Reclaiming My Size is a body positive fashion column by writer Shammara Lawrence highlighting the latest trends in plus-size fashion and the current state of plus-size representation and inclusion in the fashion industry.
“Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet?” Malcolm X once famously said during a rousing speech in 1962 to a crowd of black Americans in Los Angeles. Ever since Beyoncé sampled a part of it for the hard-hitting track “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” on her visual album Lemonade, I’ve been thinking about that particular line nonstop. And that’s because it’s such an important source of solace when my inner negative voice rears its ugly head.
Growing up, the concept of self-love was absent from my vocabulary. Wholeheartedly loving myself? Please, I have more pressing responsibilities to think about. When you’re a black woman from a low-income immigrant family your priority is survival — often at the expense of your wellbeing. For so long, I was focused on getting amazing grades in school, going to college, and being my single mother’s support system, I would forget to look after my mental health.
Instead, I used fashion and beauty as a coping strategy. They were my first true loves. In high school, I often experimented with different fashion trends and hairstyles to make myself feel better. I’d even spend innumerable hours perusing personal style blogs for new fashion brands to check out or simply for inspiration. As a savvy, frugal-minded teenager, I knew where all of the good sample sales were and when and where to get the best deals. Urban Outfitters’ bi-annual 50% off sale being my favorite and most frequented. Coming up with new, innovative outfits or interesting ways to wear well-loved staples was my happy place, free of personal demons. With fashion, in particular, every day, I was able to reinvent myself, creating a new sartorial persona for the world to see.
By the time I got to college, my relationship to fashion completely changed. I started binge-eating to deal with the crushing weight of self-doubt surrounding my academic performance and being one of the few black students in most of my classes. I gained a lot of weight as a result. Five pounds one month. Forty over the course of six. Soon enough, in addition to taking antidepressants that caused me to gain even more weight, I was at the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. My body became alien to me, like some distant relative I once knew. “Eww, I look so disgusting,” I’d repeat to myself while looking in the mirror examining the damage that had been done.
Almost instinctively, after berating myself at the sight of my reflection, I went on a shopping spree seeking out clothes that could hide my belly rolls, jiggly arms, and stretch marks all over my body. But looking around my favorite stores, the ones I spent so much time in during high school, it was clear there was nothing for me. I vividly remember going into one particular place for new pair of jeans, only to be disappointed that there were absolutely no sizes that could get over my thighs. Upset and frustrated, I left in tears. It was as if my patronage wasn’t wanted.
More and more, shopping made me feel as if this new body I developed was unworthy of the same clothing options that were once readily available to me. No matter how much I tried squeezing into items, sucking in my belly so pants that were clearly too small for me could close, no longer was I able to participate in the exciting world of fashion I once knew. My membership had been revoked. I was now an outsider who had been shunned for her size and left to feel undesirable — and it was all my fault, or so I thought back then. If only I wasn’t gluttonous, I wouldn’t be in this predicament, I told myself, fully convinced I was the reason for my exclusion from the mainstream fashion market.
Thankfully, as I got used to my new body, I found online size-inclusive retailers like ASOS Curve and Boohoo whose business model is one of inclusivity. True style doesn’t have a size, so why should brands limit themselves in their offerings? Everyone deserves chic clothes.
I’ve come a long way since my college days. For starters, I no longer body shame myself. I’m always actively working on making sure I’m the best version of myself everyday, no matter my size, and that involves eating in moderation and being active, as well looking after my mental health. It also means recognizing that I’m not always going to feel confident — and that’s okay, I’m only human.
For those struggling with body confidence, remember the journey to loving yourself is individual and is often filled with road bumps. But it’s one everyone owes to themselves. Pure gratitude, appreciation and celebration of oneself await you on the other side. So continue taking up space in the world, even when people tell you to shrink yourself. You and I deserve to be here.