Every once in awhile I will see someone wearing something covetable, probably covered in polka dots and I will ask them where they got it.
"Forever 21!" they might say, or, "Zara, and it's on sale!"
"Nothing fits me there," I'll sigh, and they look at me dubiously, like I just told them moisturizer doesn't work on me, but after all these years of living in my body, I have a very thorough and ever-growing mental list of where I can find clothes to zip up effortlessly and where I will be left feeling ungainly and depressed, caught half out of a dress that gapes open ridiculously in the back.
I know what stores have sizes that are cut large and which are cut impossibly small. I know where I can get into the tops but not the dresses, where I might find an XL to fit if the fabric is stretchy and where a 14 is a 14 in name only. At my favorite boutique, I know which brands fit me and which brands' largest sizes are still frustratingly just-a-bit-too-small, allowing me a glimpse into just how cute said clothing item would be if it actually fit me.
This list, like my body, is ever changing.
Last season on "Project Runway," a designer was forced to design for a woman who was a size 14 in a "real woman" challenge. He essentially threw a hissy fit and treated the woman abominably and when he referred to the difficulties of designing for a "plus-size woman," Tim Gunn practically yelled in response, "She's a 14! That's really just on the cusp."
As a cusper who yo-yo diets herself back and forth across the line in perpetuity, that phrase stuck with me.
The cusp is certainly an easier place to be than solidly in the plus sizes, where I spent half my life before losing over 100 pounds in college. At my highest weight, I was a size 26/28 and the whole of my sartorial universe consisted of Lane Bryant, which is still the primary plus-size clothing solution for most of America.
As someone who loves both fashion and buying clothes, I spent a lot of time in there, spending my video store job paychecks or my Christmas gift certificates from relatives. I kept a mental catalogue of their current inventory -- I pretty much always had what I wanted from what they had, because while a lot of the clothes were just fine, it was an extremely limited selection compared to that of the rest of the world.
I still remember the excitement and also the confusion of realizing, post-weight-loss, that I could go to any store to shop for clothing. I was overwhelmed by all the options -- how did I know which stores I liked? Where did I start?
These days I fluctuate between a solid size 10 and a more tenuous 14-where-a-14-fits. Right now I'm at the top of my range, the yo-yo reaching its highest arch before I freak out and whittle myself back down again.
And the truth is I'm just fine with the way my body looks and feels at this moment. What makes me hate myself is not being able to fit into clothes -- my own and those in stores.
What I hate is life on the cusp. What I hate is leaving a store having flashbacks to high-school mall trips in which my mother and I both left in tears because I just couldn't shop in Gadzooks or 5-7-9 (cruel concept, store) or wherever else the other girls at school were into that week. (Even if I'd just had these tits, Juniors would have been a joke.)
I hate taking a handful of items in a store's largest size into a dressing room and not being able to close any of them, so that I walk away feeling like I am just too outsized for clothing, all clothing, that I literally don't fit.
And the worst part is that I know it's an arbitrary standard. Someone decided that this set of measurements was going to be more widely available than that set and I don't know who it was or how they made that decision.
I know that if all stores were sized like the Gap instead of like Zara, I'd probably walk around feeling 1,000 times more confident and happy with my body shape.
I know that the feeling I mentioned before, that conviction that I just don't fit is nothing but a cruel trick. Because that sentence is clearly backward -- it's the clothes that don't fit my body. Yet I walk away feeling like my body doesn't fit into the clothes.
I know the cusp is not real. The line between straight and plus sizes is as meaningless and invented as the boundaries between states, or money. And yet, like in both those examples, sometimes it couldn't feel more important.
That meaningless little line has the power to make us feel like shit, and uncomfortable in our own skin, whether we live on the cusp or firmly beyond it. It has the power to turn a perfectly attractive body into an anomaly, into something unacceptable and frustrating. It can make us stick our fingers down our throats in an effort partly to keep our lives and bodies within the established lines.
It may seem like a small thing, being able to walk into any store and find clothing that fits on your body. And I can only speak for myself. But I know that if I could do so, I'd think about my body a lot less, and love myself a lot more. Let me know when that's on sale.