story of a dress

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.

 

You do you, unless you’re a Chamorro daughter 


I’m going to Saipan in August. Saipan in August is the hottest time of the year, in one of the hottest places in the world. It’s an island with cool blue water surrounding it, but during the summer, it’s fire. There will be no hope for my hair. Now my mom looks at some of my outfits, nods with approval and says, “Okay you can wear that on Saipan. Wear jeans when you come back.”But then I say, I can’t wear jeans, mom. It will be August. It will be hot.

It will be hotter than anything. But she disagrees. I want to wear a thin sheet of gauze and maybe a heavy necklace to keep in place and to look pretty! She wants me to wear one of those plastic pants and shirts runners use to sweat it out. To her it’ll be roomy! To me, it’s like I’m trying to be Big Hero 6 with none of the charm and all of the levels of hell swirling around me.

I love my mother, but sometimes I hear words that I don’t like, mostly in reference to what women look like, what women are wearing, which counter my very notion of WOMEN SHOULD WEAR WHATEVER THEY WANT. I want my sons to treat women they see with only optimism and reverence and respect and none of the open mic hardcore instructional bro-humor I already hear like, “You know ladies, you need to…” I don’t listen to the non-existent punchlines. I just hear fart noises to mask the stupid.

Sometimes my mom will say, “Don’t wear that. People will stare at you.” Which I don’t care. Let them stare. Please stare and spend your time and energy on what a woman *should* wear because those words are like meteors that burn in the atmosphere around me and never get close enough to my ears to make a splash.

But I love my mom. I respect my mom. This is not the battle to fight. Because my mom won’t listen to words if they come from me, it’ll sound like disrespect. It’ll sound like talking back. But if someone else–anyone else–says the same words, they’ll make an impact. Like, I can’t say, let’s let women wear what they want, but if a priest says, “Let’s have empathy,” it sounds like a good idea. Until the hemline is too short.

I’ve had people tell me to my very face, my human face attached to a heart and a body with feelings inside, that I was fat. Very fat. These people were usually also fat. These people were usually given the power to talk to me that way because they were my relatives–my aunt who would say, “JESUS CHRIST RAMONA! REDUCE!” She is nice to me now. Maybe because time has done wonders to her memory where she was kind to me, trying to help me and I have a sharper memory that has a different view of her.

I remember when I was at my baby shower and a woman said to me, my very pregnant self, “You should be eating this, not this” pointing to a tray of vegetables I should be consuming and then another that wasn’t as healthy but might as well have been a plate of congealed fat that jiggled when you spoke closely to it. To clarify, I was very pregnant, this party was to celebrate my child coming into a world that was already telling me what I should be doing, as a woman, as a mother, as a human being. This plate. Not this plate. This pill will make you stronger, this pill will make you open to everyone telling you how to live your life.

I know people who are first generation or similar, who constantly feeling they are navigating two different worlds, and for me, sometimes those worlds are: The world that is WOKE and the world that IS NOT VERY WOKE AT ALL. VERY ASLEEP. SOAP OPERA COMATOSE.

I hear it in person but I also see it ALL THE TIME on facebook. I see it when people back home post memes or jokes that talk about women as if they are property, as if they are at fault, when they talk about what leggings a woman should wear.

This one guy posted a picture of two beautiful women kissing and it said, “What would you do if you saw this!” like, anyone else’s public displays of affection are yours to partake in. And of course the answers were the same, very bro, very ugh, very asleep. And I just said, “Hey how about you respect two people and leave them alone.” It didn’t go over well.

Or the woman who posted the video of a married woman getting her hair shaved off because she allegedly cheated. And I said, “Could we not contribute to the exploitation of women, who did not consent to this? Do we need to exploit her trauma?” She defended it like it was a good thing–I just want people to know that this happens! Like, she couldn’t write down this argument in words, she had to add to the view count. But she did take it down.

Just because I’m a comedian doesn’t mean I will “take a joke” if the joke is inherently racist, misogynist, sexist or just stupid. Especially stupid. And because I’m a comedian, I know how to craft a joke that isn’t a dumb meme or video repost or whatever that’s unoriginal and meant to tell people who are not me how to be whatever it is I have no right to say.

It’s about clothes, but not about clothes. It’s about food and memes but not really about any of those things either. It’s about this world that’s hard and unfair and sharp and knifes at me constantly. I love my culture’s reverence and respect but that same system built this world where I see something wrong and I have no space to say it.

Because it means I’m trying to be too much, better than others, too disrespectful. When I’m just trying to move through this world and shepherd these two young boys with me and I don’t want them to look at their own bodies with anything other than wonder.

In August, I’ll go to Saipan and I’ll find a way to wear what I want, to skirt the line the way I always have. I know I will look good because I believe I look good and it doesn’t matter what most people say, even if they mean well. Even if my mom is saying this because she wants the best for me, even if we have different ideas of what that means.

I wear what I want now and whenever my boys see me, their response is always the same: “Why are you so beautiful, Mommy?” I know it’s because they want something, but the words are positive and block out the other noise and I’ll take my fill of that any day.

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