Today’s post kicks off a series of at least two installments on the topics of weight, body image, shopping, and personal style. These subjects have been at the top of my mind lately, as I’ve experienced some weight fluctuations resulting from health challenges and hormonal changes. This has been going on for months now, but sometimes things feel too emotionally raw for me to post about. However, since I realize that I’m not alone in these struggles, I’ve broached the subject in my private Facebook group and will do so here as well.
As someone with a long history of eating disorders (which I wrote about here) and negative body image (I even used to have a blog about that topic), it’s very challenging for me to deal with what I’ve been going through lately. What makes it even more problematic is that I don’t really understand the reasons for my body shifts or what to do about them (I’m not overeating and I continue to exercise regularly). It’s often difficult for me to get dressed and I sometimes don’t feel good about how I look at all. I experienced similar issues in the early days of the blog, which I wrote about in this April 2013 post. Interestingly, I could basically write the same words again today, except I also have the specter of turning 50 hanging over my head (just over a month now…).
Back in March, I shared my body image concerns with the group and invited others to express their thoughts on the subject. In today’s post, I feature some of the responses I received. Later this week, I’ll offer some tips from the group on how to dress for weight fluctuations.
How Body Image Impacts My Shopping and Style
Here’s what I posted in the Facebook group in late March:
How does your weight and body image affect your shopping and style? I have a tendency to shop more both when I lose and gain weight. When I lose weight, I feel excited to dress a body that I feel better about. When I gain weight, I search frantically for something to wear that will help me to stop vehemently hating my body. I have struggled with body image issues for most of my life, beginning in my teenage years. I had eating disorders for about 20 years (anorexia and bulimia) and my weight has spanned almost 100 pounds. At one point, I weighed about 40 pounds less than I do now and I have also weighed at least 40 pounds more than this (I don’t know the exact numbers, as I have been scale-phobic for a long time). I continue to have issues with my body that affect my style in many ways. I have a “complex” about my lower half being large and I know that I see myself as being heavier than I am. My body image issues may be more extreme than most, but I know that many women have parts of their bodies that they feel self-conscious about. This may lead them to want to cover up and not wear certain styles. I invite you to share your thoughts on this topic.”
Group Members Who Resonated with Me
Many group members resonated with my body image issues. Here’s what a few of them had to say about how their weight and the way they feel about their bodies impacts their shopping and what they wear:
- This is HUGE for me! My weight fluctuates about 10- 15 pounds over the course of a year. When I am on the low side, I feel fabulous and feel like everything looks fabulous. When I’m heavier, nothing fits right, everything is tight, and I just feel But I refuse to purchase any clothing. That’s when I start with shoes and bags – extra expensive territory! Like you, when I look in the mirror, I am sure that the person that I see is MUCH larger than what everyone else does, but that doesn’t assuage the thought process.
- Another former bulimic with unrealistic body image here! Like you, being at a “good” weight tends to make me want to shop, but so does being overweight and legitimately having nothing that fits. My weight has been pretty stable for about 10 years now (no more than a 10 pound variance, or one clothing size) so I’m trying to find and maintain that balance. Finding something that makes my thighs look thinner is a surefire shopping trigger for me, regardless of cost.
- While my weight doesn’t necessarily fluctuate, I have gained 10-12 pounds that I should lose. As a result, I have moved up a size and have spent money buying clothes to fit. And just like you, I shop to make myself look slimmer and feel better about gaining weight. I never appreciated my figure when I was younger…always thinking I was too heavy (at 115 pounds even) and now at 150, I’m full of self-loathing most of the time. And yet apparently not enough to lose the weight. So I look more for shoes and tights and lots of spandex…
- I went from being very thin up until my late twenties, then put on about 20+ kilograms in my early thirties. Now in my forties, I’m a “normal” weight for my height. What I didn’t appreciate until I put on weight was that when I was thin, I could just put on a pair of jeans and a top and look good. When I was larger, not only was it hard to find things that fit, the clothes had to be really special in and of themselves to make me look good: interesting features, tailored designs, nice fabrics, etc. The clothes had to pull more weight, so to speak, and even though I came to loathe looking for clothes, I was constantly shopping for those “magic” pieces.
- Ugh, weight is pretty much the #1 determinant for how I feel about my appearance. I can’t remember ever being happy with my body; I actually have a really clear memory of being in second or third grade, looking down at my thighs and “realizing” they were “fat.” From age 11 until maybe my mid-twenties, I suffered from both binge-eating disorder and anorexia, so my weight fluctuated a lot. I, too, only approached being happy with my body when I was too thin in others’ eyes. Recently I gained about 25 pounds, after being at one of lowest weights, due to starting a desk job and going off a restrictive gluten/dairy-free diet. I totally get the feeling of wanting to cry every time I look in the mirror. I still bought plenty of clothes, although I didn’t like how I looked in them, and I have very specific rules I follow to minimize my “problem” areas. I notice that I’m far more willing to shop for bottoms when I feel thinner, otherwise it’s just depressing. Even so, I pretty much shop the same amount and for the same styles regardless of weight. I think that my issues with shopping have more to do with trying to get self-worth through the right brand/look rather than with my body type.
- I find it affects my satisfaction with my clothes. I had a very well-defined style pre-weight gain, and I’m still trying to buy the clothes that fit within that style. However, they don’t look very good on me right now. I’m having a really hard time letting go of my style aesthetic, which results in my buying clothes that don’t look good on my body, with the weird expectation that they maybe might start miraculously looking good on me… Does that make sense? But of course they look just as awful as all the other pieces I purchased that also looked awful. So I get rid of them and buy new pieces that also look awful, with the end result being a whole lot of closet churn. Sometimes I wonder if maybe things don’t look so bad on me, but because they don’t look like how they used to on my thinner body, I assume they look bad.
- Weight has been an issue for me since I was 12, so that’s 40 years of struggling with body image and self-esteem. Weight is why I love to shop for scarves, bags, jewelry, and why I often purchase them when clothes won’t fit right, or fit at all. Earrings always fit!
- I am much the same in my feelings about my body. My primary disorder, PCOS, started manifesting in pre-adolescence. I went from a skinny kid to one with a permanent weight problem. It turned, as it always seems to, into an eating disorder in my teenage I agonized over not being able to fit into the trendy juniors clothing my size 2 friends were wearing. I was embarrassed and hated my body. I exercised five hours a day and ate 500 calories a day, and I still gained weight. I was teased and criticized. I was too tall, too, and I had gigantic breasts and, at that time, thick glasses. I did realize early on thought that if I was going to be big and different, I would be noticed, so I decided to be worthy of notice. Thus started my fixation on shopping for the perfect things – the ones that would make me look thinner, shapelier, smaller-busted, etc. I never doubted my prettiness, but my body seemed like the thing that was holding me back from success in life. I always wanted what I couldn’t have. I too developed an addiction to accessories. And when I could find things that fit, or even vaguely resembled the clothes “normal” women got to wear, I bought them all! My weight has gone as high as 268, and never below 170 as an adult. I typically fluctuate within a 15 – 30 pound range (15 pounds is a size for me). I hang on to the “thin clothes” for dear life. I grudgingly hang on to the fat clothes as well. I have spent a great deal of life at war with my body and the fashion industry. It’s something I think about every single day, for sure.
- I’ve gained 15 pounds progressively over the past 6 years and I’ve been feeling very uncomfortable with my appearance. My frame can easily carry an extra 10-15 pounds, so I haven’t changed my style that much, but I rarely feel amazing. I hate to say it, but for me, being thin is a very luxurious feeling. It just feels great to throw on whatever you want and never feel insecure. Of course at the time when I was thinner, I never appreciated it!
- When my weight is up, I shop more in an attempt to cover my flaws. There’s a lot of “closet churn” as I buy and return, never satisfied with the way I look. When my weight is down, I initially shop for my newfound body. But because I’m comfortable with the way I look, I’m satisfied with my clothes and I shop much less. Why can’t I keep the weight off? Ha! That’s the million dollar question…
Finding Body Acceptance
Some of the group members have discovered a way to find acceptance with their bodies and gain peace, which was inspiring to read. Regular exercise, learning to dress for their current bodies, and just simply getting older were often behind their positive changes. Here are the comments of several women who have managed to overcome their weight and body image obsessions over the years:
- I have struggled with weight/body image issues most of my life, including binging, food deprivation, purging, crazy-ass diets, hiding my eating, hating my body. But unlike many who complain about the physical changes post-menopause, I have become much more comfortable with my body in my 50’s and 60’s. I do ‘think fat’ fairly often, but it’s no longer an obsession. I exercise pretty much every day – that has made a huge difference, as I now view my body more as a “machine” than a statement of my worth. There have been two pivotal events in my 60’s – I ran a half-marathon and I took up swimming. Both made me appreciate my body’s ability to rise to new physical challenges as never before, and I began to acknowledge what my body was capable of doing. Yes, I still anguish over the 10 pounds I’d like to shed, the thighs and hips that are too wide, and I still sometimes struggle with feeling unattractive and overweight in clothing, which can certainly lead to shopping for comfort clothes and clothes to hide my body. But those worries aren’t as overwhelming as they once were. It may be part of getting older and the fact that I’ve lost close friends and a brother-in-law to illness in recent years. I’m so damn grateful for good health that perhaps I’m evolving toward caring as much about feeling good as looking good, at least sometimes…
- I have been every size from a 4 to a 14. I quit smoking and it really changed my body and also made me really depressed. I bought lots of clothes thinking they would magically make me look how I wished I did and then spent hours getting ready when I went out because I didn’t like how my tummy stuck out in my jeans. I learned to dress for my body and not try to hide it. I saw a fashion blogger tuck her tops into her skirts and I thought she looked great! I started doing the same thing, and gained confidence because even when I was bigger, I still felt I looked good. Most importantly, I bought clothes that actually fit and I stopped paying attention to sizes. Getting tattoos on my arms has helped me feel less self-conscious because I want to show them off. What has helped me the most is exercise. With a decrease in anxiety, it’s easier to get dressed every day. I no longer spend lots of time at home trying on lots of stuff and getting down about how I look. It’s also nice to feel some muscles building and a healthier heart growing, so I’m more comfortable in my body. As I’ve gotten healthier and increased my self-esteem, I definitely shop less and have less in my closet. I don’t buy anything that I know isn’t going to look good on me, as I now know that no item of clothing is going to fix my body image.
- My entire adult life, I have been a pretty solid gal. I have come to terms with it; I am never going to be skinny. But I often think I look pretty darn good and then catch myself in a window or mirror somewhere – or God forbid a photograph someone has posted on Facebook, and I’m like, “Who the heck is that? That can’t be me! I looked way better than that when I left the house!” Certainly it seems like I’m always trying to lose 20 pounds or so. I know there are people who think it’s just not healthy to be overweight, but mostly I feel pretty good about myself. I definitely know that my shopping is impacted by where I am on the scale. I am either trying to buy things to hide and camouflage that extra 20 pounds or I’m trying to buy things that can now highlight how slim I feel. Purses, scarves, jewelry and shoes are my fall back if nothing fits or looks good. I chuckled when I saw how many of us do that. Every now and then, I fantasize about being a size 10, but 14/16 isn’t so bad. I love my clothing options and I think I know what works for me.
- I try to focus on the following… Life is too short to measure my worth by my level of thinness (hard to do in today’s society). I’m grateful for my good health and I’ve always heard that women with a little extra padding don’t show their age as quickly as others because facial wrinkles aren’t as obvious on plumper skin. I will never ‘diet’ again. If I want to lose weight, I will have to exercise more. I will likely try to lose weight at some point again (by exercising) because despite what I say, vanity is sure to kick in again. As the mother of a beautiful 20 year-old daughter who obsesses about her weight, I find it very sad that society is so judgmental of weight. I’m not sure what I could/should have done to raise a woman who didn’t focus on her weight and shape, but I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. My mother was constantly trying different diets when I was growing up, too. I followed in her footsteps, and now my daughter has her own body image issues. Hopefully she will end the trend.
- Like some others who have commented here, I have yo-yo’ed my way through adulthood. I don’t have any medical reason, other than an incredibly low metabolism, made worse by the yo-yo deprivation diets and periodic depression. I have gone from 270 pounds to 150 pounds and back again many times as an adult. My self-esteem was very much tied to my weight in those years. I bought and got rid of countless clothing during that time, while accumulating piles of shoes to go with it all. Interestingly, I came to like clothing and bought it no matter my size. The stuff I bought when I was thinnest was frequently scandalous, short, and tight. When I was at my largest, it was on-trend but oversized to hide my shape. I have maintained my weight within 5 pounds for 5 years now. I am so much happier not obsessing over every calorie coming in and out. I generally eat what I want and use exercise to work off any excesses. I am at peace with my weight and appearance today. I’m not thin, but I don’t care. I am healthy and strong. And I dress in a way that feels very genuine and authentic to my personality. By letting go of my weight obsession, I feel so much freer to enjoy everything more.
Some Powerful Words of Wisdom
While I enjoyed reading the comments from all those who have managed to make peace with their bodies somehow, two were especially poignant for me and put everything into better perspective. I will leave you with these two passages today as food for thought.
- When one has a life threatening condition, such as my heart trouble, it gives you a nasty wakeup call about what really matters… that how my body looks is no longer quite so important. Instead, I need to focus on keeping myself as healthy as I can so I can have many more years of life to enjoy (I hope).
- I had weight and body image sadness that ruled my life in the past. I’m a short, average weight person who tends to gain weight in my stomach. As a teenager in Southern California, in order to be as bikini perfect as possible, I engaged in extreme dieting that dipped dangerously into anorexia. Living in the same town as Karen Carpenter and watching her become deathly thin knocked sense into me and I began eating normally again, but still dieting. In my late 40’s through my mid-50’s, I began to put on weight even though my eating and exercise patterns remained the same. My middle-aged stomach became very bloated and made me look like I was pregnant, so I took to wearing baggy shirts. Then I happened across a passage in one of Anne Lamott’s books that saved me. Anne wrote about going shopping with her friend Pammy who was dying from cancer, sitting in a wheel chair, in good spirits, but fast fading. Anne was trying on dresses and she asked Pammy, “Does this dress make my hips and thighs look wide?” And Pammy said, “Annie, I don’t think you have that kind of time.” Holy words that we all need to live by. I began loving and accepting my body in its new middle age spread. Then when I turned 60, I got hit with health problems that require me to follow the diet recommended by the American Diabetic Association, along with a very low sodium diet and a regular sensible exercise routine. Following a low sugar, low sodium, low carb, healthy diet makes it impossible for me to gain weight or get bloated. Ironically I’m now bone thin and in good health, but I’m thinner than I’d like to be and it makes me feel uncomfortable about my weight. AND YET, it brings me right back to what Pammy said, “I don’t think we have that kind of time.” Words to live by. We don’t have enough time on earth to waste our time worrying about weight and body image.
As I read the words above while putting together this post, they brought tears to my eyes. I have wasted far too much time, energy, and life force worrying about my body shape and size – and my appearance in general (read more of my thoughts on this here). I’m not going to say that those things aren’t important because they are, but just not nearly as important as I’ve made them. The numbers on the scale or on the tags on our clothes don’t indicate our worth as human beings. There are many model-slim and drop dead gorgeous women out there who are horrible people, just as there are countless others who are either overweight or plain-looking (or both) yet are the most amazing people we could ever meet.
What we look like is only one small facet of who we are. I know that and I don’t waste a lot of energy focusing on other people’s appearances. Yet when it comes to my own, I raise it to such a high level of importance that I am devastated when I gain a few pounds and don’t look the way I want to look. As I approach the half-century mark and struggle with sub-standard health, I am acutely aware that I don’t have enough time left on earth to intensely fret over my appearance the way I do. I want to change and I need to change, yet I know there isn’t a magic wand I can wave to erase the preoccupation that has been my constant companion for as long as I can remember.
If you have any tips or suggestions as to how those of us who are struggling with negative body image can turn things around, please share them here. I will share the best comments from readers and group members in an upcoming post. Stay tuned for the next installment of this series on dressing for weight fluctuations. I believe that if we can dress in a way that is both physically comfortable and emotionally pleasing, it will go a long way toward helping us to feel better about our bodies.