Why Is Getting Dressed So Hard. (Part 2)

And burning your clothes more complicated than it sounds, with fat positive style blogger and therapist Shira Rose.

  
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Welcome to Burnt Toast, a newsletter from Virginia Sole-Smith, which you can read about here. If you like what you read today, please subscribe and/or share it with someone else who would too.

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Time for another audio newsletter! It’s like a podcast in your email. You can listen to the episode right here and now, or you can add it to the podcast player of your choice and listen whenever. And just in case you don’t like listening (or that’s not accessible to you), I’m including a full transcript (edited lightly for clarity) below.

This conversation builds on my previous piece on how to dress our post-pandemic bodies, which might have changed a little or a lot over the past year and a half. If you missed Part 1, you can read that here.


Virginia

Hello and welcome to another audio version of Burnt Toast! This is a newsletter where we explore questions, and some answers, about fatphobia, diet culture, parenting and health. I’m Virginia Sole-Smith, a journalist who covers weight stigma and diet culture, and the author of The Eating Instinct and the forthcoming Fat Kid Phobia. And today, I am chatting with Shira Rose, who is an amazing eating disorder therapist, activist and body positive style blogger who really gets fat fashion. About two weeks ago, I wrote about this topic, and you guys had a lot of questions. So I am bringing Shira on to talk more about all of this. Welcome, Shira!

Shira Rose

Thank you. It’s so good to be here.

Virginia

I should also say that Shira and I are also In Real Life Friends, not just Internet people. We met when I was reporting a story on weight stigma and eating disorders. And then we bonded over our mutual love of puppies and giant chocolate chip cookies and many other things.

Shira Rose

Oh my God, I miss those Levain bakery cookies.

Virginia

Oh, yes. Okay, Shira, I’m excited to talk to you about clothes. But before we get to that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about why you became a body positive style blogger in the first place and a little bit about what clothes mean to you?

Shira Rose

I think a big reason why I became more into fashion than the average person was because growing up in a larger body, I had no access to clothes. And so I remember being a teenager, and dressing like I was 70 and 80, which is not what a 15 and 16 year old wants to be doing. And that was just another way that I felt different. I mean, I already felt different cause I was bigger than everyone else. And the world let me know that that wasn’t okay. But then on top of that, I couldn’t even dress in a way that reflected who I was. And I don’t think people understand it. It’s like, “it’s just clothing, it’s not a big deal.” It is a big deal, when clothes become another way that you’re different in a world that already makes you feel like your body is wrong for being larger. So I think not having that access made me feel just even more uncomfortable in my body, more isolated, more separate from everyone else. And so it was really important to me that I try to make my blog as inclusive as possible so that I’m never another place where people feel like they don’t fit in. And then, of course, I’m a therapist, and I treat people with eating disorders as well as being in my own recovery. And so Health at Every Size, and intuitive eating, and fat positivity are topics that are incredibly important to me.

Virginia

Totally, that makes sense. You’ve shared some on your socials and on the blog about how, as you’re progressing in your eating disorder recovery, clothing becomes complicated at these different points. There’s a lot that clothing sort of continues to bring up. And you recently had a pretty big deal event of burning some old clothes that were too small and that you had been holding onto for a long time. So, tell us a little bit about what that was like. And, you know, how you’re feeling about clothes right now?

Shira Rose

I’m kind of glad you asked me this question because I feel like social media maybe portrays this idea that I just burnt these clothes, and it was so cathartic, and it was so liberating, and now I feel better and I can close the door and move on. And the reality was that I didn’t feel this like I had some aha moment, when I was burning my clothes. I felt sad the whole time. Then I locked myself in a bathroom and cried for two hours. It was really, really hard.

And just to be clear: A lot of people that have eating disorders do not lose weight, and their eating disorder is still valid and severe and is worthy of getting help. I want to put that out upfront. But with my eating disorder, I did go from being in a larger body to being in an average to small body. And it was a small body that I was dying in, but I was congratulated for every step of the way, because I finally looked the way people thought I should look. And [now in recovery] losing access to the clothes that I had in that smaller body is really hard. It’s once again a reminder again that my body is different and I can’t just walk into a store and find clothes that fit me anymore. And that’s been really, really, really hard to contend with. I think fashion has come a little bit of a way since I was a teenager, but now people are like, “Oh yeah, but these three stores exist! Everything’s great!” And that’s not the case.

Virginia

Like it’s three stores, compared to the world.

Shira Rose

Exactly. So at nine out of 10 stores, I’m not going to find clothes that fit me and I’m saying this as somebody in a small fat body, so it’s significantly harder for someone that’s in a mid- to super-fat body who literally has access to maybe 10 stores total in the entire world. And if that’s not your style, too bad, that’s all you have.

Virginia

That is your style, because that’s the only clothing you can put on your back.

Shira Rose

Yeah, unless you learn how to sew somehow. So I think it’s been really hard. But it was important for me to do that. Because I think leaving the door open is risky. When I have the clothes in front of me that are too small, I can be like, “Well, I know how to go back and fit into them.” But I really want to make sure that that’s not an option. And I want to close as many doors as I can to my eating disorder. And so it was important for me, but it’s still really, really hard.

Virginia

That’s interesting. So for you, it was not this sort of cathartic release of the eating disorder. It was more of like, a tool for protecting yourself and protecting your recovery. But then, of course, there’s all this grief that comes with that.

Shira Rose

I mean, there’s definitely also the drama of lighting it on fire! And just to be clear, I donated and sold nine gigantic bags of clothes. This was just stuff that I couldn’t sell or donate. But yeah. I would have liked it to be cathartic, but it wasn’t quite that. You know what it was, it was working really hard to let go of an eating disorder that I’ve had for 22 years. There has been a lot more grief with that than I expected.

Virginia

I think so many people listening to this can relate to how clothes can kind of symbolize and hold those feelings for us. I think that’s very relatable and very real. So now I have some questions from readers. And this is more practical shopping stuff people are struggling with and because you are so plugged into particularly plus size, fashion and fashion in general. And it’s weird that we separate them out, they should be the same thing.

Shira Rose

I wish. One day.

Virginia

So I thought you would have some really good ideas for people. So, the first question, this person writes:

I wear a size 22 US women’s sizing and tend to dress very casually for the most part. I feel very frustrated by how many garments are made with extremely thin, clinging material, or polyester blends that look ratty after a few washings. But I don’t even know where to look for good quality plus size clothes. A few people have suggested Universal Standard, but their casual stuff also tends to be made with thin, drapey, clingy material, any idea of somewhere else I can look?

Man, that polyester blend is the worst, and it is everywhere.

Shira Rose

It really is. And I think what’s hard is that you can’t go, most of the time, you can’t walk into a store and touch things and feel them and try them on. With plus size fashion, you’re kind of limited to ordering all the things online and then trying them on and then having to return, if you have the energy to do that.

Virginia

Until your credit card explodes.

Shira Rose

Yeah. So Universal Standard is a great place, but there are going to be some things that are more clingy and some things that are not. And it’s really about looking at the materials of the clothes, and then maybe ordering a few things and trying them. And if you have the energy returning the things that don’t work. Some other brands that I thought of were WRAY or Nettle Studios, because they’re the more sustainable brands, which I found have better quality fabrics. But they are very specific styles. So if that’s not your style, then you might not love it. But I just wanted to throw out those options. I would just look at the materials, and also just try all the things on.

Virginia

That makes sense to check the fabrics. I do find that plus size clothes, you tend to see less of things that are just made with just cotton or just linen and I don’t know if that’s because they think they’re creating a more comfortable fit? Do they think stiffer fabrics are harder to fit to bigger bodies? I don’t know what the behind-the-scenes math is on that, but it is very irritating.

Okay, next question: I would love to hear about navigating swimsuits and activewear. I love swimming, but it’s hard to find a plus size training swimsuit, almost everything is cut to be very modest, which means I can’t really move around, those high cut legs make it so I can actually move around and kick. Similarly, I would love to wear sports bras and racerback tops for hiking or yard work. But I’m not sure where to start, particularly with how expensive activewear can be.

And I’ll also add that I feel like the flip side of plus size swimsuits is that they’re often very cleavage-y and there’s no boob support. It’s like one or the other. And that’s not great for being active either. Like if you’re me, and you’re chasing your kids around on the beach, and you don’t want your boobs falling out in front of everyone.

Shira Rose

Okay, so I have good news and bad news for this question, I think. I’ll start with the bad and go to the good after, so we can end on a high note. But when it comes to swim, I don’t know if it’s even worse this year because of COVID, but there really are not a lot of options. I can throw out the ones that most of you have already heard of, which are Torrid, Eloquii, Swimsuits for All. And then maybe department stores that might sell a few plus size swimsuits. But to be honest, they’re not that great. I mean, I haven’t found great options that I like, at all.

Virginia

I’m gonna add Lands’ End swimsuits. Which I think I told you that once and you were like, “those are mom swimsuits.” And they kind of are, but actually like, I have a really cute navy blue one with a little eyelet lace ruffled trim, and it’s not too cleavage-y. I don’t know that it would be good for active swimming. But yeah, they definitely have more sporty options, too. And they have very inclusive sizing.

Shira Rose

You reminded me, I did see a cute little tie-dye, colorful one from them that was not that bad. If you’re into that.

Virginia

And like, if you just want like a basic black situation, Lands’ End has a good, solid selection.

Shira Rose

I think they go to 24? I don’t know exactly. We could probably check afterwards.

Virginia

I can put that in the transcript with their ranges. [UPDATE: They go up to size 26.] Did you say you had any good news?

Shira Rose

Oh, yeah. The good news is that I feel like activewear has some really cute things and they’ve come a long way. Some of my favorites, I would say Girlfriend—and they're sustainable too, which is nice—they go up to 6XL. Day Won, they go up to size 32 and they have some really cute pieces. And then Superfit Hero goes up to 7XL, which is really nice. And then if you want a more budget-friendly one, I would say Old Navy. They go up to 4XL and people really actually like a lot of their things. So I feel like there's a lot more going on with cute and comfortable activewear.

Virginia

Which is great, that's huge. That's a big change.

Okay, next question is: “What can I wear that isn't a tunic and leggings but also is a tunic and leggings because that's all I wear?”

I love this question.

Shira Rose

This question makes me laugh and like, you do you, first of all! I would think of ways maybe to spice up the leggings, if that’s something that you’re comfortable wearing. So maybe finding really comfy, cute jeggings or finding leather leggings for more of the winter/fall.

Virginia

I thought of your leather leggings for this! You have really cute ones.

Shira Rose

Thanks, I don’t know that those are still going to fit, but hopefully I'll find a good replacement.

Virginia

Yeah, they were great.

Shira Rose

Anyway, so you could spice up the legging game. If you are into dresses, maybe try a comfy, flowy oversized dress and you have a tunic look. And then depending on what your thighs feel like, I always wear bike shorts underneath for comfort and for no horrifyingly uncomfortable chafing. But you know, also, if you like wearing leggings and tunics, that’s fine too.

Virginia

I also think that kind of outfit combination gets demonized as a “fat girl outfit.” And I think we need to reject that. Because it can be really freeing to find a uniform that works for you. And that feels good on your body. And then you can just like get three or four or five versions of it and like have your week figured out and remove the stress from your life, it can be so helpful. And I feel like not getting hung up on is this outfit on trend is helpful. f it feels good in your body then just go with that. I think that's great.

Shira Rose

Exactly.

Virginia

The last question we're going to do is: “Jeans for a bigger belly that stay up?”

I have this question. This is like the story of my life with jeans. If you are more of a—to use women’s magazine terminology—“apple-shaped person.”

Shira Rose

Yes. We are fruits.

Virginia

Yes, exactly. But a lot of women’s jeans are assuming an hourglass figure, so the waist cuts in. So if you’re not shaped that way—which I’m not—you end up having to buy bigger to fit your waist, but then the legs are too big, so you’re just like constantly yanking them up. It’s a whole journey we’re on.

Shira Rose

That is like the literal story of my life. I have tried on more jeans this month than I’ve tried it in my whole life, which isn’t saying much considering I grew up in a cult and didn’t wear jeans, which is a whole other story. But oh my God.

[AN IMPORTANT NOTE OF CLARIFICATION: Shira asked me to add that she regrets her use of “cult,” here. She writes: “I don’t feel that way about the religion as a whole but my specific upbringing made me feel that way at times. I’m sorry for using that word and honestly, if I could take it back, I would.” —VSS]

Okay, this is a weird find that’s only helpful if you’re under size 18, but I love my Express jeans. They have these knit ones that feel like leggings but they look like jeans and they have cute styles. I feel like a lot of jeggings are kind of boring, but they have cute ones but you have to be under a size 18 so it’s not going to be accessible for everyone.

And then honestly, this is also again, not ideal, but the Old Navy jeggings that have the elastic top. So you wouldn’t want to wear anything tucked in for that because that’s not the cutest look, unless that’s what you like. And they’re cheap, but they they stay up pretty nicely. And so any jegging type of jean that has that elastic top.

Virginia

Like the Rockstar jeggings?

Shira Rose

Yeah, but only some of them have that top so look for those. But also like Liverpool denim, like, a bunch of different jeans have that kind of style. And those seem to hold up more because they’re more like the legging style.

Virginia

Another reader recommended the Gena Fit pants from Eloquii. So I can include that link that’s not Shira-endorsed or me-endorsed, we didn’t try it, but someone liked them. And I actually have a pair from Universal Standard that I like. The problem there is I’m really between two sizes, and so it’s like the smaller pair actually works better but only after it stretches out a bit out of the wash. This is kind of my jeans journey.

Shira Rose

I’m in the same boat, too, by the way. It’s so annoying.

Virginia

It is! Because the bigger pair feels really comfy straight on but then two hours later, you’re yanking them up because they’re stretching out and falling down. Anyway: Tunic and leggings sounding better and better.

Well, Shira, thank you so much, this was super helpful. Why don’t you tell our listeners where they can find more of you and follow your work because you are often posting so many great fashion finds? An then also, all your other work on eating disorders, which is so important and I want everyone to know about it.

Shira Rose

Thank you. You can find me on Instagram and my blog theshirarose.com and Twitter and you know all the socials and if you specifically want to find out about more of my work as a therapist, that’s www.shirarosenbluthlcsw.com.

Virginia

Awesome. Thank you so much, Shira!


You’re reading Burnt Toast, a newsletter by Virginia Sole-Smith. Virginia is a feminist writer, and author of The Eating Instinct and the forthcoming Fat Kid Phobia. Comments? Questions? Email Virginia

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