I spend an inordinate amount of time at the mall. It’s about five minutes away from my college, so it’s easy to head to the food court between classes, get a bite to eat, and hit up my favorite stores before going back to my lectures. Plus, there’s not a whole lot do to do in my town, so when I’m looking for a way to kill a few hours with some friends, we make our way over to the mall.
In the countless hours I’ve spent looking at jewelry that will surely turn my skin green and drooling over band t-shirts at Hot Topic, I’ve noticed that there is a common language of body-bashing that girls especially seem to share. It starts innocuously– we’ll be looking at an item of clothing and debating whether or not we want to try it on. But more often than not, one of us will decide that it wouldn’t look right on us, not because the clothing is flawed, but because our bodies are. Then, the “fat talk” starts. I’ve watched my friends, whose good qualities like humor, intelligence, and honesty make them beautiful, pick apart every aspect of their bodies, from their hairlines to their calves. I’m guilty of this too. All too often have I stood in a fitting room and wished my stomach weren’t so big, that my thighs didn’t touch, and so on. But when I’m with another female friend, who has her own insecurities about her body, we can spend the entire shopping trip criticizing ourselves until we’re out of the notion to buy anything because we feel so ugly and unattractive.
I think it’s sad that girls bond over hating their bodies, but on Monday, I got a breath of fresh air. My friends in my college’s GSA are getting ready to go to a local university’s Pride Prom, a dance for LGBT+ students, and on Monday we went to the mall to look at formal wear. We’re a range of different sizes; some of us are more plus-sized, while some of us are rail-thin, and some of us are in between. We tried the most ridiculous, expensive dresses we could find, and then some that were more appropriate for the event.
Dress shopping has always been challenging for me because the sizes vary by brand and store. My anorexia likes absolutes. It likes to know that I am as small as I can be, that there is no room for “improvement.” But when I’m buying a dress, I might be four sizes bigger in one store than I am in another. It drives my anorexia up the wall. For this reason, I typically avoid dress shopping at all costs, and I give up very easily. If I don’t fit into my desired size, the trip is a failure, and I feel like a failure. This time was different. I grabbed dresses off the rack in any size I thought might have even a chance of fitting, and I tried them on without even glancing at the tags. Sometimes, I had to get my friends to help me zip a dress, and even then, the zipper wouldn’t stay up. In the past, this would have sent me spiraling into self-loathing, but this time, it was no big deal. I simply put the dress back and tried on another one.
But even more amazing than my personal victories was the fact that throughout the whole shopping trip, no one said a negative word about their bodies. There was no fat talk, no body-shaming, and no comparisons. We told each other that we looked beautiful. We looked for dresses that would match each other’s eyes, and we laughed when we looked silly in an ill-fitting dress. It was so refreshing to be around people who accept their bodies for all their uniquenesses. I’m realizing that I’m not so different from my confident friends that I can look in the mirror and actually like what I see. I used to believe I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, or thin enough to “deserve” that privilege, but I know now that everyone deserves to love their body, regardless of their weight or size. It’s been a long road to self-acceptance, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come.