The dressing room attendant was pursing her lips in that way older sisters do when they're about to share news you don't want to hear.
“It's pretty, but I think it might a little, uh..."
I stared at her, waiting for her to tell me the color didn't go with my skin tone or I didn't zip my skirt all the way up.
“It's a bit much. For your body type, I mean."
She was staring at my waist, barely concealed in a crop top and midi skirt set. I thought I looked cute. In fact, the only reason I'd stepped out of my dressing room was to ask the attendant if she could grab me a pair of pumps to go with the outfit.
I forced myself to make eye contact with what she was so awkwardly gawking at. It was a sliver of skin, barely an inch wide, right above my belly button. That seemed to offend her enough to force her to make a comment on it.
My body type? OK, if you're going there, let's f*cking talk about my body type.
I'm not thin by any standard. The last time I weighed myself, my BMI sat comfortably on the high end of average. I know my thighs jiggle when I walk and my stomach is far from flat. Sometimes, it's hard to fit my arms through sleeves.
I know all those things. F*ck, it took me years of therapy to learn self-acceptance. It took listening to my ex complain about how I didn't want to join him at the gym to realize that maybe I wasn't the problem, he was. It took a doctor telling me my eating habits were not OK, coffee was not a substitute for a meal and an IV drip attached to my arm was not in any way normal.
What the fitting room attendant did -- in the most spectacular and f*cked up way possible -- was remind me that no, I was not worthy of the midi and crop top. Wouldn't I like to try on a loose-fitting blouse, instead?
I'd like to say I slammed the door in her face and marched out of there without buying anything. I'd love to say I told her what a fat-shaming piece of walking sh*t she was, reported her to a manager and waltzed out like a goddamn ballerina.
Instead, I nodded, went back to my room, changed out of the set and ended up buying two sweatshirts in a size larger than I would normally wear. Size “hide me.” Size “don't look at me."
This particular incident occurred precisely a week after I wrote an article about how to wear a crop top and became a GIF, tummy and all. I felt confident, pretty and better than I had in months. For once, I thought I was pretty enough, skinny enough, something enough to wear an article of clothing I thought was only for the Gigi Hadids and Kendall Jenners of the world.
I was no stranger to fitting room attendants, other women pointing out maybe I shouldn't draw so much attention to my cleavage or maybe I needed Spanx with that dress or maybe those jeans were giving me a muffin top.
Maybe I'm drawing attention to my cleavage because it's the only part of my body I actually like.
Maybe I'm not rocking Spanx under that dress because the last time I f*cking wore Spanx the guy I went on a date with told me "only fat girls wear those." Also, they're uncomfortable as f*ck.
Maybe, just maybe, I don't give a sh*t if those jeans give me a muffin top, because I'll wear them with a sweatshirt.
This isn't me being over-sensitive, or even a confidence issue. This is me not asking for your f*cking opinion and you offering it regardless.
What these women don't know -- and will never know, because they never asked -- is it took years to feel even marginally OK with my body. It took years for me to realize losing weight didn't make me any more beautiful. It took multiple hospital visits to realize "hungry" is not a synonym for "pretty."
It took years to get here, but it only takes a few seconds and a couple of poor word choices to spiral back.
I would be lying if I said I didn't still battle those demons, her words didn't affect me, or that I knew how beautiful I was. Her words did hit me.
Every date I didn't get, every guy who didn't give me the time of day and girl who leered at me at the club reminded me my stomach wasn't flat. Suddenly, everything bad that happens in my life is because I'm not thin. I know it's silly, but it feels real.
All because of the words of a part-time employee who didn't know any better.
I can't say it's all better now, but I did eventually buy that coordinating set from a different store. I haven't worn it yet, but I know I'll look f*cking fine when I do.