And how do we talk about our outfits without talking sh*t about our bodies.
All of this and I’ll also add the expression through hair and makeup into this category. I’m 37 and part of me wants to stop wearing makeup entirely because I feel like as a size 16 woman I have to be super put-together looking (hair and makeup, ‘flattering’ clothes) to show that I’m “making an effort.” I’m so tired of only feeling beautiful or worthy if I’m done up. And this goes back to the seventh grade when I didn’t look like the cheerleaders and decided to try and be beautiful by wearing makeup and straightening my hair. And then with hair- I can’t remember the last time it felt like fun!
I desperately want to reclaim the joy that is to be found in self expression and how we present ourselves to the world, but it’s so entrenched in making myself acceptable that I’m not sure where to go from here.
One day when my eldest was just starting to walk and climb and move around upright, I realized that the pants I'd put her in made it impossible for her to lift her leg up onto whatever it was she wanted to climb on. And that very moment I said fuck it to kid fashion, which is particularly ridiculous for little girls in so many ways I don't have the energy to rant about right now, and decided to put her in leggings and sweatpants and whatever let her MOVE HER WONDERFUL BODY. To this day (she's 7 now) she refuses to wear jeans because she doesn't like how the button feels on her stomach and so I hunt down elastic-waisted warm pants (also another rant -- do only boys deserve to be warm in the winter, FFS?!) and will continue for as long as this is what she wants.
I have also given up wearing anything that makes me feel uncomfortable in my own body and I tell my daughters this regularly. Baby steps, but big steps, and I'm going to keep on walking.
As a kid, my struggles around clothes very much centered on what just about every parent I now know would unhesitatingly identify as sensory issues, but which at the time my parents just saw as my stubborn refusal to wear jeans. They were stiff, I hated the sensation of the button, I hated where they hit my stomach. In exchange for something or other I wanted, I agreed to wear jeans one day a week in second grade. I would not sit in a chair those days. I would move the chair out of the way and kneel on the floor by my desk.
Jeans remained a problem while the style for women was high-waisted -- I just could never do it, and I am really struggling these days with the high-waisted thing being back. I bought and returned I am not kidding ten pairs of jeans this summer, because even what's currently billed as mid-rise just hits me in the wrong place. (I also hate the look aesthetically but I'm not sure how much I can detach that from my feelings about what I can and can't wear.)
I did a lot of experimenting with clothes and hair color and makeup as a teen and in my early 20s -- a different color of nail polish on each finger! Manic Panic! Silver combat boots! Thrift store vests! Brightly colored tights! -- but I did have a lot of the privilege you describe in this post. In fact, I wasn't just (passably) thin and white, I was/am 5'11", which I think additionally helps how my style landed. But I also was always working with my sensory comfort zones, and over time my energy and interest has faded ... and my self-consciousness about the weight I've put on and the ways my weight has shifted has definitely risen, so that I'm much less comfortable experimenting than I once was, even though I would not have said in my teens or 20s that I was one of the thin girls.
The dearth of clothing options for children in bigger bodies is a HUGE problem. The few brands that have plus sizes mirror the problems in women's clothing where companies think making clothes to a size 20 or 3x counts as inclusive sizing. A nine year old in a larger body who can't fit into the Old Navy or Lands End girls plus sizes is just out of luck. As an adult, I can deal with that disappointment, but it's a tough lesson for a kid. Also, those few companies that do make plus sizes for kids don't make outerwear in extended sizes so finding snow pants and winter coats for example is next to impossible. And don't even talk to me about Halloween costumes... Thanks for bringing some attention and awareness to this.
The burning question I’ve always had is, if horizontal stripes are universally recognized as Bad and Wrong, why do clothing manufacturers continue to make so many of them? Is there a secret dividing line between those who are Allowed and Not Allowed to wear horizontal stripes?