Oh, Victoria's Secret. Usually I defend you without fail. I buy your high-priced bras because you understand that large-sized women don't necessarily want to settle for “lightly lined” (read: ZERO support) bras or bras that are all function and no fun. But today you made me have a very uncomfortable conversation with my almost 13-year-old son. And I'm not sure how I feel about that yet.
I came home from work and found the stack of mail in its usual spot. However, it wasn't in the same order it usually appears. Without fail, the larger items are on the outside, regular envelopes are on the inside—basically in the same bundle the postal carrier places it in box. Today, however, a single catalog had floated to the top of the stack, on top of the bundle. This particular catalog:
Yep. The newest Victoria's Secret catalog. Normally I don't notice the covers. I mean, yes, they're usually scantily clad women, but as a woman myself, they don't really trigger any sort of response in me other than, “I could rock that!” or “Who would wear that??” And I never really thought about what my kids might think. Today, however, I realized two important facts:
1) This woman is SERIOUSLY scantily clad. And could be considered very sexy.
2) I have two almost-13-year-old boys who are now starting to show interest in sexy, scantily clad women.
Sigh. Time for a conversation.
“So…son…were you looking through this?”
Not accusatory, just curious. No big deal if you were, kiddo, but mom is freaking out on the inside. Because you can't possibly be old enough to care about nearly naked women. Really, you aren't that old yet… are you?
“No… what is it?” He takes it from my loose grasp and quickly flips through it. Thankfully he opened to the middle where there are sweaters and regular pajamas. Good job, mom. Bring it to his attention. Crap. Sigh.
“Just a catalog.” And deftly removes it from son's hands before he looks at any page that has a woman sprawled out like a Playboy centerfold.
“For what?” Do not answer that question!
“Lingerie.” Seriously? I said don’t answer that. Do NOT. What’s the point of an inner monologue if you don’t listen??
“What’s lingerie?” Really, son?? I have extremely intelligent children so I figure he knows what it is but is putting me on the hot seat just to see what I will say. Okay… here goes…
“It’s pretty underwear. Sometimes sexy.”
“Oh. Okay.” That’s it? Okay? I get off that easy… oh… wait. This is my future lawyer. The one who asks every question imaginable and makes me think. We're so not done yet…
“So… if it's that kind of stuff, why do you get it?” What?!
“What do you mean?”
Speaking as if I'm hearing impaired or not that bright, he repeats… "Why do you get this catalog? For lingerie?”
The Internal Monologue
I now have nanoseconds to come up with an appropriate answer to tell a teen boy about why his 40-year-old married mom with the not-so-skinny body and big breasts would want something from this particular catalog filled with young, skinny, sexy women. My internal thoughts went something like this:
Well, because there aren't many places to find a comfortable but pretty bra in my size (not entirely true but it feels true sometimes).
And because most companies don't think a woman who wears a 36DD want or need a padded push up bra! (This one is more true, but too much info for him.)
Ummm… because I like matching bras and panties that are actually matched/made for each other? (No… too much to have questioned there.)
Because not everything I wear has to come from freaking Target!!! (This statement could come back to bite me in the butt for future purchases on his behalf.)
Oh—good feminist thought—because I think all women should take care of their breasts and wear a quality bra. (Yeah, he really won't care about that one.)
Beeeeeeeecause they have some great nighties to wear for bed. (They do!!) …and not all are for sleeping (okay… entirely TMI for him!)
Because, dammit, even moms like to feel sexy!! (Well, that would make him uncomfortable even though it's the most truthful for me.)
Hmm, what would actually be good to tell a teen boy?? I decided to go with a “cleaner” version of the last one…
“Well, they help me feel prettier.”
“But… why?” Why??? Oh, right, you're the questioning twin. Why can't I remember that tonight??
“Why what, kiddo?” Stalling… just stalling.
“Why do you need to feel pretty?” Excuse me?? Reign in the indignity for a minute. Clarify your statement and then understand what he's asking.
“All women should feel pretty. And something like this can help me feel better about how I look.” Wait. That’s not really true. I like the comfort and the lift and yes, sometimes I like the attention I get for having big breasts. So, I'm a bit shallow, kiddo. But, I know I'm pretty anyway. I really feel sexy—desirable—in good lingerie. And that's freaking ALLOWED!
“But… why you? I mean, you already have a husband, right? So, what does it matter?” Oh. Oh, wow. REALLY?? I don't get to feel beautiful because I’m MARRIED? What is my child learning from my marriage?!
“Just because I’m married, you think I don't need to feel pretty?”
“Well, I guess…” Ah… the first hesitation. A sign that he could be wrong…maybe…
“…but. You already have a HUSBAND. You HAVE him. So why do you need to look pretty?” …or maybe not.
“Whether or not I look or feel pretty has nothing to do with my husband! Feeling pretty, being beautiful, that's for me. Even if dad doesn't think I'm pretty, I'm still allowed to think I am. And I am!”
“I still don't get it.” Oh, right. You're also the needlessly stubborn child who won't let go even when you're wrong.
“Well, being a wife isn't all I am, buddy. I'm more than a mom and a wife. I'm a woman outside of that. Women aren't defined by men or what they think about how we look. We get to have our own thoughts about what we look like and what we wear and what makes us feel good and why we're happy.”
Score for mom! Really. I patted myself mentally on the back for that one. Good positive message. Surely that will get him to understand…
“But he's your HUSBAND!”
SILENT SCREAM behind closed eyes and blank face. Don't let him see. Don't respond. Just… sigh. I need to make dinner. And check homework. And pay some bills. And write. And and and… and can we just end this for tonight? This is too big a lesson for right now. Find a way to get him to stop asking questions…
“Okay, kiddo. How about this…did you ever think maybe DAD likes to see me in that stuff?”
1…..2……3………wait for it………..wait for it…………..
Child exits, stage right.
The Learning Point… for mom
I went to make dinner, writing this post in my head as I did. That was a lesson in not looking at naked women, right? That's what I thought we were talking about. But somehow it got turned back on me instead of him. Made me question my own mind and my thoughts and wonder what it is that I'm truly teaching my sons. Was that really just the future lawyer in him getting out of the tough conversation or did mom really need to learn something?
In the end, I was very disappointed in my parting shot. That was exactly what I didn't want him to think was true or that it really mattered. And I felt surprised and more than a bit worried by his thought process. Was I raising a future misogynistic creeper? Did he truly believe that a woman's purpose—my only purpose—was to be what a husband wanted? That women only needed to look good to “catch a man”? That marriage wasn't about mutual love and respect but only about what the man wanted? Who taught him these things?!
It must be television! And books! Those damn video games!! Other kids filling his head with these thoughts! Or…
Or, wait. Just hold your mental high horses, Missy.
I guess that it really falls on me—his mom. He believes what he sees EVERY DAY. That’s how kids work, right? They believe the life they live is “normal”—that what they see is what everyone must see. And until they witness otherwise or someone tells them differently, that's what they'll always believe. And going into adulthood with those thoughts could be dangerous for him. And for his future spouse. And his future children.
For children, both male and female, to learn how to respect the opposite sex and to respect themselves they must witness that respect occurring between their parents. They must see husbands speaking to their wives with respect and love and, yes, even desire. Not just for sex but desiring them as a person—their presence, their minds, their hearts. They must witness women return that respect, love, and desire for their husbands. Women must also, and maybe more importantly these days, respect themselves.
And I think that’s what my children haven’t seen—a mom with self-respect. A mom with self-esteem and self-worth. And so my teachable moment became a moment in which I need to learn. Now to figure out what to do with this knowledge…
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