Every winter, I pack on about 15 pounds. I live in Minneapolis, which means that my city may be blanketed in snow from early-November through mid-May, and all that dark, oppressive, endlessly cold weather makes vigorous exercise and light, healthful foods seem about as appealing as major dental work.
But despite the fact that my weight fluctuates year after year, I don’t diet. Despite the fact that I’ve got cellulite and a poochy belly and fairly big hips for my frame, I don’t diet. Despite the fact that I spent my entire adolescence and young adult life actively hating my body and attempting to hide inside my clothing, I don’t diet. Because for one thing, few diets work permanently, with lost weight often regained within a year. And for another, I don’t believe that there is one acceptably beautiful body shape or figure. And finally, I’ve found a far better way to help myself look and feel good than attempting to diet my body into submission: I dress to my figure.
Back in 2006 — after nearly 10 years of sporadic dieting — it finally dawned on me that through all the gains and losses I was maintaining the same basic body shape. Whether I was sporting a slender summer frame or a hibernation-ready winter one, I kept my smallish waist, prominent hips and butt, and B-cup boobs. I was still me, no matter how much or little I weighed. And instead of continuing to don oversized duds that hid everything about my figure, I began to note which cuts of clothing suited my curvy little bod. I sought out garments and accessories that drew the eye to my lovely waist, my shapely shoulders, my delicate ankles. I slowly began accumulating flattering, interesting pieces while simultaneously ditching the dull, curve-disguising ones.
And you know what? Once I’d honed in on a look that truly suited my taste and figure, I felt better about my body than ever before. Even when I’d whittled myself down to a size six, I’d still felt unwieldy and big, awkward and unwelcome in my own skin. And I maintain it’s because even though I’d lost a bunch of weight, I hadn’t made peace with myself, learned anything about my unique figure, or spent any time puzzling about how to love my body regardless of its size. Once I began to examine my figure and view clothes as tools for flattering it, I was able to slowly ease myself into a place of self-acceptance. Through dressing to my figure, I learned that I was a total knockout even if I wasn’t built like a lingerie model. I learned that I felt beautiful when I looked beautiful, and that I could look beautiful by wearing clothing that focused the observing eye on my glorious natural assets.
And that’s a lesson we all could stand to learn.
Women are taught that our value is contingent upon our beauty, and that the definition of beauty is narrow and doesn’t include us. And so we become trapped into believing that we are fundamentally flawed, inferior, and unworthy because we fail to conform to a nearly-impossible standard. We hate our bodies, and we don’t know how to stop hating our bodies. While it could be argued that teaching women to dress to their figures instead of fighting them — teaching women to utilize clothing to express their creativity and embrace their natural, god-given loveliness — merely feeds that cycle, I believe that there is a connection between looking good and feeling good. I believe that body knowledge gained through explorations of personal style can foster self-love and self-respect. And since changing our bodies to fit arbitrary standards can be frustrating, harmful, and counterproductive, I suggest changing how we present our bodies instead.
Dressing can be a mindless chore, or it can be a daily celebration of all that is wondrous and worthy about our physical forms. Dressing can be a challenge if you struggle to find clothing you love and that loves you back, but it is well worth the effort to study your figure and hunt down garments that compliment and honor it. Because — depending on how you’re wired — dressing might just be your antidote to endless, fruitless, frustrating dieting, proving that altering your body is wholly unnecessary. Proving that you’re gorgeous right now, today, just as you are.
Sally McGraw is a Minneapolis-based blogger, freelance writer, and communications professional who writes the daily style and body image blog Already Pretty.