I was six years old. I was a chubby girl. I loved clothes, even then. I loved mixing and matching outfits and shoes, colors, and textures. I wore the “Pretty Plus” sizes from the Sears catalogue, and spent hours combing through the pages to see if the outfits I loved had the coveted “PP” after the sizes. Most of the cutest outfits did not. We didn’t have a lot of money so we rarely bought stuff out of the catalogue anyway.
My grandma made a bunch of my clothes. She was a talented seamstress and we were lucky. One year she made an amazing red corduroy outfit for me. The fabric was covered with hearts and curlicues, and reminded me of the Jack of Hearts playing card. I wore it as my costume when I was the Queen of Hearts for the school play, and ran around the stage yelling “Off with their heads!” I knew the power of a good outfit. I think I was born with an eye for fashion.
So one day in 1971, I was rummaging through all the clothes I could find in the bedroom I shared with my two older sisters. I’d been watching TV and loved the groovy look of Peggy Lipton on the Mod Squad. I wanted to be groovy too. I found a patchwork sundress my grandma had made a few years before. The colors were nice, all mustard and brown calicos, like something Holly Hobbie might wear. It was far too small, and fit like a shirt, falling just below my underwear. So I figured I should wear some tights. I dug and dug through the closet until I found a pair of white cotton ribbed tights. They had a neat pattern knitted into them, which was quite pleasing to me next to the calico dress. I put them on, but there was a huge rip in the crotch, and of course they were too small. They barely made it up past the hemline of the dress, but I forced them.
Next, came the shoes. Easy decision there, since my mom had just splurged on a pair of leather lace up oxfords that I had begged for from Burch’s, our only specialty shoe show in town. Even at six, I knew it was cool to buy your shoes at Burch’s. These shoes were multicolored. The main shoe was navy blue, the tongue was red, and the toe was green. They were marvelous, and would go with anything. Even my practical mother, the nurse who preferred sensible shoes, bought into my sales pitch and bought them, but told me they’d have to last me a long time, since they were so expensive.
Oh, I was lovely. I was a vision. I was on my way to the bathroom to look in the full length mirror, and I twirled a bit, so confident in my choices. Then my eight year old sister saw me and laughed at me. Then my 10 year old brother joined in. They were mean, in the way older siblings are. I didn’t understand why. They told me everything was too small, and ripped, and I was too fat, and they could see my underwear and my shoes were like clown shoes. I just stood there, not sure what to do. I couldn’t decide if I should argue with them, or cry.
How could I have been so wrong?
My 12 year old sister rescued me, as she often did. She told the others to shut up, took me back into the bedroom, and helped me look for other options that might cover me better. She pointed out the big hole in the crotch of the tights, explained why it would be embarrassing if I wore them out into the world. We couldn’t really find anything else that would fit, or that would mimic the mod look I was after. So she kindly asked me questions about the kinds of clothes I like and why, while discreetly finding clothes that fit for me to change into while we talked, and I showed her the clothes I’d circled in the Sears catalogue.
That’s the day I learned that being fat was a real bummer.
I spent the next six weeks scuffing the toes of my new shoes as I walked to school so they’d wear out faster. It was so embarrassing to be wearing clown shoes to first grade.