Your fabric obsession leads you to buy the largest girls’ dress left in stock, just to get your hands on that gorgeous mod-Scandi floral print. You have always hidden behind bright patterns and A-line dresses that obscured your protruding gut, unsculpted shoulders, thighs that embrace like lovers. And as hard as you’ve fallen for this luscious print, you have fallen even harder for the potential to disguise your post-baby pooch, which, yes, grew a human, something you try to tell yourself on good days, but which in no way appears to have “bounced back.” When the dress arrives, you immediately realize it isn’t shaped to accommodate your shoulders and breasts. Instead, it digs a trench in your armpits. You try and fail to ignore this, because the thing about fabric obsessions is that they stem from sewing obsessions, so you indeed know how to retrofit a preteen dress to a late-thirties body by dropping and redrafting those armholes. It’s a skill you picked up to circumvent garments made to “average” body measurements––average for 1930s white American women, courtesy of a USDA project, with few updates since, even though these numbers now shove most American women into plus sizing. Except, altering a dress in summer means you sewing naked, which was fine––fine!––in the second-story apartment you lived in until recently, because you didn’t mind being the crazy topless Asian lady, but now that you own a one-story ranch with large street-facing windows where your toddler will commute 469 feet to elementary school, you suspect you should care. Plus, one day, she will realize that sewing naked is not normal, the first in a long line of realizations of how very abnormal you are. Then again, currently, her favorite version of peekaboo is where she hears you peeing and pushes open the door that doesn’t latch and catches you midstream, her giggles vibrating across tile. So maybe the naked sewing isn’t the problem. Maybe naked sewing is instead how you try to protect her: from picking clothes based solely on what her friends wear, from learning to loathe her belly for the way it kisses her dress as she walks. These lessons you have yet to fully learn, your daughter your second chance. Because beauty is a child of color who has a vagina but no concern for others’ version of normal.
Jessica Yen is a Chinese American author whose work explores the intersection of memory, family, culture, language, identity, and history. She was a 2022 Oregon Literary Fellow in Creative Nonfiction and a VONA Fellow. Her work has received support from the Regional Arts and Culture Council, Caldera Arts, and Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. Her work has appeared in Fourth Genre, Oregon Humanities, and Best American Travel Writing, among others. She is currently working on a memoir.