How Cleaning Out My Closet Helped Me Embrace My Body
After years of keeping clothing that didn’t fit, I finally decided to kick the bad habit with some help from a professional stylist. What I found was that there was more to what I wear and don’t wear than I thought.
I have nothing to wear.
This is how I’ve started my day for as long as I can remember: in front of the closet, unsure of what to choose, facing a rack bursting with fabric. As I stand there, I flip through my options: This shirt is too big. This one leaves a gap between the buttons at the boobs. Is this one even mine? I’m a bit of a pack rat when it comes to my clothing and at the end of every season I donate what I haven’t been wearing to charity, but somehow I still have tons of stuff that I don’t wear. How did I get here?
That’s the same question that Cindy Gordon, the stylist and owner of Wardrobe Therapy by Cindy Gordon, asked me when she saw my closet. I’ve hired her to go through my wardrobe piece by piece and tell me what’s no longer serving me. I’ve known for a while that I needed to make a change, but kept hitting roadblocks to actually moving forward.
Truthfully, I’ve never felt particularly comfortable in clothing and have always been adamant that it’s what’s inside that matters. But that hasn’t made it any easier to dress myself. I don’t look like girls in fashion magazines, and the style that I’ve always lusted after doesn’t work for my body type, so I’ve by and large just ignored the whole concept of fashion. One of the biggest hurdles with my closet is that my weight fluctuates. I never want to get rid of clothing, but I also never want to buy anything new, because I’m hopeful that my weight gain is “temporary.” So rather than owning clothes that actually fit, I have a veritable graveyard of outfits.
As Cindy and I go through each of my items I tell the same story. “I don’t wear it because it’s really unflattering.” She asks me why I still own it. That’s a damn good question. I really don’t know. My closet is broken down into sections. My jeans are stacked by size. I even keep a pair that is two sizes smaller because I swear one day they’ll fit and I’ll want them. But I haven’t worn them in ages, and instead of keeping me motivated, they’re a reminder of my failure to get back to the size that I wanted to be. On top of this, I suffer from body dysmorphia and have no concept of the true shape of my body. I spend almost all of my time worrying about what I look like and dwell on the small flaws that I see when I look in the mirror. I’ve never wanted anyone to see my body out of fear of them seeing what I see, a shapeless blob. So for years I’ve purchased things that are too big for me. I swim in fabric at all times. But I don’t know what else to do. The idea of wearing form-fitting clothing is terrifying. Deep in me, I wonder if I have the type of body that should be “allowed” to be seen. I worry that people around me are all talking about my body. So instead I wear a size too big and hope that no one looks at me long enough to notice my shape.
I knew that this was going to be the first thing that Cindy would talk to me about and I was right. Each shirt in my closet is bigger than the last and as she shows me in the mirror how the folds of clothing are enveloping my frame, I can finally see the difference. We separate my clothing into three sections — things to keep, things to sell, things to donate — and begin the process of wading through the piles. Where things were once separated by size, they’re now organized by style (long sleeve shirts, short sleeve shirts, sleeveless shirts) and then further designated by color. After going through everything I currently own, we assess my needs and make a plan to go shopping.
Two weeks later I meet Cindy in downtown Manhattan. We spend five hours dipping in and out of stores — a weirdly exhausting and surprisingly educational experience. In each store she pulls a bunch of form-fitting shirts and I feel my body tense up. “These are so tight,” I tell her. “They’re not. They’re the size that they should be for your body,” she reminds me.
I learn that instead of looking at your closet as a collection, you should look at it as a recipe. Each item that you purchase is an ingredient. This means that in the future I’ll have to think more about what I buy. I’ll have to possibly do some research, which I’ve never done in the past. Chances are I’ll have to take mirror pics and send them to friends that I trust for an extra push. I guess it really is time for a change.
Becoming comfortable with my body and my own style is a long-term goal (one that I wrote about in more detail here). But what I didn’t understand until now was that my clothing was making it so much worse. By the time that Cindy and I finish cleaning out my closet, I’ve rejected almost 70% of the items I own. A few things simply don’t fit, but the majority of items fail to pass the test because “they don’t look like me.” Because I’ve been uncomfortable with my shape (and scared of shopping in general) I’ve been putting off buying clothing that fits the body I have. Instead I’ve been wearing old clothing that just wasn’t right for me — and it’s been seriously stopping me from moving forward and making change. I’ve spent too much time trying to hide my body instead of finding ways to show it off, and it’s kept me in a cycle of negative thinking.
Breaking this thought process hasn’t been easy. I’m still struggling with it. But now that my closet has been freed of the clothing that mocked me it’s becoming easier and easier. I finally look in my closet and feel like it looks like me. It’s a mirror into me, and for the first time I find myself excited to get dressed in the morning. I no longer see clothing as a cover, but instead as something to help me express what is inside of me. I’m able to see myself as a larger whole. A stylish, badass, beautiful being.