Love

My Husband Gifted Me A Crop Top

Photo: Anatoliy Karlyuk / Shutterstock
woman wearing crop top

It seemed innocent. A neatly folded piece of lilac fabric surrounded by shreds of wrapping paper. I looked up at my husband and smiled. His love language was gifts of love, and he always selected his presents thoughtfully.

But when I held up the shirt, half of it was missing. It wasn’t quite a sports bra, but it wasn’t a tank either.

My husband of 24 years had gifted me — a 45-year-old mother of three — a crop top. I raised my eyebrows and studied the shirt. It was a cute tank style, which I prefer, and the color was pretty, but half of it was missing.

“A crop top?” I asked as my parents and sons watched.

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“Do you like it?” James asked. “It reminded me of you.”

I paused. How in the world did a miniature shirt remind him of me other than the fact that I’m lacking in the height department?

“It’s great!” I refolded the top and placed it on the coffee table in front of me. “Who’s next?”

After my family finished opening presents, we gorged on the ham strata I had made from Christmas Eve leftovers and then finished picking up. I gathered my presents and took them upstairs, and as I started to take the tags off the crop top to drop them in the laundry, James stopped me.

“Did you try it on?” he asked.

I shook my head, afraid to admit that this gift would most likely stay tucked in my drawer until he forgot about it and I could donate it. I lifted a shiny red sports bra off the bathroom counter. “This fits perfectly.”

“But what about the shirt? I think it will look great on you.”

Shirt? Did he not realize the gift he had selected was missing the bottom half? And great on me? I glanced at my stomach.

Since having my first son twenty years ago, my stomach and I had had a love-hate relationship. I loved that my body had created and carried my three amazing sons, but I was also embarrassed by my stretch marks. And for years, I battled the mommy pouch that didn’t tighten no matter how thin or fit I was.

Plus, I was in my mid-forties which by society standards is twenty years past prime crop-top-wearing age.

“Try it on,” James encouraged.

Maybe if he saw how ridiculous I looked, I could exchange the shirt for something more appropriate? With my back to the mirror, so I didn’t have to see how silly I looked, I stripped off my pajama top and pulled the crop top over my head. It had a built-in sports bra, and I took a minute to adjust myself.

James’s smile touched the corners of his eyes. “You look great. How does it feel?”

“It’s comfortable.” I turned toward the mirror and gaped. The shirt ended at the bottom of my ribs and hugged my chest tightly, but instead of looking inappropriate to me, I felt strong.

Until that moment, I had spent decades disappointed by my reflection. But here I was, wearing a skimpy top, and I didn’t feel half-dressed or embarrassed by my body.

With a laugh, I curled my arm to make a muscle. “I actually like it, but I can’t wear this out. I’m forty-five.”

“Who cares if it makes you feel good?” James spun me around and kissed my forehead. “You don’t see yourself clearly.” He turned me back toward the mirror and placed his hands on my shoulders. “You can wear this if you want to. And not because of how it looks, but because you have the confidence and you like it.”

His encouraging words were sweet, but I knew that I could never wear it outside my home. Middle-aged moms just don’t do that.

I’m guilty of policing other women’s bodies — probably because I’ve normalized being told what is and isn’t appropriate for my body.

When I was younger — way back in the 90s — I wore crop tops and jeans that sat on my hips. I had body piercings. My dresses were tight and tiny. And I was repeatedly told that my clothing choices made boys look at me inappropriately. That people would think I was a tramp. That I didn’t have agency over my body.

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When I became a mom at twenty-five, I started dressing how I thought a mom should dress: sensible clothes that could handle crawling on the floor, being puked on, and running errands. My cute clothes were tucked into the back of my closet, never to be worn again.

And then I hit forty, and my days no longer consisted of nursing, messy playdates, or projectile vomiting. My body belonged solely to me again, and I wanted to wear what I wanted to wear.

But “good” moms dressed in a certain way — skinny jeans, flowy blouses, and boots. It was a uniform that everyone around me wore, and I donned it too even though I never felt like me in the shapeless, brightly-patterned shirts.

Looking socially acceptable had become more important than being true to myself.

A few days after Christmas, as I folded laundry, the crop top and I came face to face again. I had nowhere to go that day and hadn’t gotten my workout in, so after finishing my chore, I selected the shirt from the pile of clean clothes and put it on with the intent of doing a Peloton class or two.

Wearing it while working out felt like a low-level commitment, and James would be happy to see me in it. And after that, I could bury it in my drawer until both James and I forgot about it.

But before I could work out, my dog needed to go outside to use the bathroom. Since it was a balmy 72 degrees, I didn’t bother to throw a jacket over the crop top. After all, it was just a quick walk up and down the block. We’d run out and run right back in.

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Of course, I saw five of my neighbors. At first, my self-consciousness about my bare midriff made me wrap my arms around my torso to hide the sliver of skin between my high-waisted yoga pants and the short shirt.

But as I visited with my neighbors, I realized I didn’t care what they thought. I felt comfortable and confident, and I unwrapped my arms.

“You have swag!” my next-door neighbor exclaimed. “I could never wear that, but it looks good on you.”

“James gave you a crop top?” a woman from up the street asked. “What was he thinking?”

“My daughter would kill me if I wore that,” another neighbor said. “It’s a good thing you have boys.”

Their comments swirled in my head as I walked home. Should I not have worn it? Was I too old? Would it embarrass my sons?

Once inside, I hurried to the family room and studied myself in the mirror, but I didn’t linger on my outfit.

Instead, I peered into my eyes, and I saw the young woman who was told her clothes invited boys’ gazes and that she looked like a tramp. I recognized her and realized my internal dialogue about my body had been shaped by what others said and not by what made me feel my best.

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But I also saw the forty-five-year-old woman who knows better.

Wearing a short dress isn’t me wishing I was twenty years younger; it’s me feeling like me. And showing my mid-riff is the same. I’ve worked hard to tone my stomach, and if I want to wear clothes that show it off, I’m going to. There is no age limit on self-confidence.

“So?” James stood in the kitchen, watching me. “What do you think?”

I smiled at my reflection. “It’s perfect.”

James had been right when he selected his gift: I possess confidence now — not only to wear a crop top but to also ignore other peoples’ opinions about what I should or should not wear as a middle-aged mom.

And while a crop top is just a piece of clothing, the empowerment I feel when wearing it is the best present of all.

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Mia’s memoir Always Yours, Bee, about her husband’s accident and her subsequent spiral into mental illness, was selected by BookBub as one of “15 Powerful Memoirs to Read in 2021.” She is also the author of the women’s fiction series, The Waterford Novels.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.