Issue #5: To Fit or Not to FitApril 1st, 2012 by Claire
To fit or not to fit…
Spending four straight hours at the mall is a rarity for me. Usually, I have to be bribed and there has to be a list of negotiations beforehand. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the occasional browse or get a little excited at the sight of funky earrings on sale, but let’s just sum it up and say that shopping is not the way I prefer to spend my weekends. And it may have something to do with the notion I get every time I walk past a pedestal of trendy mannequins:
I feel like we’ve entered into the Era of the Shoe. Because, let’s face it: In these fast-paced, high-priced and paparazzi-driven days of couture and disposable relationships, a woman’s shoe covers more acreage than the dress. One hundred years ago, the flash of a woman’s ankle meant scandal; these days, it may be the only part of her body she chooses to keep covered. Welcome to modernity.
I’m out at the mall because I need a dress. But I wish I needed shoes, because it would be far easier to come by a quality pair of those. These days, a woman’s shoe comes off the line fully armed. Pick your staying power: laces, straps, snaps, buckles, clips, zippers, chains, ribbons, elastic… Forget Smith and Wesson — Lock and load, Dolce and Gabbana. Have you seen the carabiner-strength buckles on a pair of wedges? How about the metal pins they jam into pump heels for support? I keep waiting for a couple of paramilitary TSA agents to crash through the skylight with a harnessed and gnashing German shepherd every time I lift my shoes off the conveyor belt at airport security. “Hold it right there, Miss. It appears you’re hiding twin sabers in your heels. We don’t allow armed ninjas to fly United. We’re going to have to detain you.”
There are a lot of shoes out there that have no intention of leaving your foot.
Dresses, on the other hand…
‘Know what secures the typical formal dress? A prayer to the gravity gods. And if the gravity gods are calling the shots, then I know better. I’ve seen what they can do to the body of an aging woman, and I’ll never trust those charlatans…it seems the higher the cost, the shorter the dress. And I’m not about to pay three hundred dollars for a washcloth.
I don’t mix well with micro-length skirts or over abundant-cleavage, but that seems to be all I can find… unless I want to suffer in something shoulder-padded and matronly. Nearing my wits end, I decide to set foot into those name-brand-designer perfume-ridden shops, where the prices start to look more like mortgage payments. But it seems the higher the cost, the shorter the dress. And I’m not about to pay three hundred dollars for a washcloth.
No wonder men have a hard time keeping their minds out of the gutter. There is so much more to value in a human soul than the thoughts behind a skanky outfit, but you’d never know it out here. It’s a lot harder to find attractive modesty and sophistication than it used to be, but I do eventually find what I’m looking for. It’s the last one, on sale, and it covers everything that needs to be covered in order for me to relax and enjoy myself. Not to say it doesn’t carry appeal… It’s form-fitting from one end to the other, but tastefully. It’s a classy sort of dress I won’t have to worry about falling out of, and most importantly… It’s just the right size. I’m set.
I enjoy grandiose social events. Weddings, holiday parties, fundraisers, you name it. Even if the food isn’t tasty or the company isn’t the greatest, I always manage to make up for it by getting in a good dose of people-watching.
A good dose of people-watching? That is an understatement as to what I end up witnessing at our company banquet. It’s a formal event– well, it’s supposed to be– but by the time I walk in through the double doors of the downtown Hilton Executive Plaza, it feels more like ‘people-watching’ has just punched me in the face.
By the time I find Rachel, I’ve seen two wardrobe malfunctions, a broken zipper, three thongs, and enough upper thigh cellulite to keep me off doughnuts forever. Actually, I don’t find Rachel; she finds me as I stand distracted in careful contemplation. (Do I own the same pair of underwear as worn by the girl in the not-as-opaque-as-she-thought black dress? Quite possibly…)
Did I mention this is a company-sponsored function? Our employer hosts this event and all regional managers are present. Sadly, I’ve seen more dignified behavior at a high school dance. The crowd before my eyes doesn’t have age as an excuse anymore, and I struggle the whole night on whether I should find all these incidents amusingly bizarre or pitiful to the point of sorrow.
Rachel and I snag a table for our department during the speeches and awards, but the rest of the night is where the real entertainment is. While everyone else is getting hammered at the open bar, we’re getting blitzed out of our minds on photo-snapping while commentating on the Great Fall of American Dress-ability.
Rachel and her husband, Alan, are both fifteen years my senior, so they sometimes view me as a sort of ‘daughter they never had’. Partway through the night, after Rachel and I each pick out a favorite fashion failure, Alan corners me for a word.
“Wow, Claire. You look fantastic. That dress is really incredible on you. Seriously classy.”
“Aw, no, it’s not that, Alan. It’s just that it fits me. See… You’ve been bombarded with three hours of women who’ve been constantly tugging and squirming to keep themselves from falling out of dresses that are anywhere from one to three sizes too small. A dress that actually fits a girl will win by default.”
My favorite fashion failure comes into view, and I feel compelled to share the pain with Alan in order to prove my point.
“Look– white dress at 2 o’clock…”
“Ouch. It’s so tight it’s creasing her flesh into cross-sections!”
“We’ve named her ‘Michelin Man’. But don’t look for too long– I’ve already developed a twitch in my right eye… See?”
“Nope. I just see your dress. And I’m sure at least a dozen young men here would say the same thing.”
“Aw, Alan, c’mon…”
What a dad.
“That guy over there is staring at you. Seriously, Claire. Why aren’t you with someone?”
“You think I should be with someone because of my dress?”
“No, but I think your dress is a testament as to why, when I look around this room of six-hundred people, you’ve got to be one of the best catches here. You’re smart, you’re fun, you’re artistic–”
“Okay, stop. You sound like my mom.”
“Well, fine. But what’s the reason?”
Alan’s asked me this question before. In fact, he’s been trying to set me up with a guy for the last year. And I always tell him I’m just not looking for a relationship at the moment. But he’s had a few to drink tonight, and he decides to push past his usual boundary:
“You know… I talked to Rachel, and… she told me you were hurt in the past. I don’t know all the details, but I think you’ve really got a lot going for you right now, and I just want to make sure that… well, you know… I just want to make sure that you’re not hiding.”
“Hiding? Well… I’m hiding from a couple of tipsy guys who’ve been trying to make some moves out there.”
Alan laughs, but then he asks me again. Seriously.
Am I hiding? That wasn’t the question I was expecting him to ask, so I think about it very carefully for a minute.
The last relationship I had… it went from good to over before I even knew what was happening. It ended in such abrupt flames that it left me in shock for months. The last time I ever saw him, he took it upon himself to tell me that he’d never actually loved me for who I was and that I wasn’t the girl he wanted to marry after all. He made four years of heavy promises… even as I asked him never to promise me anything he didn’t mean… but in the end, he’d always wanted me to be a different person entirely. Looking back, now, I can see that. Even from the beginning, there was a form he wanted me to fit. I tried, and… I failed.
I smooth the edge of my dress, contemplating the secret hurt behind the real answer to Alan’s question. Alan compliments me because I don’t try to force a fit. I don’t try to be an image I’m not. It’s made life difficult at times… extremely difficult. Even lonely. But it’s been worth it, because every time I look in the mirror, I recognize the person looking back at me. And she’s on my side, even if it feels like no one else is. She’s the one I have to live with every day for the rest of my life. And some days, knowing who that soul is on the other side of the mirror is just about the only thing in my life that I am sure about.
If I’m going to be with someone, I want us to complement each other with who we are, rather than trying to shape one another into preconceived notions and expectations. I don’t want to get caught up in another situation that leaves me trying to fit into something that’s all wrong. Maybe I am hiding a little. I’m certainly not looking. Men are looking at me, but I’m not looking at them.
I’ve been people-watching all night, but not looking. If there is any potential out there, in between all the stumbling and intoxication, I think I might be glossing over it. It’s an easy thing to find yourself doing. Looking over instead of looking at. Particularly if you’ve been shunned in the past for who you are and the decisions you’ve decided to stand by.
It’s easy to just shrug and assume that there must not be a true match out there for you if you haven’t run across it already. Consciously, I know that isn’t the case, but sometimes it feels as though my subconscious has already put money down that the next guy to approach me just isn’t going to be compatible. There is going to be something about me that won’t pass the next suitor’s test. And then I’ll fail again. Is that what I think? Am I afraid to fail again? To be cast out because I don’t fit the mainstream?
When I look up from my pondering, there’s an expression on Alan’s face — fear that he’s let the alcohol in his veins pry too deep.
“Look, I’m sorry, Claire, it’s not really my place —”
But I’m grinning, because I think I’ve just figured something out.
“Alan, relax. You can ask me anything you want. But that girl you’re talking about? The one who was hurt in the past? She wouldn’t even recognize the woman standing here in this dress that you like so much. A small, fiery, vengeful part of me hates to admit it, but being pitched to the wayside may have been one of the best things that ever happened to me, and this is why: Losing that relationship was my greatest fear. I faced it. And I didn’t sink under the weight of it; I grew. I had been lingering on the edge of adolescence through all those years, and that loss was the last, terrible push that finally forced me to grow up.”
Alan stares at me a minute, then laughs, muttering something further about how I really shouldn’t still be single, leaving me no choice but to scold him with a shove.
That moment when my best just wasn’t good enough? The aftermath reduced me to ashes, but… I think what a person does when they get to that point… how they choose to react and the next steps they take, that’s where truth and character comes from. That’s what forces you to face yourself. And if you don’t recognize your reflection, even after taking a long hard look, then it is in that sharp aftermath of failure that you find the strength and courage to begin building someone you do recognize.
That old relationship — it wasn’t ‘me’. The next time I enter into a commitment, it will be nothing less than a proper and flattering fit.