Due to a number of conversations I've had recently via different media, I've had quite a few thoughts about style, size, and self-esteem churning in my head. This may turn out a bit more stream-of-consciousness than I intend it too, but I do hope to organize this jumble into something coherent.
For as long as I can recall being cognizant of size, I was, at minimum, ever-so-slightly thicker through the middle than many other kids, and at maximum, a quite obese adult. And for almost as long, I've struggled with the idea that being larger made me an inferior person: unattractive, ugly, unworthy, a slob. Our culture prizes thin and abhors fat. Fat is a punchline, fat girls are consolation prizes for too-slow-to-get-the-skinny-girl drunk guys at the end of the night. Fat people don't deserve nice things - they'll probably sit on it and break it, or drip some messy, inappropriate, fattening food on it. All of these messages, and more, come to us from tv, movies, songs, magazines, and other advertising.
Piling onto the negativity has also been the lack of attractive, age-appropriate, on-trend clothing for plus-size women. Men have had Big & Tall stores and departments for years, but women largely have had to make do with a handful of catalogs, the occasional local boutique, and the Lane Bryant chain. When your self-esteem is already suffering, after bombardment with negative messages from the outside, the last thing anyone needs is ill-fitting, cheaply-made, over-priced, synthetic clothing. It's discouraging, and if you shop with your straight-sized girlfriends, depressing to see the cute clothes available in their sizes while you smile, fight back the tears, and focus your attention on purses, scarves, shoes, and jewelry. And your ill-fitting clothes just perpetuate the fat-slob sterotype.
So that brings me to my quest for plus-size style. You see, I REFUSE to be viewed as the fat slob. I'm a person worthy of dressing my body to its best advantage. Thankfully, over the last few years, many designers and discount chains have expanded their plus-size offerings to help me in my quest. I've made a conscious choice to expend the effort to look good, because it DOES require effort*. Shopping as a plus-size woman requires a time and energy investment to educate yourself if you want to appear put together. I do believe that too many women, plus-size women especially, hide behind an I-don't-care or too-busy-to-care attitude when it comes to style because they're confused or discouraged or don't believe they can achieve a personal style that will make them feel good about themselves and earn them admiring looks from others.
I'm no style expert. I've made plenty of missteps, and I have my share of horrifyingly bad fashion faux pas immortalized in the photo album. I'm just someone who enjoys fashion and who is complimented often enough on how I dress to feel like I must be doing something right. So I share with you my hard-won "wisdom":
- Understand proportion and the shape and requirements of your body, and respect that. Not every style of clothing is going to work on your body. No, not even if that magazine tells you everyone's wearing it. Figure out the shapes that make you feel good and sexy and beautiful, and enjoy those!
- Dress the body you have right now. If you lose weight, you can always take your favorite clothes to a tailor and have them downsized. Upsizing? Not nearly so easy. Letting too-small, brand-new items sit in your closet because you did NOT, in fact, lose those ten pounds? BIG mistake. Not only is it a waste of money, it just hangs there as a representation of your perceived shortcomings. That will never be good for your self-esteem.
- Be willing to try things on, regardless of the number on the tag. I do a lot of size chart comparisons, and the widely-varied size ranges between clothing lines kind of make my head hurt. If "your" size doesn't fit, try on a different size. My current wardrobe contains items in six different numbered sizes.
- Learn about color and use that knowledge to accessorize! Changing up jewelry, belts, scarves, and bags can give your outfit a whole new life.
- Learn to use layers to your advantage. Cardigans and jackets can change the look of your outfit from casual to professional to dressy.
- Shop EVERYWHERE. Seriously. I'm always on the lookout for items to fill gaps in my wardrobe, which contains pieces from Target and Old Navy, all the way up to higher-end items from designers such as Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, and Calvin Klein.
- As a general rule, invest in the classic, wear-for-years pieces, and scrimp on the trends. Once you've built a good wardrobe of classics and some trendy pieces, you will find that you can assemble outfits appropriate for nearly every occasion.
Lastly, a few words about size acceptance: I will say, straight-up, that I'm working to lose weight. Weight loss itself is not the primary focus of my efforts; improving my health and fitness level is. However, I know my body and its current size and weight are not appropriate for it. I would never presume to say that's the case for everyone who shares my size. I just hope that no matter your size, you take the time to give yourself a style boost and feel good about who you are both inside and out.
* I can't speak to the experience of shopping as a straight-size woman, but I expect it also requires some effort to achieve similar results.