clothes shopping when you're struggling with body image

Note: Before I get into it, I want to acknowledge up top that I have a lot of body privilege - I am writing this from the perspective of a thin, able-bodied, cis woman with relative economic privilege (meaning I can afford to buy new clothes for the most part). All of these things make my shopping experience significantly easier than it would be for someone who is in a larger body, gender non-conforming, and/or disabled. Most stores carry my size. It’s unlikely that people are judging what I’m wearing or what I “should” be wearing. All of these things are afforded by privilege. I know some of the things I talk about (or maybe all of the things) might not resonate for some people but my hope with sharing this is to provide tips that are applicable to a variety of bodies.

I went clothes shopping last weekend which reminded me of how much I used to hate clothes shopping and sometimes still do. I have had my body image struggles as most people have. There was a time of my life that I had a deep hatred for my body. And after a lot of work and a lot of time, I’ve been able to heal that somewhat and consider myself to have a pretty positive (or at least neutral) relationship with my body. When I talk about body image, I’m not phoning it in - I really believe we can all learn to respect, accept, or even love our bodies (again I want to fully acknowledge that this process is much harder for some people than others). 

But let me tell you, clothes shopping sucks sometimes. 

For me personally, this has gotten much easier over the last few years. Most of the time, clothes shopping doesn’t really stress me out. But sometimes it still feels a little overwhelming - partly because I feel like I do not know how to dress my body (whatever gene my put-together mom and sister got missed me, apparently). And partly because trying things on and staring at your body in a mirror and criticizing and critiquing and poking and prodding doesn’t set you up for a super positive experience with your body. 

If you’ve felt this way too, I wanted to share a couple tips for next time you go shopping:

- Shop for the body you have right now. Stop trying on clothes that *might* fit someday. It’s the clothes’ job to fit you not the other way around. Taking home new clothes that you can’t wear because they don’t actually fit is not going to make you feel good and it’s probably going to feel pretty shame inducing which is not helpful to anyone. The body you have right now, in this moment, deserves to be properly dressed. 

- Along those same lines, get rid of everything you no longer need or want or feel good in. Marie Kondo that shit. What I’ve been doing is ordering a clean out kit from ThredUp (not sponsored) - they send you this huge bag that’s already postmarked and then you fill it up with your clothes and mail it back fo free. They sell your clothes for you and while you don’t make bank off of it (probably only a couple dollars an item), at least you’re making some money. If you have nicer things that you know you can get more for, trying to sell items on Poshmark might be a worthy endeavor.

- Of course, looking at the size tags is usually unavoidable. And it makes sense to bring multiple sizes into the dressing room if you’re unsure about which size will fit you. But once you get into the dressing room, try to ignore the tags and see what feels best on your body regardless of size. Beyond that, challenge any meaning you’re assigning to those numbers. The number on the sizing tag is arbitrary and does not tell you anything about who you are as a person.

- I’ve started doing a new thing where if I try something on and don’t immediately love it, I take it off. I recommend this strategy. I’m tired of having clothes sitting around that I liked for a week or never really liked at all or only like with that one certain pair of pants that I don’t even have anymore. No “but if I were able to alter it….” (unless you actually have intentions of altering it) or “if I sucked my stomach in all day…”. No “if I found the right pair of pants….” or “if I wore it on a sunny day and the light was hitting me at a 45 degree angle….”. Not hating it is not enough. If you don’t love it, if it doesn’t make you feel good, take it off and move on.

Me taking a break - there was no one waiting for a fitting room, I’m not an asshole.

Me taking a break - there was no one waiting for a fitting room, I’m not an asshole.

- Take a break! If you’re getting overwhelmed, you’re allowed to go get a coffee (maybe decaf?) or a snack or leave altogether. You’re also allowed to sit down in the dressing room and regroup.

- Don’t go hungry/tired/cranky. Obviously this takes some amount of flexibility but I try not to go shopping if I’m feeling kind of “meh” overall because that usually doesn’t end particularly well. Of course, there are times it’s unavoidable but at the very least, make sure you have a snack before.

- Consider going with a friend (maybe one who understands the complicated feelings you have about your body). That way it takes some of the pressure off the whole experience and can be less about the clothes and more about the connection. Plus, it can be helpful to try things on for another person who you trust.

- If you’re out shopping and it’s not going well and you’re feeling discouraged and tired and wonky, shut it down for the day (as long as you don’t need to get something with any immediate need). You can always go back when you’re feeling like you’re in a better space.