Shopping for clothes used to be a very stressful ordeal in my younger years. Armed with a ton of terrible "fashion rules" I picked up from teen magazines, I was usually on the hunt for fashion that was allegedly "flattering" on my "short and curvy" body. I mapped out what I could and couldn't buy: No loud prints, nothing too tight (or else you'd see my belly rolls), nothing too baggy (or my petite form would be swallowed up), nothing too boxy (or I'd be doing my curves an injustice), and certainly nothing too short (because no one wants to see cellulite and stretch marks). Even as a straight size person, there seemed to exist an awful lot of useless guidelines that I followed religiously.
Over the past couple of years, however, I've been making slow and intentional strides towards embracing body positivity. As I have grown to adore revealing clothes more than anything else, gone have been the teen magazines with all their absurd dressing rules as well as my intention to conceal my body's supposed "flaws." Thanks to these changes, shopping for clothing has become exponentially more enjoyable for me. As I look around in any store that I happen to find myself in, I am no longer governed by a million and one made-up rules specific to my body type. For that reason, I'm free.
I never realized how much my body negative beliefs hindered my enjoyment of shopping until a recent visit to my town's mall. Back when it was a source of stress and anxiety for me, I used to avoid shopping altogether. However, I now see that what was always holding me back came down to toxic ideas about myself and my body — a body I didn't like being reminded of when trying on new clothes and scrutinizing my figure in poorly-lit dressing rooms. Although I avoided shopping for a pretty long stretch of time, reintroducing myself to the retail world for the purposes of purchasing a graduation outfit this year allowed me to notice a huge difference.
Upon first stepping into this particular store, I became stressed and quickly dismissed multiple garments as something that simply wouldn't be "flattering" on me. But I quickly corrected myself, equipped with the knowledge that these fashion rules are BS, and that my body positivity comes first.
As a small act of body positivism, I tried on a dress I normally would've assumed to be unseemly on my frame. Back in the day, I wouldn't have been caught dead in a boxy dress. After all, my curves were only appropriate when beneath something more shapely. But upon seeing my reflection in the mirror, I rejoiced in the fact that I thought I looked beautiful. This sparked a chain reaction of hyper-shopping, as I made up for the all the years lost.
No matter what I tried on, I truly believed I looked amazing. Even if something didn't fit, I refused to beat myself up about it. I refused to stare at my squishy middle in judgment as it protruded from any tighter pieces. The fear of looking in the mirror once the garment was on, as well as an internal dialogue saying, "Don't get your hopes up, kid," did persist at times. But whenever I turned to hesitantly glance at my reflection, I grew increasingly more confident.
This change feels almost unbelievable to me, but it has totally reconstructed my experience with shopping. From that day on, I have no longer dreaded walking into a store, expecting disappointment to be staring back at me from the dressing room mirror.
Everyone should enjoy the feeling of treating themselves to new fabric that tickles their fashion-loving fancy. But, as is the case with so many feminine people, I never did. All of the mentalities that I had internalized from ads and glossy magazines are akin to those almost everyone else is consuming. While such messaging can make it nearly impossible for many of us to shop without having some kind of anxiety attack or existential crisis, they are so worth fighting against.
With these hang-ups mostly gone (I'm not perfect, after all), I'm able to more clearly see how alleged fashion rules surrounding the term "flattering" block the reason most people love shopping in the first place: It makes us feel good. The truth is that browsing for clothes is an incredibly fun way to constantly reinvent yourself via unique looks, cuts, and patterns. In 2014, a study by the Journal Of Consumer Psychology even revealed that shopping can reduce sadness. Allowing yourself to suffer in hatred of your own body will only ever hold you back, preventing you from fully indulging in your sartorial creativity. And that's a shame.
Of course, I can't wave a magic wand and make anyone feel body positive automatically, especially when the dominant message in the mainstream media and in glossy paperbacks is still that we must change our bodies into "better" ones. Body positivity involves years of self work and an embracing of positive rhetoric that supports your mission.
But for all who are new to the journey, and who have begun reclaiming parts of their body but still find shopping for clothing stressful or even triggering, I'm here to tell you that things will get better. The way you practice fashion and beauty should bring you empowerment, and should have nothing to do with what other humans think. Luckily, practicing body positivity — even if by doing something as simple as trying on a dress you never thought you could "pull off" — can welcome a lot of small changes in your life. One day, shopping for a fierce new ensemble is truly going to give you the enjoyment that you've always deserved. You just need to allow yourself the experience.