You see a lot of posts on recovery blogs/accounts related to conquering “fear foods.” Re-introducing fear foods is undoubtedly an important part of recovery, but what about “fear clothes?” Where does this fit into recovery?
We are surrounded by messages in the media telling us that we have to be a certain size to wear certain types of clothing. It doesn’t take more than 30 seconds on Google to find a number of articles with titles like “How to Dress for your Body Type,” “How to Pull off the Latest Trend in a Curvy Body” or “What Style Swimsuit is Best for your Figure?” The underlying message is that thinner girls (or guys) are able to throw on any outfit they want, while individuals in larger bodies have to follow strict rules and guidelines if they want to dress in certain types of clothes. These messages are literally everywhere; it’s no wonder we have so many internalized rules about what we are/aren’t “allowed” to wear.
Our own internalized rules can be hard to recognize at first, because many of us have had them drilled into our heads for so long. You may have grown up hearing friends and family make comments about what others should/shouldn’t be wearing based on body size, and it’s easy to accept these rules as facts when they keep being reinforced again and again. You may have even built your own personal “style” around some of these rules without even realizing it.
When I sat down to think about what kinds of rules I had around clothing, I realized that throughout most of my life, the types of clothes that I felt comfortable in always depended on my body size. If I wasn’t happy with my weight, I tended to stay away from anything too trendy, revealing, or likely to attract attention. As my weight fluctuated over the years, so did the rules about what clothes I was “allowed” to wear. This became especially apparent as my body size changed in recovery. All of the sudden, I was less comfortable wearing some of the clothes that I felt fine wearing only several months earlier. I realized something needed to change.
One important part of my own recovery has been fighting against the diet culture that has contributed to so many eating disorders. But how can I claim to be fighting against diet culture if I’m still allowing diet culture to dictate what I can and can’t wear? If it’s true that health and beauty exist in all shapes and sizes, then people of all shapes and sizes should be allowed to feel comfortable wearing whatever they choose. I realized that fighting diet culture was going to mean stepping outside of my own comfort zone when it came to clothing.
So how do you do it? Is it that easy?
The first step is recognizing what internalized rules you have regarding clothes. Ask yourself, “What styles/types of clothing would I never wear?” Then ask yourself why. If you hear yourself saying that you don’t wear certain things because you aren’t “thin enough,” stomach isn’t “flat enough,” thighs aren’t “toned enough,” etc., stop and consider where those rules come from. Who determines what “enough” is? The concept of “enough” is subjective. So why base your decisions on something that is likely to be viewed differently by everyone, anyway? The truth is, you ARE enough as you are right now. You just have to choose to believe it.
Go slowly. Introducing “fear clothes” doesn’t have to look as dramatic as immediately jumping into wearing a crop top or bikini. The most important thing is that you are able to feel confident and comfortable, so start where you are. This may just mean wearing a sleeveless shirt or putting on a pair of shorts for the first time in a while. It may just mean wearing a dress without Spanx underneath. Each step you take is progress, no matter how small it may seem. Everybody’s journey is going to look different, so try not to compare.
Decide where you will feel most comfortable branching out of your comfort zone at first. For some, it may be easier to try out that new bikini while on vacation in a city where no one knows you. For others, it may be easier to start in smaller settings with just a few close friends/family. Decide where you are going to be most comfortable introducing some of these clothes, and start there.
Remind yourself of WHY this is important. I truly believe that finding comfort and freedom with clothes is a huge part of recovery. The same way you may have to challenge irrational thoughts when reintroducing fear foods or eliminating behaviors, you may need to actively challenge thoughts that come up as you start to break some of your rules around clothes. Remind yourself that these rules are not real. They are made up, and reinforced by your ED and Diet culture. There is no true definition for what a body should look like, what beauty should look like, or what clothes a certain person should wear. Remember that the people who have reinforced these rules in the past are living in the same diet culture that you are; they just may not have the insight and knowledge that you do. By choosing not to follow these rules, you are actively fighting against your ED, and acting as a catalyst for change.
Remember that it’s not going to feel easy or comfortable at first, and that’s okay. Positive change only happens when we are willing to step outside of our comfort zone. While this often brings feelings of anxiety of uneasiness, it’s also the only way that we can find progress and growth. “Feel the fear and do it anyway” is a favorite quote amongst therapists, and there’s a reason for that! It’s necessary to experience a little discomfort if we want to see positive change happen.
Allow yourself to feel excited about victories—no matter how small! This is another one I’ve struggled with some in my recovery, as it can sometimes feel silly to get excited about things that may seem small to other people. Something as simple as wearing a tank top, skipping a workout, or sticking to your meal plan for a day may be a huge victory for you, and it deserves to be celebrated. Share these victories with someone who will support you and share in your excitement- even if that means just sharing them with your treatment team. Making the choice to face your fears and step outside of your comfort zone is never easy, and it deserves to be celebrated!
Remember that recovery is a process, and if you aren’t ready to start making these changes yet, that’s okay. Just keep moving forward!