Too Big And Too Small | Body Image When Nothing Fits

By Lucy Harbron - 19:58

Over breakfast, Emmie and I discuss our qualms with Zara. They’re opposing but united, for me I hate the waistlessness, for Emmie is the booblessness; Zara isn’t thinking of girls like us we conclude after half an hours’ worth of scathing conversation around their studio mannequin, a stationary figure we speak of as an enemy. A frienemy, an object of obsession nonetheless as we punctation our rant with the bouncing back and forth of descriptions of tops the other should’ve seen. Another conversation of glazed over eyes of admiration for all these beautiful things that will look great, on someone else.

The attempt to get my fashion mojo back has morphed into something more sinister under intense aircon and fluorescent lights shining down onto social distance stickers. On Friday in another returns queue, I was pretty thankful for my mask, minimising the pressure so I only had to fake happiness in my eyes and forehead. I struggled a bit with the act as I pulled the material out of the bag and onto the counter, pink silk, blue gingham and denim, and I loved them all. I look around the shop and I love it all. Trends at the minute are pulling me in every direction, I simultaneously want to walk delicately in prairie blouses with extravagant balloon sleeves, and pull heavy boots on with a tennis skirt and knitted vest, I want to wear lilac and green and rainbow varieties, but every time I try, no camp will have me. For the pile on the counter now being given their replacement security tags, my body had managed to be too big and too small within 3 items and 1 size. In a Zara M, my boobs are too small, my arms are too big, my waist is too small, my hips won’t fit, and my 5”7 frame will somehow be too short. I labelled myself fat as an umbrella judgement. 2 days later, I’m too small for a size XS top.

Walking out with more money, fewer clothes, I think about how much I used to love shopping back when I was 14, 15, no at 16 it started making me feel shit, remember the time I cried in H&M over my new shape, honestly who knows.

But part of me does love shopping, I go alone and early in the morning, put headphones in and almost meditate on the shapes and materials, craft imaginary outfits and wait for something to demand to be bought. Yet recently, it’s felt less floaty and more jagged, constantly factoring in the worry that these things I love won’t fit me, and maybe that not fitting me will ruin my week. I love to look at them, but these shops full of A-line skirts with no belt loops, shirred tops with no room for a bra, drop-waist dresses that work on no one but Alexa Chung; these shops don’t love me like I love them.

Shopping comes with a sense of wrongness that I know I really shouldn’t complain about. While bad trips make me feel like my hips are ugly, my arms too fat and the rest of me somewhere in between, I also know that I’m lucky to eventually have moments of success where something will settle perfectly or at least I might see a model that looks like me. When I buy trousers that come up to my boobs and finish stomped underfoot I think of Emmie, who could live inside these trousers that are marked as simply a 12 but are made for some giant. When a size XS top has space for my boobs plus 3, I think of my friends who are smaller than I am, and when a size M crushes my boobs into oblivion I think of my friends with perfect hourglass shapes of bigger boobs and a smaller waist, wondering where they’re supposed to fit in here. I think of anyone plus size, anyone petite, anyone disabled, anyone other than a size 6/8 tall, athletic built scandi-babe, and I hope they might have better luck than I am today, hope they don’t cry in the mirror or have to stand trying to hide their disappointment in another returns queues.

At breakfast, Emmie switches sides for a second to play devil's advocate for our enemy, Miss Zara. ‘This is the thing though, they’re making millions of clothes, for millions of women who all have different body types, and they’re cutting it from the same pattern for everyone. Of course, things aren’t going to fit, or fit oddly sometimes.’

Picture every mannequin, every model, every classic fashion influencer in the world, all the muses of modern style and they all have the same body or something thereabout. You walk down the street and hundreds of women slip perfectly into these jeans, or some jeans somewhere, hundreds of thousands of millions of women have that body, and fast fashion will always go with the majority at best, and at worst they’ll go for the smallest and simplest frames to cut down on cost. And while it's so shit not being in that category, for now, we need to learn to not let another ill-fitting order whisper ‘you’re ugly’ into our skin.

In an ideal world, we’d all be able to afford made to measure clothes to perfectly fit the unique curves and corners of our bodies. In an ideal world, major players like ASOS would make less but make smarter, maybe offering a skirt in different cuts to fit different shapes, extending the minimising lines of simple regular, petite and curve to give a place for all the in-betweens. In an ideal world, we’d all be able to afford tailoring or have the knowledge of how to sew, all making our own clothes with our own us-shaped mannequins. But not yet, one day, but for now it falls on us to reprogram our judgements to go from I’m wrong to simply this is wrong for my body.

With the bill paid and masks on, I fling a passing comment out that I want to be more adventurous with my style, pushing a blazer back into the charity shop racks. Emmie, always the guru, reminds me that there’s nothing wrong with staying in your lane. One of the major issues with fast fashion is the obsession with newness that it breeds. Consumerism turns taste into a competition as though we should always be striving for new, more and better, demanding a constant reinvention of the self to keep up. But reinvention and adventure are easy when anything fits, for bodies that can walk into shops and take their pick of what they like as opposed to what is likely to fit. ‘There’s nothing wrong with knowing what looks good on you and sticking to it’ Emmie says from the next rail along. And when I think about it, yeah.  I look amazing in tailored trousers that pull in on my waist, I love my legs in little skirts with baggy jumpers, wide-leg jeans with crops tops make my hips and waist curve to perfection, so maybe while I work through some of these issues and learn how best to shop for this body I’ve been given, I need to remove the pressure to step outside of my comfort zone and learn to have fun within this shapes I suit.

So as I scroll from Pinterest on an evening, I’m trying to only pin outfits that would work for me, slowing crafting my feed to suit my shape, showing me girls that look like me or wear clothes that would at least fit. This weekend I went back through my fashion board and unpinned any pictures that would never in a million years work for me, laughing at my past self for thinking I would ever brave a low-waist jean or that my hips would ever fit into an American Apparel tennis skirt without turning it into a tutu. Instead, I pack it full of Marilyn Monroe, search for pictures of her casual style, seeing some resemblance of her shape in mine. Clearing out the never-going-to-happens I remind myself that this isn’t limiting myself, the limitation is coming from me trying to fit into boxes or jeans, that I never will, continuing to bully my skeleton and beating up my skin for being wrong, cursing the way this body of mine grew.

Until the Zara mannequin splits into a million pieces to morph into any and everybody, someone will always leave a shop with a sense of otherness. But I’m trying to frame it like that, other but not wrong, hush the voices and walk on until you find a shop where you’re right, until you find an item that is right, waiting for the garment to work for you rather than forcing your body to work for a garment.

It happened eventually. Two days later I buy a cropped cardigan in another colour and happen upon jeans that fit, still thinking of all the women that weren’t as lucky, eyes unmeeting in the Zara returns queue. It’s them that’s wrong, not you.

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