(You can listen to an audio version of this post here.)
I went to David’s Bridal today to purchase a bridesmaid’s dress for a friend’s wedding next summer. She had a dress already picked out in the system so they pulled her profile up and I followed the very nice saleslady to the racks laden with colorful chiffon.
“What size do you want to try?” she asked sweetly.
I told her that I’d like to start with a size 10 but I’d probably be closer to a size 12.
Lo and behold, they were fresh out of size 10s and 12s. They had a size 8, a size 14, and a size 16. She assured me that we could figure it out by trying on the size 8 first and if it could almost zip, she could take my measurements and we could order a 10. So she grabbed the size 8 and size 14 and whisked them away to a mirrored fitting room, with me following her trail of perfume.
She told me to try the 8 first and she’d be back to check on me.
I checked the tags on the two dresses and grabbed the size 8, leaving the 14 hanging on the hook. I put it on and it dropped over my hips surprisingly easily. Well, I’ll just try to zip it up and see what happens.
Bada-bing. It zipped! I mean, it was tight, a little sausage-casing-like, but miracle of miracles, it zipped!
I haven’t been close to a size 8 anything basically since I became a parent. Not because I birthed babies, but because stress and parenting suck the life out of me so keeping my figure became a distant priority. I have a #mombod but I came by it naturally.
With that being said, this size 8 was a delicious surprise. I walked around and waited for saleslady to return so I could shock her with my smaller-than-anticipated body.
When she came back over, I held out my arms and said, “Look! The 8 fit!” and did a little twirl. “It’s a little tight but I’m just happy that it fit!!” I beamed.
She said, “Okay, well, you might want to go with a 10, since this one has been stretched a bit from being tried on. Oh wait…”
She grabbed the tag.
“This is the 14”
I was momentarily stunned. It took my brain a moment to connect all the pieces of what that meant. This dress that barely fits isn’t an 8; it’s a size 14. You barely fit a size 14.
I rushed to the dressing room to check the dress that was hanging on the hook and sure enough, it was the size 8.
To say my heart sank isn’t strong enough. My heart had been held aloft on the “size 8” cloud of joy and now it was plummeting towards earth with no parachute. The transition from joy to despair happened so quickly that my heart got whiplash.
Considering we had just been talking about going up a size, the saleslady said she would go grab the size 16 of the rack.
My mouth said, “Okay.”
My face said WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK?
The saleslady sent a minion back over with the size 16 because I think she instinctively knew that, through no fault of her own, she had stepped in something she didn’t want to be in the middle of.
I took the size 16 dress, which now looked like it had 50 pounds of fabric, and shut the dressing room door behind me.
I just stood for a moment, in my almost too small size 14 dress. Moments before, I had been marveling at how small my waist looked, the curve of my collarbone. Now, I was staring at the way my love handles jutted out from the defined waistband and how the fabric stretched across my bust.
Here are some of the thoughts that went through my head:
How did you get so big? You’ve been eating your shitty salads 5 times a week like you’re a fucking rabbit and walking several miles a week and you just did zumba twice this weekend. You’ve really been trying. Well, actually, you did eat three pieces of Laffy Taffy in your classroom yesterday. You also ate a plate of nachos before bed last night. Actually, maybe you haven’t been trying that hard. You just thought you were trying. But…it really feels like you’ve been trying… So what the fuck?
And then, my feminist perfectionist brain started in on the scolding.
I’m shaming you for fat-shaming yourself. Why do you care about this so much? You’re not vain. You don’t really care. Why are you letting this get to you? Real, woke women don’t care about this. You shouldn’t either.
I did that seesaw thinking for a good three minutes. I was in tears. In tears over a stupid dress size! I tried on the size 16 and I could actually sit down and it didn’t look like the dress was trying to squeeze the life out of me so I carried it forlornly to the desk where the saleslady was checking someone else out. She caught my eye and said, “So, you want to buy…” her eyes flicked to the customers in front of her “that size then?”
I knew that she didn’t want to embarrass me but it was too late.
I was embarrassed that I had so confidently thought I was a size 10 or that I could even fit into a size 8, which is obviously laughable considering I bought a size that was fully double.
I was embarrassed that I was so unaware of my body.
I was embarrassed that I was embarrassed about not being a size 8/10.
I was embarrassed that this stranger knew that I was embarrassed about not being a size 8. It felt like I had let a stranger in on this very intensely vulnerable secret about myself, one that I was unaware of until she said the magic words, “Oh wait. This is a size 14.”
I wanted to just throw my credit card at her and run out to the safety of my car, but I did the socially acceptable thing of keeping it together while I paid for my size 16 dress and then made my way out to my car.
Why did this hit me so hard?
Logically, in my brain, if you asked me, especially if you asked me for advice, I would tell you that all bodies are beautiful. I would tell you that it’s not about how you look, but about how you feel. I want my friends to feel healthy- not be skinny. Logically, I’m all about the body-positive messaging. I want to love my body. I think I would tell you that I love my body the way it is.
Practically, I know that I have so many plates spinning that I gave up the “have a bikini-ready body” goal eons ago. That’s just not a priority right now (if it was even possible). My physical body peaked probably around my wedding at 21. Since turning 30, my already-slow metabolism has taken to sitting on the couch watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model. Between working and writing and parenting and being a good friend and wife and sister, I know that having a slammin’ body isn’t going to happen.
Obviously, though, I had a visceral, illogical reaction today, one that betrayed my very logical and woke outward opinions about my body.
The messages that women receive about their bodies are neverending and poisonous. From friends peddling MLM products on facebook with the magical “before and after” photos, to Hollywood’s continued insistence on having women look a certain way to be beautiful, to picture-perfect Instagram influencers, the messaging is consistent- your worth, value, and beauty are tied directly to your weight and appearance.
These messages must run deeper than I surmised because I thought I had weeded out this particular brand of body hatred a while ago.
But, my mind did not pass go. It did not collect $200. It went straight to shame.
Shame for eating a piece of candy.
Shame for not eating another salad when I was hungry after dinner.
Shame for not exercising every day.
The little annoying perfectionist voice in me almost turned this into a moral thing. If you only had better self-control, if you only worked out harder, or stressed less, then you wouldn’t have this problem. Your body is a problem and it’s your fault.
I would never-ever, in a million years, even insinuate that line of thinking to someone else.
So, why is it acceptable to say it to myself?
That’s a question I’m wrestling with, now that this ugly weed has sprouted in the middle of my body-positivity garden.
I would love to say that I’m over this now. I want to say that this experience showed me this ugly idea and now I’ve fixed it and everything is fine.
But I can’t. I have a feeling this is going to take some work, like actual work, maybe with a licensed professional.
I don’t want to hate my body. I shudder to think about passing along any poisonous thoughts about my body to my kids. I don’t want to pine wistfully for the body that I wish I had. I want to nurture and appreciate the body that I have- this beautiful, curvy, body that lugs around a 40 pound special needs kid, this body that dances around a classroom and makes students laugh, this body that walks several miles a week, that can hold its own in a Zumba class, that can do a yoga headstand, this body that advocates for the existence of other bodies, this body that enjoys delicious food, this body that nurtures a family, this body that feels and breathes and yearns.
I want to love this body.
This Size 16 body.
Someday, I will.
Beth, are you familiar with Melissa Radke?
I encountered her on this podcast where she addressed these kinds of issues.
Here is her website https://www.melissaradke.com/
Here is her facebook page https://www.facebook.com/MelissaRadkeStretchMarks/
Hey John! I actually just got to listen to an Enneagram 1 podcast you sent me while a back and it was so great, especially about this topic. I will check these out too.
Wow. you have put into words my whole life.One thing I do is first cut the tag out of the dress. No need to look at size 16. You are one of the strongest women I know and i think you are beautiful.
I know you will work this out so you can “nurture and appreciate the body that I have- this beautiful, curvy, body that lugs around a 40 pound special needs kid, this body that dances around a classroom and makes students laugh, this body that walks several miles a week, that can hold its own in a Zumba class, that can do a yoga headstand, this body that advocates for the existence of other bodies, this body that enjoys delicious food, this body that nurtures a family, this body that feels and breathes and yearns.” Strength doesn’t always look willow thin.
I love you.
I got my beauty and strength from somewhere, mom. Love you.
I agree with your mom. And i think you are exceptional. Always have.