Former university professor of marketing and communications, Sallie is an independent publisher and marketing communications consultant.
From Fat to Skinny, to 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 an unspectacular little dress. Ordinary. Hanging 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 twenty-six. She threw them in her cart. Then she removed hangers from two knee-length oversized shirts. One was raspberry red, the other white with skinny, dark blue vertical stripes. Both were size thirty. Two sizes larger than her size. She wanted to be sure they would fit. The way she needed oversized clothes 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. On December 15, 2011. Packed with bargain-seekers, people were looking for good deals. Great prices on Christmas gifts or New Year's Eve outfits. She heard several shoppers talking about getting gifts wrapped, or about finding outfits to wear to parties. To go to one of the thousands of New Year’s Eve parties going on somewhere in Chicagoland. Shoppers around her were chatting about holiday parties, reminding her she was alone. And would be spending much of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays alone. She only came to the store that day to buy smaller clothing. She needed new size twenty-six stretch pants because she had lost seventy pounds. But. She couldn’t smile or be happy about losing the weight, because it was just the beginning. She had a lot more to lose. But, now. She needed new pants. All her old ones were now much too big.
With a determined frown in her brow she rolled her cart away from the plus-sizes, keeping her eyes dead-set on the little flowered dress. She made a sharp right turn onto one of the many aisles of regular-sized women’s clothing, her eyes still fixed on her target. She avoided looking at any of the other shoppers. She found the stares of strangers to be unnerving. Uncomfortable. And most often, unpleasant. Her self-consciousness became heightened when she shopped for food or clothing.
Once she reached her destination, she stopped. Then she pulled toward her the hangar holding the small dress. When she took it off the rack, she said, out loud, "Oh my God." The dress was perfect. It was right for her plan, and she knew. There was no way she could leave the store without the dress. The label? In the back of the neck hole? It said the sleeveless size four was polyester, with thirty-percent spandex. That meant it would stretch a little, but not much. Made to be form-fitting, it would cling to her small waistline, once she got her small waistline back.
She held the dress up, then away from her to get a good look at it. Then she inhaled, exhaled, and sighed. It was twenty-two sizes too small. Twenty-two sizes too small. And she loved it. The print? It was hundreds of open roses in pink, red, and very light yellow. And. Most importantly. The roses were mixed in with hundreds of light purple, wild violets. Although there were three colors of roses, there were as many violets as all the roses. And all 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 little Rose and little Violet. It was the dress she needed. The one she had to have.
The Fat Shamer's Judgement
Even the faceless mannequins seemed to be judging her. In the same moment, 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 looked at the dress. Stop that, she told herself. Stop jumping to conclusions. Maybe? This time? Perhaps it was her hair they were looking at. 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 white women who had become her audience. Maybe they’d never seen a morbidly obese black woman with very long, natural hair.
It had been two years. Two years since she moved from Jackson, Mississippi, to Chicago, Illinois. Two years since out-of-control eating sent her weight ballooning to over three-hundred-seventy pounds. And that was after she left Mississippi wearing a size four. After she'd lost more than a hundred pounds. The little dress was going to help her. It would inspire her to get beyond the mourning, the self-hatred, and the shame. Beyond the denial. Beyond the backsliding. Beyond the ferocious appetite that, in two years? Had reunited her with every pound she lost two years ago. Beyond the nightmare that introduced her to a lot more than she ever lost two years ago. 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, and every new day was her now. She was visualizing her future, in order to move 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 plan. A wonderful plan that had already taken her from three-hundred-seventy-plus to three-hundred pounds. In three months. And, she'd gone from wearing a size thirty-four, to a twenty-six.
It wasn’t until she heard the onlookers whispering about the dress. That was when 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. Women who should have been minding their business were now minding hers. So. Here was her opportunity to strike back. If she was no longer the Rose who put up with things that caused her pain, then here was her chance. Her opportunity 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. Ever. She always put up with rudeness. With meddling. With everything. Well, not this time. Here was her chance to rise up. To take a stand. But how?
An impish little grin grew on her face. She had a plan. She was going to have a little fun, and the little dress was perfect for what she would do. One of the women who couldn’t take her eyes off her was a tall, lanky, brown-haired older white woman. One who had a deep, furrowed frown on her face. With her was a lanky, shorter, blonde-haired and much younger white woman. Perhaps the older woman’s daughter. The younger one had raised, bushy-brown eyebrows. Looking at the little dress, she put 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. She pretended 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, for fun, she pulled it toward her. Hanger and all. Then she 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. With a little hitch in her step, she walked toward the mirror. Confidently and deliberately. Holding the dress in front of her, she held her laughs but couldn’t hide her frowning smirk. The one that felt like it was plastered on her face.
She arrived at her destination. There, a floor-to-ceiling mirror afforded her a perfect view. Of the onlookers behind her. The same two curious shoppers. Both women were standing where she’d been seconds earlier. Continuing their staring marathon. The looks on their faces? When they turned toward one another? Said they were communicating, without speaking. They seemed puzzled by what they saw. Good. Just what Rose hoped for. She was standing in front of wide mirror. One occupying a generous portion of a sidewall in the women’s department. She held the dress out in front of her, then moved her head from side to side. As if imagining how the tiny dress would look on her if she tried it on. The women tried to stifle their laughter, but they couldn’t. Their giggling was outdone only by their inquisitiveness. They were frowning and shaking their heads as they laughed. Rose couldn’t believe the insanity of the moment. They thought she was trying to see how the dress would look on her if she tried it on. Then, both women started laughing out loud. Their hands no longer covering their mouths. So, Rose decided it was time to take things up a notch. To see what would happen next.
She took the little dress off its hanger, then placed the hanger on the rack closest to her. After that, she held the dress against her one more time. Then she felt it. The much louder laughter of the onlookers, and even the laughs of three mannequins to her left. The mirror in front of her showed her the same two women standing in awe. Looking, laughing, and gasping behind her, in disbelief. Rose wondered. Were the women in charge of and responsible for the care and the safekeeping of all the tiny flowered dresses in the store? Were they paid to keep fat women from ripping out the seams of small clothing? She glared into the mirror while watching the women. Then she geared her insides for trouble. Because the younger onlooker left in a hurry after whispering something to the older one. Rose draped the tiny dress over her large bosoms. Then she smoothed the dress while turning left, then right. It was all part of the show. The faux-wrap style dress covered only the middle of her size forty-six chest. And it hung no father down her front than her thirty-four-inch waist.
When the younger onlooker returned, she brought with her a brown-haired woman. One whose store name-tag said “Marie Lewis.” Rose could hardly wait to see. Which clothing store policy would the store’s employee accuse her of having broken? Perhaps the “looking at regular-sized clothing while fat” one.
“Excuse me, Miss," Marie Lewis said. "Is there something I can help you with,” asked the around-thirty-looking store employee. The apologetic look in her eyes said she was only trying to respond to another customer’s request. “That lady over there?” Marie Lewis pointed to the blonde onlooker. "She thought you might need some help.”
“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?" She looked toward Rose. "She's still making up her mind about a dress. But I appreciate you. For wanting to help. For making 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 at the woman with a questioning glare.
“The dress,” the younger woman said. “It’s too small for this ... large ... 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 concerned, 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. She stared ahead when Marie Lewis walked away. The woman disappeared into an office where a sign on the door said “Staff Only.”
Unable to resist temptation, Rose turned toward the women. Their judgmental glares, once again, were on her. Theirs and those of several fashionably coiffed mannequin heads. All the looks were palpable. “Excuse me," she said to the women. Her insides girded for a fight. "I couldn’t help but overhear what you said. To Marie Lewis? 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. Marie 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 the two of 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. But. Just when 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 any of our merchandise? That’s when I would love for you to ask me to intervene. I would appreciate that. But this shopper? She's only looking at a dress. She’s only shopping, just like you two. 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 think a woman who wears a size twenty-six 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. Added to the already great sales prices. Still. 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? They were complicated. Excess weight was more than what someone weighed. It was, most likely, any number of things weighing on them. Things they carried around every day. In addition to the weight. Things that kept them from moving into their best life.
Four minutes later, she started the ignition of her silver FJ Cruiser. That was when Bloom, the writer who lived in her head, started tap, tap, taping. On her violet-colored 1971 UNIS TBM Deluxe typewriter. Rose spoke out loud. “Leave me alone, Bloom.” Not ready to explore the memories, again, she wanted them and Bloom to go away. She’d won a fight with “fat shamers” that day. And now? Now she was hungry.
Bloom didn’t listen. Bloom never listened. The writer in her head believed the vintage typewriter was the source of writing magic. Magic that could bring to life all kinds of concerns. Magic that could dig up old, rotten, buried stuff. Stuff Rose needed to dig up and deal with before she’d be able to lose the weight. For good. Bloom believed she had the magic her host needed. If Rose would let her use it. She believed she could unearth memories that would reunite her with the part of her that was missing. Rose didn’t believe in talismans, but Bloom did. Bloom believed in them enthusiastically. 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 Viola Brown kept inside a round, light-purple, tin container. On the lid, two beautiful white doves were flying above a pretty purple flower. Rose’s mama opened the container 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. Once? Little Rose asked her mama about the papers. Viola didn't say anything. After looking at Rose, she just cried. For two solid hours. Little Rose never asked her mother about the papers again.
Once she learned how to read? Little Rose snuck 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. Violet Ann Brown was her sister. Her twin sister. Her twin, who—forever, would be only two years old.
© 2019 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD