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2015 February 9

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On Saturday, my sister came up from Providence to go with me to see the Hollywood Glamour exhibit at the MFA. Although it was just one small room, the exhibit was just what I love–gorgeous gowns and sparkly jewelry, all from the heyday of Hollywood, in the 1930s and 1940s. In many ways, that era has come to define what we think of when we think of glamour–slinky gowns, diamonds, painted-on eyebrows, and elegantly-curled hair–despite the fact that the country was struggling through the Great Depression, the exact opposite of all of this glamour.

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As my sister and I made our way through the exhibit, one of the things we both noticed was how tiny the waistlines were–one thing about Hollywood that definitely hasn’t changed.

After exploring more of the museum and going to eat lunch, we decided to go shopping. I wasn’t planning on buying anything because, frankly, I’m still trying to pay off all the shopping I did in November and December. But a sales rack of jeans at Ann Taylor caught my eye–they had black skinny jeans on sale for $40, which is a great deal, so I tried them on.

I need new black skinny jeans because the ones I have no longer fit. This has become a disagreeable theme in my life.

The good news is that the Ann Taylor jeans fit, so I bought them. But when I came out of the fitting room to get my sister’s opinion, a saleswoman told me they looked good and she has them, too, and loves them. After raving about how comfortable they are, she then said I should buy a size down, if I could, because they tend to stretch. She then told me what size she’d bought.

I know she was doing her job and trying to be helpful, but the thing was, I couldn’t size down. And the size the woman told me she’d bought was smaller than the size I was wearing–multiple sizes smaller. This fact, while annoying, wouldn’t typically bother me, but, and I’m a little ashamed to admit this, when I’d first seen the saleswoman, I’d thought she was a little…big.

So I bought the jeans and continued shopping with my sister, but I couldn’t get that saleswoman out of my head. While we wandered around Kate Spade Saturday, I complained to my sister. She asked me why I was comparing myself to the saleswoman. I just shook my head. Fact is, I compare myself to others constantly–from the anonymous women on the train to fashion bloggers to my best friends. I think many women do. It’s difficult not to.

But I no longer know what exactly I’m comparing, because the image I have of myself and my body is different from reality. That, too, is something that plagues most women, but while in the past, I thought of myself as bigger, frumpier, uglier than other women in a more general way, now I don’t know what to think.

My body does not feel like my own. In the last year, I’ve gone from someone who was more or less the same size I’d been my whole life (minus that halcyon summer after college when I was small enough to get away with wearing a tiny, bright blue pleated mini-skirt) to needing to buy new pants because the ones in my closet, the ones I’ve been wearing for the last ten years, no longer fit.

Of course, this happens. It’s a natural progression–of aging, of lifestyle changes (too much beer and not enough gym time, in my case), of babies or sickness. But I wasn’t prepared–this tectonic shift in my body happened gradually, without my knowledge, until one day I noticed I never seemed to be comfortable. My jeans were too tight, my dresses didn’t fit the same way they normally did, all I wanted to wear was stretch pants.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been working to come to grips with this transformation. Rather than fighting it, telling myself that I just needed to diet and work out more and I could fit back into my favorite jeans, I’ve been working on thinking about ways to feel comfortable again. I’ve bought a few pairs of jeans on sale in larger sizes. I’ve bought several pairs of leggings. One quote from Women in Clothes stood out to me–“So many psychological problems fell away when I started tailoring my clothes to my body instead of the other way around.” (Karima Cammell)

I know my body may not go back to the way it was, even if I cut back on the beer and late-night ice cream and work out more often. This might be the way my body is now, and I’d love to be able to accept that and move forward, to worrying about the things in my life that are really important. Unfortunately, that means doing a full-scale closet purge and purchasing new clothing that fits me and makes me feel good about myself. I say unfortunately because if money were no object, this would be an amazingly fun project, but since money is most definitely an object (a scarce object), the prospect of needing an almost entirely new wardrobe is scary. And it’s not just scary for financial reasons–purging my closet means getting rid of many of the things I’ve been wearing for the last decade of my life, casting away dresses and sweaters and jeans that have formed a part of my identity.

But I will take it one step, one garment at a time. Building a new closet along with trying to build a new life–always a work in progress.

Have you had to rethink your closet because of changes in your body? How did you do it? Tips appreciated!


3 Responses Post a comment
  1. Llalan permalink
    February 9, 2015

    You beat me to this essay! (Mine was just going to be titled “L.”) After moving back to Ohio, where you can’t just walk everywhere, I outgrew my lifelong friend, “M.” My husband says he likes the new me and calls me “womanly,” which he means as a compliment, but which I always hear as “matronly.” I first bought myself a bunch of cheap sweaters and Ts that would get me by as I worked on picking up longer-lasting, pricier pieces. Now when I have a spare $50 or so I get on ModCloth and buy a dress that flatters my new curves and restores my confidence. Some part of me is aware that I really don’t look all that bad at all, but another part of me misses my old tummy and resents this newer, softer one. I’m embarrassed of my new body and more embarrassed that it bothers me so much. It’s getting better, but I was still surprised that so much of my confidence would disappear with a change in pants size. I am joining a gym again, not with the ambition of getting a 20-something’s body back, but with the new goal of health and confidence. And I will try to listen more to my husband and friends. You should too: you’re beautiful!

  2. Raquel permalink
    February 27, 2015

    Body image is complicated. Self-acceptance is a journey, not a destination. I have come leaps and bounds from where I used to be–I no longer refuse to look at myself naked, now I actually kind of like it–but it’s not like I’m magically “fixed.” I still have days where I look at my thighs and think, ugh, you again? The difference now is that those negative feelings are fleeting and no longer make my entire day fraught with dark feelings like they used to.

    Developing a deep sense of self-compassion is key–not just to dealing with body image issues, but with all of life, I think. Being kind to one’s self is not a sign of weakness, but rather of the utmost strength.

    I actually reached the peak of my self-acceptance when I was also, interestingly, at my peak weight. I was really ill, and I just felt so tired of hating how I looked and feeling out of place in myself, so I came to grips with the fact that my body had changed and that this was me now. I did a lot of mirror work and journaling and reading, and I gradually came to accept that this is who I was and I loved myself, even on days when I didn’t particularly like myself much. And I accepted that this was my body and I had two choices: accepting it as it was at the present moment, or spending my life fighting against it and hating it. The person who came out on the losing end in that fight would always be me, and I decided that wasn’t what I wanted. I thought, what is the worst thing that could happen if I just accept myself as I am right this instant? And I answered, My body might never change. And I was like, if that is the worst thing that could happen, that’s not so bad. There are worse things than spending life in a fat yet mostly functional body.

    I will always be, if not a fat woman, then at least a larger woman. And I have come to accept and even celebrate what that means, how it makes me look and feel. I feel powerful and strong in my skin. I realize that if we all looked alike, it would be a dull world. I realize that the things society tells me are flaws about my body are just normal things, like rolls and jiggles and cellulite and stretch marks. They’re just marks of having lived this long and gone through some shit. If anyone wants to tell me that’s a flaw, that’s THEIR problem, not mine. My body is not a problem to be fixed. It is who I am.

    The clothing part of things can be incredibly frustrating, I know. I am between sizes right now and it can be confounding. If there are clothes from your past that you just can’t bear to part with, but you don’t want them hanging around in your closet seemingly taunting you, I would suggest just packing them away for a while and revisiting what to do with them later. I have done this in the past. Some of the clothes I actually ended up fitting into again years later. And some of them I either didn’t fit into or I looked at after all the time passed and realized I could do without them and got rid of them. The difference was that now any emotional charge was gone from it, because I’d gotten new clothes to love. They were just pieces of cloth, not emotional bombs.

    And hey, you can always do another clothing swap to get some new duds gratis. :) Or maybe scour some secondhand shops for cheaper basics. I have gotten numerous pairs of jeans for cheap at places like Buffalo Exchange. Any dresses or skirts you have could possibly be taken out or altered as well, depending on the style.

    Hang in there. You’re a beautiful person, inside and out. Bodies change over time, this is inevitable, but who you truly are doesn’t change, and that is what matters most. If you ever want to talk about this, or want some resources (books and etc) on dealing with body image and self-compassion, let me know. Sorry to write an essay in here, but I am passionate about this subject. I have been working on this stuff for years and would be happy to share what I’ve accumulated in that time. Sending you some gentle hugs. <3

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