Saturday, April 30, 2005

In Order To Form a More Perfect Union

"We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

- Preamble to the United States Constitution, which I can sing thanks to Schoolhouse Rock and Saturday morning cartoons.

Mamie and I drive around and around the mall parking lot. Macy's is having a huge three-day sale which, we surmise from the congestion on Route 1, the ponderous mall entrance and the packed handicapped parking spaces, is especially cutthroat. We are in the right frame of mind for the hunt. Armed with coupons, credit cards and a precise shopping list, we are going to:

1. find a parking space if we have to assault nuns and grab either end of a Volkswagen to do it;
2. sneak up on our prey, grab it by its sale tag and swing it over our heads like a wet tshirt on a Daytona Beach bar during spring break.

Now that I'm old enough to be two girls gone wild, I often gather I grasp what's what. Anything I don't actually need is disappearing from my life faster than decent fiction from bestseller lists. However: proper foundation garments, styles and extenders aside, are eternal and comfortable; quality footwear is our gift from a loving God - and God alone will help anyone in our way. We pick up a dozen bras where bras are Buy Two, Get One Free and stuff ourselves into a dressing room. After four brands, four styles and three different sizes, it suddenly occurs to us at the same time: my weight has redistributed itself, and my bra size has significantly changed. Our worlds are rocked! Mamie says, "Your ribcage is broad for 5'2" but you could use a size smaller and a cup larger. If that doesn't fit I'll eat my shoes!"

On the sales floor, it is a whole new expedition because nothing in the strange new size crossed our line of sight before, and finding something will be a Say-Hallelujah-Say-Amen-Miracle. We find five. A choir of angels sings as we approach the cash register line. Suddenly, over on the other side of the room, I see mannequins in a shape and style I've never seen before and the Miracle is o-v-e-r.

"Goddamn it, Mamie. Look at that!" I blurt at an unguarded volume. Twenty feet directly ahead stand mannequins modeling Calvin Klein and DKNY bras and panties. The brands aren't the problem. The mannequins have normal size hips, unusually narrow ribcages and inhumanly narrow waists. Now that I've seen the waists, they're all I can see, and I can't shut up. "That is disturbing! Women aren't shaped like those mannequins."

"Everyone says that," the cashier smiles.

"That is disturbing!" I am now shouting. "What is the matter with Macy's that those unbelievable, inhuman clothes dolls are displaying underwear this idiotic retailer wants me to purchase with my exceptional credit?"

"Everyone says that, too," the cashier smiles. "Everyone also says they're a bad example for teens. Anorexia!"

"No," Mamie says firmly, "Those mannequins depict bodies that've worn corsets all their lives. That's binding. They don't belong here."

"They're certainly hypocritical wearing padded bras without underwire," I squawk. "Those mannequins should come with diagrams of misshapen and useless internal organs -" Nobody - no Soccer Mom, no overmanicured employee, no self-absorbed teen - bats an eye. Nobody looks up. Nobody cares. Mamie, concentrating on our next stop in her favorite department, pays for my bras on her Macy's card. She knows I'm frustrated and getting louder and those mannequins are a-goner if she doesn't do something drastic. Mamie grabs her card, the merchandise and the sales slip. She gestures with her chin and says slyly, "You know, that's not just a special clown suit, I would swear it was custom made..."

"In the name of all that is holy, WHO PUT THAT WOMAN IN ORANGE? Has her religion outlawed mirrors? That collar went out with the sinking of the Spanish Armada! MAMIE! THAT POOR SICK GIRL HAS COME OUT IN PLAID!" I scream - not that anyone hears me. We've followed the clown suit a few yards, then taken the escalator to Cosmetics where for no earthly reason a DJ is spinning the greatest hits of 1978 at a volume sure to reduce our brains to Wheatina if the selections don't. An artist is painting a living, breathing, almost humanly proportioned model to match a very chic pink, orange, green and blue handbag. So there it is.

In Intimate Apparel, the displayed female form speaks of distortion, suffering and binding; in Cosmetics, the female form is a decorative container, a kicky accessory. I stare at the customers who've never seen a person trade her personhood for their very momentary amusement and to pay this month's cable bill. At least, you'd think they'd never seen it before and never done it themselves. At this moment, not one of these women thinks of herself as an economic whore, not one thinks of herself as diminished by what she sees. I do the only thing I can do in the face this monolithic denial, shame and self-hatred: follow Mamie into Ladies' Shoes and shut up. Here, the lesson is reiterated in a new form: Mamie, who is tall and wears a proportionate size, tries on dress shoes and concludes that that amount of pain ought to be followed by a lucrative settlement. Since we've made the strategic error of setting foot in Macy's without a legal team, we leave without dress shoes.

I get it. I do. The disconnect between body and middle-class person couldn't be clearer. And yes, I do know exactly what I'm saying: no wonder so many women voted for Bush.


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