Thursday, November 16, 2017

Uniforming My Ally

I have been some form of 'overweight' for my entire adult life.  For the first couple of decades out of high school, I agonised about my body, how to make it thinner, how to make it prettier, how to squish and scrape and starve it into acceptability.

As a Fat Girl, I convinced myself I deserved only frumpy, uninteresting, practical clothes.  I fooled myself that I wanted a 'classical, practical style' when what I really meant was "I don't feel comfortable wearing clothes that attract attention."  For years, my 'look' was a pair of sturdy jeans or cargo shorts, a solid-color tee for work and a funny tee for play.  Dresses were reserved, conservative.  Long skirts, dark colors, to the point that at least one set of co-workers assumed I was Pentecostal based on my style of dress.  My one concession to color and vibrancy was a collection of tie-dye dresses bought at festivals, all long and full-skirted.

I envied those other Fat Girls who wore the pretty dresses, who always looked nice and put together, who rocked the bright colors and the feminine lines.  I told myself, "Well, when I get thinner, when I look better, when I reach the goal, I can dress like I mean it, too."  I also envied them their comfort with their bodies, their ability to adorn and joyfully decorate something all social pressure pushed them to hide behind a sweatshirt or baggy pants.  A smaller voice whispered, "If I ever stop resenting my body, maybe I'll dress nice BEFORE I get thin."

Clothes shopping in America as a woman of my size is an exercise in demoralization and disappointment.  You see something lovely and fun, you envision having it, and you find out that in no universe does it exist in your size.  The brick-and-mortar stores that do carry things in your size are reinforcing the frumpy theme, or presenting you with 'fashion' garments in a style three years expired and a pattern ripped from the finest hotel wallpaper.  Online shopping's made it both better and worse, because now a dedicated shopper can struggle through ten times as many disappointments to find the few pearls and hope that the reviews are correct about 'size runs true'.  There are shops that offer better sizing and options, but they can be both hard to find and expensive, and the ability to Google search opens up a huge range of opportunities to find that for some people 8 is still a 'plus size'.

I spent a lot of time not wanting to risk that 'runs true' should have said 'runs small', and convincing myself that jeans and solid color tees and long full black skirts were a perfectly respectable style, until a friend introduced me to a site that takes your measurements and sends you a custom dress, and offers dozens of styles, colors, patterns, and fabrics.

This recommendation fell on exceedingly fertile ground.  Some five years ago, I wrote about my body as my ally, about embracing and loving myself with my own best interests as my highest priority, and I've been trying to live that since.  I've discarded the idea that my body needs to be a specific weight for me to be healthy and happy, and shifted my body goals to functional things I want to be able to do.

The health trials of my last couple of years, and the attendant weight gains and shifts, have really taxed that resolve.  Random abdominal expansion due to fibroids, plus exhaustion due to anemia and energy loss, have left me struggling to reach a space of peace with how I look and feel.  I was down to wearing broomstick skirts I bought at festivals, and a collection of black t-shirts, because so few of my clothes still fit and buying more was emotionally devastating.

But, you see, at my core I love all things that speak of luxury and the personal touch.  I couldn't pass up a dress made just for me, my own dress chosen and sewn as if I had a private seamstress.  Just one, I thought, a nice pretty dress for my wedding, that's an occasion that deserves a dress just for you, right?

So my then-fiance took my measurements for me, and I chose my dress and sent off my numbers and prepared myself for disappointment.  When it arrived, I put on my dress nervously, to find that it fit perfectly and it was so pretty and so comfortable.  The deep V neckline, though, mandated a new bra.  Off I went to the Fancy Bra Store, where they fit you and help you choose, because it's my wedding, right?  I deserve a special bra for my wedding!

It's easy to shout down the demons that tell you that you don't deserve to have nice or special things, when it's only for one occasion.  Shut up, Traitor Brain, I'm the BRIDE you know and the BRIDE can have nice things.  Not me, but this alter ego I get to wear for one day.  And sometimes you can use an alter ego as cover to sneak into an entirely new way of managing some part of your life.

Once I had tried it, I was hooked.  I culled out all my sad, battered, frumpy clothes.  Armed with a set of my measurements, I slowly began to replace my work wardrobe with clothes that not only fit and flattered, but *expressed*.  I looked at things and I thought, "I would look pretty in that," and if they fit into the budget and could be made in my numbers, I bought them regardless of whether they were flashy or brightly colored or Fat Girl Appropriate.

I replaced all my too-small bras with correctly-sized models, dropping band sizes and increasing cups to find that life is way better when you're not crushing your boobs into your armpits.  Over the course of the last year and a half, as budget has allowed, I've cut the amount of clothing my wardrobe in half, but every piece fits, looks good, and is comfortable.  I've cut my shoe collection by more than half, but replaced many of them with cute, whimsical flats.

Don't get me wrong.  I still have my funny tees and my cargo shorts and my carefully-amassed collection of Converse.  I'll never give up comfortable blue jeans, or oversized hoodies.  I'm not getting rid of who I am, just letting out the part I've been hiding behind this layer of fat all my life.

Somewhere along the way, I became one of the Stylish Fat Girls I've always envied.  I have a manicure with flowers on it, glasses chosen because they accentuate both the color of my eyes and the highlights in my hair, lots of socks with cheerful profanity, a variety of comfortable and interesting shoes, and a small collection of clothes that make me look and feel put-together and in control of my appearance.

When I started reframing my body as my ally, I began to try and consider the way I treat myself as "Would I treat my beloved friend this way?"  I am not indulging myself, I am outfitting my beloved friend.  I am putting a uniform on my ally, so we can keep fighting together.

The other day at the gym, two women about my size stopped me to compliment my dress.  I showed them the pockets and told them where I got it, and one of the women said, "Oh, I've been meaning to try them, but I wasn't sure...I thought I should wait until I lost some weight."  I saw in her eyes the reflection of my own struggles with 'deserve' and 'maybe someday', and I said, "No, really, do it now.  If you can afford it, do it.  Don't wait.  This has completely changed my relationship with my body and how I look at myself.  It's so worth it."

(I've left out the names of the sites I shop at, because this isn't an advertisement for them.  It's an advertisement for the idea that you should come to terms with your body as it is, and understand its shape and its needs, and adorn it joyfully no matter its size.)

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