Freudian Slip -- When you say one thing, but mean your mother.
In the mythology of my mother, as told by my grandmother, style is the reward for stepping out of the fat-suit. She gave up rice for a month, and the puppy fat melted. Dresses were commissioned from local tailors. Pageants were won. Boys who had teased her about her adolescent chubbiness showed up on her doorstep, roses in hand. Hers is the tale of a war for beauty, fought and won in a single glorious, definitive battle. Mine is a never-ending series of skirmishes, repositionings of polemics, switching sides, and guerrilla encounters. At stake is nothing less than the image of female perfection, yet at the same time nothing more than the silliness of individual mundane decisions. Do I wear the sleeveless shirt because it‘s hot? Because it’s a statement that I don‘t care that my arms look big? Do I care? Are they big? What’s big? Will it be comfortable? What if someone says something? Do I tell them off or let it go? Is it anti-feminist to worry about one‘s arms? Is wearing a sleeveless shirt empowering or just poor fashion sense?
Even though I now have the option of ordering clothes online -- Torrid.com, Gap.com, EmmeStyle.com, JJill.com -- still out of sight in a virtual dressing room, I’m excited that I can finally get something to wear that doesn‘t necessarily involve elastic. The laughable Vogue 2002 Shape Issue sits beside me on the desk as I shop. A million billion years of evolving genetic diversity, and the range of female body-type acceptability begins with Jennifer Aniston and ends with Jennifer Lopez.
At my mother’s house, we‘re getting ready for our annual holiday party. When she asks me what I’m going to wear, if I‘ve found something nice, I take a deep breath and let loose: I tell her that I always hated having to live up to her standards of what she thinks looks good, and that I’m sad she thinks I‘m ugly and fat, and that though I’m sure she‘s disappointed I haven’t turned out to be the kind of daughter she hoped for, the kind who‘s rich and popular and married and thin, that I’m working on being healthy and appreciating people for qualities a whole lot more substantial than looks, that women ought not to sabotage or undermine each other by perpetuating unrealistic expectations, that a dress is coming in the mail, that it‘s hard living in her whippet-slim shadow, but that ultimately I’d be satisfied if, on this issue, she would just let me be me.
“Don‘t you know?” she says, in a voice that’s full of wonder. “I think you are beautiful.”