At my sickest, before I was even diagnosed with depression, I weighed 100 pounds (45 kg). I was skin and bone, and some of my extended family even worried that I had an eating disorder (between my weight fluctuation and my strange moods, I actually was exhibiting some classic signs). Despite this, I had a fairly healthy diet, and ate at least two meals every day, but didn’t begin to gain any weight until I started taking antidepressants.
After a year of relatively good mental health, I gained about 20 pounds (9 kg), and looked and felt much healthier. When I went to college, I weighed about 125 lbs, and I was pretty happy with my body.
In my first six or eight weeks of college life, I gained the dreaded “Freshman Fifteen.” At the highest weight I had ever been, and living with a roommate with a naturally tall, thin figure, I began to get really down on my body image. Things only got worse as the year progressed and I continued to gain weight. The “Freshman Fifteen” became the “Freshman Twenty Five,” became the “Sophomore Ten-more,” became the “Junior Have-Another-Ten.”
By the time I graduated I weighed 175 pounds, and had never felt worse about my body in my life. But I wouldn’t be able to turn things around for another four years (and another 25 pounds!), after I had hit rock bottom. And as funny as it might seem, it was at my heaviest that I finally shucked the guilt about all the weight I’d gained. Only at 200 pounds (a weight I swore to myself I’d never get to), did I start to love my physical body.
I’ve found that now-a-days, with the abundance of messages about self-acceptance from blogs, to forums, to books and talk-shows, it can be much easier to look in the mirror and not immediately hear the all-encompassing media saying “You aren’t good enough.” For me, it has never been easier to love myself, inside and out.
It has also never been harder.
Even though I can be comfortable with how my body looks now, and I love showing off my body in shorts and swim suits during the summer, I have an incredibly difficult time creating a positive whole body image as my body is constantly in pain. Accepting your body for what it is becomes much more complicated when you add in a feeling of being broken (sometimes, beyond repair).
One of the ways that I try to combat this feeling is through what I wear. Fashion, for me, is not just about feeling good about my looks, but feeling good about my body as a whole, functioning unit. So even when FM is getting me down, I can take comfort from the outside in.
Some rules I use to pick out clothing that I can wear without feeling like I am weighed down, fighting my body, or crawling out of my skin are below. Also, I think I look pretty dang cute.
With any piece of clothing, the fit is going to be crucial. You cannot be comfortable in a top, or jeans, or a dress that doesn’t fit correctly. And the first part of getting fit right in clothing is acknowledging your size; you won’t be happy in those size 8 jeans if you are really a size 10. Every size is beautiful, so embrace it, own it, and buy the right size!
Additionally, know your body type. Are you pear-shaped, apple-shaped, top-heavy or hourglass? Are you athletically built or more curvy? This will affect how the fabric lies on your body, how seams cut across your figure, and how a piece looks on you in general. For example, I am pretty busty, so loose, flowy tops tend to lie straight down from my chest, making my stomach look larger than it is.
Finally, be sure to get the correct sleeve and pant length. Long sleeves should hit at the bottom knuckle of your thumb; pants should float 1/4-inch off the ground, with your shoes on. Many shirts and pants are made to fit the tallest/longest-limbed customer, so they will be really long on someone who is, like me, only 5’3″.
This means you have to either hem, or get them hemmed. It’s better for the clothes, it’s better for your comfort (you won’t be tripping over your pants legs all the time), and it looks professional. Here is a video how-to on an easy way to tack up your pants legs. I have used this method successfully many times.
It can be really tempting to buy trendy pieces that don’t necessarily fit well on your body type. And that’s okay! With the right accessories, these purchases can be great additions to your wardrobe.
Take my example of loose, flowy tops on myself. They don’t work well on their own, but if I tuck them into a high-waisted pencil skirt, I have a nice professional look. Also, I can cinch the waist of the top with a belt or a buttoned cardigan, so I don’t have to avoid these tops entirely.
As for finding pants and tops with appropriate length, try shopping in petites! I shop in petites for pants (I have short legs) and misses/women’s for tops (I am long-waisted). I also look for pants that come in variable lengths (short, average, long), and choose the short length – that way I don’t have to hem them – less work for me!
So, I live in the desert. It gets pretty hot here in the summer (hot for me is over 110°F, 43°C – anything else is merely warm), so lightweight clothing is a must, for much of the year. In addition to scorching temperatures, I suffer from tactile allodynia, which means that sometimes, even the pressure from the weight of my clothing can cause torturous levels of pain on my skin. Therefore, when I go shopping, I pick up each and every piece of clothing to see how much it weighs. If it’s really heavy – right back on the rack it goes.
This can be a difficult balance, especially if you live in a colder climate, or, like me, have a penchant for sweaters and jackets (they are my favorite accessories, I own a million of them, and can never say no to a new one). Because colder weather generally can’t be avoided (even here in Arizona), here are some tips to keep you sane while shopping for innately heavier pieces.
As for sweaters, jackets and hoodies, pick those of a lighter weight, and layer them. Layering clothing actually keeps you warmer, anyway, and if you begin to hurt from the weight of the clothing, you can go inside and take off layers until you are comfortable.
Buy looser fitting items. A jacket or sweater doesn’t need to be skin-tight. In fact, this works against it’s power to keep you warm, as the air between the fabric and your skin is what insulates you. Looser jackets and sweaters will keep you warmer while allowing you to wear less fabric, and less weight.
For coats, buy things that are easy to get in and out of. I personally prefer zippers to buttons, because once I have been out in the cold, I find it difficult to undo a button with my frozen hands (What are gloves?). Being able to get in and out of your coat quickly and easily lends itself to your comfort as you will spend less time in it. Additionally, buy a coat with a lining that feels nice on your skin – this will make your time spent in the coat less painful than if the lining is itchy, stiff or just generally unpleasant.
As I discussed before, the weight of fabric is extremely important to comfort, particularly if your skin is really sensitive to touch. But the feel of the fabric is important as well – not all lightweight fabrics are equal. Below are some of the basic fabrics that I feel fall in the lightweight category, along with their pros and cons.
Cotton: This is a great fabric, and has tons of classic and fashion-forward options. From button-downs to chambray, you can’t go wrong with cotton. Because it is a stiffer fabric, it will hold its shape while on your body and hide any “imperfections.”
Unfortunately, because it is a natural fiber, cotton has a tendency to shrink when put in the dryer, which makes it a higher-maintenance fabric. Be ready to hang-dry, tumble, and possibly even iron your cotton pieces for them to look their best.
T-shirt/jersey fabric: Easily my favorite fabric ever. From sheets to dresses to lounge pants, this is the material I want to have in every part of my life. It’s technically a cotton/spandex blend, which gives it a natural and light feel, but it stretches, maintains its shape over time, and is super simple to take care of. Throw it in the dryer, and it will be fine.
One downside to this material is that it can cling to every curve and crevice, so It can reveal unwanted lumps and bumps along the body line. To me, the sheer comfort of this fabric is worth the body shaping potential of other fabrics.
Knit: This is a great material, mainly because sweaters are made out of it! Lightweight knits are great for layering and staying warm in the winter and they come made from a variety of soft yarns like cashmere or rabbit hair. Depending on the fiber used to make the knit, you will have to care for it differently. High end knits like cashmere require handwashing, whereas cotton knits can be washed in a washing machine and laid flat or hung up to dry.
The down side of knits is, depending on the fiber, they can be itchy. I recommend finding a fiber you like and tolerate well, and sticking with that fiber.
Polyester: Polyester, because it is a man-made fabric, comes in all weights, patters, and blends. This is a great advent for people who can’t, for whatever reason, wear natural fibers. Also, it can be made to stretch, and be extremely comfortable and flattering. Additionally, it is a very easy to care for fabric, and can be washed and dried normally, in most cases.
Some people can be allergic to polyester (as some are allergic to wool, or cats, or anything else). Also, because it is a man-made fiber, it can get hotter, more quickly than other fabrics because it does not breath as well as other fabrics. For summer, I would stay away from polyester, though it is great in the winter to stay warm!
Satin/Silk: These fabrics are luxurious and sensual. Soft and slick, they slide against the skin with just a whisper. We think of these materials as reserved for special occasions, like weddings or proms, but they can be great for everyday wear. A silk top can add shine to an otherwise flat work outfit, or satin sheets can add a bit of comfort to your sleep cycle.
Silk and satin take extra careful maintenance, as they must be dry cleaned, but for the sumptuous feel of these fabrics, the extra effort and price can be worth the splurge.
Since most (around 85%) of patients with diagnosed FM are female….bras.
My first rule about bras is just like everything else – it has to fit correctly. If it doesn’t fit correctly, it isn’t going to be comfortable. Here you can use this simple guide to help you figure out what your bra size should be. I know for the longest time I was wearing a 36D when I should have been in a 38DD – it was a world of difference when I switched to the correct size.
My second “rule” about bras is more of a personal choice – do you prefer underwire, or wirefree? For as long as I can remember, I only wore underwire because I felt I couldn’t get the support I needed from wirefree bras. But recently, as FM symptoms have been worsening, I’ve found myself in need of some creature comforts, and wirefree seemed a good place to start. I tried on a variety of styles and found one that really worked for me, so I bought every single one the store had in my size! But in the end, underwires are a personal choice, and it should be based on comfort. Also, remember that you can change your mind at any time.
Finally, when it comes to panties, I’ve found that cotton, and cotton blends are really a girl’s best friend. Because of the heat in Arizona, yeast infections can be a real threat if you are wearing a fabric that doesn’t breathe, and who needs an infection on top of all the FM stuff? Not this gal! So I stick with super-soft cotton panties, which are pretty cheap at Target and come in a ton of cute colors and patterns. Again, this is another personal choice, and if you don’t live somewhere as hot as Arizona, you may not have the same worries I do, but consider your fabric before you buy.
And always wash everything before you wear it – I can’t stress this enough. With the way I fondle the fabric of every item I see in the store, I can only imagine what oils, dirt and germs every piece I buy has on it. Take the time to wash your new clothes before you wear them so they are free from these irritants.