That’s not me. Or my closet. I wish I could say I had a cedar-lined closet filled to the brim with clothes. But like I said, that’s not me and my closet is the size of a shoebox. Nevertheless, the real me is standing in front of my tiny closet absolutely dumbfounded. I literally have nothing to wear. NOTHING.
Ok, that’s sort of a lie. Of course I have clothes. Probably too many clothes. But after a year of amped-up training followed by three months of consciously eating clean, I can truly say that I don’t own anything that fits. It’s not the 90s anymore people. Baggy just won’t do it for me.
The weather in New York is beginning to shift from hot to cool as we enter fall, so that means adios dresses and hello to my trusty work pants. Let me take a second here to bemoan the “business casual” wardrobe that is forced upon the working American. Sure, I read the fashion magazines and how they offer fun ways to mix up your work clothes. But let’s be honest here. I don’t want a second wardrobe simply for the function of going to a job where I’ll be seated for nearly ten hours. Jazzing it up with a beaded necklace or a ruffly top in the season’s hottest color doesn’t make me forget that I’m sitting. All day. And so, I go back to those trusty work pants I have stashed in my closet for the cooler months. I put one of them on last week and then horror struck. They were huge. I’m talking big. I could roll over the waistband twice and still have room. Considering the cost of said trusty work pants, and the fact that those were pretty much my only work wardrobe options for that day and each day after that, I was left with a sinking feeling that it was time to go shopping. Sigh.
I worked in fashion in a past life. There was a time when I had dreams of working in a major fashion house or retailer where I could meet designers and stare at fabulous clothes all day. I read Vogue, Elle, and W religiously and even thought about going back to school to get a degree in fashion business and merchandising. I kind of have to hold back a chuckle as I type that because it is SO far removed from where I am right now. Back then the perfect day for me would be spent shopping all over the city, trying on all sorts of things, and noting the trends. Ironically I was also at my heaviest weight when I worked in that industry. All those nights out with buyers, eating candy in the showrooms, and frequent happy hours made for a very unhealthy lifestyle that I sustained for several years.
I find myself in new waters now. Suddenly I have the opportunity to completely remake myself via my clothes which is something I would have died for in my early twenties. Only now all I want to do is look at fitness gear and shop for the best compression pants and sports bras that I can find. Don’t get me wrong here. I have mini-obsessions with certain stores and I’m constantly pinning new ideas to Pinterest. My aesthetics have definitely changed, but so have my priorities. Spending a good portion of my paycheck to buy a bunch of clothes is not only unrealistic, it’s kind of wasteful. But I’m like a magpie. I see shiny pretty things and I want.
So I took myself and my huge pants to a store near work where I managed to score a BOGO 50 (fashion speak for buy one get one 50% off – yes I’m SO cool) for the dreaded work pants. The last time I was in this very situation I was steadily buying the same size for about 3 years. I went down a size last winter and I figured I’d go down one more this round. Then out of curiosity I took the next size down. What the heck. Long story short, I walked out of the dressing room with the smaller size. The smallest size they carried and the smallest size I’ve worn in my entire life. When the store attendant asked me how it went I have to admit I was kind of embarrassed to say I’d be taking the smaller size. You’re probably thinking, why? Good question. I don’t know why. But it bothered me on some level. I filed it away for later, thanked the attendant for her help, and walked out of the store with two new work pants. Success! Or was it?
I don’t think I have to go into the impact the fashion industry has on body image. This is well-documented and opinions are varied as to the culpability of the industry in encouraging unfair ideals according to race, socioeconomic status (anyone else remember the Tommy Hilfiger debacle with Oprah?), and of course, weight. Rail thin models walking down the catwalk don’t just distract, they enrage. If we’re going to focus on the numbers on clothing labels then let’s give equal attention to these numbers:
“Today, the average American woman is 5’4″, has a waist size of 34-35 inches and weighs between 140-150 lbs, with a dress size of 12-14. Fifty years ago, the average woman was 5’3-4″ with a waist size of approximately 24-25″, she weighed about 120 lbs and wore a size 8. Curiously, over the past twenty years, fashion model sizes have dropped from a size 8 to 0.
It comes as no big surprise that there has been significant pressure on the fashion industry in the past five years to stop using models that are painfully thin and embrace a more realistic, diverse and healthy representation of women in their shows and ads. Ralph Lauren has just announced Robyn Lawley as their first plus size model.. These are small steps, yet significant ones to reshape the image of the American woman. I champion the cause of expanding the palate in media images for women and the reality is the plus-size market is severely untapped in the US. But how far does this go to change our stigmas when we look at the size labels in the dressing room?
See, there’s this thing. I’ve spoken about my struggle with body images in the past and this recent episode has forced some of that to the surface again. I won’t divulge my new size because it doesn’t really matter. Just note that it’s 4 sizes down from what I used to buy. But this new size was playing with my head. On one level I’m super excited. “Yeah, I’m that size!” I think and give myself a mental high five. But I’m also self-conscious about what it all means. I don’t FEEL like I’m that size. I don’t think I match what that size looks like on other women. And aren’t I supposed to feel awesome now that the number is smaller? How come I don’t feel awesome? And then I think its some giant fluke and that I must have been having a skinny day and there’s no way I can fit that size in every store so really it’s a big mistake and how could I be so gullible and…… yeah, you get my drift here?
I’m a big proponent of the idea that you should never use the number that’s on your label be a gauge for your weight. My experience in the fashion industry exposed what I think most of us know now, which is that manufacturers have deliberately recalibrated their fit scale to make larger sizes appear smaller by shifting to larger specs on all clothing. Also each manufacturer uses different specs according to their main customer base which guarantees that you won’t maintain one size in every store you walk into, especially if they’re European-based (H&M I’m looking at you!). I know too many women who rattle off their clothing size when asked about their weight, like it’s a badge of honor (or DIShonor as is mostly the case). Sizes are so misleading, especially in the US. But I’m a product of that system and I’m the first one to say that I’ve been conditioned to let my clothing size=my weight=my perceived body image= my success and worthiness. It’s a horrible equation, but it’s the truth.
Tackling body images has to be one of the most challenging things I’ve faced in my life, and I can safely say that’s true of most women I know. I’ve spent the last two years fighting back my insecurities to challenge myself physically and its paid off majorly in my weight, energy levels and more importantly, in my health. But the outside is just one part of the process. I’m constantly working to get my mind in shape by ignoring the numbers on the scale and the size labels as testimony of my success. It’s super scary sometimes because I can get caught up in those numbers, distort their meaning, and then make new goals based on those distortions. A perfectly normal and healthy weight on the scale can suddenly turn into “ok for now but let’s go minus five.” Yes, I do this. I admit it freely, and somewhat nervously here.
What kicks my mind into shape has to be my amazing support system among my closest friends. When I spoke to my friend Pearl about my heady work pants shopping experience, she summed it up pretty perfectly: “It’s not a bad thing! You’re a smaller size sometimes. That’s fine. You’re healthy.” Having my closest friends let me vent my crazy and just get it is without a doubt one my biggest lifelines. This blog has more recently been a cathartic experience as well. I say these things with some trepidation but totally owning it because these thoughts and emotions are part of this process.
I don’t expect to be “cured.” I think a lot of these reactions to sizes and scales are close to hardwired at this point. Unfortunately, I have to continue shopping since two work pants won’t be enough to get me through fall and winter. My challenge will continue to be how I react to the sizes, but I’m hoping now I can focus more on finding out what makes me feel great instead of just how it fits. Besides clothes are supposed to fit us, not the other way around.
Does anyone else out there struggle with sizes and shopping? Do you use the size on the label as a way to track your weight loss? What do you think about the fashion industry beginning to embrace “plus-size” models?
Drop me a line! 🙂