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.