RIFFING OFF VISIBILITY
*TW: body-image, diet culture & eating disorders
A couple of weeks ago I had a call with a mentor of mine. I asked if she had any advice for how I could possibly put myself out there more. She suggested that I start “riffing off visibility.” What a magnetic response. Though immediately, I didn’t understand what this meant. I already live a fairly open life, I thought. She told me to meditate on it. To sink into what this could possibly mean for me.
So I did. I meditated on how I could “riff off visibility” and here’s what came up for me…
My identity has always largely been expressed through fashion. I’ve written generously about my time as “a fashion girl” in the past. I’ve received a plethora of “best-dressed awards” and equally been pitted in “worst dressed” listicles online (thanks, The Irish Examiner!) For better or for worse, my visibility in the world has always come from an outgoing demeanour of clothes. They are my language, my home.
But here lies the problem. I don’t currently feel at home in the clothes I wear. I am proud of the woman I am today, but I don’t feel as if I am outwardly representing her. Showing her off. I feel as if my outer armour is all out of sync with who I am right now. I am not dressing as the leading role in my own life. This where I’m dimming my visibility, I realised.
So, what? Buy new clothes? But it's never that simple. It's more a symbol of which I’m afraid to let go. How I’m reluctant to wave goodbye to an identity that cost me so dearly. How diet-culture is waiting on the side-lines with open arms — waiting for me to slip-up into a smaller version of myself (both figuratively and literally).
The truth is, the reason why I don’t feel as if my outer presentation currently projects who I am is that my clothes don’t fit me anymore. They are too small.
That Miu Miu skirt I wore to my first ever London Fashion Week? Those neon green checked trousers I wore to Hook Magazine’s Issue #2 launch party? The Vivienne Westwood trousers I wore to graduation? None of them fit me anymore.
This brings me to two things. 1). I have put on weight. 2). I preach about the toxicity of diet culture often, yet here I am participating in one of the most damaging acts of diet culture a person can do: I have an entire wardrobe that doesn’t fit.
In C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, the wardrobe which the Pevensie children climb through acts as the conduit between two worlds and I think there is something in that.
Wardrobes are compromised of memories and mental cues, feelings and people. You can always remember what you were wearing on the days of significant life events. A first date, a big birthday party, the day you got engaged. When you open your wardrobe and see these clothes in front of you — you’re taken straight back to a time or place of the past.
Which is nice, sometimes. But it also means they can hold a lot of trauma. Can leave you unable to sever ties with the past.
Because here’s the thing: I was 16, 17 and 18 years old when I bought the majority of items that make up my current wardrobe. Contrary to what I assume most people must believe about me, I don’t buy a lot of clothes. We’re 8 months into 2019 and I have only bought 3 new items of clothing this year. A dress, skirt and t-shirt. Most of my wardrobe is compromised of pieces I’ve invested in over long periods of time. Because even as a teenager I always wanted to invest well rather than buy cheap clothes, often.
*I won’t pretend saving the planet was my only incentive for this — I also knew it was unlikely I’d be able to buy a pair trousers from Primark that would be panelled together in a straight line. Thankfully, sustainable fashion is at the forefront of most of our minds in 2019 and buying new clothes every week no longer makes you look admirable, it just makes you look like a dick.
I can’t fathom that I am the same person I was when I was a teenager, so why do I believe that my body should have stayed the same? To do so is to hold myself hostage by a dangerous part of me that wants to believe she will once again fit into these clothes. That I don’t deserve to feel visible unless I am 17 and starving.
I recently read a really great article in The New York Times on how social media has impaired our ability to let go of the past. How our endless archive of documented memories and selves is causing us to be trapped in old lives and subsequently, old bodies.
One of the biggest modern-day obstacles we face thanks to social media is comparison. By some miracle from the grace of God, comparing my life to others has never been something that has crippled me. Where my problem lies, is in comparing myself to myself.
I can scroll to the bottom of my Instagram page and have myself worrying that I’m no longer as interesting as I was back then, that I could write better before, that I was more fun in the past, that I was thinner.
I was thinner. I was. But the pictures don’t tell you the whole story. That Miu Miu skirt I mentioned earlier? The pictures don't show that I hadn’t eaten a single meal for an entire year without throwing it back up. Those neon green checked trousers? The pictures don't show that the week before I’d had a mental health breakdown. The Vivienne Westwood trousers I wore to graduation? The pictures don’t show that any trace of a stomach had been lost to a trauma.
The pictures make me think I should be someone else. But the truth is, to want to be that girl again is to want to be a version of myself that was never mine to begin with.
I have to remind myself that I may have been smaller on the outside, but I was smaller on the inside too.
That to have outgrown my clothes is to have outgrown self-loathing too. No longer feeling at home there is not a bad thing. It’s a signifier that I am growing undefined by the past. That I am ready to feel visible, fully, because I choose healthy and happy over a life devoted to misery and pain for the sake of a few smaller dress sizes. I am choosing to fill my wardrobe with new memories and to riff the fuck off my visibility because I like who I am now. I have more to give and I need to take up more space to give it.
I read a really great quote the other day that I’d like to leave you with:
“Goodbye denim short shorts, I bought you for a festival when I was 16. It’s okay that you don’t fit me anymore, that was ten years ago. I will no longer be kidding myself and leaving myself with angry red welts after a day squashed into you. I will set you free to find someone new. Thanks for all the good times.”
Thanks for the good times, old clothes, old body. You protected me when I needed you. You kept me alive, you got me through. But I’m accepting that it’s time to let you go… I deserve to be visible again — not an ounce of me deserves to be squashed.
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