An Alaskan Short Story Adventure by Alaskan Artist Dianne Roberson
|Copyright 2008 © Dianne Roberson All rights reserved.
I should have known I would have to reinvent myself to pass for a normal person when I decided to venture outside.
Having indulged my body in the comfort of long, loose, black cotton T-shirt dresses daily for the past three years
while painting in my secluded studio overlooking the Knik River near Palmer, Alaska. I was ignorant about the
current fashions. A rare glance in the mirror confirmed my suspicions that I had put all my creative energy into my
paintings, neglecting my own physical appearance. Could I change the plain, rugged, Alaskan mountain woman
staring back at me into corporate America’s acceptable image of a successful international career woman in one
short week before leaving Alaska? Weight loss and cosmetic surgery were out. I was a happy person who enjoyed
being myself. I just needed a more urban, updated look.
A closer examination in the full length mirror brought the realization that this was going to be an uncomfortable
transformation. I grabbed my keys and rushed out the door to begin a challenging shopping excursion to
Although it has been almost four years since I visited the lower forty-eight, I remembered women wearing bras and
panty hose. I started shopping at the top department store in Alaska; you know that big luxurious department store
downtown. Hoping to pick the garments labeled “generous”, “comfortable”, and “relaxed soft control”, I searched
through the millions of sizes 6, 8 and 10’s which boasted the words “look thinner”, “firm control”, and “sexy”. I found
a few hundred 12’s and 14’s in under-wired styles, padded, or action sports bras in a variety of colors, and was
shocked to find a meager handful of sizes larger than these which all came only in white. Clutching my selections, I
entered the dressing room and struggled to try them on. I pulled, hooked, and struggled with each bra. The cups
on one bra held only half a serving of each breast, while the midriff band on another bra with ample cups was loose
enough to ride up over my breasts and be a chest strap. Under-wires cut into my flesh, sports bras let my heavy
breasts droop, and crossed comfort bras mashed my breasts flat.
Defeated, I continued across the street to the second greatest department store in downtown Anchorage, only to
find similar garments. Next I drove to what I consider the third best department store (admittedly referring to quality,
not prices), located in midtown. There was a larger selection of the generous sizes here, but all were still ill-fitting
and white. I almost bought one bra, but yearned for a vibrant color, so I drove to south Anchorage and continued
even through the grocery stores’ lingerie departments, until the only store left was the ultimate American cheap
everything store where I hit the bottom. Nearly ten hours later, having tried on every bra within my size range in
Anchorage, I returned to the number three store in midtown and settled on one ugly white bra that gave me some
uplift with tolerable discomfort.
It was then that remembered I needed panty hose. Awful images entered my mind of shriveled, beige, nylon elastic
stretching as I pulled them up my legs, getting tighter as they passed my knees, the crotch beginning at mid-thigh,
the waist digging into my lower stomach and popping a run when I bent over. I grabbed several pairs of knee-highs
which would work just as well under slacks and long dresses.
By this time, I was hot, tired, and irritable when I paid the saleslady. I managed to force a smile as she asked, “Did
you find everything you need?”
When I slunk out the door, a blast of cold snow hit my sweating face and I suddenly realized I didn’t have my coat. It
was not at the cash register, nor in the dressing room. My scarf and blouse were missing also. With all the walking
and tension of trying on ill-fitting bras in the overheated store, I had begun to shed winter clothes. I must have laid
them down while searching through the bras. All I had on was my long, black T-shirt dress. Spotting a woman
arranging merchandise, I asked her if she had noticed a red blouse, black scarf, and a long black coat lying
“No, they’re not in my department. I only handle accessories,” she answered.
Handing her my business card, I asked her to call me if anyone found them. On my way out, just to the left of the
front door, I admired a mannequin. I really like that, I thought; except for the white slacks, it looked like my style.
Then I saw the silver glare of metal stretch bands on the arm of the mannequin’s blouse. Upon closer investigation,
I noticed a coffee stain on the scarf. Oh, my God, those, without a doubt, were my clothes! I had worn stretch silver
bands to keep the long sleeves of my blouse up to my elbows. Sure enough, there were no price tags on the
blouse, scarf or coat. I laughed out loud as all the tension of the day melted away.
“Did you find what you need today?” A saleslady behind me asked.
“I’ll take that outfit,” I answered, “Everything but the white slacks.”
The next day I devoted to easy tasks, like travel arrangements, equipment checks, portfolio updates, and
appointment confirmations. I also spiced up the color in my hair myself. Deciding against bulky curling gadgets and
blow dryers, I packed a couple of handy clip-on hair pieces to enhance my thin bun. After all, they are lightweight
polyester and can double as rain hats.
In case the women in the lower forty-eight still wear make-up, and my friends down there say they do, I found a few
samples still boxed up since my move from Anchorage. Amazed at how long those little plastic containers can last, I
dabbed some of the contents on the dark circles under my eyes before I finally covered the dark, puffy circles with a
spatula full of cover mark under each eye and a layer of oil-free base over my entire face. It was difficult to darken
my eyebrows with glasses on, but impossible with my glasses off. No further eye color was possible since my eyes
water near smoke and under stress.
It was necessary to drive to Anchorage again, hopefully to find some colorful replacements for my long black T-shirt
dresses. I searched to no avail in all the department stores downtown for some bright colorful dresses. The
midtown department stores were no better. Most of their dresses were pastel colored. However, before driving to
the south side, I decided to take a look at that ultimate American cheap everything store. I found four cotton
dresses under twenty dollars each but they were all in dark colors. I admit navy, maroon, brown, and charcoal are
not what I had in mind to update my wardrobe, although I found four bright colorful blouses to cheer them up.
I felt great and ready to conquer the shoe stores. I yearned for some beautiful, colorful, and sexy shoes that would
add height, repel the rain, have a non-skid sole, and be comfortable. The downtown department stores would have
the latest styles; singing my happy songs out loud, I drove toward them. Oh, I enjoyed my walk through the rows of
pretty shoes. These dainty shoes were like jewels of the movie stars, but even I could afford them. I picked ten of
the most glamorous pairs for the salesman to bring out in my size. Was that a frown or a sneer I saw on his face as
he turned to find my size?
That first ten pairs just didn’t work for me. The pointed toes of the red shoes pinched the square toes on my feet in
agony. I wobbled and fell to the carpet in the blue high heels. Then I reached for the wedge heel with more support,
only to slip on the rug in them. The black, chunky walking heels appeared safe but had a high front that cut
agonizingly into the top of my foot.
“Sharon Stone wore a style like these to the Oscars,” the salesman informed me.
I took off the nice, practical flat pumps that seemed to make me lean back while pulling my ankle tendons. Next I
tried on gorgeous multicolored high heels the salesman handed me. They felt OK while I was sitting; minor pain
emerged as I stood up and saw my little toes hanging off the side of the open toe shoes and onto the floor.
Much smarter from this experience, I circled the rows of shoes with my eyes looking for comfort only. I picked out
another ten pairs of shoes. As I dropped most of them on the floor, I looked up to see the sales manager hovering
behind the obviously irate salesman.
“Are you finding everything you need?” the sales manager sternly queried.
“I’m trying,” I laughed, “My eyes want one thing and my feet want another.”
I would like to tell you that I found the perfect shoes, but that’s not what happened. I am ashamed to admit that
after shopping at two more department stores and trying on nearly fifty pairs of shoes, I decided that the black
Marinac Boots I have worn for the last two years would look great with all my new clothes.
My make-over may not have achieved the new image I hoped it would, but when I entered the Anchorage airport, I
held my head high, smiled with renewed self-confidence, and walked with quick steps all the way through the ticket
area to the entrance of the security screening.
Dianne Roberson is a free-lance artist, writer, and photographer who works from her art studio in Palmer, Alaska
and in her digital art gallery on line at: http://www.artworldplus.com where you can view her prints and original