By age 10, I was fat. Not Jabba the Hutt fat, but definitely fat enough to make me the object of merciless third-grade ridicule. So I cultivated a wardrobe of huge, formless, sexless clothes in which to hide myself: Osh-Kosh-B’Gosh overalls, enormous flannel shirts stolen from my dad, 90-pound Peruvian sweaters that hung on me like vibrantly colored burlap sacks. Throughout high school and college, I continued to conceal my figure in loose, shapeless clothes and let my insane mane of dark brown hair go prairie. I figured hey, if it didn’t come natural, it wasn’t gonna come.
In my mid-twenties I finally began to accept my physicality. I realized yo-yo dieting wasn’t making me any healthier, and grudgingly joined a gym. But simultaneously, I took an interest in clothing and style. Although my weight continued to fluctuate, I recognized that I was maintaining the same basic body shape. I noted which cuts of clothing suited my curvy little figure, and accumulated flattering, interesting pieces while steadily ditching the dull, womanhood-disguising ones.
As a result of this stylistic transformation, I began to draw compliments from friends and coworkers. As a result of those compliments, I began to dress better and better. A cycle of conscious personal style was created, and an enviable arsenal of shoes was amassed.
But the most significant result of my personal fashion revolution was that I began to view clothes as tools. I came to accept that I would never get rid of my spare tire or my breeding hips. I would never have toned arms or big boobs. But I started buying clothes that drew the eye to my tiny waist, my shapely shoulders, my delicate ankles. I learned the wonders of the push-up bra, the pencil skirt, and the cinching belt. I learned that I was a total knockout even if I wasn’t built like a lingerie model. I learned that I felt beautiful when I looked beautiful, and that I could look beautiful by dressing to my figure.
I began to blog about my experiences, and through my blog, connected with a loving and supportive community of women. And let me tell you, many of them flat out HATE their bodies. They focus on what they perceive to be their physical flaws and ignore their abundant natural assets. They struggle endlessly to lose weight or tone up. They feel undesirable and unacceptable and utterly powerless.
Negative body image is a complex little beastie that draws upon many reservoirs of power, and no single action can eradicate it. But I believe that every woman is truly beautiful, and deserves to feel so. It took many years of experimentation, but I learned to recognize my own physical beauty, not by drastically altering my body’s shape, but instead by dressing to draw attention to my best features. I learned to use clothes as tools. And I believe that every woman could reach into that toolbox, rummage around a little, and extract something flattering, renewing, and empowering.