Everything Is Ugly

I mentioned in my last post that finding clothing is hard. I’ve always had a distinct sense of style (nearly all of my clothes are black, white, or red; I like close-fitting more than flowy or loose; I like something dramatic like diagonal cuts, metal buttons, or bold prints), so it’s not like I’m going to the store thinking “I would like a new pair of pants. Let’s see what’s on offer.”

Back when I was a size 20/22, there were only a few stores I could shop at – Lane Bryant, Torrid, Universal Standard, Ashley Stewart. When you’re a larger person, finding clothes that fit can be tricky, since fat tends to spread itself unevenly around a body, so each configuration is unique. When I went clothes shopping, it was always a treasure hunt: where in this conglomeration of clothes was something that fit? Once that was narrowed down, it was a matter of choosing the thing I liked most or, more often, the thing I hated least.

Only now that I am an easier-to-fit size do I realize how ugly most clothing is.

Part of that judgment is a hatred of “fast fashion,” mostly sold in stores that cater to younger people who have both a limited budget and a desire to keep up with trends. The fabrics are usually thin and cheap, the construction is shoddy, and the colors are often offensive. Bile green? Really?

At the other end of the spectrum are the higher-end mall clothing stores also targeted at younger people, but in a much higher income bracket. In these stores, the clothes all look alike, change very little from season to season (the waistband gets marginally higher or lower, the leg length or circumference changes a bit, the plaid patterns vary) but the clothes are outrageously priced and the stores surround themselves with a nimbus of fragrance that makes them impossible to approach. The people who shop at those stores tend to conform with the norms of their social set so much that they look like flocks of birds feeding, running, flying in unison.

If one is older, there are other stores at the mall, and most of them carry clothes that remind me of stuff my mother would wear. My mother who’s 80 years old. And has great-grandchildren. Not that my mother has terrible taste, but her clothes tend to run toward the strictly practical. I’m all for a clog or a hiking boot in their place, but they’re not my go-to.

This proliferation of clothes I would never wear is something I didn’t expect back when my options were more limited. It’s like being vegan at a crappy restaurant where your only choice is the french fries and not realizing that all the food sucks.

One of my (many) ex-husbands told me once that I’d be happier if I lowered my standards, but I think he formulated that idea incorrectly. If my standards were already lower, I would probably be happier with the choices I have. The problem is that since I have high standards, lowering them wouldn’t make me happier. It would mean that I’d have more options, plus a lifetime of self loathing from knowing I can do better.

I don’t want that. All I want is the perfect pair of pants. I know it’s out there.

Set the Bar High

In 2001 when my third marriage was ending, I had a conversation with my soon-to-be-ex where he told me “You know, you would be much happier if you would just lower your standards.” At the time he said it, I couldn’t even formulate a reaction to it. I didn’t laugh or get angry or give him a lecture, and it took me hours to puzzle out how I felt about it.

I left my third husband for the man who was to become my fourth husband. We’d been married less than a year before it became evident that we had both been looking for very different things in a relationship. All three of my husbands to this point had been looking for the same thing: they all seemed to be looking to find their place in life, and then to just coast. Once they’d found a job and a wife, they’d never have to pick up a book or form an opinion.

Today is the epitome of why I left my first, second and third husbands. I went racing out of the house because I was out of yeast. Yesterday, I had used up the last of it making bread to eat with the big salad I’d made for dinner, and today, I’d intended to make pizza dough for dinner. But I’d forgotten yeast when I went to the store this morning. I ended up rushing to the store because I had to get the dough started before I picked up my daughter from her private school to take her to orchestra practice. Her concert is next week, and this is her last practice before the concert.

In the middle of my freaking out because I was going to be late picking up my kid, or not going to get dinner done on time, or in some other way fail, I had to stop myself and realize that no matter what, I was doing fine. My kid goes to a great school. She plays viola in a youth orchestra, and every time she practices, she wants me to hear her play because she’s so proud of herself. I race around looking for ingredients because every day, I make my family real food out of plants and grains and seeds, rather than opening some cardboard boxes and microwaving them.

I’m not going to pretend my life is perfect, but a large part of that is what I was born with. I’m what my therapist calls “constitutionally sensitive.” But I can tell you that the life that I have is far, far better than the life I would have had if I had lowered my standards. Now that I think about it, I laugh at the very thought. No one should ever lower their standards. Ever.