Goodbye Lane, hello Victoria

I went shopping today.

It doesn't sound like much, until I tell you that I went to Victoria's Secret, and for the first time in nearly a decade, I didn't just stand outside the window, look in, and wish for that far-off, mythical 'someday' to come in which I'd be able to fit in their clothes again. It's been nearly a decade since I shopped in Victoria's Secret. A decade of looking in that window and knowing that people like me just weren't welcome there.

So much about being overweight isn't just about the extra poundage you carry. Sometimes it's as simple as looking in the window of a store and knowing, just knowing, that you can't shop there. For me, I felt bad enough about myself already, and trying to shop for clothes only made it worse.

My mother, whose size ranges between 0 and 4 depending on the type of clothing, adored shopping. I remember when I was younger, and still living with her, I'd go with her on shopping trips. She loved the thrill of hunting for the perfect piece of clothing, but for me, her chubby daughter, it was an exercise in internal torment. She fit the ideal of society; I did not.

If you want to understand what it's like to be overweight, go to any women's clothing department and try to find something to buy for women who are above a size 12. The irony? The last time I heard, the average American woman's size is around a size 14 now. The average woman has now been relegated to the tumbleweeds of plus-sized departments, and trust me, folks, there ain't much there.

This isn't to debate the relative healthiness of the size of American women, but just to point out a sad reality: people of all shapes and sizes need clothing. Many folks who are overweight feel marginalized enough by society, and clothing stores who choose to cater only to often-unrealistic ideals certainly don't help.

In the last few years, I've been grateful for the existence of stores like Lane Bryant, where I could find shirts and bras that fit - but often at a major price premium. I paid the premium and didn't complain, because what was the other immediate option? Go naked on Tuesday? True, the long-term answer is to lose weight, but that does not satisfy the immediate need of needing something to wear for a special event tomorrow, next week, or next month.

Still, I've celebrated over the past few months as my clothing size has quietly, gradually, slowly gone down. (Well, perhaps not 'slowly' - even I have to admit that it's been pretty dramatic lately.) In four months, I've dropped from my starting sizes of 22 (on top) and 24 (on bottom) to a 16 for both top and bottom.

(Though, in the interests of full disclosure, I should add that the 16 on bottom is just barely a 16.)

As Suzan pointed out to me this weekend, the 14-16 size area is the magical demarcation between 'regular' stores and 'specialty' stores. I'd known for about the past month or so that my time of buying clothes at Lane Bryant was probably nearing an end. I'd managed to find temporary replacements for most of my clothing through inexpensive means: smaller clothing I'd stored away years ago, thrift stores, giveaways from friends. But the one thing I hadn't replaced was my underwear, and while it was stretchy, the reality was that it was a size 22/24, and I was closer to a 16.

It was time for a shopping excursion.

I decided to go to Victoria's Secret first. It had been so long that, truthfully, I didn't even know what sizes they carried any more, but I knew they'd always catered more to the smaller end of the spectrum. (See also, a store I hadn't been able to shop in for a decade.) I thought, oh, why not? I'll pick up a few pair of underwear in the largest size they carried, take them home, and when they fit, I'll celebrate and put them in the wardrobe.

Afterwards, I got cold feet. I didn't know how long it would be before I could wear what I'd just bought, and the truth was that I needed new underwear now. I walked down to Lane Bryant, priced out some cute stuff, and blanched when I realized just how much extra clothing cost there.

I took all of my purchases home, and tried on one pair (size XL) from Victoria's Secret and nearly shrieked when I realized they fit - now. Today. Not a month or so from now, as I'd expected. I stood there in the bedroom in tank top and underwear and hugged the cat, who was thoroughly bewildered (but liked the attention anyway). I tried on a 14/16 pair from Lane Bryant and realized something: they fit, too.

The Victoria's Secret bits were 5 for $20. $4 apiece.
The Lane Bryant ones were buy 3, get 3 free - so 6 for $50, or just over $8 apiece, and that's with the sale.

I couldn't return the one I'd tried on, but I very quickly packed up the other unworn five and took them right back to Lane Bryant. If I could get clothing that fit just as well from other stores, and they cost literally half as much, how could I not?

When I was in Lane Bryant today, I was asked if I wanted to open a charge account there.

I smiled and said, "No, thanks. I've lost a good bit of weight. I think this will probably be the last time I shop here."

Hi, world. I'm back, and I'm not leaving this time.

* * * * *

I've hesitated posting any photos since January, but I think after four months, it's time.

[Noah's photos of me in December 2003].

Us at the clubhouse for PHE 2004.Flickr
Jeff and me, January 2004


[18:04] aqualls: huzzah. almost done. This is longer than I expected. [18:04] spambrian: well, raging against the machine isn't a part-time job [18:05] spambrian: it's a big machine [18:05] aqualls: I wouldn't so much say 'rage' as 'muse' [18:05] spambrian: 'muse against the machine' ... hm [18:05] spambrian: sounds like an all-girl punk band dressedup in togas [18:06] spambrian: that's actually a fun mental image ... well, using the women I have for my mental image [18:06] spambrian: they have hips ;) [18:06] spambrian: and guy drummers dig chicks that can play bass [18:06] spambrian: but that's beside the point [18:06] aqualls: *laugh*

Amy, what are you going to do when you start getting serious male attention? When I came to England I was pretty pudgy, but I lost a lot of weight very quickly because of all the walking around and not having very much money to buy lots of food. I was shocked with the attention I got. in some ways I was pleased--obviously it's flattering. But in other ways I was angry: why did 35 pounds change me from being someone not worthy of attention to being someone worth their time? The answer is obvious (to them), I suppose, but it doesn't change the way I felt.

Ahh, I got sidetracked there. My point was that you're looking hot, so look out for the inevitable flirting. (And not just the online kind--I know you've already got your strategy down for that kind of thing!)

The serious male attention - it's more than a little bit exciting and confusing. But the anger I understand, too. I suspect I'll feel a lot of that at dragon*con this year, especially since I've made up my mind to do a bit of costuming this year, after all: "Yeah, look at me, ya wankers. Never noticed me before, didja? I'm still here, and still me, but you can't have me now. I'm sticking with the people who saw me for myself, before I started looking like this." Still, the reaction I had when I saw my reflection this morning - "Holy crap! I have boobs and ass! When did this happen?" - was plenty startling. I don't recognize my reflection any more. I can't even begin to explain how strange of a feeling that is.

It's kind of weird, because your face is changing. But your voice and writing style isn't, so you don't seem all that different to me. Actually, when I think about it, my mental image of you is words on a screen + orange and white cats.