Step number six in my “Seven Steps to Breaking Up With Diet Culture”, is to clean out your closet.
You might be thinking, “what does my closet have to do with diet culture?” A lot.
It’s no secret that most of us have a closet full of clothes that can sometimes span years, if not decades, of our lives. Sometimes we hold onto things for sentimental reasons like a favorite concert t-shirt or that old worn sweater that’s so soft and comfy you just know you’ll never find another one like it.
Oftentimes however, because we’ve spent years trapped in a cycle of chronic dieting causing our bodies to change, the clothes filling our closets no longer fit us. Some are too big, some are too small. Some we bought not because we loved them, but because they worked well to hide parts of ourselves we didn’t want to be seen. And some we just look at, roll our eyes and wonder, “What was I thinking?”
For the purposes of breaking up with diet culture, let’s focus on the clothes that no longer fit us, especially the ones that are too small. Why are they still hanging there? What purpose are they serving?
I thought about this the other day as I had to pour through my closet to find a few different outfits to use for a photo shoot. I hadn’t had such a close encounter with my closet in some time and it was a real eye opener. It also triggered a lot of feelings and I quickly had to shut down my inner critic and quiet my eating disorder voice. They were about to have a field day and I was not going to allow that to happen.
What stood out to me most was that none of the clothes left in my closet were too big. No, I was quick to get rid of all of those a few years ago after I had lost a lot of weight on what would become my last diet. That stint with dieting sent me into a tailspin of point counting and eating disorder behaviors and I know that story never ends well.
Why was I so quick to get rid of my larger size clothes that no longer fit? Why was I holding on, for dear life, to the clothes that were too small for me? Then, like a slap in the face, it hit me. Getting rid of all my bigger sized clothing was nothing more than fatphobia brought on by diet culture. I swore I would never be THAT size again. I didn’t want to look at them anymore and I was ashamed to have them in my closet. Yet, the clothes I owned that were too small for me hung there like beacons of hope that someday, if I worked hard enough to shrink my body, would fit.
Some I had worn and simply grown out of as my body changed, and some I had purchased knowing they were too small but assigning them the task of being motivators for some magical time in the future when my body went back to the same size I was in high school. I imagined how I would wear that sleeveless, wraparound dress one day to a fancy party and everyone would compliment me on what a great dress it was and how good I looked. The reality was, I didn’t even like that dress and I don’t really go to fancy parties that often.
Did I enjoy the feelings of shame and failure I experienced every time I opened my closet and saw those clothes hanging there? No. So why did I let them torment me, hanging there for me to look at every time I reached for my favorite baggy sweater? The answer: diet culture.
Diet culture warped my thinking into believing I couldn’t be happy until I changed my body to fit my clothes. That I somehow lacked motivation or willpower to shrink small enough to be worthy of being seen in the world. And it’s total bullshit! The size of our clothes, as well as the size of our bodies, does not measure the size of our worth. We are just as valuable and worthy of living in this world as the next person whether we’re wearing a size 2 or a size 22, just as we are no different if we’re wearing a sleeveless wrap around dress or a pair of jeans and a big comfy sweater. It is not our job to make our bodies fit into clothes. It is the clothing manufacturers’ job to make clothes that fit our bodies.
So, set aside some time to clean out YOUR closet and be gentle with yourself as you do. If challenging thoughts arise, acknowledge them, thank them for showing up and send them on their way. Donate the gently worn clothes for someone else to enjoy and throw out the rest. By keeping only what you actually wear and what fits you right now, you’ll be showing your body compassion and respect and will have taken another brave step into breaking up with diet culture.