Depression Pants: On Buying Things Too Small As a Motivational Tactic

By | June 25, 2008

For the past several years I’ve had the unenviable experience of being a crazy-obsessive shopper and clotheshorse, while also being a size right on the cusp between Levels of Fatness. Not the inbetween-misses-and-plus size that folks wearing a 14 or 16 or 18 struggle with; I haven’t been there for any appreciable length of time since seventh grade. No, I refer to the size between plus and, um, plus-plus, as defined by the apparel world.

See, these days a great many more designers and manufacturers are producing plus sizes, and for this I am certainly grateful, as well as pleased to have more options for places to spend my money. But it seems a surprising number of them have chosen to stop at a 24. I can wear some 24s, in some items, but generally speaking me and 24 are but passing acquaintances: you know, that like guy who lives in your building that you see in the elevator all the time, and you know he told you his name at some point, like a year ago, but you don’t remember it, and now you’ve been exchanging friendly-but-terse hellos in the hall and by the mailboxes for so long that asking him to refresh your memory would just be unbearably awkward, so you just say “Hi” and leave a pause in there where his name would go if you remembered it, before quickly moving on to discuss the weather or his dog’s intestinal disorder or… whatever.

Me and 24 are exactly like that.

I know where 24 lives, I can recognize 24 from a distance, and yes, I can even wear a 24 now and then, depending on the item, but 24 and I ain’t tight by any definition. (Well, except literally.) These days, when this size-24 cutoff and I meet face to face – most often, it seems, with department store brands, or higher-end designers – I am angry. Really, really angry. “BUT I WANT A PONY!” irrational-type angry. Before I inspire a million exasperated sighs, I’m well aware that manufacturers can’t make every size in the world. I am also aware that I am not a precious and unique snowflake. I’m still angry, because I really wanted that dress/sweater/pair-of-tights/wide-tricked-out-belt/ruffley-pirate-shirt, etc., and I am only thwarted by said designer/manufacturer’s failure to make it in a size I can wear.

I used to get angry about this as a teenager too, but the anger then wasn’t directed at the offending party – it was directed at myself, my body. It was my stupid body’s fault for not fitting whatever size happened to be on the rack. Stupid body! You should fit those random-size pants! You disgust and embarrass me, body!

All of this brings me back to the popular “motivational tactic” that inspired the above ruminations in the first place: the practice of purposely buying things too small with the intention of dieting one’s way into them. This is a variation on the proverbial tiny pantsscenario – these are garments not simply too-tight or uncomfortable, but garments intentionally purchased in a size too small to even get oneself into. I’ve known several people over my lifetime (all women in my case, though I’m sure this is a habit indulged in by folks of all genders) who’ve bought things – usually dresses – and kept them as Magical Talismans to drive them to weight loss, fitting that size as much a measurable goal as a certain number on the scale. A friend in high school had such a dress that hung, at all times, on her closet door. So she got to look at it every day; it was the first thing she saw when she woke up in the morning, and the last thing she saw before falling asleep. It became this fetishistic little totem – the day that dress finally fit was the day Her Life Would Begin.

Is that the most depressing dress-related thing ever, or what?

I can almost understand this behavior, at least from the position that yes, often I’ve wanted to wear a certain garment and been thwarted by the garment’s not being available in my size. It’s frustrating and infuriating for sure. But it’s not my body’s responsibility to fit some frilly container, arbitrarily shaped by someone who doesn’t even know me. It’s not my body’s fault a size 20 won’t fit, it’s the size 20’s fault; let’s think about that, shall we?

And let’s think about how totally counterproductive and just plain weird it is to purchase something you can’t even wear, for the purposes of driving yourself to fit what Insert-Retailer-Name-Here requires. Isn’t that downright abusive of the body you’ve got, the body that likely got you to the mall in the first place, that moves you through the world? Is it kind or loving to parade some unfitting Dream Dress before that body, reinforcing its failure to be some randomly-chosen size? Isn’t that kind of hateful and unhealthy? Doesn’t that body deserve better?

Part of this stems from my own selfish belief that nobody should put off looking fabulous. Buying a dress too small for the purposes of motivating (or guilting) oneself into smallening one’s body enough to fit it is putting off fabulousness in a most heinous sense, as it assumes that your fatter body is not worth the attention that wearing something beautiful that fits, and that you love. Because showing off implies self-acceptance and confidence, two things that, culturally, fat folks aren’t supposed to have.

Fabulous is not size-dependent, it’s confidence-dependent, and if you ain’t confident in yourself at a size 26, it’s unlikely that you’ll be any more confident at a size 16. I’d argue that the confidence gained at a size 16 (or whatever your “confidence size” may be) is relying on an external factor which is ultimately changeable, and thus not real, lasting self-confidence – which comes from feeling secure in the person you are, not the person you look like – at all.

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