by Dominique Heuermann
The dress was a sexy jet-black velvet, cinched in all the right places, meant to make you look like a sex kitten, a vixen. She didn’t dare ask what size it was or if they even carried hers. Running her fingers along the neckline, down the sides, along each perfectly hemmed cinch, she felt the crush of that soft, luscious fabric bend to the pressure of her touch. When she pictured herself holding a cocktail in that dress, hand to her chest laughing with radiant red lips that demanded attention, it seemed like a scene from a movie. A woman walked by giving her and the dress in her hand a questioning glace. Instantly, the perfect scenario of red lipped laughter and sex kitten status melted into one of shame. Images of her body bulging unflatteringly made her burn red with humiliation. She sighed with self-loathing and walked from the store empty handed. So many attempts at better diets, exercise, with various levels of failure and success. It didn’t help that she had always been skinny and fit…until she had children.
You’re no sex kitten, she told herself, you’re all cow.
At 37, with more desire to know herself and the limits of her body, she was stuck with one that needed quite a bit of fine tuning. Flabby arms, cellulite, fatty, stuffed trunks for legs, and a mid-section that could do with a bit of crossfit. She had a pretty face and nice eyes, but it was difficult to be satisfied with any part of herself.
I just don’t add up she would say to herself in the mirror.
It didn’t matter that her husband loved her bits and beauty equally. It didn’t matter that she was called beautiful by those who knew her. She thought they were only being polite anyway. Whatever she was missing was all summed up in that dress. That dress represented confidence.
Confidence, what an elusive concept.
Her confidence had eroded the very first time a boy at school called her ‘big’ because of her height, and then again when a girl in ninth grade called her a sasquatch. The P.E. locker room became a battleground to keep any last shred of self-esteem. At 19, diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, she found out her body was its own worst enemy. It would be in a constant state of hormonal imbalance and weight gain. With her first pregnancy at 22, when her doctor called her “hugely fat” after gaining 80 pounds, despite carefully watching her diet, confidence slipped away even more. Her second pregnancy, a year after the first, saw her gaining even more weight and taking twice as long to lose it. By the third and last pregnancy, she just couldn’t shake the extra pounds. Her children were now 15, 13, and 8, the years had gone by but the weight remained. It not only weighed down her body, but it weighed down her soul.
I’ll never be the person I was before, she cried into her journal, she’s gone and been replaced with the person who ate her.
During a particularly grueling self-hate session on the treadmill, mind focused on calories burned and the calories consumed, she failed to notice her 15-year old watching her from the doorway. When she eventually looked up and caught her eye, her daughter looked sad and confused.
“Why do you look so angry when you work out?” her daughter asked.
“I’m mad at myself.” She replied.
“Why? What did you do?”
Her words turned to bile in her throat. What was she going to say? How could she say she was angry with her body, when her daughter’s own body mimicked hers? She wouldn’t start that downward spiral in the one she loved the most. She refused to do that, so she lied.
“I’m angry the dress I want isn’t on sale anymore, and I should have bought it when I saw it.”
“The black velvet one?”
“Yeah. It’s ok though. It might not be the right kind of dress for me anyway.”
“Why not? You would look like one of those old movie stars, but with better hips and boobs.”
“And here I was thinking I would look like Miss Piggy.”
“Who’s Miss Piggy?”
The next day, she made a straight path past the pin-up mannequins and vintage dresses, back to that black velvet sex kitten dress and plucked it from its spot on the rack. A salesperson approached her and she didn’t hesitate to ask for her size, which she was told they most definitely had. In the dressing room, she kept her back to the mirror while she wiggled into the soft velvet. Pulling up the side zipper, she breathed in shakily. Here we go, sex kitten or Miss Piggy?
She turned around slowly and realized she didn’t recognize the woman in the mirror staring back at her. Her daughter was right. Gone were the worrisome spots of cellulite and fat trunk legs. Gone was a middle in need of crossfit. The woman in the mirror was her, only better. Better with age, better with maturity, better with appreciation for who she had become.
As she was handing the salesperson her credit card, her phone buzzed with a text message.
“Mom, did you get the dress?”
“Yes,” she texted back. “Now I’m off to find some red lipstick.”
Dominique Heuermann is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.