I have recently found myself in multiple situations in which it became necessary to purchase new clothes: bridesmaid dress shopping and picking out clothes for my Aunt to buy me for my birthday. To me, going clothes shopping is not unlike preparing for battle. Before I leave the house, I repeat to myself that I am at size “recovery”; and that no matter how the clothes fit or what size they are, I have to embrace that I am doing the right thing for me. I tell myself not try on the clothes only to talk about the negative aspects of my body or make destructive comments about myself. Additionally, I pack a purse (I never carry purses because they’re so heavy) with my shopping essentials—a phone to reach out for additional support while I am there, my journal with some of my favorite recovery quotes, a bottle of water and a small snack. It is like I have to mentally and physically prepare for something that people do just for fun; on a whim with no advanced rehearsal. Shopping should be fun, right?
Theoretically, yes, shopping should be a fun time. For me, however, it often turns into a potentially triggering experience, and I often dread going. Take, for instance, my recent trip to buy my bridesmaid dress. When I arrived at the salon, the woman at the front desk set me up with my selected dress (in the size I sheepishly admitted to her pretty much by only moving my mouth to form the size) and led me to a dressing room. It was then that I was introduced to my “consultant” who just showed up five minutes before, and was still putting on her own clothes. I told the mad at the world lovely saleswoman, Sandra, what size corset I needed (because this dress kind of requires one). She left for about five minutes, and came back with one two inches too small; clearly not the size I asked for. I was devastated when it wouldn’t close, but somehow gathered the courage to ask for a larger size. However, when I went to ask her for another size, she was gone. She finally made it back to my room, and promised me she would go get one that would fit. What did she bring back? A corset four inches bigger than the original size I asked for, of course. When she handed it to me, and I saw the number, I immediately started panicking. I shut the door to my dressing room, sunk to the ground and silently started to cry. Here I was in this gorgeous dress, shopping for my best friend’s wedding, and I am reduced to tears over a woman who can’t grab my size. I was embarrassed when she grabbed the one that was too small, because it didn’t fit. I was ashamed when she thought the second one would be my size; because I felt she thought I was fat. I am hunkered down in a mirrored room, wearing the most beautiful dress I have ever worn in my life, crying; crying because I can’t fit into the clothes, crying because the woman can’t pick the right size, crying because I’ve allowed my ED to continue for the past 14 years, crying because I was overwhelmed, crying because I don’t know what else to do.
My mind went immediately back to my ED/self-harm, and has been there ever since. But why? Why am I letting this horrible “consultant” and the fashion industry dictate the terms of my recovery? I recently read that retailers allow for something commonly referred to as “sewing tolerance”. This refers to the amount of acceptable difference (plus or minus) from the company’s specific measurements compared to the actual measurements after sewing. Meaning, of course, that the size you are trying on could actually be one size smaller or larger than what you think you’re trying on; and still be able to pass the company’s quality control inspector. This often leads to frustrations; especially if the clothing is on the smaller end than the size it is actually labeled. Despite my knowledge of this, shopping for clothes is still something I fear. Because I know that I will have to buy clothes again at some point in my life (or run the risk of becoming a nudist), I have been looking for ways to combat the negative feelings I have towards shopping. The website freedomfromed.com has a few tips on how to view clothes shopping in a more positive light:
1. Take a supportive friend or family member with you. This individual can help you see the positive things about your appearance that you can’t see for yourself.
2. Do your best to focus on your health instead of your clothing size while clothes shopping. What good will wearing a new outfit, in a smaller size, be if you are too sick or weak to enjoy wearing it?
3. While you are clothes shopping, try to concentrate on the colors you like more than on the size. Remember that just like there is more to you as a person than the number on the scale, there is also more to you than the clothing size you wear.
4. Keep in mind that clothing sizes vary from one brand to another. You deserve better than to let the number on a tag make you feel badly about yourself.
5. Ask God to help you see yourself through His eyes. Invite Him to go clothes shopping with you. Let Him help you to see the positive things about your appearance.
I wish everyone the best when clothes shopping, as I know how detrimental it can be to recovery (at all stages). Don’t allow the numbers on the tags or the hangers or whatever determine how you treat yourself or how you feel about yourself. You are in charge of your health, your recovery, your well-being and YOUR life…not ED, not the fashion industry, not the department store…YOU. Clothing shopping can be hard, but it is not impossible. You can do this. We can do this.