cut on the bias

Ever seen a cat walk around with a piece of tape stuck on the bottom of its foot, all kerflummoxed and sad? That was me at the Ann Taylor store this weekend; also Talbot’s, Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers Women, J. Jill, J. Crew. Oh, and the Armani Exchange. They sell giant crosses and Italian horns.

Normally, I avoid Ann Taylor — I am cognitive dissonance itself in a cardigan twin set — but needed a size-0 Grown-Up Lady Costume (GULC) for a professional event. So I betook myself to the fancy-person outdoor mall in Scottsdale, where all the late-middle-aged women had beautiful, terrifying faces that forcibly reminded me of a baby’s butt: Two smooth, round cheeks waaay up high. The “vampire facial” is a thing in Scottsdale. A doctor INJECTS YOUR OWN GELLED BLOOD INTO YOUR FACE.

Kohlrabi smoothies are big there, too.

Teachers generally wear jeans in case they have to flush a pack of stoners out of the heating ducts, so I always just try on four pairs at Lucky, pick the ones that aren’t too tight on my CrossFit thighs, and have them hemmed because who the hell has a 36-inch inseam? Casual clothes shopping in my late thirties is easy because my body has taken on a shape and a horizon. It’s basically what it’s going to be. The cement has set here. Barring some freak metabolic illness, I’ll never again put on or drop 20 pounds in three weeks.

But I haven’t needed dress-ups in years, which is why, if you were at the outdoor Scottsdale mall this weekend, you saw me weeping on a bench outside Ann Taylor’s. I needed a suit and a shell to wear under the suit that wasn’t a tank top and also “neutral pumps” and nylons to go with them. It reminded me of doing a Rubik’s Cube as a kid, where I’d get one side all lined up and then realize that, in doing so, I’d screwed up the other side. Every GULC I tried on was either:

tight, frilly, patterned, itchy, like I was about to sing Gloria Gaynor onstage in bad drag


gray, boxy Shamewear for women who’ve had the audacity to age and still appear in public.

I felt hideous and greasy and bloated. In the World’s Most Facile Metaphor, I got stuck with a dress over my head and panicked. My short haircut, which I love, was suddenly wrong for every outfit. In the feminine stuff, it just looked mismatched; in the Shamewear I became a Pocket Bulldyke.  (I love bulldykes, but I’m not one).

There’s something wrong with my body, I thought. The gym isn’t working. I eat too many carbs. The florescent light showed every little dimple, every rolling hill-ette. What looked so strong and powerful doing box jumps and power cleans the day before was suddenly all wrong wrong wrong. I was 15 again.

I am fat fuck, I texted my girlfriend. I go on big big diet. 

She was, as always, the best — You have a beautiful body. You just need to find a style that works for you — and sent me a dozen links to non-shame-spirally things.  I sat down and drank a mineral water. A shoe saleslady hit on me (“You should…come back after your event and tell me how it goes”). I re-achieved equilibrium and thanked God I didn’t have to shop more often, because apparently, I still feel despair about my body given the right set of culturo-retail circumstances. And I’m a size 0 who owns every book Andrea Dworkin ever wrote.

Shit. No wonder we’re all going nuts.

7 thoughts on “cut on the bias

  1. I still love well cut clothing, and wore a version of that wrap dress in 1958. Then, it was made for me, now, I couldn’t afford it but would still wear it. Do you online and catalogue shop? Works if you stick to stretchy. I think it was a woman invented Spandex. Up to about 8 % just enhances fit.

  2. I’m so sorry that happened to you! And I’m glad your girlfriend was able to help you out of it. And that dress looks lovely.

    (I actually love shopping for clothes, and I weigh 200+ pounds and am often too big for “straight” women’s sizes, at least with shirts. With pants, the limiting factor is whether they have any left in the range of sizes I wear with a long enough inseam. My mom and I shop together, and once we were both looking for jeans at the same time. She’s short, so she needs Petites’ pants, while I need Long ones. We both have quite the scavenger hunt getting pants, but she told me she thought the pickings were even slimmer for me. I guess every tall woman in the county wears the same few sizes I do, and they all tell each other when the stores have new stock in … maybe there’s a listserv.)

    Anyway, my Tall Person Inseam is only 32″, but I’m always wearing flats or sneakers when I buy them. I can easily imagine someone a little taller than I am, like 5’10” or 5’11”, needing a 36″ inseam to wear with high heels.

    If I knew what the secret was behind my Not Giving a Fuck that my body is too big and lumpy to be acceptable, I would box it up and send it to you. But you already have all the things I can think of that explain it for me … you work out, you value your body for what it can do over how it looks, and you’re not straight. The only thing I have that you don’t is autism, and I know that can’t be the magic answer either because I’ve seen other autistic women write about this problem, too.

    Also, “Shamewear” is hilarious. Almost sounds Atwoodian; it would fit in with a lot of the wordplay in Handmaid’s Tale.

  3. I love the way you so vividly described this phenomenon that underlies the reason why no woman is “cis”: the utter *gender* freakout that you experienced. The trauma of having to harm yourself to be socially acceptable. The self-hate that accrues, reminding you over and again that your body is and always will be wrong.

    The link to your other post was brilliant, because therein lies this phenomenally amazing quote on eating disorders:

    “You start out having it and it ends up having you. It keeps you MUCH longer than you want to stay. It’s a religion in which you are the deity. It’s the loneliest church in the world.”

    You could say something similar to describe ftm gender dysphoria/transition. I muse sometimes on how the ways I tried to change my body to be more plausibly male in many ways echoed behaviors like cutting, or disordered eating.

  4. Professional clothing for women is maddening. I love your term “shamewear”- some women’s suits make them look like undertakers from a budget film. And why are there no pockets in women’s suit jackets or pants, a place to tuck a small wallet? There’s enough to lug around at a presentation without being tethered to a purse.

  5. I need a big, hot steaming cup of Not Giving A Fuck. Working on it 🙂

    Also, the word “petite” makes me think of steak. Like, petite filet. Which would also be a great name for a clothing line.

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