I recently found myself in a department store with a small hopeful stack of shirts and sweaters to try on. As I walked toward the dressing room I saw an unusual sight. The top of a man’s head poking above one of the dressing room stalls. Then I noticed a stroller poking out the bottom of the changing stall. “Must be a dad helping his daughter find something to wear,” I thought to myself.
My assumption turned out wrong. It wasn’t his daughter in there with him it was his wife and child.
How did I know this?
She proceeded to make it clear in no uncertain terms. Here is approximately what I unavoidably overheard:
“*#(%*@ size ____. I’ve never been this big in my life. Disgusting!!! How can you even stand to look at me?
You look fine, honey.
I look like a big, fat, stinking pig. Why are you still married to me?
Honestly, you look great to me. Who are you trying to impress anyway?
&)@*!!! *^ I am a fat stinking *&**!!!%@!# [insert most derogatory swear word you can think of] Do you hear me? You should be so disgusted and just leave me because I am a worthless *#&%@*!!
Another woman in another dressing stall piped up. Girlfriend, you’re a size smaller than me. You can’t look all that bad.
You want to come see. It’s disgusting. I’m a fat *#*%@.
At this point her husband tries to shush her as she’s now not only berating herself in the worst possible terms, but also making other people upset as well. They leave the changing room and thankfully I have no face to put to her words.
Here’s the thing.
If someone else called this woman the names she was calling herself, her husband would have certainly punched their lights out, demanded an apology and made sure they couldn’t walk for at least eight weeks. That’s what I hope MSH would do if someone treated me with such disdain and disrespect.
But it was a woman berating herself publicly. Okay, semi-publicly.
Here’s the other thing.
I’ve thought very similar thoughts. I’ve gotten angry at what I’ve seen in the dressing room mirror. I’ve sworn off shopping for clothes at times because I can’t find anything that I feel presentable in. I’ve left stores hating myself for what my body looks and feels like.
And my size, that number we all give so much power to, runs significantly higher than the number that angry woman was so disgusted about.
I admired the intervening voice, the other woman trying to serve as a voice of reason and solidarity. I thought about saying something, but having felt similar feelings, knew it was impossible at that point to comfort, soothe or repair anything.
Maybe she’d not slept enough, maybe her baby in the stroller had kept her awake night lately. Maybe she’s still recovering from growing, laboring and birthing a child. Maybe she missed lunch or was dehydrated. Maybe she was just having a bad day anyway and the dressing room fiasco was the last straw.
Whatever the reason my heart hurt for her. And for thousands of us who let the mirror determine how we feel and what our worth is.
Is there a way to stop looking in the mirror and being so critical? Is there a way to stop caring so much about the book cover and be more concerned with the quality of the words and sentences and story?
I wish there were an easy answer. But I know there isn’t.