foot, scooting along the sidewalk in crushed beige capri leggings and bedroom slippers.
She spent most of the years after that at home, rarely leaving the house. I only remember having one adventure with her. We went shopping. She took me to Macy’s and bought me overalls in Junior Plus sizes, odd sizes like 13 and 15. It was our first and only time being out and about together, with my mom too, lunching like ladies.
Now I’m in my twenties and I’m down to wear Levi’s. I want to feel hot in a pair of jeans. I’m waiting for the day I slide a pair on and feel like they’re actually doing something for me. I used to like the packaged denim leggings found near the socks in department stores but I’m done with them. Not all conveniences are worth it.
Jeans have always made my body feel like an inconvenience when really, they should be made just for me.