My overstuffed mom purse bumps into elbows and racks as I shepherd another dress into the fitting room. Nothing is right. Only arms reach behind the curtain as I grant privacy to my 16-year-old and follow the rule that it is there to shout through and pass around but not go behind. I could try to peek. I choose bravery instead and ask if I can see. Hard no. I breathe and pause before taking a reject back and attempting to find a substitute.
Another mom and daughter are across from me. Mom has been granted back curtain access. Impressive. A narrow bench holds her and a mess of jeans. Ugh. Jeans are brutal. She catches my eye between the curtain crack. We exchange an acknowledgment of a shared mission and its difficulty, the risk we face that a wrong word or tightened lips could cast us out like the clothes.
The dressing room requires patience, a thick skin, and quick thinking. Can you remain calm and positive in the face of rolled eyes and a frustrated adolescent at the height of self-consciousness? Can you persevere when a dress is discarded due to a flaw visible only to your child but offer that you see it too and battle to secure another with no such issue? Can you weigh your need to get coffee against the remote possibility that your teen may emerge for a consult? I wonder these things as I hug an expanding NO pile. My daughter calls out to say she is done, not in a good way but in a flat, mission-failed way. I stand by the curtain’s gap and offer to bring something else.
“It’s okay, Mom.” I see her in the mirror, swallowing a hot tear. The typical fitting room angst bordering on humorous or annoying is different today. I start to realize this is not about her finding fault with each dress but finding faults in herself. I imagine her view in that cruel fluorescent light, checking all angles, uncertain about the fit, the turn of her hip—the turn of it compared to others. Somehow a mirror image can make you question in a million ways, do I measure up?
I got it. I still felt it sometimes. It was not frivolous; it was hard. She steps out fast—shoulders slumped like she is carrying something heavy. I guess she is. I say she is beautiful. I say the fabric, color, and length (deep breath) are just right, but my words hang as limp as the orphan dresses.
The tiny-topped sales clerk checks in. I hope her third-party encouragement and guidance will be embraced in a way mine cannot. She insists the dress works but offers ideas for additional options. She swoops pieces in and out under a stream of no-nonsense Gen Z feedback. It is masterful. My daughter listens. I pray a silent thank you for this dressing room angel. I catch the eye again of the mom on the clothes-crowded bench. We share a nod of appreciative solidarity. The dressing room can be its own village.
We walk out with something to wear. My daughter says thank you and means it, but I know her mind is still wandering. Back to her reflection, back to if she is enough. I wish she could embrace her youth and strong, healthy body that wore that dress and calm the brain that is learning French and physics and handling life with a lot of grace in this tough teenage world. I say these things. She takes it in. Quiet. Eyes ahead.
I hope they will take root in that kind soul of hers. I hope they will go beyond a view of her reflection to a knowledge of her perfection in all the things that make her perfectly her. Until then, I am a witness to her growth and to all those in the dressing room who are lifting up their girls the same.