A Complicated Relationship with Pants
The first time a pair of pants made me hate myself, I was twelve.
Thanks to a rapid series of back-to-back growth spurts, I grew out of my favorite pair of jeans: a super cute pair of flares from Old Navy with flowers embroidered around the pockets.
As a kid, I didn’t draw the line between the growth spurts and outgrowing the pants. I had spent enough time in the magazine-lined grocery store check out aisles to know that when a woman grew out of a pair of pants, it was a very bad thing. The headlines that splashed across the covers of Women’s Health and Cosmo told me so. Pictures of scrawny orange women holding up giant pants were captioned “How I went down ten pants sizes!” “Go down two pants sizes in one month!” None of these women were celebrating going up in pants sizes, and to my observant 12 year old mind it became very clear that one should only strive to go down in pants size, never up.
So, when I grew out of my favorite flares, I was devastated. Thankfully, those magazines carried a promise: if you tried hard enough, you could go down in pants size. There was hope for me yet that I could once again fit into my favorite pair of jeans.
The next time I went to the grocery store with my mom, I snagged a copy of Seventeen magazine. I knew that it had a “health” section, which included what exercises to do to get a flat tummy. Flat tummies were the main objective of the health section, and a flat tummy apparently was directly correlated to smaller pants sizes.
When I got home from the grocery store with my Seventeen magazine in hand, I rushed to my bedroom, shut the door behind me, and flopped onto the floor. I whipped open the magazine and flipped through the pages until I arrived at the “health” section. I made note of all the foods I shouldn’t eat, mostly sugary foods but also fatty foods and foods that had carbs in them or too much protein. It turned out if you wanted to have a good acceptable body, there were lots of things you shouldn’t eat.
Once I had a clear list of what I could and could not eat if I wanted to fit back into my favorite pants, I flipped to the exercise section. There was a tear-out page with a series of ab workouts. Aha! Yes. This is what I was looking for. I set right to work. I contorted myself into strange variations of crunches, all of which made me feel like I was trying to head butt my own crotch. I cycled through the movements again and again for what felt like hours, sure that I could right the wrong of outgrowing my pants if I just head butted my own crotch enough times.
When my mom called down to say it was time for dinner, I tried on the pants one more time to see if all this fervent exercise had made any difference. I felt defeated when the flares still didn’t fit.
Luckily, the magazine had a tip for weight loss motivation: keep a visual representation of your goal somewhere where you’ll see it every day. I grabbed some tacks from my desk and hung the jeans on the wall. Every day when I woke up I’d see the pants and be reminded of how much I’d hate myself until I could fit into them again, thus motivating me to stop eating so many donuts and do more crunches.
I don’t need to tell you that I never fit into those pants again. I grew out of those pants because I was a child growing into a teenager, not because I gained unnecessary weight as the magazines convinced me. If I could talk to the girl I was then, I’d tell her straight up that we would never fit into those pants again because growing out of your clothes is something normal that happens to everyone as we cycle through life’s changes, not something to be ashamed of.
Part of me feels sad for the girl I was because I know how much pain those pants brought her. It was the first time she thought something was inherently wrong with her body and it opened the floodgates to over a decade of complicated body shame, dieting, and overexercise.
However, with the benefit of hindsight in recovery, I can also laugh about this. How ridiculous, tacking up a pair of pants on the wall. How silly, straining to do crunches until my abdomen was so sore I could barely laugh. How delusional, thinking I had any control at all over biological time or the shape of my growing body. So much mental and emotional energy went into this self-inflicted body shaming ritual that I could have dedicated to literally anything else that sparked more joy than a stupid pair of pants.
Now, I have pants that fit the body I have, and they don’t make me feel anything but hot.