No wonder it’s going so slow!” Romero sneered.
“Baby Elephant is on the swing!”
Though nobody paid any attention, Elain winced with pain at his words. “Baby Elephant” was a cruel nickname some of the older boys had given her.
Suddenly she felt sick to her stomach. She slowed the swing to a stop and got off. With confusing thoughts swirling around in her head, she sat down on the bench under the elm tree. She stayed there for the remainder of recess.
That night Elain sloshed her hands around in the sudsy dishwater.
Her brother Dennis bent over his homework at the table while Mother put the leftovers from supper away.
“Am I fat?” Elain suddenly blurted out.
Mother stopped abruptly and stared in surprise at Elain.
“Of course not! Why would you ask that?”
Tears stung Elain’s eyes as she once again felt the shame of Romero’s thoughtless words.
“The kids at school think I’m fat.”
Mother shook her head as she looked at her daughter.
“I don’t know why they would think that. You look just right for an 11-year-old girl.” She opened the freezer and moved the containers around, making a space for the casserole leftovers. “I wouldn’t want you to be any thinner.”
But Elain wasn’t convinced.
“I think you’d say that no matter how heavy I was.”
Mother held Elain’s shoulders and turned her gently toward her so she could meet her daughter’s eyes. “Elain, I love you, and I wouldn’t want you to be overweight,” she sighed. “It’s true that there’s more and more childhood obesity, and that’s not a good thing for kids’ physical or emotional health. But you’re not obese, Elain.” Mother smiled and added, “If you get too heavy, I’ll let you know, OK?”
With a sense of relief Elain nodded, then picked up the sponge and continued putting dishes in the dishwasher.
Thursday afternoon Mother picked up Elain from school and headed toward the mall. At the mall Elain pulled open one of the entrance doors. Cool air hit her face. It was refreshing after the day’s humid temperatures.
Mother had some shopping to do, and Elain was eager to see the latest juniors styles in a certain store. She spied a great looking outfit on a mannequin and went over to get a closer look.
It was the same color and style that her classmate, Shawna, had worn the other day. Now if I can just find something similar, mused Elain.
Pushing the hangers noisily along the metal pole, she paused to look at one outfit and then another.
Mother’s voice behind Elain startled her.
“Oh, look at this!” Elain gushed. “Don’t you just love these dusty-rose, beige, and mint colors together?” Elain smoothed the soft jersey knit tunic.
“It does look great,” Mother commented.
When they were done exploring the outfits on that rack, they moved to some sale items.
Elain was starting to visualize a cute top to go with her new faded jeans.
“Look at this one.” Mother held up a red-and-black top.
“ You see these strong vertical lines, Elain? This design will give your body more length instead of width.”
Elain was busy fingering a ruffle around the neck of a burnt orange tunic. “This one looks so cool and light.” She read the price tag. “And it’s only $11!”
Mother looked at the top.
“ Yes, it is a cute style that I see on girls your age, but do you see these gathers?” She pulled at the elastic of the empire waist. “That would hit you at just the wrong place, making you look shorter yet—and it would add pounds.”
Elain backed away. “So you do think I’m fat!” she exclaimed accusingly.
Mother laughed and pulled Elain toward her. “No, I don’t think you’re fat! But a smart girl knows how to create illusions to her benefit,” Mother’s said knowingly.
“What do you mean?” Elain asked.
As they looked through the outfits, Mother explained how lines, colors, and styles flattered or exaggerated a person’s shape.
“Each of us is unique,” she said. “There are weaknesses and strengths about our individual makeup. We can learn just how to make the most of the way God made us by using a little fashion sense.”
Until now Elain had mostly considered the colors she liked and the styles that were currently popular.
Mother held up a blouse. “Do you like this?”
“Wow, yes, it’s really cute,” Elain said appreciatively.
Mother motioned her over to one of the store’s full-length mirrors. Holding the blouse up to Elain, she asked, “How does that look?”
Elain’s smile dropped to the floor as she frowned at her reflection in the mirror.
“How could it look so good on the rack and so bad on me?”
Elain groaned. Impatiently she brushed it aside. “Let’s go. There’s nothing here I like anyway.”
“Not so fast,” Mother responded.
She held up another item. It didn’t impress Elain at all until she saw the soft apricot and bright-green colors next to her hair. She turned at an angle and looked again.
“Actually, I think this looks really good. Do you think I should try it on?”
“Of course,” Mother replied.
“And here are a few others I think you should consider.”
She handed Elain three more tops. Mother had obviously been busy while Elain wasn’t paying attention!
Before they left Elain decided to get a long top with a princess-style cut. She liked the way it made her look; there were no paunchy gathers.
Out in the mall’s main walkway again, the smell of freshbaked cookies temptingly drifted toward them. Passing the ice-cream shop, Elain stopped. “I sure would like an ice-cream cone.” She could already taste the cold, creamy treat on her tongue. Then suddenly she grabbed Mother’s arm and headed for the exit.
“On second thought, let’s go!”
“Good decision,” Mother gave her a quick wink. “Since neither of us is fat, let’s keep it that way!”