It has been my dream since I was eleven to wear a skimpy dress. Ideally one with spaghetti straps. In the intervening years, skimpy dresses have gone in and out of fashion, but my objective has stayed steadfastly the-same.
I borrowed an almost-skimpy dress from my much-thinner sister when I was sixteen and she was fourteen. It was a tight-fighting sleeveless t-shirt dress with an animal/jungle print (it was the Eighties, forgive me) and a waist-cinching belt.
Background: from the age of eleven to sixteen my Mother had made enough remarks about my breasts ("hitch them up, they're round your waist") that not only was I self conscious, I had deep grooves in my shoulders. So I had given up on the spaghetti straps, and wanted to maximize my chances of impressing David Wasserstein, a local boy who didn't know what hit him when I Invited him Round for Coffee. I tried really hard to look alluring, and planned for my parents to be out.
Further background: about a year previously, I had finally, through a careful concoction of conniving and feneigling got the then-object of my affection, a cute guy named Michael, to ask me out. I was fifteen, he was maybe eighteen, older anyway. Retaking his A-levels and unsure of his future. Came round to pick me up, we were going out for a drink, because that was before any of us had discovered that we don't really like pubs, what we want is to go to really nice restaurants. I was getting ready when he arrived, and my Mother took him straight into the kitchen. (All spontaneous entertaining happened in the kitchen, the dining room was reserved for more formal affairs, where the table was generally laid at least four days in advance. And then covered with an extremely large doily, to Avoid The Dust. I always felt that the best way to avoid the dust would be to set the table later, but this is apparently Bad Entertaining Form).
Back to Michael: by the time I came downstairs a few minutes later, he was permanently ensconced in a Cup Of Tea with my parents and entire family. At that time, my mum was on a carrot-only diet (which had no discernable effect apart from turning her hands orange) so Michael had joined my family for tea, peeled-and-sliced carrots and career counselling from my Chartered Accountant father.
"But Michael… it is Michael, isn't it?? There are so many boys coming round here." Like, yeah, Dad. "Accountancy is an excellent professional. Transferable, you can always go into business later. There's nothing like a secure qualification to back you up in life. If you had to, say, Leave the Country…"
"I really don't know what I want to do, Mr Freilich".
(Remember those simple days when you didn't use the first name of anyone older than you?)
"I'm thinking of taking a year off, travelling. There's no hurry, it's not a race."
"Well, Michael, you're never too young to start a career or a pension". My Father looked sagely yet sternly over his reading glasses.
I really want to die. I'm motioning at my Mother to hide the carrots and that we're supposed to be going out. Parents are just there for the quick once-over, not a professional problem solving service. Especially, as in this case (as in most cases) Michael didn't know he had a problem till he arrived.
Eventually we extracted ourselves, but the deed was done. Michael thought my family were overweight-yet-dieting helpful-advice-giving weirdos and cut the evening short never to be heard from again. My sister ran into him, years later, taking an Accountancy exam. He remembered the carrots.
But back to David. Still sitting in my parents lounge, sipping coffee, looking nervous. I really like him, but am not yet experienced enough to communicate it. I giggle. He may or may not like me, but he has extremely bad acne which has affected his self-esteem. He smiles, sheepishly. I try hard to make conversation:
"Going to Vanessa's party next weekend?"
In the future, I'll have read books about how to deal with situations like this, but now I pour him more coffee, and make a big deal of carefully rearranging my not-that-existent dress as I sit down so he can see my legs. I feel strangely confident about how I look. It lasts around eight minutes. I hear my parents' key in the lock and my confidence career out the front door.
I go out to the hall, intending to head my parents off at the pass. The last thing I want is for them to eat carrots and turn David into an accountant.
"Is the ten-O-six tearaway still here?" My Mother liked to remember my friends by their (skin) problems, rather than their names. Unfortunately, she says it in a rather-too-loud stage whisper and we heard David making a hasty exit with his self-esteem trailing behind via the back door.
"Lucky he left." She looks me up and down with an experienced advice-giving eye.
"WHAT are you wearing?? Isn't that Rebeka's dress? It's far too small for you. Haven't you got a proper bra?"
* * * *
It's twenty years since I first harboured my skimpy-dress dream. I'm in Whistles in Hamsptead, and I can just squeeze myself into a size sixteen, perfect, purple velvet bias-cut dress, sadly spaghetti-strapless, but then my minimizer bra would look seriously sexless. A sales assistant half the size of Callista Flockhart tells me I look womanly, curvaceous, Rubenesque (and other words that make me xxx) and she wishes she had my cleavage.
The voice in my head tells me to hitch my boobs up. The voice in my head tells me my arms are too fat. The voice in my head tells me Nice Girls don't show it off.
I try and smile, nervous. And I tell her I'll leave it.