Over the weekend an old gym acquaintance made a comment to me that hit me hard, arguably in the “wrong” way. I’m not going to get into all of it here, because it aligns with a subject I’ve been wanting to write about more in depth and in its own post for awhile, but in that moment all of the worries and fears and stresses I’ve had recently about my body were validated. And that sucks, for both of us.
For me because body image issues blow, period. (No weird sexual innuendo/pun/imagery/whatever intended.) And for her because she has no idea that her comment affected me the way that it did, and because I know that she didn’t intend for her comment to come across the way that it did; because my mind interpreted an innocent comment she made in passing, as part of conversation, as a confirmation of all the self-hating things I’ve been telling myself — of all the negative and hurtful internal dialogue that I’ve been having with myself.
Not surprisingly, I was unpredictably short and cold with the kids and Shannon for the rest of the day and I’m pretty sure everyone noticed. The kids, because they immediately began behaving differently in response to my sudden but complete change in body language, demeanor, and mood. Shannon, because she kept insisting that she knew “something” was “up” while I insisted that I was “fine”. And so our afternoon in DC continued as such, until the second we got home and I disappeared upstairs, opened up my closet, and began cleaning it out, swiftly and ruthlessly.
Before Saturday evening, my closet was full of clothes. Work clothes, Army clothes, casual clothes, club clothes, workout clothes, dinner party clothes, winter clothes, summer clothes, and even some sexy time clothes (heeyyy). For me, the problem has never really been one of a literal lack of things to wear. The problem has always been the lack of having anything to wear that fits my body.
I have a small frame. I always have. It’s great enough, I guess. But it isn’t problem-free. I’ve never had to worry about being “too big” for anything in my life, but I have struggled with being “big enough” for a lot of things (some of you will hate me for saying this but I even struggled to fit a size 0 pant and adult womens’ medium shirt when I was 9 months pregnant). Maybe that doesn’t sound like a problem to you, but it’s been an emotionally charged issue for me for my entire life. Being tiny isn’t without its own set of problems.
I’m almost 30 years old and I struggle to fit in adult women’s sizes, which means most of the time I’m stuck with trendy (see also: hideous and not always work appropriate) “juniors” sizes. I’m a mother to three kids and I’m small and in shape and I like to workout, and that brings its own host of criticism, judgment, and assumptions with it, like the accusations that I have a workout “problem” or that I suffer from eating disorders. Because obviously — clearly – I couldn’t possibly be this small naturally. Except that I am.
I was a late bloomer, lanky and disproportioned until I was nearly 17 years old. Then, all of a sudden, I developed curves. A little bit of hips and a whole lots of boobs. They weren’t huge, but they were big enough. I liked them pretty alright. I’d spent the entirety of my adolescence envying the bodies of other girls at school, thoroughly jealous that they could wear bras — that they had a reason to wear a real bra because they had something to safeguard and adorn with a real bra — and low cut shirts while I walked around wearing loose-fitting tops underneath even looser fitting hoodies to avoid drawing attention to a space that wasn’t supposed to be as flat as it was; to a space that was supposed to make me proud, or not not happy at the very least, instead of self-conscious and ashamed.
I was extremely self-conscious about being a late bloomer and so when I suddenly developed my own womanly features, it was exciting. Like, really fucking thrilling. I’d always wanted a feminine body and now I had one. Finally. No more feeling horrible about myself or being made fun of for the exact reason that I already felt horrible about myself (which just made me feel even worse). I was a year away from legal adulthood and I was finally feeling like I looked more grown up. I was finally feeling like a woman. And after being made fun of my entire life for having a boyish figure and boyish hobbies and big “boy” hands and a deep voice and no boobs, feeling like a woman felt really good. A year later I had a baby – the ultimate manifestation of womanhood — and another year after that I found myself weaning my sweet baby girl from breastfeeding. And just like that the amazing boobs that I’d spent my entire adolescence waiting for, the amazing boobs that I didn’t have any time to enjoy or flaunt, were practically gone.
Two more kids and two more rounds of breastfeeding later and the amazing boobs I’d had for *maybe* a year when I was 17, were actually gone. And I mean gone. I didn’t just go down a cup size. I went down all of the cup sizes, all the way down to nothing. I went all the way down all of the cup sizes to the point where when I look at my profile in the mirror, my stomach sticks out further than my chest; my stomach, which is flat, protrudes more than my chest. THE FUCK? I went all the way down all of the cup sizes to the point where I have to rely on flow-y blouses with busy patterns or frilly collars to distract from what I don’t have. I went all the way down all of the cup sizes to the point where I live in one of two padded sports bras — even in work clothes — because not only do I not have anything left to fit in even the smallest, most structured or padded bra, but because it physically hurts to wear a real bra; because I have so little left at the bottom of my breast line/top of my rib cage that the underwire from the cup turns inward at its “corners” and the fabric at the top of the cup caves in; and because even if I’m the only one who knows I’m wearing a sports bra there’s at least an expectation — a level of acceptability — for a flattened chest, because, by nature, sports bras are restricting; they’re supposed to compress.
I had been blessed, albeit what I felt to be behind schedule, with a womanly figure that I thought was perfect and just like that it was taken away from me before I had time to fully experience it or appreciate it. I was robbed of a feature that I unequivocally define as a primal trademark of womanhood and femininity; a physical trait that, in part and at its core, differentiates female from male and comprises so much of a woman’s identity. Or maybe it’s precisely because it’s a defining trait of womanhood, of femininity, that I lack that so much of my identity is wrapped up in it; or, rather, in its absence from my body and, therefore, its absence from, and hole in, my identity. It is, to be honest, humiliating and demeaning.
Over the years I’ve accumulated a wardrobe full of pieces that I love but that, now that I’ve had three kids and have lost any semblance of breast tone or shape, don’t fit right; that won’t ever fit right. I’ve been holding on to all these pieces out of a false hope that I will one day be able to wear MY clothes again, and out of a desperate, pathetic attempt to keep up the facade with myself. To pretend that I had endless outfit options with a closet full of clothes. To pretend that my reality wasn’t the opposite. To pretend that my reality isn’t that even though my closet was stuffed from wall to wall, I still had next to nothing to wear.
I’ve spent all these years keeping my closet full of clothes that don’t fit because I thought it would be easier to reconcile with myself than staring at a nearly empty closet that offered only a handful of pieces. I thought it was easier to hold on to them just in case, but I was wrong. Because it’s not that my clothes don’t fit because I need to lose a few pounds or cut a few inches. It’s because I would have to rebuild an anatomical structure — I would have to ADD to my body — in order for my clothes to fit again.
Changing my diet or taking a new vitamin or switching up my workout isn’t going to make me magically grow new boobs in the way it would help me lose weight or inches if I needed to. So you see, keeping all those clothes in my closet where I could see them everyday wasn’t making it better. It made it worse. It was a constant reminder of what I’m missing, of all the things I can’t wear, of all the things I don’t feel comfortable wearing, instead of being the reassurance I was trying to force it to be.
I hadn’t planned on cleaning my closet out yet. I didn’t wake up Saturday morning intent on getting rid of nearly 3/4 of my wardrobe. It wasn’t on any to do list. It wasn’t even on my radar. But then that comment. That comment that is totally unrelated to my “I have no boobs wah wah wah” rant here but that nonetheless triggered inside me an overwhelming need to ruthlessly and indiscriminately go through my closet, hanger by hanger, tossing aside everything I haven’t worn in half a decade; everything that awkwardly hangs off my awkward frame, even though they’re pieces I love.
The Great Culling of the Closet was easier than I had expected it would be, but I think it turned out that way because I was ruthless and swift and indiscriminate; extremely ruthless and swift and indiscriminate. The only items that remain in my closet are a few pairs of works pants (maybe seven, and at least four of which are, actually, maternity pants, but that’s an entirely different story for a different day), six dresses (at least two of which I kept out strictly out of nostalgia) and four skirts, two pairs of jeans and two pairs of shorts, a small assortment of cardigans and blazers (none of which fit right, or well, but that I have to keep because I have to cover my tattoos at work), and a handful of extra small flow-y and patterned blouses with frilly collars that are still too big but oh-fucking-well.
At first glance it might seem foolish that I decided to get rid of nearly 3/4 of my wardrobe in one fell swoop the day after I decided to go on a spending fast (I know I haven’t mentioned that part yet, but that’s also a totally different story for another day), but I mean, really, what’s the point of holding on to things that are just a painful reminder of what once was and of what won’t be again? It isn’t healthy or cathartic. It might seem silly to feel so much about this topic — after all, it’s not like I lost a child or a limb — but it’s something that is always on my mind; something that upsets me so profoundly every single day that I end up in tears over it; something that, nearly a decade later, I still can’t “get over”. But maybe, just maybe, I’m getting there. Because while my closet now isn’t technically anymore empty than it was before — because while it was full of stuff, it was stuff that I hadn’t worn in at least two years, stuff that doesn’t, and won’t ever again, fit – having actually physically removed all of those items has been the healthy and cathartic move. Because at least now I’m living in reality.
Read more The Happy Closet posts.