I know this seems insignificant, but I haven’t bought a pair of pants that fit, in probably nine years. And I’m 29 years old.
Why? Well, it all stems from the fact that I hate my body.
It’s funny, because when I was in high school I barely ever thought of my body. I was blessed with the privilege of being naturally thin with a fast metabolism, so my weight hardly ever fluctuated. Couple that with going to an all-girls school that was very academic-focused and less image-focused, and I was blissfully neutral toward my stomach, my arms, and the rest of the container of skin and bones in which rested my soul and mind.
Late nights, dining halls, drinking, and a general change of pace had an effect on my physique, and my body struggled to regulate itself in response to this new lifestyle. Suddenly, my body was all I could think about. Pants were too tight. I thought I looked terrible in photos. My skin broke out. And mentally, I was a wreck because of it.
It’s hard to go from being neutral toward, or perhaps even content with, your body to painfully aware of its growing existence in just two months’ time. I didn’t cope well. What started with my initial response to my weight gain of watching what I ate and exercising, escalated into a full-blown eating disorder that landed me in residential treatment immediately after I graduated college. But that is another story for another time.
When I lost all that weight (and life) to my anorexia, my clothes became roomy. I had ample space in the waistbands of my pants, my jeans bagged around my knees, and dresses and shirts that had hugged my body before now hung from a skeletal frame. As scared as I was, trapped in a constant mental battle with myself and my mind, I found comfort in this space, as if I was hiding by swimming in this fabric encasing my bones. My sick mind equated space between my body and my clothing with safety. As long as my clothes were still a little too big, I was okay.
I steadily worked my way through recovery, and consequently had to buy new clothes to fit my recovered body. I only now realize that I bought clothes purposefully too big to retain that doughnut of space around my waist. I was constantly reaching for that extra roominess in my clothing, even as I was calling myself “recovered.” I was still doing that as of a month ago, and I didn’t even recognize that I was doing it.
I made this realization and shortly thereafter made a pact to myself, and I’d be damned if I looked like a little girl playing dress-up in the last year of my twenties. So, with my mother in tow for support, I made the trek to Madewell, and I asked the sales associate for help finding my size. I first tried on my usual size, which swam on me. And then I tried on the next smallest size. And the next. Until finally I found the one that actually fit my body. It was uncomfortable, feeling the fabric so close to the flesh of my torso. My mind reeled as I fought the urge to pick apart the image I saw in the mirror, and I instead relied on both my mom and the sales associate to assure me that these jeans were not, in fact, too small. I took a breath, steeled my resolve, and bought them.
I’ve worn them several times since, and each time I wear them it gets easier. Am I still self-conscious when I first put them on? Absolutely. Does the waistband remind me of my body in an uncomfortable way? You bet. But every time, that feeling fades faster. I’m able to enjoy myself and stay present, rather than continually wonder how I look. My rational mind is able to gain ground on that eating disorder part of my brain.
It seems like a small thing, but buying that single pair of pants that fits me is a huge stride toward returning to that sense of body freedom I had in high school. I know there is a movement right now for body love, and in a perfect world, I would love to love my body. But right now, with these small steps, I can at least reach toward neutrality. And honestly, right now, that’s good enough for me.
Kristy Cloetingh is a Philadelphia native who is currently trying to figure out her place in the world. Her passions include reading, singing, dancing, nature, yoga, chicken fingers, and puppies. An anorexia survivor and mental health warrior, Kristy has made it her life’s mission to remind every single person that their bodies and minds are worthy of unconditional love and respect, regardless of size, shape, or whatever “normal” is.