In Defense of Baggy Clothes: How Drowning In My Jeans Helped Me Re-Find Me

I’ve been told my whole young-adult life that I dress well for my weight.

In other words, no one ever guesses how heavy I actually am. I “carry it well,” as they say. From what I understand, this is something I should be very proud of. My mother always taught me that there was some kind of an art in looking more svelte than you actually were, and magazines and the fashion industry would have me believe the same thing from a young age. Wear more black. Never wear stripes. Don’t even think about a crop top. Wear flared jeans to balance out your hips. Look for an a-line dresses to cinch the waist and flow over the tummy.

Don’t worry, I’ve got more.

These requirements for my dress came from so many different directions, and eventually it was just second nature. What I chose to wear wasn’t about what I felt confident in, or what exemplified my personal style or personhood. It was just something that, on the hanger, I knew would be more figure-flattering than the alternative.

Well, I’ve come pretty far since my middle school days of rifling through Kohl’s and Macy’s for something that fit my very confusingly shaped body. And all I have to say is: Fuck figure flattering.

Excuse my French (who are we kidding, I curse like a motherfucker), but in all seriousness, down with that phrase. Down to the depths of hell with that stupid, stupid idea that what you wear is not dictated by what you feel best in, but by what others will view you best in.

I’ve discussed my distaste for the idea that my body, as a woman, exists for the consumption and pleasures of man. (See here if you’re unfamiliar.) Patriarchy is a bitch that way. And as such, by telling me that what I wear must frame my body in an attractive way is only perpetuating this issue. I exist for you to look at, so I must make the product pretty. Because if they don’t want me, if my mere existence is not enough and my sex appeal is not enough, then what exactly am I worth?

See the problem? I sure do hope so.

One of the biggest figure-flattering no-no’s is baggy clothes. While shopping around as an anxious middle schooler, anything that deliberately poofed around my curves was not at all allowed. As a young girl growing up with a very dysfunctional relationship with her body though, baggy clothes were the only things I felt safe in. They held me in their swaths of warm fabric and added cushion between me and the rest of the world. They let me hide myself within their folds and hoods and pockets. They were what I felt comfortable in.

Now, to be fair, that certainly is not a healthy way to relate to clothes. I wore an oversized sweatshirt and ill-fitting jeans for the larger part of my middle school career because I was terrified of people looking at my body in any capacity. Clearly that was something that would need to be dealt with.

But to me, it was a safety blanket. And a literal one at that. It was what made me feel protected in a world that constantly made me feel as though I was about to be attacked at any moment.

As I’ve explained though, this type of dress was unacceptable. My mother, in her well-meaning attempts to make me comfortable with myself and in my body, eventually took me to find clothes that didn’t obscure the person underneath them. And for a few years I walked around feeling uncomfortable and practically naked in completely modest, but properly fitted, attire.

I think that looking back, the most disturbing fashion choices I made were during a period of my life in which I lost the most weight in the smallest amount of time, namely my junior year of high school, and subsequently spiraled into a vortex that would eventually be my full-blown eating disorder. It was not that I had picked out horrifying outfits. In fact, they were generally fashion choices that would have received a sartorial nod from the masses. Buying them gave me an adrenaline rush, a satisfaction of finally fitting into the “right” clothes in the store and having too many things to choose from because I was finally the right size and shape for whatever was deemed most attractive at the time. I swear, for about a year or so, shopping became an Olympic event that I excelled at. What used to be a horrible endeavor that often ended in tears was now a breeze, something that filled me with pride and a sense of accomplishment every time I slid on a smaller sized bodycon dress. The bit that I cringe at most, however, is that those choices that I made, those clothes that I decided to put on my body, were not made because those were the clothes I felt comfortable in; the clothes that screamed me. Instead, these were clothes that I knew screamed mainstream attractive white girl. They were clothes that I had been taught my whole life were the “right” things to wear. They were tight. They were short. But they were so not me.

I wore these pieces anyway though, flaunted them in a way that begged attention for my triumph over being fat.

Because you see, the thing was, I finally thought I had a right to wear those clothes and feel attractive while doing so. I finally, to some degree, looked like all of the other girls. So I could leave my safety blanket at home and wear something that showed a little skin. I earned it.

And yet, when I look back, I can only remember how uncomfortable wearing those clothes made me feel. Constant tugging on short skirts. Persistent pulling at tight tops. Never at ease with what I was walking around in. But I was to be consumed. I was putting myself on display. I finally deserved to be put on display. And so that was what I did.

It is only in the last two years or so that I have allowed myself to truly re-embrace my love of baggy clothes. What was once a way to hide myself has become a way to express myself. Sure, there is still some element of feeling more comfortable covered up than being exposed to the world. And I’m working on that, I really am. I push myself every day to be more comfortable in my own skin and have been daring myself to bare the belly and release the thighs a lot over the past few months. I like crop-tops and I will not lie, and I should feel as entitled to wear them as any other girl out there. It’s hard, but I’m working on it. But the driving force behind my love of all things oversized and baggy, the thing that pushes me to purchase those boyfriend-style jeans that are really way out of my price range but boy are they gorgeous, is that they feel like me. Plus, what I really want to do is just walk around in pajamas all day. Or at least things that feel like pajamas. I will literally purchase clothes that I find simultaneously adorable, and at the same comfort level of sweat pants. A girl wants to be comfy all day e’ry day, attractiveness and level of flattery be damned. And who can fault me for that?

We need to stop wearing things we think are flattering just because, and start wearing things that make us feel like mother-fucking warriors. Goddesses. Mermaids (I’m very partial to mermaids). I don’t feel like a warrior in a dress that pinches and cinches. I don’t feel like a goddess in jeans that leaves indents on my skin. I don’t feel like a mermaid… well actually, my hair helps with that one. But moving on.

So fuck figure flattering. Fuck buying a dress that hits you at just the right spot on your thigh to “lengthen” your legs. Fuck buying shorts that cover your knees because you’ve always hated how they looked. Fuck avoiding crop tops because, damn it, you feel sexy as fuck and a tummy never killed nobody. Fuck feeling the need to conform to whatever sartorial standard is setting the stage at this exact moment. Fuck letting other people tell you what is right for you and your body.

And fuck anyone who gives you that sideways glance and says, “I don’t know. It just doesn’t flatter you.”

You wear that damn dress with the cutest print plastered head to toe. You wear those overalls that make you look like an adorable frump who just walked off the farm. You wear those shorts that accentuate just how big your ass really is.

Because our bodies are our bodies, and no item of clothing is ever going to change that.

Why I Dyed My Hair Purple, and Other Apparently Horrific Things I Did to My Appearance

“Don’t do it.”

This was the response I got when I told my mother I was about to have a needle jabbed into my nose for the septum piercing I had been coveting for some time.

And she was not alone. I had a friend tell me she wouldn’t speak to me if I put such an offensive thing in my face. My grandmother told me it was disgusting and horrifying. My sister just screwed her mouth up into an undeniable grimace of distaste. Even my closest, most open friends were hesitant.

It was just so there. In your face.That was the explanation I got, at least.

The reality though, is that it was just so against our conventional ideas of what is attractive. And if my worth in this world is defined by anything, it is my ability as a woman to attract the opposite sex (actual sexuality be damned… heteronormativity, man).

Not only was my choice offensive to people because it was going against our societal rules as to what dictates attractiveness, but it was simply unconventional. Tattoos and nose studs have worked their way into the mainstream, but there are lines that people have drawn in the sand.

Invisible lines, I’ll have you know. Arbitrary lines.

Opinions.

And that’s what it all boils down to. My decision to pierce my nose should have been mine, and mine alone. It shouldn’t have been up to anyone else. I informed people of my plans and did not ask for their opinions, but I received many.

How dare I break with what cisgendered, heteronormative culture defines as pretty? How dare I not listen when my friends and family pleaded that I was ruining everything about how I present myself to the world with one tiny piece of metal?

The irony was that once it was actually there, once people could actually see it, the response was overwhelmingly positive. And why was that? Because it looked good. Because even with that “thing” in my nose, I was still “pretty.” And so it was deemed okay.

The kicker is that my septum ring makes me feel like the prettiest badass in the world. My attraction to it was pretty immediate, a fascination that turned into an obsession. It embodied everything I wanted to be; feminist, counterculture, individual. Even more than that, as someone who has spent most of her life eating in disordered ways because I wanted to be deemed attractive by societal standards, deciding to alter my appearance in such a way that was so opposite of mainstream sexiness was liberating.

I was me, and me was awesome, even if no one wanted to fuck me. And whether it was my clothes or my body weight or my septum ring, whatever it was that made people cower in fear over my ugliness, it was these things that made me, me. It was these things that made me feel like myself.

And so we get to the hair. Lavender, grey, silver, purple hair. I wanted it. I wanted to be a fucking mermaid, goddammit. And no one was going to stop me.

Again, I faced some resistance. I didn’t tell nearly as many people that I was going to do it (lesson learned, huh?). But I did it, without much hesitation or fear.

And that feeling, that feeling of looking in the mirror and knowing that the person who looked back at me was truly, unapologetically me, that feeling that I got when I put that ring in my nose and proudly posted a selfie for all of social media to see… I got that feeling again.

There’s something very special about making your outside match your insides. Sometimes, you get caught up in what everyone else wants you to look like; how everyone else thinks you should present yourself to the world.

But sometimes, once you get past all of that crap, once you wade through it all, you can find who you are at the core.

Trust your gut.

In my experience, it never lets you down.

Skinny Ashley vs. Fat Ashley: When the Worth is in the Weight

I often feel ashamed of the pain I used to inflict on my own personhood.

I often feel ashamed of the person I used to be in general. I don’t like her, for so many different reasons. I don’t like the old version of myself at all.

But guess what? That old version of myself is still me, and she still deserves all the compassion that I now know I am worthy of.

Learning to love past versions of Ashley, however, is a hurdle I have been trying to jump over these last few months. I think I’ve only truly realized it more recently, but I have a lot of trouble reconciling who I am now with who I used to be. Skinny Ashley is sick. Skinny Ashley is fucked in the head. Skinny Ashley is hurting herself. I don’t want to be Skinny Ashley. These mantras are so very different from what they used to be (e.g. Skinny Ashley is pretty Ashley and the only Ashley who deserves anything at all), but they are still just as damaging. I equate being heavier with allowing myself to grow. Fat Ashley is mentally healthy Ashley. Skinny Ashley writes things like this:

“Looking at the pictures of other girls and their beautiful bodies makes me ache. It makes my heart hurt. Because I know I will never look like them. I will never be tiny or fragile or bony. I'm curvy and shapely and all there. It physically pains me to know that I can never have that perfection. I can do my best. I can try my hardest. I can get skinnier. And I will. I will get so fucking skinny. But I will never be tiny or ethereal or delicate. No one will ever look at me and wonder if they could break my bones or make me fall with a huff. But these girls in the pictures; they're like beautiful pieces of crisp, white, flimsy paper. Beautiful paper.

I will be skinny. Before I go to college I will have reached my ultimate goal. No excuses, no exceptions. I will be one hundred and twenty five pounds before the next school year is out. I have to be. I just have to be. I have to look like a piece of thin paper. I have to look like someone who could blow away with the wind. I must.

I want to be wanted. I want to be sexy and hot and beautiful. With each and every pound I drop I just get a bit closer. I must stick to my rules this time. And never go back. Never ever go back. I can't. I must be skinny.

I sound like a sick fuck. But I must be beautiful. I must be perfect. Never again will I be ashamed of my body or complain about wearing a bathing suit. I will never again be worried when someone tries to pick me up or my fat jiggling when I run. Never. Ever.”

There are so many things I could say about this piece, in retrospect.

But when it all comes down to it, reading this just hits me in my chest like a bag of fucking bricks; every damn time. I pity the girl who thought these things. And I shouldn’t pity her; I should love her just as much as I have grown to love my current self, even through all the self-hatred and clear loathing.

I wrote that piece during my senior year of high school; my tipping point. I tend to think of that year of my life as the beginning of the end. It was filled with shameful night binges and so much self-hatred fueled by so many different things.

I don’t like that Ashley. I pity that Ashley. I look back and think, “How could you have done that to yourself, Ashley?

But then I remember that Ashley did those things because she felt she had to. Ashley did those things to protect her fragile insides from fracturing under the pressure of everything, surrounding her on all sides.

Just like I ask people to be understanding about the ways I chose to fix my brokenness, the ways I chose to cope with life, I must also learn to be understanding. I must learn to love Skinny Ashley.

This dichotomy of Skinny Ashley and Fat Ashley is a fiction, something that I have created in my head to compartmentalize my life and separate myself from the emotional pain I associate with those more unstable years. The line I’ve drawn between “her” and “me,” however, isn’t real, and perpetuating it doesn’t serve me.

The reality is that Skinny Ashley and Fat Ashley aren’t all that different.

We’re all just… Ashley.

 

When People Ask Me What Bingeing Is: Are You Asking, or Do You Think You Already Know?

As someone who has dealt with EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) and Binge Eating Disorder for quite some time now, I have gotten somewhat used to people asking me to explain myself.

"What is the difference between bingeing and overeating," you ask.

I hear, "You're actually just a fat piece of shit hiding behind the excuse of a mental illness to justify your poor life habits."

Now, perhaps that sounds harsh. And in some ways, it absolutely is. And many times, this isn’t at all what the person innocently asking me about the inside of my brain means to say. But here's the thing: I've had a hard enough time coping with the realities of my eating disorder in my own head, and having to justify myself to others isn't something I would ever wish upon someone suffering from a mental illness.

Because let's all remember, eating disorders are afflictions of the mind, not the body. The ravaging effects that we can (sometimes) see as a result of an eating disorder are truly a symptom of a mental issue.

And more importantly, I have had people in my life who have felt this negative way about my behavior. Maybe not to my face. No, no one would ever say it to my face. But behind closed doors... walls are thinner than you think, people. And anyone who thinks that fat-shaming has a limit, that it ends when you're talking about friends and family, is only kidding themselves. A fat-shamer of a  stranger will inevitably fat-shame you too. Friend or foe.

But I digress. Back to the point.

When I explain what a binge is to a family member or friend, it can be difficult. My response to this kind of inquiry can vary from person to person, and situation to situation. But mostly, the level of compassion and understanding that this other person brings to the table becomes a huge factor. What does this person already understand? What does this person already think about my behavior? Have I experienced this person be patronizing or harsh about my behavior in the past, unknowingly harping on actions that I could control no more than a compulsion that a person who deals with OCD can control?

Or, on the flip side, has this person already extended a level of camaraderie, a desire to not only understand but to let me know I am not alone? Now, to be fair, this last bit cannot be offered up by everyone. Not everyone has had moments in their life where they think about food the way that I do, or my body the way that I do. But those that do have that understanding can relate in ways that others never can. Certainly, that isn't anyone's fault. But it makes us all feel a little less alone none the less.

To be honest, just coming to me with an open mind and leaving behind your preconceived notions can do wonders. Just listening. Just nodding. Maybe saying, "Ok, I'm not sure I get that, can you try to rephrase it for me?" And most importantly, being able to say, "Ok, I don't really get it. I've never been there. But I want to be here for you either way."

If you can come to the table with this kind of attitude, I'm likely to explain things to you the way that I see them. I'm likely to say something like:

“The thing about bingeing is that it isn’t even about the food. At first, maybe it is. You need a salt fix. You need the saccharine sweetness to coat your teeth, and you want your tongue to tingle with flavors here, there, and everywhere. And maybe, with those first few bites, you achieve that goal. Everything tastes as amazing as you wanted it to. The endorphins flood your head and you eat faster and faster, just to keep it coming. But soon – sooner than you think – each bite gets blander and grayer. Each bite has just a little less of what you were looking for.  And suddenly, you’re desperately shoving food down your throat, just to taste it again. Just to feel that rush again. Just to feel anything worth feeling.

And then you realize that you aren’t eating because your body wants to fill your empty stomach. You’re eating because you want to fill your empty soul. And no matter how much you put inside, no matter how close to making yourself physically ill you get, no matter how disgusting each bite becomes, you keep going. And you never feel full.”

Does that make it clearer? Does that help you understand that no, telling me it's for my health is not going to motivate me; that telling me oh, find another outlet for your stress and worries is not going to work; that no amount of pleading and arguing and yelling and huffing is going to make me suddenly flip a switch in my head and say, "You know what, you're totally right! This is self-destructive! This is hurting me! I'm going to stop!"

No shit, Sherlock. We all know that. We all know that the way we cope with life isn't necessarily healthy, and that it has consequences. That isn't going to stop us.

What will, you ask? Telling us we're not alone. Being there when we relapse. Understanding that we hate ourselves when we do these kinds of things, and we expect everyone else to hate us too. And by showing us that you would never, in a million years, hate us for trying to get through this world the only way we know how. Showing us that even when we do damage to ourselves, you'll be there, waiting.

Is that asking a lot? Definitely.

Would I do it for someone else? Absolutely.

Because I know that pain. And no one deserves that pain. Most importantly, no one deserves to endure that pain alone.