Ever since a friend of my parents showed me how to design dresses for my paper dolls back when I was about 5 years old, I’ve been intrigued by style and fashion, while at the same time I’ve always felt excluded by it.
Also at about 5 years old, my family decided that I was fat, and the words I heard most often when it came to clothes were “you can’t wear that.” When I was about twelve, I picked up a copy of Seventeen at the school library and spent many hours fantasizing about being able to wear the clothes they featured and look like the girls in the pictures. I graduated to Cosmopolitan and Glamour in high school and college, and although otherwise an intelligent and critical thinker, I looked at the pictures in the fashion spreads and ads as something achievable if only I applied myself.
So I spent most of the years between 13 and 35 dieting and being obsessed with my weight, developing disordered eating and at a couple points in my life, being anorexic, in hopes that I could someday “wear that.” But as thin as I got, I’ve never had had a body that did most clothes any justice. I’m short, I’m broad-shouldered, barrel chested and short-waisted, with big boobs and arse. Diet/weight obsession is a futile and life-sucking endeavor, so I gave up on fashion for several years and focused on working through my eating disorders and trying to accept my body. While I now feel like a “normal” eater*, the body acceptance thing is still a work in progress, but there has been progress.
But somehow my interest in fashion can’t stay submerged for long and I always end up drifting back to the fashion mags. While what I wear in real life is also constrained by my work and family life and budget, I do like to look at styles and colors and textures to get inspired. What’s different now that I’m older is that I know these images are pure fantasy, and Fashion (the runway shows, the buzz) is mostly pure theater. I’d love to find a magazine devoted to fashion where the images of women weren’t photoshopped to the point of absurdity, though.
Because I’m able to look at these images with a more critical eye, reading fashion magazines no longer sends me into a tailspin of self-loathing and compulsive dieting, but the desire to be thinner to look better in clothes never totally leaves me. Yet often, when I step back, I know I wouldn’t want to wear a lot of the current styles anymore. They’d just look ridiculous on someone une femme’s age, even if I did have the body of a runway model. While “you can’t wear that” is still a familiar refrain in my head, as time goes by it becomes less about what I feel I can’t wear and more about sticking to what does work for me, and finding ways to be creative within those parameters.
I do feel guilty about supporting an industry that’s designed to make women feel worse about themselves, and can so negatively affect the self-esteem of young women especially (as it did me). I haven’t yet overcome my cognitive dissonance on this one issue, but it’s something I think I need to work on.
*Here’s what “normal” eating means for me: I eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m satisfied. I eat what I like, although I know certain foods and food combinations will make me feel better than others, and I try to make choices based on that as well as what tastes good. Sometimes I eat when I’m not hungry because something looks good and I don’t beat myself up for it. It took several years after I stopped dieting to get to this point.
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