Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A (Mentally) Chubby Shopper

One of the unexpected things I discovered after losing twenty-five pounds (and dropping 2-3 dress sizes) was that my previous shopping strategy had been quite simple:

Does it fit? Is it flattering? Buy it.

Those questions summed up my entire deliberation process before buying a new garment or returning it to the rack. At a bit more than 5’5”, my 162 pounds was distributed lumpily, but most settled in my gut (where rebel forces are still hiding out, plotting their insurgence). It was hard to find big clothes that flattered my frame; most size 12’s or XLs were made for people with a different body fat distribution. Using those two simple questions -- “does it fit?” and “is it flattering?” -- I managed to eliminate the vast majority of items I tried on. I often left stores with nothing, because seemingly so few items looked decent on me.

As I approached my goal weight and dipped into sizes 4/S, I noticed I was buying a lot more clothes. Many of these items languished in my closet for some undiagnosable reason. I eventually realized: before I got down to my target weight, I never had to ask myself whether I liked something. Whether it was my style. So few clothes looked decent on me that I just grabbed up whatever I could without a second thought, and I still came in way under budget. I carried this mindset with me once clothes started looking better on me, and before I knew it I had a closet full of stuff that didn’t call to me.

Part of the reason I enjoy shopping so much, playing dress-up in the morning, and blogging about my personal style (among other things), is that this world I’m living in --- a world in which clothes look the way they should when I put them on --- is a new one for me. I feel like I’m still exploring this body and still figuring out what I like. A side effect of all this is that I sometimes slip back into my old mindset. Buying everything that looks good without a second thought can get out of hand, especially at stores like Anthropologie. The past few months have been a learning process, and I'm still in the midst of figuring this out. When do I stop collecting -- hoarding clothes that look good --- and start choosily acquiring only the things I love and must have? How do you do it?

Some shopping trips still remind me of my old body and my old way of thinking, but they have become fewer and further between. I don’t think twice before grabbing a size four, and I don’t punish myself if I need to go up to an eight (or, as happened yesterday, to a ten in an especially teeny-made skirt). But every once in a while, that old mentality comes back and I find myself blindly heading to the register with a shirt I’m not crazy about but that looks good on me. I hope that continuing to explore my own style will make me stronger in these moments.

By way of a disclaimer, I feel I should add the following: Sometimes it feels strange to reflect on losing twenty-five pounds. When I first hit my goal weight back in May, twenty-five pounds felt like quite an accomplishment. I dropped several dress and pant sizes and my whole body looked different. It was a big deal. But now, I almost feel self-conscious about mentioning it. Twenty-five is such a mundane number compared to fifty, seventy-five, one hundred, two hundred pounds. Other people seem capable of dropping twenty-five pounds in a month or two (it took me eight). Even more, my clothing-buying mentality at 162 pounds was unnecessary. I know many gorgeous women with higher numbers on the scale who dress spectacularly and only buy items they love, but for some reason, this just wasn’t me. Perhaps that’s fodder for another entry. In the meantime, I ramble on...


Mandy said...

Thank you for this post, JG. Thank you. You are such a beautiful person, weight aside, and I don't want to rant about my own body issues on here, but this post rings a bell with me. :)

I honestly have been overbuying this past year, and it's the first time I've ever done that, probably because I discovered Anthro and I discovered that I could wear those beauitful clothes without feeling large in them. Now, that "feeling large" is 100% my problem, and of course, "largeness," as you mention, is about personal perspective. I have struggled with an eating disorder for 9 years and body image problems for longer - I have just recently gotten help with them. To be honest, I still feel large sometimes at 137 lbs. It's in my head, but that's a struggle I have.

I am working on not buying so many clothes because it's part of a problem I have - sometimes I think buying those clothes is a validation for me when I'm feeling low about myself. That's one of the reasons, besides wanting to save some $$, that I am trying to buy just "Mandy pieces" this year and to really stick to my sale wishlist ... I don't need clothes to validate myself, I just need to work on my heart!

That's my story, JG! I wish I could tell you when you'll stop wanting to buy clothes, but I don't know! We're all different, and we all have a different story to tell! Good luck to you, and remember that you're gorgeous with or without those clothes!

Jewish Girl said...

Aw, thank you for this. I would love to have more dialogue about body image around here, so I definitely don't see it as ranting - I see it as discussion.

I've been thinking about the overshopping issue quite a bit, because I know I'm doing it too (and in fairness to us, I think the blogging does feed into that a little bit). Like you say, it's a total challenge to limit yourself to "Mandy Pieces," just like it's a challenge to figure out what those "Mandy Pieces" are in the first place. I read your blog entry on that subject and loved it; as you can see, choosing items that ***I*** love, rather than things that **the blogosphere loves** can sometimes get confused, especially when I start to feel competitive about acquiring the best and hardest-to-find items.

Lately, I've approached the issue by asking myself, "Why do I shop?" I think this could be an interesting entry in itself (one that I've started but have not finished), but I think shopping serves a bunch of different functions in my life. One of them, which may be an unhealthy way of expressing a healthy idea, is that shopping and buying nice clothes is a signal to myself that I'm done battling with my weight. It's a way of cementing myself into my new body using something positive and wonderful (pretty new clothes) instead of something hurtful or negative (overexercise, under-eating, abusive self-talk).

So, to the extent that shopping fulfills that purpose, it will be easier to cut back on it as I explore other ways to cement myself into this body. I'm not sure what those are. Yoga?

ali said...

That is a good post, And losing 25 lbs is no mean feat!! I lost a lot of weight after having a baby and sort of went through what you did. Total shopping spree because miracle of miracles things looked great on. It is fun to try things on and have them fit. But reality sets in and you have to try to but what you need and love not just to acquire..

Suzi said...

I know exactly what you mean, as I lost 52 pounds 6 years ago in Weight Watchers. It was great getting to buy new clothes because of the weight loss, but I wasn't sure who I was buying for, now that I felt like a newer smaller me.
I did discover that buying less can be better. Especially if, when you do buy, it's pieces you really love at more expensive shops like Anthro. It's not easy, but it can be rewarding. Bravo to you and your thought-provoking and fun posts! Thanks JG!

Kelly said...

I loved this post. I definitely feel like body issues play into my shopping habits. I've gained a lot of weight over the past two years, and it's hard to purchase things in my new size b/c it's like a confirmation that I have a problem I need to address. Last year, especially, I dealt w/ minor depression, so eating healthy wasn't exactly one of my main concerns and I def used food as a coping mechanism. If I was this weight and still ate moderately and exercised a fair amount, I feel like I could learn to accept my body shape and move on, but b/c my weight is the result of really terrible habits, I feel a lot of guilt about what I look like right now.

I also feel like sometimes I purchase things b/c I think that if I have nice things, I'll feel better about my image, even though I know that clothes will never truly make me feel better about my body. It's a difficult problem, and I'm starting to think that maybe I should take a shopping breather so I can work on my body/confidence issues.

Kathleen said...

Oh, I can totally identify. When you're used to not feeling at all happy with clothing because you're not happy with what's under it, you buy less. When you lose weight, you buy more. I have the husband and four kids to keep me semi-frugal, but I probably have bought more than I should, too. I don't even want to think about what I'd be doing if I were down to a Size 4. (I'm usually an 8 now, but I don't look particularly slim -- when I went on my big diet, I would've been buying 20s.) I've been this basic size for more than a year, and I still occasionally find myself buying something that I shouldn't (maybe not even clothes themselves -- shoes, jewelry or accessories). One friend mentioned that I don't have a consistent style anymore since I've lost weight; I have outfits. Anthro's Rennselaer T-straps looked so cute on you and other people, and they always get me lots of compliments -- but they're not really "me" -- at least not the way the Prized Rose Peeptoes are, which I didn't appreciate until I got the peeptoes.

Kathleen said...

Oh, I wanted to mention I tried your sweet potato biscuit recipe (with pumpkin). Mine didn't rise much either. I don't eat bread, but the family said they were good with lots of butter.

Jewish Girl said...

Ali: I totally agree...It is a lot of fun to try on clothes and take pictures and feel good about the results! There's a mood-lifting effect involved.

Suzi: Congratulations on that wonderful weight loss. I can definitely relate to trying to figure out who this "newer smaller" person is. Do you have a strategy for distinguishing what you love from all the other stuff?

Kelly: I understand what you mean about how buying bigger clothes can feel like accepting or resigning to something we don't necessarily want. At the same time, I've been trying to internalize the message that changes in our shapes or fitness levels aren't guilt-worthy...I gained weight over the summer and felt so horrible about it, but my guilt just fed into my poor habits and made things worse. Still, even people I consider "normal" in their eating patterns or body image often fluctuate in their weight or slip into bad habits. The only difference between me and them is that they don't think of themselves as bad or weak people when this happens. I'm trying to move more into that mentality. I don't think a shopping breather is a bad idea; at the same time, I also think that dressing well can improve your self image in a real way. But I agree with you that using clothes as a bandage to avoid addressing the underlying problem might be something different.

Kathleen: I hear you. It's interesting to think about having a "consistent style;" it's so easy with Anthro stuff to get sucked into the hubub of what other people are buying that you can easily end up with a hodge-podge of stuff. I wonder how we can learn to identity which things are really "us" *before* we buy them. It may just be a matter of experience---but then the solution is more shopping, which can't be right. Thanks for the feedback on the biscuits. It's good to know that it wasn't just me....I was thinking about the biscuits the other day and wondering if maybe I cut them too thin. Did you use fresh baking powder for yours?

Kathleen said...

Yes, I used fresh baking powder. Still not much rise. Sort of weird.

Jewish Girl said...

Harumph. ::looks sidelong at Cooking Light::

Kate (Embarrassment of Riches) said...

First of all, 25 pounds is an amazing accomplishment!

As someone a bit overweight my entire adult life, I am definitely a mentally chubby shopper too. Recently I found my dream Zac Posen dress at a thrift shop and almost didn't try it on because it was a size 2. Lo and behold, it zipped up easily. I do think I have a bit of body dismorphic disorder, because I don't think I'm particularly thin but the size and fit of my clothes perhaps says otherwise.

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