When I take my first breath of real parking lot air, I feel such tremendous relief and lightness that I practically run to my little second-hand red hatchback with the stains and scratches. It looks beautiful to me and I am thrilled to get behind the steering wheel and drive… I had become progressively more agitated as I tried for over 30 minutes to find the exit that led to my car. The mall was closing in on me, trapping me, with its strong headache-inducing scents and its salespeople who are so tuned in to what they were wearing, what I was wearing, and the origin of their next commission that there was no room for anything at all that matters to me. I felt diminished with each passing minute, struggling to hold on to my dignity with each step. I felt just fine, even attractive and vibrant, in my own neighborhood just a few hours earlier. How was it that a walk and search through a shopping centre could be so soul-destroying? After two hours of looking and asking and trying things on and getting up my nerve to go into yet another store full of scents, fabrics and people that did not harmonize with me, the mall spat me out into the parking lot. I feel like I have been through something terrible. I have sweaty nervous armpits, greasy skin on my face, smelly feet and a wicked headache. How can this be? I never smell like this at home. The answer? Stress.
In a mall, I am fish out of water in the midst of people moving around dazed and in consort with one another, happily fingering the garments on racks which not only would look terrible on me, but also would feel awful on my skin and involve me in such a direct way with the immoral labour practices in the third world. The moment I try on those clothes, I literally feel connected with the woman or child who put it together. She handled and assembled it, long before I try it on in the alienating change room. In the change room mirror, I am yellow, and grey, and green and my belly is full of angry red stretch marks that are being exposed in this soul-less shiny prison.
If it all so horrible then why did I go you ask?
Good question. Really good question. I need an outfit for my choral concerts and I have one this weekend so the clock is ticking. I already shopped yesterday and tried on many things at the relatively un-alienating clothing store right near my house. They are super supportive of all women’s shapes and sizes and want to make women beautiful and adorned. Their sizes are 1, 2 and 3. The fabrics, colors and original designs make me feel at home, and inspired. The workmanship is high quality– done by people who are paid decent wages. The women who work at the store are older than 40, and stylish, and variously shaped. The change-room features a poster that is basically a pep talk about how gorgeous we all are and that they are setting about to help us look as gorgeous as we are.
There is one problem. I am sure you can imagine. It is almost prohibitively expensive. Like, really expensive. Like a month’s rent for an outfit expensive. I was thinking of going to Value Village (which is now owned by Walmart!–didya know? Yup. It is) and spend under 20 dollars, but instead I found myself trying on outfits that are 5-6 hundred dollars because I want something gorgeous and unusual which suits me and which feels ethically alright, and will last, and which honors the beauty of the music I will be singing.
I could not quite stomach the purchase before trying to get something less expensive. So, that’s how I made myself nauseous at the mall.
And now, here I am, a shopping centre survivor returning to the local artisanal woman-friendly store to buy a dress which will cost just under $400. It is there, waiting for me. I will buy it and I will wear it well. In harmony.