Home » Essay » Personal Essay: “On Shapes”

Personal Essay: “On Shapes”

For some reason or other I find myself flipping through the latest clothing catalog that landed with a very solid thump in the mailbox. Fall fashion is here and it’s time to convince us women that we need a brand new wardrobe again. I very rarely order clothes online, because I can’t try them on in advance and I know if the clothes aren’t a good fit, and they often aren’t, I have to go through the tedious process of returning them via mail. The catalog is filled with glossy page after page of smiling models, posing in perfect light and wearing clothes that always fit them just right. At the back of the catalog I find the size guide and accompanying it is a cheerful illustration of various body types with the headline announcing that all body shapes can find the perfect outfit within the pages of this catalog. Color me suspicious.

I peer more closely at these happy cartoon women and their labels. Apple, pear, triangle, hourglass, square. Which one of these am I? Which shape will I comfortably slot into? Big bust, big butt, small waist, no waist, small butt, small chest, curvy, thin, rotund. I don’t have to find out from this clothing supplier that women come in all shapes and sizes, that’s kind of obvious every time you step out into the world and just observe the people who walk past you on the street or sit opposite you on the subway. Yet, the curious thing is…That despite what this catalog is trying to tell me, clothing manufacturers don’t seem truly interested in catering to all the shapes of women that exist in the world.

If there is one thing that makes it painfully obvious that my current body shape does not slot into one of the available clothing shapes is when I go shopping for a new pair of pants because, for some reason, most jeans for women are cut almost the same way. They’re always tight-fitting and with a low waist, with an option of so low that you show off your panties when you bend over…If you can bend over in pants that tight! If I want looser pants, I’m suddenly told to try on something called “boyfriend jeans” that are extremely unflattering to any body shape that a woman can have. There exists no middle ground. Either you wear pants so tight that any inch of fat on your body is put on painful display for all to see, or you end up dressed like some 90s hip hop artist. I ended up going for the least tight pants, with the not-so-low waist, in a size larger than normal. Better to wear a belt, than to feel like I’m suffocating when I sit down. And the thing is, according to my BMI, I’m still within normal range for my age and gender.

There is clearly something wrong with the fashion industry today. Though you can find other clothes in larger sizes, finding something that compliments your shape is still much too hard. As long as you feel healthy and happy about your body, when why should you be forced to hide it, as if you are ashamed of it? Or then there’s the alternative that you end up looking like a well-stuffed sausage. I’m not sure which one I prefer.

While I ruminate on the subject of shape I am strangely reminded of my earliest fears when I finally pushed myself out of the closet. I didn’t have much contact with the LGBT community where I lived, beyond checking out the Pride parade every year and to be honest, that’s more about showing off and going wild than an accurate portrayal of the mundane day-to-day life of everyone in the gay community. I only saw all these shapes, all these labels for lesbians as I registered to the Nordic Gay and Queer Online Community. Was I femme, feminine, butch or one of many other things I had never heard of? If I could not readily say what I was, which shape that fit me, did that mean I didn’t belong?

Like trying on ill-fitting jeans in a stuffy dressing room, I tried on each of those labels, to see how they felt when plastered right next to my name on the site. I certainly was not one of those lesbians that dressed in baggy pants and shirts, hiding any sign of breast or curve to their body and with their hair cut short. Yet I was also not a traditionally feminine lesbian, who wore makeup and high-heels. In the end, much like my pants shopping experience I settled for something in between, definitely feminine, but not overly so and with a curiosity about traditionally male occupations and interests. I think my problem with the labels in the LGBT community was related to my problems with finding pants. Though the community offered up all these labels, I feared that not all of them would truly be accepted.

I think there might be something potentially damaging about creating too many labels, too many shapes to squeeze ourselves into.  It just gets confusing, when we try to find a labeled entity we can belong to, with the fear that the label does not exist in practice, so we’re instead showed into a shape we don’t quite fit. We have to realize that we all have something unique about us, while still sharing some things with others. It should be okay to identify with one thing to some extent, but still feel drawn to another. Though a general label can be a comforting thing, a general shape useful sometimes, we should still remember that one size does not fit all.

With time I have found my own comforting shape within the LGBT community, not quite subscribing to one sub-segment of the community, just like how I have embraced the current shape of my body. I might not fit into many other spaces, nooks and crannies out there, but I have enough places where I fit well enough that any discomfort does not register. And I have hope that I might one day find a place, a heart, a location that was made for my particular shape. As much as I don’t want to be sentimental, I do think we all have such a place waiting for us to find.

And if you are really curious, in the end I decided my body shape was a pear.

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