Does My Belly Look Big in This Changing Room?

At the weekend I headed over to Westfield, Shepherd Bush’s super duper shopping centre with my housemate. Our mission? To buy me a dress for next week’s Big Night Out with work.

I have to say I was excited about the prospect of having a new frock. However, considering the fact that I had a £30 voucher leftover from my birthday last July, and not really any money to spend in any other store, it was rather a suicide mission, in terms of the death of my mood, and my avoidance of sugar.

We rocked up at Westfield around 1pm and headed straight for Debenhams. Like I’ve found before at Debenhams Westfield, there were pretty slim pickings. Maybe it’s my timing; too late in the sale? Anyway, I grabbed a selection of dresses and headed for the changing room.

It became apparent as soon as I donned the first dress that this was not going to be a good day for trying on dresses. To get into the dressy mood, I had already worn a dress and a pair of tights paired with my denim jacket and a black pair of flats. I was quite happy with my appearance when I left the house.

However, with the first dress on, my belly, which is my problem area, looked huge. I had of course picked my top choice to try on first, a reddy-pink and black A-line dress with black lace detail around the top of the chest. My housemate, Sina, is pretty good at all this fashion stuff, and advised me that the dress wasn’t cut that well, and that the fit in general wasn’t right. So back on the hanger, and onto the next.

The next dress was a lovely white dress with a gorgeous flower pattern. But it is obviously one of those that look better on the hanger. While it wasn’t a complete disaster, and I think it’s one of the styles of the moment, it had no shape, and was similar to a look that I could have achieved had I cut a hole in a bin bag. It was a pretty rectangular dress, not fitted at any point. Sina advised that I should try a smaller size – a size 10, which was music to my ears – and she went off to find the next size down. In the meantime, I tried another dress, a black A-line with a kingfisher pattern and short sleeves. By the time Sina came back with the size 10, I had already declared myself a state of flump. A fat lump.

Sina thought the black dress was the best so far, but I was desperate to get it off. I tried on the 10, but the smaller size didn’t really make much difference. It still hung like a rubbish bag.

At this point I thought about the fitting rooms. And I praised The Lord that things had changed in one respect. When I was a teenager growing up in Lincoln, many of the stores I shopped in had COMMUNAL changing rooms. Some had one or two cubicles, but these were nearly always full on a Saturday when I was in town, which left girls like me no choice but to try on in the large communal area. While the benefit of hindsight tells me I had the perfect body as a teen, slim (although boobs were tiny back in’t day, and not much bigger now. I’d definitely fail the pencil test, although I take this to be a good thing in that by the time I’m 50 my nipples should still be pointing in whatever direction I want to go), I didn’t have any self confidence because I was so shy. Taking clothes off during PE lessons was difficult enough, let alone trying things on in front of complete strangers.

I looked around the cubicle I had, which was plenty spacious enough, with enough mirrors and hanging space and a little cubed seat on which to place my bag, and said a little prayer thanking God that things had changed for the better in one respect at least since the 90s. But back to the problem in hand. I’d tried on four dresses so far and wasn’t looking good in any of them. I eyed up the button on the wall which was begging to be pressed. “Need help? Let us bring you another size” proclaimed the sticker. Bring me some chocolate and I might consider this to be a helpful offer I thought.

So, to sum up so far, we’d only been in one shop, and my self-confidence was already shot. Sina suggested that I may have to invest some of my money in another shop, and so we handed the dresses back to the changing room assistant and headed onto H&M.

H&M was initially looking to be a similar drought of good dresses, however, after picking up a few not-great-but-I’ll-try-because-I’m-getting-desperate dresses, I found The One. A classic black shift dress, with pointy little sequins around the neckline. I picked up a 12 and a 14 just to be sure, and joined the queue for the fitting rooms.

I tried on The Perfect Dress. I almost laughed out loud at the size of my stomach. The stretchy material showed up every lump and bump I had. I unzipped and went for the 14. This has got to be it, I thought. I was bitterly disappointed. It was still too tight. I tried on the other selection of dresses I had brought then went back to the 14. Sina suggested I try the next size up – the 16. I said no, but back in my own cubicle and facing the desperateness of not having a dress to wear next week, I threw my own dress back on, took the size 12, and told the assistant I was going to get another size. I returned with the 16, which I’d noted on the tag was the biggest size H&M do.

The 16 fitted better around the belly, but not around the neck. It gaped slightly, which probably wasn’t so noticeable. But I had made up my mind. I wasn’t paying 30 quid of my own money for a dress that had a size 16 label on it. I tried on the 14 again, hitching my tights up past my belly button in a bid to give my belly a smoother line. I wondered if £30 was enough to go back to Debenhams and buy me a pair of Spanx (aka Bridget Jones Big Pants). But really what was the point in paying £30 for a dress that wasn’t right? I always buy clothes that are “a bit tight” and tell myself I will lose weight and fit into them. It doesn’t happen. Well, it happened once, after I left my husband and a lost a stone and a half. But that was a drastic way to lose weight that I’m not keen to repeat any time soon, husband or not.

We went in a few more shops, and my day was made worse by some idiot in Mango putting a security tag through a belt on a dress, which meant I couldn’t undo it to try it on. I was determined to try the dress, which was a potential option, and managed to shuffle it on over my head and boobs. When it was on, the dress was definitely not an option. But could I get the bastard thing off? No. I left the safety of my cubicle and asked the one of the girls to remove the tag for me. “That’s the second one we’ve had like that, they should put the tag further round” said the other girl. Her colleague looked at me and told me I would just have to take it off with the tag on. Good job I wasn’t carrying a Swiss Army knife like a good little Boy Scout, otherwise that belt wouldn’t have been going back on the shop floor in one piece. Sina and I managed to get the dress off and I redressed.

I’d had enough. I admitted defeat and we headed home. By this time I was hungry and despite having had a sandwich for lunch and some Char Sui rolls at Westfield, I was hungry. But not just for food. I wanted comfort food. I wanted chocolate. But since chocolate is the only part of the refined sugar thing I’ve managed to avoid during lent, I picked up a packet of Hob Nobs. Those oaty, crunchy biscuits I love so much. Upon arriving home, six biscuits were gone with a cup of coffee. By 10am the next day, the rest of the packet was finished.

So in a bid to find a dress for my second proper night out in London, I ended up feeling fat, flumpy, humiliated and breaking my sugar-free diet pretty spectacularly. At least I still have my money. But to be honest it’s not much consolation. I still have no idea what I’m going to wear on Friday, but I know it will have to come out of my own wardrobe. It may end up being jeans and a pair of heels, but I hope not. I spent most of my teens and twenties living in jeans and avoiding getting my legs out and since now they are probably my best feature (the bit on display anyway) I would be happy to show them off, if only I had the right dress to wear.

I miss a lot of things about America, but one thing I do miss is their dress sizes. As a size 10 back then, it meant in the US I could buy a size 6. I don’t ever remember buying a size 6 over here (maybe Age 6). While I’d be happy to buy a 12 nowadays in the UK, I don’t think I’ll ever be that Perfect 10 again. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to take some comfort from The Beautiful South…

Perfect 10 – The Beautiful South (1998)

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