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So I failed to do a fatshion post last Tuesday, something I noticed while I was going through my camera roll and stumbled upon the photos I had none the less actually taken of the outfit and just– never posted for some obscure reason. I blew them up and cropped them and uploaded them anyway, fully intending to make a belated fatshion post featuring the outfit in question. Then I took a good look at what I was wearing.

It was, almost exactly, the outfit that changed every idea I’d ever had about my body.

I’ve been fat for a long time. I wasn’t always fat, I’d been a pretty “normal” sized kid. I was active, I don’t remember food being a real impact on my life other than being a ridiculously picky eater when I was a child. My mother dutifully reports that there was a period in my life where the only thing she could get me to eat were hot dogs cut into slices with a small bit of melted cheese on top.

Then I got fat. I don’t really know why or how; it happened around the same time a lot of other funky things were going on with my body, like boob growth and the onset of every woman’s favorite time of the month. I was just suddenly fat and had zero idea how to deal with it. Dressing the way I used to got me teased– I’d been a tomboy, so my staples had been shirts and shorts. The shorts were clearly out now, and it was the era of grunge, baggy shirts and jnco jeans.

Yeah. I went there.

So this was my answer. I’d hide my body as much as possible behind baggy clothes and just will it all away. I think this is a pretty common way of dealing with the way our bodies change as teenagers; I’ve met a lot of people who did this, even people who don’t really feel like they’re particularly uncomfortable with the way their body is shaped. All kinds of weird things start growing and protruding from us, so we collectively go “Aaaah!” and cover it up as quickly as possible until we figure out what to do with it all.

But the full extent of why I engaged in these behaviors didn’t really hit me until a couple of years ago, around the time that I found this dress. I didn’t think I could look like a girl.

I wasn’t shaped the way girls were supposed to be shaped, I couldn’t wear the clothes girls were supposed to wear. This was the era of returning miniskirts, bell-bottoms and spaghetti strap tops. I had short, thick legs and no matter how many Union Jacks I wore I was never going to look like a Spice Girl. I was fat, and none of this stuff even really existed in my size. I was fat, and therefore I wasn’t a real girl. I could never look the way girls were “supposed” to look. So I stopped trying. Later in life this would turn out to be a boon, but man it made me miserable for years.

I forced myself to dress and act “butch.” Around this time I also figured out I liked women pretty much exclusively, so that seemed to be a natural role to fall into. I didn’t do it very well, and I was constantly trying so hard I just ended up coming across as a total asshole about ninety percent of the time. I was mean, lashed out at people, making them miserable just because I was. I felt like I had to be this person because of the way my body was shaped and I could never admit to wanting to wear dresses or skirts because I knew I’d never look right in them. I’d always be this fat, ugly beast and at least if I dressed in baggy, masculine clothes no one would expect me to be pretty.

And so much of that is messed up in so many ways. Fat women can’t be real women, masculine women can’t be seen as pretty– a lot was going in in my head that I wasn’t even thinking about. The only real frames of reference I had were mainstream culture and media. The internet wasn’t a big thing so you really didn’t have access to diverse cultures outside of the ones you saw on television and in the area you lived in. And in the relatively well off Houston suburbs I definitely didn’t fit in with the mainstream fashion norm.

To this day I remember the one time I tried. It was the eighth grade, the first year I’d been thrust back into the socially cutthroat world of public school. I’d had a really hard time fitting in, finding friends. I had no idea how to adjust.  One day I’d found what I thought was a cute dress from Walmart that was in style at the time, along with some of those black low platform sandals. I didn’t wear makeup– I didn’t know how. I proudly and nervously shed my jeans and tshirts for that one day and nervously walked the halls of my junior high school, trying to ignore the sidelong stares, imagining that I must look different, but maybe a good different. Maybe I even looked nice.

A group of about five girls formed up behind me and started laughing loudly. They’d asked if I’d gotten my cheap dress from Walmart, wondering aloud if I’d finally decided to try and look presentable, amongst other things. They turned and asked each other if they should try to give me a makeover, but commented that I’d be too fat for anything but a potato sack anyway. I didn’t turn around. I didn’t comment. I didn’t cry. I didn’t give them the time of day. But I also refused to wear dresses from then on. I refused to relive that torment. I may not have liked the way I looked before, but at least I was invisible. No one picked on me.

I don’t really remember how the change happened. It might have been through the Fatshionista community, seeing bodies like mine that looked pretty. They were wearing dresses even, skirts, all these things I had no idea how to wear. But even then I was convinced there was no way could look like that. I was just plain, boring, ugly me.

Something in me snapped one day. I think I was just tired of feeling like I was at the bottom of the barrel, tired of feeling required to dress in a certain way because of the way my body was shaped. Tired of being told I couldn’t look any other way, of just knowing for a fact that there were things I just wasn’t allowed to wear. So I pleaded with a friend to come with me for moral support and bought my first dress in over a decade.

It’s not a dress I’d consider remarkable. It’s not super fashionable, it’s not made out of any fantastic material. I didn’t get a great deal on it. But it’s the first time I looked at myself in a mirror in a dress and went “Oh Cheesus, I can wear these?” It completely revolutionized the way I saw my body, opened doors and windows I never thought I’d have access to. I started to experiment; different styles of skirts, dresses, cardigans, undershirts– eventually I even braved sleeveless shirts. It set me on a path of defiance. One where instead of being restricted by my body I was liberated by it. How many new things could I try? What colors? What styles? Clothes shopping was an adventure instead of a chore; finding and combining outfits was a test to see how far I could push my slowly broadening boundaries when it came to the degrees of comfortableness I had both with my body and how I displayed it to the outside world.

It’s a simple dress that changed my entire life.

And I haven’t gone back since. My adventure started in 2009 and it’s been three years of trial and error, but even my errors haven’t sent me into that same crushing spiral they did in the eighth grade. My failures were only failures because I determined they were for myself– not because I thought I looked like a hideous beast, but because I was able to look at myself and go “No, we could do this in a slightly different way and look even better.” Instead of judging how I look based on whether or not people make fun of me, I base it on how awesome I think I look when I see myself in the mirror. I’m finally at a place where I can look at myself and not see that fat beast that needs to hide herself away forever.

And fashion is a very subjective thing. A lot of people wear baggy jeans and t shirts because they like how they look in them, because they enjoy the comfortability or because they give no fucks in regards to fashion at all. And that’s completely fine.  When you feel like you have to dress or look a certain way because of the way you look, because of what your friends wear, because of the activities you’re interested in– that’s when you start entering troubled waters. What I got from my entire ideal is you should always dress exactly how you want to. Fuck everyone else and never look back.