I wanted to buy a new pair of leggings for my trip, so I went to a new (to me) store in SoHo. The general motif of the leggings on display seemed to be psychedelic florals, so I asked an associate: "Do you have any...um...black?"
I was led to a table in the back of all black leggings, much to my relief. As I went to pick out my size (L or XL), the saleslady looked at me and said with authority:
"No. You look like an Extra Small."
You guys. I thought she was messing with me. Nothing about me is extra small. I was basically born 5' 10" and have been 6' 2" for years. I've long operated in a space where anything marked "XS" in a store might as well exist in an alternate reality—I don't even see it.
Also, I don't weigh myself often, but I haven't weighed less than 170 pounds in ten years. And—it must be said—most of my weight is distributed in what one might deem the "leggings region" of the body. (Let's just say, as a teenager, I found Sir Mix-a-Lot's lyrics strangely self-validating.)
But this lady was staring at me, up and down, forcing an XS pair of pants upon me.
"I mean...probably more like Large," I tried, desperately searching the table for an XL.
"No way. At biggest, you're a Small. Listen, I know the sizes here better than you do."
I couldn't doubt that. She was, after all, a store employee and I had been in the store for a cumulative nine minutes, so I reluctantly took a Small to the dressing room. I attempted not to flashback to the time I tried on an expensive, zipper-less dress in high school and then couldn't get out of it. It fit at the waist—but though I'd somehow gotten into it, it refused to go the other way over my butt or my shoulders, so I found myself in a black-chiffon-and-sequin prison.
My high school boyfriend waited for like 30 minutes as I somehow performed a series of panicked acrobatics in the dressing room, miraculously removing myself from the dress' snares without ripping it.
I would not do that with the Small leggings, I decided. The second they proved too small, likely somewhere three inches up my right calf, I'd walk back out and demand a Large.
However: The Small leggings fit. (I ended up buying Medium though, for mental reasons.)
I don't actually know the point to this story.
Maybe: Corporations will lie to you to get you to buy shit. But we all knew that, right?
I think there's more to it for me, though. Because I've spent my whole life being implicitly (or explicitly) told women should be small. Being stopped by strangers in the street saying: "How tall are you?" like I'm a museum exhibit. And yet...I learned not just to tolerate my size, but to authentically love it. So I think when someone then told me I was a size Small, I kind of despised it. It was, bizarrely, enraging.
[Aside: I mentioned this before, but I made the conscious shift from resenting my height to celebrating it around age 19. If there's something in your life that's factually unchangeable—I recommend learning to love it. Or, at least, learning to not hate it. The book Loving What Is can help cultivate acceptance.]
But was rage justified in my legging situation? To be clear, I didn't show anger; I was perfectly pleasant. But I've become increasingly conscious of my inner emotional state, because I believe by observing our emotions without judgment (rather than being controlled by them), we can learn important lessons. As Rumi says in The Guest House:
"The dark thought, the shame, the malice
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond."
Eckhart Tolle corroborates this advice:
"Be at least as interested in what goes on inside you as what happens outside. If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place."
So, why was I angry about pant sizes, of all things?
I think it comes down to a personal over-identification with my body.
I know that sounds slightly insane, but hear me out: I believe we are all trinities: Mind, Body, and Spirit. We live in a world that worships the external appearance of the Body and the thoughts of the Mind, and essentially ignores the Spirit.
When you're constantly told your external appearance is paramount, you ignore your inner body. The Body is undoubtedly powerful—but most of the power is inside. But since inner beauty isn't a gazillion dollar industry, through social conditioning, you start thinking, essentially, that you are your outer body.
You get mentally attached to the idea that your physical body is you.
You get so attached that even if you can accept your body exactly how it is, even if you can love your body, you still likely over-identify with it. You still feel an inner sense of unease when someone questions the body-story to which you cling.
So, if you're me, and a sales lady says, "You look like an Extra Small."
You get pissed.
The anger doesn't mean I'm a bad person—it means I'm over-attached. Because it's only a story, it's not the Truth. The "I'm tall and big" story might be my personal little-t truth for this transient lifetime, but it’s not the capital-T eternal Truth. My body will likely be gone in 80 years or so, along with the myriad stories I attach to it. The much deeper, infinite Truth is eternal.
Body. Mind. Spirit. I am not one of three; I am three in one.
Jesus famously called the Body a Temple—but a Temple is simply where you worship. You don't worship the Temple itself, you worship inside the Temple.
So, my challenge is this: to love and to care for my Body, yes, but not to get over attached to the stories I tell myself about my external appearance.
Because what's worth worshipping, is what's inside.
with Love and with Light,
p.s. This is another area where the Sanskrit word aparigraha has been applicable for me. I talk about it in my letter on clinging.
p.p.s. Oh. My. God. Becky—Happy (almost) 30th birthday, Beck. :) xo.