I’ve noticed an evolutionary shift in my attitude toward clothing over the last several years. When I was morbidly obese, clothing’s only function was to hide me, an impossible task given my 47-inch waistline and 57-inch hips. Back then, I shopped online and hoped for the best. But as I got smaller, I started to view clothing as less functional and more of an extension of my personality. I even dared to dress in things beyond my signature color, black.
This shift started before I reached goal, at around 180 pounds, when I dared to go sleeveless for the first time in several years. At around 170, I tucked my shirts into my pants. And then at 145, I bought a tankini. It felt almost scandalous!
However, as I tried on and bought various kinds of dresses, shirts, capris and undergarments, my one clothing nemesis continued to be jeans. I’d worn them once in awhile during those times in my life when I weighed in the 100s, but never when I weighed more than 200. In my mind, jeans magnified each of my waist-down flaws – loose skin, flat butt, wide hips, saddlebags, too-long legs…the list went on and on. I wore jeans, but reluctantly and not very often.
Then came "Oprah" and my worst possible jeans nightmare.
Standing half naked in a dressing room in Macy’s, I heard a producer explain to the stylist working with me that the executive producers wanted me in “skinny jeans.”
Skinny what? I thought. You can see how often I read "Vogue."
Just the word “skinny” made me shudder, let alone pairing it with the word “jeans.” “Skinny” was the girl in junior high who was teased relentlessly for having small breasts. “Skinny” was the girl in my church suffering from anorexia. “Skinny” was the fashion model who ate nothing but rice cakes. “Skinny” was unhealthy. “Skinny” wasn’t normal. “Skinny” was a verbal weapon. Even when I weighed 300 pounds I didn’t want to be “skinny.”
As I stared at hanger after hanger of jeans with thigh openings small enough to fit my arms through and waists so low I’d have to have a Brazilian, I said to my stylist, Michael, “You want MY butt and thighs and loose skin in THOSE pants?”
I assumed they’d put me in a knee-length dress with a pair of tights or maybe a pair of stretchy dress pants with a jacket. But jeans? Especially jeans that looked like they belonged on a 6-foot-tall model? I don’t think so…
I was honestly dejected, and fought hard against the urge to grab my purse, hail a cab, and head to O’Hare. I was still new to maintenance and my eyes hadn’t caught up to the image in the mirror. In my mind, I was not thin enough to pull off jeans, let alone walk out on stage in front of millions of people wearing them. I’d be a fool, I just knew it, and I wanted to cry.
But I didn’t. I obediently pulled (and I mean I literally PULLED) on the first pair of jeans. They were a little low and I told Michael I wasn’t comfortable with my stomach skin folding over the top. This was a huge evolutionary moment for me, almost as big as the Great Vowel Shift. First, I was trying on clothing in front of someone (a man, no less) other than my husband, children or closest friends; and second, I was voicing my concerns and needs, something I hadn’t done in…well…almost ever.
A few pairs later, I tried on a some black skinny jeans with a higher waist that actually felt comfortable. I freely admit I didn’t love them and they were definitely not “me” (and when I glanced at the price tag, I nearly choked before I remembered I wasn’t paying for them…phew!), but they were the jeans the producers chose and I made my TV debut in. They now live (and have since October 2007) in the back of my closet.
That whole experience made me determined to find a pair of jeans that worked for me – jeans that I would love and wear in public. And I found them. At Macy’s, of all places, and in California right before I met Michael the Oprah stylist for lunch. How’s that for coincidence? Or perhaps it was fate. Either way, I found a pair of Guess jeans for a quarter of the price of the “7” jeans and…I liked them. No, I didn’t just like them. I loved them. They made me feel thin and sexy. They hugged my thighs and somehow didn’t lose their shape around my non-existent butt. I felt like I’d conquered the Mount Everest of personal clothing choices.
Then came last November when I pulled on my beloved jeans and really felt the 5- to 6-pound pre-holiday gain that had crept on over the summer. Nothing reminds you that you gained weight faster than a tight pair of jeans. And I mean tight. Those suckers are NOT forgiving in any way. I didn’t realize 133 pounds vs. 127 is very different than 300 vs. 294. After putting them on and feeling the waistline press too far into my stomach, I peeled them off and vowed to lose the poundage. I did and have been holding steady right around 127 for about six weeks. Still, I was reluctant to try on the tight SOBs until yesterday.
Why yesterday? Because yesterday I felt optimistic. I had a lunch date with my daughter and I was very happy to be getting away for a few hours – away from my computer and writing and the dogs and the house and my little town. I was so happy and optimistic that I decided to give the jeans another try. And this time they fit, just like they had when I bought them.
Of course this jeans moment didn’t solve the world’s problems, but I made another in-road into solving my self-esteem issues. That’s something, at least in my world.
I’m not sure what’s next in this clothing evolution, but I’m sure it will occur concurrently with my self-esteem evolution. The pink sweater I wore today is testimony to my change in attitude. Me in pink? “Surely you’ll look like an elephant or the underbelly of a rhino!” said the old me. But no more. I’ll wear what’s comfortable, certainly, but I won’t limit myself to functional clothing only. I’m no longer about dressing for function. I’m dressing for self-expression.
(However, if you see me in sweatpants and a thermal shirt and thick fuzzy slippers? Remember, that’s part of my evolution, too.)
NOTE: Barbara’s radio interview with Family Matters Radio hosts Caroline Kruse and Jacquie Chakirelis is now online. Click here to listen.