Photography by Lauren Perlstein
By Kelsey Miller
Every year, it’s the same: Sometime around New Year’s, I open my closet and dive in, determined to throw out the heaps of items I never wear, making room for an all-new, super-chic, very grown-up wardrobe that will let the world know what kind of lady I am. Hours later, I wind up with an enormous pile of promotional t-shirts, a few skirts, and at least nine pairs of jeans I’ve somehow accumulated. There, I think. Mission: accomplished. Then, I look back at my closet and find it’s somehow still stuffed. Every year, in fact, it seems to be more stuffed — and not with an all-new, super-chic wardrobe. It wasn’t until this past year that I finally realized that there was one type of clothing that I’d never, ever thought to throw out. But it was time. I had to ditch the skinny clothes.
Skinny clothes are an issue not just for the not-skinny crowd. Everyone has at least one item that doesn’t quite fit, but might fit one day, if…If what? Skinny clothes are the things we would wear in some murky future when our bodies are transformed. Size is the most common factor: The Dress I’ll Wear 20 Pounds From Now. But it’s not the only one. In my own closet, I found things like The Dress I’ll Wear When My Boobs Are Smaller, The Jeans I’ll Try On Again When My Butt Is Rounder, and even The Top That Will Look Great Once My Shoulders Aren’t So Broad.
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Skinny clothes are made of magical thinking. That’s why we keep buying them and that’s why we can’t throw them out. To ditch those items is to radically embrace yourself in this body, in this moment, and to recognize that your shoulders aren’t getting any narrower without a magic wand. I’ve been preaching body positivity for over two years now, and it took me almost that long to recognize the skinny skeleton in my closet.
Then, I found another one: My not-skinny-enough clothes. These are the shapeless shifts I wore to hide my belly, the old, loose button-down that made my arms look slimmer, and that one nice dress I can wear to weddings and actually breathe in. God help me if I ever got a stain on it. If I did, then I don’t know — I guess I’d just stop going to weddings?
When I asked myself that question, there was only one answer: Hell no. I do radically embrace this body, these shoulders, this slightly rectangular butt. But every time I opened my closet to find it stocked with clothing which didn’t fit this body or which served only to hide it, I communicated a message of rejection to myself on a fundamental level. This was the last bastion of my old life — and it had to go. Was it sad? Yeah. Letting go of anything is sad. But in doing this, I was finally making room — not for fancy new clothes for a fancy new me — but for this me, at last. She’s the only one I’ve got and she deserves a dress that fits.
If you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and ditch the skinny clothes (you are, I promise), all you need to do is open the closet, pick out an item, and ask yourself a few basic questions. Repeat. In the end, you may find yourself with plenty of items that pass the test. Or, you may wind up with an empty closet and some shopping to do. You won’t end up with a fancy new you, but who needs her anyway? She has a great ass, but she’s imaginary. Your ass is better, because it’s real.
1. Am I physically uncomfortable?
Comfort is more than just comfort. Think about the days when you’re wearing the blouse that pinches your arms or the skirt that makes it hard to breathe when you’re sitting down. No matter how good those items look, you’re going to feel like crap. I had a bra that, frankly, gave me ‘50s starlet boobs. The only catch? I had to stick a fistful of tissues underneath it, lest the thing slowly stab me to death over the course of the day. Guess how sexy I looked, hunched over all day with tissues poking out of the top of my blouse, trying to survive my murderous bra.
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If you feel like a million bucks in that skin-tight, special-occasion dress, that’s one thing. But — I can’t believe I have to say this — your clothing shouldn’t hurt you. Furthermore, when you feel uncomfortable, you look uncomfortable, too. You are not your most confident self when you’re getting pinched in the side or stabbed in the sternum all day. So even if you think that lung-compressing dress is worth the lack of air supply, it’s not. In the end, the look you project reflects how you feel. Don’t keep anything that makes you feel and look like you need to be in an oxygen tent. Fair?
Lane Bryant Embellished Turtleneck Sweater, $53.97, available at Lane Bryant; Shegul pants.
2. Am I self-conscious?
I have a skirt that looks great on me, just as long as I’m standing up straight, not moving, and remain indoors at all times. Under any other conditions, the skirt is a disaster. In the past, I used to struggle with the odd way it clung to my middle when I sat. I’d keep my hands folded in front of me at all times, terrified that someone might see the giant hot-dog shape of my lower stomach. Or I’d just stand up, which is a little confusing in the middle of dinner party. “Don’t mind me! Just felt like standing up at the table for while!”
Even now, when I’m less concerned about people seeing my abdomen, the skirt keeps me hyper-vigilant. It magically rides up over my butt whenever I sit down, leaving anyone who happens to be standing behind me (friends, coworkers, teenagers on the subway) to find a nice way of telling me that they see London, France, and my underpants. Just as physical discomfort is not a great accessory, nor is self-consciousness. It’s hard to put your best foot forward when you’re never quite sure if your ass is showing.
If it makes you feel self-conscious instead of self-assured, ditch it.
3. Is this a “bad day” outfit?
This is where the not-skinny-enough clothing comes in. I have certain items of clothing which look totally reasonable to the naked eye — cute, even. But these aren’t items that I wear so much as use to hide my body from others and myself. We’re talking things like giant, knee-length sweaters and poufy shift dresses. These items create a kind of sphere around my body and even when it was an attractive sphere, deep down, I always knew it was a low-self-esteem day when I chose one of those outfits.
I don’t want to have low-self-esteem outfits. There’s no escaping the low-self-esteem days, but putting on an outfit that reflects that crummy mood only serves to deepen it. Whether they know it or not, these clothes are my way of telling everyone around me, “Look away. I’m not good enough.” More importantly, it’s my way of telling myself that. And I don’t want to tell myself that ever again.
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This is not to say you should toss every pair of PMS bloated pants or sick-day sweatshirts. It’s important to have comfortable, comforting clothes like that. But don’t keep anything that feels like a security blanket for that self-loathing voice inside.
4. When did it last fit?
There’s an important exception to the closet-cleaning rule, especially when it comes to skinny clothes. If you’re on the fence about an item, ask yourself: When did it last fit? Is it one of those things that sometimes fits great and other times feels too small or too big? Does this cycle happen pretty regularly? If so, you may be looking at a piece of seasonal clothing rather than skinny.
A degree of weight fluctuation is a normal part of having a body, no matter what your size. Some people lose a little weight in the summer or gain a few pounds during February hibernation. Everyone’s rhythm is a little bit different, but if you have a clear sense of your own, then don’t sweat the seasonal clothing. If it fit you in the not-too-distant past, then table it, and maybe try it on again in three months. If it hasn’t fit in five years, I think you know what to do. “College” is not a season.
5. Do I look ridiculous?
I have a blazer that fits everywhere but my shoulders. If I stand sideways and look in the mirror when I put it on, I’m like, “Oh, hey there, cool professional lady. Don’t you look chic, but casual.” Then I turn to the front and I’m like, “What’s up, Jafar?”
Still, I’ve been hanging onto this thing for years because dammit, IT FITS. KIND OF. It fits in all the places that most items of clothing don’t fit. It fits those “trouble spots,” like my stomach and my arms, and isn’t that the most important thing?!
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No. The most important thing is not showing up at a meeting where everyone’s thinking, “Huh, where do I know that girl from?” and then they realize that they know you from Aladdin. The most important thing is to not be Jafar.
6. Why am I so sad to let this go?
Here’s the hardest and (sorry) most important question. I can come up with a million reasons for why I want to keep a particular item of clothing: Tent dresses will come back again someday. This hole isn’t that big. And hey, what’s so wrong with Jafar anyway? The guy got shit done.
But asking myself why I’m sad to let something go is a different, more complicated story. Because the answer is so often a variation on the same old theme: Letting go of this means letting go of that thinner me in my mind. Yes, she is imaginary, but she’s been with me for so long. She’s always slightly out of reach, hanging out in that foggy future on the other side of 10, 20, 80 pounds.
This year, I’m saying goodbye for real. I can’t say I’m not sad to see her go. It’s a loss, but a willing one. There’s just no room for her in my life anymore. If it’s a choice between hanging onto that fantasy and wholly embracing this life, this body, right here and now, then there’s no question. It’s time for her to pack up all her clothes and hit the road.
One last thing!
The best part of cleaning out your closet is donating all those items to someone who needs it. Your skinny clothes are someone else’s perfect fit, so check out some of the resources below (or add your favorite in the comments!) to find a place to donate. It’s incredibly easy to do something good for yourself and your community at the same time:
Vietnam Veterans of America
Dress For Success