I am in the changing room of a plus-size department store, trying on some filmy maxi dresses (one hit and two misses) a white peasant blouse (pass) and a skirt which I will most likely buy. Sits on the hips, swings away from my legs. Sexy.
In the next stall over I can hear a thirteen year old girl and her mother. The girl is trying on dresses to wear to her grade eight graduation and I am already rooting for one. Hot pink satin skirt with pockets, I tell you – pockets! – a wide black sash at the waist and a white strapless bodice. She is a cute girl, with blonde curls and a rosy complexion. She’ll look fabulous.
The thing is, this girl does not sound happy. She sort of sounds like she is going to cry and yes, I will admit this to you right now. I lean against our shared wall to eavesdrop.
‘So honey do you want the dress?’
‘And the Spanx – you’ll get the Spanx too right?’
‘No, Mom, I told you – I’m not wearing Spanx!’
‘But…it just makes the dress sit nicer.’
‘MOM! No…I’m just a kid, kids don’t wear Spanx.’
A minute of tense silence passes. Then:
‘You look fat without the Spanx. All of your stuff hangs out without Spanx.’
She gets the Spanx, I bet. This girl who is probably still just trying to wrap her head around bras, periods and armpit hair. She probably just wants to wear good cotton underthings with pictures of ladybugs on them or butterflies.
Here is what I would like to tell this girl. Someday, you will be a grown-up woman. You might wear Spanx sometimes but you might not. It will be up to you. You will be amazed how much of your life will be up to you. You will look back on this day – maybe even calling it ‘The Spanx Incident’ or something – and shake your head in sadness for the insecure girl you once were.
In a few years you will see that curves are delicious. That men – real men with hairy forearms and five o’clock shadows (especially five o’clock shadows) will see you as a sensual being, as confident. I once asked a man I was having a nice little affair with if he minded me being…you know. Me. And he said, ‘The greatest thing about you is that you’re not all tied up in knots about eating this or not eating that. You like pleasure, and you’re comfortable with giving in to it. And that’s rare.’ (On second thought, I might not tell her that part.)
I would tell her that, years from now, she will find a boyfriend who rests his hands on her hips and treasures her, all of her. Because he knows the sort of doors being loved unlocks in a woman. A curvy woman especially.
Of course, when I am standing in line behind her and her mother – mother snapping at the saleslady, daughter glum and bowed as a question mark – I say nothing. I remember being her age. If someone had tried to tell me how much I would eventually be okay with myself, how I would be my own friend, I would never have believed it.
But here I am, whole. And she will be whole one day too.
(I would still really like to sock that mother a good one, though. Just because.)
Jennifer McGuire lives in Ontario, Canada. Her recently released collection of essays, ‘Halfway To Happy’ (Glenmalure Publications) is based on her popular humour column of the same name, which appears in daily newspapers throughout Canada. She has also written for the Canadian parenting magazine ‘Canadian Family’, but has secretly been desperate to write for the American public (don’t tell her Canadian friends). Her short fiction has appeared in ‘Room’ magazine and the anthology ‘Every Second Thursday’. She spends her time with her four sons who she adores, her dog who she tolerates and her friends of whom she generally expects far too much.