I know you’re familiar with this subject. Our social media timelines are inundated with articles about Body Positivity. What is it? How do we define it? Can it be the same for everyone? With so much talk about body positivity and how it should be described, I think it’s more important to recognize what it has become and how it continues to evolve during our lifespan. Like most things in life (including fashion) body positivity has progressed, let me remind you of what it may have looked like for you (and I) before today.
I was born in the 1980’s. The decade of Jordache jeans, stirrup leggings, aerobic wear and tee shirt clips. To some fashion is pretentious but I can safely say I think you’ll agree with me that fashion gives us a sense of identity. I don’t need a scientific study to tell me that clothing has a significant effect on our self-confidence and self-esteem. (Although there is plenty of research confirming this is true) Fashion not only shapes who we are but also affects the perspective of those around us. Fashion has become somewhat of our social armor; it distinguishes us amongst our peers. As a child in the 80’s, I never felt as if I “fit in.” You see I’ve always been a chubby child. Those Jordache jeans didn’t come in my size. At age 5 or 6, I shopped in the 8-10-year-old section. When we are young, we have a strong impulse to blend with our peers. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with our cognitive growth. (I was a psych major) All of the girls my age were wearing stirrup leggings and tee shirt clips, with their ponytail high on top of their head and to the side. My plump, round, little tummy wasn’t to be emphasized with a tee shirt clip. Although the (early) rebel in me, still tried. Back then in the 80’s body positivity wasn’t a thing. At least, I wasn’t aware of it. And if you asked me today what body positivity in the 80’s might have felt like to a 5-year-old, it would be that I was supposed to be more fit. That my body was weaker than my peers.
I went through my teens in the 1990’s. Now that was the decade of Delias, bare midriffs, short plaid skirts, and chokers. As a teen I struggled with the age-old paradox that I wanted to both -fit in and stand out. Developmentally it was one of the most important times of my life. It was my chance to learn how to socialize and communicate with other human beings. Yet, something always felt off, and I couldn’t seem to find it in the husky section of the department store. So I did the only thing I knew to do- I stopped eating, and I started excessively exercising. Sure, I lost weight, and sure I was able to shop at the Gap and Pac Sun but I was obsessive. Obsessively unhappy. And the smaller and smaller I got (which by the way, was still plus size) the unhealthier it became. If you asked me about body positivity in the 90’s and what it might have felt like as a teenager, I would have told you I needed to be skinny. That being “body positive” meant loving your skinny little body.
I went through my twenties in the 2000’s. That was the decade of Express, halter tops, nightgown dresses, and belly button piercings. In college, I was ready to redefine myself. I went to a college where no one knew me, and I was ready for attention. Looking back, I’ll admit that I wasn’t super “confident, ” but I sure knew how to fake it until I would start feeling that way. It’s also the time when, I realized I liked pizza, beer and late nights out with my friends more than working out and counting my calories. So naturally, I gained weight. Call it liquid courage but my confidence had grown stronger. I wasn’t convinced being “skinny” would make me happy. Overall, I was content with my social life. And at that time, my social life overrode most other life decisions. In fact, I made a quite regretful choice when I decided to quit pursuing a degree in Broadcast Journalism because Lane Bryant didn’t carry a blazer that would fit me. It’s crazy that despite my so-called “confidence” I was okay with throwing away my dreams because I didn’t have that fashion resource. If you asked me about body positivity in the 2000 and what it might have felt like as a person in her twenties, I would have probably told you there were other things to worry about. Other things that felt more important at that time.
And now, I am going through my thirties in 2016. This seems to be the decade of Torrid, skinny jeans, midi skirts, and crop tops. This was the decade of my “AHA!” moment. Through fashion, I realized this was the only body I’d be born into (unless you believe in reincarnation). That despite the previous decades worth of societal oppression and self-conceit, I could use fashion to show love for myself. This was a paramount moment because I never really felt unworthy, I just felt left out. Which in turn lead me to some false assertions like “Fat girls can’t wear crop tops” or “Fat girls can’t wear horizontal stripes.”
(I can just hear it now, some of you are saying “But isn’t that condoning obesity Amanda?” “Why can’t anyone agree on its definition?” “And why does it keep changing?” No- Making plus size fashion available does not condone obesity. It celebrates living. For a moment consider the alternative – my naked self-unable to do things that make me happy which in turns makes me much unhappier. (It’s not a pretty picture) Because- We can’t agree on the definition because it looks different for everyone. But what we do know is that all bodies are good bodies. And the evolution of anything, especially words should be expected.)
When I found inclusive, fashion, I felt whole. I stopped making excuses for the men who treated me badly because I was bigger. I stopped believing living your best life could only be done skinny. And this might surprise you, but those realizations lead to an even bigger awakening one that made me want to respect my body and value my health. So when you ask me about body positivity today and what it might feel like as women in her thirties, I believe it’s the secret to life’s happiness.
Body positivity and fashion will continue to evolve. Our opinions on body positivity will evolve as we mature and experience life. Just as our style preferences will coincidentally develop. Besides all bodies are good bodies, I don’t think we need to define body positivity. I just know my experience. And this awakening has liberated me from the general speculation about my health or personal value. It liberates me from dispiriting stereotypes. I believe fashion is a provocateur of the positive body movement. I believe body positivity will continue to progress. You’ll know you’re doing it right when you start looking at it as a journey and not a destination.