After 10 Years, I’ve Decided To Give Pants A Shot

Illustration by Louisa Cannell.
A liberal combination of a conservative upbringing and apparent societal norms taught me at a young age that the number of styles and trends plus-size people can’t wear grows with the same fervor of our waistbands (or so it’s been written by “the skinny”). Those of us who are fat, were once fat, or will be fat in the future should cloak our forms to the best of our ability, to practice a protective level of invisibility to avoid abuse from the rest of the world.
Growing up is often an exercise in unlearning whatever cruel garbage persists on the schoolyard, and for plus-size individuals, it runs as deep as what we can put on our bodies. There is a myriad of these rules as limitations: no bikinis, no shorts, no strapless tops, no crop tops, no horizontal stripes, and god forbid anything in the body-con family touch your form. All of these can be broken and should be — if you’re uncomfortable following them — because they often make us feel worse. For me, this strict dress code of-sorts included all of these things, plus pants. Yes, for nearly half my life, I’ve operated with the understanding that I’m not to ever wear pants. And I don’t mean skinny jeans or low-rise suckers — I mean pants as a genre.
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But it wasn’t always that way: In my tweenage years, I dressed in a masculine fashion. Not because I was a tomboy (there was truly nothing athletic about my form), but because I was obsessed with all of the pop-punk and emo bands that dominated the early-'00s and wanted to fit into the culture. If they were a white dude with side-swept bangs who regularly appeared on TRL, I wanted to look like them. Not the best move for a chubby Puerto Rican woman but I persisted until I grew tired of the style and developed a desire to look attractive to the opposite sex. In retrospect, I was just moving from the confines of one style to the societal obligations of another, but it proved to be an aesthetic wakeup call: I was kind cute, maybe, and could embrace my femininity.
Dressing more feminine, in my mind, meant saying goodbye to pants forever. The fabric clung to my mobile meat sticks anyway, and in an A-line dress, I could appear to have a more pleasing physique, whatever that meant. Plus-size fashion as a dangerous whole is often predicated on ideas of what is “flattering,” and skirts were more flattering than pants. I received compliments on my dress — something I have never experienced before (save for the high school burnout here and there complimenting me on my limited edition My Chemical Romance T-shirt from Warped Tour) and I liked the change. Not the attention, I was cripplingly shy and terrified of the world, but I liked the idea that strangers thought I looked nice, something I had long reserved for the non-plus-size people of the world.
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Feminine fashion quickly became somewhat of an obsession, but only the clothing that would highlight the tiniest part of my waist and would act as a cape over the problem areas (and the problem areas were, essentially, my entire figure.) At the time, it was impossible for me to examine the difference between wearing something flattering because it was flattering and made me feel good, and attempting to hide my shape for the assumed pleasure of others. Where I thought I was adopting some sense of body autonomy, potentially late in life, I was looking to appease the world around me.
In college, I lost a lot of weight (my weight tends to fluctuate from a size 8/10 at my smallest, 14 at my biggest — most healthily the latter) and decided it was time to try pants again. I bought a pair of comically high-waisted jeans in an attempt to shed my past emo tendencies with something decidedly thrift store/indie rock cool and they lasted…a day. I felt ridiculous, I looked ridiculous because I kept adjusting with every half-step. I donated them and never spoke of the pants again, until right now. Jeans, I hope you found a good home.
There were a few moments in my early 20s when I experimented with leggings as pants, (a phase all women should attempt because it’s comfortable as heck) but only when I wore a T-shirt dress a smidge too short to pair with tights. My aversion to the clothing item persisted until recently, when I had a semi-formal event to attend, and felt the urge to wear a pantsuit instead of taking the opportunity to empire waist myself to death. Not only did I want to give pants another go, but I wanted to try out menswear, a desire I’ve never possessed before.
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It was in February near my 25th birthday when operation pantsuit clicked into gear. After admiring the language of body positivity from afar, seeing and reading genius fat women describe their similar struggles with certain clothing items but never truly considering myself part of the dialogue, I wanted to reprogram my concept of what plus size women could and couldn’t wear. I decided to order a pair of black disco pants from the then-shuttering American Apparel. When they arrived and I removed them from their thin packaging, I grew concerned. The fancy pants looked impossibly small and felt impossibly tight — but only for the first few minutes until I grew accustomed to the sensation of, well, wearing pants. The shimmery opaque fabric hugged my curves and I looked…good. Not decent, or passable, but good. My ass had never looked better, and it’s something I never would’ve thought to try had the shift in cultural conversation changed, had YouTubers like Chubby Gurl not felt the confidence to illustrate to other plus-size women how to style something so daring. But they were special occasion, night-on-the-town pants. I felt good in them, relying on them for parties and dates.
A few months later, I found myself in another pant-centric situation: I was called in to interview for a company I’d always wanted to work for. I wanted to look my best, I needed to acquire a new professional outfit, and in a moment of real madness, I ordered a floral print pantsuit set. Not only was I taking another step into the unknown with that felt like a real pair of pants, but I had also thrown in a pronounced print into the mix, a print that drew attention to my body instead of hiding it. I blamed Harry Styles and the floral suits that had become his predilection on his most recent tour. When the package arrived, I blasted One Direction and strutted, first concerned that the suit was wearing me, later, embracing my ability to truly pull off the trend.
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I looked and felt wonderful. My attitude in the interview reflected the experimental style and I was bold. I walked into the interview nervous but confident in my attire, which later translated into my actual behavior — something I knew was possible but never felt before. I got the job.
I’ve yet to invest in day-to-day pants, but I find myself trying them on in stores, something I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing in the not-so-distant past. There will come a day when pants are a regular facet of my wardrobe, and I’m excited for when the full unlearning of what plus size women can and cannot do exits my brain. I’m hopeful that young femmes present and future will grow up in an environment kinder to those of all body shapes, and that they will not be afraid to express their daring, sexy selves. For now, I’ve got two pairs of pants that make me feel extraordinary and regularly boost my self-image. That’s more than enough.
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