Hi! My name is Arianna, and in the past four years, I've gained roughly 30 pounds.
I am also, today, the healthiest and happiest I've ever been. This is because four years ago was the last time I engaged in any of the many eating disorder behaviors I'd developed from the ages of 15 to 26. I spent those 11 years obsessing over my eating and my body, in cycles of dieting, then restricting, then bingeing, then purging. I was never, ever at the weight I wanted to be, and the weight I wanted to be seemed to promise so much: Carefree living! No problems whatsoever! Success in work and relationships! If only I could just lose, like, five more pounds!
Of course, this wasn't the case, and I know this for two reasons:
1. Whenever I reached a goal weight, I quickly discovered I still hated my body and decided I just needed to adjust the goal number.
2. It wasn't until I stopped fixating on an impossibly low goal weight (and started gaining weight) that I found myself in a relationship, job, and life that I love. Am I saying everyone needs to gain weight to achieve their dreams? Well, no. But you know what does help? Eating, and opening up space in your brain to think about other things.
I'm so grateful and happy to be in recovery, but allowing my body to settle into this weight means that almost all of the clothing I own no longer fits me — and, until now, I'd been reluctant to buy new, bigger sizes.
It turns out a lifelong belief in the idea that thinness = beauty = happiness is a tough one to kick.
Especially when that belief is supported by, like, every piece of media:
So, even though I could understand, objectively, that I don't need to lose weight, and that my body has no bearing on my worth, I'd never stopped hearing that tiny little voice saying, “Yeah, that’s great for everyone else, but…you’re gonna have to lose the weight." And I never heard it more strongly than when I was getting dressed.
I was beginning every single day with a terrible task — facing a closet that told me my body wasn't right, and choosing which way I'd like to be made physically uncomfortable that day. My clothes were undoing years of work toward accepting my body as-is, coaxing me into old beliefs. Like: Discomfort was what I deserved for having gained weight. Like: Anger and unhappiness would motivate me to lose weight. Like: Happiness and nice things and self-esteem were for people who haven't gained weight. I'd decided years ago those beliefs were empty; it was time to ditch the last thing pulling me toward them.
So here was the plan:
1. Try on everything in my closet and dresser.
2. Donate everything that doesn't fit. EVERYTHING.
3. Buy clothes that do fit.
4. Go forth and wear things that make me happy.
Now — before you come in saying "but, diet!" or "but, exercise!" I will say I work out regularly and I eat a balanced diet, to the extent that it isn't a main focus of my life. Could I exercise more, and could I eat less or differently? Sure. But I don't want to.
And that's OK!
So, I settled in one Monday night, threw everything I owned onto my bedroom floor, and went for it.
It started fun (because when is it ever NOT fun to just make a huge mess?), but once I actually started trying on the clothes, my mood dropped — quickly. I'd bought most of these things years ago, during the worst parts of my eating disorder, and I'd been moving them from apartment to apartment ever since, believing deep down that that version of me was worth returning to — conveniently ignoring what I had done to get there, and how miserable I was while doing it.
So I reminded myself there was a reason I was heavier now, and that it was a good reason, and I persevered. I tried on skirts, pants, dresses, shorts. I put on some music. I got myself a beer. I invited my cats to hang out. And soon, it was easy. It felt productive. I felt freer with every item of clothing I tossed into the "getting rid of" pile.
Because the thing about holding onto clothes that don't fit is that you end up with a lot of clothes. Like, wayyyy too much. Most of what I tried on were things I'd been purposefully avoiding, but with them I rediscovered things I'd simply forgotten about. Things that still fit, but which I'd assumed didn't — or which were literally hidden by the things that didn't. It was a pleasant surprise!
By the end of it, I'd set aside the following for donation:*
• 5 pairs of jean shorts
• 8 skirts
• 3 pairs of pants
• 5 shirts
• 9 dresses
*Those braver than me could opt to sell their clothes (options here!) if they did a similar purge; I felt too emotionally vulnerable to put my clothes under the dreaded secondhand store buyback scrutiny.
Then came the shopping.
I would be lying if I said I wasn't anxious about how much money this whole thing would cost. Clothes in general are expensive, even more so when you're looking for good, sustainable items.
If I wanted this to feel like an upgrade (and it should! Why should weight loss shopping have a monopoly on that?), then I'd want to get decent quality — things that would last more than a few washings.
I knew I would have to dip into my savings, which I justified by reminding myself of the money I'd been able to save because I hadn't really been buying new clothes. Before this decision, I'd spent probably $100 a year on clothes — a dress here, a shirt there. Knowing how much I'd gotten rid of, I estimated I'd be looking at $300–400 spent in one weekend. For a severely cheap person such as myself, the thought of it was enough to send me into cold sweats. But I decided to consider it an investment — in my future, in my mental and physical health, in my happiness.
So I left work one Wednesday evening ready to spend some money.
It's hard to imagine any situation in which buying new clothes feels quite as difficult, or as fraught, as when a person has gained weight. No one thinks twice about tossing pants that are in bad shape or a dress that's out of style, and a new wardrobe made necessary by weight loss is literally celebrated — but I still couldn't get away from the feeling of internalized shame, as if buying larger sizes signaled some inherent moral failing. I tried to push them out of my mind. I'd survived the first part of this experiment in self-acceptance. Surely I could survive this!!!
BOY WAS I WRONG.
Fitting rooms are traumatic in general, but you know what makes them even more so? Bringing all the wrong sizes into the room, and knowing there's a line of shoppers waiting for you to get out! This is what I discovered on my first shopping trip, which I did amidst huge crowds at big chains on Fifth Avenue in NYC. I don't recommend it! I hated everything. Literally everything. I left after an hour, in tears, defeated by my possibly too-high expectations (you mean to tell me simply saying you're going to love your body isn't enough to actually love it???) and seriously, fearfully, considering returning to the bad habits I'd always reverted to in the past.
I gave myself a few days to get back into the swing of things, and then took a different tack for shopping trip #2.
I shifted my hours at the office so I could leave early on a Friday afternoon, and instead of hitting up overwhelming stores in busy Manhattan I went thrift store- and boutique-hopping around my Brooklyn neighborhood. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and I knew I had nothing else to do but this. I walked for hours with a pump-up playlist coming through my headphones; I chatted with super-helpful salesladies; I paused to get a snack at my favorite coffee shop. And maybe it was all of these factors, or maybe I was just finding better clothes, but regardless — I loved it.
It's not that I suddenly loved everything I tried on; I just committed to it for long enough to find some things that made me feel good. And once I knew that feeling was possible, it was easy to want to find it elsewhere. I even promised my boyfriend — who is very supportive of my wearing things that even remotely show the shape of my body — that I would buy at least a few things that weren't giant sacks (what can I say!! I love sacks!!) and followed through on that promise.
(I know I look unhappy, but trust that's resting unhappy face.)
I wasn't just settling for things that fit — I was finding things I genuinely liked. I was looking at my reflection and thinking, for the first time in a very long time, Shit, I look good.
By the end, I had bought:
• 2 pairs of shorts
• 2 shirts
• 5 dresses
• 2 rompers
For a total of just over $400.
And, oh man, if buying the clothes was fun, wearing the clothes was a revelation.
Since I did the shopping on Friday, I spent the bulk of the weekend waiting anxiously to put those clothes to work. I felt like a middle-schooler about to debut the clothes she convinced her mom to buy her over summer break. It was a vain excitement, sure, but it wasn't lost on me that it came from a belief that I looked dope as hell — a feeling I hadn't experienced in a very long time. And — listen, I'm about to toot my own horn here — within the first hour of that first day, people were noticing.
"I'm obsessed with that— dress? Is it a dress?" said a near stranger, about a new lace-bottomed denim tunic.
"You are killing it this week," said a colleague on Wednesday.
"I hope this isn't weird to say, but you seem super happy lately?" said a friend by the end of the week. You can't make this stuff up!
And the great thing about this project is that it doesn't last a week — it's just a life change, and one whose impact would be hard to overstate.
I no longer dread waking up or going out. I don't spend my day trying to make my body smaller or hidden. I'm not negotiating what I can eat based on the discomfort of what I'm wearing. I'm excited to put together outfits (a joy I'd forgotten), and, when I admire a style or trend on someone else, I am less and less likely to tell myself it wouldn't work on me.
This isn't to say I'm suddenly 100% stoked on my body, or that my self-esteem is impenetrable.
I know those beliefs and fears about what it means to be 30 pounds heavier linger and will pop up whenever I'm most vulnerable. What has been most tangible, though, is the new belief that I can simply exist like this — that weight loss isn't a necessary step toward self-actualization (whatever that even means, realistically). That maybe the whole idea of weight loss being the ultimate goal is a giant racket — and one I can simply opt out of. It's hard to imagine a life in which the underlying constant isn't a question of how I'll lose weight and when I'll start, but I'm really excited to explore it.
And so I will share with you what I wish someone had shared with me: If you open your closet and realize things are no longer fitting you, you don't have to assign it any emotional significance.
You haven't failed. You can just buy some new clothes, or tailor the ones you have. I promise that it's not a big deal, and that you'll wish you'd done it a whole lot sooner.