Clothing and eating disorders – it’s complicated.

I’m wearing pants today. This is a big win – I haven’t worn pants in a long time. This isn’t to say I walk around in only skirts, or naked from the waist down. But pants, or rather tailored trousers, are a challenge. Historically, I only wear oversized or covered-up. [i]

I have four pairs of baggy track pants that make up the majority of the rotation, with a couple of pairs of leggings (covered with long tops) and a couple of pairs of very baggy jeans thrown in for good measure.

You can’t wear fitted pants. Trousers are for later when your body is better. Wearing them would show the world my glaring imperfections. My gross and problematic thighs. The incredibly large and saggy ass. Plus, I have no sense of style. I have no business trying to look good yet. Who do I think I’m fooling?

These were my thoughts all the time. The inside voice of an eating disorder is a vicious and nasty thing.  Clothing was simply another thing that proved I was a failure. How could I have value as a human being if I wasn’t qualified to wear anything beyond baggy, glorified pyjamas?

I’d buy better bottoms. I didn’t try them on or wear them. They would sit in my closet until I donated them. Then I’d buy more and try again. Occasionally I’d get them on my body, but they’d be off and on the floor right quick. There was too much ick, too much of the ugly eating disorder voice. Better to give up than be abused.

How can you think about wearing fitted pants with those legs?

Not being allowed to dress the way you want, not being allowed to wear the makeup you want, or get the haircut you want is part of the eating disorder’s process. It’s not there to help you. It’s there to break you down and destroy you. An eating disorder has one goal – the sufferer’s death. There’s no good eating disorder, weird and disturbed pro-ana groups notwithstanding.

But today, I’m wearing pants. It’s another recovery step.

I did wear heels, a pair of cute suede platform ankle boots. I don’t do stilettos anymore.

It started with makeup. Not the acquiring of or the training in. I have perhaps all the makeup and I watch so very many videos. When I was allowed to make myself look nice, I executed things well (except for false eyelashes – can’t work ‘em).  But mostly, permission was denied.

Later. Look nice later. Wear cool clothes later. When you’re thin enough, pretty enough, and perfect enough. Then you’re allowed to guild the lily. Until then, it’s metaphoric hair shirts (and ugly ones) all the time.

There’s delusion there as well as self-flagellation. We trick ourselves into thinking we’re cool and kitschy. We trick ourselves into thinking uncaring slobbishness is the height of fashion. We think that way for a bit. The instant we start acting like we might like something about ourselves, the eating disorder starts formulating its attack. Because liking oneself is the first step towards recovery and the eating disorder can’t have that.

I’m three years of no vomiting and my brain over the last bit is coming more and more online. The ED is not gone – my thoughts are not always my own – but she’s in retreat. Hence, slacks.

They’re not without challenge – I’m exactly the wrong height. I’m too tall for regular lengths and too short for the tall store. Luckily, I don’t mind a hint of ankle. Plus, boots and cute shoes cover a multitude of sins and length issues. [ii]

I have five pairs of slacks now (lest you think I’m rich beyond my wildest dreams, I stalk thrift stores. I’m lean and this allows me more options). They’re my size. They don’t slide down and threaten to drop off of the hips. They have style and tailoring. The pair I have on today is adorable. They’re a pin check. Not quite plaid but in the family. Look at me learning something today. They’re grey on darker grey, and they go with nearly everything. They’re also stretchy, something else that was forbidden. Stretch clings to the body parts one is trying to eradicate.

I’m going to feel clever at the store now.

To be honest, I’m surprised I didn’t take up muumuus. Too much freedom, I suppose.

I added nice shoes and a nice top, a bit of jewelry, and a bit of makeup. I felt good, like a human being with value. This is one of the interesting things about eating disorders. They tell you they’re trying to make things better for you, but they make you actively miserable. Nothing good is allowed.

I’m enjoying doing things differently, even if it does challenge my thinking. The negative thoughts show up as soon as I pick not-baggy jeans from the closet. They attack this and that with venom. My body isn’t as susceptible. My body is in recovery and it’s not that willing to be sick and broken again. The face is a good target, however. I’m vulnerable there and the eating disorder knows it. They know us intimately.

I still have open sores. I still have a significant number of scars. I’m moving towards recovery when it comes to my NSSI (non-suicidal self-injury aka cutting), things are better, but I’m not recovered yet so I flinch when my eating disorder tells me we can’t do nice things for ourself until the wounds are resolved. [iii]

If the eating disorder gets its way, the sufferers will never do anything nice for themselves ever again. The eating disorder wants to kill you, but it also wants to suck the joy out of life along the way.

If you get happy, you might want that to continue with that emotion, and then where would the eating disorder be?

Once upon a time, I liked fashion. It got co-opted and warped by my disease, but the initial affection was still there underneath, and I still paid attention despite my absence from self-care and good grooming. This was helpful when I decided that I’d punished myself via clothing and presentation for long enough.

I’m allowed to have a life. I’m allowed to be happy. I’m allowed to be imperfect and to live with some grace. These are the things that an eating disorder tells you are forbidden.

That’s because an eating disorder never has your best interests at heart.

You’re obsessed with mirrors with an eating disorder, though they’re torturous and never kind. It’s a struggle to see reality.

[i]  Pants, slacks, or trousers, oh my. Definitions vary depending on location. For me, pants are casual, slacks are more formal, and trousers are the bomb. Trousers are pants that might even be part of a suit. Trousers are well-tailored Pants are at the bottom in terms of sartorial rankings, at least in my family of origin.

[ii]  I’m 171.45 cm or 5’7 ½”. Not tall-tall, but tall enough.

[iii]  I don’t like the term NSSI (non-suicidal self-injury). It’s too clean and too tidy. It denies the reality of cutting. It’s like the renaming of rape into sexual assault. It minimizes and diminishes reality.

10 thoughts on “Clothing and eating disorders – it’s complicated.

  1. My goodness, some all too familiar expressions in there Michelle for me.
    I don’t know if what I’m saying comes across the right way or whether im communicating it across the right way… but…
    I love the way you explain how complicated and difficult it is to actually please yourself and the eating disorder at the same time by coming to some kind of compromise. Like I can’t wear those, so that it keeps those voices at bay, but I can wear those, and it will be acceptable.
    I feel I’m very much in the well I can’t wear nice fitted stuff, be ause I don’t have a perfect figure any longer and my belly problem etc etc and so therefore I try to cover it up or wear over-sized stuff…
    Of course there is the option of wearing shape wear underneath but I can’t be bothered with that and I’ll probably be too hot.
    I’ve now been over a year with the self harm scars now all healed on my arms and legs, enough so they are kinda more flesh coloured now, and it’s been difficult to get there.

    Nobody else probably notices our imperfections or scars or whatever but we know they are there. We are conscious of them, and to us they are like the black dot on the white paper.

    But funnily enough others see all the white paper… and we are like… can you not see that raging black humongous dot in the middle???

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. I like the way you phrase it – seeking a compromise between the eating disorder and attempts at recovery. Though I notice as I travel down the road further, the compromise balance shifts: the eating disoder gets less and less sway.
      What a brilliant analogy. The black dot is often all I see as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well done, that sounds like a massive step forward! I hope you can find joy in clothing once more. I’ve got some tight jeans that I’m getting used to, it’s frustrating how hard this kind of thing can be. Every step forward is progress and worth celebrating 💖

    Liked by 1 person

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