On a recent vacation I discovered an extraterrestrial in the bathroom of my hotel. In the dim lighting provided by the same folks who outfit parking garages, I could see it standing by the sink. With pale, dimply skin, wiry hair and squinty eyes, it wore the same startled expression as me.
Terrified, I watched as it prepared to step into the shower and nearly screamed out loud before realizing that I was looking at myself.
And then I really did want to scream because I couldn’t determine if I seriously look that scary in real life or if Hilton orders its bathroom mirrors from Steven Spielberg’s special effects department.
[Illustration: Wes Rand]
I’m guessing the latter because the hotel thing wasn’t my first close encounter. In fact, I have one almost every time I go shopping. I’m not sure what it is about dressing rooms, but trying on clothes almost always feels like an alien abduction.
First, I have to stand in line holding my wannabe red-carpet outfits while some grumpy attendant does a cavity inspection to be sure I’m not stuffing a down-filled parka into my bra. Then I’m assigned a number and sent down a long fluorescent corridor.
From there I’m forced into a tiny vestibule where I’m required to remove my clothes under hot lights to put on things that don’t belong to me, followed by an out-of-body experience in which I have to actually look at myself in them, all while listening to Mariah Carey feel her emotions.
Finally, before leaving, my memory is mysteriously neutralized because I always end up buying something that nobody in their right mind would ever wear and with no recollection of having purchased it.
There are a handful of retailers that use trickery like elongated mirrors and soft, flattering lights to convince me that I look good in yoga pants. They are the same stores that sell my favorite jeans two sizes smaller than I normally wear while still fitting over my kneecaps. I’m a rewards member at all of them.
But as small as my fictitious size appears, it’s still enormous compared to the new, smaller sizes they keep coming out with. I’m not sure how much further they can go. I mean, after 0 and 00, what else is there? Pants sized to the negative power? Granule? Particle? Atom?
It doesn’t matter; I’m OK with deception. I lie to myself every day. I convince myself that the jeans I bought after a successful period of food depravation still fit despite a prolonged pasta bender, even if putting them on is like trying to get toothpaste back in the tube.
And if closing the button means temporarily cutting off the blood supply to my upper body, I’ll do it as long as I can get them up. God forbid someone throw them in the wash, renewing their elasticity and effectively ruining days of stretching them into a wearable size.
A few years ago I got my act together and committed to regular exercise and eating healthy. After many months of discipline and hard work, I lost 20 pounds and never felt better. Flush with success, I went to purchase a new swimsuit to show off my results.
Standing in the harsh glare of the dressing room, I saw what my own bathroom mirror had neglected to tell me. Despite all my efforts, I did not look like a Victoria’s Secret model. I just looked like me. A thinner, nominally better version of me, but with the same lumps and bulges I always had, and no one was going to strap angel wings to my back and send me down the catwalk any time soon.
It took everything I had to not drive directly to the grocery store, buy a carton of Little Debbie Snack Cakes, and eat them all while watching “Sleepless in Seattle.”
I fought the urge and instead bought a suit that boasts hidden panels and is made from the same material as latex balloons. It’s not perfect, but then again neither am I. And, hopefully, as long as I cover my eyes in hotel bathrooms and order my clothes online, my future close encounters will be limited to movie theaters.