I’m going to a wedding this weekend and I’m super-excited because the person getting married is one of my oldest and dearest friends. Who happens to live in Toulouse. It occurred to me, as things do on occasion, that if I can go to the effort of buying and wearing a dress for Her Majesty the Queen, I can definitely go to the effort of a dress for someone far more important to me.
Thing is, I’m not much of a dressy woman. I work in a job that is either office smart or manky grubby, and when I’m not at work I’m either in sports kit comprising varying degrees of lycra, or slobbing around the house in jeans. Add to this the fact I hate shopping with a passion, and it should be clear that shopping for a dress is something I would only do for a very special occasion. (Next time I might ask people to sponsor me on behalf of the RNLI).
My body, as far as I’m concerned, is primarily for making bikes go faster, getting me around, lifting things, moving through water with speed and efficiency, walking up mountains, taking me to places where I can spoffle sea creatures, and providing the conduit between the contents of my brain and the outside world. What it’s not is a clothes hanger, or an object that exists for other people to admire (or not, as the case may be). Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying I don’t care what I look like. I do, in as much as I don’t want to look awful. It’s more that I don’t think about it much. I don’t exactly have body confidence so much as when it’s doing what I expect it to do — ride bikes, run, swim, compete in triathlon, walk around, open jam jars, carry bags etc etc etc — then functionality outweighs any physical appearance. When I don my tri suit I may have a moment of relief that I still fit into it after 3 years of being injured out of training, but I don’t worry about what my arse looks like. Not at the time, anyway. I save that for the photos afterwards.
A number of years ago I was very ill, and for a while there was a strong chance I was going to end up in a wheelchair. That was something of a priority check. As long as my body is working, and not threatening to break down again, we’re on pretty good terms. I exercise it, feed it nice food, make sure it gets plenty of fresh air and generally take care of it as best I can.
It has never expressed an interest in fashion.
Shopping is hard. I don’t have a personal style. I don’t know what works for my body shape or type. It’s not on my agenda, most of the time. On the very rare occasion I buy clothes that are not for work or sport, I find something at a price that doesn’t make me faint, in a colour that doesn’t taste horrible, check that it fits and doesn’t look disastrous, and that’s about as much as I can bring myself to care.
Today I needed to buy a dress. I had an hour or so after work, which is my limit for time spent on shopping. I was distracted by the lady in the perfume shop (perfume being the one conventionally feminine thing about which I have strong opinions), where I had gone for a travel pump for my current favoured scent. We chatted. It was fun.
I went to a clothes shop. Everything was in triple figures. I went to another shop, which carried clothes for ladies with curves. Some nice things, but they were expensive and all the colours tasted horrid. I went to another and another, by which point my patience was thin. The fifth shop (fifth!) was quite large, open plan, and had no indication of what all the different sections were. I was a bit lost, and wandered around for a few minutes, hoping for that synaesthetic hit telling me there was at least something in the right colour.
This guy came up to me. He was a little taller than me, thin, and had horrible beard shaved within an inch of its life (I wondered what was the point in having it at all), a posture straight out of the Ministry for Silly Walks, and a staff badge.
“Were you looking for anything in particular?”
“No. I guess I’ll know when I see it.”
“What sort of thing do you want?”
“Long, light, preferably green.”
He looked me up and down as if I were a laboratory specimen, or one of those masochistic creatures who subject themselves to the horror of America’s Next Top Model, then gestured vaguely towards the other side of the shop.
“I suggest you try looking over there, dear,” he said, withering. “You’re a bit on the big side for this section.”
I was so shocked I just smiled vaguely and let my feet start meandering in the indicated direction.
I’m not a delicate flower by any stretch of the imagination. I have been described as ‘one solid piece of muscle’. I will never be petite, never be elegant, never be graceful and sinuous. But I can muscle my 70″ fixed up a 12% incline, swim 3km in an hour and open my own damn jam jars. I’m not huge, either. I’m somewhere between a UK size 8 and 12 (US 4-8), depending on brand.
I shouldn’t be bothered by this inconsiderate idiot’s comment. but I was shopping for a dress, to look nice for my friend’s big day, and I felt this man had just told me there was no point in looking at any of the things I liked because I was huge and horrible and far too ungainly to wear beautiful.
This particular shop will never have my custom. Ever. Maybe I was in the petite section. Maybe that was the section for teenagers. I don’t know. I don’t especially care. He could have directed me to a more appropriate part of the shop in a friendly, nice, helpful way. He said it in a way that implied I had no business being there.
And in doing so lost my business permanently.
I spent my money somewhere else, where the shop assistants were helpful, pleasant, and didn’t judge me as if I were a piece of meat and they were looking for something to feed to a fat-shy fashionista.
Big doesn’t mean unhealthy. Thin doesn’t mean fit. Size is so far down on the list of reasons to judge a person I can’t see it with a telescope. I’d rather be fit, healthy, strong and mobile than I would a fashionable size 6 any day.
This was my first ever experience of being judged too big for anything. Should it ever happen again…
Well. It had better not.