I Started Dressing for Comfort and Gained My Confidence Back
For too long, I attempted to hide the parts of my body I felt weren’t desirable. Then I made a mental switch.
In 2008, I was late to my first period history class so often that if the teacher hadn't been a few months away from retirement, he would certainly have flunked me. I told him, and anyone who would listen, that it was because the bus was late. In reality, I had no idea whether the bus had been on time or not—I should have caught it, but I'd been standing in front of the full-length mirror in my bedroom. For an hour every morning, I tried on every piece of clothing I owned, working myself up to a near hysteria, until I settled on the combination that made me feel the right mix of invisible and ready-to-be-viewed.
For most of that year, it was a pair of American Eagle boyfriend jeans and an oversized, long-sleeve cotton T-shirt that covered the top of my thighs. I was convinced that it was the real-life equivalent of Lindsay Weir's jacket; if anyone wondered why I was always wearing this unglamourous, masculine garment every day, they'd understand that it was mysterious and cool, that there was a story behind it, that I was effortless and low maintenance.
This daily outfit was followed by many other regrettable ones during my freshman year of college. Fixated on what my thighs looked like or concealing certain parts of my body or emphasizing other parts that I thought were thin, I put together a series of ensembles that had neither the advantage of being the same as everyone else's nor being uniquely stylish. They were simply strange combinations of garments that satisfied my dysmorphic need to display my collarbones while concealing my waist. American Eagle skirts, Target tank tops, push-up bras, empire waist dresses, black leggings covered with T-shirts that reached almost to my knees.
I Got Tired of Hating My Body All the Time
None of my concerns were about the real shape or size of my body. I was obsessed with an imaginary version that I projected in the mirror but, more importantly, felt when I was shoving my limbs into tight low-cut jeans or the on-trend 2000s layered cotton shirts that smothered my torso and required constant rearranging.
Enough. We're all familiar with the eating disorder/body dysmorphia story. It's so boring. And most of all, it holds us back from fun and enjoyment and creativity. At some point, I stopped hating my body. There are any number of tidy anecdotes I could use to explain the shift, but, the fact is, I simply got tired. Around the time I was 24, I'd been worrying about the amount of calories in food and the way my thighs squished out when I sat down in shorts for nearly a decade. I'd worried my way into and then out of anorexia and bulimia. I was exhausted. I could, I reasoned, either feel this way the rest of my life, or I could decide to accept my body as it was (is). I chose the latter.
It was remarkably instantaneous, like a switch had flipped. I wasted no more time accounting for how my body was perceived. But I was left with a conundrum. After so many years of dressing with the sole goal of making my body seem small—or rather, to fit the distortions that my brain had made of my body—I was without guidelines.
That's when I found my style.
My Fashion Sense Is Inspired by What Feels Comfortable on My Skin
I dress now for pleasure, for the way clothes look and drape, but mostly for how they feel, the textures and the way they cling that makes me conscious of, and pleased with, my body. The guy I’m sleeping with lends me warm clothes—a running pullover in a vibrant cobalt, caressingly soft fabric, an extra coat to wear over mine. He gives me a scarf and a buttery thin cotton T-shirt that he won’t wear because it’s for a rival soccer club, which I think is stupid but, God help me, endearing. I wear it with a strand of pearls and a pair of thrifted jeans that fit nowhere except exactly at my natural waist.
I dress less for what “looks good” rather than for sensation—for the silk sliding against my skin or a sense of something hitting satisfyingly at my waist or the layered, downy safety of multiple borrowed items at once. Jeans that obscure the shape of my legs. Turtlenecks that tuck up comfortingly around my chin. It’s fun, and it allows me to take a renewed pleasure in getting dressed each day.
I don't tolerate discomfort. I cut out tags that nag at the sensitive skin of my stomach and throw out bras with stretched elastic. I don't wear skirts that are so tight they give me heartburn, even if they show off my ass. This is my body, no one else's. It's a site for expression or invisibility, to be covered in materials that soothe my skin, to be bared to the sun or rain when necessary.
Strangely, I get many more compliments now than I ever did trying to be or seem thin. From this tactile pleasure in my clothing comes a new chicness and confidence. When I was dressing to hide my body, I entered every room afraid someone might see behind the curtain. Now I carry myself into a room comfortably because I am, literally, comfortable. What anyone else sees can't negate what I feel.