A big part of my self-love and acceptance journey was found through clothes. I think every plus size woman can tell you a story of being in a dressing room, fighting to shove their thighs into too small pants, or skirts, and as they look into the mirror to see their body overflowing from waistbands, they can’t help but feel a self loathing so strong it lingers for weeks after. However, sometimes, you’d find one dress, or shirt that flowed so elegantly against your body, or fit your broad shoulders just right. When you tried it on you’d spin and spin in the dressing room out of pure joy and smile at yourself, because finally you fit into something, or better yet, something finally fit you.
Moments like that were ones that I searched and searched for, because they rarely happened in my life. I rarely felt beautiful in the clothes that I purchased and I hated shopping, because I would just leave places feeling horrible about myself. I never thought clothing could be an outlet of expression and joy for me. Then I went to Europe.
Through lots of scholarship money and help from my family, I was able to scrounge up enough money to accompany my choir to Germany my freshman year of college. I traveled around Saxony and then after our tour, I met my grandparents in Paris. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I was absolutely enthralled and inspired by the European people I saw on the streets of the cities I visited. Leather shoes, tailored suits, pleated skirts ironed just perfectly, billowy blouses that looked so elegant, and just an incredible sense of sophistication and identity was sparkling from these people. I wanted in on that.
Also, for this trip, I went and bought special dresses and jackets and shoes, because I knew I’d be looking back on pictures from this trip for years and I wanted them to be pictures that I loved. I knew I wouldn’t want my mom to frame a picture of me in front of the Eiffel Tower, wearing a three wolf moon t-shirt and jeans.
I took time to think about and plan out outfits for this trip and I actually enjoyed it! I daydreamed about wearing this floral printed cream dress to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and just walking down the cobblestone streets of Paris. I found when I got dressed every day for this trip, I was excited. I found a new sense of pride and love within and for myself through the clothes I was buying and wearing.
It’s crazy, but I can pinpoint these moments as the blossoming of my self-love journey. When I discovered that I could be just as fashionable, just as cute, and just as put together as my thinner friends, I was ecstatic. It was incredibly liberating when I discovered that I could love and celebrate clothing and fashion with my body.
It was at this point in my life that I started to take pride in my appearance. In Paris, I bought my first “big girl” lipstick shade in red. This also started an entirely different love affair with lipsticks and makeup.
(And this also started my tradition of buying a new lipstick whenever I travel to a new place!)
It was in these cities, full of history and interesting people that I began to find myself and who I wanted to be. I came back home with memories and new dreams and a new sense of myself and it all started with pretty dresses and fun lipsticks. It all started with finding joy in “silly” things that I never thought were for someone like me, with the body I have.
I came home with one of the most beautiful souvenirs that I never expected. I came home loving myself.
Traveling has brought so many wonderful things into my life, but by far the most important thing it taught me was about myself. Just one month abroad, almost five years ago, taught me that even when I’m far away from the familiar, I am my own home. And that I can be just as beautiful as every Parisian woman walking the street next to me. Maybe I was just a little drunk off of the European sunshine and maybe it was being in a foreign place that helped me see just how special and beautiful I am when I take the time to take care of myself and to celebrate myself (through things like clothing and lipsticks). I’m struggling to find the right words, but there’s some sort of magic in traveling that strips you of who you were. When you go to a new and foreign place, it’s like you can start over, or press refresh.
I left Europe knowing that when I went back to the dressing rooms that I hated, I wouldn’t waste time on clothing that didn’t make me feel anything less than beautiful. I started searching for clothing that brought me joy. I found little pieces of my heart in floral prints, bright patterns and tights, and A-line dresses. I discovered a new love and passion that was wholly and uniquely mine and no one else’s.
You can find that too, little cricket. And I’m pretty sure you can find it without going all the way to Europe. You can find it in a new lipstick shade you picked up from the drug store. Or in that new bathing suit. Or that dress you finally caught on sale that you’ve been pining over. You can find it staring in the mirror at your bare face after a long day. There’s lots of love in your heart, cricket, and it’s time that you shared a little of that with yourself.