Sunday, June 20, 2010

Changing Room or Chamber of Torture?

What was he thinking? I’m referring of course to the man (it had to be a man –a woman wouldn’t have invented such houses of torture) who designed changing rooms in clothes shops. What on earth was he thinking when he designed a quarter metre squared cell-like enclosure, installed unforgiving fluorescent lighting and then topped it off with floor-to-ceiling cellulite-enhancing mirrors? Did he really expect women to disrobe, see themselves in unadulterated technicolour and then feel good enough about their bodies to buy clothes in such an unflattering environment?

Now, I’m not the sort of person who likes to shop for clothes. In fact, I’m known to wear the same items of clothing until they fall apart at the seams. Literally. Even my mother who tried to rescue a dress for me recently by re-sewing the seams again suggested I buy clothes at least once a year. The thing is I hate shopping. I never find what I’m looking for. Or else the clothes I like never fit me. Somehow I don’t have the sort of shape that fits easily into the “Ready to Wear” category. On that rare occasion when I do find something I like, I have been known to buy ten items in different colours then wear them until threads emerge from the washing machine instead of a single item of clothing.

The only problem with this is that every once in a while, an event comes up which requires a special dress. Usually I can dress my favourite Indian-style clothes up or down depending on the occasion. But on the night of a very special event, one I’ve worked so hard towards bringing about, I thought I had to find something other than my ten year old Monsoon specials. So I ventured out to the local Mall. On a Sunday. Just after pay day.

The trip was doomed from the start.

Every person in the whole of the province had decided that this was the best day for shopping too. Strike One for a good shopping experience. The next step, inevitably my least favourite, was to look for clothes in clothes’ shops. Obviously. We started at one end of the mall. As we worked our way down I became more depressed with each shop we entered. Have you noticed how almost all boutiques stock clothes suitable only for anorexic pre-teens? There was nothing I would wear in a million years. Strike Two for said shopping experience.

Feeling almost desperate as the big event was just a day away, we worked our way up along the mall again. There had to be something that would fit me and make me feel good. At this point I was reduced to taking some unsuitable looking clothes into the changing rooms. Aha! The torture chamber awaited. I stripped to my underwear and there I was in all my flawed glory. Magnified around the room in lights bright enough to light up the darkest Karoo night. Absolutely enormous Strike Three. There was no way I could ignore the extra weight that has crept on over the past years. The changing room brings brutal confrontation time with unforgiving flesh.
No amount of spiritual or rational reasoning could get me away from the fact that everything I tried on made me look appalling. Words such as “mutton” and “lamb” drifted through my depressed brain. Nothing looked good.
What was I to do? I contemplated making the event a Roman-themed night so that I could drape a large sheet over my expanses of skin in a tasteful toga-like construction, but thought this go down well. Finally, in a state of serious existential crisis I grabbed a dress off a rail because I liked its material. It was as soft as chamois, and had a gentle green leopard print, something that would match the wildlife theme of the film. The woman in the changing room looked twice at my rear in the dress. I knew she thought it was too tight but I was beyond care. Nothing would induce me to go back into that change room again.

I’d like to have a word with the inventor of those dreaded cubicles. If you really want to sell clothes in department stores, use lighting with the same wattage of candles. Install mirrors which elongate reflections. You’ll sell many more clothes. And your wife/girlfriend/mother or sister won’t try to kill you when she comes home from a shopping trip.

First Published in The Witness and the Sunday Independent 20 June 2010

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