Because learning to dress myself was only the beginning.
They were white, with purple and pink roses. No wonder I still remember them. I doubt those hand-me-down sweatpants were ever stylish, but I rocked them. When I was six I wore what I liked. Purple and pink were my favourite colours, so I wore them together, along with every barrette in my arsenal. I even had this splendid set of pearl earrings (clip-ons), which I would wear to church and embarrass my mother. Those were the carefree days, where I didn’t even stop to consider what people thought of my clothes. Would that I could go back.
Bellbottoms, or flares, were coming into fashion as I was entering my teen years. Pants, with flared-out legs so wide that you could park my little car under them, were paired with platform shoes—the clunkier the better. And I had neither.
When my birthday rolled around, I took my birthday money and bought a pair of black flares with white stripes down the side. They were haute. I wouldn’t be caught dead in them today, but I was twelve, and anxious to fit in. I asked my most stylish friend if they suited me, and she assured me they did. Great, I had one pair of fashionable pants.
I was a chunky, acne-riddled teenager. While my friends were wearing low-slung jeans and baby tees that showed off their flat midriffs, I was wearing a hoodie and modest jeans. Stores for kids that age don’t sell size XXL, and even if they had, my allowance didn’t permit much clothes shopping. I wouldn’t have known what clothes to put together anyway. That had to be learned.
I thought I wasn’t popular because I was fat, that I didn’t get attention from boys because I wasn’t beautiful like the other girls.
I did what I could. I bought makeup and experimented with covering my acne scars until I got it right. I tried different clothes, though I refused to shop in the plus sizes because that, somehow, made me ‘fat’. But somewhere in my late teens I started to pull my wardrobe together. I had this great jacket that made me feel like a million bucks, and some pretty tops that dressed up my jeans. I remember (and laugh) about the first scarf I bought, when they were a new thing. I was afraid that my family would think it was too ‘out there’.
I suspect growing up and gaining confidence did more for my body image than new clothes ever did. I got a job in a meat-packing facility, which is a direct route to looking like crap every day. But I was forced to associate with guys (gasp), stand up for myself, and assert myself among a group of adults that didn’t give a damn about me, or my feelings. It thickened my skin. Knowing that I could hold my own in the real world helped me hold my head high, even when I couldn’t afford to dress like a show-window mannequin.
Shortly thereafter, I began college. My wardrobe consisted of 90% MCC thrift-store items—like a ruffled ‘pirate coat’, a spangled tunic, and a never-ending supply of cardigans. I had classmates who rocked their eclectic thrift-store duds, and from them I learned that clothes were art—meant to be original and expressions of your inner self—not one size fits all. My clothes might not have fit into the prepster, hipster or sophisticate categories, but I was accepted anyway. I was accepted for being me.
I’m still learning that.
These days I work as a ‘fashion associate’ part-time, which comes with discounts that make trendy clothes affordable. I’d say I’ve found out what I would wear if I could wear anything I liked. Right now it’s purple, fish-scale pants, a wine-colored blazer, a sequined black tee, and boots that have caught my fancy (notice the reappearance of purple?). And, I’ve at last found peace in shopping in the plus-sizes. Face it, they fit me better, and they look great.
It will eventually get through to me that my clothes have never won, nor lost me any friends. Rather, it is the content of my character that attracts others. The coworkers who see me in a cerulean uniform and safety glasses like me just as well as the ones who see me in purple pants and sequins.
I can’t go back to being five years old and carefree, but maybe I’ll grow up a little more and care a little less about what people think of me.