(I’ve had this in my drafts for awhile as a writing exercise, I’m sticking it up. It’s not about perfume… back to perfume on Monday, I promise.)
It´s official: I´m going to hell. I bought Diva her first skank dress – three of them, actually – for her last round of bar/bat mitzvah parties.
How did this come to pass? Well, it was easy. First off, I´d like to thank all the designers of dresses in size 12/14 (girls) and the junior department, and tell them I look forward to seeing them in the circles below me in hell, along with aggressive telemarketers and people who don´t clean up after their dogs.
There are six types of dresses available for 13-year-old girls:
1) The stiff, Easter-egg-colored satin affairs I´d bully her into if she were a junior bridesmaid at a wedding;
2) The tasteful, floral, dressy dresses from, say, Talbots Kids and The Wooden Soldier that work well for brunch or dinner at the country club;
3) The dresses that come size 7-16 in the girls department. I could write a book about everything wrong with those dresses, but instead I´ll state the obvious: if you take a particular dress design and make it in sizes 7 to 16, it will only be appropriate for a small segment of that actual age group. A dress that looks right on a 7-year-old looks absurd in a size 16, and vice versa. Also, they make the larger sizes without any accompanying darts, neckline changes or other adjustments that would accommodate the shape of an adolescent girl´s body;
4) Big, froufrou Scarlett O´Hara tulle-meringue-like confections, which are apparently bought by some girls for proms and quinceaneras (I was so mystified I asked);
5) The petite section of the woman´s department – all of which are too staid, too structured, too weird or otherwise too “adult” looking to appeal to a tweener, and are often quite expensive;
6) Hence the skank dresses. I have held firm on the Skank Line. This has not been easy, in an age where the fashion-forward girls in Diva’s school are now wearing micro-minis with thongs so that (I kid you not) their peers can see their business when they walk up the stairs of their junior high. I am insanely grateful that Diva mostly wants to dress in jeans, flip-flops and cute, belly-covering tops. But jeans don´t cut it for the bar mitzvahs, and her church outfits aren´t going to work, either.
For the past two years, as most of her friends have held onto their Olive Oyl little-girl bodies, sliding into size 0 jeans and then wailing that their butts look big, Diva has morphed into a curvy girl in a Mary-Kate world. She routinely gets mistaken for a 15- or 16-year-old, and not because she’s dressed or made up inappropriately. Like her father she has the big-boned, muscular arms of an athlete, the legs and thighs of a field-hockey player, and she’s bootylicious like Serena and J-Lo. (I am still thanking God for the day we discovered JLo Jeans, because there´s a woman who understands curves). I am quietly stunned when I watch her move with a raw, graceful power I will never have. I am from the land of the bird-boned women, with wrists (and legs and fingers and pick almost any other measurable dimension) smaller than hers, though she´s still several inches shorter than I am.
Sometimes I meet other mothers, mothers of boys from school, and they say to me, oh. Oh. You´re Diva´s mom. They look at me speculatively. Their sons have been in love with her forever. Because she´s funny. And kind. And sensitive. And she´s grown into the quirky, strong planes of her face and those Liv Tyler lips. But that´s not what she sees when she looks in the mirror.
In hell, all the designers of all the dresses we tried on over the last two years will get to watch, every day, for an eternity, as my beautiful girl tries on yet another dress (my back is turned to preserve her modesty, if she even lets me in the dressing room) and then I watch as she studies herself in the mirror, fighting back tears, until eventually she cries and we go home. I can tell her, I have told her, in every combination of words I can think of: you are beautiful. But it´s not enough.
So. There we were, parties looming, with her having outgrown her perfect Nordstrom dress we bought in November, now Yet Another Thing That Is Too Small. Perusing the rack of sleazy poly-chiffon dresses on sale at deep discount in the junior department at Macy´s, I watched her poke through them uncertainly, biting her lip. I took a deep breath and started grabbing. I said, we will try on ten dresses, and you will look amazing in one of them.
The first dress she tried on was a halter-strap disco confection of brown chiffon, gold sparkles, beads and sequins, and a handkerchief hem (its only saving grace, in Diva´s eyes.) She was already giving up. I stuffed her into that thing, made her take her bra off, ratcheted up the ties behind her neck as high as I could yank them, and lo! The thickest, prettiest 17-year-old you have ever seen was gazing at herself, rapt, in the mirror. I had two thoughts, simultaneously: 1) her father will strangle me with his bare hands if I buy her this dress; and 2) she absolutely slays in that thing, who knew? Maybe Amazon girls need dresses they can work – stuff with dangles and ruches and booty-darts. She stared at herself, in disbelief, thinking her own thoughts, which I imagine ran something like this: 1) I look so great! And 2) mom will never buy me this skank dress. She looked at me expectantly, head tilted down a little, waiting for the bad news.
Do you know what it´s like to look at yourself in the mirror when you´re 13, and every outfit is ugly and wrong? I do. Because my funny little twist on this story is: I had an older sister, who was teeny-tiny and hot and rocked the waist-length hair and the brocade maxi-coat and I always felt like Quasimodo in her presence. I, who grew up into a hulking size 4/6, have always, always been at war with that image of myself as freak. I have a particular photo of me – at 14, wearing a Dorothy Hamill wedge haircut, braces, and exactly the wrong shade of peach – I trot out whenever I want to pinpoint the precise moment I never felt uglier. And here I was, Living The Dream all over again with my daughter, who happens to be blessed with a body she can´t quite appreciate. Yet.
So shoot me. I bought her that skanky dress, and a similar one with no sparkles but a faux-grecian-cross-wrapped top that would break your heart, and another one – in exactly the right shade of red for her (that’s her up there on the right, with one of her friends). We had the silly chiffon-nightie hemline on the red dress removed and the neckline tightened up, and then it was perfect. In the ladies´ shoe department (she is still barely clinging to my size, and I tease her that I´m looking forward to her outgrowing them) I found the perfect brown, sparkly, mid-heel, strappy glitter Disco Princess dressy bow-toe sandals to go with that ridiculous dress.
She wore those dresses over and over, and it’s a good thing summer’s almost done, because she’s almost outgrown them. That woman-child rocks my world, all 5’2 ” of her, and I hope that, some day, she can see how beautiful she is, the way I see her.