I was a certifiable emo kid in the early aughts, where scene queens ruled Nexopia, a low budget early form of MySpace, and I was their eager subject.
I yearned for skin tight jeans and layered stud belts. I saved my money to buy off-brand checkered Vans slip-ons and generously overlined my bottom lashline. Every morning before school I would stand in front of the mirror with closed eyes, whispering prayers to the big Warped Tour in the sky, that when I opened them I would be as thin as the girls I idolized. Grasping at the rolls of my stomach, I felt guilt and shame rise in my young body. There was a fat teen girl looking back at me wearing bootcut flare-leg blue jeans with rhinestones on the back pocket, and a men’s black hoodie from Walmart. The black eyeliner, cheap and purchased at the dollar store, made my small eyes look tiny and streaked down my big cheeks; cheeks on a face I inherited from my mother, passed down through generations of short, thick, strong, Métis women. I felt lost in the years that were supposed to be my most formative. This disconnect between who I was and who I wanted to be punctuates my life and has left me on the cusp of 30 just finding my own personal style and identity.
There is a scarcity of plus-size clothing. When I was a teenager growing up in rural northern British Columbia, Penningtons and Walmart were the only stores I was able to shop at, forcing me to attend much of middle and high school in my business casual best. I wasn’t shopping for what I wanted but, instead, for what fit my body. To be honest, most of the things I purchased didn’t even fit me that well, they simply covered my body. Could I pull the jeans over my hips? Perfect. Did it matter that they had fully bedazzled back pockets? Nope. Was the shirt large enough to drape over my stomach? Take my money. Shopping for clothes that simply fit, instead of clothes that affirmed my confidence and identity, meant that I never was able to outwardly express who I wanted to be. The joys of experimenting with fashion were lost in this experience and, instead, I was left wanting.
Part of admitting this feels superficial and trivial, after all, how important are clothes? We all have different ways of finding affirmation in our bodies. The euphoria of feeling that your outside matches how you envision yourself on the inside is a beautiful coming into being. To walk down the street truly feeling your oats is a phenomenal state of existence. When you live in a body that actively defies hegemonic desirability, these feelings of empowerment are hard to grasp. When we have the freedom to experiment, to try new things, and have the positive reinforcement of reaching that affirmation, we are able to piece together who we are as we age. Growing up in the absence of that left me without really understanding my own personal style, and by extension, who I was. I worked to find clothes that just fit in the same way I worked to create a life that just “fit,” but never ever fulfilled me on a deeper level.
During the first year and a half of the pandemic, I went from a size 18/20 to a size 22/24. My body has changed right as I am free falling into my thirties, waving goodbye to my twenties, and being smaller has led me to an internal reckoning. I had assumed that I had processed my internal fatphobia. I have been screaming for the last few years about radical fat acceptance without ever radically accepting my own fat body. My jeans no longer fit me, my favourite shirts are skin tight, I can no longer fit into some of my favourite outfits. I have had to step back and take inventory of not only my clothes, but who I am. My closet is a 2XL graveyard of all the people I tried to be in my twenties: nothing feels like me and there are so many cardigans.
I realize that in the last five years, I had felt affirmation in my body getting smaller. I was on a specialized diet because of gallbladder disease, as part of which I couldn’t eat anything that would cause an attack and send me to the ER. I lost weight and in the small, dark crevasses of my mind, I was relieved. In general, I am very neutral toward the ways others enact sovereignty over their bodies, but I have avoided people actively celebrating weight loss because it causes me to spiral into the deep hole of disordered eating. What I didn’t realize is that I was enacting this harm on myself. You can never actually self-actualize who you are when who you are relies solely on the size of your body. Thin and fat are not whole identities.
I was building a house on the unstable foundation of striving for thinness and now that my body has gotten larger, I realize just how unstable that foundation was.
Adorning my body in things that fit or finding things that are the What Not to Wear definitions of flattering never meant I was creating an identity outside of centering thinness. Even in my fat body, one that has never known thinness, I was allowing this to dictate how I built my identity. So now, four sizes bigger, I’m starting fresh and refusing to centre thinness. This refusal means that I am building from the ground up. To be fat means that you are constantly navigating a world that wants you to take up less space; to be fat and refuse to take up less space means navigating a world that is actively hostile to you.
I want to say that this revelation is refreshing, that I feel emboldened and powerful. To be honest, I feel a lot like the 14-year-old girl in the mirror praying her belly rolls away. I’m scared and I feel shameful. The options for exploring are still scarce. There are more options than Walmart or Penningtons but there is still a lack of variety and access. Thin people can walk into a mall and have 50 different stores that cater to different aesthetics. Fat people walk into a mall and beeline it to some godforsaken corner of a fast fashion store that has a rack of plus-sized clothes.
I no longer idolize thin white women. I purposefully fill my social media with beautiful, fat, people of colour. I force myself to sit in discomfort when I catch myself whispering life into my fatphobia. I make myself stare into all the things fatphobia brings with it—classism, ableism, colonialism, colourism, and anti-Black racism—and understand that there is no room for these things at my table. Building my identity around thinness means that I was actively building a life around white supremacy and colonial standards of acceptability: continuing to do so is not living with my integrity. Now, I am gentle with myself but loud in my refusal.
The other day, I put on a pair of simple black leggings. My belly line was prominent and visible and you could see the cellulite on the back of my legs. I put on a baggy cream colour cable-knit sweater that made me look like a box. Over top of it, I put on a drop-shoulder oversized flannel jacket. I looked wide. The leggings showed how big my calves are and the mock neck of the sweater framed my double chin. I have never felt more beautiful, comfortable, and confident. The colours were pleasing to me, the fit was cozy, and I was emulating the aesthetic I wanted. Nothing about this outfit was flattering, and nothing about this outfit thrived for thinness. I want to go back in time and tell that 14-year-old emo girl that she will never be skinny, and that’s okay, because one day she’s going to be at peace.