I flew to New Hampshire without my luggage. It wasn’t lost, mind you, I knew exactly where it was located; right smack dab in the middle of my living room. Eager to get to my conference, I simply jumped in the car and drove to the airport empty-handed.
Standing in the parking garage, staring interminably into the empty boot of my vehicle, I finally had to accept that my suitcase was not going to appear.
The Mall of New Hampshire wasn’t busy when I arrived. I hate shopping, so I made a beeline straight for the Macy’s clearance racks, and attempted to find a dinner dress that would not require purchasing a new pair of Spanx.
In the dressing room, a small voice called out, “Is anyone here?”
“I’m here,” I replied.
“Can you give me an opinion?”
Pulling back the curtain, I was greeted by the sight of a tiny, eighty-year-old woman with brilliant orange hair.
“What do you think of this skirt?”
With both hands she smoothed the fullness of the plain brown fabric, her toes barely peeking out from the hem.
“It’s a nice skirt, but does it come in a smaller size?”
“Actually, there is another one I like better, but I’m not sure if I should wear it.”
A few minutes later she emerged in a brightly colored, floral skirt that hit right about the middle of her knee.
“I love the colors,” she said, “but I am afraid people will say, ‘Why is that old woman wearing such a short skirt?’”
Biting her lower lip, she looked at me with the earnestness of a young girl waiting for a nod of approval from her prom date.
“It’s a gorgeous skirt, and it fits you perfectly!”
“I have always been a 4X, but I finally lost weight and now I am a size small. My whole life I’ve only worn brown and black, but I love color and I want to finally wear it. What will people think?”
“How do you feel in that skirt?” I asked.
“Beautiful!” she exclaimed.
Tears clouded my eyes. “Then it doesn’t matter what people think. They don’t know your journey. They’ve never had your body, or your life. You feel beautiful because you are beautiful!”
“You are right. Who cares what people say? Will you help me pick out a blouse?”
We found a super cute coral top, plus a striped skirt with a bright green shirt to match.
As I drove to my hotel, I pondered the chance encounter. This kind, beautiful, self-reliant woman had waited until she was eighty years old to wear clothing she loved. For her entire life, she had tried to lessen her presence in the world by wearing neutral colors. I knew the phrases with which her mind taunted her over the years:
“Your body is not worthy of beautiful clothing.”
“You will only be beautiful when there is less of you.”
“What will people think?”
From the age of eleven, I have dreamed of being at least thirty pounds lighter. I have never mentally projected myself into the future looking exactly as I do at the moment. I was miserable at size 20 because I had hoped to drop to 16. And I was miserable at size 10 because I desperately wanted to be an 8. I have never once managed to get to my desired weight for any of the events in my life.
I’m pushing fifty now. That’s a long time spent trying to be something I’m not. Do I still want to fight this body image battle when I’m eighty? When do we realize that people are not thinking about us nearly as much as we imagine? When do we stop caring?
I like to think by age eighty, I will be holding my head as high as my bent frame will allow, and no one’s opinion will matter but my own. By then, I will have earned the right to unabashedly be myself.
Or maybe it’s not a right that needs to be earned. Maybe we can claim it now, at whatever age and weight we are at this exact moment. Really, the only thing I can’t claim is my luggage. Did I mention I left it sitting at home?
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