My childhood room had floor length sliding mirrors across one whole wall, concealing the cupboard space behind them. Way to breed a narcissist, mum. There was too much cupboard space for even the most discerning of 12 year olds. And my podgy, pimply teenage physique was reflected back to me at every alarming hour of the day and night. I couldn’t hold a conversation without searching for a mirror’s harsh, but addictive gaze. I was self-conscious and needy. Look at me, I urged without meaning to. The mirror stood opposite a full set of windows which looked out onto our yard. Meaning the mirror was also a reflector of light. An illusory brandisher of space. An adder of depth. A source of hyperbole: magnifying sunny and grey days in equal measure.
My childhood room was unique in other ways as well. Mum had let me paint each wall a different colour (pink, orange and purple) and indulged the ‘air furniture’ fad. I lived amongst a museum of pool toys, my movements behind closed doors chartered by a series of squeaks and fart-noises, young skin moaning against lurid plastic.
I’ll never forget the best time I had in front of those authoritarian mirrors. Mum and I had just returned from K-Mart. I love K-Mart. The up-beat reflection of fluorescent lights on shiny linoleum spell fun from the moment you walk in.
That trip to K-Mart was particularly lucrative for me: mum was in a good mood. I managed to wrangle two $4.99 singles and a large cup of lollies from the Pick’N’Mix section, which I ate while shopping, and promptly refilled on our way out. And my overthought outfit for casual clothes day the following Friday. It’s ironic these free dress days in Australia are deemed ‘casual clothes day’ because there is nothing casual about them. I have never spent so many hours agonizing over what I might wear to an occasion, as I did during ‘casual clothes days’ of my youth. Contriving the perfect look for your fashion story was traumatic.
I came home from K-Mart that day with victorious ‘K’ bags swinging on each arm. I raced inside, desperate to try the outfit on one more time. One more time before it’s debut, just in case I got sick of it.. I removed the garments carefully and laid them on the bed next to each other, for a brief moment of silent admiration. Let out a meditative sigh. Imagined the sense of pride I’d feel boarding the train in this perfect ensemble. Overcome with emotion I screamed out absentmindedly “I love you soooooo much mum, I love love love this outfit, thank you”.
I kicked off my suede blue converse slides. Wriggled out of my pants in anticipation. I could smell the fresh fibers of my still-tagged purchases. Slowly, one oafish foot at a time, I put on my new pants. Took off my shirt and frowned at my poor efforts to disguise and repel breast growth. They were still there and they looked, BIGGER. Ugh. I frowned, disgusted, and put on my new singlet. Then I turned with dramatic reverence to the mirror, and put on the final piece: a black puffer vest.
It completed the look. I beamed. I indulged in a small catwalk stroll across the rug. Turned. Checked out my ass from over my right shoulder. Jutted my hips out at odd angles in search of a stance that could do justice to the most amazing outfit I had ever had the pleasure of wearing, in my short unfashionable life.