Nine months after I had my daughter, I stood in my bedroom triumphantly zipping up my skinny jeans. I did a silent fist pump (the baby was sleeping after all) and put on my favorite top. Full of confidence, I ran to the mirror.
I expected to see myself again. Average height. Size six. Brown hair. Crooked smile. Bohemian style. Instead, I saw tired eyes, floppy skin, and a muffin top. The clothes that I once thought were "youthful" and full of whimsy now looked ill-fitting and shapeless.
It’s no lie that having a child changes your body. I have flaps of skin that refuse to go away, thigh dimples that cling to me no matter how much I run, or lift, or how well I eat. But that morning, nine months post-partum, I also discovered that having a child meant I saw myself and how I dressed in a whole different light. What I once thought was trendy now looked cheap. And as I dug through the piles of my old clothes, I realized that something had to change.
I’ve always been frugal. And it didn’t help that I married a Midwesterner who insists on washing Ziplocs, saving twist ties and DIYing the hell out of everything. And seven years of marriage really brought out the cheap in me. I had a closet, dresser and two plastic totes full of clothes — purchased from Walmart, Target clearance and Goodwill — and nothing to wear.
My first instinct was to go shopping. As middle-class Americans that’s what we’re trained to do. Don’t like it? Time to shop. But as I looked at my piles of clothes, I realized that shopping wasn’t going to fix the problem; shopping was the problem.
The rise and fall of our society, depends on the durability of our economy. But spending comes at a cost, much higher than a price tag. Mindless consumerism can lead us to believe our value lies in what we own and what we wear. And as a woman raising a (future) woman, I wanted more for my daughter. I wanted her to have the freedom to divorce her self-worth from what she wore. But how could I teach her that when here I was — 29-years-old, wallowing in a pile of cheap cotton-poly blends and feeling worthless?
I had some other motives as well. This was going to be the year I finally paid off my student loans, so I could start saving for my daughter’s college fund – and, god willing, we could have another child. So I stood up. I got some trash bags, made a “donate” pile, and vowed not to shop for clothes for six months. But really, in the end, I gave up clothes, because too much of my self-worth was invested in them; it was time to go on a clothing fast. Six months later, I renewed my vow for the rest of the year. I called it "The Year Of No Pants".
And it wasn’t easy. Normally, most of my days are spent indoors working from home. But as luck would have it, I had two photo shoots where my picture ended up on billboards and signage around my town. I spoke at a conference and went to an independent film festival in L.A. where my movie premiered. All without new clothes. I know, first world problems, right?
I could no longer hide behind something new or trendy. I borrowed. I remixed. I swapped, I mismatched and accessorized. Without clothes to give me a confidence boost, I had to find it from within.
I had hoped that my year of no shopping would turn me into some sort of fashion-frugal hybrid. A cross between Dave Ramsey and Anna Wintour. I hoped it would free me from my body hang-ups and fears and give me that hip-mama style I so longed for. But when the one year mark rolled around, I was still me. Granted, I was less obsessed with shopping and more focused on quality over quantity. But I was still me.
And this is what I learned: Fashion doesn’t define you. It doesn’t make you, you. Fashion is just that: an accumulation of clothes and accessories. When you scratch the surface of fashion, the person underneath is still there -- insecurities, skin flaps, crooked smile, dimpled thighs and all.
No matter what you wear -- a bold red dress to give you confidence, heels to make you stand tall -- you are still you. No amount of ruching can hide the insecurities, double chin and cellulite that you are so afraid to flaunt. It didn’t take a dress to make Cinderella a princess; she was one all along.
Fashion doesn’t give you confidence. Fashion isn’t magic. Fashion is just there to highlight the parts of you that you love. But that means you have to love something about yourself first – which means you have to stop connecting your self-worth to a price tag. That you have to stop letting your wallet be a slave to your deepest insecurities, hopes and desires.
I think I’m getting there. I was surprised when I didn’t come home with masses of clothes from my first shopping trip. Instead, I choose a few higher quality items that I hope will last through my second child, due in July, and beyond. And when my daughter, now almost two, wants to wear her Elmo shirt with her fancy skirt, I don’t fuss, I don’t negotiate; I let her. I want her to feel ownership over her fashion and not that fashion has ownership over her.
I want that for myself too.
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