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COLUMN: Body images shouldn't come from a style tip


My winter coat situation isn’t much to write home about — it was picked up on sale during my dad’s biweekly Costco run along with a family-size box of Cheerios.

As I said, not much going on there, except for the internal dialogue I’ve been having about how closely my body image is linked to this stupid, puffer coat.

Talking about body image is exhausting — important, of course, but terrible. As the young feminist I am, I’m supposed to “Love myself!” “Embrace my insecurities!” “Remember I’m beautiful!” and all the other on-loop demands of body positivity.

While I understand the body-positive mission is meant to make me feel empowered, I can’t help but feel viscerally depleted thinking about my appearance all day from being told to love it so much. 

But when I put on this shape-morphing coat, it’s suddenly not as hard to think about my body. In fact, I even catch myself being nice to it — all because of a little insulated Costco action.

For this, the body-positive chanters will pat me on the back: “Wear what makes you feel good! You look your best when you feel you best!” According to them, it’s OK if self love comes in the form of XXL sweatpants and a full parka. And in many cases, I would agree. Loving yourself and wearing clothes that help you do so are excellent methods of practicing self care.

But in other cases like this week with the winter coat, I’m horrified that we allow something as trivial as clothing to prop up our self worth.

As I mentally catalog my own wardrobe, I realize that I have framed almost all of my clothing in terms of my body image. I can picture exactly where my denim cutoffs hit the top of my thighs. I can tell you how much a certain neckline might show when I move. I can even visualize how certain pieces have fit me differently through the years as I’ve changed.

The body-positive people will remind me again this is all good. I should recognize what I love on my body and wear it with pride.

That being said, the idea of using fashion as an antidote to poor body image seems like drawing water out of a sinking ship — good in theory, but ultimately useless. While some days wearing what makes me feel good can definitely improve my mental health, a Costco coat by no means should be considered a saving grace.

Back in March, I read a Man Repeller column titled “Please Stop Telling Me To Love My Body.”  While I implore anyone with a body to read it, I’ll summarize it briefly as well:

Romy Oltuski writes that while the idea of loving your own skin is nice in theory, it can also be incredibly hard. Instead, she chooses to practice body neutrality — not loving her body, not hating her body and not really feeling much about her body at all.

Obviously from my own column, it’s easy to see that I’m a true advocate for fashion and its broader cultural impact. But in this case, I want to take some of that power away.

Oltuski encouraged readers to apply neutrality to all forms of their body image, but I’ve been applying it most to my relationship with how I dress. What would it look like to not wear things simply because they made me love my body but because I just loved to wear them?

Honestly I’m not quite sure yet, but I’m determined to find out.

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