Despite the commonly held belief that my gender lives to shop for clothes, this woman would rather have to remove chewing gum from her granddaughter’s hair than face an hour of clothes shopping. Shopping may be a favorite pastime for many women but for me it is an ordeal to be avoided.
Ask any woman who is heavier than she wants to be and she will tell you that there is a certain clothing size above which she will not go. I call this the magic number. I may try on clothes in sizes that are bigger than my magic number, but I will not buy them. After all, I am planning to lose weight soon.
Let’s say that I enter the dressing room with two pairs of jeans. I try one pair on and they fit perfectly. I practice stretching in them, sitting in them, and bending at the waist as if to pick up something from the floor. I find that I can do all three comfortably. However, these jeans are a size larger than my magic number size, so I know I won’t buy them.
I take off those jeans and try on the same jeans in a size smaller, a size whose number is not offensive to me. After stretching out flat on my back on the dressing room floor and holding my breath, I finally get them to zip. When I attempt to put these jeans through the same test that I used with the first pair of jeans, I hear threads breaking and realize that I am struggling to breathe. I hang both pairs of jeans on the “return-to-the-floor” rack and move on to the toy department to buy something for the grandkids.
Some items of clothing are harder to buy than others. Swimsuits are the worst. Retailers offer a variety of swimsuit styles for the mature woman: suits with flared skirts to minimize wide hips, suits with built-in elastic panels to hold in the stomach, suits with boy legs for the woman who wishes to conceal her thighs. Because I cannot find one single suit that incorporates all three of these qualities, I take one of each of these styles into the dressing room. Each suit that I try on is more hideous than the last one.
You show me a slightly rounded, middle-aged woman who can look at herself in a full-length mirror when she is wearing nothing but a swimsuit and a pair of knee-high stockings and I will show you a woman who can face anything. Ask her to go up against the scariest, ugliest villain Disney ever created and she will do it. She’s seen worse.
On a recent shopping outing, I decided to try on one of those highly touted, slimming undergarments guaranteed to help a woman fit into clothes two sizes smaller than her normal size. I entered the dressing room carrying a tubular strip of beige Spandex that looked as if it might possibly stretch to go around a roll of Bounty.
I couldn’t decide whether to step into the thing or try to put it on over my head. I chose to extend my arms straight up and try to pull the garment downward. Within minutes I was stuck inside a straight-jacket that extended from my midriff to the tips of my upwardly extended fingers. It refused to budge either up or down. Having to call an assistant into a fitting room to ask for help with a stuck zipper is one thing. It is something else entirely to ask her to call for the Jaws of Life.
I hate shopping for clothes. However, forcing myself occasionally to endure the process does produce one positive result in me. It transforms me from being a woman who declares that she has nothing to wear into a woman who looks through the clothing she already owns and says, “Good enough.”