It’s Never “Just Clothing”

A couple of weeks ago, as I was trying to wrestle my clean-and-folded laundry back into my drawers, I decided I needed to go through all my drawers again and clear out the clothes that never see the light of day. I generally try to reassess at least once a year, and will trot down to Unique with a couple of small bags of donations. This time, however, I felt a bigger upheaval was in order.

I started pulling things out left and right, took a good hard look at them, and then folded them and built a little fortress of discarded clothing on my bed. These pieces were all still in exceptional condition, and I didn’t just want them to languish on thrift store racks or end up in a landfill somewhere, so I decided to coordinate a clothing swap.

The Unfortunate Checked 40’s Dress

As is the case with any person who is capable of making their own clothes, I have a number of handmade items in my closet that, for whatever reason, just don’t get thrown into rotation. Sometimes – as in the case of the Unfortunate Checked 40’s Dress and the Short People Probably Shouldn’t Wear A Cocoon Coat (yes, I give my unfortunate makes long, descriptive names) – it’s just a matter of getting swept up in the making process, only to discover that, no, that style doesn’t look good on you, and you probably knew that in the back of your mind before making it, but couldn’t be bothered to slow down and check your impulses. Sometimes a piece just doesn’t suit your lifestyle anymore (a lot of the sewing podcasts I’ve been listening to include sections where people bid goodbye to the “party dress” period of making, and venture into “comfy, cozy” territory). And sometimes, pieces might still be something you love and suit your style, but just don’t fit.

Sadly for me, the latter was the case with most of the hand-made pieces that made their way into my “to give up” pile this time around. It was incredibly difficult to let go of them. Not only because these are favorite pieces, as well as items I spent a good amount of time and resources constructing them, but because of what parting with them meant…

As I studied each of my well-loved, handmade pieces I was reminded of how much my body has changed over the past couple of years – largely in ways I don’t care for. These were all pieces from before my PCOS really picked up and my hormones went even crazier (oh yeah, we haven’t really talked about that, have we?). Pieces that I would LOVE to wear again.

My favorite detail on this dress.

Honestly, it was kind of shocking to look at those pieces and see how small some of them were – mostly because I didn’t feel “small” in them – in more ways than one.

I’ve always been aware of the amount of physical space I take up in the world. It’s hard not to when, growing up, it is constantly, obnoxiously, and cruelly pointed out by people — some of them doing it because they get some kind of twisted enjoyment out of hurting others, and some because they somehow think they are “helping.” (They weren’t and aren’t.)

Somewhere, I still have the other cherry blossom button

While none of those pieces were single digit sizes, they represented the smallest I had been since, oh, let’s say junior year of high school. And yet, as I said, they didn’t make me feel small. They were not designed to make me shrink quietly into the background. They were not quiet and demure. They were loud, and busy — sundresses with skulls and roses and barbed wire, or strewn with embroidered cherry blossoms. They  bared shoulders and cleavage and legs. They broke all the rules that large people are taught from the moment they are categorized as “large.” Stripes, large prints, bright colors, designed to reveal a body, instead of covering it up. I was physically smaller when I wore them, but I felt larger, in that I felt freer to inhabit the space around me. The dresses, with their full skirts, were meant to take up space – which meant that I was free to do so, too. The prints were loud, which made me more confident in my own voice, willing to add my voice and volume to conversations. These pieces showed more of my body than I had ever felt allowed to before, and I found myself opening up and allowing my light to shine, instead of hiding it away.

That’s a lot of subtext for a cute little sundress to carry.

Of course, as hard as it is to let go of pieces I have made and loved, it is just as hard to have them around. Hormone-influenced weight gain being what it is, there is no guarantee of a time-line for weight loss, or even that weight loss will happen. So, out these pieces had to go – both to allow for more space in the closet and also for my own mental well-being.

I know we are more than only our bodies, but still, they are part of our identity. They are the lived reality of our existence and reminders of all the things we have experienced, good and bad. And so, pictures of ourselves, recordings of measurements and weights, and even clothing we loved but cannot wear anymore are capable of holding us in the past, holding us back, and convincing us that the only times we have been worthy and acceptable are the times when we fit a particular, restricted mold or image. Even as a handmade dress can remind us of joyfully claiming our place in the world, it can keep us from moving on and continuing to develop.

Those sundresses are gone from my wardrobe now — joyfully snapped up by two of the women I befriended from my time at the farm — but the lessons I learned from them remain. In fact, I think it’s easier to focus on the big picture takeaways now that I’m not fixating on thinking about trying to get back to that physical size. Instead of focusing on the measurements of those dresses, I can focus on the way they made me feel, and the way they helped to shape how I choose to exist in this world. That’s not to say I am 100% happy with my body now. There are days I feel broken because of this stupid disease, or I get frustrated with strangers’ refusal to see me as anything other than my weight, or physically sick from medication. BUT…those are the days when I’ll sit down at my sewing table and work on something that is meant to celebrate me and the whole of my experience, and help me to inhabit my space fully.

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