Part of finding myself during my university years was developing a personal style. I had always liked clothing, but had never really pegged down how I liked to dress, independent of current trends and of anyone else’s opinion. In my California high school, it was all about Hollister and Abercrombie and hooded sweatshirts and Uggs, and I generally tried to conform to those standards (except for the Uggs, that is). Once I left for my east coast, big-city college campus, I began to realize that I loved wearing heels, leather, silk, and jewelry, that I cared about quality, about building a wardrobe, and that I wanted to dress my best every day, no matter where I was going and no matter how anyone else there would be dressed. My favourite piece of clothing was my pair of leather leggings from Zara. When I wore them, I knew I looked strong, sexy, confident, and cool, no matter how bad a day I was having. They were the epitome of the “tough-girl chic” style (and overall persona) I wanted to put forth.
My clothing and love of fashion became a big part of my identity over the next five years of my life. My clothing was my armor, a shield of self-confidence, a glossy exterior that hid my troubled, tumultuous thoughts.
A little less than six months ago, just after finishing my last university final and 6 weeks before graduation, I had a reality check with regards to my eating disorder. I finally accepted that I had been in a state of quasi-recovery for over two years, that I was still quite sick, and that I needed more involved professional help. I jumped into recovery feet-first, and, naturally, started gaining weight as my body restored itself. One of the most emotional, depressing, and disheartening things about the first few months was having to part ways with my “sick clothes” – the very clothes that made me feel confident and stylish, and that I had woven into my self-identity.
Every recovery warrior who has gone through (or is going through) weight restoration knows that letting go of sick clothes is an extremely difficult, emotional task. Sick clothes represent a huge part of our disease, and getting rid of them means coming to terms with the fact that your body is not meant to be so thin and unhealthy, and that those clothes should never fit again. For me, letting go of my sick clothes also meant getting rid of the fashionista persona I had developed. Letting go of my leather leggings meant letting go of the strength, sexiness, confidence, and cool factor that came with fitting into and wearing them.
The months passed, and I went shopping for cute, flowy dresses, shirts, and shorts with elastic waistbands… anything that made me feel presentable (and less self-conscious) as my body grew larger and healthier. As the summer started winding down, the lack of jeans, trousers, and blouses in my wardrobe began causing me more and more anxiety. What was I supposed to wear for fall? For job interviews? For going out with friends? My body had finally reached a healthy weight and had stopped gaining, and this meant I could finally start replacing my wardrobe with clothes that fit my new body.
Last week, I armed myself with the cash I had saved for this very purpose, and I took to the mall. Lo and behold, I found a pair of leather leggings, multiple sizes up from the super small pair I had once coveted. When I put them on and looked in the fitting room mirror, I felt strong, sexy, confident, and cool again, despite the larger size. I realized that the size of my clothing – my sick clothing – wasn’t what gave me confidence, and it wasn’t what made me stylish. I give myself confidence and I make myself stylish…. and the only thing kept me from feeling strong, sexy, and cool was my eating disorder.