I read Sarai Walker’s Dietland earlier this summer, and even in the moment, I knew it had impacted me. But I didn’t realize how much. I wrote about some of these revelations in my review of the book, but it took some time to recognize just the difference this book made by shining a light into the dark corner of my denial and self-judgments. I honestly didn’t realize how much of my own body image and understanding of my body’s relationship with the world was similar to that of the fat protagonist, Plum.
Like Plum, I was hiding myself in my drab, completely-not-attention-grabbing clothing. Neutral earth tones, blacks and grays. Flavorless. Practical only. I was trying to blend into the walls (often also neutral in color). Don’t notice me, I was subtly saying. Don’t notice I’m fat.
The other side of that behavior was that I was secretly admiring flashier, more unique fashions and saying that after I lost the two sizes/20 lbs/extra flab I would be able to buy and wear with confidence. Those clothes that spoke to me, were full of flair and personality, were being put off to the day that my body would be worthy of looking at, that my outside would more closely match the skinny person within.
Shopping was often a psychological horror. An existential crisis wherein I had to repeatedly confront my naked and then poorly clothed image in the dressing room mirror. In response, I anticipated which clothes and sizes might fit and not make me look too bulbous but also gravitated towards baggier styles to keep myself from needing to go to The Plus-Sized Store. I put off shopping. Wanted to escape as soon as possible. The effect was that the excursions I took were less productive, all the more horrific. I finally started ordering clothes online, anticipating only the most middle of the road “sure things.” And what I did find, I almost never loved. My clothing kept me publicly decent and appropriately warm. It never inspired joy in me.
I didn’t understand that I was sabotaging myself. In fact, I was a homeland terrorist. By “hiding” myself, I was subconsciously allowing more and more room for self-disapproval. I was ashamed of my body. And inauthentically separating “me” from “it.” But as Plum discovers in Dietland, her body was nothing but good to her.
There was a phantom woman in my mind that I was comparing myself to, and I had to force her from the dressing room. When she was gone, I looked at my body, the body that had kept me alive for nearly thirty years, without any serious health problems, the body that had taken me where I needed to go and protected me. I had never appreciated or loved the body that had done so much for me. I had thought of it as my enemy, as nothing more than a shell that enclosed my real self, but it wasn’t a shell. The body was me. This is your real life. You’re already living it. I removed the clothes and stood naked before the mirrors, turning this way and that. I was round and cute in a way I’d never seen before. –Sarai Walker, Dietland
My own body, now even more divergent from the standard of thin beauty in society, had birthed two lovely boys, little miracles of the design of our bodies. To hate my body was absurd when it could do such marvelous things. Plum’s revelation became my revelation: This body is me. Why would I want to show it the least bit of disrespect? And this is my life. Every minute of it. Right now. Why would I want to wear clothes I don’t love? Why would I want to put off any bit of joy?
Although it seems trite for this to come down to clothes, that’s where I began my revolution. I googled how to shop, which sounds inordinately stupid, but I was clearly doing it wrong and knew no better way to right my behavior. I also sought the advice of a body divergent friend who I considered gorgeous and a paragon of good fashion.
She and I went shopping together. This time, I didn’t run from the colorful, flashy clothes. I picked out items I loved, many, many pieces. I filled the dressing room. I tried on clothes I would have previously disregarded due to my preconceptions of which cuts and sizes would or wouldn’t work on my body. I tried on lots of clothes, between 20 and 30 items, and I chose to buy only what I loved. Which of these would make me happy, bring me joy? I was surprised by how many there were. Teal skirt? Yes. Orange pants? Yes again. I even bought my first “little black dress.”
I was wearing bright colors, refusing to apologize for my size. The dress made me feel defiant. For the first time, I didn’t mind taking up space. –Sarai Walker, Dietland
Then I went home and I cleared out my closet. I tried everything on. If it didn’t fit or didn’t spark some joy, it went into a 13 gallon garbage bag for donation. I sent away eight bags of clothes. My closet was left clean, organized, and filled only with things that pleased me to wear.
Sure, I’m fat. But that doesn’t make me worthless or even loathsome. I’m happily married. A mother of two wonderful little boys. A teacher who loves her job and her students. I don’t owe anyone a thin body, not even myself. The body I have has made me who I am. Is who I am.