ALLYSON, SHE / HER
I have been scrutinized for as long as I can remember—all the way back to when I was being measured for a flower girl dress as a little girl and the seamstress told me I had a “barrel chest.” I once overheard a woman in Target saying no larger body should ever wear floral or patterned bottoms—something that subconsciously reverberates in the back of my head while shopping, and steers me away from the floral and patterned pants that would best express my personality.
I have been mocked for the shape of my breasts not fitting the superficial mold of rounded, padded, and pushed up since I stopped wearing bras. There have been times I have felt forbidden to feel sexy, or to express my sexuality as a woman having been surrounded by damaging, patriarchal rhetoric. I also experienced an evangelical upbringing and “purity” culture that villainized my body.
I chose Look #1 based on “what flatters my body,” or “dressing for my body” which is a concept I reject, but one that friends, family, and society have subscribed to. It is typical of plus-sized clothing to have bland, outdated patterns or dark, solid colors such as black. We are not encouraged to adorn our bodies or wear bold prints—I often settle for pieces that don’t feel current or age-appropriate.
I chose this look for the negative shopping experience I had buying it. When unable to find anything at a department store, I discovered a “women’s section” tucked away in the very back behind a section of shapewear. I paid around $100 for a dress that did not feel representative of me, and only wore it once. I was trying to emulate how uncomfortable and discouraged I was by the entire experience of this dress. I wanted to emulate my inner monologue that is constantly saying “stand up straight,” “suck in,” “shrink yourself,” “make sure your shapewear isn’t showing” “push your knocked knees outward when standing,” “disguise your underbite” “hold your arms in front of your stomach.”
I chose Look #2 because of how powerfully comfortable it made me feel. The jumpsuit made me feel like a woman who gets work done. The army green and cinched waist was a nice contrast to my shapeless, jewel-toned green dress from Look #1. My thick gold hoop earrings made me feel like my style icons, and my blue lipstick made me feel like a rock star. I channeled Lizzo’s sexual energy and self-love when shopping for and wearing this look. I wanted to emulate the new liberation I felt in the simplicity of wearing whatever I wanted.
This experience was an opportunity for me to “take up space” and to go on a journey of self-discovery to find what it looks like to truly express myself through clothing, with no limits—literal or unspoken—placed upon me.
Styling validates my sense of self, especially when shared and communicated to others. Styling and curating your essence and what you present to others is vital to your quality of life.
I usually start with a specific piece I really want to wear, and then I build an outfit around it. I usually grab a pair of statement pants and add complementary pieces that don’t take away from the statement piece.
I did a lot of journaling throughout this process, and when shopping for pieces to style myself, I did not ask myself the typical questions: Could you wear this to work? Is it appropriate? What would this/that extended family member think? Does it make me look too fat? Instead, I asked “do I like this?” I completely rejected the idea of “dressing for your body type” and styled myself solely based on what pieces interested me.
I was shocked and inspired by the contrast in mood and confidence level when styled in Look 1 vs. Look 2. I was inspired by how much fun shopping was when I stopped placing limits on myself.
I learned that many of the “limits” placed on me were self-imposed. I was holding onto damaging comments that so negatively impacted my self-image and self-worth growing up. This project was a catalyst for letting go of what no longer served me. I learned that the more confident I feel in my style, the more confidently I am perceived.