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My Mom, Her Midriff

Girl in crop top and striped shorts Photo: Getty Images

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Having been born in 1987, my memories of how my mom looked when I was a kid are very much rooted in the ’90s. She had a perm and bangs that she curled even more and then sort of teased. She had a bright blue long-sleeved velour shirt that I’m pretty sure she still owns and wears today. She also had a lot of crop tops.

I say crop top, but in the mid-’90s she definitely called them midriffs, short for midriff tops. A few of these were parts of sets — a midriff top with some sort of matching pant. She wore them around the house mostly, to do housework on Saturdays, a weekly routine you could hear and smell from a mile away: the vacuum roaring, the entire house Clorox-scented.

My mom and I look alike. We have similar hair (medium length, brown, usually worn parted on the side) and body shapes (pear). My mom, though, has something I’ve never really had: abs. She has the quintessential ‘90s abs, which she got from doing the quintessential ‘90s workout video 8 Minute Abs.

Everything about abs are indeed so ‘90s to me. If you look back at photos from that decade into the early aughts, every single pop star is wearing low-rise jeans and some sort of crop top. It was my understanding as a kid that more people had actual abs than didn’t. It seemed like abs weren’t a hard thing to get. How could they be, if so many people, even my mom, had them? And they only took eight minutes to achieve!

When I was quoted in this Playboy article about underboob and the resurgence of very-cropped tops in celebrity culture, I sent it to my mom. She texted back and told me that the whole point of ‘90s midriff tops wasn’t to show the underside of your breasts, but to show off what great abs you had. I loved her trying to wrap her head around Rihanna and the underboob resurgence of 2016. I also loved the mental image that gave me of my mom, flaunting something.

My mom doesn’t wear midriff tops anymore; they’re a relic of her past. She says it’s a “weight and age thing,” even though despite always wanting to lose exactly five pounds, she still has those abs. I’m still fairly ab-less, but I’ve begun to adopt her aesthetic of crop tops with high-waisted shorts or jeans the last few years.

I find it flattering to my body shape (which makes sense, since I’m built almost exactly the same as my mom, albeit less toned), but there’s also a nostalgia factor that appeals to me on a couple of levels. Not only is it a retro look that’s easy to romanticize on an aesthetic level now, it also feels like a passing of the torch. I like the idea of adopting a look that my mom has grown out of, as if a midriff top were a family heirloom to be handed down through generations.

This summer, my mom and I are taking a short road trip from San Diego to Los Angeles, stopping at different Southern California towns along the way. I know she won’t, but I’m definitely packing a midriff top or two that flaunts my stomach — even if I don’t have my mom’s abs.