There’s something about fitting rooms in clothing stores. There’s something about the way you brace yourself, subconsciously for what is to come. How you hold the items you spent hours or sometimes just moments inspecting, feeling, touching, close to your chest. As if in prayer for something miraculous to happen after you fit them. Some of the items you choose because they’re fashionable, because you love the look, you’re curious, you need them or you just want to try something new. At other times it’s an outfit you’ve wanted for a long, long time and have finally gathered enough courage to try it on for size.
There’s something about going into a changing room that is a little cathartic.
Like going into a confessional booth for those of you who are Catholic. Not that I’ve done it before, I’ve always wanted to do it, wondered how it must feel to confess all your sins to another person, but since I am not catholic I never did. So the changing room is the closest thing to a confessional I can possibly imagine. Because whether you like it or not, ready or not. It is in this tiny little room in the middle of three full length mirrors with the bright florescent light that you can see the truth about yourself. You can see your body in all its dimensions, every bump, bulge, blemish or stretch mark. It’s like seeing yourself again with new eyes, comparing what you actually look like in reality to the latest version of what you think or hope you look like.
In today’s terms the fitting room can be a place where you go to update your “software”.
Sometimes you find exactly what you’re looking for and it does everything you’ve imagined a garment should do for you when you wear it. In those times you’re very happy, excited even, pleased to be yourself. You can even start dancing, imagining an occasion in which you’ll wear it and how awesome you’ll look. Or you could fall so deeply in love that you don’t even want to ever get out of this garment, it has become a part of you, essential like the air you breathe. Perhaps you start to dance and even strut your stuff. And smile, and the happiness that you feel draws people closer, because now you’re confident enough to walk out of the changing room, you already know you look good. You can feel it. The compliments you receive are just an icing on your already very delicious cake. It was during one of these rare but beautiful moments watching my mother change from one garment to another with youthful abandon, with each one bringing out a surprising side of her, from mature elegance to a youthful, sporty, dancing queen that I started to view the fitting room in a different light.
As a metaphor perhaps, for life itself.
The changing room can be an emotional space. Where strangers commiserate with one another, like patients in doctor’s waiting room. Here they can, if you allow them, bare witness to your struggle, tell you that you look good, or to try another size or colour or style, length. Or even notice something about yourself that you can’t see or were never aware of or thought of as beautiful. I started to see it like a special space, a special time. And just as I was musing on this idea, the lady at the fitting room came to see what my mother was so excited about. They knew each other, because my mother is a regular at the shop. Both in their late fifties they started talking about how age is nothing but a number. How they spent most of their lives taking care of husbands and children that they never quite had time to enjoy just being, women. The fitting lady went further and started to share her story with us in one single breath…
“I was not always this size”
She says with pride. “My breasts used to be double this size, my family used to call me Dolly Parton because I had such huge big breasts” she says motioning over her already large boobs tucked into a tight and short maroon store uniform. “You see my thighs?” she says pointing down at the legs “they were double this size, I was huge big! You see?” she says as she leans against the partitioning walls. “I was big because I had lost too many people in my life” She says and started counting, while my mother looked at her through the mirror “My first husband died at work, he was a head of the bakery at checkers, my second husband died just here, he was a Chubb security guard, My brother, My sister, My son, too many people. So I got depressed and I was on anti-depressants which made me bigger and bigger and bigger. I was always ill. Until one day I said God help me and threw them all in the toilet. Look at me now!” she said showing off a long light skinned legs. “My sons are doing well, I’m happy. One of them is married to a Zulu Girl, another is about to get married now, and the other one just finished matric. This just st teaches you to never give up on yourself, my house if full of people they come, even famous people come, and hang out with my sons, because I’m down to earth” she said in conclusion then she looked at my mother and said “ I’m proud of the woman you are, well done”
I was moved by her open confession, her vulnerability.
Suddenly it become rather obvious to me, that some of the biggest changes in our lives, happen in small rooms like this one which I shared with my mom. Something spiritual, soul deep which, when it happens requires no endorsement or validation from anyone. I realized then that this is where some of the more imperceptible changes in our lives can occur. That the very act of taking off the old clothes and putting on new ones can be a physical representation of what goes on in a persons heart, some kind of an unofficial ritual to prepare for change. It’s the place where you can decide that it’s okay to look in the mirror, to accept those part of yourself that you cannot change, that don’t make sense. To love anyway to tell someone your truth, to be honest. I started to think how freeing that must be to be seen, to be known to someone and to be loved and accepted with every scar, blemish, bump and curve. I started to think how beautiful that can be, to approach life with a certain naked innocence of a child. And when someone loves you like that, something happens behind the curtains that makes you want to change, to update your old software. You come out a little different each time.
I also realized that sometimes and I have found this to be true in my own fitting room experience, you’ll never know what you want or what you look good in, or how good a change can be until you try something on. And this for me is the ultimate paradox of this ever changing life, my own light bulb moment in the chaging room watching my mother fall in love with her new software; and it is this – real lasting change can only happen, once you commit to it. You have to be committed, to change. Needless to say, I’ll never look at a fitting room in the same light, again.