I did not buy the shiny necklace. Even though I get a special and impressive discount on jewelry. Even though it shines at least five colors depending on what direction you tilt it. Even though I could hardly pull my eyes away from it.
The thing I didn’t count on about working at a woman’s clothing boutique – even casually, even as I am attempting to work and not absorb anything – is how fiercely and immediately it would force me to confront my own body issues.
It is, apparently, a staff activity to peruse the racks and try things on and model for the rest. These are all supportive, experienced women who know how to provide gentle and helpful feedback and not just nod their heads and say great. Or the alternative…a hyper and upsetting “Take that off right now!” They’re good at this and I want to play along. I don’t want to be a tall poppy. I thought I looked tolerable in what I was wearing, but I got five or six things and put them on and thought…oh, dear. Like. I am unhappy and if I think about this, I will get real unhappy and the whole goal of this is to get women in this satin curtained dressing room to feel relaxed and positive so they’ll buy $400 dollars worth of clothing, as one woman did today.
But already I can’t be spending as much as I make in a day to buy things right now. The other women who work there are married. Some with children my age. They have discretionary funds to keep themselves in kit and keep up with trends. They can giddily assess each shipment and take home treasures as soon as they’re put on sale. If things had progressed as I had intended, well, I’d be much more able to shop freely. Though, if things had progressed as intended, I probably wouldn’t have thought about coming back to this town to shop.
Suddenly, inside that dressing room, nothing looked right. My body, the body of defeat, in that full-length mirror seemed to justify every frustration, every piece of that of outsider identity I’ve ever clung to. I’ve had minor meltdowns in dressing rooms before. I’ve felt physical torture in them. And I could certainly fit into the clothes I picked out. I can only imagine if that wasn’t always possible. Not that I think my complaints are unique or particularly worthy of explicating in long form, I just…felt like real gross, real hot shit.
Still. I strolled out, finally, at their request in a couple skirts, feeling like this bloated, monstrous version of myself. I went a mile a minute in my brain about how fraudulent this whole caper had become. I…me…am supposed to advise stylish women on what to put on their body. I who have never felt confident for a full day in my own skin? They were, as expected, kind about it. Unbothered. They look at and now I, too, look at bodies all day long. I started blabbing about foundational garments. Silly, but I wanted to somehow reflect what I assumed they were thinking, to say, in some way, I know, I know…and I wouldn’t just walk around thinking I was okay. Which, sheesh. It’s an exhausting way to exist in the world. Constantly self-abnegating before anyone can even have a negative breath in your direction.
But then, I tried some dresses and even me being me, I thought that they looked nice. They were really comfortable. I only wore one out. I can’t buy them just yet, but maybe I will eventually. It just doesn’t…delight me to try on clothes. I’ve owned barbie dolls, and dressing them up was a chore. I don’t, though my earnest heart has tried to convince me otherwise, really give all that much of a shit what people choose to wear.
It’s only a single summer. It’s just a stopgap measure. I am writing. I am starting again. This is the story I tell. This is the story that has to be true.