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Narcissism by Elanee Viray

Prom Dress

by Mackenzie Shaner

Charlotte stands in the center of her mother’s room, cramming the soft meat of her thighs into a dress a couple of decades too far gone. She’s crying. Mrs. White is cursing, holding a bobby pin in her teeth as she tries to work the fabric over her daughter’s hips.

“I wore this dress for my prom, as did your grandmother, and yet somehow you are such a glutton that you cannot? You’re going on a diet; this is such a disgrace! Think of how this reflects on me!”

“I know ma’am, I’m sorry.”

Lacing the pin in the eye of the zipper, Mrs. White tries to get the leverage to close it, to no avail. Charlotte sucks in. Her ribs expand. The zipper pops clean off. The metal clang on the floor sets the frequency her mother’s voice reaches.

Without much thought, the woman nodded, pointing the two ladies to the dim-lit corner of the store that held the plus-sized section. There, the dresses had obviously been tailored with modesty in mind; all long, billowy sleeves that hid the shape of your arms and collars that looked suffocating in nature, anything to cover the curve of the bust or the lack of a defined decolletage.

Charlotte tilted her head at the dresses, looking down at herself and then back at them. “Ma’am, those aren’t my size. I’m a medium.” She reminded her mother, feeling her gut start to turn. “We’re the same size.” It all felt so wrong, every single minute detail, until she herself felt odd. For a single beat, she wondered if someone had made a mistake, whether that was her, or her mother.

“Oh, Lottie honey, how about you finish this? I’ve eaten my fill. You’re probably still hungry, right?” Mrs. White motions to the TV dinner she made herself, dedicating today a “lazy day” where she could treat herself to not cooking dinner. Staring at the plate, Charlotte can’t decipher how much her mom had.

She knows there is a right answer to this question, no matter how much her stomach screams. The inevitable look she’d receive if she were to admit defeat was not worth the temporary discomfort.

“No ma’am, I already ate earlier, I’m okay.”

“Really?" Charolette felt her mother scrutinized her, pulling at every detail and line of her body that was shown from under her clothes. Mrs. White frowned deeply, though quickly collected herself. “Oh- I was just joking. You didn’t think I meant that, did you? Come now.” She turned to the woman. “Where’s the mediums?”

Then, the seamstress pointed the two in the right direction, and they went to browsing the store silently. Lottie, looking over her shoulder to see what her mother gravitated towards, tried to pick dresses based on that. She knew Mrs. White would never waste her money on something she did not approve of, so it didn’t make sense to look at the big yellow dresses if all her mother wanted was sleek purple. Just like she wouldn’t put her hair in French braids when her mom was looking for buns. Or wear pink lipstick if her mother wore beige.

Mrs. White is just a girl now, looking through her mother's closet of nylons and perfectly tailored dresses that fit her body like a glove. One such dress looks like one right out of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the threads nearly humming in her hands. She wants to wear it. The more she stands there the more she is convinced that the dress wants to be worn, too, and with a start, she pulls it over her head.

“Did you ask if you could wear that?” Her mom’s voice is a butcher’s knife, and her eyes are sharper. Hawk like. Like instead of looking at her daughter, she was staring at a field mouse. “Margarite Anne, if you would have asked, I would have let you. Though looking now, I’m not sure if you can fit it.”

“I can, mama. I can!” Margarite chimes in, looking at herself in the mirror with a sun-bright smile on her face.

“How many times must I tell you? Address me as ma’am. And for Christ's sake, your stomach, Margarite. Don’t be silly. I just don’t want you to make a fool of yourself. Or me.”

“Try these on Lottie dear, they’d be rather slimming on you, I think.” Mrs. White said, thrusting dresses into her daughter’s arms and promptly going to sit on a bench in front of the changing rooms. A silent gesture that their search was finished, whether Charlotte was done or not.

As if she were a marionette, Lottie stepped into a changing room and locked the door. She worked her way out of her form-fitting jeans, wiggling her hips to pull them fully off and let them pool at the floor. The dresses hung in the background, and for a moment too long she stared there as well, pondering whether there was any dress to help her hide her fat and stow it away. Not these. Maybe that was the point. They were made for someone who didn’t look like her, and that became increasingly clear as she fixated on every small aspect of her imperfections.

“I’m not being mean Lottie honey; I’m trying to help you. You won’t get anywhere when you let yourself go like that.”

Her eyebrows were in dire need of a plucking- how had her mother not commented on such a thing already? Her lips were awfully chapped too. Her skin was so blotchy. She needed to take care of herself better, how did she leave the house like that? When she got home, she’d go to take care of such glaring issues.

She tried on each dress in rapid succession, walking outside and giving her mother a twirl to show her what she already knew. Each time, she was sent back with a “Let me see the next one now.” No matter how much she liked the dresses before, until she no longer cared. She just wanted the search to be over. Finally, there was one dress left. 

It was the color of raven feathers, with no major detailing to attract eyes to unsightly spots on her body- and as far as Lottie and Mrs. White were concerned, that was everywhere. That’s why her mother loved it. The dress slimmed her down some, and she couldn’t help but feel a little bitterness at the fact that she only looked nice as an optical illusion. Once she’d taken a deep breath and sucked in, she walked out. 

“Oh honey, that’s perfect! Don’t you think so?” And her mother’s tone to an untrained ear may have been supportive, but to Charlotte, it was a challenge. A test. 

“I love it, ma’am.” 

“I’m happy to hear that, Lottie.”


About the Writer...

Mackenzie Shaner is a junior creative writer at DA who has been writing and creating narratives since she could use a pencil.

About the Artist...

Elanee Kristen Viray is a 12th Grader at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. At the school, Elanee is a visual arts major who dedicates her life to her artistry. She creates art, generally Mixed Media art because of her vast love for experimentation. She has a preference for acrylic paint because it is very easy to work with on multiple mediums and allows her to get work done quickly. Elanee’s work has won multiple awards, from gold and silver keys at the Northeast Florida Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, to Awards of Excellence and Merit in the Duval County Art Show. Her work has also been featured in various exhibitions such as Extravaganza, Douglas Anderson’s personal exhibitions, and more.

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