Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Shopping with Liz: Dress For Success!

"Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes."  Part of a quote by Thoreau, a fellow who probably dressed the way I have all my life. I've found that horsemen and writers can mostly get by in jeans & T-shirts. Although this was not true when I was in England: I taught, rode, even cleaned stalls wearing  breeches, boots, shirt, tie & sweater or jacket.

(Thoreau trivia: Having grown up in Lexington, Massachusetts, as a kid I swam at Walden pond. I remember it not as Henry David's inspirational hangout but a nice swimming spot remarkable for the crayfish we used to catch . This will be a bonus point on the final.)

The countdown is on for my trip to San Diego at the end of this month: the American Humanist Association's national conference. I'll be part of a panel from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science along with Janet Heimlich, Katherine Stewart and Sean Faircloth, moderated by Richard Dawkins himself. Talk about your enterprises requiring new clothes...

My daughters bailed like rats fleeing a sinking ship. Twenty-three said, "I think you need to find someone closer to your age to help you."

And when I asked yesterday if Thirteen would go shopping with me: "No, mom. This will end badly."

Huh. I went by myself today. This was a preemptive strike. I have a tentative date with a couple fashionistas who, yes, are my age, thank you very much, kids.

Let me explain how this is a venture so far outside my Comfort Zone as to be off the map. I tried to explain to my wonderful fashionista ladies last weekend: I have issues. Yes, these are the same issues that qualify me as poster child (or "Plucky Survivor" as I like to think of myself). They have to do with my body-image; they go WAY back. Not a few are directly about shopping. To be specific, changing booths, or as I think of them, the Tenth Circle of Hell.

When I was fifteen or so, I was able to stand up and step away from my wheelchair on wooden crutches. My bone infection had been "vanquished"; my family, Christian Science practitioner and I believed it had been HEALED! (Read: outlasted by a Plucky Child Survivor. But I didn't  know this until twenty years later.) 

This "healing" left me on crutches for eighteen months. Eventually my destroyed knee fused itself solid and I could walk on it. Meanwhile, I was a stranger in my post-puberty body. I'd been wiry, fast and strong at thirteen when the swelling in my leg shut down my life; now I was heavier, lame, depressed. I'd missed two years of school. My friends mostly shunned me. I detested my slow, awkward body. I tried to deny its existence as Christian Science dictated.

Meanwhile, the first place I had to go? The mall. Where I came face to face with my reflection in a fitting room mirror.

Shock? Panic attack? Despair? Damn right. I went home & curled in bed in a fetal position. I despised myself, my body, my failure to be healed as I'd been told I could. Lay there a couple days. Until I had to move...because I could. Had to get up. grab my crutches, get a lift to the barn so I could groom my crazy temperamental horse. Because I could move.

I struggled with my body for years. I had an eating disorder during high school, and binged and fasted as I watched the bathroom scale numbers like a Magic Eight ball that would determine my happiness on any given day. I used to walk compulsive laps through my house in the crazed need to force my rigid knee to bend or straighten. I stopped these behaviors on my seventeenth birthday when I threw away my last crutch--and gave in to the depression I've fought ever since. 

When friends look at me as though I'm just being stubborn, I feel twinges of that panic. Because it is so flipping complicated. And I have worked so damn hard to get to this point where I can express myself coherently. When I can write the hard truth of my life. When I might finally (finally!!) be recognized as a surviving voice for all the kids who didn't.

So this afternoon I drove to Ithaca. I paced myself; I was patient with myself; I cut myself a lot of slack when I was faced with the tubby middle-aged chick in the mirror. I forgave myself for being human. I was grateful to be human. Hell, a survivor! Alive, with the chance to represent others. And to speak at a conference.

At the checkout, the cashier said, "Ooh, these are nice."

I felt encouraged.  Yeah, this is unsettling, but it's a sign of my progress that I can describe it. Bring on the fashionistas.

But...cue George Thoroughgood, too. It's true, my preference: I shop alone...with nobody else...


  1. fashion advice from a non-fashionista: what? jeans aren't in anymore? I say jeans. boots. Rhinestones on a nice cambray shirt with maybe a touch of fringe. Just make sure you brush the hay off before you walk onstage.

  2. Your courage and will are inspirational, and your writing is true and honest. Thank you. I love your blog, and look forward to all your posts. I hope the conference is a huge success for you, and that coming home to live fully in your own body is something that brings you lasting comfort and peace.