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Boxes of Stereotype

Yesterday I had a stomach flu. The sudden weather change from 108 degrees to 55 with rain did not help. They don't have seasons in the seventh circle of hell, but immediate changes from one despicable sort of weather to another. This is pneumonia from Rainy Chill with Burnt Leaves and Background Hurricanes season. Then comes pneumonia from Rainy Chill with Leaves on the Ground and Surprise Thunderstorms season. Then we have Chance of Paralyzing Ice Storms for two months. Then Mud season. This lasts until about April, when Hellish Temperatures with Tornadoes and Hurricanes arrive and last until October. A perfect opportunity to spend my mother-in-law's $55 JCPenney gift card. I learned again that they don't make normal clothing for normal people anymore, if they ever did. What they make for females is crap. Pure, simple, no backs.

First, the colors suck. They're neither primary nor muted neutral. The more the store serves what my husband would call our sisters in the streets, the worse they suck. The red is neither vermilion nor maroon; the blue is a disgusting sky color that only looks good on a few people and tires quickly; the chartreuse/light moss Crayola yellow-green shade is two f-stops too dark in hue and comes into the room sooner than the rest of me.

Second, the styles suck. Their demographics are from another galaxy. They infected the place with faded cropped jeans -- a triple threat if ever one existed. No one should wear jeans in a hot climate. If it dares to get cold, you don't want your legs half bare. If you did, you wouldn't want them to look pudgy. You certainly wouldn't want them to look pudgy in the color of dirty old coins. If they are sensible enough to throw out a few sops of elastic-waist pants to people like myself, it can't be in a normal fabric like twill. The poor-catering stores cornered the market on a peculiar polyester fabric suitable for car seats: shiny, the sort that makes an insistent noise when thighs are rubbed together.

Third, even a successful encounter in the distant back of the store, furtively placed amid the navy, the few, proud, and black 60/40 cotton/poly twill will most certainly not be in my size.

Finally, one escalator ride above in the men's department will be all kinds of decently made, fairly priced, neutrally colored items of clothing I'd be wearing if I weren't too small for any of them. I should have gone to the boys' department, you say? Didn't I mention retail is a patriarchy, where only the men rule? The kids' clothes suck as much as the women's. It's really scary to walk into the children's section of a Major American Department Store. They're already divided up into the suffocating boxes of stereotype. The girls' clothes are all pink and clingy, and someone decided that all little boys are gang members. There's some kind of wacky insignia/graphic on every boy's above-the-waist item, and the only pants available are those horrible hip-hoppy things that are nine sizes too big and, inevitably, cropped.

I tried. Universe knows I tried. "Can you tell me where I'd find black sweatpants?" I bleated in the direction of the Misses salesperson island.

"They'd be over there if we have them," someone said, waving in a vague direction.

Nope, there was only shoddily made stuff in filthy pastels, with no pockets.

Undaunted, I tried again. "Got any turtlenecks?"

"Over there if we have them," indicated the same vague wave.

Sadly not -- only V-necks, which would stretch out to unbecomingness in minutes and warm nothing, and that anathema to the thick-necked, the mock turtle, again in hideous pastels and only in large and XX large.

I had to leave with the card spent, and this story does have a semi-happy ending. I snared two pairs of black twill elastic-waist pants in my current size, 8 petite short. Unfortunately, the hoodie I just had to have in tasteful sweatshirt-grey and heather I dared to buy in a small. The thing is a tad too tight. And stupid me cut the labels off beforehand, thinking it would fit.

I'm just like every other fat girl, thinking someday I will be really thin, that I too can wear a Small. There's still 20 pounds standing between that phenomenon and me. I should have been sensible and not bought it at all, because it maxed the card out, and I had to fork over a few extra bills to pay for it.

But, I tell myself, if I hadn't, I still would have had value on the card, and I would have had to come back to the place.

No, never, never.


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