I sit in a dressing room trying on clothes I want to wear but know won’t fit. They are made of a stretchy material that is only ok unless you actually have to breathe when you where them. I have reached the age where body image is important and I am aware of it. I was made aware of my imperfections. The women in my family burst that bubble. Megan and Caitlyn, my younger sisters, have the handicap dressing room because they have to many clothes that they need the bench to place all the garments on in a pile that rivals Mt. Everest in size and shape. I have five items. Only certain clothes come in an extra large at the stores that are present in Bay Park Square Mall. I look in the mirror and put my own clothes back on without trying on the last two items. I exit my dressing room and step into my sisters’. Megan looks wonderful in a dress that my mother thinks isn’t my style. Caitlyn is wearing pants that would be considered inappropriate low rise on me. Therefore, my mother would never let me wear them. I roll my eyes. Not at my sisters looking great as per usual but that my mother is fussing over them. Dolls. They are her real life Barbies and she molds them the way she wants. She looks at me. Did any of them work? What she means to say is did any of them fit, but she wants to sound less cynical. The judgment is hidden by her smile, but it’s not vague enough for me to not sense it. She’s not as good of pretender as she thinks she is. I don’t immediately answer and that is a sign of weakness. Well I’m sure they did but you just didn’t try them on. It’s the first time I want to tell my mother to put her intuition up something she can no longer fit into a skirt. My siblings stay quiet. They don’t understand this battle and honestly they don’t want to hear it. My mother doesn’t either. When she was my age she fit into things. She wore what she was told and it actually flattered her. I don’t get the importance. Should I care what people think? Should I care that I don’t fit that mold? Her mold? I am sitting in a dressing room with my two sisters who don’t know they fit a body image that is acceptable. I sit across from my mother who judges her own daughter for her too large breasts, too muscular legs, and the ever present muffin top for eat too many extra muffins.
Self-esteem. Noun. Confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect.
You sit in the bathroom looking at your thinning hair. It’s everywhere these days except on your head. It fills the sink, clogs the vacuum, and escapes into the carpets. It’s your crowning glory: the thickest, curliest, longest, and shiniest of all the Stein women who have come before you. You need to buy some wigs. Too soon there will be no hair at all and that is completely unacceptable. How will you be able to leave the house? How can you go to work without your hair done? You look at your countertop. The in the corner is of you and your daughters. They have beautiful hair. Emily being blonde was a surprise but her hair is thick just like yours. Megan’s is thin but pin straight—something you always longed for. Caitlyn’s is short and frames her face. They all look perfect. Your eyes travel back to the mirror. You could pretend not to be sick but your body is not as easily fooled. The stress cultivates beneath your eyes. The corners of your mouth hide the non-existent appetite you have been trying to avoid. The glow your mother says is so important is no longer found on your skin. A pounding on the door stops the single tear forming behind your shit colored eyes. Mom it’s time to go. Are you almost ready? Your oldest is at the door. Give me a few more minutes. I’m trying to fix my hair. She looks at you. She knows more than she lets on. She always does. She’s observant like her father and that makes her a threat to exposing your inner secrets. Mom you look fine. You always look put together, stop fussing we gotta go. You roll your eyes and tell her just a few more minutes. You close the door. You look back at the mirror. How can you look fine when you aren’t put together? Tomorrow you will buy some wigs. You need hair otherwise you can’t possibly look good.
Body image. Noun. The subjective picture or mental image, which a person has of his or her body, esp. (in later popular use) in relation to its shape.
Teri always had the tiny waist. God we would have killed to be able to have the hourglass frame she had. My aunts are trying to be helpful. I have made the mistake of telling them I hate to go shopping for clothes. In their warped minds this comment is a commentary on my mother and her lack of interest in buying clothes when she was my age. They do as all Stein women do: they make my call for help a chance to talk about their own body image problems. My Aunt Laurie dives in first: she could have been a model. She wore a size two on her wedding and now look at her—a beached whale. My Aunt Jill laughs and says she would kill for boobs and hips. My Aunt Jane says capris pants are unflattering and make her look shorter than she actually is. I look down at my own capris pants. I’m short. I have boobs and hips. My fourteen-year-old logic tells me that I have got to be a beached whale then. I roll my eyes and say I wish I were as pretty as my sisters, or my cousin Brooke. They pull themselves out of their pity party to attempt to comfort me. You are so smart, though. You always have the cutest shoes. Emily your personality is great. I take a sip of water. It tastes bitter just like their half assed compliments. As if on cue the three princesses come into the kitchen from downstairs. They are wearing dresses that my grandmother had in the basement. They fit them pretty well. They all comment on how skinny Megan looks in her dress. I make the mistake of asking whose dress it is. It’s Teri’s they all say in unison: half scoffing, half reminiscing. Please I was never that skinny I think its Jane’s. My mother’s statement immediately gives me heartburn. The women in the kitchen are now arguing over who wore what and who looked the best when. My grandmother chimes in giving her opinion of how Teri was beautiful in college. Laurie was great in high school and Jane and Jill blossomed when puberty hit. My fourteen-year-old logic tells me that this conversation will never stop. They will keep having it for the rest of their lives, and when they die my sisters and cousin will keep it going. My logic also tells me I will never care enough to be a part of it.
Body mass index. Noun. Any of several formulae relating body weight and height (or length), usually in humans; weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters, used esp. as an indicator of obesity or general nutritional status.
Teri sits looking at a picture of herself at her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. She looks so young in the photos of her fresh-out-of-college-trip to Florida. She should be reminiscing about visiting Jane and how proud she was that she was the first female in the family to earn a college degree. But she is critiquing herself instead. Thank got the braces where off. My hair is unruly. My hips look too big for my legs. My stomach could be more toned. On and on until every single inch of her body has been carefully scrutinized. A sigh escapes her lips. She catches her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. A lot has changed in almost 20 years. She sighs again. Her daughters come over to her to see what she is looking at. She attempts to push them away, but Emily grabs the frame. She has a problem with listening. She is a free spirit. Every single member of the Stein family points it out and Teri takes it hard. It’s a criticism, as it always is when her existence is in the mix of conversation. Teri yells at Emily for taking off her scarf and shoes. Teri keeps going: your hair is a mess and your eyeliner is smudging. The judging is also a Stein female quality that she seems unable to shake. Emily’s face turns from smiling to a straight line. She won’t say anything; she knows better. Megan makes a comment on how pretty Teri looks. Teri smiles. Her mini me is sucking up to her as she always does and Teri loves it. Oh Megan I look horrible in that picture. Emily slams down the frame with so much force every head in the KC hall turns toward them. Every single person around them rushes to make sure she hasn’t broken the picture or the table. Emily walks out of the hall to the tables outside. Teri doesn’t follow. Teri comments on how that child is just like her father. That temper and pig headedness is all from the Matheny side. She makes light of the situation. She keeps up appearances. Her mother comes over. Teri for once can you control that child? All we wanted was a perfect evening. Teri shakes her head yes. It’s better than arguing. Performance is important. It’s the most important life quality that the Stein females follow.
Quality. Noun. A personal attribute, a trait, a feature of a person's character; an attribute considered desirable, a virtue.
Quality. Verb. To assess the excellence of (something), to rate at a certain value.
I have refused to wear a dress for our Stein family pictures. I have tried on forty dresses at fifteen different stores all to no avail. I hate dresses anyway. At least that is what I tell myself each time I put one on and it doesn’t zip. My sisters have found navy blue dresses that compliment not only their figures but also their individual fashion styles. I sit at the dinning room table after another unsuccessful shopping excursion with Megan. I yawn.
My father, who is also hungry, calls my mother to ask where she is. Don’t wait dinner I am stopping to run an errand. He hangs up the phone, “Let’s eat.”
“Thank God!” I answer his statement.
Megan rolls her eyes, “There are more important things than eating Emily.”
I stick my tongue out at her with mash potatoes on it. I’m gross but Tanner laughs at me so I’m ok with being a said excuse for a girl as Megan has just dubbed me. I stay at the dinner table watching Bones after the meal is finished. Megan won’t let me do the dishes because I only half-concentrate so she stands at the sink. My mother burst through the door and exclaims that she bought something. Megan and Caitlyn beg her to show them, which of course she will because she wants other women’s approval just like the rest of us. She has bought a dress. It’s navy. We are also informed that it is a size 12, which means my mother has lost weight since last year. Caitlyn is giving her compliments left and right. Megan, the fashion guru apparently, is telling her how to wear her hair and what jewelry is best. My mother looks at me.
“Did you find a dress?”
“Nope. I think pants sound like an excellent idea.”
She looks at me with disgust, “Grandma asked that the women wear dresses and the men wear button down shirts and ties. I do not think that is too much too ask.”
“Well if she can find a dress that fits me then I will be happy to wear one for her.”
Megan hangs me out to dry. She informs my mother that I tried on a dress that did work but I apparently said it looked hideous. My mother rolls her eyes.
I respond, “If I was maybe ten pounds thinner it would have worked but otherwise it makes me look boxy.”
“Well eating that cookie in your hand won’t help that then will it.”
My mother turns her back at me and I throw the cookie at the wall behind her so it crumbles. She turns around ready to scold me, but I’m done allowing her to have the last word.