I’m certain I’ve been dreading this event since before she was born. Beautiful girl child of mine — my little dash of femininity wedged between five boys. She has grown into a young woman, curves appearing where once there were straight lines. And now, it is time to go find clothes to fit the new figure.
Before we go, we are blessed to spend a Saturday afternoon at a mother-daughter tea at our parish. Fashion consultant Mary Ann Wahle teaches us both some lessons in what to wear. Listening to her and participating in the quizzes and conversation, my daughter and I learn some valuable lessons about each other. I’m made very aware of her color and style preferences. She is made aware of appropriateness and the “fun” factor of wearing just the right thing. We both leave a little more enlightened and a lot more enthusiastic about the task ahead of us.
So nervous am I that I drive two hours west to a familiar college town. Perhaps it will be easier here where the sales people are likely to be more helpful and less brusque than in my busy city. My stepmother comes along to offer moral support and a sense of style. We can do this.
Darling, beautiful daughter gathers an armful of promising fashions into her arms, trying to find things similar to those she saw at the tea. She tries one on. And then another. And then another. I see the storm gather in her eyes, threatening to spill onto cheeks, darkening where once the thrill of anticipation glowed.
“What? What is it?” I cry, panic rising in my throat.
“It’s me,” she says. “I look terrible in everything. I wanted to buy beautiful things. I wanted this to be fun. But I look terrible in everything.”
I leave her there in front of that indicting mirror. A million dressing room mirrors from a million similar outings come back to haunt me. I hear it as if it were yesterday. “You’re too short. Too much tummy. Too much bust. Not enough leg.” I look desperately at my stepmother. I so don’t want this trip to go into that all-too-familiar territory. I’m praying now. I want to understand it all. All I can say is, “I don’t want her to be like me. I want her to love the way she looks.”
Barbara is relaxed and positive. “She’s beautiful.”
And that’s all she says. And with those words, I understand. Of course she’s beautiful. She’s fresh and unadulterated. She’s exactly as God intended. It’s not about her.
And it was never about me.
I walk back into the dressing room and speak with a certainty I do not yet believe. “Get dressed. We’re going to a different store. These clothes are poorly made. They are cut skimpily from cheap fabric for fashion models who starve themselves. They are not made for real, healthy young women.”
She takes a deep breath and follows me into the mall, fighting tears. I pray my way into another store and there, we begin to pull more appropriate clothing from the racks. I’m relieved to find that though we have come to a more expensive store, the sales are blessing us. My beautiful child finds clothing that suits her perfectly. She beams from the dressing room.
When our mission is complete, she walks through the door of her grandfather’s home where all her brothers await a fashion show. They don’t quite understand the significance of the trip, the rite of passage we have just traveled together, but they approve of her choices. She shows them her treasures, clearly delighted with them and with herself. When we return home, she tries on each item for her father, one thing after another that fits just right and flatters who she is and how she’s made.
And when she finishes, and we are alone, I turn to the man who’s loved me since I was her age. I tell him about that moment in the dressing room when I recognized how easy it would have been for our daughter to have had a distorted sense of herself. He knows about all my dressing room days. He is quiet, waiting for me to come to a full understanding.
And finally, finally, I see myself as he has seen me all these years.