I originally began sharing True Tales from 2016, when I was first getting ready to move to Italy. The problem is, so many of these stories still feel too close to home.
And so, I’d like to take things a little further back. 9 years, in fact! To an unexpected lesson learned while on exchange in Milano… specifically, in the changerooms at Zara, of all places.
Growing Up On Both Sides of the Tracks
Like everything in life, there is both beauty and trial in growing up in a small town. By the time I was 19, perhaps one of the hardest things for me in Perth was finding space to be myself.
I was incredibly fortunate to experience a multitude of realities. I grew up in Armadale, an infamous suburb where needles sprung from the ground like weeds and scared women who’d stolen groceries to feed their children hid from cops in our garden. I went to middle school in Canning Vale, a middle-class area filled with ‘new money’. I went to high school at the state’s most expensive girls’ school, where more than one teenage girl bragged about always having $500 in their bank account and wondered out loud why poor people didn’t just work harder.
Until I was 16, I was part of a tight-knit church community, and after I was 16, I spent my Sunday mornings escaping to Fremantle, where I drank too much coffee and made friends with the wonderfully open-minded misfits who understood how lost I was, without ever saying a word.
I went to uni at UWA where the rowdy, arrogant, fun-loving Arts Union became my second home. I worked at a kiosk on the beach where chefs from the attached restaurant snuck me sashimi and waiters passed me beers under the bar, at a candy store where parents blamed us when their kids stole bags of sweets, and at a law firm in Mosman Park where neighbours sued each other over trees and fences.
Growing up seeing the world through so many different lenses was an incredible privilege. I learned that we are all prejudiced against those we don’t understand, but that we’re all much the same, as well.
Think Inside the Box
The hard thing about this crazy wonderful childhood, though, was that everyone thought they knew me. They put me in the box that they decided suited me most and that was that. They all wanted me to stay right there.
I was the super-smart kid who got the crazy scholarship. I was the one who thought she was better than everyone else. I was the poor girl from the desperate southern suburbs. I was the kid with the dislocating joints. I was the good Christian girl with good Christian values (until I was the temptress who asked for it). I was the girl who could knock back 8 pints and swear like a sailor.
The collective heap of expectations and assumptions weighed on me until I could bear it no more, and then, all of a sudden and utterly unprepared, I found myself roaming the streets of Milan.
A Fresh Start
No one knew my joints dislocated when I rolled over in bed. No one hadn’t believed me when I told them a youth leader assaulted me. No one knew to judge when I said grew up in Armadale or graduated from St Hilda’s.
And so, once the social anxiety of those first few weeks of exchange had passed, I felt like I was floating through the streets of Milan. And oddly enough, for someone who is now so wholly and passionately against the place, it wasn’t until I found myself in the changerooms at Zara on Corso Buenos Aires that I realised why.
The Only Time I’ll Thank Fast Fashion
You see, I’d gone into the superstore that had yet to affront the streets of Perth and, stunned by all the beautiful wares on offer, smuggled more than the maximum amount into the brightly lit changerooms. I tried on one thing after another, carefully examining myself in the mirror, and eventually, came to a blue button-down shirt adorned with a repetitive pattern of tiny white birds.
I slipped the blouse over my head, buttoned it up and turned in front of the mirror, looking myself up and down. ‘I love it’, I thought, smiling at the girl in the mirror, before an unwanted thought barged into my mind, ‘but it’s not you, Rhianna. Stop being silly’.
I prepared for the onslaught of negativity but instead, I took myself by surprise, ‘it could be though, couldn’t it? Anything could be you, because nobody here knows you and you can be whoever you want to be.’
I was only a few weeks into my six-month exchange, and yet, in the changerooms at Zara, Milan had already surprised me with one of the greatest gifts it would give me – a reminder that nobody else gets to decide who I will be except for me.
The True Tale of the Only Time I’ll Thank Fast Fashion is part of a series of stories I’ll be writing called ‘True Tales’. It’s a space for me to write rambling long stories about my own experiences, just for fun – without the pressure of optimising for SEO or meeting client expectations (or even my own!).
If you enjoyed it, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you didn’t, well, I doubt you made it this far so it doesn’t matter! 😉