I am 5 years old, sitting in my kindergarten classroom. My teacher has asked my classmates and me to draw a picture of ourselves in our future professions. I stare blankly at my paper, watching my peers illustrate lawyers, doctors and teachers. I eventually settled on a runway model, naturally.
I am 8 years old. In my introduction to fashion design class, I admire the work of Giorgio Armani and Óscar de la Renta. I replicate their designs in sketch form, emulating each intricate detail and textural element. My fashion-loving grandma later introduces me to Chanel, Versace and Carolina Herrera.
I’m starting middle school soon, meaning that I must have a life makeover. I redo my room to start, painting my walls a tacky teal blue and acquiring a heavily patterned bedspread with bath towels to match.
My style comes next. I shop at “trendy” stores for my age but become drawn to each brand’s extravagant pieces rather than the plain. I start wearing pleather leggings, glittery boots, moto jackets and graphic tees. Personal style develops prominent importance in my life and identity. Friends tell me that my style is “extra,” but my peers do not bully me. I’m tall, thin and athletic. I’ve always been. I’m allowed to feel invincible.
Personal style develops prominent importance in my life and identity.
High school begins. My shorts don’t fit the way they used to. Crop tops and tanks seem too revealing, especially for my broad shoulders and muscular arms. I have stretch marks. I opt to hide them. I wear a few “extra” outfits to school but feel unnervingly self-conscious in each. Conceptually, the clothes don’t suit me.
Finding clothes soon becomes a burden. I want to hide. I start to eat less, followed by binges at night. I’m an athlete, and it hurts my performance. Yet, I don’t feel valued in my sport or my identity unless I get back to my lean physique.
I start my second year of high school. My most extravagant pieces become accessories, which don’t leave my bedroom. I wear sweatshirts and leggings to hide my body. My most exciting outfit is a sweater and jeans. I dread summer. I want to feel normal. I want to look like everyone else.
My closet becomes a graveyard for jeans that are too tight and shirts that I feel too insecure to wear in public. My red denim jacket whispers, “Hey…remember me?”
Stylistically and physically, I have matured, but my insecurity forces me to wear clothes I deem acceptable for my body type, rather than styles that intrigue me. My middle school clothes are donated or given to my smaller friends. The size 2 jeans I haven’t touched in years sit at the top of my closet “just in case,” I tell myself. My clothes tell me that I’m not good enough, that I must earn the right to wear trendy pieces and that said right is only achievable in a smaller body.
My insecurity forces me to wear clothes I deem acceptable for my body type.
I crave the approval I once received. I feel lost in my sport, my body and my identity. I create a body positive alliance with the help of my favorite English teacher. I preach self-acceptance and criticize diet culture, but my internal hatred makes my messages feel hypocritical. My desperate, unattainable search for validation hinders physical recovery and self-acceptance.
It’s March 13, the unofficial last day of my sophomore year. My first feeling is relief. I am relieved that summer won’t come, that I have time to figure it all out.
It’s May. I have a stronger sense of identity after extensive self-reflection and proactive self-improvement. Instagram reminds me that it is Met Monday, despite the event’s cancellation due to COVID-19. While looking at past gala pieces, inspiration strikes. I suddenly regain my overwhelming desire to attend the gala, and I am determined to make it happen.
My aspiration feels undeserving and shallow. I can’t help but look at people around me—young and old—and want an evolved industry for their benefit. I desire a fashion industry that is inclusive in all facets, and consumerism that isn’t fueled by short-term gratification, exclusivity and perpetuated self-hatred.
I adore fashion, but no longer feel accepted by the industry with my current figure. I fall in between straight and plus size. I don’t have a place, which is precisely why I am determined to make one.
I adore fashion, but no longer feel accepted by the industry with my current figure.
I spend weeks tirelessly researching influencers who have a similar message of inclusivity to mine. I look for brands and organizations that fight rigid standards and promise a more diverse future. I come up with less material than I hoped for, but my urgency and impulsive nature inspires my persistence.
Approximately three weeks later, I make a Youtube channel that focuses on size inclusive fashion. I use my experiences to create concept after concept, finally gaining a sense of purpose and fulfillment. I am dedicated to participating in the fashion industry’s evolution.
My friends and family understand the importance of my message. Strangers defend me against opposers. Classmates tell me that I’ve inspired them.
After years of estrangement, my love of personal style resurfaces with only looming insecurity. My closet returns to its state of tastefully implausible pieces. (The correct size, I might add.)
I remind myself that society doesn’t evolve with conformity. I want to ensure that no individual feels that their body has to look a certain way to dress according to their style. In my opinion, clothing is allowed to be exclusive. Some clothes are expensive, and others aren’t. Yet, the bodies that clothing is modeled on should not be limited to one or two size demographics. That must change.