A changing room: the room with horrible lights, mirrors everywhere, that seems designed to make you feel like absolute rubbish. I’m going to guess that pretty much everyone has stood there with a pair of jeans, supposedly your usual size, halfway up your legs – leaving you stood there feeling hot and bothered (seriously though, where is the air conditioning?!), with bright lights showcasing lumps and bumps you didn’t even know you had, and feeling absolutely awful because the size you thought you were are barely going past your knees.
You leave after having a meltdown in the changing rooms without getting what you need, filled with self-loathing and vow to lose weight.
I hate going clothes shopping for this exact reason, but at least when I was in the depths of anorexia and orthorexia, even when I was maintaining the minimum ‘healthy’ weight *eye rolls at the BMI scale*, at least I was able to know I could go into pretty much any store, buy the XS and walk out – I didn’t have to face the changing rooms. I think this was a big part of why I wanted to stay small, other than the obvious eating disorder/control reasons, it meant that I didn’t have to think about clothes, I could just pick something up and walk out.
This time last year, I finally started to fully commit to recovery and let go of all control I had over my diet and body. I tried to start eating intuitively (something that I’m still working on), and that lead me to overeat quite a bit at the beginning of my journey, simply because my body was finally getting what it wanted and it was worried that I was going to go into another famine again (ie: restrict). So I ate and I ate and I ate. It was bloody terrifying letting myself just eat, without trying to control it or compensate for the overeating. Consequently, the inevitable happened: I gained weight. This was so needed, but it was terrifying watching the number on the scale creep up and up. Soon, my clothes got snug and I was absolutely terrified, and quite frankly, I was also distraught. Why? Because that meant I had to go and buy new clothes – firstly, I’m a student so that expense was something I wasn’t looking forward to, but also because I KNEW that I had to try the clothes on, because for once I couldn’t just pick up the smallest size and know it would fit me or be too big. I had to try on different sizes because I couldn’t keep squeezing myself into my tiny jeans.
At first, I couldn’t actually face the changing rooms, so just took clothes home with me to try on, and this was actually the first time I got a glimpse of how clothes sizing is not actually my size. I had picked up two pairs of jeans, one blue and one pink (as well as a lovely pair of stretchy ones which proves to be a saviour during this period of gaining weight to my set point), but anyway, I tried them both on. The pink ones fit me fine, but the blue ones came up too big. They were the exact same style of jeans but in a different colour. Exactly the same size. I was gobsmacked.
As I carried on needing to replace my wardrobe, I couldn’t avoid the changing rooms forever. So I carried a basket of clothes into the changing rooms, got undressed and burst into tears. I didn’t even get far enough as to try the clothes on. What did I say about those lights?! They showed all the lumps and bumps I didn’t even know I had gained in my recovery journey. And mirrors in every direction made me see this bigger body that was still so foreign to me. I was scared, shocked and the voices in my head were screaming at me to lose weight.
At first, I did try to lose weight – I slipped back into old habits, but once your eyes are opened to diet culture and the bullshit that your ED tells you about how beauty must look, it’s hard to shut your eyes to it again.
When I learned all about diet culture, beauty ideals, fatphobia and misogyny, I was filled with anger. So much anger. But I used this anger to fuel my recovery journey; to hold my hand up and say NO, that I wasn’t going to go down that rabbit hole again because I’m worth so much more than anything society deems I should be; because I am more than the vessel that carries me.
I still struggled with clothes for a long time, ESPECIALLY the dreaded jean. Why? Because I’d find a pair of jeans that fit me perfectly well when I was stood up, but as soon as I sat down, they dug in and gave me rolls that all these models didn’t seem to have. The reality is that so many people, most people in fact, experience the dreaded ‘seated-jean-rolls’. It’s completely normal!
One day, I went to H&M (you can already see where this is going), and picked up the size I thought I was… only for it to come up WAY too small. H&M is renown for being so small, and how do they get away with it? Many brands purposefully design their clothes too small in order to prevent bigger people wearing their clothes – how messed up is that? They intentionally marginalise people for simply existing in a bigger body. It’s atrocious.
The main issue with clothes sizing is that there is no laws in place to standardise the sizes. So one size in one shop is a completely different size to the apparently same size in another. A little example for you – I picked up a size 10 in M&S, and it was slightly too big on me, but I picked up a size 12 in H&M and it was too small for me. There is such a large discrepancy, that it’s no wonder it messes with our heads!
It’s hard to pick clothes sizes that fit your body without focusing on the actual number, and it’s taken me a long time to let go of that need to have a smaller number. Now, I focus on whether the clothes actually fit me, whether I’m comfortable and whether they’re cute! I’m a size 4.5 shoe size, so why on earth would I try to squeeze my foot into a size 3? Try to look beyond the number on the tag and pick up what feels good; I found what helped me with this the most, was to pick the bigger size and try it on – if it fits, then great, and then if it’s too big it’s easy to size down. It saves the mental and emotional turmoil caused by trying on an item of clothing that’s too small.
Don’t get me wrong, even with all this knowledge and anger, I still would break down in changing rooms (seriously though, why are they so bad?). I’ve worked and worked on this, and the other day I found myself wanting to try some clothes on – so I took myself off to the changing room. The lights were just as bad, the mirrors were everywhere and it was too bloody hot – I could still see the cellulite, rolls, roundness and blemished skin that I always see in there, but I saw it and moved on. I tried the trousers on and thought to myself ‘they’re quite comfy but there’s a bit too much fabric around the front’. So I popped my clothes back on and walked back out.
How rad is that? That I was able to walk into that changing room and not have my mood affected by having myself under a spotlight. I wasn’t at the stage of being able to take a photo to share that I don’t find changing rooms as horrific as I used to, but that’s okay too – it’s okay to have an achievement that isn’t recorded; it doesn’t need to be validated. I walked in and didn’t rip my body to pieces – I did however be extra critical of the clothes, because I just don’t have time for uncomfortable clothes anymore! So I popped the trousers back and carried on with my day.
How have I managed to get to this stage is still something I’m not 100% sure – I’m not sure at what point this transition happened, so I would be lying to you if I said that x happened and it’s been fine ever since. It’s a constant case of reminding myself that sizing is different from shop to shop because of no standardisation; it’s constantly reminding myself that it’s just a number which is supposed to help me find the clothes that fit me best and are more comfortable; it’s reminding myself that my body is the size it needs to be and I’m not going to let a little tag tell me how I should feel/look. Since letting go of this need to have the smallest size, I’ve got jeans that have at least 2 dress size differences between them – all of which fit.
So… is your clothing size really your size? In short: no. Your size is YOURS. Your size is whatever size your body wants and needs to be; it’s an amalgamation of everything that is you – your soul, your courage, your strength, your character. Don’t let some clothes that simply cover the vessel that is you dictate how you should feel – use it as a creative outlet, and please quit the Spandex and be nice and comfy, life’s too short to be squished into clothes that aren’t meant for your body.