Recent holidays meant treating myself to (and receiving from my partner) new clothing over the internet from my favorite store. When my order arrived, everything fit well except for one pair of pants that despite being “my size” were slightly too tight around my waist. As I looked in the mirror wearing them, it brought up a lot of old feelings about myself and my body. I encountered voices telling me that I should keep them, on the (bizarre) notion that I would soon lose weight and they would fit better, while in a few months they would be rendered baggy if I went a size up; that I should wear them and ignore any discomfort because doing so would keep me attached to the number on the tag. In the height of my eating disorder, I only bought “thin clothes,” that were several sizes too small. In the meantime I wore a limited supply of baggy, shapeless garments that I could hide under until the “final reveal,” after I had starved myself enough, which never happened.
I stopped doing all of this years ago, but whenever I’ve tried something on that doesn’t fit when it is ‘supposed to’ since, I’ve found myself on that train again. In thinking that I should get it anyway, I would begin to define myself on the spot by my interaction with these pieces of clothing, losing my real identity in the process. Of course I didn’t start this cycle myself, as with my eating disorder as a whole it has it’s roots in my early life.
When I was a child, my parents most often didn’t provide me with enough clothing to wear. Often my mother would get me clothes sized way too big, on the expectation that I would “grow into” them, and out of an obvious disinterest in how I looked. Normal wear and tear caused by playing outside also meant that the clothes weren’t very likely to last long enough for that to happen. But sometimes she also bought me jeans that were too small, or I got to the point when I outgrew all the jeans I had, and I knew that if I complained or asked her to get me something else I would be screamed at. My sister would drive me to take things back to the mall at Christmas, and she had a “rule” that anything I returned would be for cash that went right back to my parents. So I couldn’t even maintain my supply of clothing if I took things back; I would end up with less. That was so degrading.
But I think I was eleven years old when I first came into the problem of having to wear jeans on a near daily basis that were too small for me. They caused the skin around my waist to burn and develop deep red welts. I couldn’t wait to get them off at the end of the school day. It was also that same year when I found one pair of jeans was too long in the legs, and I was sick of dealing with them. So I decided to cut them down, but I didn’t have a good technique (it being my first time) and they wound up falling well above my ankles. When my parents took them out of the laundry, they went ballistic, shaming me endlessly for “ruining” a pair of jeans. The leg length was something that they could see, which means they cared about it. While something like my waist burning or my feelings were invisible enough for them to ignore.
I never heard the end of that episode, and perhaps it is what my mother used as “justification” for buying me even less clothing in the future; an unending, hateful punishment. At the beginning of eighth grade, my sister was allowed to spend a paltry amount of money for me at the thrift store, and then my father wound up surrendering some of his old pants, without my asking. One night he ordered me out into the living room, and announced that he was going to cut my pants. On the surface this seemed fine, but then he said I had to put them on first so that he could figure out where to cut. From the beginning he was so angry, about what I don’t know. I came out wearing several pairs of pants over each other, and he yelled at me to go take them off. Then I wore a pair of denim shorts under one pair, and he screamed at me to “cut it out!”
Neither of these things affected his taking a measurement of where the pants should fall on my leg. What they did was protect my dignity; I didn’t want to undress to my underwear in front of him and my mother in the living room. I went back into my room, closed the door and started to panic. He kept yelling at me to go back out there, and said things like “I’m not having you go to school looking like a jerk!” I tried to tell him I just didn’t want them cut, but he insisted, “they’re my pants, so I’ll decide what’s done with them.” Deep down I knew that they considered my body as their possession too, and there was no telling how far they would go. Eventually I hid my tears, put on a baggy bathing suit and went out there so that my father could roughly handle me, measure the legs and then yank down yet another pair of pants for the next. When my drunk mother saw the bathing suit, she mockingly commented on how they were “nice underwear.” The fact was, it was normal for me to have only two pairs of underwear and socks with holes in them under her regime; this wasn’t the only time I had to wear that bathing suit.
That day was so humiliating, intrusive, and creepy but those flimsy old pants hardly lasted until Christmas before ripping to shreds anyway, at which point they gave me one pair of jeans to wear for the rest of the year. When we bought them, mother said, “you know this is for Christmas, right?” and so I had to wear pants that had split at the crotch for the last few days of school before the break. Other students at school noticed, so I can’t imagine that my parents didn’t, though they did nothing about it. Even when I had done a very good job at hemming my own (meager) jeans in the years to come, my mother would shake her head and criticize me for it, insisting that “your father could have done a better job!,” as if I was going to volunteer for a repeat of that treatment.
My health problems which started a few years ago destroyed all of the (limited) progress I had made in moving past this legacy because I became allergic to the chemicals that most clothes are treated with. I had to wear rags while trying to find the right source to buy from that I could tolerate, and it didn’t come without added expense. But I’m trying to build up a large wardrobe anyway, to overcome the patterns I learned in the past. My parents didn’t provide me with the lifestyle they could afford to out of their laziness, neglect, and prejudice. Afterwards I also didn’t live as well as I could afford to, until now. I’m trying to tell myself that I deserve the self-care that I didn’t receive in the past; that I’m worth it.
Last week, I did send back that pair of new pants for one that would fit correctly, and even ordered a few other things. I realize that sizing varies between different garments; it doesn’t mean that my body size is going up or down depending on what clothes are in front of me. Now that my eating disorder is finally coming towards a complete end, I know that I’m not going to bet my comfort today based on some hypothetical future; if my clothes become baggier, I will wear a belt or buy new ones. Today I’m not stuck with anything, I can speak up, change things and then keep going without denying myself what I need; and without shame.