Friday, February 7, 2014
Something amazing happened to me. I went shopping for jeans and found a pair that fit. Actually, I found four pairs that fit (by "fit" I mean "went on without trouble, did not require a belt to be held up and could potentially be worn without alteration"). I was stunned--that had never happened before! Jeans have always been my least favorite article of clothing to shop for. If they got around my thighs, they would be huge around my waist and they would always need to be hemmed so I wouldn't trip on the excessively long legs. Shopping for jeans tended to make me feel like I was trying to fit into a world that was not made for me.
Yet, there I was in the fitting room with a pile of jeans that all fit and I started to feel a warmth spread through me. It was as though finding those jeans that I didn't have to alter somehow validated my physical presence, like someone was aware that my body shape existed and deemed it worthy enough to make pants for. It was the warmth of belonging--followed by the nausea of disgust.
I was letting my existence be valued by my ability to find clothes at a department store? And I had been doing that since I was in elementary school? It wasn't the disappointment of not finding pants that fit that I had always despised, in that moment, I realized the thing I dreaded was the pain of feeling like I was not supposed to be in the world because I was not shaped "correctly."
I mulled all this over as I walked out of the fitting room with what I imagine will be one of my favorite pairs of jeans. I thought about the Barbie dolls I used to play with and all my friends whose legs were/are longer and skinnier than mine. I thought about how ethnicity affects what's available at different stores in different regions. I thought about labeling things "curvy" and the implications of doing so. I thought about the shifting sizes that mark our clothes and how it feels to have to buy something that is both "petite" and "short." I thought about the happiness that comes with finding something that fits right off the rack. I thought about how I felt about all this.
On the one hand, I was happy. I had found what I was looking for. On the other hand, I was...pensive. At the end of the day, sizes are arbitrary and manufacturers' sizing systems are out of my control. Also out of my control, what those sizes translate into, what stores stock, the media's portrayal of female beauty, society's expectations of....I can't even finish that sentence, because, honestly, I don't care. All that doesn't matter. The thing that most struck me was how backwards our relationship with our marked size is.
You buy enough clothes and you think of the world in terms of small, medium or large, tall, regular or short, petite or plus-sized, or a number, or a set of numbers, and the thing is, you can get away with that. The system lets you think that you should fit into a set of numbers and letters, but the truth is that you are a physical entity that is not molded out of plastic to fit sample sizes. You are a lump of matter formed into some shape and only for convenience sake are you measured, rounded and assigned a size.
Where am I going with all this? Should you be expecting a song about clothes sizes? I'm not really sure. We are sized, but we don't have to fit the sizes people set. We are sized, but those sizes aren't the only options (it's sewing time!). I guess, looking at the big picture, the point is that we are labeled but those labels don't change what we are, who we are or what our "value" is. Perhaps this is another case where language is limiting us--chaining our perception to words that we have defined and set as reality. Perhaps we are afraid of being undefined. Or, perhaps we are afraid of leaving others speechless.