Bodies Don’t Belong in Boxes

Photo by Mayan Toledano for Teen Vogue

In my almost 23 years on this planet, I have never had a set “style.” I grew up being very plain in my clothing choices—much to my younger sister’s dismay upon getting my hand-me-downs. I rocked primary color polo shirts with Bermuda-style shorts all through my preteen years.

It wasn’t until the first time someone told me I looked fat that I started to take notice of what I was putting on my body.

At 12 years old, wide-legged jeans, baggy long sleeves, and hoodies were my staples. Anything to keep people from seeing my apparently obvious rolls of extra skin. And so when I started eighth grade, I asked my mom if she could show me how to wear makeup. Making my face look pretty would distract from my cellulite, right?

Surprise! It didn’t work. I didn’t like the feeling of makeup on my face, nor did I feel more confident wearing it. So I gave up. It wasn’t until the end of high school that I started feeling somewhat comfortable in my own skin.

I had my first real boyfriend during junior year. I couldn’t believe a boy had any interest in me at all. He gave me some self-esteem that would carry me through the end of senior year. I started wearing clothes I liked again, not just items that would cover me from neck to toe. I wore dresses and shorts and form-fitting sweaters. I felt good about the way I looked. I was exercising regularly in P.E., I was eating better because I felt better, and I didn’t avoid mirrors.

It was around age 18 that I started reading fashion blogs and magazines, and suddenly there were all of these rules that I was supposed to follow: apple-shaped girls shouldn’t wear bodycon dresses, girls with broad shoulders shouldn’t wear spaghetti straps, and girls with extra skin on their torsos shouldn’t be caught dead in a crop top. I felt like there were all of these boxes I had to check: pear-shaped, short height, medium build, narrow shoulders. It felt overwhelming to say the least.

There were even rules about my face! With my square jawline, I wasn’t supposed to wear my hair too long or contour my face too deeply. It felt like I wasn’t allowed to do anything; according to Seventeen Magazine, I was doing everything wrong. And though these magazines were probably just suggesting clothing that would accentuate the “right” parts of my figure, I took all of it very personally.

Now, in 2019, I can say that things haven’t changed much in the media—but I have.

In the last two years I have gained a lot of weight. I mean a lot of weight. Part of this is from my declining mental health and development of binge-eating, and part of it is from school and work being the biggest priorities in my life. I have never been active; I played team sports as a kid but did nothing besides gym class past age 13.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I am the opposite of body confident. I wear whatever I want regardless of the shape of my body, but I don’t necessarily feel good in everything. (Peep Marie Kondo telling me to keep things that “spark joy” only.) But it’s a process. I didn’t get to grow up with body-positive role models. Every woman I saw on TV and in magazines was thin and tall. Meanwhile, I was short—I’m barely 5’4”—and carried most of my weight in my midsection.

Today, there are all kinds of role models promoting healthy habits for me and the younger generation to learn and grow from. Rihanna has a size-inclusive lingerie line, Amy Schumer has a plus-size clothing line (Le Cloud), and Demi Lovato has openly shared her battles with an eating disorder online. These women, and so many others, are working to build a better world of size inclusivity.

Over time, I’ve learned to curate what I see online. I don’t have to follow the Kardashians on Instagram and see them promote their “flat tummy tea” when we all know they have personal trainers and plastic surgeons. I can follow Jazzmyne Robbins, who posts a selfie every single day with an inspirational caption about how she can do anything she sets her mind to.

To be clear, most days I still struggle with what I look like in the mirror; most days I change my outfit twenty times before heading out the door because I can’t decide what makes me look the slimmest. But I believe one day the world will be more accepting of different body types. I believe designers will realize that plus-size humans want to wear the same clothes as straight-size people. And I believe one day I’ll feel comfortable in my own skin, because I’ll know my size doesn’t matter.

By Megan Clark

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