This week the first wave of summer hit me as the air conditioning in my office was not working, and my coworkers and I were all faced with a wave of blistering heat. The indication of summer approaching generally means a few different things: some semblance of vacation, iced coffees, and a change in wardrobe. As the weather changes, we tend to frequent the malls and pick out new clothing.
The words “clothes shopping” used to throw me into a tizzy; I hated putting any emphasis on my body. Shopping for clothes meant that I had to look at myself in the mirror and notice the way the clothes fit my body. Any added body-checking at that point in my journey with Anorexia led to a downward spiral and feelings of self-loathing. I am now in a place where clothing shopping is a fun experience, rather than something to be avoided. However, I know that even for those not suffering from any type of eating disorder, shopping for clothes - especially for the summer season - can be unpleasant.
Summer shopping often entails buying clothing that shows a bit more skin. While each person follows different customs, summer clothing often involves lighter clothing whether they be shorter skirts or shirts with shorter sleeves. In the secular culture, and even in some of our circles, we think of summer as “Beach Season” and there is an attitude of stronger fitness regiments to feel confident in showing off one’s body in some capacity. While I adhere to a dress code of Tzniut, I still hear my colleagues and friends talk about needing to get in shape for the summer season, and for the clothing they hope to buy to greet the hot weather.
This pressure, combined with the ordinary anxiety some people feel while shopping, can be overwhelming. What size will I fit into? Should I lose weight before I buy a whole new wardrobe?
There is a strong cultural expectation for individuals to approach the summer season and reevaluate their diets and appearances. I’ve heard men and women talk too often about the outfits they wish to buy, but adding that they are holding off until they lose a certain amount of weight. As I’ve mentioned in previous pieces, I do support healthy diets, and waiting to buy clothing may be some sort of motivation. But I also believe that this gives a lot of power to achieving a goal related to one’s body, a goal that may not come from the healthiest place. A diet is healthy when an individual adjusts his/her food to stay strong and healthy, or perhaps to lose some weight. It becomes unhealthy when this diet holds power and begins to determine the individual’s self-worth. I find it saddening to hear men and women talk about themselves with such negativity because they simply could not lose a certain amount of weight. It is as if those last 5 pounds hold the key to personal satisfaction and happiness, when in truth, personal satisfaction should relate to character.
As I enter the dressing room in some of my favorite stores, I do not dwell on what sizes fit me, or the way my body looks in the mirror. I don’t pick apart how much weight I should lose or if the outfit “makes me look fat.” It is true that feeling attractive in the clothes I buy does play a role when I shop. And I enjoy experimenting with fashion and style…But most importantly, I imagine where I’ll be able to wear these clothes, and how much fun I will have when I wear them. I can choose to focus on the superficial, on the fact that I no longer fit into the smallest sizes. Or I can opt to spend my time living my beyond from the mirror.
Fashion has become an artistic way of expressing myself. Since my recovery I have learned what I will choose to focus on with my time. I can judge myself, make body comparisons, and feel negatively because of a number. Or I can live my life knowing that my body in the store mirrors will not dictate the amount of happiness and success I experience in this world.
My hope is that as we go out to buy new outfits for the summer, this can be a fun and enjoyable experience. The summer may denote social expectations about one’s body, but this does not mean that we need to adopt this stance. Within Judaism the mention of one’s body almost always relates to keeping it healthy, and is not about looking a certain way to meet expectation. My style is a part of who I am, but I would never let my reflection or size define me.
By Temimah Zucker