Rose Decided to Rise
From Fat to Skinny, and Vice Versa
Rose couldn’t take her eyes off of a little dress with hundreds of tiny flowers on it. On the other side of the aisle, it was just an unspectacular dress on a rack in the regular-size women’s clothing in one of her favorite discount department stores. Still in the plus-sizes, she grabbed three pairs of black stretchy pants, all size 28, and threw them in her cart. Next, she removed hangers holding two knee-length over-sized shirts—one raspberry red, the other white with skinny, dark blue vertical stripes. Both size 30. She chose a size larger than what she needed to be sure the shirts would fit the way over-sized clothes were meant to fit. Oversized. Tops in her size, usually, didn’t look over-sized when she put them on.
The store was having a big sale that day, so on December 15, 2011, it was packed with bargain-seekers looking for Christmas gifts or New Year's Eve outfits. Rose had heard several shoppers talking about getting gifts wrapped, or about finding outfits to wear to one of the thousands of New Year’s Eve parties being held somewhere in Chicago land. She heard people around her chattering about holidays, reminding her she was spending Christmas and New Year’s alone. She’d only come to the store that day to buy brand new size 28 stretch pants, after losing 70 pounds. She couldn’t even smile or be happy about losing the weight, because it was just the beginning. She had a lot more to lose but, for now, she had to get new pants. All her old ones were much too big.
With a determined frown in her brow she rolled her cart away from the plus-sizes, her eyes dead-set on the little flowered dress. After making a sharp right turn, she was in one of the many aisles of regular-sized women’s clothing, her eyes still fixed on her target. She was purposely avoiding looking at any of the other shoppers since she found the stares of strangers to be unnerving, uncomfortable, and often unpleasant (her self-consciousness was always heightened whenever she was shopping for food or clothing). Once she reached her destination, she pulled the hangar holding the small dress off the rack and said, out loud, "Oh my God." It was perfect for her plan, and she knew immediately there was no way she could leave the store without it. The label in the back of the neck hole said the sleeveless size four was polyester, with 30% spandex. She knew that meant it would stretch a little, but not much. It would be form-fitting and would cling snugly to her small waistline, once she got it back.
She held the dress up and away from her to get a good look, then she inhaled, exhaled, and sighed. It was 24 sizes too small, and she loved it. The print was hundreds of open roses in pink, red, and very light yellow, and the roses were mixed in with hundreds of light purple, wild violets. With three colors of roses, there were just as many violets, and all of the flowers were dancing together on a sand-colored background. She placed her hand over her mouth, fighting to hold back tears. The wild violets looked happy and at peace playing in the sand with the roses. She imagined it was her and her twin; it was Rose and Violet. It was the dress she needed.
The Fat Shamer's Judgement
Even the faceless mannequins seemed to be judging her, just as her knees started begging, pleading with her to be merciful enough to shift her weight to her left leg, again. She did, and that was when she looked up and saw not one but two sets of probing eyes glaring at her as she stared at the dress. Stop that, she told herself. Stop jumping to conclusions. Maybe this time it was her hair. People who didn’t understand black hair sometimes stared at hers as if they thought she might be wearing a weave, or one of those lace wigs. People like the two women who had become her audience. Maybe they’d never seen a morbidly obese black woman with very long, natural hair.
Two years after moving from Jackson, Mississippi, to Chicago, Illinois, out-of-control eating sent her weight ballooning to over 370 pounds. And that was after she left Mississippi wearing a size four, after she lost 100 pounds. The little dress was going to help her get beyond the mourning, the self-hatred, and the shame. Beyond the denial and the backsliding that—in two years, had reunited her with every pound she lost and introduced her to a lot more, just to make a point.
The little dress would remind her to live in the present. Loving it would whisper in her ear, in present moments, what she needed to hear to find her way back to a size four. The past was then, every new day was her now, and she was visualizing it and moving into her now. To stay. The now where she'd developed a unique and exciting plan for losing the weight. A rebellious, drastic, common-sense defying, wonderful plan that had already taken her from 370-plus to 300, in three months, and from a size 34, to a 28.
It wasn’t until she heard the onlookers whispering about the dress that she knew it wasn’t her long hair that had their attention. It was the dress. It was the fact that she was looking at the little dress. Perfect. Here was her opportunity to strike back. If she was no longer the Rose who just put up with things that caused her pain, then here was her chance to step out of her comfort zone. More than a little used to curious stares at her overweight body, she’d never had the courage to strike back. She always just put up with it. Well, not this time. Here was her her opportunity to rise up; to take a stand. But how?
With an impish little grin growing on her face, she decided to have a little fun, and the little dress was perfect for what she was going to do. One of the women who couldn’t take her eyes off her was a tall, lanky, brown-haired older white woman who had a deeply furrowed frown on her face. With her was an equally lanky and slightly shorter blonde-haired and much younger woman, perhaps the older woman’s daughter. The younger one, with raised, bushy-brown eyebrows, had one hand over her mouth.
Morbidly Obese, Feet Hurting, and Just Not Taking it Any More
Rose thought it should have been obvious to these two or to any onlooker that she knew the tiny dress would not fit her. Pretending she actually thought she was small enough to fit into the little dress, she lifted it off the iron pole and started examining it more closely. It had a clear, plastic hanger, and, just for fun, she pulled it toward her—hanger and all, then walked toward the nearest mirror. Her ankle—the one she broke months ago, had healed, but she still walked with a bit of a limp, out of habit, from trying not to put all her weight on it. Walking as confidently and deliberately as possible toward the mirror, she held in her laughs but couldn’t hide the frowning smirk that was plastered on her face.
When she arrived at her destination, a floor-to-ceiling mirror afforded her a perfect view of the onlookers behind her. The same two curious shoppers were standing where she’d been seconds earlier while continuing their staring marathon. The looks on their faces said they were communicating with each other, without speaking. They seemed puzzled by what they saw, just as Rose hoped they’d be. Standing in front of a mirror occupying a generous portion of a sidewall in the women’s department, she was holding the dress out in front of her, moving her head from side to side as if imagining how it would look on her if she tried it on. The women seemed to be trying to stifle laughter, but couldn’t. With giggling outdone only by inquisitiveness, they were frowning and shaking their heads. Rose couldn’t believe the insanity of the moment. They really thought she was trying to see how the dress would look on her if she tried it on. When both members of her audience began laughing loudly, hands no longer over their mouths, she decided it was time to take things up a notch, just to see what would happen.
After taking the dress off its hanger, she placed the hanger on the rack closest to her, and then held the dress against her one more time. She could almost feel the laughter of the onlookers, and that of the mannequin to her left. The mirror in front of her showed the same two women standing in awe, still gasping behind her in disbelief. Were they in charge of and responsible for the safekeeping of all the tiny flowered dresses? Maybe they were being paid to keep fat women from ripping out the seams of any and all clothing. Staring into the mirror while watching the women, Rose geared her insides for trouble when the younger onlooker left in a hurry after whispering something to the older one. She draped the tiny dress over her large bosoms, smoothing it while turning left, then right, just for show. The faux-wrap style dress covered only the middle portion of her size 46 chest and hung no father down her front than her 34-inch waist.
When the younger onlooker returned, she brought with her a brown-haired woman whose store name-tag said “Marie Lewis.” Rose could hardly wait to see which clothing-store policy the store’s employee was going to accuse her of having broken. Perhaps the “looking at regular-sized clothing while fat” one.
“Excuse me, Miss, is there something I can help you with,” asked the around-thirty-looking Marie Lewis. The apologetic look in her eyes said she was only trying to respond to another customer’s request. “That lady over there,” she pointed to the blonde onlooker, “she thought you might need some assistance.”
“The only thing I need,” Rose said, smiling, “is for her and the woman with her to mind their own business. Can you help me with that?”
“I understand.” Marie Lewis laughed, then she waved as she walked over toward the two spectators. “Everything is fine, Miss,” she said. “This lady is still making up her mind about a dress, but I appreciate you wanting to help make sure our customer is having a pleasant shopping experience today.”
“You mean, you’re not going to do anything?” asked the older woman.
“I’m sorry, do something? About what?” Marie Lewis looked puzzled.
“The dress,” the younger woman said. “It’s obviously too small for this woman to try it on. She’ll burst the seams and ruin it if she squeezes into it. And you’re not going to do anything about it? Where’s your manager?”
Marie Lewis gave the two a puzzled look. “Excuse me,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”
If Looks Could Kill
Rose kept holding the dress in front of her, smoothing it, as Marie Lewis walked away and disappeared into an office where a sign on the door said “Staff Only.”
Unable to resist temptation, she turned toward the women whose judgmental glares, and those of several fashionably coifed mannequin heads, were now palpable. “Excuse me," she said, her insides girded for a fight. "I couldn’t help but overhear what you said just now. Please. Could either of you show me where the seams are busted on this dress? See, I really like it, but I don’t want to get all the way home with it, only to find out it has busted seams.”
The two looked at each other, then glared at Rose until they heard Marie Lewis returning.
“Thank you for waiting,” said the store’s employee. “I had to go find my other badge so you can see. I am the store manager. So. What can I do for you today? I’ve seen the dress you asked about, and it doesn’t appear to be ruined.” Marie Lewis put both hands on her hips before staring first at the younger woman, then the older one. Her stance communicated to Rose she was ready and eager to engage in any kind of verbal battle the women might want to have. “All I see is a woman holding a dress in front of her. So how can I help you?”
“But what if she tries it on?” asked the older of the two. She’ll rip that little dress apart.”
Tired of standing by feeling invisible, Rose had enough, so she turned around to tell off the two busy bodies. Just as she opened her mouth to speak, all she heard was Marie Lewis’s voice beating her to the punch.
“Ma’am, the moment you see this customer or any customer ripping apart our clothing or our merchandise, that’s when I would love for you to ask me to intervene. I would certainly appreciate that. But this shopper is only looking at a dress. She’s just shopping, just like you. So. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
The two women looked at each other, then the younger one said, “Fine. But if she tries the dress on and destroys it, it’ll be too late to do anything about it.”
Rose stared at the women while shaking her head. “How in the world could you two or anyone else think a woman who wears a size 28 would attempt to try on a size four?” She held up the dress. “Do I have ‘Moron’ written on my forehead? Because I’m thinking you two should have it written on yours.”
“I’m sorry,” the older woman said, frowning. “I just thought,”
“No,” Rose said. “You didn’t think, and you need to do your own shopping and mind your own business. That’s what I think.” Rose didn’t know a crowd had formed around them until she heard applause. About twelve people, women and men, young and old, a good mix of races and sizes, were all clapping for her.
“Oh Miss!” Marie Lewis had to raise her voice over the applause. “When you’re ready to check out, let me know. I’m giving you a discount on all your purchases today. Please accept it as my personal apology on behalf of the store . . . for your inconvenience.”
The Weight of Buried Sadness
Rose never meant for the situation to end up causing her to get a twenty-percent discount, in addition to the sales prices. Paying for her purchases, she felt like she’d done something important. There were millions of reasons why people were overweight, and some of those reasons were complicated. Weight was more than what someone weighed. It was, most likely, any number of unbearable things they carried besides the weight; things that were weighing on them.
Four minutes later, she was starting the ignition of her silver FJ Cruiser when Bloom, the writer who lived in her head, started tapping on her violet-colored 1971 UNIS TBM Deluxe typewriter. Rose spoke out loud, “Leave me alone, Bloom.” She wanted the memories to go away. She wasn’t ready to explore them, not now. She’d just had a fight with “fat shamers,” and now she was very hungry.
Bloom didn’t listen. Bloom never listened. The writer believed the vintage typewriter was the source of writing magic that could help bring to life all kinds of concerns, digging up old, rotten, buried stuff that Rose needed to dig up and deal with before she’d be able to lose the weight, for good. Bloom truly believed she had the magic her host needed to unearth memories that would reunite her with the part of her that was missing. Rose didn’t believe in talismans, but Bloom believed in them wholeheartedly. And so she typed:
Little Rose tipped quietly into her parents’ bedroom for the hundredth time, and for the hundredth time she found her mother looking at and touching the papers. There were two of them. Two papers that Viola Brown kept inside a round, light purple tin container. On the lid was two beautiful white doves flying above a pretty purple flower. Rose’s mama opened it nearly every night, right before going to bed. Viola always had a very sad look on her face when she looked at the papers. She had tears in her eyes, and she wiped them away to keep them from falling onto the papers. Viola never talked about the papers. Little Rose asked her mama about them one time. Viola didn't say anything, but she cried for two solid hours. Little Rose never asked her mother about the papers again.
Once she learned how to read, little Rose sneaked into her parents’ bedroom for the thousandth time and looked at the papers. Written on one of them, at the top, was “Birth Certificate.” The other one, at the top, said “Death Certificate.” Both papers had the same name on them: Violet Ann Brown. Little Rose was seven when she learned that Violet Ann Brown was her sister. Her twin sister, who—forever, would be only two years old.
© 2019 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD