For more years than I care to remember, there was a common key factor in my clothes shopping decisions and outfit selection process. Under the sort of harsh changing room lights that make you feel particularly shiny and toad-like anyway, or in my own bedroom, I have looked in the mirror at my prospective outfit and I have scrutinised: this doesn’t make me look bigger than I am, does it?
I’ve gone through countless ‘personal style’ approaches, loved different colours and different prints and different shapes, but one thing has remained the same; if it made me ‘look bigger’, it wasn’t coming home with me. If it could provide some kind of slimming optical illusion, it was very welcome. And when I’ve put on weight, I’ve attempted to dress my way slim as a way of making me feel better about that fact.
It’s not surprising, really, considering the sorts of things that were on tv when anyone around my age was growing up; women having their bodies criticised and then bundled into clothes designed to hide their ‘bad bits’ (bad meaning anything that wasn’t thin, of course).
And so even though I thought that I thought all bodies were equal and that we should wear whatever we like, I’ve also been dressing to look slimmer, sometimes purposefully, and sometimes without noticing that’s what I’m doing, which could only really make me consider in more detail my dedication to both of those opinions I hold dear.
And this year, perhaps as a result of doing that, I’ve noticed a shift.
I’ve placed less importance on whether something is making me look the way I always assumed I was supposed to, and more on whether I actually like the item at all. I’ve bought and worn things that I loved – like wide legged jumpsuits, funnily enough – with decreasing attention paid to whether they would be considered ‘flattering’ for me. I’ve bypassed the what if all of that fabric adds bulk onto my short stumpy legs and what if people notice my podgy upper arms and what if it makes me look wide, and found that the answer to those what ifs is; well, nothing.
Side note: I’m aware that in the grand scheme of things I benefit from a degree of privilege by being on the smaller end of the bodily spectrum, but that being said, I’m not a slim girl either, and I’m certainly not immune to the pressures we all face to meet certain standards of beauty.
I’ve taken ‘looking thinner’ off my dressing agenda, because – shock horror – looking thinner is not what dressing is for, and because I’d like to rid myself of the notion that thinness, or perceived thinness, equals ‘better’.
Most of us would probably agree that we want what we’re wearing to flatter us. Somewhere along the way, though, flattering has come to mean one thing: slimming. I could trot out a thousand words on that alone and perhaps I will at a later date, but for now; these things do not have to be synonymous.
I truly believe that clothing has the ability to make us feel fantastic. If a nipped in waist and a long sleeve do that for you, that’s great. I’m a big fan of several things that do fall into a typically slimming/balancing/flattering category. And it’s not that I’m shunning clothing of this kind, because I still think lots of it is wonderful – I don’t forsee a day where I don’t own a wrap dress, for example – just shunning the idea that if something doesn’t slim me down it doesn’t deserve a place in my wardrobe.
I’m also, you see, a big fan of some other things that don’t fall into said category, and aren’t perhaps recommended for my body type, and I’m not going to let the fact that they don’t make me look my ‘thinnest’ self prevent them from getting in on the action anymore. It isn’t going to be my shopping priority. In fact, I don’t want it to be part of my thought process. I will not feel obliged – because that is how I have felt, and how I think a lot of women feel – to avoid adding any weight to my thighs, emphasise my waist or steer clear of ‘excess bulk’.
We do not owe it to the world to try to look as slim as we can, lest anyone think we don’t actually mind being the size we are or – shock horror – even bigger. Dressing to appear our smallest is not some form of payment to make our existence as women more palatable, and in some small way, positioning ‘makes me look slimmer’ in my mind as a positive was just reinforcing the idea that thinness equals value, and is what we should all be striving for. As far as our worth as people goes, I have to believe it amounts to more than that.
So, what am I dressing for now, if not to look slimmer? Well, amongst other things: to be comfortable, to make me feel like my best self, to enjoy variety and expression and personal style, and to look a bit extra in the widest legged jumpsuit I’ve ever owned outside a newsagent at 8am on the way to work.
I’ll get off my soapbox now, see you next time lovely things x
What I’m wearing
Photography: Robert Poor