I needed a dress for a wedding. For some, this might seem a perfectly normal thing, but I loathe clothes shopping. Detest. Abhor. Hate with a fiery, red-hot passion. Yet I knew I couldn’t very well show up in the sweat-stained sweater I’d been wearing over my pajamas every day for the past week.
My stomach twisted up like a class F4 tornado, as I pulled into the department store parking lot. I’d gained forty-five pounds in the past year. What had my doctor called it? Oh, yeah, “dramatic weight gain.” You think?
Whether this added heft was due to my full hysterectomy, or my lack of an actual thyroid, or my love of white cake with lemon frosting and sugar sprinkles, I’ll never know. All I knew was that I’d worn a size 4 since I was twenty, except for that two-year period after my divorce when I cinched my 00 cargo pants with a belt.
As I wandered amongst the racks, I looked like every man found shopping on Christmas Eve – lost, forlorn, and hopeless.
I finally found something that didn’t make me want to lose my mind, and I hung three sizes of the same dress over my hand. I had no idea what size I wore now.
I schlumped to the dressing room and prepared myself for my personal descent into the 7th pit of HELL – the trying on of clothes that I loathe shopping for.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall… I look like I’m seven months pregnant. Where’s my child? The fruit of my womb? Is that a kick? Alas, no… it’s hunger pangs…
No, really… dream on.
I grabbed my sweats off the floor, yanked them on, zipped up my hoodie, and went back into the fray for a 12.
It sort of fit if I didn’t breathe too deeply, or expand my rib cage in any normal way, as one does when they actually take in oxygen.
I’m a house.
In all likelihood, I would have been more comfortable in a 14, but there was no way I could handle that. You know, emotionally, and all.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m not a girly-girl. Never have been. Hate pink. Hate dresses. Hate frills. I can’t tell you what type of dress I bought that day. Like if it’s a a-line, or b-line, or whatever. It felt like the fifties to me – gray with black and pink flowers. I even bought the fucking pink sweater that came with it. Because… wedding and fluffy, young love.
I felt pretty low for a few days after that shopping excursion. I huddled in my sweats, clutching imaginary cake. I guessed my six-day-a-week workouts for the past two months were really doing wonders for me, as I popped estrogen into my mouth like Milk Duds.
Eventually, I pried my fingers apart, dropped the pretend crumbs, and looked at my new dress. It was kinda pretty, despite the extra fabric. With a surge of hope, I decided I would focus on hair and make-up.
I once again had purpose.
I looked in the mirror and ran my fingers through the hair that had finally grown out after my mid-life crisis pixie cut.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall… is that a gray patch? Nah. No. It looks like a gray patch of newly planted hair seeds. No. That’s not gray. It’s silvery blond.
Because I’ve actually burned plastic into my hair by setting my curling iron too close to the hair dryer before commencing curling, I called a professional and made an appointment. I told her I had bought a “bun thingy” and asked if she could just put it in for me and do something with my bangs, so they didn’t look like that lone Q-Tip that’s been shuffled around in the bottom of a cosmetics bag for the past twenty years.
She hesitated just long enough to make me wonder if the call had been disconnected. “Sure,” she finally said.
Next… make-up. Here’s where the story takes a twist. I’m a PRO at make-up. I have a crazy awesome collection of MAC and brushes galore. I can definitely do make-up. This isn’t a girly-gift. This is art and painting. I’m mother-‘effin-Monet with MAC.
On the day of the wedding, my hair perfectly coiffed and shellacked with about as much Aqua Net as the ozone layer could handle, I was feeling in character when I sat down to paint my face. I set up my little light mirror and pulled out the perfect shades of pink and brown I’d chosen, and began.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall… why does the skin of my neck look like the soft folds of a cowl neck sweater?
You would have thought I was seeing myself for the first time in five years. My face was changed. The version of me that I walked around thinking I was, was gone. My foundation poured into the cracks and wrinkles of my face and set there like concrete; like the dry-cracked mud of the Mojave desert.
It was in that moment that I realized…I was one of “those” women. All this angst over my weight gain, and crinkly neck, and deepening wrinkles… OMGoddess. I was one of those females I’d heard about. The ones who put all sorts of stock in their appearance, then the market crashes, and they lose everything. Or so they think.
And this isn’t to say that I was the Bo Derek supermodel type before either, but I had gotten a fair amount of attention in my life because of how I looked. This reckoning almost shattered my mirror that day. Who will I be without this outward appearance? Who will I be as my hair turns grayer and grayer? Who will I be as I begin to fully embrace the beauty within, and let go of societal expectations of how I should look on the outside?
I’ve spent some time since looking at beautiful photos of Diane Keaton and Helen Mirren. I love their fire, their spunk, and their style. They’re aging gracefully; beautifully. I can draft behind them until I figure out how to embrace this new version of the physical me.