cardigan empire

What Happens When Big Girls Love Clothes

You were always tall for your age. Taller than all the other little girls, and definitely taller than the boys. First picked for basketball. Never picked for quick kisses behind the portables.
Puberty hits you like a tonne of bricks, except the bricks stick–to your thighs, your stomach, the undersides of your arms, your ass, your chest.You are the first with a training bra. This is around the time you stop standing quite so tall.
You start noticing yourself in the mirror around the same time you start noticing the things people say when they think you aren’t listening. You start feeling uncomfortable, even alone in your bedroom.
You stop loving baseball and theatre and swimming. You develop your first crush on a boy you will later describe as your “best friend.” You help him ask Tiffany to the dance. You don’t go.
When the other girls start spending their Saturdays at the mall, you set aside your book and tag along. As you watch them head to the fitting rooms with too many items to hold, you realize things are going to be different for you.
You develop a system. Back of the rack, bottom of the pile. Things sized with numbers won’t fit. Things sized with letters might. Knitted fabrics only. Dresses with smocking. Cardigans that are meant to be worn unbuttoned anyway.
You clutch the hangers close to your body, always facing inward so your friends don’t see the dreaded tags, the many little X’s in front of the already painful L’s.
You listen to them run back and forth from room to room, comparing, considering, complimenting. They learn quickly not to knock on your door.
One in ten, if you’re lucky. One more grey cardigan. One more empire-waisted jersey dress. Taken to the cash register more because they fit than because you like them.
Fitting rooms become your stage, and your performances are Tony-worthy.
“I’m just really not into velvet.”
“Their jeans are too short for me, that’s all.”
“This colour totally washed me out.”
“Oh everything fit, I guess I’m just picky.”
You watch your size-two friends load up on sale items. When no one is looking you run your fingers quickly past the three items at the end of the rack–two burnt-orange hoodies and a button-up that you know in your stomach wouldn’t accommodate your arms.
You get really into scarves.
You hope nobody notices that you wear the same pair of jeans every day.
You continue to devour magazines, despite the fact that in their world you do not exist.
The other fat girls turn their attention to make up.
You keep trying.
You work.
You work to look even passable.
Shopping is calculated, formulaic, solitary.
But then something happens.
You get a compliment on your outfit from someone you barely know.
Your mom’s attempts to buy you clothes for your birthday fall flat because they aren’t your style.
You discover stores online that make skinny jeans for girls like you.
You discover a world where you’re a medium.
You start to feel pretty.
You start noticing yourself in the mirror again.
What’s more, you purposefully walk past reflective surfaces.
Suddenly you realize that clothing makes you feel good.
Suddenly shopping is fun.
Its still work, sometimes. It will probably always be work.
And you spend too much money.
And you maybe care a bit too much about it.
And some might say these things are surface-level, these things are unimportant.
But you had your years as an ugly teenager to develop your personality, to develop good taste and an appreciation for art.
Now is the time to feel beautiful.
Because nothing else matters when you find that dress. That dress that erases all the frustrated tears and ill-fitting Sears jeans and cruel nicknames and unrequited love and Weight Watchers at twelve years old and never ever ever ever looking like the girls in the ads you taped to your closet doors.
That dress that makes you want to throw open the fitting room doors and let the whole world see that you are worth looking at.