“Aren’t you going to regret it one day? Once you come out as the face of a plus-sized brand, you can’t ever take it back”
I was in yet another hotel lobby on yet another date. “What big ideas do you have for life?” my date asked me a few hours into the evening.
The question thrilled me because at 23, I’d spent years thinking about the answer. “Actually,” I leaned in, “I do have a dream. There’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
“Really? What is it?”
“I’ve never shared this with anyone before,” I prefaced. I bit my lip, then decided I could trust him. “I want to open a plus-sized women’s clothing company.”
Silence. He broke my gaze and looked away, staring at an invisible speck on the dark wooden floor of the hotel lobby.
Finally, he looked up. “Are you sure you want to do that?” he asked. “Aren’t you going to regret it one day? I mean… even if you’re on the heavier side… once you come out as the face of a plus-sized brand, you can’t ever take it back.”
He was right. At the time there was no one championing on behalf of anyone who wore a larger size than the average.
I wasn’t sure what my date thought was worse — the fact that I was willing to admit I was plus-sized, or that I was willing to admit that I was okay with the fact I was plus-sized.
According to society, us large people are supposed to be ashamed of our size. We’re not supposed to admit it in public. We’re not allowed to be happy with ourselves — but that wasn’t how I lived my life, and it wasn’t how I wanted others to live their lives, either.
I wasn’t naive. I knew people spoke about my size when redting me shidduchim, but at least it was only in whispers. Maybe my date had a point: If I went ahead with these plans, was I giving people permission to openly discuss my size? When I met people, would they think, “Oh, is she the person who started the conversation around being plus-sized? Is she the one who’s trying to tell everyone that it’s okay?”
Did I want that?
I remember swirling the Diet Coke in my glass and thinking, oh, my gosh, I can’t do this.
My dream deflated — and with it, our date.
Instead of opening my own fashion line, I got a job at a local clothing company, pushing my dream to the recesses of my mind.
The position felt familiar to me — my mother’s friend owned Brenda’s in Brooklyn and, as a child, I’d spent many a Sunday helping her around the shop. I knew what to find on which racks, which sizes were still in stock, and when the new season would arrive.
“That looks great,” I’d tell the woman who came for a new Shabbos dress as I brought her another option.
“Did you try the smaller size?” I’d ask the girl who wasn’t sure about the way the dress bagged around her shoulders as I helped her decide between two colors.
Now I was no longer a young girl running through the racks. I was an adult, a sales girl, an official part of the store’s team. I could greet shoppers with a warm smile. I could help them sort through the different options and finally find something that worked. I could make sure they found that magic piece that made them feel like a million dollars.
But there was nothing to make me feel like a million dollars. I worked among racks and racks of gorgeous clothing every day, but not a single hanger had something that could fit girls like me.
After more than a year on the team, I went to the store owners with an idea. “What if we extended our sizes to include a plus-sized line?”
The owner looked up from her computer for a minute and gave a sympathetic smile. “That’s not for us,” she said before turning back to the screen. When I cleaned out the fitting rooms that night, I fought back the tears. As I passed the mirror, I held up a tailored light blue Shabbos dress, the one others had left behind — and imagined what it would feel like to wear something that beautiful.
I’d never know.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 760)
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