I'm very grateful to a client of mine who agreed to write this post for Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Since this week is all about generating greater understanding and myth busting, I felt that my client's perspective and story was incredibly important to share. It's important because what she has to say is profound and also reflective of how most people live in their eating disorders. While many people believe that an eating disorder is something that is clearly visible, the truth is that most eating disorders are not outwardly obvious. If you came to my office and watched the myriad of clients who come and go, you would see a variety of ages, races, genders, shapes, and sizes. Please take the time to read what it is like for so many sufferers to feel invisible in their illness.
There were years when my eating disorder was very visible. My eyes were wide and hollow, my lips were chapped, my weight was low, my skin was pale. At the time, I was constantly either being recommended for a higher level or care or actually in a residential treatment center or hospital. The people in my life knew I was sick. They were mindful of saying things that might trigger me (even though they still managed a few gems) and continually expressed their care and concern.
Fast forward to 2015. After a final bout of residential treatment in 2010, I am in a stronger place, certainly, in my recovery. Pregnancy, although a tenuous time, solidified my commitment to living in a way in which my behaviors are aligned to my values. After I had my beautiful son in 2013, a glow returned to my skin. A light returned to my eyes. I smiled again. I felt joy. And I gained weight. Is it painful? Yes. Would I do it again? Absolutely.
I had my eating disorder for 15 years. I’ve been at a healthy, average weight for about 2 years. And in those two years, my eating disorder has become invisible. To friends and family, I am recovered. To them, it seems, recovery is a magical process in which all suffering, mental and physical, is erased with a healthy weight and outwardly “normal” eating habits. It is like those fifteen years of my life never existed.
In some ways it is a relief to be seen, once again, as the person who has it all together. But then, wasn’t that what led to the development of the eating disorder in the first place? It’s confusing to be seen as someone who is so strong when the vulnerabilities that led to the eating disorder are still there and are still being addressed in outpatient treatment.
A family member of mine often asks me, “Why do you still see those people,” meaning my therapist and nutritionist. If I were to be honest, I would say that the underlying issues still remain, despite being at a normal weight. My intense need for acceptance, my low sense of self-worth, my shame around food and my body, my issues of grief, loss, and abandonment, and all of the other myriad factors contributing to my anorexia still remain despite the fact that I eat and that I appear healthy. But instead, I just say, “Because they help.”
I wonder about being honest with my family and friends about where I am in my recovery. What holds me back? I am afraid that they won’t believe that I am still suffering, because I don’t feel like I deserve to suffer if my outside doesn’t match my inside. I worry that my words won’t be enough. I worry that if I said how much I am hurting inside, I would let people down. I worry that I am not worthy of care or even of treatment because I’m so much “better” than I used to be.
One thing I am learning in recovery is that I don’t have to share my story, my most vulnerable self, with the world. I don’t have to wear my pain like armor. I can use my words to express my pain to those few I can trust with my most authentic self. It took a long time for me to be able to put words to my experience, and I am learning that those words are precious. In many ways, it is much easier for me to use my body to express that I have a need; a need to be cared for, loved, accepted, valued, treasured. Using my words is much harder, but in the end, a far more effective way of communicating.
Happy Valentine's Day! I love having any excuse for celebrating. And Valentine's Day, which may be a reminder to some of you of your single status, is really all about love. And the MOST important love you can have is love for yourself. While it may sound cheezy, why not honor today by writing yourself a note of love.
Or perhaps better yet, get involved with the Dear She campaign. I just learned about this yesterday and was so excited to pass it along. Here's an excerpt from the Dear She Website:
"Dear She was created for women and girls of all ages to help deal with matters of body image and self confidence. Dear She utilizes the therapeutic qualities of writing as a form of self expression by writing anonymous love letters to the self. You can write us a letter in the share section! Tell us anything you want, anything you want to get off your chest, it’s safe with us. You can also send us a tweet, an image of a drawing, a Facebook message, or anything that helps you work through a struggle that so many women face. These “letters” as we like to call them, will be collected into a book that you can view and purchase here on our site. Collecting the letters together, in whatever format they come in, will help create a sense of community. Readers will be able to experience the stories of women from all different walks of life, with different perspectives on the same topic. This community is brought even closer together by our blog. There you can see what we’re up to here at Dear She, check out Letters of the Week, project updates, and other neat stuff! Dear She is a safe space to express yourself, seek comfort, and love yourself."
If you don't end up writing yourself a note, I hope you'll do something to show yourself a little love today. I plan to take an afternoon nap which is something I love but rarely have time for. What will you be doing get a little love fest going on?
I’m excited to share with you the final post in my series on larger lady fashion. While the first to posts were quite practical, this one provides you with some excellent points to ponder as well as some handy tips. Her writing is in response to the New York Times Article Plus-Sized Fashion Moves Beyond the Muumuu. Enjoy and feel free to share your own thoughts!
While reading this article, several things stood out for me, like the usual "ooh, a designer used a plus-size/curvy model!" who turns out to be size 10! But the part I'm still processing is the suggestion that larger women subscribe to clothing rental services (WHAT??) because high-end designers believe that "When you’re taught to look at your body as a work in progress, you’re not going to spend $1,000 on a coat to last forever because you’re not hoping for it to last forever." We've been talking about this for a year! This is precisely what self-acceptance is not. The very thought of women renting clothes, as though their bodies are some sort of extended-stay hotels they don't really live in but are just passing through! I may need to write a letter to the editor about this....
One really good point the article makes is that "there's no Vogue for the plus-sized." This is what troubles me the most about plus-size fashion. There was a gorgeous, short-lived magazine years ago called Mode. Most of the clothes were very expensive (e.g., Marina Rinaldi, Anna Scholz) but beautiful and edgy. And the models were stunning and photographed like high-fashion models, not cheesy catalog posing. It was a revelation, that there could be such a beautiful, high-quality, high-end magazine for plus-size women. Everything about it was fine: the photography, the copy, the paper, the ads. My heart broke when through several editors and then finally went out of print.
Which brings me, I guess, to why it's been so hard to think of plus-size blogs to recommend. Most of them don't inspire me; my style is changing, but it is nothing like what most of the bloggers like, especially the younger ones. A lot of it looks cheap and disposable. The best two I've found are Stephanie Zwicky's Blog and And I Get Dressed, but what I really love are the French "street style" blogs and posts I find on google or Pinterest. I've always gone for "investment" clothes--buying a few well-made, classic versatile pieces I can mix or match and wear for years (as in decades, sometimes, like my winter coat and a few sweaters). My best style revelation happened in the mid-1990s when I lived in London and needed an outfit to wear as my friend's "best ma'am." I went to Liberty and met an amazing sales assistant named Nora (or Norma). We hit it off because she had family in NY and she was of West Indian descent. She introduced me to designers like Issey Miyake and Shirin Guild, whose clothes were sculptural and inventive--they suited me perfectly and made me feel beautiful and chic. Liberty's women's department isn't large but it's amazingly curated--clothes as works of art, dressing as adornment and self-expression, not trendy and also not particularly youthful (I was always the youngest and poorest woman there). I couldn't and wouldn't wear most of the clothes, but I learned a lot just spending time looking around and studying the clothes and how they were put together on the manequins--and also studying the other shoppers' style and confidence.
The Nordstrom website has a huge, excellent plus-size section with very good sales (over the holidays I cleaned up on some Eileen Fisher sweaters). Ebay is also really good. I can't afford paying retail for Issey Miyake, but a lot of his stuff is available practically new from Japanese sellers. His Pleats Please line is amazing--stretchy, comfortable, and colorful (though there are plenty of neutrals, too).
One issue that I've been thinking about over the past week or so is internalized self-hatred--and whether that's part of my not liking most of the plus-size blogs. I'll look at them and think, oh god, do I look like THAT? And I hate that in me.... Much to discuss, I guess....
I hope this series has each of you thinking about your own relationship to your bodies- how you treat them, how you invest in them, and how they do or do not reflect your own feelings of worthiness. I hope this evolves into a meaningful thought experiment for each of you. Clothing and fashion is incredibly personal. For some it matters very little. And for others, it is a representation of how you feel about yourself. At the end of the day, each of you are deserving of self-love. And how you choose to make the manifest in your life is a journey I how you will embark on thoughtfully.
Wowee- I've been getting a lot of positive feedback about this fat fashion series. Thanks everyone! But most of all, big thank you to the wisdom of the women who shared their thoughts and experiences. So without further ado, here is more fashion advice for larger ladies. Enjoy! And if you missed the first post, be sure to check it out.
**I'm telling you- there are tips in here for women of all shapes and sizes.
One of the things I feel are the most lacking in fat fashion is the ability to go into a store and try things on. Women's fat bodies come in SO many different shapes, that the idea that you can measure parts of your body and know what looks good on you is ludicrous. BUT unfortunately, all the best fashions are available online (in my opinion anyway). So I divided my faves into online shops, and places you go and try stuff on!
ASOS Curve - This is the most fashion forward plus size clothes I've ever seen. They have some weird, fun pieces. A lot of short skirts (which aren't my favorite as I'm in my 30s) but short skirts are cured by good leggings in my opinion!
EShakti - This is an India-based company that keeps getting better over the years. They sell mostly vintage styles for affordable prices in sizes 0-32. They best part is that for $8 extra you can have a garment made to your size specifications. You can also add sleeves or length (or get rid of sleeves or length) on many of their dresses. The dresses are affordable, but their return process costs money and time, so I don't order from there very often. That being said, the dresses/skirts that I have that I've kept, I've LOVED.
SimplyBe - A British website with a HUGE variety of really fun styles. It's like the anti-Roamans. Super fashion forward, and very few oversized drapey shirts.
City Chic - I've never bought anything from City Chic, but I LOVE looking at their website. Such cool, cute clothes.
ModCloth - For a while their alleged plus size section was SO SAD, but it's really improved! Make sure to read all the reviews/sizing descriptions as some of their clothes are oddly sized.
We Love Colors - For basic colored tights! They are stretchy, $15, and last forever.
Dress Barn - The name is terrible, but their plus size section is AMAZING. I have never enjoyed shopping in a store as much I have in dress barn over the past few years. They have such a wide variety of dresses and skirts, and they have some crazy good sales. I've been underwhelmed with their Fall collection, but consistently LOVE their summer dresses! SO many bright colors, and varying shapes!
Macy's - It's a crap shoot at times, but I've gotten some great pieces from Macy's sales rack. AND unlike many other stores they haven't cut down on their plus size section. Also, I LOVE the American Rag brand as I love Hipster chic looks. :)
Lord and Taylor - It's a step above Macy's. Their dresses can be expensive if full price, but if you are willing to buy out of season, you can get some crazy good deals (particularly on holiday weekends). I and my friends have gotten so many amazing dresses there over the years.
Also, here's my tips (which I learned from many a fat fashion blogger):
- Try everything on, even shapes or styles you might not normally try. My best friend is always getting me to try on things I would never picked out, and it's led to a couple of really cool pieces.
- That being said, have wardrobe basics! As a almost primary skirt/dress wearer, a denim skirt (a pencil and a full skirt), black pants, basic cardigans in varying lengths (from cropped to long), and black/grey/navy tights are my most important pieces. If wearing tights leads to any chub rub (which I find happens if I'm doing too much walking in my tights) I pair them with the nylon shorties I wear under my dresses in the summer. Also, since they are high-waisted they keep my tummy warm in the winter too!! :)
- In that vein you can get GREAT wardrobe basics from the plus size staples (Lane Bryant, Torrid, Roaman's, Jessica London etc.) I find those stores aren't great for interesting pieces, but I just bought some jeans from LB which are SUPER comfy and cute, and I LOVE the comfort waistbands!!!
- Get a bra that fits. Most women are wearing a bra that is too big in the band and too small in the cup. Although I hate Nordstrom for their in-store clothes selection, get fitted for a bra there. Also, once you know your size, you can get bras from the onlines (herroom.com is my favorite big boobie website). I promise your clothes will all feel brand new!
- Wear things that aren't "flattering" just because you like them. I don't consider my wardrobe to be a political statement, but just by nature of my body, it is! This means horizontal stripes, leggings as pants, SKINNY PANTS, and crop tops. You can wear anything you want! F*ck Flattering!!
- Subscribe to many a plus size fashion blog. Although my cheapness keeps me from fully imitating my favorite fashion blogger (Chastity Garner), seeing her wear different styles, seeing her look so sexy, or flirty or elegant, all while flaunting her big body--it makes me feel bolder about my own body, and gives me ideas about what I want to wear.
***Disclaimer: This post is not just for fat women. This post is for everyone because we all need to learn to check our weight bias at the door and evaluate our own internalized stigma about size. I hope this 3-part blog series will increase your capacity for compassion around weight.
A couple of months ago I had a really fascinating conversation about fashion with a client of mine. She is someone who lives in a larger body. And she has really helped me understand some of the major barriers to shopping and feeling fashionable as a fat woman.
My eyes filled with tears when she described how she has felt about clothes shopping, style, and even a little pampering.
“I never felt deserving a manicure let alone stylish clothes. I was fat and should be ashamed and try to hide as much as possible. How dare I think it ok to draw attention to myself or treat my fat body with kindness? I did not believe I deserved it and had no place making myself more noticeable than I already was."
And then there were the logistical issues. Despite how frequently we hear about the growing rates of obesity, obese people have pretty crappy options for buying cute clothes. Forget going to the mall. Sure there’s Lane Bryant, the token fat lady store. But that is about it. And it can be tough buying clothes online since sizing is incredibly inconsistent and cute clothes for bigger bodies are tough to find. Many larger women fantasize about what it would be like to walk into a mall and have so many options to choose from- multiple stores, not just one.
I live in a culturally acceptable thin body, this education from clients and friends feels really important to me. I have not experienced what so many of my clients (and many of you) have experienced. I wanted to learn and better understand their struggle. I believe so strongly in women (in particular) dressing in ways that feel good. And I think it totally sucks that it is so hard for so many woman to do so due to their size.
So I decided to ask some advice from 3 lovely larger ladies. I asked them to write about what they think about fat fashion and any tips they could share with my readers. I will be presenting their responses in 3 different blog posts so stay tuned!
My first Fat Fashion Consultant provided the following tips:
1. Check out this blog post: The Top 20 Breakout Plus Size Style Bloggers of 2014
2. I really am enjoying Gwynnie Bee for dress rentals.
3. High recommendations for Re/Dress, one of my favorite plus size shops:.
4. I'm not usually one for thrift stores, but I have a lot of friends who have good luck with thrifting. Their usual tip is that you should try things on regardless of a sizing label. Clothes sizing is totally bizarre and L means something different for each brand. Also sometimes a curvy girl will rock a tight fitting piece that was originally marketed to be loose on a smaller body.
Stay tuned for tips and thoughts from two more fat fashionistas!