The other day I was in TJ Maxx–one of my favorite stores. On the clearance rack (one of my favorite places), I saw a Dana Buchman sweater that looked soft enough to hug. It was light blue, fuzzy and warm-looking, and perfectly designed–one of those short-sleeved tops that should just graze the top of your jeans. Size large, so it should be comfortable. Best of all, it was only $11.00. Retail was way over $100.
So I plucked that sweater off the rack and dropped it into my shopping cart without a second thought. Eleven dollars isn’t nothing, but it’s not much for a Dana Buchman sweater.
Fast forward a few days. I’m in Colorado Springs with my pal Nancy Rue, who’s smaller than I am and also loves T.J. Maxx. I’m trying on the lovely little Dana Buchman sweater, and I find that I can’t wear it. Apparently it wasn’t designed for women with breasts.
I’m not saying that my pal doesn’t have all the usual female features, but she’s definitely more petite than I am. So I gave her the blue sweater and explained all its worthy attributes: designer, bargain, soft, cuddly, luscious shade of blue. “Take it,” I tell Nancy. “It’ll probably look great on you.”
Fast forward a half hour. Nancy comes out of the bathroom and returns the sweater. “It doesn’t work,” she says. “It just doesn’t fit.”
I look at the lovely, useless thing on the bed. “Do you know anyone who can wear it?”
Nancy thinks of her grown daughter, who’s tall and willowy. So she agrees to take the sweater back to Tennessee to see if her daughter would like to wear it.
Fast forward another couple of months. Nancy and I are meeting at Colorado Springs for “Nangie” at the Colorado Christian writer’s conference. While we’re unpacking in our hotel room, she looks up and laughs. “About that sweater,” she says, “we gave it to everybody. Marijean couldn’t wear it, so she gave it to a friend, but she couldn’t wear it, either. That sweater’s been passed around to more women . . .”
Then Nancy grows thoughtful and says, “You know, it’s a metaphor, isn’t it? It’s like everybody’s telling us we have to wear a certain kind of sweater, but none of us really look good in it.”
One of Nancy’s personal passionate themes is “personal authenticity”–most writers have a cadence they like to play in their work, and Nancy is big on finding your authentic self. We joked about doing a story on the “tale of the traveling sweater,” but she’ll do more with it than I could.
But still the image of that lovely, stupid sweater lingers with me. How many times have I tried to be something or someone that God never intended me to be? How many times have I settled for a “designer label” when it’s better to be an original? How often am I dazzled by the word “bargain” and tricked into trading my treasures for useless trinkets?
I wish I had a photo of that sweater. It’s so pretty, you’d want to reach out and run your hand over it. But trust me–that pretty little thing binds worse than a corset. Just like all the false molds and models we pour ourselves into.