I was in my third year of college when I realized that I actually didn’t have to wear pants if I didn’t want to. It was roughly around the same time when I discovered that the less I ate, the less I would eventually weigh. I’m not about to stake the claim that the two were somehow related.
Perhaps I have always just been naturally vain, but as far back as I can remember it was always important to me to be pretty. And like most girls living in Westernized culture, I learned very quickly that if I wanted to be pretty, I had to be thin. Thin was beautiful, thin was ideal, and thin was exactly what I wanted to be. Unfortunately, my body had other plans.
As far back as preschool I can remember being too big. A full head taller than any of my peers, girls thought I was ugly while boys thought I was just a joke. Ironically, only the class bully would befriend me, probably because I was the only one too desperate for friendship to care about his constant belittling remarks about my appearance. Grade school was minimally better. Nothing quite sticks in your memory like wanting to go swimming in your friend’s pool and hearing her gasp because you’re too big to fit into any of her clothes ( I wound up wearing one of her mom’s T-shirts instead).
By middle school I was suddenly short, something I had never really experienced before. Not that it mattered for long as puberty hit me pretty good, and Britney’s crop top and hip hugger look was really beginning to hit its stride. I rapidly learned it was best to clothe myself in anything black (faux goth was always a safe option for fat people like me, who be stared at no matter what we wore) and black was of course, slimming. It was easier to default to a single color rather than try to emulate the flirty pastels and sexy outfits my slender, much more beautiful friends could pull off. I’d always liked black. Now I wore it like a uniform.
When I finally graduated, I was terrified of college. Not because I would be moving away from my parents, not because of the classes I would be taking, and not because I didn’t think I could handle being adult. I was terrified of getting fat.
I heard it all.
You’re not taking any sports? You’re gonna get fat.
You’re taking a bunch of online classes? You’re gonna get fat.
You’ll be doing all your own grocery shopping? You’re gonna get fat.
Again, I was terrified. The promise of the foreboding Freshman Fifteen bore down on me like a curse. I vowed I would watch my food like a hawk, and though I’d never been athletic before, I was going to force myself to start going on daily runs.
Of course the runs didn’t last long, but I did manage to shed about 20 pounds fairly quickly. This was mostly attributed to the fact that I didn’t own a car at the time and I walked everywhere I needed to go, including 45 minutes to and from class twice a week. But I still felt invisible, a stranger in a small town. My part-time job working in a hardware store almost completely banished me into the realm of denim and T-shirts.
I took a small break between my sophomore and junior year of college, and during this time I became absolutely enthralled with a niche fashion I’d discovered online. This style absolutely coveted all things typically feminine: full skirts, lace, perfectly coiffed hair, and manicured nails. I was absolutely in love. I was obsessed with it. I hadn’t worn a dress in years, and suddenly it was all I could think about.
For Christmas that year my aunt purchased me my very first “outfit.” The moment I slipped it on, I felt transformed. I looked in the mirror, and even though I was still just me…frizzy hair and naked face, I was somebody else too. I was feminine and dainty. I could maybe, possibly, be beautiful.
Returning to school was different. I had a new job in a clothing store and suddenly I could wear skirts every single day if I wanted to (and I did). I pored over online magazines, studied the fairy-like models and longed more than ever to be like them. They didn’t even seem human, swathed in layers of pink chiffon and Swarovski crystals.
I can’t really say if there was ever really a tipping point that suddenly ignited my eating disorder, but my new found obsession with clothes was at an all-time high. It was impossible to find these intricate, dainty dresses and skirts anywhere but online, so I stalked eBay and second hand clothing sites. And as this fashion originated in Japan, more often than not the dresses I coveted most wouldn’t fit anyone larger than a size two.
I decided to give myself a goal. At 5’4″, I aimed for 109 pounds, just .2 higher than underweight as listed on the BMI scale. I was around 113 pounds when my period stopped, yet I still couldn’t squeeze into anything smaller than size four. Jeans and pants became the ultimate enemy and my lifelong obsession with my stomach and hips soared to new heights.
I refused to wear anything that would show my true shape. Yards of fabric hid my frame and helped me forget my untoned belly and jiggly thighs. Trying on pants would inevitably result in a complete breakdown of frustration and self-loathing. It didn’t matter how much weight I lost, or how many pairs of pants I tried on, I always felt like a stuffed sausage, my thighs and calves trapped in stiff, unforgiving fabric and my doughy stomach pooled out over my waistband whenever I sat down. When I reached 91 pounds, I went into outpatient therapy.
This was all less than four years ago.
A lot of people think that if someone who once was sick doesn’t relapse into past behaviors, then they’re okay. Or if someone looks healthy from the outside and has learned how to smile again, they’re healed. Sadly, just as many people know this isn’t true.
While I’m no longer restricting calories and have taken up a healthy form of exercise I actually enjoy, there are some parts of my disorder I’ve never fully given up. The body-positive movement helped me to realize that people of all sizes are capable of being beautiful, so even as the pounds piled back on, I held onto the hope the maybe I too could be one of them.
For the past couple of years, I have been fortunate to work in an environment that is very relaxed about what I wear. Dresses and skirts remained my staple, and even when I had an off day I at least didn’t have to worry about my waistband chastising me for having a second helping of cake. I own exactly one pair of jeans, purchased only because I desperately wanted to go horse-riding, but not after experiencing a grueling, meltdown-inducing shopping trip with my then-boyfriend.
Denim and pants are such a staple in many people’s wardrobes that they don’t seem to really understand when I try to explain why I loathe them so much. With trend of yoga pants and leggings on the rise, I’ve been urged to try them out as a comfier, just-like-pajamas alternative.
THEY ARE NOT LIKE PAJAMAS.
Unfortunately, I’ve hit a point in my career where bare legs are no longer an option, and this is where I have become stranded. Beautiful clothes, as shallow as it may be, have been a huge element in coping with my post-91-pounds body. While I may not feel beautiful, I can take comfort in knowing that my clothes are.
I realize that for many women, skirts and dresses are the enemy and pants are an equalizing option. And to be honest, this is so commonplace in Western society that it’s probably why my problem with pants is seen as such a joke. But where other individuals find authority in denim, I feel trapped. Instead, pants make me feel ugly. Pants make me physically uncomfortable. Pants make me feel powerless.
But I can’t hide forever. For more than just keeping my job, I realize that realistically I can’t continue to wear dresses forever. Maybe this is just another facet of my eating disorder, or maybe it’s a completely unrelated issue.
Either way, it’s an obstacle I have to overcome, and perhaps it will help me on the path to someday feeling like enough no matter what I’m wearing.