Tall. Growing up in Whitefish Bay, WI, that was the word most used to describe me. It wasn’t until I left the Midwest after college with my Fashion Dreams securely tucked into my Juicy jumpsuit and landed in NYC that I realized there would be a new word to describe my body: fat. My height no longer set me apart, as 5-foot-11 models stood eye level with me — and suddenly it was also no excuse for not fitting into the tiny clothing that surrounded me. I worked for a high-end clothing company that I really admired (and still love to this day!), but the boundaries were set immediately. While the other people in my department used the samples closet as their second wardrobes, I struggled to find a single piece I could squeeze into, and had to pretend that accessories were my thing (handbags always fit!). My coworkers swapped stories about celebrities who claimed they were a size 2 and who had to be greased into a 4…whales! So, what did those gossipers think of my size 12 body? I could only imagine. I began a nearly constant struggle with weight loss. I took up running. I ran a marathon. I recruited my roommate with me to start (and fall off) a dozen no-carb diets. So began my hate-hate relationship with fashion: Every time I complimented someone's outfit and asked where it was from, I would later find out that it didn’t come in my size. High-end stores always thought it was best to throw a blanket-style top over me and tell me to maybe belt it? I tried plus-size stores, but the clothing felt cheap, and the styles often targeted a much older customer. I realized that I was caught in a limbo where I was a smidge too big for the fashion brands I loved, and too small for the plus-size brands available at the time. I have worked in public relations for 10 years, and nothing feels worse than having to represent a client whose product you cannot experience. Years ago, I worked with a small brand that made adorable dresses…just not in my size. They special-ordered one for me to wear to meetings at my encouragement, and it was still too small. It was humiliating. One thing straight-sized fashion people might not know is that most contemporary brands end their sizing at a 10 and sometimes even an 8. This completely eliminates any woman my size or bigger from the conversation.
I was tired of feeling left out, and decided that I was going to just be over it all. But, as I attempted to extricate myself from feeling marginalized by fashion at large, a funny thing started happening. Because I wasn’t competing in the size Olympics that my skinnier friends were in, I actually started to feel liberated to wear what I liked, even if it wasn’t “flattering.” I first found my groove in the form of riding pants from Ralph Lauren in every color of the rainbow. They were preppy and stretchy and came in a size 14. I had them in eight colors. My pants were a conversation piece, and I felt a bit like I had found a loophole. Tiny friends would say that they would never rock yellow pants that tight, and I found the seed of confidence in my boldness. At my size, what did I have to lose? I might as well wear what I liked. Skinny friends would wonder if a dress looked too much like a muumuu, but I didn’t have those fears. Because I wasn’t invited to the skinny girls' style club, I had to create my own. My preference for primary colors and bold prints has never been ideal for someone trying to appear smaller. The more I was ignored by the fashion industry, the more I refused to be invisible. Subconsciously, I was determined to take up visual space. Stella McCartney leopard leggings? No problem. Tented Pucci dress? Sure! These are items that thinner women might stand in front of the mirror dissecting, but because no one was counting on me to look thin, I could wear what I liked. When I appeared on Man Repeller last spring in a story about dressing for my body type, I realized that other women had my same size and frame, shared my shopping struggles, had to deal with thigh chafe, and had an equal aversion to cap sleeves! Not only was I not alone, but I realized something that I had forgotten since starting my journey in the fashion industry: My size is the average size in the United States. My day-to-day life may have been serving up women in sizes 2, 4, or 6, but all I had to do was look up and realize that's not the norm. The feeling of realizing I wasn’t alone inspired me to tap into my latent confidence. Boob sweat? Let’s talk about it! Chub rub? I can help! It was that feeling of not hiding anymore and really putting it out there had helped me accept myself 100% of the time. Of course I have struggles, everyone does, but that is the point. The journey of self love does not end with your jeans size, and I’ve made it a point to call out when things are not fair. Tall was the word I used to describe myself growing up. Now I don’t shy away from size talk or body talk. I love to help women find their own brand of confidence. We put too much value in our physical appearance, anyway. The word I would use to describe myself now would simply be: boss.
September is typically a time when fashion publications definitively tell you what’s in, and what’s out. Fuck that. We’re dedicating the next couple of weeks to celebrate all the iconoclasts, independent thinkers, and individuals with unique personal styles who’d rather say Fuck The Fashion Rules than follow them.