I don’t know if it’s the message in the lyrics, the nostalgic memories of riding with my mom in a sky blue Toyota Corolla and listening to K-Earth 101, images of the Lee Jeans commercials, or just the soulfulness that Aretha belts out, but “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” is definitely a song that has a special place in my heart. And oftentimes, when I am struck by a certain, sometimes un-nameable, emotion, the song will, without bidding, yet always welcome, come into my mind. Last weekend was one of those long, extended moments.
Now I’ve said it before — Unemployed. Tight finances. Cutting back. But this doesn’t mean that our life is without fun, nor is it without shopping. Since we hadn’t been in awhile, my husband suggested we make a visit to our local Goodwill and check out the deals. When we visit the Goodwill store, it’s often with a particular item in mind, but something that we have the patience to wait for — meaning if we see it and fall in love with it, we’ll get it, but if not, we are content to keep looking until we do. One of the things I love about entering our local Goodwill is that at each entrance there will be a sign with the specials of the week and, what I like to call, the colored tag finds [You know those pesky clear, plastic tags that you have to cut out of new clothes — well Goodwill uses those same tags, but in colors — thus helping manage their inventory. After so many weeks, a particular color, representing inventory from some weeks back goes on sale]. This means that one clothing item – say jeans, will be on special for $4.99, and anything with a purple tag will be 50% off. This week we were greeted with the happy surprise (really more for me than my husband) of finding dresses at a special of $3.99 and red tags at 50% off.
For awhile now, I’ve been on a quest for cute, springy-summery, not black, dresses. With such a deal, I was off to the dress section. My modus operandi for navigating the shop is to go through a section, pull out anything that strikes my fancy, that I would likely wear, and that is in my size. This often means that at the end of a section I could have a good six to seven items on my arm, and usually after a fitting room stop, the pile will shrink down to one, two, or zero items. This time started off no differently. I scavenged my way through the dresses, and for good measure made my way through the neighboring pantsuit section (I’ve been needing a good professional suit — remember, I’m an optimist and full of hope that I will have need — for an interview, job, conference, etc.). Since the fitting room has a maximum allowance of three items, I batted my eyelashes at my hubby, gave him my remaining six items, and took in my first round of three. Now here’s where Aretha kicked in!
The first two dresses carry the tags of one of those stores that put out modern and edgy advertisements, but usually no clothes that I can honestly wear. These two must have been their only exceptions. I had grabbed them on a playful whim – kind of a – let’s see how these would look, but now — on me — they were cute! Both different, but both cute! Immediately, I could hear Aretha singing her chorus. One was coaxing me to take it out for Salsa dancing (my husband and I attended community classes for 8 weeks), and the other issued out invitations to sunny picnics on the beach with waves gently crashing and kids building sandcastles nearby. Validation came from my husband’s admiring looks and approving words when I opened the fitting room door.
After two more rounds of fitting room fun, I was down to my two dresses. Meanwhile, my husband was scoping out the dress shirt section, and had his own stack to dwindle down. In the pantsuit department, there were a couple of possibilities, but nothing that I was in love with. You have to understand — I’m short. We’re not talking 5’5 or 5’3, but more like 5’1 (on a generous scale) short. So even when clothing designates petite or short, it’s usually not enough. Especially when combining pants with blazers – putting my short legs, curvy hips, and short waist into these outfits means I have to find the right one. The first ones I picked out were either too baggy, flared too much in the hips, or hung down too low on me, but I did discover that I was now fitting in a size smaller, and could check out some of the other options I’d passed over. So, back to pantsuits. I pulled out two more, tried them on. No dice, but closer. One more — that was going to be my limit, and then my Goodwill visit was done. I grabbed one more suit that had caught originally caught my eye, but being in a smaller size, I had disregarded it. Me and my pantsuit were off to the dressing room, where once again, clothing and wearer magic ensued. The pants fit well, they were flattering, the blazer hung at just the right level. It was cute. It was professional. It was a winner. My husband totally agreed! So there we were, two dresses, one pantsuit, two workshirts for him — jackpot! One our way to the cashier he spotted a lovely black, velvety dress blazer and encouraged me to take a look at it, so with my arm twisted behind my back, I tried it on over my shirt. [insert magical fairy-like sound here] — another winner! Now since the dress jacket was a last-minute add in, I decided to see how our total was before official adding it to our purchases. So here we go, holding our breath, moment of truth (we had an idea, but a couple items were obscure in their prices)…$39.60…and this is after adding in the dress coat. So, Accounting majors out there, we got two dresses, one pantsuit, two workshirts, and a dress jacket — for less than $40 — that’s less than $7 an item! Again — jackpot! This is the kind of splurging that our anemic budget can handle. So to those of you who also find yourselves with cutting back, unemployed, or facing tighter budgets — check out your local Goodwill or thrift shop.
Now throughout this whole Goodwill-shopping, Fitting Room-visiting adventure, Aretha was right there with me — singing her heart out. Why? Because for one of the first times being faced with a full-length mirror (sometimes two) was not disheartening or discouraging me. Rather, I was seeing me, seeing all of me, and appreciating what I saw. Over the past two years, as I have made slow and gradual changes in my eating and activity lifestyle, better health has also come. In addition, I have lost weight and lost dress sizes — things I do not want to find again. I could see in my reflection the changes brought about by my regular walking/jogging, my cycling, my Yoga, my Pilates, my stretching — all of it. My body is still uniquely me — extra curvy in some areas, slimmer in others, the trademarks that God created within me. Even with a little extra in the tummy, hips, and thighs, I could look in the mirror, take it all in, and truly feel “like a natural woman”. No, my body is not perfect, but it is healthy, and that to me is beautiful, and that feels so good. And like Lady Soul sings, “But you’re [i.e. self-love, self-appreciation, love from my God, love from my hubby] the key to my peace of mind — Cause you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like — A natural woman.”
C’mon — sing it with me and Aretha…
Looking out on the morning rain
I used to feel so uninspired
And when I knew I had to face another day
Lord, it made me feel so tired
Before the day I met you, life was so unkind
But you’re the key to my peace of mind
Cause you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like
A natural woman