I bought my muumuu six years ago in the middle of nowhere Arizona. I will not tell you the exact location because it’s my special little place I go to find treasures like my tile nightstand and my antique printing drawer.
But I will tell you this: Don’t underestimate those little gas station towns along the I-40.
The dress was weathered. The colors were fading. It had a rip in the armpit and a stain on the left side. But to me, the flaws gave it personality. It told a story of a woman with a perm sipping a mimosa beach side in Honolulu.
It was two bucks, and it had sea creatures. The material was so soft from years and years of wear, and it was so loose I wouldn’t have to hold my breath in after eating a burger, fries and a shake. I loved it.
But it took me six years to put it on. As I ease into my thirties and begin the stage of “what was I thinking in my twenties,” I am slowing moving out of the “What will others think of this” phase and into “What do I think of this?”
This apologetic girl who could barely look you in the eyes is slowing standing up straighter, bouncing her bosom and swinging her hips unabashed through rooms.
Up to that point, I had worn my muumuu around the house and as far as the corner coffee shop. I had gotten so cozy in it, that when I decided to go to Venice on a Sunday, I just threw it on not thinking too much about the current trends. When I got to the West Side, I parked a little ways from the beach, and the reality of what I was wearing set in. I was in a sea creature muumuu.
If anyone knows LA, hipsters make their pilgrimage to Abbot Kinney. The current style is so distilled in the boutiques you almost crave a walk through the boardwalk to cleanse yourself of the stenciled arrows and geometric prints.
I started to panic; I wasn’t sure if I could handle the lip curls and the up and down glances. But there was no driving an hour back to the East side. I had to walk through the hip little street to get to the shore; I had to wear it, and I had to own it.
The first block was OK. Women peeked over but nothing more than the usual LA gander swaps. I stopped in Blue Bottle to grab a coffee (yes, Blue Bottle is now in LA) and a woman behind me said she liked my dress.
A smile stretched across my face. I had been lifted. Yes, I looked good because I was wearing what matched me. Thank you.
It wasn’t so bad. In fact I started tilt my chin up and enjoy the breeze whip through my thighs. I was being myself, and I was feeling good in my muumuu. I started walking down to the beach with a crowd of people and after a few blocks a man behind me said, “I like your dress.”
I turned and said, “Thank you.” I was so excited to have another person confirm it’s awesomeness that I was about to turn around again and tell him about how I bought it in a small town for two bucks when he said, “I wish I was a dolphin.”
Now, at one time, I would have giggled and clutched my towel tighter. But this time it sat in me, restless and uneasy. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t flirting; it wasn’t a compliment. It was something else. It didn’t feel good.
He didn’t come out of the alleyway and sidle up to me. He wasn’t smoking a cigarette against the wall. He was wearing a white polo shirt, looked like he frequented Houston’s and was walking with a thirty-something professional, middle class old white dude.
“I wish I was a dolphin.”
It was the middle of the afternoon people were all over, and I WAS IN A MUUMUU TO MY KNEES. My dress has dolphins on it because it’s awesome not because it’s enticing men to imagine brushing up against my body.
I didn’t say anything back. The two of them made a few more comments about dolphins, but I had tuned out and began to cross to the opposite side of the street.
I wish I had said something witty like, “Thankfully, you never will be,” or “Eat shit and roll in it” then held one finger up behind my back and walked ahead. Instead I sort of froze, unsure if my gut reaction was correct.
During a therapy session a few days later, I brought up my stepfather. All through my childhood and into my teens my stepfather made sexual comments about my body. “Are your nipples hard?" “Is your pussy swollen?”
Out of survival, I stuffed all my emotions down buried under denial and shame. I was not safe in my home, and I was constantly being reminded of that.
“You know your stepfather was affirming control and power in the house, right?”
It’s not that the man on Sunday triggered my stepfather or induced a flood of memories from my childhood. It’s that as I dig through the layers of shame and guilt I am reaching down and pulling up the scared little girl from dark cavern I put her in.
I am letting her feel. I am letting her breath. And I wiping the tears from her face, and I am telling her that it’s OK to not be OK. I am telling her that it’s OK to feel.
When that man said he wanted to be a dolphin, I allowed myself to sit with it. I allowed myself to feel the discomfort of being reduced and humiliated. The more I get in touch with the little girl hiding in her room, the more I get in touch with the reality of being a woman.
The more I can hear those comments, the more I can say, no, that’s not all I am. I am a woman who can rock a muumuu on Abbot Kinney and hop in the ocean alone.