If you’re feeling -no way- about tossing out those killer jean shorts from college and that you’d rather sandpaper your skin off than go shopping for clothes to fit your here and now body, WELCOME.
This comes up with my clients ALL the time. Women’s clothing, bodies, body image (how they feel about their bodies) and food in general are collectively a VERY controversial topic. And if you’re wondering why me – a dietitian – is talking about creating a closet that works for you, here’s why. Because i’ve seen how holding onto clothes that no longer serve you (and the idea that a smaller body is the answer to everything) can directly contribute to a dysfunctional, chaotic, unhealthy relationship with food and self.
Talk to anyone on the street and chances are if you ask, “hey should I size up to wear clothes that actually fit me or keep trying to squeeze my butt into too-tight jeans?” they’ll probably say, “oh hunny, squeeze! And while you’re at it try this super restrictive diet i’m on it’s great!” That’s the mainstream message. Which is why even the slightest suggestion of creating a closet that actually works for you is bristling with antagonism and a harsh, “nope.” And if that’s you, I hear you. Try to have an open mind and stick with me here.
Every single client i’ve ever worked with has also been there. But with a little elbow grease and some mindset shifts, they come back a few weeks later saying how supporting their CURRENT body with clothes that FIT was a gamechanger in terms of:
a.) developing a healthier relationship with food
b.) developing more positive body image
and c.) allowing them to live the life they desire and deserve
In this post…
- How the weight loss industry profits off the fashion industry’s limitations
- Why holding onto clothes that don’t fit can harm you
- How wearing comfortable clothing creates a healthier relationship with food & movement
- Addressing your hesitancy to do a closet cleanout
- How to create a KICKASS closet that supports you
[Becoming an intuitive eater is NOT synonymous with gaining weight. You may gain, lose, or stay the same through your own journey. However, you’ll find no shortage of posts on the internet normalizing letting go of clothing that’s too BIG. SO – this post is geared towards normalizing letting go of too SMALL clothing because sometimes healing your relationship with food and your body involves letting go of and grieving the “thin” ideal – or a smaller version of yourself that just wasn’t realistic for YOUR body.]
Remember, your clothing is designed to fit your body and works for YOU, not the other way around.
First of all, if you read or see nothing else on this entire post, look at this… (image credit: Chloe Martin)
As you can see, our clothing culture is fucked up. All of those jeans are a size 12. WTF? Here we are obsessing over fitting a certain number, yet the numbers are arbitrary because in one store you may be a size __ but in another, it’s totally different.
In addition to that picture, the 2nd most important piece of this post is that according to a study published in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education in 2017, “the [Average American Woman] wears between a Misses size 16–18, which corresponds to a Women’s Plus size 20W, with greater distinctions found when considering race and ethnicity. It is suggested that updating Misses and Plus-size clothing standards should be a major priority.”
Read that quote again. It’s not you, it’s the system.
If SO many women fall into “plus size”, why does our fashion culture do such a poor job at meeting their needs?
One answer: diet culture and the weight loss industry. The $72 billion industry makes a lot of money off people (women especially) wanting to shrink themselves by all means necessary. The reality is that genetics (and a ton of other uncontrollable factors) play a HUGE role in body size, and the myth that “there’s a skinny person inside all of us” is just a big lie.
So what does it achieve for the weight loss industry that most clothing stores only have up to size 12’s? Well, when women can’t find options that fit their bodies, it leads them to think their body is wrong. If women think their bodies are wrong, then they seek a solution. So they purchase a new exercise program, nutritional supplement, diet plan, weight loss book, etc. And voila. The weight loss industry profits.
But why do we continue to accept this from the clothing industry if statistics (and our own experience) show us that the average woman is plus size 20? Could it be because no one gives us permission to think differently? Here’s your permission slip. Let’s fight back.
Why holding onto clothes that don’t fit can harm you
Our society promotes “shrinking into a smaller pant size” and the smaller the better, but at what cost? What do many women have to do in order to reach that severely unrealistic standard? Cut out specific foods, fast for 12 hours a day, drink water when they’re actually hungry, etc. Are these behaviors healthy? No. So logically, fitting back into those smaller clothing sizes simply is not a healthy pursuit. It’s not consistent with a wellness journey that is truly in pursuit of holistic health. [Read more here about why focusing on weight loss *could* be bad for your health.]
It’s also important to note it wasn’t always like this. For example, Lillian Russel was a famous actress and singer who was praised for her larger body size as “beautiful” and “iconic.” She was known for her beauty and style as well as her voice and stage presence. If you look at many periods in history, larger bodied women WERE the “standard” and doctors actually cautioned AGAINST losing weight.
We feel certain types of ways about our bodies because we’ve been conditioned simple as this: thin = good, fat = bad.
But once we let go of the idea (which is NOT easy) that our body needs to be “fixed” or “should” be a certain size we can start creating a life (and closet!) that truly supports happiness, health, and vitality.
Letting go of clothing that doesn’t serve you means letting go of IDEAS and limiting beliefs that don’t serve you. Letting go of clothing that doesn’t fit makes space for clothing that does.
You may think that holding onto those smaller clothes will “motivate” you to “do better” but really all they’re contributing to is guilt, shame and self-loathing.
And for most of my clients, it means they’re saying NO to their lives. Your kid wants to go to the beach but you don’t have a bathingsuit that fits, so you say no. Your best friend wants to grab drinks but you have nothing that’s comfy and makes you feel good so you say no. I believe tiny bits of our soul die when this happens over and over. What happens when your soul dies? You likely don’t get outside, you turn to food in ways that don’t feel good, you become lonely and sad, etc. All because of arbitrary clothing sizes and a culture designed to make you feel never good enough, no matter what, so they can happily take your money.
One of my clients recently did a closet cleanout and donated a bunch of pants that no longer fit. Here’s what happened:
- She told me she had been holding onto them “just in case” and she even forced herself to wear some that were too small.
- This left her not mentally present during work or social functions, and created unhealthy behaviors with food like the “diet starts tomorrow” mentality and the classic restrict/binge cycle. Those clothes were NOT sparking joy in her life (side note: I love Marie Kondo! If it doesn’t spark joy, let it go! I also love her suggestion to “thank” your clothes when you do let go of them.)
- So, on a weekend trip, she went to the local shops and bought some new pants.
- She wore them all weekend and was astounded at how much more present she was. She could really enjoy the moments with her family because all of her thoughts weren’t going to “omg i’m so uncomfy, my body sucks, ugh”
Ditching old clothes that aren’t right for your current body and finding clothes that fit comfortably can truly improve your quality of life.
Wearing comfortable clothing creates a healthier relationship with food and movement.
When you’re squeezed into a too-small size, you’re almost guaranteed to have thoughts about restricting your food. Why is this a problem?
Well, 1.) when we restrict our diet, we restrict our life and 2.) restriction almost ALWAYS leads to bingeing or “overdoing” it.
So for as long as you’re cramming your body into too-small clothes, you’ll likely be on that hamster wheel of the never ending restrict/binge cycle which isn’t healthy for your mind, body or spirit.
When you wear comfy clothes that fit, you actually have more brain space to ask yourself the important questions around food such as, “Am I hungry? Am I full? Do I need/not need food? What am I hungry for if not food?” (i.e. “soul” food) And you’re free to answer those questions honestly without thoughts filling your brain about how to fit into the too-small clothes that you’re currently wearing.
Secondly, you’re free to decide what kind of movement would feel good without the pressure of that movement needing to manipulate (shrink) your body. And you’ll be significantly more at-ease moving your body in workout clothes that are comfy, too. Who wants to workout when you know your pants are gonna dig into your sides? No thanks.
If you’re hesitant to do a closet cleanout, ask yourself why?
Who is benefitting from your body hatred? Who is benefitting from you being uncomfortable in your clothing? Are your clothing items contributing to the kind of life you want to live? Is hanging onto those old clothes helping or harming you?
Those smaller jeans in your closet taunting you – what were you doing with food/your life when you fit into them? Maybe you were in college (a much different body than you may have now – this is normal) or maybe you were on a restrictive diet. Get honest about your experience.
When working with a new client on creating a healthier relationship with food and their bodies, at some point we ALWAYS discuss the topic of clothing. Usually, clients begin to realize that their clothes are partly to blame for making them feel like shit about themselves. What else happens for my clients as a part of this process?
- They develop greater body respect
- They begin to honor the natural diversity of bodies
- They grieve the thin ideal
- They get angry at diet culture and an oppressive clothing industry
- They clean out those old clothes that no longer serve them and make a plan to curate a new closet that sparks joy, comfort, confidence and ease.
NOTE: thin privelege is very real. Meaning, it’s a privelege to be able to walk into any store and find your size. If that’s not you, i’m sending you a lot of compassion. At the end of this post, there’s MANY suggestions for fat positive fashion influencers and brands to check out. This process is hard for all bodies, but especially those in larger bodies.
So, how do we curate a new closet?
I wanted to get some additional input on providing suggestions for you in building your new wardrobe. I asked RD-to-be Lexi from @lexi.in.nutrition to share some recommendations with you. Here’s what she had to say:
Look for retailers with “try it on” options
How funny that as I sat down to write, I got a knock on the door and my Universal Standard delivery came! I opted to do their “try on” option. I picked three sizes of the Etta Jean as this was my first time trying them. How often have you spent way too much money because you needed to try on multiple items in multiple different sizes to make sure you got the best fit? Using Universal Standard’s “try on” option I got to pick the items and sizes I wanted to try on and spend zero dollars until I decided what to keep. They also have an amazing line called Fit Liberty. When you purchase pieces from this collection, “If your size changes within a year of purchase, exchange your pieces for your new size, for free.” Love this whole company. Highly recommend.
Thred Up is an online thrift shop. (Poshmark is another good option.) You do a quiz and it saves all your sizes and preferences. You can also save searches to easily go back and see if a piece you’re looking for has popped up. Similar to the Universal Standard’s Try On feature or Stitch Fix, Thred Up also has “Goody Boxes,” where you take a style and size quiz and then one of their stylists puts together a box of items for you. This feature costs $10 and that $10 can be used towards items you keep from the box. You try on all the items and decide what you’d like to keep, shipping back the rest. This is a great option if you enjoy the help of a stylist and want to try things on in the comfort of your own home.
Assess what you already have
I recently tried on every piece of clothing I own, and so many pieces I thought I loved ended up in my giveaway pile. When I really took the time to contemplate and try them on, they weren’t comfortable on my body or I didn’t love them. I had a pair of jeans that were my “going out” jeans but when I put them on, they were so dreadfully uncomfortable and tight around my midsection. While I could have kept them and continued to wear them uncomfortably, instead I gave them away. Now my new going-out jeans are cozy and cute. I can actually enjoy my time with family and friends and not be distracted by discomfort. It is freeing to say “fuck the size change” and go with what is the most comfortable… especially when we consider how sizing is so arbitrary, impossibly inconsistent and absolutely NOT indicative of worth!
Now that I’ve cut down on the items in my wardrobe, I cannot tell you how freeing it is to look in my closet and know that whatever I pick out will make me feel cute and comfortable.
If you have high quality clothing items that are no longer right for you, you can consider selling them to a second-hand store near you (or on Poshmark or ThredUp) to help raise some funds to help you purchase new items. Or you can always just find a good place to donate them. And often, the process of going through all your clothes might actually reveal some things you forgot you had or are inspired to style in a new way. This almost feels like shopping your own closet.
Exploring fashion for larger bodies can feel intimidating if it’s new for you. As Lexy (P) talks about in this social media detox blogpost, you may need to do some serious unfollowing to get unrealistic beauty standards away from your eyeballs. Here are a few accounts I love that promote style and fashion on larger bodies:
- @Bryntstagram – She recently did a three-part reel series “Wearing things I said I would only wear once I was skinny” that I really resonated with. She shares so much valuable information about clothing and bodies through her own lived experience. I love seeing women living their best lives!
- @arielleestoria is another favorite; she shares so many personal experiences. The one about being in a larger body than her partner really resonated with me because I am in the same boat.
- @nataliemeansnice Love this account. Her profile description includes these hashtags: #plussize #fashion #beauty #fatgirlworldtour. I’m here for it! She recently did a 30 day outfit of the day challenge that gave me so much inspiration. She regularly shares so many gorgeous outfits and where each item is from. Following people who look like you is a sure fire way to find great outfit ideas and discover new companies or brands.
- @CaralynMirand is a plus sized model and goes into great detail about properly fitting bras, undergarments, and clothing both on IG and her blog. I find it all super helpful and encouraging.
Quick tip for when you’re shopping
Because clothing sizes are ridiculous and so arbitrary…
- Hold the clothing up to you in the store before checking the size
- Bring a few options to the dressing room
- Try it on without looking in the mirror
- ONLY IF it’s comfy to move around in and feels good on your body THEN look in the mirror and see if you like the appearance of how it fits
Your worth is not determined by the size of your jeans.
Your life will be much more fulfilling when you can focus on living it, not on the discomfort of too-small jeans.
IDK who needs to hear this, but my nephew calls jeans “hard pants” and refuses to wear them altogether. So if needed, channel my nephew Zion and say fuck it to jeans altogether! Wear what makes you feel comfy and feels good.
PS! Because we know that the clothing/fashion industry does NOT make it easy to find plus size brands, here’s a list to get you started with some size-inclusive brands and influencers:
- Woman Within
- Thred Up and Poshmark (second-hand)
- Lane Bryant
- Chic Soul
- Smart Glamour
- Universal Standard
- Old Navy
- Girlfriend Collective
Fat-positive fashion influencers:
Stephanie Yeboah: IG: @stephanieyeboah, TikTok: @stephyeboah, Youtube: Stephanie Yeboah Thamarr Guerrier: IG and TikTok: @musingsofacurvylady
Remi Bader: IG and TikTok: @remibader
Kelvin Davis: IG: @kelvindavis, TikTok: @notoriouslydapper, Youtube: Notoriously Dapper Rosey Blair: IG and TikTok: @roseybeeme, Youtube: Rosey Blair
Kellie Brown: IG: @itsmekellieb, TikTok: @andigetdressed, Youtube: And I Get Dressed Marielle Elizabeth: IG: @marielle.elizabeth, TikTok: @marielle.elizabeth.t
Lord Troy: IG and TikTok: @lordtroy, Youtube: Lord Troy
Nicolette Mason: IG and TikTok: @nicolettemason, Youtube: Nicolette Mason
Jessy Parr: IG and TikTok: @modachrome, Youtube: Modachrome
Gianluca Russo: IG and TikTok: @g_russo1, Youtube: Gianluca Russo
Rochelle Johnson: IG: @iambeauticurve TikTok: @beauticurve, Youtube: Beauticurve Sierra Schultzzie: IG and TikTok: schultzzie, Youtube: Sierra Schultzzie
Chubstr: IG: @chubstr, Youtube: Chubstr
Katie Sturino: IG and TikTok: @katiesturino, Youtube: Katie Sturino
Charlotte Zoller: IG and TikTok: @nearandchar
Natalie Drue: IG: @nataliemeansnice, TikTok: @nataliemeansnice4, Youtube: Natalie Drue Gabi Gregg: IG and TikTok: @gabifresh, Youtube: gabifresh
Mia O’Malley: IG: @miaomalley, TikTok: @miaomalley1
Anna O’Brien: IG and TikTok: @glitterandlazers, Youtube: GlitterandLazers