“Everything is made up. It’s all just whatever, and we’re allowed to make up new better stuff. You can be whoever you want to be and you can change your mind every single day. There’s no rules against it. Don’t forget your brain doesn’t even have arms so stop letting it push you into stuff or hold you back.” ~Anna Przy
Last weekend I went shopping with my sister. I loathe shopping in person because it involves dealing with too many people, but I asked her to go to the mall with me so she could select her birthday present.
After browsing in Athleta for her gift, we moved next door to Nordstrom to look. I also needed some clothing for an upcoming trip. Shopping is a challenge for me because, being a rule follower, I am well aware there are established fashion guidelines for people of a certain age and, being raised a people pleaser, I must uphold them. And yet it’s impossible for me to follow all the rules. Where do I find flattering, age-appropriate clothing? I need something not too short, too matronly, too pricey, too tight, too baggy, too sparkly, too young, or too revealing, that will also disguise my belly and still make me appear svelte when I inadvertently ingest something my body chooses to reject, rendering me as plump as blueberry Violet Beauregard. I have no Oompa Loompas to fix that.
Knowing that I am an abysmal shopper who avoids malls, browses catalogs, then guesses at sizing and purchases only off the internet so I can avoid asking for help, I told Kathy I needed a personal shopper. She said she could be that for me and set about finding items she thought might be fun and cute.
We brought everything into a huge dressing room, and she served as wardrobe assistant, shuffling clothes from hangers, handing them to me, and then assessing them for their relative cuteness. I tried on a couple things that were not quite right. Then I tried on a loose-fitting white dress I would never have picked for myself because I imagined I would get lost in it. We took photos of the outfits, and Kathy insisted I try to look like I was having fun and owning it. She had also selected one complete renegade I would have strolled right past as quickly as possible, a Barbie-pink, mini-skirt short, off-the-shoulder romper. My parameter-violation meter exploded. Still, I was honor bound to try on whatever she picked out. I put it on, looked in the mirror, and cringed. She thought it was adorable. Unconvinced, I sought backup opinions, but those reviewers came back positive as well.
Choosing not to listen to all my inner critics, I purchased the pink romper, solely because I’m working toward being okay with being seen. Scientists on the Space Station could see me in that romper. Still, the tags have not been removed. The receipt is in a safe place, in case I chicken out.
Yesterday, I told my therapist about my shopping experience. We started discussing when I came to understand I was only acceptable under specific conditions. Truth is I don’t remember a time when I didn’t live under the weight of other’s expectations of me. There has been a narrow limit of what is appropriate for me to do and be and say versus a broad spectrum of what is perfectly acceptable for other people. We spent most of the session deconstructing this mindset.
In the end, I understood I didn’t ask for the baggage I’ve carried all these years, nor did I choose it. It was handed to me when I was too young to understand what I was picking up. I carried it around out of habit and grew to believe it was mine. It was not. But I didn’t know how to set it down without becoming unacceptable and unlovable. I do now. I visualized dropping those bags right where I was standing and telling the universe I’m finished carrying other people’s shit. I’m not a dung beetle. I then imagined picking up a new bag, an empty one with plenty of room for what I want to carry. I can put anything in it I want. Anything that makes sense to me and feels authentic. Anything that brings me joy. Anything that will become part of the individual I want to foster, accept, and love. And if someone attempts to empty their bag by tossing some of their items into mine, I will recognize it and remove them. The space in that bag is mine alone, and I have a choices, not rules or parameters assigned by anyone else. So I’ll be returning the expectations, negative opinions, judgments, and stress I didn’t request and don’t need. You can keep your junk, thank you very much.
Now I need to find cute shoes to wear with that romper when we are in Europe. I wonder if my sister wants to go back to Nordstrom this weekend for Round Two?