Does this conundrum sound familiar?
Your clothes are too tight.
On the one hand, you feel really uncomfortable. You can’t move freely. You can’t breathe easily. You’re constantly being reminded about your weight gain. You find yourself lingering on ads or magazines that promise weight loss. Thoughts about cutting out sugar, bread, alcohol, cheese (or whatever) keep swimming around your mind. You also don’t like how you look and don’t have anything to wear that you feel good in. Ironically, even though you’re really upset about this, your eating seems to be more out of control than ever…
On the other hand, you worry that if you buy yourself clothes that fit, it’ll mean you’re giving up on the dream of a smaller body, that you’re giving up on the pursuit of better health, that you’re giving up on yourself altogether. You don’t want to reward yourself with new clothes when you believe you don’t deserve them. You’re afraid that if you buy clothes that fit, it’s a slippery slope to bigger and bigger clothes. Maybe wearing clothes that don’t fit is a kind of punishment for your disobedient body. Maybe it serves as motivation to stick to your diet and exercise plan? Or perhaps you regard this current iteration of your body as temporary and as such, doesn’t warrant the money spent on clothing it appropriately now.
So how do you untangle all of this?
Although this back-and-forth is happening within the confines of your own brain, it’s really important to remember that it isn’t happening in a vacuum. You learned all of this from somewhere. You were not born worrying about your body and how it looks. No, no, no! You were born in AWE of your body! Amazed by what it could do. Enthralled by its changes. You learned along the way that certain bodies are valued and gain privileges and certain others are not and do not. You learned that a body’s appearance serves as social currency. And the currency with the highest value is the one that conforms to white supremacist, Eurocentric beauty standards within a capitalist paradigm. This means: white, thin (perhaps with curves in very particular places only), young, symmetrical, cis-gendered and heterosexual. Other bodies are, well… othered – not welcome, not celebrated or valued as much, seen as lacking.
Can we call bullshit on this? We do not need to subscribe to this. It is deeply damaging to all of us – but especially to people who fall outside of the current beauty standards.
2. Tell the truth
I made a lot of statements above that need examining! In order to be free to make decisions that align with our values, we need to tell the truth about whatever we’re thinking.
So let’s look at these one by one:
‘if you buy yourself clothes that fit, it’ll mean you’re giving up on the dream of a smaller body’
Buying yourself clothes that fit has nothing to do with your dreams or aspirations for the future. It’s like saying: ‘getting an English Literature degree means I have to give up on being a plumber one day.’ Nonsense.
Now we can have a discussion about whether your dream of being in a smaller body is one that is helpful or supportive. I would argue that it isn’t, because it will keep you locked in the diet mentality, which will keep you on the rollercoaster from bingeing/ overeating to cutting things out or cutting down on food (aka restriction). Letting go of your attachment to your body being any particular size will give you the space and freedom to make the most supportive and healthy decision for you NOW.
‘if you buy yourself clothes that fit, it’ll mean… that you’re giving up on the pursuit of better health and giving up on yourself altogether’
Also nonsense. Your health is not determined by your size. Your health is determined by your genes, your circumstances/ environment and your behaviours. Size isn’t a behaviour, it’s an outcome of many things. While there is an association between being at a higher weight and having poorer health outcomes, there is also an association between being at a very low weight, and poorer health outcomes, but we don’t talk about that, do we??? There are many reasons for the association with higher weight and poorer health that may not be to do with the relative quantity of adipose tissue. It may be to do with the internalised and external stigma of being at a higher weight (this causes chronically elevated cortisol levels, which isn’t good for anyone’s health). It may be to do with avoiding going to the doctor because of fear of the weight-health lecture. Or going to the doctor but not being given the proper examinations/ tests, and instead, being sent home with a ‘lose weight and you’ll feel better’ message. It may be to do with behaviours around food quality and not enough movement (but don’t forget, there are many thin people whose food quality and movement habits aren’t that great either, but are they shamed for it???). It may be to do with medication, mental health issues… THERE ARE MANY REASONS!
If your health matters to you (and it doesn’t have to) then I would argue that buying clothes that fit is a HEALTHY behaviour because, strange as it may seem, you’ll be treating yourself like a deserving and worthy person, and that in itself will be good for your health, and make it more likely that you will choose behaviours that are actually good for you.
Far from giving up on yourself, dressing yourself in clothes that are comfortable is anything but giving up on yourself. It’s treating yourself with care. It’s honouring your body. It’s giving yourself the message that you matter.
You believe you don’t deserve new clothes
[When I say ‘new’, I mean new to you! By all means, get previously owned clothing – better for the environment!]
Why would you not deserve new clothes??? You are not wrong or bad for having the body you have. You are a worthy human being who is doing the best you can with what you have. You are deserving of your own love, regard and respect, which includes wearing clothing that is, at the very least, comfortable.
‘if you buy clothes that fit, it’s a slippery slope to bigger and bigger clothes’
Let’s unravel this a bit…
A slippery slope??? That sounds like it’s a bad thing. I understand you don’t want to become bigger, but let’s be honest that this is a fatphobic thought, mired in stereotypical beliefs about what fatness means: laziness, incompetence, poor health, slovenliness, greed, unreliability, lack of discipline, being out of control and so on.
Fatness does not mean any of these things even if that’s the message we’re fed through popular culture and the media. Thinness does not mean the opposite of these things. Right?
But that aside, does buying clothes that fit you now automatically mean that you will need to buy even bigger clothes down the line?
It may be that when you stop suppressing your weight and start to repair your relationship with food and your body, that you do gain weight. And it may mean that you gain more than one clothing size. But that wouldn’t be because you took the action to buy clothes that fitted you in the first place. It would be as a result of your HEALING work. Bodies come in different shapes and sizes. We are not all meant to be the same size.
What I can tell you is that when the healing work is well under way, your weight and body size will stabilise. Yes, there are fluctuations – bodies are dynamic. Yes, bodies change over time too, as we age, as we go through and adapt to the vicissitudes of life, so don’t expect it to stay the same forever. That said, these changes are small and happen over a period of time. They aren’t sudden.
So no, buying bigger clothes will not automatically mean that you’ll need to buy bigger and bigger clothes.
My disobedient body deserves to be punished
Your body is not disobedient! It’s doing the best it can. Its main motivation is to keep you alive. Bodies defend against weight loss because our bodies see it as a threat to its survival. The problem isn’t your body. The problem is the culture that makes your body wrong.
Uncomfortable clothes will motivate me to lose weight
This thought is based on the belief that weight loss is within your control and all it requires is motivation. Now even if that were true (and it isn’t) motivation based in fear and shame isn’t sustainable.
If weight loss really were in our control, we’d all have done it by now and moved on and all those weight loss companies wouldn’t make so much money out of repeat customers.
This body is temporary and therefore doesn’t warrant money being spent on it
Yes and no. All bodies and lives are temporary… but that isn’t what you’re meaning is it? You’re thinking that this size is temporary because weight loss is coming! Well I don’t know if weight loss is or isn’t coming. What I do know is that intentional attempts at weight loss fail >95% of the time and that dieting is a strong and consistent predictor of future weight gain. So if weight loss happens as a natural result of your repaired and healed relationship with food, ok. It may happen and it may not happen. It’s not in your control.
What I do know is that your body is miraculous – and the better you treat yourself and your body, the happier, healthier and more peaceful you’ll be.
3. Align with your values
In order to live a life that is meaningful, we need to explore what really matters to us – and then do the best we can to live in alignment with that.
So what really and truly deeply matters to you? When I ask my clients and students this, almost unanimously it comes down to these 4 things:
- fairness/ justice
What matters to you?
4. Take action
Now that you know what matters to you – apply that to your body and your clothing situation.
And then TAKE ACTION, because unless you ACT, nothing will progress.
If love is a value:
It’s the loving thing to do for myself and my body, to wear clothes that are comfortable. ACTION: I will pack away/ give away/ sell the clothes that don’t fit me and get things that do.
If peace is a value:
It’s hard to be at peace when uncomfortable. Wearing clothes that fit will help me to focus on the here and now and what matters to me in the moment. ACTION: only wear clothes that fit my body properly.
If kindness is a value:
It’s not kind to punish myself or my body with clothes that don’t fit. ACTION: I will only wear clothes that feel comfortable.
If justice is a value:
I believe all people have the right to enjoy and live peacefully in their bodies, no matter their size, age, health status, ability, colour, gender or sexual orientation. I’m not just wearing comfortable clothes for myself, I’m also doing it as part of something bigger than me. The more of us who live unapologetically in our bodies, the freer we will all be. ACTION: Live unapologetically in my own skin.
GO! You go and be fully, unapologetically YOU. Because you matter, you have value and you have loads to offer the world. Just. As. You. Are.