Fashion Is The Only Thing That Makes Me Hate My Body

'I don't hate my hips and belly for existing; I just hate them for ruining the line of high-waisted cropped flares'

shopping body hangups

by Lauren Bravo |
Updated on

I have realised something. In the ongoing case of Me vs My Body, fashion is the main thing preventing me from reaching a settlement.

Even writing it down is quite stressful, because the time and mental admin required to fix this problem is going to be huge, and I haven’t even finished Killing Eve yet. But here goes: I have realised that the biggest obstacle between myself and self-acceptance of my body is my wardrobe.

Great swathes of my teens and early 20s were coloured by the feeling that my body was wrong; in clothes, in PE, in life in general. No matter what I was doing with it, and what it was doing for me. Wrong.

But these days, not so much. In fact now I'm in my thirties, I’m more comfortable in my body than ever before. The body itself has barely changed – slightly reconfigured and redistributed by time, but the same general gist. Only it doesn’t feel so wrong anymore. Now, I get naked in the swimming pool changing room without a second thought. I wore a bikini on holiday for the first time since puberty. I've embraced my right to bare arms, and stopped sweating through each summer in superfluous cardigans. These days, when my boyfriend tells me he loves my body, I actually believe him. But more crucially, I’m less concerned about what he thinks of it at all. It’s cool. It’s a fine body. It does the job.

Nudity is no longer the problem, it's that my body doesn't look the way I want it to in clothes. My most acute moments of physical self-loathing don’t happen on the beach or at the gym – they happen in high street changing rooms.

I don't hate my hips and belly for existing; I just hate them for ruining the line of high-waisted cropped flares. I generally have no opinions on my arse, except when it fills out skirts that are supposed to “skim” over it. I don't feel ashamed of having big boobs; I just resent the way plunging necklines never look cool or androgynous, and generally involve two awkward inches of exposed bra. I know that my flesh has no moral value, I honestly do. I just wish it looked ‘right’ in the stuff I want to wear.

None of this is my body’s fault (as previously established: it’s cool, it’s fine, it does the job). Some of it falls into the handy all-purpose column headed ‘The Patriarchy Is Still Screwing Us All’. But the remaining blame can be portioned up between myself, for being shallow and caring too much about fashion, and the fashion industry. For not caring enough about me.

And I say this, I am very aware, as a person cloaked in privilege. The fact that I can walk into a high street store and expect them to stock my size (unless we’re talking about that Brandy & Melville ‘one size’ insanity) immediately gives me an advantage over millions of other women in this world who also love clothes and also want to dress in a way that does justice to the fierce, gorgeous visions in their heads. If I am languishing on the side of a party where I don’t quite fit in, plenty of other people haven’t even received an invite. So what if most of the dresses out there treat my tits and hips like frumpy encumbrances, in the grand scheme of things? At least I can still buy them. I still get to walk away with a dress.

But being luckier than some doesn’t mean we can’t still take in the full panorama of injustice. I’ve begun to think – and maybe this is another byproduct of getting older, like having the courage to complain in restaurants – that when I’m spending big chunks of my monthly income on something I love, simply getting the zip up isn’t enough. My body deserves to be loved back. So does yours.

I’m sick of buying clothes that feel like I’ve borrowed them from someone else. Clothes that need tugging and safety-pinning and terrifyingly overpriced underwear ‘solutions’ to get them to the point of wearability. When we spend our hard-earned cash on an expensive outfit we deserve to have it wrapped in scented tissue and tied with a satin bow, not riding up and gaping in a way that says, loud and clear, ‘this wasn’t designed for you.’

True, in our modern mood of marketable inclusivity, lots of the newer fashion brands have learned to speak the language. Their fuzzy online spiels talk about ‘flattering’ and ‘celebrating’ women, ‘real’ women, ‘smart’ women with jobs and opinions and eco-cups of coffee – but in lots of cases this message is trotted out seemingly without any change to the way the clothes are actually designed. Like they think they can sew a new label that says ‘empowerment!’ into the same old frock for the same old body type and fool us all.

Flattering’, you realise, is still about achieving the illusion of thinness rather than making clothes to comfortably and thoughtfully accommodate a full range of bodies. Online, I’ve started spotting notes that suggest, with a quiet undertone of ‘look, don’t make this awkward’, that their beautiful clothes might be ruined by my pesky body. ‘Variation in fit is to be expected’. ‘Clings to your curves.’ The other day I fell in love with a beautiful wafty peasant dress from a hip Californian brand, only to read that it was ‘recommended for smaller bust sizes’ because it ‘isn’t bra-friendly.’ I might be glad of their honesty, if the chances of ever seeing a dress recommended for larger busts and sturdy underwiring wasn’t slim-to-sodding none.

And yet. Despite knowing all this and railing against it on the regular, I still bloody love fashion. It’s embarrassing to admit that I invest so much in a relationship that often feels so one-sided, but so help me, I do. I’m complicit in the whole thing.

But am I doomed to continue buying bias cut skirts and wrap dresses and button-down shirts and crying when they don’t look on me the way they look on the model? I hope not. It feels as though my options are:

1) stop spending money on the clothes that make me resent my body, and only wear the things I feel good in. Even if this means wearing the same two midi dresses forever until I die.

2) Shut up and wear the awkward clothes anyway. Feel grateful I can wear them at all. Give up the dream of skimming A-lines that actually skim, and waistlines that sit on my actual waist rather than hovering clumsily above it.

3) A delicate balance of the two. If I can manage to reach a point of near-acceptance with my naked body then surely I can achieve fashion neutrality too?

Or, 4) petition every beautiful brand I know to let me come to their focus groups and explain all this to them. Because I’m tired as hell of telling it to the fitting room mirror.

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