“When's the last time you wrote something on the blog?” my husband asked. He didn't mean “created content,” he meant actually writing something that wasn't a sponsored post or an outfit-of-the-day. No malicious intent or judgment was implied with the question — Steve is about as direct a person as you can find. He's heard a lot of my self-scolding and grumbles of frustration that yet another week (and another, and another) passed without sharing anything here. He simply asked a question I've asked myself many times over the past year, and I appreciated his gentle nudge.
For the past 14 years, I've shown up to this little online home of mine and shared a lot of my heart. There have been major highs and lows, with extremes on both sides of the spectrum that fall well outside of what I imagined I'd ever experience.
I've also shared a lot of clothes. Mostly dresses, because pants and I have a complicated relationship. Life (thankfully) doesn't always deal knockout blows that evoke all.the.feels that spill onto a screen, but life does always necessitate clothes, so they've been shared with more frequency in recent years.
When someone I don't know asks about blogging or *influencing*, I often joke that I'm an oversharer who likes to shop. This response is usually accompanied by a chuckle and a “gee-whiz” shrug — delivered in hopes that it will move the conversation along swiftly to the next non-me subject. I understand many people carry negative assumptions about influencers — I'm guilty of those thoughts on occasion — and if I can be lighthearted about things and move the discussion right along, there's less risk of me word-vomiting a bunch of things to try to justify that my existence is valid and helpful. There's a lot of deeply-rooted mess that I've carried for a long time. The lighthearted “I'm an oversharer who likes to shop” response is usually an effective redirect. It's short. It's vague. It evokes a shallowness that can stop strangers from diving in while I'm standing in front of them. If they want to go deeper, they can root around in my archives from a distance. They usually don't.
While it's true that I share personal stories online more frequently than others, that doesn't mean that it's easy. Opening up (oversharing) always feels like a giant risk — like ripping a bandage off an open wound that theoretically anyone online can see. And while it's true that I share more photos of myself (um, likes to shop) than a less “online” person, the work to do that can feel just as vulnerable. The process to get something from an e-commerce site, to the package arriving on my doorstep, to my body, to a photo, to this blog or Instagram can require just as much emotional processing as pouring out words on a screen.
For those of you thinking “girl, clothes aren't that deep,” I understand — but don't share — your perspective.
Before you see several hundred words on this site talking about things like not being able to get off the bathroom floor from grief, or dissecting my fat camp experience, there have been many hours of processing. Pushing down the feelings only for them to rise unexpectedly when the pressure of keeping them inside far exceeds the capacity of my container. There's the messy work of untangling how to feel everything while remaining level-headed enough to attempt to make it make sense, or at least make it feel manageable enough to not let it occupy more space than I have to give. Next, an evaluation – could sharing this thing help other people more than it could hurt me? Will it help someone else feel seen, or help them gain perspective? And is there really the true potential for self-harm in sharing, or am I clinging to the long-held and deeply-rooted fear that others may see me as weak/emotional/proud/braggy/pathetic/narcissistic/anything-other-than-perfect?
It may seem like less of a mental lift to share a photo of myself in a dress I like. Some days, it doesn't feel like a big deal. Many more days, it requires laboring through the body image obstacle course that I've trained on for years. On good days, the muscle memory kicks in and everything flows as it should. There is thought, but things process quickly and efficiently. The transitions in my mind are smooth and free from distraction. There is a practiced precision. The scores that judges want to give me don't matter, because I know deep down that I hit all the marks. I look and feel good. 10 out of 10, no notes. Sharing might help someone find a style they were looking for. Or maybe someone will see that having a body size or shape like mine still deserves to be seen. But on these good days, I move on with my day and don't really think more of it. People can take what they want and leave the rest.
Those good days are pretty rare, no matter how long I work at it. Still, the fact that they exist at all is major progress.
The past few weeks were a reminder of how hard it feels to show up sometimes. I had a photoshoot scheduled. I was excited to take photos in beautiful weather, with a talented photographer, in a gorgeous setting. I had a clear vision of how I wanted to look and how I wanted to feel. I wanted to convey style and confidence. I could *see* the looks in my mind, and I was excited to take on the task of procuring the perfect items. Like I tell others, I'm good at shopping. This was my moment!
What actually happened was a stark reminder of how much work it takes to reconcile a vision with the realities of occupying a body of my size:
LACK OF ACCESS
- The pre-planning of ordering items far in advance since there are only three possible stores where I can purchase clothes close to my size in my city.
- The harsh reality of the lack of styles available, even online. Designers and brands only offer up the most watered-down versions of the same silhouettes that they've given plus size women for decades.
- A busted budget because of the lack of availability means no alternatives. You take what you can get, and it will be at whatever price they tell you it will be because there's no competition.
- The added costs of expedited shipping and the inevitable returns. Just for the luxury of trying them on, I'll have to pay a return fee for what doesn't work. And even for those that offer free shipping, it requires re-packaging the items and getting them back to whatever shipper they tell me to within a tight time frame. Then, I wait 4+ weeks for a refund to be issued.
With each item that failed to come close to my vision (which were MANY. SO MANY BAD THINGS!), the dam cracked and allowed old messaging to seep into my thoughts:
- Fashion rules: Antiquated “rules” popping back into my consciousness. Fat people shouldn't wear horizontal stripes. Don't show any skin above your knees. No lumps are acceptable – you must wear shapewear. Don't wear sleeveless items if your arms aren't toned. It was a barrage of 80s and 90s women's magazines' greatest hits.
- Troll resurrection: So many mean words from the past suddenly made me feel queasy. The regurgitation of heinous things said by people with so little to do that they can criticize strangers. On the internet. At school. Passing by in a car. Whispering loudly in my direction.
- 30 years of dieting and parental disapproval: The constant push to be smaller by any means necessary that started when I was five years old. The message was loud and clear – the smaller, the better. You were always too big. If you were smaller, you'd have more options. You are an example of a lack of willpower.
Current pop culture and backsliding of body acceptance in the mainstream were lighter fluid to the entire situation. Every time I told myself not to get upset about a piece of fabric not looking good on my particular form, I was hit with yet another article about miracle weight loss injections. On social media. On podcasts. On news sites. On the damn EMMYs telecast. Overheard at a restaurant.
Then, perhaps only noticed by some of us who have been following the plus fashion space for a long time, the lack of body diversity at every Fashion Week. Next came the inevitable think-pieces about why that is, written by publications that are notorious for lacking size diversity themselves.
After 3 weeks of searching the internet for no less than a total of 20 hours, thousands of dollars spent, and 12 packages received, I was out of time. Of all of the things I purchased, around 20% fit in a satisfactory way. I felt good in 10% of them, but even still, they were a compromise. None of them came close to what I had envisioned.
This is the most extreme example of the work that happens when I find an outfit and share it. But it was a reminder that the hunt is labor, not just shopping for frivolity. For me, clothes are an incredibly important part of identity. Not only do they offer a creative outlet for expression, but they are a tool that I lean on to communicate to the outside world that I belong. They are the armor that I use to combat all of the horrible stereotypes some people carry about fat people. I want my style and the effort to convey that I try. That I have good hygiene. That I can kind of blend in, even if I take up more space. That I'm someone worth looking at and noticing, and not an open target for snide remarks.
And if I'm honest, I use clothes and style as a way to show myself that I belong. That I am someone worth seeing. That I am more than my size. That I can stand out and not shrink. I can take up space.
I'm just a girl, standing in front of a mirror, asking it to love her.
Or more accurately: “I'm just a girl, standing in front of a mirror, asking for my mind to accept its reflection as a whole, worthy, and beautiful being regardless of the clothes I'm wearing.“
All of this to say, if you see me sharing more outfit photos than words, just know that it's more than just a dress. I need to remember this as well.
And the photoshoot that kicked off a month of shopping stress? The outfits looked a little different than I had envisioned, but I saw the photos and 100% nailed it. The woman I saw in the final photos was someone I wanted to be. She was authentically me. ❤️
(More to come on this shoot soon!)