A call from the office Thursday insisting I fly to Los Angeles in 36 hours for an emergency project generated two immediate responses, in the following order
1 I’m going to miss Thalia
2 I have nothing to wear.
I’m not sure which was more traumatic at the time.
Maternity clothes shopping is no one’s favorite pastime but I could argue it’s tougher on those of us in stylish metropolitan areas who don’t qualify for the “cute skinny girl with bump” category. As easy as it is to hide in my apartment day after day in the same pair of Liz Lange for Target jeans that promote plumber’s butt any time I bend forward at more than a 15-degree angle, I am expected to step up just a bit more at the office.
The office that is in L.A.
The L.A. in which one cannot show too much skin, wear too much white, or have boobs that are too prenatally perky–which is hardly a problem considering women above a size 4 are virtually invisible there. Or perhaps they’re hiding in their apartments too?
My last pregnancy, as I’ve noted here before, heaved my weight upwards into numbers I never could have imagined seeing between my toes on the scale. For the first time in my mostly thin life, I found myself saving the Lane Bryant coupons I get in the mail and tossing the Barney’s Co-op ones. At seven months pregnant, I found myself with an invitation to a somewhat fancy, artsy event. I hauled my spreading ass all the way from Brooklyn to the maternity boutique up in nosebleed territory of Madison Avenue. The young blond saleswoman–childless saleswoman–steered her skinny girl glaze downward along my body, stopping at my minivan-sized booty and sneered, “I don’t know that we’ll have anything that will fit you here.”
Indeed it was hard to tell which jutted from my frame more, my belly or my ass, but still.
The following hour I spent in the dressing room, determined to find something, anything, that would prove her wrong, all while fighting back tears as I questioned every you’re glowing!-type compliment given by friends and family over the previous weeks. They were liars, all of them. In the end, I was just the fat pregnant woman who would never fit into the straight-legged Theory pants and gauzy Dianne Von Furstenberg tops. I was the woman who, at the benefit, would overhear the whispers in the ladies’ room: You can tell she’s having a girl because…
I might have left the store sobbing openly if it weren’t for the fortuitous arrival of a thin young girl, hardly old enough to procreate by uptown Manhattan standards. She had no belly at all, and yet she hauled dozens of items into the dressing room, squealing with delight at cute outfit after cute outfit.
“How pregnant are you, exactly?” I asked her.
“Oh just five weeks. But isn’t it so fun shopping for all the clothes? I couldn’t wait!”
I was too shocked to be upset anymore. I bought an ill-fitting strappy black dress to spite the salesgirl and stomped out of the store, chin up.
Then I returned it two days later for the one thing in the store that didn’t make me cry when I got home and tried it on again–an exorbitantly priced diaper bag. I borrowed an outfit for the benefit and arrived smothered in flowy black nylon. I felt like Mrs. Roper, surrounded by a roomful of Chrissies.
And I spent my remaining months in the same three ugly XL tee-shirts and two circus tent skirts simply so I wouldn’t have to face an unforgiving maternity sales rack again.
This Friday, I somehow managed to dig up that crumpled sales credit from April, 2005. And so I took a deep breath and headed out towards my car determined to use the credit if only for a trendy, L.A.-approved t-shirt or two.
I talked myself down from the anxiety attack I was having behind the wheel, the clammy hands, the loose bowels. The entire way up the FDR drive from Brooklyn I mentally worked my way through an escape plan: The moment things get uncomfortable, I run right out of there and head straight back home to my ill-fitting jeans and boxy, SAMH tops. I’ll just never take off my long leather duster once I get to L.A. Ever. I won’t socialize after work and I’ll minimize walks around the hallways. I’ll blame it on sciatica. I’ll blame it on morning sickness. I’ll blame it on…
“You’ll take a medium in that,” the smiling saleswoman whispered over my shoulder as I examined a basic black, 36 DDD-masquerading cotton top.
“Oh I’m not so sure about that,” I laughed. “I would think a large. At least here.”
“Try the medium,” she said with a wink. “I’ll start a room for you.”
One medium turned into two mediums. Five mediums. A few larges. A few extra-larges. The sizes didn’t matter. In fact this time around, I found myself laughing at the clothes that didn’t fit instead of crying about them.
What a difference a couple of years, a kind saleswoman, and an iota of self-confidence makes. Not to mention a handful of garments that don’t rip at the seams when I try to button them. The single tee shirt I intended to buy turned into a whole shopping bag full of cotton-and-lycra-blend treasures. The saleswoman even talked me into a booty skirt (indeed!) and dusty orange top, a radical departure from my standby brown, black and grey winter wardrobe. For the first time, I now had a wardrobe I could proudly wear beyond the supermarket.
I left smiling.
It’s so shallow, isn’t it?
Don’t answer, because I know it is; it’s shallow that a bright pink bag full of overpriced maternity clothes that will get six months wear, tops, could make me feel so good. Or that the silent approval of a total stranger working in a boutique could alter my attitude about an entire business trip.
I want to tell you that I’m content with who I am, that I embrace my once and future state as a curvy, bouncy, bosomed, wiggly and dimpled in the wrong places, fertility goddess. And yet, I’d be lying. Blame advertising. Blame my ego. Blame Linday Lohan or society at large or the size zero editors clicking their Jimmy Choos across the polished marble floors of the Conde Nast Building. I accept it, but it doesn’t mean I’m content with it. I know there are so many women bigger than I am, who struggle with this their whole lives and not just in nine month spurts. Surely I’m among the more fortunate in the world. But it doesn’t make it easier when I look in the mirror.
Sometimes clothes do make the woman. Especially when there’s a whole lot of woman to clothe.
So call me shallow when I tell you that this morning, when I woke up far too early in a strange Manhattan Beach hotel room and opened a suitcase that didn’t contain that worn, outdated pair of butt-baring maternity jeans,
I was utterly happy.
I may even go out to dinner tonight after work.
Like they’ll ever let me out of work.