There are few things more humiliating than shopping for clothes as an overweight woman. We hear the statistics about how obesity is a major problem in the United States and still, there are a handful of stores where we can buy clothes. At most of those stores, the clothes are hideous and if you are under fifty, the hideousness increases by a factor of ten.
I hate clothes shopping and have for years because I know I’m not going to find anything I actually want to wear. I don’t like patterns. I don’t like appliqué. I don’t like bright colors. Fat girl clothes designers never got this memo.
I have many dreams about the clothes I would like to wear—maxi dresses, tailored slacks, sexy camisoles, whatever. I lack the courage to wear such things. Jeans and dark shirts it is.
Today I went to a clothing store. I wanted to find a few nice things to wear for someone I want to look nice for when I see them soon. I am caring about my appearance. I am caring about myself, maybe. This is new and I think I like it. It’s embarrassing. Nothing makes sense anymore. I am blushing.
I was at this store, looking for things when a young woman came out of the dressing room crying. I won’t get into the details of it because it’s her story but she was so upset and her mother was treating her in quite a humiliating manner and I wanted to sob right there in the store because I am not having the best day and it was just too much to see such a familiar and painful scene.
I’ve been that girl, too big for the clothes in the store, just trying to find something, anything that fits, while also dealing with the commentary of someone else who means well but can’t help but make pointed, insensitive comments. I cannot even get into the details. It’s too much.
I hate shopping.
People try all manner of tactics to make us lose weight—tips and “help”, diet and exercise advice, nagging, harassment, shaming. There is this idea that if you shame a fat person enough, you will somehow move them to discipline their body. That is not how it works. What you see is the fat. What you cannot see is so far beyond what you can understand.
I am not a hugger but I wanted to wrap my arms around this girl. I wanted to protect her from this world that is so unbelievably cruel to overweight people. There was nothing I could really do because I know this world. I live in it too. There’s no shelter or safety or escape from the cruel stares and comments, the too-small seats, the too small everything for your too big body.
But I followed her to the dressing room and I told her she was beautiful. And she was indeed beautiful. She nodded and tears were streaming down her face. We both went on with our shopping. I wanted to tear her mother’s face off. I wanted to call my person and hear a kind voice. I wanted something to pull me out of the spiral of self-loathing I felt myself tumbling into. I wanted to burn the store down. I wanted to scream.
When the young woman left the store, she was still crying. I cannot stop picturing her face, that look in her eyes that I know too well, how she was trying to fold in on herself in a body that was so visible. She was trying to disappear and she couldn’t. It is unbearable to want something so little and so much.