Saturday, August 13, 2011

Self-Acceptance, At Any Size

I don't talk much about my weight. Maybe you've noticed, maybe not--weight isn't usually a topic of conversation because, like many things about me that you may not know, or that I may not talk about, it's just something I live with. I don't talk about the fact that my eyes are blue, either, but they are. I have suggested before that I need to lose a few pounds, but I never really talk about clothes or body image, or anything having to do with being a plus size gal because I like to think that size has nothing to do with who I am on the inside, with my personality, or my intellectual capability. But, that wouldn't be entirely truthful, would it? Being self-conscious about my weight, or being less able to keep up, or being worried that I'm being judged, or taking the elevator because taking the stairs is just humiliating, does affect my personality, and it often affects who I am on the inside because there're times when inside, I feel so ugly; not physically ugly, emotionally ugly. The only thing it doesn't seem to affect is my intellect, I'm a smart woman, it's taken me years to feel comfortable enough with myself to say that, but you know, it's the truth. A girl's got to have something going for her, right?

Recently, though, my weight has been on my mind more than usual. Maybe it's because, over the summer, I managed to gain 10 or so pounds. Inactivity, together with too many carbs (I'm shamelessly addicted to cake!) will do that to you. It's also because I'm about to go back to work, and while work means dressing professionally, it also means something much more frightening; it means standing up in front of 50 students and trying, sometimes unsuccessfully, to be comfortable enough in my own skin to get my mind off of worrying that I'm being judged for my appearance and onto teaching my students to be competent writers. Easier said than done, but I found, over the last year, that students don't give a damn what their instructors look like and if they do they're smart enough to keep it to themselves. Also, I've found that I'm a pretty good lecturer, when I put my mind to it, and that standing up there, the fear of everything else takes a back seat. I can only hope that this year I find the same experience. Finger's crossed.

Now, back to that whole dressing professionally thing. Ever since I was young, my attire of choice has always been jeans and t-shirts. I have a wonderful loving mother who has always tried to talk me into dressing more like a girl, and less like a tomboy. For a long time, I didn't care what people thought of my look, I was comfortable and going to school, or Wal-Mart, or wherever isn't a beauty contest. When I was an undergrad, I wore my jeans and t-shirts, pulled my hair back, and skipped on the make-up. Who cares what my classmates think of me? I'm married, I'm not looking to attract a man, and my professors care more about my brain than they do about my body. So, comfy clothes it was.

Now that I'm working in a professional job, at the University, I've begun to care how I look. I care what my clothes and shoes look like, whether my haircut is professional, whether my make-up is done--I even care when I'm not at work, and I find myself looking at plus size blogs, "window shopping" at plus size websites, trying to figure out what styles will flatter my once-hourglass-now-pear shape. But, caring about all of that has made me much more self-conscious, too, and unless you're a plus size woman, you have no idea what it means to being uncomfortable shopping--unless you happen to be one of those women who have the opposite problem and are so skinny that you can't find clothes, either; I feel for those gals. The fact is, I can't just go to the mall and shop for clothes in any one of a dozen stores meant for girls who wear size 6. That's nothing new, when I was a teen I couldn't shop there, either. I've always been curvy, but I'm bigger now than I was then.

So, until recently, I shopped almost exclusively at Lane Bryant because I was sure they would have my sizes. And, they do, but they're also quite expensive and I can't, at this point, afford it. In recent years, my in-laws have been nice enough to take me shopping on the tax-free weekend (in August) and buy me some clothes for school/work. Even still, another issue I take with LB, something I've noticed recently, is that their models hardly count as plus size. Yes, they're bigger girls, but they're pretty damn skinny for plus size--sort of reminds me of Tyra Banks saying she's "plus size". I'd say none of them are above a size 12 or 14. Since the national average for women is size 16, seeing size 14 models in a catalog, or on the website, for a "plus size" store is, well, it's kind of insulting, actually.

Not exactly inspiring for those of us who shop there because they're a plus size store. So, when I'm buying my own clothes, I usually shop at a local place called Cato. I'd love to shop at Fashion Bug, but we don't have one, and I don't know where there is one. Cato is pretty neat, actually, because they have their store divided in half, one side is for plus size gals, the other side is for smaller gals. I don't have to roam around looking at size 6 racks, and I know that everything on that side of the store will fit me. Oh, and their clothes are really cute and very, very well priced. They have great clearance sales, with some amazing items. I actually lived here 6 years before I ever set foot in there, because I was always under the impression that the "plus size" on their sign was 12-18 and, if we're being honest, that wouldn't fit me. I was quite happy to learn otherwise, and so was my pocketbook.

I also love Torrid, and they're a little bit better with the models, but, there are things I'd like to have that all of those stores don't really carry. I love vintage styles. I love the rockabilly dresses, LOVE them. Now, does that mean they'd look good on me, no, but I'd like to at least try. I considered trying my luck sewing one, but there were two problems with that. The first, I'm not a good enough seamstress to sew garments yet. The second, all the vintage patterns are tiny sizes because, apparently, women in the 40s were teeny. Then, I found, which I love, and while I can shop their shoes and accessories, their amazing vintage styles are out of reach because they're all tiny sizes. A friend pointed me to, and while they carry plus sizes in some of their things, they're small plus sizes--their shoes, however, are to die for, and they're very reasonable.  Let's just say, I was quite disappointed by both sites. Part of me says that I need to lose weigh when even the smaller plus sizes aren't fitting, but the other part, the part that's trying to be comfortable with who I am while I try to slim down, is screaming that I shouldn't have to lose weight to be able to be fashionable. Bigger girls deserve to look just as good as the smaller girls, in my opinion, so seeing sites like those that don't seem to agree, well, it sort of breaks my heart.

Then, Britney directed me to eShakti. Let me just say, they are awesome! Not only do they carry amazing plus size clothing, but you can actually have the clothes customized to your measurements. That is awesome. I found a dress (seriously, click it), right off, that I am dying to have, so I think I'm going to order it as soon as I can afford it. The only problem I see with them is that their prices are a little bit high on some things, but for a site that customizes your clothing, I don't feel that's a huge problem. Ultimately, I would pay a little more for really beautiful clothing that fits me well, because like most plus size gals, I'm tired of not being able to look my best simply because clothing manufacturers feel it's okay to ignore my entire demographic.

Yes, to sum it all up, I realize that being heavy isn't the most healthy way. Yes, I'm going to try to change that--even though dieting is tantamount to the rack, or the wheel, or some other archaic torture device. But, I'm going to change it in my own time, in a way that works for me, and if I never am able to take off all the weight, I still want to be comfortable in my body, whatever size it may be. And maybe, someday soon, I'll be able to look in the mirror and accept myself as beautiful, the same way I've accepted myself as smart.

This rather lengthy post was inspired by a size acceptance charity drive through About Curves, supporting NAAFA.