Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ruby: Inspired Adornment and Unadorned Truth


On the one hand, it feels inappropriate, presumptuous, to compare my own journey, my own challenges, to Ruby's.

While I have, to be sure, a heaping plate of "health issues," my own situation cannot be compared to the urgency, the immediacy, the right-now-no-shit-life-or-death state of affairs Ruby faces.

But has Ruby herself not stated that her very motivation for the show is the hope that her story might inspire others?

That is, after all, her reason for subjecting herself to months of taping, allowing camera crews into the home, into the life of an individual who is about as far from the typical reality show hamster as it is possible to get - to inspire and help people who are struggling with all kinds of addiction, all kinds of problems?

It is her intention that we identify with her, each in our own way, and today's episode totally hit home for me.

Although we have seen some advancement in the last few decades, the fact is that the principle of inclusion in the area of ladies' ready-to-wear receives a lot more lip service and advertising hype than facts on the rack.

When my own five two-and-a-fraction self tipped the scale at 175, I found that my (western-style) clothing choices were, to say the least, limited. Again, let me stress that I do not compare my own weight issues with Ruby's, the point is that the exclusion, the cutting-off point, starts at less than half what Ruby's weight is now - after losing almost a hundred pounds.

A hundred pounds since the show began - remember she had already lost over two hundred before that, on her own.

When I lost over 50 of my 175 pounds, I was overwhelmed with fashion choices at every turn. Not that it was all "made for me," or even becoming, much less flattering. I was still short, still a bit "top-heavy," in a culture where the ideal of feminine figure pulchritude is basically Paris Hilton, but there was plenty of stuff that fit, a large enough pool of it so that I was able to accomplish that once-in-a-lifetime experience of Complete Wardrobe Replacement on a budget that, due to my "health challenges," had taken a one-way plunge from just a smoosh of discretionary income to poverty practically overnight.

As I gradually gained almost half of the weight back, that "cutting-off point" has come into a much sharper focus.

From a perspective that will be all too familiar to anyone who has lost weight and re-gained it, the ruthlessness of that exclusion, the constricting narrowness of that "acceptable" range decreed by the industry can cut off, if we let it, much more than our fashion options.

The exact "tipping point," measured in pounds, will be different for each of us, for me it has been somewhat soul-chilling, to say the least, to contemplate that it occurs far below 175.

There is a difference - a world of it - between being a slave to fashion, a superficial Barbie doll whose sense of self is dependent on labels and price tags and which celebrity or glossy magazine is adorned with the same or a similar garment, and taking pride in looking one's best as an expression, a celebration of respect and love for our uniqueness, who we are.

In fact, the two are diametrically opposed. The former seeks to achieve, through outward accoutrement, the self-esteem the inner joy that the latter seeks to manifest, to rejoice in, by the simple and joyous expedient of simply decorating herself.

When we consider what a small percentage of women not only fail to be shaped like Paris Hilton, but fall completely below that "inclusion point," we are compelled to reflect on the impact of that, the ripples and dominoes of that bleakness, that most of us are not considered to be worthy of decoration.

Of course the reality is not as sinister as all that sounds. It is, like most things in this particular cultural context, about business, about profit.

Obviously, if all the Rubies and all the ShimmaPuffs and all the everybodies in between could just breeze into any retail store from Wal-Mart to the 'leetest boutique on Rodeo Drive, according to our budget and preference, and put together a flattering, versatile wardrobe with the ease and from among the same wide selection as our size 2 sisters, made up of those classic, basic pieces on the Tim Gunn list, items that will continue to delight us as we smile into our mirrors, season after season, year after year, updated here and there with strategic accessories, that would mean, to put it simply, a dramatic decrease in industry profits.

That is not to say that We Who Love To Shop would shop less. We would, however, spend less.

If we did not have to buy those basic black pants and just hope that they would "look OK" with a different top, that our all-occasion top would "look OK" with a different bra, because we had not "chosen" them.

They do not excite us or thrill us or reflect our good taste or our personality.

They were the only pants, the only top, in the store that we could tolerate and with which we could "fit the largest part" of ourselves, especially We Who Can Neither Sew Nor Afford Alterations, oh, we would still be back in the store the next week - with bells on - but we would be there to buy that strategic accessory, not the basic top and pants all over again, take two, maybe these will...

In fairness, even the size twos might make many of the same arguments with respect to the quality and workmanship of their dazzling array of choices, including the very valid point that they, too, are likely to be back to replace those basics long before the passing of "season after season," because the things simply did not look too good after a couple of washings, the seams did not hold up to normal wear, the fabric, dependent on "sizing" as opposed to sewing for its shape-holding properties, collapsed into a sad little rag.

As the old saying goes, "if it don't crack your head coming in the door, it'll kick your ass on your way out."

Rambling now? Possibly. Ranting? Oh, definitely!

Today's episode of Ruby touched a particularly sensitive nerve.

Even as I marvel, as always, at the magical splendor of her spirit, even as I am, as she hopes we will all be, inspired and encouraged by her ebullient and blessedly "hippie-loving" ;) magnificent self, I am also angry.

Obtaining new clothing should NOT require that the head of the local Art and Design college call together his star pupils to design a wardrobe especially for her.

That is not to say that this should not have happened or that I did not enjoy watching it happen. On the contrary, I think this episode should have been a Feature-Length Very Special Episode. I would like to have seen more of it, the whole process - both of making the clothes for this part of Ruby's journey as well as the designers' own journeys, briefly alluded to by Andrew.

Ruby is a Star in the best sense of the word, and more than deserves many racks of beautiful clothes made specifically for her, at the weight she is right now.

But it should have been a choice. An option, not the only possible way that she could hope to get new clothes that she actually likes and that actually fit her.

I am inspired, empowered and emboldened by her courage to tell the truth. Ruby and all of us deserve many racks of beautiful clothes that fit us - in stores. We deserve to be included, even if it means less money for rich men.

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