Victoria Stokes, inspired by a tweet by Sophie Tassew, reviews not only her own approach to limiting her fashion choices, but the pressure on us to have ‘perfect’ bodies before we feel we can wear what we like…
I can vividly remember the first time I limited my fashion choices. On an after-school shopping trip with friends, I realised, perhaps for the very first time, that if I wanted to look good, I’d have to change my body to fit the clothes.[restrict]
While my friends picked out cute belly tops and tiny ra-ra skirts (remember those?) I rifled through the rails hunting hopelessly for something – anything – that would flatter my chubby stomach, thighs and arms. Even at 13, I knew that some clothes – most clothes – weren’t for me. And in 20 years not much has changed.
Sure, the fashion industry has made subtle shifts to become more inclusive in recent years, with many brands introducing plus-size ranges and bigger sizes, but the narrow standard for what bigger bodies are ‘allowed’ to wear still prevails. That much is evident in a body-shaming tweet from journalist Isabel Oakeshott that went viral earlier this month.
In response to an image showing a plus-size mannequin wearing a green velour tracksuit, Oakeshott dubbed the outfit “dangerous” writing, “This, in a Regent St fitness store, is what obesity looks like. Flabby curves highlighted in hideous lime green velour. The so-called ‘body positivity movement is not ‘inclusive’, it’s dangerous.”
In response, body positivity advocate Sophie Tassew tweeted a pic of her wearing the green tracksuit with a cheeky wink and the caption “I bought the dangerous outfit.”
All of us have ‘dangerous outfits’ we leave on the rack for fear of how they might look on our ‘imperfect’ bodies. Maybe it’s a tiny pair of shorts, a figure-hugging dress or that tight pair of skinny jeans.
Wearing anything outside of the ideal can feel like an act of rebellion, but what if, like Tassew, we started wearing the clothes society tells us not to? Could we learn to see our bodies in a whole new light, and even encourage our peers to do the same?
“When it comes to aesthetics, very few of us ever fit into the ‘perfect’ mould of the ever-changing expectations of how a woman should look,” says psychotherapist and body image specialist Ruth Micallef.
“I often feel that the pressure to be ‘perfect’ pushes us to cope in ways that don’t honour our bodies and minds, like binge eating, restrictive eating, over-exercise, and even compulsively working. They’re coping modes we use to detach from this constant pressure to perform and be ‘perfect’,” she explains.
The pressure can also restrict our fashion choices, and in turn, the way we express ourselves through our clothes. “The ‘one style fits all’ fast fashion regime pushes us all into one box which frankly does not allow us to express who we are and what we feel,” Micallef points out.
“Inevitably, this makes us feel negatively about our bodies because we don’t look like the women on the websites.”
As daunting as it may be to don a ‘dangerous outfit’ for the very first time, Micallef believes pushing back against these standards can be incredibly liberating and empowering. “Wearing what society tells us not to allows us to see our bodies in a different light,” she muses.
“Wearing the outfits we feel we shouldn’t can be an incredible move forward into a happier, healthier lifestyle across the board. By pushing back, we no longer need to rely as much on the coping modes we used when we inevitably failed at being ‘perfect’,” she explains.
Slowly but surely I’ve noticed my approach to fashion changing in recent years. Perhaps it’s the confidence that comes with age, or more accurately, the not giving a toss what others think with each passing birthday, but I’ve found myself gravitating towards those clothes that once felt out of bounds.
“When it comes to choosing new clothes to wear, ask yourself, what does this piece of clothing say about me? Does it promote my authentic self to the world?” Micallef suggests.
“Whether it’s leather-look leggings or gorgeous green workout gear, if it promotes your authentic self, it will, in turn, promote a more positive mindset about yourself and what your incredible body can do,” she enthuses.
The fashion world is sorely lacking in representation from bodies that are outside of the ideal and brands have been slow to embrace change. Perhaps that change is up to us. Maybe we need to be the role models in this scenario.
I think of my young nieces growing up in a world that tells them to change their bodies, and realise that it’s up to me to set an example. How I dress will inevitably influence how they choose to dress themselves when they’re older.
Do I want them to put that cute top back on the rail because they feel their bodies don’t fit the mould? No, I want them to express themselves however they see fit. I owe myself the same kindness, and so do you.
So, consider this your permission slip to buy that gorgeous activewear, wear that itty bitty crop top, and add those leather-look leggings to cart, because the only person who truly gets to decide what looks good on your body, is you.
Wearing the clothes society says you shouldn’t isn’t just a power move that can reframe the way you feel about your own body, it gives women everywhere permission to wear what they want, too.