You know that Monkees’ song “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You?,” the non-committal argument anthem for the ages?I’ve been singing it to myself lately, about the above swanky-Sue leopard print dress. Leopard is a thing I am trying to explore in my 40s without looking ironic or like a cat-eye glasses-wearing granny Hon in a John Hughes movie. It’s funky, comfortable and doesn’t make me look like a jaunty iceberg. It was a great find in a local consignment shop, and even though it was, at $34, more than I usually spend on non-label items at consignment stores, the price is not the reason I have just the wee case of regret about the purchase.
It’s because the woman who sold it to me initially mistook me to be so large that she didn’t think I was going to fit into that, or any dress or article of clothing that lived beyond a tiny rack shoved depressingly in the back. And although I have reasons for believing that this makes her dismissive, exclusive and bad at her job, if her job is encouraging people to spend money in her store, I’m also concerned that I am so brain-washed by our fat-shaming circus of a society that the suggestion of an extra “X” to my XL sends me into some self-righteous tailspin, like “How dare you! I say good day. Nooo…I SAY GOOD DAY!”
And that part of my regret makes me want to punch myself in the face, repeatedly.
Here’s what happened – I came in, waved at the lady in the back of the store and headed towards the rack with the giant “End of Season” sale sign on it. I am, as I have discussed, not currently a size I love, but at a point where I love myself and see no need not to be cute in the body I am currently in, because that body is fierce. I am anywhere from a very, very stretchy medium to an XL in dresses without zippers, and since it’s summer in Florida I tend not to love zippers in the first place. So I start going through what appeared to be the larger end of the sale stuff, but in the middle, pushing the mediums to one side and the XXLs to the other, concentrating on the L and XL situations. My plan was to grab the cheaper stuff first and then head to the regular rack. And then I heard this.
“I think the only things that will fit you in the store are over there. We go up to XXXL.”
I’m sorry what? I immediately tensed up, and I admit my first thought was “How could she think I was an XXXL?” And that thought, again, was both fed from an annoyance that a woman who is supposed to be a professional would just eyeball me and not only get my size wrong – because getting them right is her job – but be so dismissive about it. Like a lot of women – and probably men – I know what it’s like to walk by a store and know that you can either not fit into anything, or that the category is so small that you feel singled out, like “There’s the scraps for you, Fatty. And you’ll pay us for them.” I don’t usually get annoyed by that because it’s just what happens. When I went bridal shopping I called a lot of boutiques that advertised sample sales before I went, because not only are samples very small, some boutiques don’t carry more than one or two dresses in larger sizes, which meant there would be nothing for me to try on. Everyone deserves the opportunity, if they choose, to have their “Say Yes To The Dress” moment. So I only went to places that could give me that.
Fast forward to last month,, when the woman told me that her store was not for me. If that were true, it would be a burn, but a factual one, because she can’t make the dresses bigger or make some fabulous size 14 woman show up with a haul or gently used treasures at that moment. What got me, though, was that she saw a not-skinny woman walk in and just dismissed me, which should have been my cue to leave. But I didn’t. I felt the need to defend myself or something, which is weird. Why should I be defending myself against something that is not an insult? To some, being accused of being big is insulting, but it is what is. If you are comfortable with yourself that shouldn’t be an insult, unless you know that person specifically means that observation as a pejorative. Anyway, I needed to say something.
“Um, I’m a Large or Extra Large, at the most. I think this dress is a large I’m wearing right now!” I said and tried not to sound indignant. The lady came a little closer, looked me up and down, and shook her head.
“I’m sorry!” she said, because I think she saw my face and imagined a possible purchase walking out the door, although I am not sure if she wasn’t re-sizing me up to see if I were in denial At that point I can’t honestly say whether I really wanted to buy a dress because I wanted one, or because I wanted to prove I could, which is a dumb waste of $35. Meanwhile, I took some nice things off the regular rack and took them to try in, near the back area where the lady was watching the aftermath of the Charleston shootings on TV. We had a conversation about the shooter, and whether or not his uncle had turned him in, and whether he was going to be safe in jail (Neither of us felt so, although that didn’t bother us, either.) I stepped out into the sales area in the leopard dress, which instantly felt right to me.
“Well that looks great!” she said, earnestly. “I’m sorry again for so misjudging your size.”
That was nice of her to say, but what was she saying? Was she regretting her inability to size me up properly, or worried that she had been dismissive? Or was she, like me, afraid that assuming there were more Xs afoot than there were was an insult? I don’t know. But I headed across the street with my dress in a bag, and told the friend I was meeting for dinner what happened.
“And you bought it?” she said, incredulously. “Huh.”
So now I have this dress, and I love it. It’s sassy. It’s swingy. But its origin story, if you will, makes me doubt just how secure in myself I am.