Friday, December 19, 2008

Where to shop

A few weeks ago, the Zombie couple picked up rings to celebrate their tenth anniversary at the mall near where I grew up. I go to this mall occasionally but for the most part I stopped shopping there years ago.

Why? I am the daughter of the shopaholic fashionista. The mall in our neighborhood? Over time it became known as being too "ethnic." Go into the Macy's there and ask for certain designer stuff that you know that the Macy's in most other locations in the Bay Area have and you get a blank stare. Or the recommendation to go to one of the other stores.

My aunt hated this shit. Why should she have to leave her community to buy the stuff that she wanted? My aunt lived in Oakland and was big on spending her dollars in Oakland. But often the major retailers just didn't have the level of things that she wanted. Because us ethnic folks just don't have the money to spend. Never mind the studies that say that African Americans spend a higher percentage of their disposable income on things like clothing than other groups. Nope. They just don't have as much money so they can't possibly be spending it on clothing and what not.

I spent many years being dragged around by my mom to malls in Marin County and eastern Contra Costa County. Why? Because the populations in these areas had a higher white percentage. And guess what? The higher the white percentage in an area, the higher the likelihood of finding "upscale" stuff in the stores.

But my favorite was back in the late 80s when my stepmother insisted upon giving me a Dooney and Bourke bag every year for Christmas. She would buy me these huge purses while I tend to prefer smaller ones. Besides I was a starving student at the time. So each year, I would go to Macy's -- where she purchased the bags -- to exchange them for something smaller. The first year I went to my local Macy's. I could not do the exchange without a receipt. I explained that it had been a gift. They told me that I should ask my stepmother for the receipt. (I guess this is why some stores now do gift receipts.) How could I ask my stepmother for the receipt? I took my bag back and went to the San Francisco store the next day. Instead of hearing, "Do you have a receipt?" I heard, "Have you selected which bag you would rather have?" This is when I stopped shopping at Macy's as much as I had in the past.

I could also tell tales about my years of living in Williamsburg. There was a local department store in town. A well known fact amongst the African American community was that you either needed to look like a professional or a student to get any service in the store. (Perhaps this is a bit off point but it feels like the same shit, if you ask me.) If I was not in business attire, then I made it a point to have a backpack with me when I entered this store. One time I was dressed casually and did not have my backpack with me. I was invisible. Until this one saleslady saw me and remembered me from my mother's visit to town a few months earlier. Because she remembered that I was a student. But what a load of crap.

Back in 2003, I went to Virginia for Christmas. Women there are closer to the average size for women than they are in California -- or at least that's my perception. I went shopping the day after Christmas with my aunt. At that time I wore a size 2 or 4. (I'm now firmly a size 4.) I finally found one size 4 in a store. My aunt looked at me like I was insane to be looking for anything under a size 8. Because the stores in Tidewater seem to start at size 8 is what I discovered. From what I gathered in my time living in this part of the U.S., size 8 is considered to be tiny. If you wear a smaller size than that, then you need to eat more.

Of course, a great deal of this is colored by my family experiences. My aunt with whom I went shopping is maybe a size 8. She is the smallest woman in our family, other than myself. My mom is about a size 12 while her mother is a size 22. At least that's the size that my grandmother wore the last time we shopped together. And from what I remember of that shopping trip was that she had plenty of choices. OK. So they were old lady choices. Because my Pentecostal grandma is super conservative in what she wears. But my mom's older sister, who is one of the most beautiful women I know, is often rocking something quite stylish. And except for height, she and grandma are pretty close in size.

And this is why I've always thought that the "black" stores carry larger sizes. I've always felt that we have been able to see the beauty in a woman regardless of her size more so than other groups. And maybe that's because many of us have never been the definition of what is beautiful in the dominant society over history. We set our own standards for beauty as a result. In my family, I at a size 4 or so am just as beautiful as the women who wear size 12 or 22. How could we not be? Look at our faces and you will see the same woman.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, these women -- my grandmother and my aunt -- are both emotional eaters. They'll tell you otherwise but I have witnessed it firsthand. I just happened to be blessed with a quicker metabolism. Otherwise, I would be them. My grandmother has complained for years about walking -- as in walking through the mall. It's because of this that I have mentioned losing weight to her. Shopping should not be a physically demanding activity in this way in my mind. And although she's 85, I'd like to keep her around a little longer. She's my sole living grandparent at this point.

Bottom line -- yes, I get pissed off with certain stores. And then I vow to never shop in them again. And I tell my friends about my experiences. I figure that if the store have enough of a drop in their earnings, then maybe they'll start to listen.


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