In March 2011, I was in Los Angeles living at my mama’s house. I moved back indefinitely a month prior after my depression and anxiety landed me in the hospital two different times in a 7-month period. The trauma of the hospitalizations, surviving a sexual assault, an unhealthy relationship, and job loss left my mind and my body in disarray. Some days I barely recognized myself in the mirror, and not just because I was 50 pounds heavier.
Everything I wanted seemed out of reach and if felt like I had lost control: of my career, of my life and of my body. And even though I was functional enough to be discharged from the hospital in DC and travel back to my hometown, I was still fighting depression and anxiety. I was angry with myself for failing to “make it” in DC, that I had to move back in with my mother after nearly 10 years of living on my own, that I couldn’t keep off the weight I lost. Prior to moving back to LA, I was laid off from a job and left an unhealthy relationship nearly back to back. I felt like I failed at “adulting,” and that maybe my quarter-life crisis had finally defeated me.
I left Washington, DC, a city I loved where I had a solid circle of friends, a steady income and a level of autonomy that couldn’t be replicated living with my parents. I hadn’t lived in Los Angeles since I was a teenager, but here I was with no job, no car, and no money. I was angry with myself for failing to check off the social, romantic, and professional boxes I was taught to check as “complete,” namely finding a good job and a husband. And even though I found the strength to leave my bad relationship behind, I still held on to the unhealthy attitudes I had about my body.
Returning home after experiencing so much loss and struggling to stay afloat mentally and financially was a huge blow to my confidence. I didn’t go out often, partly because I was broke and partly because making myself look cute and presentable often became an “impossible task” due to my depression. I remember picking clothes solely because they hid the parts of my body I felt ashamed of. I would find things that would hide my fat belly and de-emphasize my hips and ass. I hardly ever wore sleeveless dresses and shirts, and I would have died first before posting full-body pictures of myself on social media. It didn’t help that my well-intentioned mother would comment on my weight and encourage me to buy clothes that “flattered” my figure, and it certainly didn’t help that whenever I logged onto social media, there was some asshole spewing fatphobic nonsense about who they would or wouldn’t want to date.
Because of these added pressures and projections onto people with fat bodies, I didn’t always know how to let go of the shame I carried. In my mind, if I hid my body, I could blend in and no one would notice my perceived failures. No one would ask me questions about why I came back home. I could eventually forget about DC and what could have been.
Still, I knew in my heart there was another way to live, another way to be. In The Body Is Not An Apology, Sonya Renee Taylor explains what it means to practice radical self-love for our bodies. “Radical self-love is not a destination you are trying to get to,” she writes. “It is who you already are, and it is already working tirelessly to guide your life.” Taylor also talks about the importance of getting back to a “right now” relationships with our bodies, reminding the reader that “Life is not behind us or before us. Our most amazing, unapologetic life is right here, right now.”
Deep down, I didn’t want to treat my body like my enemy, projecting the shame and hatred the world had for fat bodies back onto to myself, over and over again. I also did not want to delay wearing the clothes I really wanted to wear until I had a smaller body. I knew that I was avoiding taking fashion risks because it was safer to play small, and I knew that I wanted to finally become a good friend to my body. So while I didn’t have a name for it yet, I started my journey towards radical self-love way back in 2011.
From a young age, I always loved fashion and style and being fat never changed that. I didn’t really know how to dress my larger body and had lost my sense of style. Each evening when I arrived home from my internship I would dream in between job applications. I started a Pinterest board of style looks I longed to see myself in. I would read the Afrobella blog written by Patricia Grell Yursik and learn all about makeup, natural hair care, and skincare. That led me to GabiFresh who at the time was the most stylish fat woman I had ever seen. Nicolette Mason, CeCe Olisa, Amber Riley, Jazmine Sullivan: all of these amazing fat baddies kicking ass and taking names were possibility models for me. I looked at them and realized there was another way. I would look at these women, look at the outfits they wore in their blog posts or in magazines, and I finally saw myself, saw what I could be. I knew that one day, I wouldn’t have to dress myself to hide anymore. I could dress in a way that reflected love and compassion for myself instead of shame.
My new challenge was two-fold: first, I didn’t have much money. Second, in 2011 there were still very few clothing options for plus-size women that were both stylish and affordable. The first challenge was made more complicated by the fact that due to an earlier overdrawn bank account, I could not immediately open a new one. This meant I had to take the paycheck I received from my part-time paid internship at my church’s nonprofit to the check cashing spot on Crenshaw and Slauson, right up the block from the office I worked in. With that being my reality, I paid for my many of the clothes I bought at that time in cash from one of three stores: Forever 21 for play clothes and either Ashley Stewart or Lane Bryant for work. My mother and I would continue up Slauson to the Fox Hills Mall in Culver City, and I would try to look for clothes for church and job interviews as best I could.
This experience was not always fun for me even though I am someone who naturally loves fashion. So therein lied the second challenge: Lane Bryant was hit or miss and frankly, Ashley Stewart’s offerings were often too matronly for a 27-year-old. As for Forever 21, their clothes were for cookouts and parties – both things I rarely attended since I didn’t have many friends in my old-new city. But, I made do, and settled for clothes that fit and were functional rather than clothes that I truly loved and felt good in.
By summer 2012, my life started to change for the better. I was preparing to move back to DC and the cloud of depression started to disappear. I still wasn’t comfortable with posting full-body pictures on the internet, but I had a better sense of the way I wanted to dress and what made me feel good and stopped hiding my belly. As my life changed, my relationship with my body changed. I was finally ready to take more risks. I started wearing pencil skirts after years of being told that they weren’t for fat girls or girls with a thick midsection. I decided that bold jewel tones were best for my dark brown complexion. I even wore shorts and crop tops. I rejected, and still reject, the notion that fat women in general and fat Black women, in particular, are not “allowed” to wear certain clothing. I chose, and still choose, to live by one rule when it comes to fashion and that is that there are no rules. And my own practice of radical self-love is all the better for it.
Fashion can often be intrinsically political, and plus size fashion is no different. Every time a fat woman decides that she will wear whatever the hell she wants and remain unbothered, she is flying in the face of every part of society that profits off of and demands her shame. She is choosing to define beauty, flyness, and the very elements of style on her own terms. She is choosing herself above all else.
Now, when I post my outfits of the day and see people admiring the dress or other items I am wearing, the pride I feel outweighs the shame I felt years ago. I am leaving behind the guilt and shame I felt about my failures, and instead of basking in the glow of radical self-love for my body and her journey. I am slowly becoming my own possibility model, one fly outfit at a time.