Okay, I admit…I’m not a fashionista. But that’s okay, because this post has nothing to do with fashion!
Rather, it’s about dressing yourself according to your values. Or, more specifically…it’s about the considerations I take into account when I am dressing myself, to help me live according to my values. My hope in sharing them is that they will spark thoughts and conversations for you, to help you make decisions about dressing yourself according to your values.
So, here goes…
1. Clothes that fit me when I had a disordered relationship with food and/or exercise
When I first started taking steps towards recovery when I was fifteen, I quickly grew out of almost all of my clothes–especially my pants. I think I went up like three pant sizes that spring. But I wasn’t committed to my recovery, I hated gaining weight, I was still very much stuck in an eating disorder mindset, and I had exactly zero plans to maintain my healthy body. So, I kept all my too-small clothes.
And I kept them, and kept them, until I was twenty.
I think somewhere in the back of my mind, my eating disorder self hoped I’d fit back into them one day; and sadly over those five years of “recovery,” there were times that I did. There were also times that I didn’t, and times when I was significantly above my weight set point because I was struggling with binge eating. Today, in the body I currently have now that my relationship with food and exercise is much healthier, neither of those sets of clothes fit me. So, I don’t own them anymore.
Choosing to get rid of my anorexic clothes was both terrifying and liberating. I was afraid to let go of everything that was my eating disorder–the sense of control, the part of my identity, the prideful and/or idolatrous feelings. Throwing them away felt like throwing away a piece of myself. In some ways, that’s exactly what it was, but that was exactly what I needed to do in order to move on with my life. Getting rid of these clothes made my commitment to recovery feel real, and that was so good for me.
Choosing to get rid of the clothes that fit me when I was binge eating sparked the same feelings of terror and liberation. Unlike my anorexic clothes, I had no positive feelings about these ones. Instead, I was afraid that I would reach that same place of despair again one day. Having clothes to wear in case that happened felt like a safety net, like I wouldn’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on a new wardrobe in case my eating disorder got out of control again. But one day, I realized that these fears represented lack of trust in myself, lack of trust in my body, and lack of trust in God. My eating disorder and I are separate entities. I, as Alexandra, am capable of taking care of my body and not depriving myself. My healthy body won’t go into overdrive and prompt me to binge if I continue to take care of it. And most importantly, God is faithful in his promise that if I remain devoted to him above all else (rather than becoming side tracked by an obsession with a thin body), he will protect me, guide me, and work all things for my good (Romans 8:28).
The third type of sick clothes that I got rid of were ones that were stretchy or loose, that I had worn when I was struggling with my eating disorder, but that still fit my healthy body. (You know, big tee shirts, stretchy shorts, sweaters…) It wasn’t that I was uncomfortable when I was wearing the clothes, or that they didn’t flatter my form. (What sweatshirt is flattering, anyways?) Rather, these clothing items sparked such painful memories for me that I felt overwhelmed wearing them. Sometimes even just putting on a certain tee shirt triggered me! I didn’t need that in my life, so I got rid of them.
2. Clothes that don’t fit right
Lately I’ve been really drawn to a minimalist philosophy towards clothes, or the idea of a capsule wardrobe. I even have put together a few capsule wardrobes for different seasons over the past few years, and I’ve really enjoyed doing so. The appeal of a capsule wardrobe to me is that getting dressed feels easy and fun because the only clothes available are ones that I feel awesome wearing. They also all mix and match with each other easily, so I don’t have to think twice about grabbing a random top and bottom.
My experiences with capsule wardrobes and purging my closet have taught me an important lesson about the purpose of clothing: to cover and protect my body, and to help me feel good. Like anyone else, I don’t like wearing clothes that I find aesthetically unappealing. That’s pretty straight-forward. But for a long time, I tried to force myself to wear certain items just because they were trendy or fashionable. But not all cuts of clothing feel good on my body, and I’ve learned more recently that this is okay! I don’t need to keep up with the Jones’s, or follow all the trends. Honestly, nobody cares what I’m wearing (as long as it isn’t obnoxious), and I’m not trying to draw that sort of attention to my body, anyway. My values in terms of clothing are that they keep me comfortable so that I don’t have to think about them. I’d much rather think about other things.
So, clothes I’ve gotten rid of over the past few years include:
- Shirts or pants that have a tendency to fall too low, and I find myself pulling them up
- Pants that pinch, pull, or cut into me because the shape doesn’t fit my shape
- Shorts that feel too tight or too short for my liking, even thought they’re fashionable
- Tops/sweaters that have flowy sleeves (or too-long sleeves) that get stuck in things
- Old and stretched out socks and underwear…I don’t know why it took me so long to get rid of these. I think I have a special bond with my socks and never want to throw them away. But then one day I realized that I don’t have to keep living with socks that fall off inside my shoes, or underwear that rides up…
- Sports bras that don’t effectively do the job they were made to do
- Clothes that have become discolored or shrunken, and no longer fit quite right
- Stretched out or too-tight leggings
- Shoes that are uncomfortable. I mean, seriously…function > fashion
3. Clothes that don’t help me feel at home in my body
I personally feel most comfortable when I wear looser tops. When I was struggling with disordered eating (and horrible body image), I was always extremely self-conscious of my stomach. I’m so grateful that I’m now able to embrace my belly rather than obsess over the tiny changes in bloat/muscle tone/fat levels/fullness, but I still feel uncomfortable in shirts and dresses that hug my waist. It makes me feel exposed, and that feeling is very distracting.
The interesting piece of all this is that, in general, my waist is one of the areas of my body that I tend to naturally have positive feelings about. Now that I’m recovered, the shape of my torso is one of the least likely areas of my body to inspire feelings of self-consciousness. The diet voice in the back of my head sometimes confuses me though, with thoughts like “Well if you have a nice looking waist, shouldn’t you show it off?” That’s definitely how I used to think in my disordered days, anyway. My view of my body pretty much boiled down to this: Areas that make me feel ashamed = hide. Areas that meet diet culture’s standards = show off.
Those thoughts do not align with my values anymore, and that is not how I want to live in my body. Instead, I want to view my body as the vessel for doing the things of my life, not the “thing” that is my life. I don’t think that obsessing over my body or focusing on drawing attention to it is how God would have me view myself. I love how Kylie Mitchell put it on her blog…
“Growing up, when I’d hear people reference any scripture referring to the body as a temple, I felt like I was being told that temples were beautiful so I should be striving to conform my body to the standards set by our broken world (become thinner. take up less space. eliminate dessert. eliminate carbs.) But now I realize that a temple isn’t made to be worshiped, it’s a place to worship! When your body becomes what you are worshiping…it’s idolatry.”– 5 Thoughts (ImmaEATthat.com)
So, if a piece of clothing doesn’t help me feel at home at my body, comfortable and free enough to do the things I want to do, I don’t wear it. For me, that usually means wearing looser tops, or longer shorts, or something with sleeves. This is all my personal preference, and it’s what helps me keep my thoughts on the things that are more important in life than how visible my tummy rolls are or aren’t.
To sum things up…
For me, clothing serves the purpose of keeping me comfortable and helping me feel positively about my body. Those criteria can be met by both sweat pants and dresses, and I’ve owned all types of clothing that do and don’t fulfill those functions. Getting rid of clothes that were tied to my eating disorder was an important step in my recovery, and I’ve since learned that there’s no need to force myself to wear things that don’t help me feel at home in my healthy body.
What about you?
How do you make decisions about what to wear, or not?