Saturday, July 5, 2014

Wear I Am

"Children raised in cults do not have any identity to return to when they leave. 'Trying on' different hair-dos, colors, and clothing is normal." -Elizabeth Esther

I turn left. Then right.

The door is less than an arms length away. I want to escape but the growing lump in my throat keeps me in my place. Maybe the emotions caught just below my chin will go away.

One more glance in the mirror and then a quick lift up of my heels.

I ask myself, Hmmm…with a cardigan?

A shake of my head and I look at the growing pile of rejections.

I trudge to the salesperson. Throat lump still there, I mutter, “These didn’t work.” I hold out the handful of hangers as walk to the door, eyeing the selection of shoes before escaping again.

I come home and set a bag from Ross and one from Target onto the kitchen floor.

“You found clothes?!” Jeff asks.

“I’m taking them all back except for a shirt,” I snap.

His face falls. “Okay. Why?”

My eyes fill with tears.

“I just don’t know how to dress.”

This same scenario has been happening for years.

I don’t know how to dress because I have been dressing like someone more than twice my age for two decades.

A quick glance of my old photo albums and you will spot a girl who dressed in long sleeves at summer camp.

You will see me in knee-length shorts that look like men’s dress shorts and a men’s large sized t-shirt. My favorite dress as a fifteen year old was denim, wide at the waist with gathers that helps it flare away from my body, not toward it. In truth, it looked like a maternity dress.

(Click photo to enlarge) Here I am at summer camp (on right). Similar style to my denim dress, only this one is head to toe floral. I look like a garden threw up on me. Also, I'm wearing pantihose under that dress. (Summer 1996)

Capris and Bermuda shorts weren’t in style in the 90s. If one of us happened to spot a knee-length set of shorts that looked even half-way cute, we all bought a pair. One summer it was a wide-legged set of overall shorts from Mervyn's. These were acceptable for camp, mission trips, and leading VBS. I was extra popular that summer because I spotted them first and let the other girls knew where to find them.

This is what I was taught is right. This is what I know.

It’s still my main mode. Over the years I‘ve been told I dress frumpy, plain, and boring. I have to work extra hard when I go shopping for clothes to find what is an expression of me that also fits my body shape. Most importantly, I have to tell myself over and over that it’s okay to even ask those questions. It’s enough to induce tears in the dressing room and a quick flee from the store.

My husband has been so good to me in this particular part of my journey. In fact I have a decent wardrobe now with enough things to put together. Only trouble is I can’t wear about half of them due to the arrival of our sweet baby boy this last year.

And with only half a wardrobe, I’m faced with the prospect of going back to those questions about what fits my (new) body shape and finding more items to express myself.

I begin again.

It’s enough to paralyze me.

In truth, I am a pretty practical lady. I do know that much about me. My favorite outfit of all outfits is a white shirt, jeans, brown shoes (sandals or boots, depending on the season). I have a cardigan obsession, which I’m pretty sure is a result of wanting to emulate the timeless look of fictional bookshop owner Kathleen Kelly. I also love scarves and hats.

As I think on these accessories, I wonder if they are not just practical but my attempts at trying convey myself within the confines of what I know is acceptable.

More layers? Yes, please. Are layers my choice of “armor” designed to protect me somehow? Probably.

But I don’t know any other way.

Adding to my confusion is the fact that I work in a creative environment. I can wear a t-shirt and jeans but I do like to dress up. I like to show what I’m capable of doing for the company by what I put on in the morning. I want to exude the confidence I have in my calling by what I wear when I walk through the doors.

I never thought I would be faced with all of this confusion in my thirties but it’s a pretty crazy mixture at this point. For all the soul-searching I’ve done since escaping fundamentalism and the strong beliefs I have about courage, this area of how to dress pierces me and weakens my confidence in no time.

Turn left. Turn right. Which way is me? I don’t know.

I’m stepping out again this summer. Trying not to run for the exit too soon. Sometime this month, I’m taking a friend with me to go shopping. She’s going to help me. I showed her my “Fashionista” board on Pinterest and she seems to think I do have a particular style.

We’re going to try to find it in a store.

I’m not going to give up. It just may help to have someone with me to block the dressing room door and say, “Try again, Becca. Try again. It’s okay.”

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