CW: Body image issues, weight/size talk, fat phobia
This year, I had a new, surprising experience. Here's the setup: In Ontario we're lucky to have seasons different enough that you actually wear different clothes for them. I love putting away my spring/summer collection and pulling out my fall/winter collection (or vice versa). It feels like shopping but without the money, and I love the pleasure of pulling out a beloved piece of clothing and going "Oh man! I forgot about this one! I love this!"
But this year when I pulled out my spring/summer collection... none of my clothes fit. Like. Really didn't fit.
I've been basically the same weight for the last 8 years. Give or take. When I started my undergrad I actually lost weight (I chalk it up to stress, only really knowing how to make ham sandwiches and salads, and being a lot more physically active then I was before), and I've stayed almost the same since then. So it was a pretty upsetting experience to realize that my very favourite skirt, a beautiful vintage floral piece that I bought years ago, no longer fit. And the white dress a friend gave me for the opera in Italy last year would not zip up, and not just a little bit, a lot. It was a very surreal experience. Wasn't I just wearing these?
In a hugely well-timed coincidence, over the last year and a half I've been reading and learning a lot about body positivity, the complete bullshit that is diet culture, and fat phobia. It's really changing the way I look at people, food, exercise, body image, and beauty. Combine this new knowledge with the socialization we've all had to conflate thinner with better, beautiful, morally upstanding, smarter, and hotter, and you can understand why significant weight gain kind of made my head explode.
On the one hand: everything inside me is screaming that I'm ugly now. That something is wrong. That I must get back to "normal". I'm having to shop at least a size larger, sometimes two or three sizes larger, and I feel sort of adrift because I'm not sure how to dress a body that is a slightly different shape than before. The places I used to buy clothes confidently I now maybe can fit into the largest sizes. I feel bad because I am suddenly, somewhat urgently, in need of new clothing. My fall coat doesn't fit, my jeans don't fit, my recital dresses don't fit. Sometimes I beat myself up about the food I eat, about not exercising enough. I panic when my body aches because I think "Is it because of this extra weight? Am I just going to get fatter and fatter and not be able to do the things I want to do?" It's so deep, this fear conditioning.
I want to make excuses for gaining weight, apologize for it, almost. Excuses like: I've been super stressed over the last year (hello, coming out of the bi closet) and sometimes weight gain is the body's reaction to that, I've been eating out a lot more, I no longer live 3 flights up in a building with no elevator, I've started taking the elevator at school instead of the stair to my 4th floor office because these days getting out of bed is hard sometimes, let alone taking the stupid stairs.
But you know what? I don't need excuses. Because I keep trying to reframe this is as a normal thing. Neither good nor bad, but different, and full of opportunities. My body is changing because that's what bodies do. Which brings me to...
On the other hand: I'm a fighter. I am not going to go gentle into the good night of self-hatred. It's there, definitely, but I'm not going to let it win. I'm gonna eat what I want. I'm gonna be active when I want. I am going to continue to learn how to love my body and my whole self the best way that I can.
I know that weight gain is a thing that happens, it doesn't mean I'm doing something wrong or that I don't love or care for myself. I am learning every day to care for and love myself and to encourage others to do the same. I can still do everything I want to do. I'm learning that even if I can't love my body, I can work on accepting it. On thanking it for what it does for me. On realizing it's the only body I'm ever going to have and it needs to be home and loved.
Change is hard. But change is normal and necessary. Everybody gets older, yet I hear so many people say "I still feel like I'm 25!" when 25 way maybe more than 25 years ago. We struggle with change. I do, and I generally love the idea of aging (see my birthday post). Our bodies change as we get older, it's normal, it's necessary, and it is nothing to panic about. Why would I want everything to stay the same? There's no personal growth without change. When I am uncomfortable I have opportunity to grow.
The biggest indicator that my changing body is not actually the problem is that when I weighed less, I wasn't happy about the way I looked. I still fought ideas that I was too fat. I thought I needed to lose weight even then. I've fought those ideas literally my entire life. Now that I weigh more it's silly to look back and think "Wow, I wish I was what I used to be. Then I'll be happy." No. I wasn't happy then, I wouldn't be happy if I was that size again. A sneaky part of me still believes that lie, but I refuse to give it any space to grow. The problem is not my body, it's my inability to accept that I'm already enough, I'm loved, I'm seen, I see, I love. I move through this world like it's an adventure and my body has been an amazing part of that adventure. That what I look like doesn't define me. That what I look like is lovely.
But it's confusing, it's new, it's change. I struggle with change. I struggle with the conditioning. I want to love my body, to take care of my whole self. To allow myself to be looked at and seen by others and not need to apologize for existing.
Today I tried on dresses at the mall. There's an upcoming gig and a Christmas party and I haven't tried on my dress from last year but given that I'm shopping two sizes larger I assume it's a dud.
So I was at The Bay with a big pile of dresses. They all fit more or less, but they weren't quite the thing. I don't love clothes shopping at the best of times, but trying on dress after dress that just didn't work, that made me feel ugly, that brought me face to face with the fact that I look different now, it all really wore me down. A lot of the dresses I found in the new sizes were sheath dresses. I wondered why on earth there would be so many dresses that accentuate my rolls and belly button but then I realized that they probably expect people this size to be in shapewear to smooth it all down. Because of course people this size wish to compress their unacceptable bodies into acceptability (please see the sarcasm I am tying into that sentence). My opinions on shapewear can be left to another blog post, but suffice it to say that I think it's horrible and just another way society/the patriarchy encourages women to see themselves as objects that need to be perfect Barbie dolls. It would be cool if we could all throw out our shapewear and make a world where your normal shape is lovely and totally cool and clothes are made with real people in mind, not appropriately-shaped people.
Ahem. Anyway. I didn't buy anything. I wandered into a new store in the mall, there was a beautiful dress in the window that would've been perfect... But the store only seemed to stock XS-M. I legit couldn't find a large anywhere. Feeling amazing - lol jk, I felt like crap - my now overwhelmed self left the store to buy soap. Soap doesn't come in sizes, you don't have to look at yourself in a badly-lit mirror when you buy soap. Soap is safe. Soap was bought.
Then I wandered past this store Torrid. I'd never heard of it before I moved to Ontario, but it's a plus-size store for women. Now, I have always looked at their window displays and my eyes get hearts in them and I'm like "Woah. I want these clothes!" But before this year I knew none of them would fit me. This time as I walked past I thought, just maybe...
I felt a bit weird going in. A bit because of the whole "My body is different now so maybe I shop at plus-size people stores, which I've always been told is a horrible thing but I am dismantling that belief because I think plus-size people are beautiful and deserve clothes that fit and look good on them!" thing, but mostly because I've always thought "You're too small for plus-size stores and you don't want to be one of those annoying non-plus-size people trying to shop in a store that is not for you when all the people in there have a hard time shopping in all the straight-size stores you frequent." I don't know why I thought that might be annoying, I've never asked anyone about it, I just assumed. I guess it comes from the part of me that knows people in marginalized groups don't always want peeps from non-marginalized groups wandering around in their spaces.
Anyway. I thought "What the heck. I've gained weight, the worst that can happen is these clothes won't fit, I'll get the stink-eye from the sales lady and I'll just descend into nakedness in the Canadian winter." I went in. And the sales ladies were so friendly! (not an easy feat in this time leading up to Christmas, I applaud all of them) And I found such beautiful clothes! They were on sale! And they fit! And they were so comfortable. And let me tell you, there are few things more uncomfortable in this life than wearing clothes you own that no longer fit you but they're the only ones you have and you can't bring yourself to buy the size you actually need to be wearing because "I'll lose the weight soon". F that shit. I 1000000% refuse to live my life with the "I'll lose the weight" mentality. I've given away all my clothes that no longer fit.
Except the vintage floral skirt.
All this to say, it's been hard. I'm trying to see it as another adventure in life, and sometimes I succeed at that. Sometimes I feel so confident and strong and pretty and full of life and fire. These days I feel more and more like myself, sinking into that "bath of unapologetic realness". But then sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and I feel like garbage. I have to remind myself every single time that being thin(ner, let's face it, I was never thin) is not a moral imperative. Sometimes it's a fight to believe I'm still beautiful and worthy. Sometimes I let go of beautiful and just try thank my body for being my home. And I get to wear the cool clothes at Torrid now.
My new dress is gorgeous and has pockets.