A few weeks ago, I was in the Nordstrom Rack dressing room, clutching the fabric of an expensive dress on sale. It was a gorgeous dark purple gown, marked down to $40 from $279. But it was long. Too long for my 5’3″ height, I requested the tailor and asked her what it would look like if it were hemmed higher. I explained that was going to be a bridesmaid and I just needed this alteration.
She paused and stared at me. Then said, “Don’t you want to lose weight first?”
She must have seen my face fall, the way that I was so excited to have this dress at such a great price, only to be knifed by a question that I would have asked myself before any activity, not just dress shopping. As I’m about to step on a stage with a bright light shining on every protruding roll and lump that appear because I forget to suck in my stomach because it’s hard to do that and you know, BREATHE, but then I shouldn’t get on stage at all because the void in my brain where self-esteem should be is an echo chamber that repeats: “DON’T YOU WANT TO LOSE WEIGHT FIRST?”
She leaned toward me, like trying to make it okay, soothe my wrinkled and apparently FAT face. “Nordstrom has a great return policy. You can return it in 90 days.” Then she continued like she was giving me the lowdown–see how much weight you can lose, then alter it, if not you can return this. You know, if you fail.
Maybe she spoke this way to me because she saw my face and racially profiled me as Someone Who Would Be Cool With Shame. Though, I am certain to the marrow of my bones she would not have spoken like this to a white lady. Or anyone who would have clutched her pearls in a “why I never!” shock. But she spoke that way to me and it hurts in any language.
I gathered my things in the dressing room, looked at my body. There was no cellphone reception so I couldn’t make an all points bulletin distress call to my friends so someone can say something nice to me. Instead I stared at my body, how the dress clung to my frame, but how gorgeous it was. And I bought it.
I went to an open mic afterward and told some of the comics who were in disbelief that someone could talk to me like that. But even though people had said, you should report her. I didn’t want to. Somehow I wanted to protect this woman, this woman I didn’t even know, to explain that where I’m from, this bluntness is normal, even though it’s not right. I saw in her the women in my life, my relatives and loved ones who have all said the same thing. Who have all bought into the idea that my life would be better if I were skinnier and that life with extra pounds would be much more difficult. I didn’t want to punish her, I just wanted her and the ghosts of all my relatives to just cut that shit out.
When I got home that night, I showed my mom the dress and she loved it. How elegant it was, how beautiful, how high-class. I told her that the tailor said I should lose weight and my mom, the historian of my body at every age said, “Oh no need, just wear a girdle.” She then helped me pin the dress to be altered on Saipan, where I won’t be able to try it on until I fly home next month.
I’m glad I bought the dress and I’ll wear the hell out of it while celebrating my friend. Because no one is going to say, Mona, could you please lose weight first before you land because our island is fragile and the 10 extra pounds you’re carrying is going to destroy the ecosystem. They’re going to say, welcome home Mona, please eat something, you look sick. And even if they’re lying, I’ll take it anyway.