Sizing up

Today I am wearing flats.

They are a size 11, which is one size larger than I normally wear.

I like them because they are soft, and slip off my feet easily, and kind of flop around when I walk. They don’t fit my feet properly; they aren’t too tight, too constricting, too conforming. They are just right.

I remember buying them. It was last year. I had wanted ballet flats to dress up bermuda shorts, an acceptable form of shorts for the way my legs looked. I walked into Target, figuring that a good $15 was all I wanted to spend on such shoes. I normally wear very expensive shoes, shoes with good insoles that are cushioned and absorb shock and resist slip. Years of working at coffee shops and restaurants and retail and car accidents and bike accidents had rendered my joints sore, and I believe in proper footwear to stave off pain. Dansko, Keen, Naot: these are brands I turn to. It’s been a long time since I’ve spent only $15 on shoes.

So, I tried on these flats. I originally tried a 9; no socks means I can usually pull of that size. Too small I determined. Then a 10. They still felt too small. I mean, they actually fit, but I didn’t want to feel taut fabric on my feet. I wanted the fabric to skim my feet, I wanted it to be loose and comfortable, like a slipper. Should I wear an 11? Who wears an 11? Would it make my feet look too big? Would I look clownish? Would my feet take up too much space? I put on the 11, and they were so comfortable. That sealed it. I bought them, and didn’t regret it.

I remember my first pair of ballet flats. I was 12, they were Sam and Libby’s. They were delightfully cute and feminine, with bows on the vamp. I was a fat child, burgeoning into puberty; my fat was redistributing, and so there wasn’t that much feminine about me. Except those shoes. I just wanted to feel pretty, when I had been told so often I wasn’t. Everyone told me, you have such a pretty smile, someday when you lose weight … Or, you have such a pretty face, if only you’d lose weight … Or, you’d be so much prettier if you’d lose weight. It was clear my prettiness, my femininity, depended upon my size.

And so in my hands, I held the key to prettiness, femininity: Shoes. I had two pairs: A peach pair, in a size 10, and a black pair, in a size 9. Neither pair fit right, a testament to the constant dilemma I faced as a child and young teenager: Clothes and shoes held the key to unlocking my beauty, to escaping my fat, and stores did not cater to fat kids. Therefore, I was destined to be ugly. The shoes pinched, they were somehow too small or too narrow. Either way, my family didn’t have tons of money, and so I had to be thankful that I even got these brand-name shoes, and then they didn’t fit right because somehow my feet were fat, and therefore ugly. I couldn’t even have pretty shoes, goddammit.

Somehow, I learned that size mattered. Being able to fit into the smallest size possible meant I was prettier. Being able to shop in stores that carried smaller sizes meant that I was prettier. And so I internalized my inability to tame my body, to keep it in a certain size as an inability to keep it pretty. I never cared so much about my weight as I did about my size. Can I fit into an 18? That means I can still buy clothes at most stores in the mall. Can I fit into a size 9 shoe? That means I can be assured I can find shoes at most shoe stores. Fitting into these numbers means that I was still fitting into the retail standard of beauty.

Up until two years ago, I continued, unconsciously, to adhere to this sized standard of beauty. At the advent of seroquel, I gained probably 20 to 30 pounds of weight without any assistance on my part. It literally magically appeared, despite a grueling exercise and dieting regimen. Seroquel fattened me up like a farm turkey before thanksgiving. I’m a rich butterball. I was able to fit into size 18s-20s at Old Navy (And not the Old Navy Plus Size) prior to Seroquel. This was my dream: I could walk into regular stores and buy pants. I was officially, conventionally pretty according to retail standards.

Then I got the bipolar.

I climbed clandestinely past a size 22 into a size 24. I wept. A size 24! I hadn’t been a size 24 since high school! I was going to size my way out of Lane Bryant soon! I had sized my way out of conventionally pretty and size myself out of fat girl pretty! It was a hysterical crisis.

I realized this: I was fucking mentally ill. And fat. I’d better suck it up. What was worse? Being crazy or being fat? Society hates both things. I was fat all along, I was only kidding myself by thinking that just because Old Navy and Target and Alloy and Delia’s had deigned to make Size 18 and 20 clothing that they considered me acceptably, conventionally pretty. In truth, they were laughing behind my fat back.

And so I started figuring out how to live in this fatter body. I still didn’t overcome the sizism for a while. When I lost weight at the introduction of topamax, I crammed myself into size 22s and size 20s, relieved that I could get into the smaller sizes again. I saved my bigger sized pants, in the event that my weight rollercoastered up again at the addition of more medication.

I’ve been pulling out my fat pants this year, and taking them in, or trying them on for size. I’ve noticed something about myself. I am enjoying wearing them, as they are. The size 24s are loose and baggy, but they are comfortable. When I put on the size 22s or size 20s, they fit, but they are tight, show off my shape, make me appear fatter than I really am. The size 24s glide over my body, drape well, allow me to feel at ease in my body the way the smaller sizes don’t. I am less self-conscious because I feel good. When I go shopping now, I automatically pull out a size 24, knowing that it’s bagginess will probably feel more comfortable to me than the smaller size 22, that I will feel less self-conscious by having more fabric that allows me to move more easily.

Sometimes, the bigger sizes actually are too big and I have to retreat to a smaller size, but it’s less vindicatory now. I’ve realized the inherent inability of clothing manufacturers to keep consistent sizing, even within the same brand, and it’s become less about my own body and my own failings and more about the manufacturer’s idiocy. I’ve externalized it all. It’s not about me, not about whether I am pretty, whether I have appropriately harnessed my body to fit some arbitrary retail standard of beauty.

And so, I sit here with my Size 11 flats, which no one knows are a size 11 except me, and in my size 24 pants, which no one knows are a size 24 except me, and think a lot about how clothes have become more about how I feel in them rather than about how I look in them. It’s made all the difference.



  1. hotsauce said,

    April 4, 2008 at 11:36 am

    you’re amazing. you’ve just inspired me to never buy jeans again, really. i’ve been a little fixated on “needing” to get a new pair because my old ones don’t fit and i’ve been putting off buying new ones because i hate jeans shopping. but you know? i really prefer wearing skirts. jeans are just kind of meh. it’s aggravating to find a pair that fits well, and they’re not even that comfortable. i’m going to spend the money on a bunch of cute skirts now instead. thanks : )

  2. Charlotte said,

    April 4, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    I’m so glad you’re comfortable wearing a size 11 shoe. I’ve been a size 11 since my freshman year of high school (I’m 22 now), and I’m still extremely self-conscious of my foot size.

  3. anniegirl1138 said,

    April 4, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    I never had little feet. Even as a child they were huge. Didn’t help that my mom and sisters have impossibly tiny feet. My one sister added to my foot trauma by announcing to the world (neighborhood) that I had “claw toes” on top of big feet. I never word sandals again as a teen and still as a 44 yr old feel very unfeminine in sandals.

    Size is a huge thing. It’s one of the ways in which women are undermined and controlled. Good for you for chosing comfort. I wish I could get comfortable with my weight but my family – near and extended made such a deal about it when I was growing up that I don’t think I will ever really be beyond the damage.

    FYI – Target’s shoes run small.

  4. thoughtracer said,

    April 4, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    thanks hotsauce. 🙂

  5. lactose intolerant lisa said,

    April 5, 2008 at 3:35 am

    Awesome blog. I, too, am trying to externalize when it comes to sizing. I recently started sewing some of my own clothes, and the pattern sizes run smaller than store-bought clothing sizes. I freaked out a little when I found that my size in patterns is about 6 sizes larger than my size in store clothes; I have been working, though, to give sizes neutral meanings, rather than the loaded “smaller is better” meanings society has instilled in me earlier in life.

    I also had big feet as a kid. I remember my uncle and my friend’s dad teasing me about it, and being mortified. I was always bigger than the other kids, and I felt so unfeminine. I’ve only recently come around to the idea that it’s okay for me to be bigger than other people.

    Thanks for this blog!

  6. Bri said,

    April 5, 2008 at 3:51 am

    Great post hon! It is insane that we are so fixated on a number on a tag or label on our clothes/shoes. Crazy! It should be about comfort and feeling good in whatever it is. I hear you re the meds and weight gain. Of course the fat haters don’t want to hear about the side effects of meds, they think we are just making it up or using the meds as an excuse because we are really hiding donuts under our beds and in our bathroom cabinets for secret binges!

  7. April 7, 2008 at 10:49 am

    […] as I mentioned here, I’ve been pulling out my old “fat clothes” and trying them on for size. When I […]

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