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The Discount Rack

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I am a women of size, Rubenesque, queen sized, fat. It is still acceptable to pick on a fat person. We larger people seem to be fair game in a seemingly politically correct society. Good manners and common courtesy are not present if you are big or over the size acceptable to them. We are made to feel weak, bad, wrong and just plain old disgusting. One day a few years ago I found out that my skinny sisters have their own desperation. It was a day that gave me a stark lesson and an awakening that resides me in my heart’s inner attic where we store those memories that we only bring out now and then to taste again.

I had to buy a swim suit that day. Oh Lordy, I surely did not want to. What would I rather be doing? Fight a wild boar, get two root canals with no Novocain, wear honey and jump in the bear pit at the zoo? No, try on swim suits! Normal sized ladies get pretty colors, great styles, and great fabrics. We big ladies get Omar the tentmaker fabrics, colors from the swamp water collection and designs from Barney the Barnacle Scraper. Okay, off I go to the mall. It’s the end of the season and selection will be slim so I am confident that I can hit the department stores and get this over fast. So far, so good, haha. Every store is out of swim suits. The last store has some left, way in the back on the discount racks.

I head for the racks at the back of the store. I feel the depression wafting in now, smoky tendrils of apprehension. Or is it fear? I didn’t want to see myself in a three-way mirror, like surround sound in a mirror. I didn’t want to see the panoramic view of my vast wasteland. My whining thoughts are infiltrated by movement in my peripheral vision. Dang. There was another person heading to the racks. Dang. She will look at me and be disgusted, I felt the shame. She is staring at me out of the corner of her eye and is horrified by my body, she will be silently thanking the stars that she does not look like me. She is judging me and wonders how I got this way. My stomach hurts and I feel hot, I should turn around and leave. Now.

We both reach the racks at the same time. We don’t look at each other as she head off to the children’s rack and I veer over to the woman’s sizes. She is a child and very thin and I wonder why she is here without her mother. I peek at her face and she is an adult, her face is older and lined and pale. She has been around the rodeo arena more than a few times and she looked like she was rode hard. Her hair is brittle and bleached and her limbs are so thin that she looks like the stick figures of cartoons. I gasp as I see her eyes. They are sad and defeated.

We do that awkward dance that strangers sometimes do, do we speak or not? We mumble about poor selection and this is what we get for waiting till the end of the season. I am fascinated and forget that I am supposed to be ashamed and silent. She gripes that little girls’ suits are not flattering to an adult and I gripe that big ladies’ suits and not flattering to anyone. Her choice of suits makes her want to play in the sandbox, and I said that my choices make me look like the sandbox. She chuckles and smiles, her teeth are blackened and her lips are cracked and sore.

We find a few suits and now we have to try them on. Oh Lordy, we will be in a common area and be seen by the other. We are at the discount racks and there is just a rudimentary changing area. The feeling of vulnerability is so palpable that I am sweating with fear and shame. We head to our stalls and we grunt and groan as we try on our selections. A small voice asks if I will please tell her which suit is the best one. So, I ask her if she will do the same for me. I will never see her again so we are safe with each other.

She comes out decked out in a red checkered job and she looks in the 3 way mirrors and tears slide down her cheeks. I am so fat, she says. I am so ugly, she says. I am dumbstruck as I stare at her in all of my huge glory. Her bones are sticking out, her breasts are smaller than a ten year old. My brain recalls articles and the titles bulimia and anorexia hit me hard. I want to hug her and tell her ….what? I tell her that she looks like a tablecloth in an Italian restaurant. She says my suit looks like an old man lost his paisley socks. We laugh, but the laughter doesn’t reach our eyes.

“What difference will it make?” she says. No matter what suit she picks her family and friends will still pick on her. She won’t be able to enjoy her family reunion. They will yell at her, laugh at her, call her names. “Why can’t they leave me alone,” she cries. She knows she had an eating disorder, but she can control it if she can just get thin enough. She is fat and needs to be in control and be perfect. What the heck do I look like if she thinks SHE is fat?

Pick up the fork they tell her, put it down they tell me. Eat a piece of chocolate cake they tell her, you don’t need the cake they tell me. We laugh at the irony of it all, but the laughter still doesn’t reach our eyes.

She says I must be so disgusted with her. I tell her that I feel the same way. I was afraid she would be disgusted by me. She looks at me and tells me that I am beautiful. I am so confused and it makes me want to cry. We are more than our weight, she says. She says no one cares that blue is her favorite color, that she likes English royalty history books and that she is a very smart woman. I tell her that I love murder mysteries, road trips, fishing and my IQ is high enough to make me one smart lady also. She said we are not Fatty / Stick / Shamu / Anorexic Annie / Bertha etc. Who are all of these perfect people that get to pick at us like we were nits on their scalps? Screw them we decide, but then we realize they rule the world.

We try on more suits and get into the spirit of the ordeal by throwing some killer one-liners and insults. We decide on our selections and head off to the cashiers. I told her that I would be honored to talk with her if I was at her family reunion and I would like to know about her dreams and desires. She said she would talk to me too as a friend. A friend with no judgments. It would be fun, wouldn’t it? She heads off to the children’s cashier to pay and I look for cashier that will check me out fast and not look at the suit and then me and roll her eyes. I watch her skinny back as she goes away and I feel sad. I wished I had hugged her, I wish she had hugged me. I didn’t even know her name, but Lord help me, I knew her well. And I loved her.

Marina J Ashworth

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