By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: (from The One-Minute Writer): It was all wrong. The picture in the catalog had lied.
I shook my head at the tube top threatening to turn my breasts into exploding grapefruit. The catalog had promised to make me look desirable and young and sexy and flirty. The thing that had arrived in the mail made me look like a woman in her mid-thirties trying to get an audition on one of those trashy shows about rednecks making moonshine and whooping in fields.
I guess if I’d just ordered the top and worn my own jeans it wouldn’t have looked that bad. But the girl in the catalog had paired it with “the must-have skinny jean of the season! Want to set a trend instead of following one? Put the top and the jeans together, and save 10 percent on shipping!” I saved 10 percent. That was a deal…right?
Maybe it wasn’t the deal I wanted.
So a highlighter yellow tube top with purple skinny jeans. Only, the button on the jeans wouldn’t button. It just refused with the certainty of a pant size too small.
The model in the catalog didn’t have a funny bluish color coming across her face from lack of oxygen. But then again she also didn’t look much older than twelve. And she looked like she might—just possibly—hang out on street corners after dark.
But what do I know? I’m not her mother.
I fought with the jeans for about 10 minutes but finally had to admit it might be better to take them—or, well, peel them—off. It took me longer to peel them off than it did to grunt them on. But at least once I got them off I didn’t have to worry whether I would suffer from DVT an hour later.
The tube top came off a little more easily, and after it did I threw it on the floor with even more force than I did the jeans. Then I sat there, in my strapless bra and Target underwear and dropped my face into my hands. I sat there for about three-point-four minutes when the tears finally made an appearance. Funny, they never seem to be too big.
What was I doing to myself? Since when had my body consumed me? Not my physical self, but me. The heart, the mind, the ideas, the emotions—lately my body had begun to dominate them all.
Most of my friends would probably have laughed at me if they saw me trying to do this. Come on, Kate, they would say. Lighten up! Everyone’s got stretch marks and a tummy that pooches out a little. Considering you’ve had two kids, you look great!
I hate that word, “considering.” What does that even mean? That next to a supermodel I look like a heifer, but if she tip-taps in her five-inch stilettos out of the room then I’m next in line for winning points in the “great looks, great body” department?
You know, they airbrush most of those supermodels. Some of them must have stretch marks. One or two of them at least.
“Honey? Are you okay?”
I shot up like a teenager caught doing something bad and scrambled to my feet. Running to the closet, I yanked out my bathrobe and left the hanger swinging wildly as I put the robe on. The hanger finally hit the floor, but by then I’d shot into the bathroom to wash my face. I took a deep breath, looked at myself in the mirror, tried to force my quivering lower lip to stop and turn upward instead, and then walked sedately into the bedroom.
“Hi,” I greeted my husband, my voice sounding a little too bright. I could tell he wasn’t fooled by the fake smile I gave him, but that was too bad. I wasn’t ready to give up my dignity just yet.
He waited a moment, and then I got it: the head tilt and the sympathetic look. I hate those almost as much as I hate the word “considering.”
“Hon, come on, we’ve been through this a hundred times,” he said, striding forward and pulling me into a hug. Is it a bad sign that we’ve now been through enough situations similar to this one that he doesn’t even bother to ask any more if I need a hug?
“You are the most beautiful woman in the world to me,” he said over my shoulder and into my hair. “I don’t want those stick people they have in the catalogs.”
I thought for a split second about giving him some witty, flirtatious reply. Instead my throat let go of the sob that hid there. That was it. Once I started crying I couldn’t seem to stop.
“But they’re so—so—skinny!” I said, wailing on the last word and stretching it out to add at least four or five extra syllables.
“I don’t care. Skinny is boring. No curves to hold or love.”
He let his hands run over some of the said curves, but something about the gesture me cry harder.
“Hon, really, you’ve got to stop psyching yourself out like this. Do you know,” he said, pulling me back just far enough so he could look me in the eye, “what the difference is between you and the stick people? You’re a real, live, beautiful breathing woman. You have a wonderful family that loves you, amazing kids, and your body reflects all of that. So stop trying to be like those girls in the catalogs. They’re not real.”
He’d said it a hundred times before, and I’d listened to it a hundred times before. When he started to kiss me and then gently unhooked the bra, I knew for sure.
It was all wrong. The picture in the catalog had lied. Real people didn’t look like that.