How Quitting Dieting Helped Me Find My Personal Style

Courtesy Olivia Muenter

I took a pair of scissors to the first plus size piece of clothing I ever bought in college. It was a pair of denim shorts. But I wasn't trying to shorten them, or fray the hem with the scissors — I was cutting the tag out. They were size 14, which was actually a little too big for me at the time. I was going for a slightly oversized fit to make them ultra comfortable, but still, the number on the tag horrified me. "What if someone saw it?" I remember asking myself.

The fear of anyone knowing my size started in high school, back when I was working in retail. I remember one day, a coworker and I were folding clothes when she asked what my jeans size was. Surprised by the question, I lied and said a 10 (I was really more like a 12), and she looked at me and said: "No way. There's no way you're that big." I was horrified by her comment. But seeing as I am 6 feet tall, I probably looked smaller than a 10 to her. Rationally, I knew this. But in my mind, I just kept hearing her comment over and over in my head — and the nagging feeling that she lied in an effort to be "nice," remained. In fact, it's what prompted me to start dieting.

My life-long love of clothes has always irreversibly intertwined with my life-long obsession with being smaller. Both were ingrained in me, and neither existed independently. Shopping would either bring me the greatest joy or the lowest low. I would feel on top of the world if I fit into a smaller-than-usual size, and completely defeated if I needed to size up.

Rather than grab the size 12 when the 10 didn't fit, I would use the experience to punish myself — although, back then, I'm sure I called it motivation. I remember I would choke back tears in the dressing room when something was too small. Then, I'd emerge acting like nothing happened, only to go home determined to go on a bogus diet that involved only eating carrot sticks as an after-school snack. This, of course, never really resulted in me being smaller in the long-run — dieting does not work. But, at the time, I still believed that repeatedly punishing myself in an effort to be smaller was the way to go. In my mind, it always more acceptable than being OK with being bigger.

As I got older, graduated college, and those once too-big denim shorts suddenly fit just fine, I found myself straddling the line between straight and plus size. Because I wished to be smaller, I was desperately clinging to being straight size, but never talked about it. If anyone were to ask me, I was fine with my body. I didn't want to draw attention to myself or have someone try to politely lie to make me feel smaller again, like that coworker from high school. However, I was still quietly dieting with no particular end goal in mind. I don't think I knew what size I wanted to be exactly. I just thought I had to shrink.

When I started my first job out of college as a Fashion & Beauty Editor, I loved clothing maybe more than ever. I knew my personal style inside and out. But since I was still secretly dieting, I was depriving myself of clothing options at every turn. For example, I would avoid buying any dress if I had to size up. Bodycon frocks and bikinis — despite how much I loved them — were simply out of the question, because I didn't believe they were "flattering." I knew what styles my body was worthy of and what it wasn't. And my greatest fear was still the same thing as it had really always been: That I would talk to someone about wanting to lose weight and they'd say I didn't need to. In my mind, they would always be lying. The thought alone mortified me.

I missed out on having so much more fun with fashion during this time, because I wasn't using clothing as an expression of myself or my personality, I was using it as a bench marker. Each piece was an indication of whether I was becoming smaller or larger, of whether I was succeeding or failing at my diet. When I eventually fell fully into the plus size category of shopping a couple years later, I felt more confused about my personal style than ever. But it wasn't because there were fewer options available to me (although this was true in some ways), it was because it simply didn't matter how much I loved a dress or a skirt — if it was a size 14 or 16 or 18, in my mind, I had failed.

But it turns out that punishing myself for my body existing and changing is exhausting, and eventually, I got tired. I got tired of waiting to live life, believing that it would only be worth it in a different body. I got tired of thinking that a future, smaller body was promised to me at all. I got tired of my only desire to exercise being motivated by weight loss. I got tired of training my brain to learn what foods were "good" and what foods were "bad," according to whatever fad diet I was on that year. And so one day, I just stopped. No more restricting. No more punishing. No more dieting. I was done. And suddenly, clothing started to look a little different to me.

Now, a year or so into life without dieting and restriction and punishment, the only factor that determines what clothes I wear is whether or not I like how I look and feel in them. And I've never felt more secure in my personal style. My closet is full of pieces that I love, regardless of the number on the tag or how traditionally "flattering" they are to bigger bodies. When I shop now, if I need to size up, I size up. If I need to buy something three sizes bigger because I want an oversized fit, I feel no shame. If I don't fit into something, I tell myself that there will be other clothing.

There are still moments when I feel that same sense of dread and shame in a dressing room when something is unexpectedly too tight. I still think about dieting now and then, too, and am often tempted to start again, but more often than not, I push that feeling down and I move on. I don't have room in my life anymore for restriction or for shame — when it comes to food or clothes or anything else. My style is dictated by me now. And I never, ever cut the tags off of anything anymore.