As I stood naked in the fluorescent glare of the dressing room, all 200-plus pounds staring back at me in the mirror, I wondered if today might finally be the day I’d find the outfit that would change my life. By life-changing, I meant an outfit that would not only hide my fat, but also make my bleak outlook on plus-size fashions, and my own body, disappear too. My life eventually did change, but not because of any outfit. It changed because of what I learned when I lost weight.
When I was 70 pounds heavier, I felt trapped between two worlds when it came to fashion. There was the world in which I longed to wear trendy clothes and the latest styles. Then there was the world where I thought I’d look like a clown if I dressed the way I wanted to.
My solution? Unlike the Snickers bars I enjoyed by the handful, I chose to abstain from fashion. After all, I reasoned, why step into clothes that looked stunning on women of a healthier weight but were unflattering on my plus-size body? Why head out into the world looking like a brightly-colored tent with a designer label, when all I really wanted, and wanted desperately, was something to cover my fat?
- Using Clothes to Hide from Life
When I tipped the scales at 200+ pounds, I was more interested in what hid me than in what revealed me–physically and emotionally. Inside, I was a woman who loved to laugh and interact with others, but you'd never have known from my fashion choices. My monochrome ensembles and anything-that-hides-me outfits started to affect my psyche, making me feel just as dull and flat as I looked.
Turns out, my clothes weren't just hiding my fat, they were masking my personality too. I'd wear head-to-toe black or navy when I really wanted to step out in a bright red top and funky jewelry. Then I’d have a flash of Mimi from the Drew Carey Show, and I'd run straight back to the safety of my ho-hum wardrobe. A new purse every so often or a different-colored elastic hair band was, sadly, as flashy as I let myself get. I bought my clothes in stores that also sold tires, TVs and towels. I stopped caring about what was in style. Just feeling like I looked remotely decent (and fully camouflaged) was enough for me.
- Fat vs. Thin in the Dressing Room
Besides, shopping for clothes was depressing. “Slimming” vertical lines didn’t really provide anyone with the optical illusion that I was magically 10 pounds thinner. Any top that had to be tucked in was out of the question. When I dared venture out of the dressing room, sales ladies would comment on my outfits in a way that left me–how I looked–completely out of the picture.
“That color is beautiful,” or “Are those the jeans that are on sale?” were common responses. Nothing was said of the person wearing the beautiful color or the jeans, another blow to my already-damaged self-esteem.
These days, since I wear single-digit pant sizes and a medium top at the most, people no longer comment strictly on the clothes, but on my physical appearance. Now when the sales lady tells me a color is stunning, she'll add two simple but very meaningful words: “on you.” Ironically, being physically smaller has made me more visible. Unlike when I was heavy, comments like “Only someone with your legs could wear that skirt” have become routine.
- Learning to See Myself
Still, I don't feel excited by the compliments I get now, at least not anymore. Sure, when I first lost the weight I was thrilled just to wear blouses that I could tuck in. I loved the compliments. But as time went on, I found people's comments too body-centric, which was more unsettling than flattering. I began to feel like a fragmented individual, being picked over and evaluated piece by piece. I'm a great looking arm here, a fantastic thigh there. Is being seen as an objectified collection of parts really better than not being seen at all?
Looking back, I should have owned what I had when I was plus sized, Ã la Queen Latifah or Melissa McCarthy. Fat? So what! Instead, I avoided reading fashion magazines or trying to look stylish. Boy, did I miss out. Today, I'm aware of sites that have fantastic plus-size clothes, like Torrid and ASOS, something I likely wouldn't have bothered with back in my “just cover up and get on with it” days.
Fat or thin or somewhere in-between, I still can't help but wonder: were people seeing the real me? Somehow, I think they were. Turns out, I was the one missing out on seeing me all along.
Jennifer Lilley is a health/wellness and relationship writer who enjoys having her camera and the company of kind-hearted people close at hand. She blogs on her own weight loss and health site, Flabby Road. Find her on Facebook, and on Twitter: @JenSunshine.