I made a big change in my life over a year and a half ago. I had just had a quick physical and found out my bad cholesterol was too high. I knew I needed to lose some weight, but I had never really been faced with an actual health problem. I was only 25 at the time – and my bad cholesterol was too high? Not a good sign. It took me five months to gear myself up to take the next, very scary (for me) step: joining a gym.
I am not an athlete. My first non-A in high school was in P.E. (and I’m still bitter about it). My dad had to pay me as an extra incentive to try really hard to score a goal in soccer after five years of playing. I was the only eighth grader who could not serve overhand in volleyball. I wasn’t born with the athletic gene; I hate, hate, hate working out; and I love food. It was a wake-up for me realize I couldn’t shovel McDonalds down for lunch, have two bowls of pasta for dinner and still fit into my favorite jeans. College and the endless buffets of fried food and boxes of sweets didn’t help.
Somewhere in the span of five years I gained weight and didn’t leave it behind when I graduated. Walking my dogs wasn’t cutting it. I had to go to the gym.
Naturally, this was made slightly better by buying cute workout clothes. But the most difficult part was going for the first time. Here were all these people who were all fit and knew what they were doing and knew how to use that scary workout equipment that terrified the hell out of me and OMG what the hell am I doing here?!
But that’s the nice thing about the gym, or at least my gym: no one cares how bad or good you are at fitness. It’s a victory that you’re even there. And if the most difficult part is actually going in the first place, working out is the easy easier part. Sort of. I still secretly hate it.
Six months after going to the gym religiously, I had only lost six pounds. Not good enough. So I took the next not-quite-as-scary-but-still-stressful step: I joined Weight Watchers. This program worked miracles for me. It completely changed my diet and made me truly consider what I was eating. It also didn’t deprive me of anything, unless I made that call for myself (bye-bye, peanut butter. I still miss you). After around four months on Weight Watchers, I lost 25 pounds. It is still a struggle to watch what I eat and work out - since my original weight loss, my weight has creeped up and come down more than a few times. But my family and friends have been more than supportive (my mom always has a bottle of Skinnygirl margaritas ready for me at her house!). Their support means everything — for the first time in a long time I’m really happy with myself.
The day I knew I had made a difference with my body was the day I tried on a wrap dress – and it flattered me. They’re supposed to flatter every woman’s body, but before I lost weight, they had always hit me the wrong way, emphasizing the thickness around my waist and my big boobs. They’re usually made of jersey, which never hit my body right.
It seemed symbolic that I could finally wear such an iconic dress. Ensconced in my southern Indiana hometown, I'm far away from the high fashion world; the disconnect between designers and fashion editors and the people who read the magazines and follow the shows has never felt wider. I have to drive an hour for a decent mall! But I've decided that I'm going to get to New York Fashion Week by 2013. Experiencing Fashion Week for myself would be narrowing that gap, even if just a little. When I found out that Independent Fashion Blogger’s twice-annual conference coincided with Fashion Week, it seemed like fate.
So I’ve been doing research, reading up on hints for getting into shows and experiences from other bloggers during Fashion Week — and most importantly, what they wore. During my research, I came across a post for The Cut written by now-BuzzFeed Shift editor Amy Odell, called 10 tips on how to be photographed during Fashion Week. As I clicked through her post, visions of myself twirling in Lincoln Center filled my head.
Those visions quickly scattered as I clicked to her next tip: “Be thin.”
Amy went on to reason, “The rule isn’t fair, nor is it news, but it is true: Fashion likes thin, as anyone who lives on Earth knows.”
Oh, believe me, I know how important the fashion world values being thin. But the only thing that is thin about me is my budget – and maybe my baby fingers. I was born into a family of tall people; while I’m the tallest granddaughter at 5’10″, most of my male cousins tower over me. I also was born with my mom’s body, which I love, but it means I will never be – according to high fashion standards – thin. Even after losing 25 pounds.
That’s just fine. But it still makes a small part of me feel like shit hearing someone else reiterate what seems to me to be the very worst part about the fashion culture.
I have to remember how hard I’ve worked when I read a comment like the one from Odell, who doesn’t make the rules, but still brought me back to my reality — both my body type and where I live could not feel farther away from the fashion world that I follow and love.
Perhaps that is what makes me the angriest: not the insistence that thin will always be most acceptable in the fashion culture, but the collective indifference to do something to change it. Part of making that change is acknowledging the truth about the fashion industry, as Odell did. “The rule isn’t fair,” she wrote, as if this rule is the way it will always be and she is powerless to stop it. Which she is — it’s bigger than a fashion blogger. It’s the plethora of size 2 and 4 at clothing stores, even though the average size of an American woman is now a 14. It’s an outfit meant for a 40-year-old, marketed by a 15-year-old model.
I will never walk in a Chanel show. I will also never be a fitness instructor. But at my next wellness check a year after I started working out and eating right, my bad cholesterol was at a healthy level.
That is worth more than a Louis Vuitton bag (or two) to me.
A version of this essay appeared earlier on author Catherine Hageman's site, Small Town Big Wardrobe.