Weight, Body Image, and Shopping

In preparation for beginning Project 333 on April 1st, I tried on most of my clothes.  I did this so I could select the best 33 garments to wear over the next three months.  That process resulted in both good news and bad news…

The Good News – Letting Go

The good news was that I eliminated a number of items in my closet which no longer work for me. Trying things on really helped me to make decisions about the fate of many wardrobe pieces. If you think a garment in your closet is fine but haven’t worn it recently, I highly encourage you to try it on!

Our perceptions of our clothing are often way off!  Pieces we may have loved in the past might be all wrong for our current lifestyle, body shape, and sense of style. Trying things on allows us to break through any illusions we may hold about what to keep and what to release.

The Bad News – Weight Gain

Now for the bad news… As I tried on my warm weather clothing, it became abundantly clear that I’d packed on at least a few extra pounds during the cooler months.  I almost never weigh myself, as I find the number very “triggering” and bad mood inducing. I allow a simple three-digit figure to mean far too much about me and my worth as a human being.  Although I’ve overcome the majority of my eating disorder issues (see “History of a Shopaholic”), the last vestige of my two-decade struggle is negative body image.

Perception is Reality

Those who are close to me refer to me as slim.  I was even described as “willowy” in a recent article written about me.  But in my eyes, I often regard myself as “chubby” or “a bit overweight.”  My weight tends to fluctuate by five to ten pounds regardless of my efforts to keep it in check.

Admittedly, it would be easier to control my weight if I could force myself to mount the scale periodically, but I break into a cold sweat when I even think about approaching that seemingly benign household appliance.  I try to use my jeans as a “weight barometer,” but such measures aren’t really reliable, especially given pre-menopausal water retention (fun times…).

Wanting to Escape Through Shopping

During my try-ons in late March, I encountered skirts and dresses with tight waistbands and bulging fabric in the hip region.  Besides struggling to hold back my tears, I was struck by a strong urge to… go shopping.  I wanted to bury my anxiety and self-criticism in the “thrill of the chase” and the excitement of the new.   Yet I’ve become self-aware enough to know my desire was more for positive feelings than for new garments to fit my slightly larger shape.

Weight Changes and Shopping

I’ve long searched for self-esteem and validation through my clothing.  I believed that the right outfit could somehow alleviate my feelings of inherent unworthiness and elevate me to the status of “okay” and “enough.” Hundreds of garments later, I still struggle with poor body image and low self-esteem, along with a packed closet and a smaller bank account.  The famous Dr. Phil might ask, “How’s that working for you?”  I’d have to honestly answer, “Not very well…”

Tight Clothes Don’t Facilitate Weight Loss!

As I wrote in my recent article, “The Reasons We Shop Too Much,” many people avoid shopping when they’ve gained weight.  They force themselves to endure tight garments until they get their weight under control.  I’ve seen threadbare clothes in the closets of many women I’ve known, often because they didn’t feel worthy of new items until they reached their ideal weight.

I always advocate that people have at least a few outfits which fit their current shape and that they love.  Heaping ill-fitting, worn-out clothes on top of weight-related self-recrimination is like adding insult to injury.  It’s far better to feel comfortable and attractive in what we wear, and it’s more likely to motivate us to take the steps required to shed excess pounds.

Seeking a “High” More than New Clothes

Unlike many other women, I have shopped too much when I’ve gained weight, as well as when I’ve lost weight.  In both cases, I was seeking the “high” of shopping more than some new clothes to wear.  Of course that high was only temporary, soon to be replaced by shame for over-shopping and even more negative feelings about myself.

I was at the cusp of Project 333 when I realized the extent of my weight gain.  While I was unhappy with that reality, I still had plenty of clothes which fit me well.  I was easily able to find 33 garments to wear (and hopefully love) over the next three months.  Although some of my wardrobe “all-stars” didn’t make it into my Project 333 capsule due to poor fit, a number of other favorites worked just fine. There’s no need for me to shop for new things because I’ve packed on a few pounds.

I Have Enough, But Am I Enough?

I know that I have enough to get me through the three months of Project 333 in comfort and style.  It’s quite another thing to feel that I am enough – and okay – even with some extra pounds on my frame. While I believe I’ll slim down a bit now that I’m aware of the weight gain, I’d like to get to the point where I can feel okay about myself even before I lose weight.  I’m not there yet…

I want to shop to alleviate my pain and anxiety, to let the clothes tell me I’m okay, that I’m still attractive.  But that won’t solve anything.  I’ll just end up poorer, with more clothes in my closet, and with shame for my lack of willpower (in shopping as well as eating).    So I choose to refrain from shopping and let myself be with my feelings, no matter how unpleasant they may be.

The world won’t end simply because I packed on a few pounds.  I will survive.  I don’t need to shop.  I don’t need to feel ashamed.  I hope I’ll soon believe that not only do I have enough, but I also am enough – right here, right now.

27 thoughts on “Weight, Body Image, and Shopping

    • Thanks, Juhli! I have to admit I was a bit nervous to publish this post. I actually wrote it about 2 weeks ago and finally decided to go live with it yesterday. If my struggles and process can help others, I’m all for sharing them.

  1. I can relate so much to what you write every week. Walking away from a quick trip into Loft or Ann Taylor, just to”see what’s on sale” is a habit I am trying to break. In addition to a budget issue, I have come to the realization that shopping is a huge time sucker. Many a the time I find myself in a mall on a beautiful weekend day wondering why I’m there and wishing I was home instead of seeking some unnecessary item that I didn’t even know or think I needed before I walked in the door.

    • Susie, Welcome and thanks for your comment! There have been many beautiful days when I’ve been ensconced in a mall or store, too, including on vacation in places as lovely as Hawaii. It’s time for me to get some new hobbies. Not sure what yet, but that will be part of my recovery. Shopping can be fun and exciting in the moment, but there are too many negative side effects – the debt, the overfilled closet, the shame, the overwhelm, etc. Time for a hobby with only positive effects!

  2. Excellent post, with sentiments that I and many others can relate to! Dealing with gaining and losing weight and what clothes to keep or wear has always been a struggle for me.

    • Sara, thanks for your comment. I suspected that many others struggle with issues similar to mine. Weight fluctuations are a common phenomenon and even slight weight changes can mean moving up or down a full size. That can definitely be challenging.

      I don’t have the answers, but if I can help to open up discussion and thought, I’m all for it. Glad you liked my post!

  3. To me, you indeed look willowy and are soooo photogenic. I guess that doesn’t help, though.

    Having had parents who were chronic dieters–and being of a lazy disposition–I have never dieted. The weight is creeping up a bit as I near 60. I need to do crunches–or something. I’m lucky that it doesn’t bother me too much.

    • Thanks for your kind words. Intellectually, I know that I am not overweight, but in my mind I feel that way sometimes. It’s all relative, I guess. Many supermodels even feel heavy and unattractive, so it’s not too surprising that we mere mortals can feel that way at times.

      It sounds as if you have a good amount of self-acceptance. That’s such a good thing! As someone who’s been overly critical of myself for as long as I can remember, it’s a continual process for me to become kinder towards myself. If a bit of weight gain doesn’t bother you, you’re fortunate! It’s common to gain a little as we get older, but some people can’t accept it. The ones who follow the words of the Serenity Prayer as surely happier than those who fight everything.

  4. Debbie,
    you are indeed slim but that does not mean that a few extra pounds cannot put you in a very bad mood as they do indeed for me) . Last year at this time I weighed 158 lbs at 5’8. Not overweight but I sure was not happy with myself. I finally made myself buy a dreaded scale and started slowly to increase my excercise time and decrease calorie intake. About a month ago I gave up drinking wine (my equivalent to your desire to go shopping). I now weigh between 140 and 143 lbs, and I make myself step on the scale EVERY morning right after I went to the bathroom. Yes, My morning starts out better with a lower number, but you get used to the routine, and I know that I can catch myself earlier when I reach 144. You are doing great and kudos for being so honest with yourself.

    • Cornelia, Thanks for your comment and for sharing your story. It sounds like you are to be commended on two counts – giving up drinking and losing excess pounds. Congrats! I know that weighing oneself really helps to keep weight in check, but I’m not sure I can do it. I went from one extreme to another. When I was anorexic, I would often weigh myself multiple times a day. Part of my recovery was to stop weighing myself, but then I got to the point where I would even avoid going to a doctor because I didn’t want to get on the scale (now I usually weigh backwards and ask them not to tell me). I know that my “scale phobia” is irrational, but it persists. Since my weight doesn’t ever go up THAT much, perhaps it’s not a big problem that I don’t weigh myself. I know about how much I weigh, but may be off by a few pounds. Nothing too extreme…

      Thanks for your kudos! I’m so glad I took on my recovering shopaholic process and started this blog. A great New Year’s Resolution to be sure!

  5. I don’t keep a scale either because I think it’s too easy to get attached to a number and in the end it’s not that accurate a predictor for fit. I can weigh less for example, but have it be due to lost muscle mass and end up looking flabbier. Now that you can see that the fit of some of your clothes are not quite what you want it to be, you can take small steps to correct that. I have been considered slim all my life also, but when I gain weight it’s all in my stomach, and I start to have a ‘muffin top’. People would think I was insane if I talked about being heavier than I wanted to be, but that’s because they don’t know my body the way I do. I think it’s acceptable to work for a figure you are comfortable with, just don’t let it get out of hand. Sometimes when my clothes become TOO loose, I know that the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up and enjoy the body you have!

    • Alice, Welcome and thanks for your comment! It sounds like you and I are in a similar boat. You raise some good points. It’s true that weight isn’t the best predictor for fitness. I know that I weigh somewhat more because I work out a lot (including weight training), but muscle tone is important to me even if it means a higher weight.

      People often think I’m insane, too, when I talk about needing to lose weight I’ve gained, but we all have a range which we feel is optimal for us. I realize logically that I’m not actually overweight, but I’m at the high end of my weight range and want to get back to the lower end. That’s all well and good, but the beating myself up part is not! My body image has improved in recent years (I used to have a blog about body image, so I’ve been working on it for a while). I still have a way to go, but the important thing is that I’m moving forward.

      I appreciate your comment and insights!

      • I don’t know if you’ve seen this video already but I thought it was so lovely (even if it is an ad) and seems to fit into the general topic of this post about beauty and self-perception!

      • Alice, Thanks for forwarding the link (it didn’t come through on the web page, but I got it in your comment through email – here it is for others to see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=litXW91UauE). I actually just saw that video earlier today and wondered how my sketches would turn out…

        Back when I was in an eating disorders treatment program, we were asked to mark X’s on butcher paper for where our shoulders, waist, and hips were. Then they would have us stand with our back to the paper and mark where those areas really were. My perception was majorly distorted and I suspect it still is. The difference is that now I honor my health and don’t engage in starving myself or purging any longer. Still the poor body image has been difficult to conquer.

        I appreciate your comment and your posting the link to the Dove ad.

  6. I’m sure you know you’re not alone here~ Most women feel better about themselves when they feel thinner, when the scale shows the “right” number or range. I’m guilty. A few extra pounds puts me in a bad mood and makes me want to eat more, thought I KNOW that won’t help! I do weigh myself regularly and sometimes it helps me control my weight, though it still creeps up at times.

    It’s funny, but my reaction to gaining weight is to NOT shop. I don’t want to buy anything in a larger size, so I tough it out til I lose the weight and I’m comfortable in my clothes. I only have 1 size in my closet.

    As I’ve gotten more satisfied with my wardrobe, choosing only colors & styles that really flatter me, I’ve lost interest in shopping for recreation. I’ve got more clothes than I need and I actually like all of them, so I find it hard to get motivated to shop!

    • Thanks for your comment, Diane. I think most women don’t shop when they gain weight, but some of us shop when we gain or lose weight. I think it’s more about escaping feelings than buying clothes.

      It sounds like you’re in a really good place now regarding shopping. I hope to see there soon myself. Surprisingly, I’m liking my wardrobe more as it’s getting smaller and I’m shopping less. Project 333 has been very helpful, as it’s helped me to focus on the things I love and ignore the rest. I’m learning that I really don’t need so much stuff in order to be well-dressed. I’m happy to be making progress in the right direction!

  7. I read with interest your reasons behind why you became a shopaholic, and I realize how different my path has been and would like to share it with the rest of you.

    My shopalcoholism had its roots in the observation of my mother’s habits. My mother was a shopaholic, in her case, I believe fueled by a general dissatisfaction with life. I observed my mother purchasing things in excess and grew up believing that’s what adults did–accumulate stuff. By the time I was in my 30’s I realized my mother’s indiscriminate shopping habits were indicative of a disorder, as she morphed into a full blown hoarder of immense proportions, worthy of her own TLC special!

    My own tendencies towards shopping first bloomed when I entered the 7th grade and was responsible for the first time in my life for my own clothing choices. Prior to 7th grade, all my clothing was handmade by my grandmother who was a seamstress. None of my clothing looked like anyone else’s and I felt this difference acutely, even though my clothing was more beautifully made. My family were European immigrants who hadn’t quite assimilated and our name was generally unpronounceable. This aroused a great deal of amusement among my peers at school to my constant chagrin, which along with my “odd” clothing always made me feel like I didn’t fit in.

    So my first foray at age 12 was to get some “real store bought clothes that looked like everyone else’s”. And I quickly fell in love with shopping. Clothes were a big deal for me from then on, even through my hippie phase, on through college and into my professional career.

    But I didn’t become a full blown shopaholic until I was 30. My marriage dissolved and I found myself a single mother with an 18 month old son. I was humiliated. And I was angry because everyone seemed determined to either feel sorry for me or help me find a new man.

    It was the early 90’s, and I had started a business, which became successful enough to allow me to shop with relative ease. I began to shop as a way to create a facade to the world that I was successful in life without a husband, because I was very averse to marriage at this time. In my circle, you were judged by what you had, and I was determined that I was going to have the best that I could afford so that I could feel people respected me as their equal instead of feeling sorry for me because I was single.

    Then 10 years ago, my mother became very ill, and I re-evaluated my own shopping habits and Idid a major purge of my life, getting rid of 75% of my belongings. A few months later I met someone and fell in love. Over the course of a few years, it didn’t work out so I revived my shopaholic ways as a way of coping with my feelings. The items I am purging today are the detritus of that time in my life when I was struggling with my self image–not in terms of my physical appearance, but as to my worthiness of being loved in a relationship.

    I am able to simplify my wardrobe now because I no longer feel this desperate struggle to look a part in order to find romantic love, and the consequent frequent shopping to find the right accoutrements to attract a mate.

    You know what I finally learned? If a man likes you, he’s not focused on the brand name of your shirt, or if your shoes are of the latest trend. I was taught this simple idea from several good platonic men friends in my life who have stuck around through my ups and downs, and consequently I have come to appreciate them in the way they deserve and to be less focused on my “perfect presentation”.

    I think for me, it all boils down to wanting to feel accepted and not lonely.

    • Deborah,

      Thanks so much for sharing your story with me and my readers! I appreciate your honesty very much. Although there are a lot of differences in our stories, there are similarities as well. A lot of my shopping had to do with self-image and wanting to be accepted, too. I don’t think it’s ever just one thing. Everyone has his or her coping mechanisms and some are positive and some are less so. For quite a while, my shopping wasn’t really a problem, but then it escalated. I think I just got to a point where I was ready to change, and although I am still struggling, I am committed to have a more positive relationship with clothes, shopping, and my own self-image.

      It sounds like you’ve made some really wonderful strides in terms of your shopping and how you feel about yourself. It’s great that you have some good support figures in your life. You’re right that men (or at least most of them!) are not focused on how trendy our clothes are or who made them. A lot of women dress more for other women than for men, but of course that varies.

      I love when others add their perspective to what I write, as I am just one shopaholic. Our stories are different, but there are common threads. I just think it’s great to share and to help each other.

      Thanks again, Debbie

  8. I really liked your point about ‘tight clothes don’t facilitate weight loss’ .. I’ve actually seen the opposite. A computer guy that I know through work lost a ton of weight, but I saw him at a conference and he was literally still wearing his fat clothes. I wanted to say something to him, but he’s a colleague – not a friend, so I tried to respect those boundaries.


    • Monica, Thanks for your comment and for sharing an alternate perspective. I’ve met people like your co-workers, too. Sometimes they still see themselves as heavy and don’t realize how baggy their clothes are, while other times they may fear gaining the weight back and don’t want to spend money on clothes.

      It can definitely be difficult to talk to people about these issues unless they are the ones to broach the subject. I think you did the right thing by not saying anything. Hopefully your co-worker will eventually celebrate his weight loss by at least buying a few new things. Many of us would go on a HUGE shopping spree in such instances, but it would be nice if he at least bought some new pants!

      By the way, love your blog! Good for you for celebrating your shape. All types of bodies can be beautiful and you look great in the outfits you post!

  9. Debbie I love your insights and this post was great!
    Forgive me for being so direct but in your photos you look stunningly beautiful – but have you noticed that your outfits don’t always reflect that? To me, some of you clothes whisper ‘I am not worthy’ and ‘I am a bit scared of my body and its potential’ and ‘I’m feeling a bit old already although I really am not’. I know there are no quick and easy fixes – updating one’s self image is very difficult. But take this from a stranger – you have no reason to hide and your frame would be perfect for slightly more daring choices! Have you ever during your stylist years been in the client position yourself? Sometimes you need another person to go through all the possible choices with you… Not necessarily right now, but maybe as a treat and a reward after you finish your current 333 cycle? You are so worth it!

    I am saying this because I have undergone a gradual makeover of that type in my late 30s (I’m 40 now). I’ve always been a classic dresser but was playing it too safe and dressing in a comfort-oriented look that made me look a bit too ‘old’ – the curse of classic dressers and also tied up with feelings of unworthiness (‘this will do for me for now, and I’ll be able to wear this forever’). For me the key has been better materials, higher-end clothes (absolutely no polyester and acrylic; no more viscose and much less jersey; more tailored clothes), more attention to my true shape (tighter clothes actually – I’m tallish and thin like you!) and a bit more effort to follow trends (I know this is a mixed bag for anyone with overshopping tendencies – trying to limit it to two or three items per season). The change has been gradual, not super dramatic, but I think it might be working…

    • FrugalFashionista, Thanks for your comment and for your compliment. It’s always nice to be referred to as “stunningly beautiful”! I don’t really see myself that way, but I don’t regard myself as unworthy or old, either (I’m 46 but 40 is the new 30, as they say!). I do struggle with body image issues, as I’ve mentioned, and realize that may come across in my clothing choices. I know that I dress in a modest and conservative manner much of the time, but I feel that my outfits work well for my lifestyle and I actually like much of what I wear. I feel there are many types of style personalities and not everyone aspires to be trendy or sexy in the way they dress. With my clients, I aim to help them cultivate the style statement they want, not my vision for how they should dress. They are the ones who need to wear the clothes, so it’s their goals that are considered and worked towards.

      Believe it or not, I have made some great strides in being more “daring” with my outfits in recent years. I do have more fitted and revealing pieces, but since they are not the things I reach for most often, I didn’t include them in my Project 333 capsule. I continue to evolve my style over time and have been moving toward more fitted pieces. I have also vowed to buy more special pieces and items of more superior quality. My buy, buy, buy mentality of recent years has had me aim for quantity over quality and that hasn’t served me well.

      I have considered shopping with another stylist, particularly for bottom pieces, as that’s where I struggle the most. I would like to see what someone else would select for me and at least try it to see how it works. That’s all I ask of my clients and often they are pleasantly surprised in that they love something they never would have tried themselves. We all have blind spots and I know that I go toward looser garments for my lower half, as I view my hips and thighs as larger than they probably are. Because I have gained a bit of weight recently (the topic explored in this very post), it’s made things all the more challenging for me.

      It sounds as if you’ve hit upon a style formula that works for you and I applaud you for your progress. I feel that buying better quality clothing and sampling trends in limited quantities are excellent rules of thumb to follow. I wish you continued success!

  10. When I gained weight, at first I thought it was helping me get a handle on my shopping addiction. I really did stop buying clothes. And then I found YouTube and forums and my addiction became more voracious than ever. (It disturbs and frustrates me that there are whole online communities and even micro-economies now built around women encouraging each other to overspend and overuse resources. Designers and corporations probably can just stop spending money on advertising, we are all doing it for free or for a pittance.) Except I was buying makeup and purses instead of clothes, and spending much more on each category than I had ever spend on clothing! It also made my addiction much more obvious, because I had always cleaned out my wardrobe at least twice a year and donated what I wasn’t wearing. But with makeup and purses, I started hoarding… I am now just beginning to be honest with myself and attempt a recovery.

    • Welcome, Amanda, and thanks for your comment! I am equally disturbed and frustrated about the online communities dedicated toward encouraging women to overshop. I participated in such communities myself for a few years and it really fueled my shopping. I have an easier time letting go of clothes than purses and other accessories, so I see where you’re coming from… I’m glad you are now being honest with yourself and starting to recovery. There will likely be ups and downs, but stay the course and be gentle with yourself! If you have questions or need support, just ask. Not only am I here to help, but there are lots of other readers who would be happy to support you. Best wishes!

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