I was out dress shopping today. My niece is getting married, and my closet shrunk my tuxedo. (I hate when it does that.) I will eventually get another, but they aren’t easy to find, so i decided to get a dress for the occasion.
Off i go to a department store that i knew would have some options.
I’m not a fan of clothes shopping, and even less so of crowded department stores. Thankfully, after 52 years on this earth, i know what i like and what generally works for me. So i make a circular pass of the “special occasion” section and grab about a dozen potentials. I don’t look at brands or tags. Just grab what “looks like me” and seems about the right size.
Into the changing room. I take the corner stall. The other two are occupied by teenagers shopping for homecoming.
I really wish Chattanooga had a Nordstroms or something. Far too many of the options were decidedly stuck in “Bible Belt Grandmother” zone. Between my currently blue hair and the ink scattered about my body, it’s pretty obvious that most of these styles would probably jump off my body like a socialite off the Titanic. But i tried to make the best of it. You know, i mean, sometimes things that look like your Aunt Gertrude’s favorite tablecloth on the hanger might look better on a body. And polyester isn’t ALL bad.
I start trying them on, one by one. Well, except for the one that got stuck halfway over the ducks. I damned near had to ask one of the highschool girls for help… Except that my arms were stuck in the dress too, so i don’t know how i would have let them in. I did manage to get it off without ripping a seam. I should win a Houdini award for my efforts.
If i ever go truly bonkers, instead of a straightjacket, just shove a sequined grandma dress over my head in a size 6. That should keep me contained for a while.
By the time i got to the very last dress, i was D O N E. Disheartened, disenchanted, and disgusted. I felt lumpy and dumpy and frumpy. Thankfully, my mood was about to be spared.
The last dress didn’t look like much on the hanger. A knit blush-colored sheath with silver sparkles. A bit generic, but i liked the sparkles. (I refuse to offer up an excuse for that.) So i unzip and step into it. It’s about a half-size too big, but given my recurring cravings for ice cream lately, that isn’t a bad thing. I checked it out in the 3 way mirror. Belly bulge is only about a 2 or 3 on a 10 scale, cleavage is barely within “appropriate for church”, and it even makes me look like i have an ass that isn’t a husband or boyfriend. Not bad! I can do this!
I check the price tag. Redline. And today’s sale means another 50% off that.
I’m pretty sure i giggled out loud as i went back into the changing room to finish up. I took off the dress and put it back on the hanger.
That’s when i saw it.
The size tag.
Now, just 15 minutes before, i had been talking with the young girls in the other room and reassuring them that they looked beautiful. That they weren’t too big. Or bumpy. Or unsightly. They were just right and their dates were sure to be pleased. (And not just because i had seen both in other dresses that barely covered their underoos.) I gave them the whole feminist momma view. And i meant it. For them.
For me, however, that was different. I’ve been a size 8 for the last 5 years. A 10 if it won’t stretch to cover the ducks. But this dress was a 14!
The intellectual in my head knows that a tag is just a tag. Heaven knows where they get their fit models, or if they are even remotely industry standard. My desk job has me bigger than my old size 6, but i am still healthy and vital and well within acceptable BMI for my age.
But the diva in me was horrified.
How could i have let this happen? I mean, yes, i’ve been eating Hagen Daz every night, but only a third of a pint. That’s moderation, right? I mean, my only other vice lately has been a jumbo bag of black licorice. (Side note: Don’t eat a dozen pieces in one sitting. It ends badly. Trust me on this one. ) I haven’t been gorging on cheese or bacon. I haven’t been drinking. And i haven’t been any more lazy than usual. It’s hard enough being 52 and single. But 52 and 3 sizes up from my usual?
The world must never know. I can’t get the dress. I can’t. Because it would be admitting i wasn’t what i thought i was. Even as i thought it, i knew it was garbage, but i couldn’t shake it.
Mind you, the reality that no one was likely to ever see the inside of that dress, regardless of the tag, never crossed my mind. This isn’t a Vince Vaughn movie. I’ll be disrobing in the dark with my dog. And doggie can’t read. And doggie don’t care anyway.
Like i said, i wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking that if i purchased a size 14 dress, i was somehow devaluing myself.
But then i thought about the likelihood of finding one i liked as much, and finding it at such a bargain besides… All within the next 2 weeks… Sigh. I knew i was going to have to swallow my pride. So i started giving myself the same lecture i gave the girls earlier. I can’t honestly say it made it any easier, even if i knew i was right. There is something about a tag that can destroy a person’s self-confidence. Even when we know the number is meaningless.
I often shop at a store called Chico’s. They size their clothes much differently. In their line, i wear a 0 or 0.5. And yes, it does kind of make me feel special to be able to go straight to the “Size 0” rack. But the reality is, the pants that i bought there last week fit as well as the size 14 dress i bought today. Obviously, the number is just a number and bears no consistent definition when it comes to clothing. Neither the 0, nor the 14. They are, obviously, essentially the same, since my same body can fit into them. Just like a “natural” label on a carton of eggs, or “fair and honest” on a political ad, those numbers are just constructs with little concrete meaning. Infusing them with importance is just, well, daft.
Labels, in general, are meant to be guides as to where things fit. Clothes, countries, people… We slap them with tags in an effort to find a place for them in our brains’ file cabinets. That size is big. That country is backward. That person is different. But the labels really have very little meaning. There is no industry standard. All of our measuring sticks are in different units of measure, and we all use different fit models. “Civilized” by your standards may not be the same as “civilized” by mine. “Eccentric” by my standards is probably different from yours. Hell, even more concrete terms like “dark” and “light”… Other than the extremes, the rest is just opinion.
So why do we place so much importance in them?
As usual, i don’t really have an answer. Someone in some prestigious psych / sociology program is probably spending more hours than i have to study and figure it out. I’ll leave it to them. But i hope the next time a label hits you in the face like a dirty diaper, you will be able to calm yourself by remembering that “label” doesn’t equal “truth”. Either something fits, or it doesn’t. The label doesn’t change that.
You can name your dog “Giraffe”, but he’s still gonna bark.