Last Christmas, a women I respect and love more than I could ever say, was opening a present. It was an article of clothing. She loved the color, the style- the way it looked and felt to the touch suited her perfectly. When she checked the size, she exploded with joy. "IT'S MEDIUM!!!" she cried. "YOU THINK I'M A MEDIUM!!!" We all laughed and took photos as she put the article of clothing (not a hat) on her head. Even at the time, we commented that the funniest part of her ecstatic reaction was the way she said, "You *think* I'm a medium!"
I don't remember if she exchanged it for a larger size. It doesn't matter. But I've recently had a Wardrobe Epiphany- about clothes, about sizes, about self-image- but also about how I perceive others' perceptions of me.
As a Person Who Has Food Issues, there are two situations that I especially dislike. The first is the incredibly painful situation that occurs mostly when one is dieting. There are days, usually when one is proactively dieting, that are incredibly frustrating. You feel fat. The scale won't budge (or it's creeping back the other way). And you're hungry. Really hungry.
I'm not talking about emotional need-to-eat hunger. I'm talking about bonafide, biological hunger that won't be assauged by a sensible meal, big glasses of water or healthy "snacks" like carrot sticks. (By the way, dieting gurus/manuals/magazine articles that suggest eating carrot sticks instead of say, chocolate covered pretzels, because "they, too, are crunchy and sweet!" are all invited to bite me. Ditto for those that advocate taking a brisk walk, a relaxing bath, or meditating as one waits 10 minutes "to let your body get the message from your brain that it feels full.")
But I digress. So yeah, feeling fat and hungry simultaneously really sucks. That's #1.
The second scenario involves clothes shopping. There is nothing worse than trying on clothes at the Gap, Lerner New York or similar, needing a larger size and realizing they don't carry it. "Sizing out" means you have two choices. 1.) You can go to Old Navy, which carries sizes for Larger Women. Or 2.) you can go to to...LANE. BRYANT. When you've always been Average to XL, going to a special store because you've graduated to XXLarge is really difficult. I know there shouldn't be shame in that. In fact, if a friend were in this situation, I would tell her to hold her head high and buy what she needs and f*ck the piddly, unimportant numbers at the Gap.
Except.... Well. Clothes at Old Navy and Lane Bryant have major problems.
Everything at Old Navy is cut the same way, to fit size 4 teenagers who want ultra low rise pants and cropped tops, perfect to showcase one's Mandatory Teenage Re(Belly)ion Ring. All of the clothes are simply expanded or subtracted from that basic model. For me, when I'm sitting on the floor shooting a basketball game, I'm at serious risk for Plumber Butt issues. Similarly, reaching above one's head invariably reveals the stomach, especially if one has washed the shirt in a Shake 'n' Bake coin washer/dryer situation more than once. (Which I have.) It's not good, but shopping at Old Navy allows one to save face, if only to oneself.
Lane Bryant clothes have the opposite problem. They do try to soothe the emotional distress of needing to shop at Plus Size Store by making their clothes about 2 sizes bigger there. An 18 at Old Navy is a 14 at Lane Bryant. Except if you were really a 14, you could shop at the regular chain stores, so why would you be at Lane Bryant in the first place?
Everything at Lane Bryant is cut like a tent. The clothes are... billowy. Yeah, they have tank tops and trendy things, but they just look like maternity clothes. I haven't admitted this out loud to many people. (So I'll do it on the Internet; what the hell?) I think someone thought I was pregnant a few months ago. I don't really want to think about it, but in the context of covering a food-related event, a middle-aged lady touched my stomach and said, "Oh, yes. You've got to eat!" And it wasn't a grandmotherly "you need meat on your bones" type thing. It really wasn't. I visibly recoiled, so she didn't comment further. Believe me, trying to hide Plumber Butt with my camera bag is way better than trying to explain away Phantom Baby.
So I recently hit a point where I needed to call for backup. I just didn't have clothes cut high enough in the waist or low enough in the shirt. My clothes had their own agenda, revealing things at will. In one masochistic moment, I entertained the idea of going on TLC's "What Not To Wear." (All the women on that show are skinny. Their "problem" is always that their clothes are too sexy or too baggy.)
But I now have two girl friends here that I can call for shopping help. Neither of them are Larger Women. We met at the mall between our apartments. The mall, which hosts all the finest retail chains, didn't have a Lane Bryant. Fat women don't live in Westchester. The Brooks Brothers store doesn't even stock "Large." Ann Taylor only carries L and XL in "selected styles."
So we went to J. Jill. I've never had much luck there, but I've only ever been to the outlet store. Julia and Missy were awesome. They were supportive and honest. They kept bringing me other styles and clothes and sorting the piles into Keepers and Maybes and Rejects.
But the best part was, because I was shopping in a WOMEN'S clothing store- not a teenager's store, not a Plus Size store- I found stuff that *worked.* The clothing was unique, some styles worked, others didn't, but they weren't all designed to reveal the midriff. I was trying on XL and having to ask for L, and even M. I spent more on clothes than I have in a long time (but all in all less than a cashmere sweater in a high-end department store- good rule of thumb for wardrobe shopping).
I like what I bought. I like the way I look in these clothes. It's been so long since I purchased a piece of clothing that I genuinely LIKE- not just because they were khaki cargo pants and I could get the zipper shut. Obviously, I don't want to stay the size I am for the rest of my life. I know being overweight, even a little bit, isn't healthy. But losing weight for me, at this point in my life, would be a full-time job. And I already have one that I love.