Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tears and Bikinis

So, I'm in one of the fitting rooms of a major department store this morning trying on formalish dresses for the RWA National Conference. I need a couple of them and, considering the issues I had with the design, the cut and/or the fabric of most everything I encountered on the racks today, it'll be a miracle if I find one gown, let alone two, that I like before the month's out.

However, while I was admittedly annoyed, and while I could've happily envisioned myself doing almost any mundane task at home instead of dress shopping for 2 hours, I was not reduced to tears by the experience.

Not so for the woman with the white slip-on shoes in the fitting room next to mine.

This lady was miserable. Granted, she was trying on bikinis, which would make most sane women at least marginally depressed. I get that. But I heard sniffles first, then those quiet sobs that you recognize as much by their strained, intermittent silences as by the sound itself. This was interrupted by a young child's voice--a girl who, when I saw her a few minutes later, couldn't have been older than 7.

"Mom," she pleaded. "It's okay. We're all beautiful. You know how you told Leah she had to love her body? You have to do that, too."

The mom didn't answer.

I was torn between wanting to hug the child for being both incredibly perceptive and so loving as to say these words to a person who clearly needed to hear them...and wanting to wring the neck of her juvenile mother for not having enough sense to keep her body-image insecurities to herself for 5 minutes while she tried on a stupid swimsuit. (Why did she have to drag the girl into the fitting room with her? Was she angling for an audience?)

As if children today don't have to deal with enough stress...

Their cell phone rang a moment later and the woman did speak up then. "It's daddy," she told the girl. "You talk to him." The man was, apparently wandering around the store in search of them.

Anyway, I left my little cubby, deposited the stack of dresses I wasn't buying on the appropriate rack and lingered outside of the fitting rooms--feigning interest in beige capris and brightly colored Sonoma t-shirts--until a lady with white slip-on shoes and a young girl appeared. The two were greeted at the door by a pleasant guy in his 30s. "How'd it go?" he asked, smiling.

Oooh. Wrong question.

The woman huffed and muttered something I couldn't hear. She was taller than I (well, who isn't?), but an average-to-slim woman otherwise. I'd guess she wore about a size 10, a 12 at most. But she had this angry, perpetually pissed-off expression on her face as she marched out of the dressing area and tossed the offending bikini on the nearest rack, her husband shrugging and trying to talk to her, her petite daughter trailing after them both.

I wanted slap that woman. I still do.

Even though I don't have a daughter, I hate witnessing body-image messages like this being force-fed to little girls (I shudder to think of what that woman says and does when she's not in public), and I hate even more the position she put her daughter in today (and how many other days, I wonder?): to have to act as the compassionate parent to such a childish and needy mom.

The thing is, I loathe clothes shopping. I despise trying on swimsuits. I do not have a model-like figure and would rather be forced into a straitjacket than a strapless Vera Wang so, truly, I sympathize with fitting-room frustrations. But, as women, we have to constantly combat the unhealthy messages we receive from magazines, TV, the entire film industry and ad campaigns everywhere... Elementary-school girls don't need noisy, adolescent, drama-queen displays in real life, acted out by women who should know better.

And, let me tell you, neither do I.


Pamala Knight said...

Oh Marilyn! I'm so sorry you had to witness that and I agree with you completely.

It's too bad you didn't have a coke bottle and stocking cap over your face so that when that woman came out of the dressing room and was later found bloody and unconscious on the floor, no one would have been able to identify her unknown assailant.

L.A. Mitchell said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Marilyn, and it seems to be getting worse.

I can't wait to see pictures of you in your beautiful dresses at National :)

Brett said...

Wow! It breaks my heart to hear a story like this, because you know that girl is going to grow up with major body-image issues with her mother being such a poor example for her! That woman needs to get a grip and stop being so immature.

Thanks for the story!

Marilyn Brant said...

Pamala~LOL. I'll remember a Coke bottle the next time I go shopping!

L.A.~I'm just hoping I can FIND a dress before then, otherwise you'll be seeing pictures of me in my fluffy white bathrobe.

Brett~Thanks and I agree. I'm worried about that kid...

Pam said...

Marilyn--you're amazing. And where you didn't use the Coke bottle approach (snaps for remembering the stocking cap!), think of how many people you'll be able to reach with your books!

Hmmm...or maybe this should be in an upcoming scene (with a satisfying ending, of course.)

And ditto on hating the dress shopping. If you wear the bathrobe, don't forget the maribou slippers!

Marilyn Brant said...

Pam, thanks. I'll admit, as mad as I was listening to this woman, I couldn't help but think: She is SO gonna be an antagonist in one of my books someday :).

And absolutely YES on the slippers! That bathrobe is becoming more and more tempting...

Anonymous said...

Yipe. That stinks. Poor kid. Poor mama to have such issues. Poor you to have to see it all. Lucky me to be friends with wonderful you! spj

Marilyn Brant said...

Thanks, SPJ!!! And you know the feeling is mutual :).

Nadine said...

Wow... I dunno, I've looked at the mirror in dismay before but sobbing is taking it to another level. What's really interesting to me is that I watched my mom face a lot of issues growing up, but body image wasn't one of them. In fact, body image wasn't on any grown ups minds, as far as I could tell. But it's ALL around me now. We really do have a society now where looks are, if not everything, practically everything, and while I'm tempted to say we were in a war situation and who the heck thinks about how they look in a bikini when you're glued to the TV watching news but...... the USA is at war too. That lady is obviously too selfish to think of what kind of values she's imparting to her kid, but there's a lot of selfishness going around these days. At least the kid seems to have a good head on her shoulders... maybe she'll be so disgusted with her mother's hangups she'll manage to shrug them off herself.

Marilyn Brant said...

Nadine~I hope you're right that the girl is so disgusted by her mom's behavior that she moves beyond it.

You're right, too, that people should be focused on more important issues--but the self-centeredness that had her performing a Greek tragedy in front of her child is probably the same element that keeps her from thinking about the world beyond her Illinois suburb.

Crazy-making, this stuff.