At a most excellent party this past weekend a friend of mine was telling me about having recently taken stock of all her skinny clothes. For those of you who don’t know skinny clothes are the clothes a woman holds onto in the hopes she will someday fit into them. They are the clothes of which mere thoughts catalyze patterns of shame and self-hatred, the clothes which usually represent the skinnier self we could be if we just tried hard enough. My friend explained to me that as she rifled through these particular skinny clothes, which she had fit into in her early 20s, she would hold up pieces and feel shocked by how small she had been. She didn’t remember feeling small. She remembered thinking she was fat. My friend has an incredibly kind, devoted and savvy husband who, when she shared this said, "I know. I thought you were insane."
I remember being in middle school and thinking I was the fattest, most unattractive person in the world. I went on my first self-imposed diet when I was 14, limiting myself to 20 fat grams per day. I look at pictures from that time, before and after the diet, and I see a 14 year-old with a beautiful, strong body. The skin on my legs was soft and tan, I wore terrible clothes and my hair was a mess, but I had rather piercing green eyes that looked so sad and that round, warm face that wanted so clearly, more than anything, to be told she was perfectly all right just the way she was.
That was just the beginning. I hated myself quite a bit for quite some time. I didn't want people to look at me so I wore things that helped me blend in, that enabled me to be overlooked. I remember buying a sweater in college which I loved. It had green, blue, yellow and orange stripes with long bell sleeves. I kept that sweater for 3 years, looking at it in my closet, sometimes even trying it on, and then never wearing it. I thought it drew too much attention, and the idea that someone would have the opportunity to take stock of how fat I was terrified me. I eventually donated it to the good will. I hadn't worn it in public a single time.
So then, about 3 years ago, I lost weight and for the first time in my life I wanted people to look at me. I started wearing tighter clothes, brighter colors. This was when I developed my penchant for large flower headbands. I looked more put together. I started wearing thick colorful bracelets and necklaces that actually matched my outfits. It was as though for years I had no concept of what I liked and now had all these resources to experiment. It was wonderful. It felt like coming alive.
I have, over the past year, expanded out of all of those clothes. Every single skirt, t-shirt, blouse, pair of pants (jeans, dress pants and exercise pants). Everything. I have gotten rid of a thousand dollars worth of clothes in a size 14. Every time I would clean my room I would give away more pieces, and it felt not only like a financial loss. I felt as though I was losing my capability to express myself through what I wore.
Here's the thing: regardless of whether or not you want to we say things with our clothes. My Soul Twin shops almost exclusively at Anthropologie and always looks light, billowy, romantic and beautiful, like she is from another era. I imagine she is saying, “I, sir… am a LADY.” Some people don't care about clothes (my mom for one) but even not caring, even being slovenly, says something. In the past I thought that, because I was fat, I didn't get to wear things that reflected my personality. I just had to wear what they sold in the plus size section of Kohls (a sad selection indeed, my friends) and that it was my job to just learn to like these things.
So I gained weight and, yes, I am just as fat once again. But the things I learned about myself during those years of thinner-ness I have not forgotten. I learned about my own sense of style. I learned what I like and just because I am fat doesn’t mean I stop wearing things I love. Every person should get to express themselves however they want to when it comes to how they dress. And if some d-bag doesn't like what you are wearing they don't have to look at you. The. End.
Granted this is a very difficult attitude shift to achieve but there are numerous ways to remedy it. I recommend 1) finding photos of people your size on the interwebz and seeing what they are wearing. I love Soul Twin, but, in addition to being much larger than she is and shaped fundamentally differently, I would never dress as she does because my personality is baser, dirtier, very youthful and pretty rebellious. When I think of my style icons I think of Beth Ditto and Marianne Kirby. I want to be bold, slightly inappropriate, child-like AND beautiful. I look at pictures of those two women and I feel emboldened by their style. 2) Only buy clothes you love. Figure out your own style. Wear things that make you feel like you. If you don't care about clothes and that suits you then keep not caring. But don’t not care because there aren't options.
So my friend went through some skinny clothes and remembered how much, even as a relatively thin person, she hated her body. I thought I was worthless when I was young because I was fat when I wasn't even fat. But the point is not that we weren’t fat. The point is that what our bodies looked like made no difference. This really and truly saddens me, but I think feeling sympathy for ourselves as children, as teenagers, is such an appropriate reaction. If you are young, and if you have no one to tell you any different, of course you are going to internalize some sh*t ideas. But we are adults now. We know better. And when we think on these ideas, we have the chance to remember our own brokenness and to, finally, become our own advocates.