• Jenna Sylvester

The Weight of Style

Art by @fempowerart

I’m moving for the first time in my life, and I am suddenly faced with the question of style. I’ve gone through my closet, pulling out the ghosts of fashion’s past and setting them aside to donate. I’m reminded of all the phases my closet has housed, from my preppy high school days to the stained, thrifted clothes I bought hastily after gaining weight and falling deep into a negative body image mindset. I’ve kept almost all of it, hoarding the various items of clothing in stuffed-full drawers and unlabeled boxes shoved in corners. Over the years as I try and thin out my clothes, I’ve mostly parted with the skirts and dresses and overly “feminine” things I wore before coming out as non-binary. They didn’t and don’t feel like me anymore, and having these outdated clothes that are more than ten sizes too small for me makes me feel awful about myself - but I keep them just in case that changes because I don’t want to waste anything.

When I buy new clothes, I buy them with the intention of wearing them until they fall apart. Even once they do fall apart, I keep them as rags or for art projects. I know how damaging fast fashion is to the environment, and so I try to thrift as much as I can. But it’s incredibly disheartening and exhausting to battle my body dysphoria and the ever-shifting sizes of “women’s” jeans in the dressing room at the same time. I also tend to give up when faced with the task of going shopping. I am what’s classified as “midsized” - the most privileged on the fat scale - where I’m large enough that the “regular” sizing is too small, but the “plus-sized” sizing is too big. I have strange proportions, a lack of money, too little patience, and no idea what my body actually looks like because of my intense body dysphoria.

I’m also facing the dilemma of combating waste while not abandoning style as I try and furnish my new apartment. I’m moving in with my partner, and I have fought against buying any brand-new item. I’ve forbidden any IKEA purchases, instead dragging us both to the massive warehouse full of cheap antiques to browse for a wardrobe, a couch, and a coffee table. Finally, my partner convinced me that buying a new couch will not be the end of the world, and that the money saved on an old, mildew-y couch that stinks of stale cigarettes will not be worth the amount of time I will spend cleaning it. However, I have won the debate on the coffee table.

In my 25 years, there’s been a very short period of time in which I felt comfortable and confident in my personal style. It was after I came out as non-binary, but before I gained ~50lbs. I wore my mom’s old band t-shirts from her teenage years with straight legged jeans. I wore flannels, I had shoulder-length hair dyed half green. I was studying abroad and I felt sure of myself, knowing that I was strong enough to hike any mountain I faced. Once I came back from my semester there, I fell into an intense depression. My body started changing and I blamed it on my birth control, on a non-existent thyroid condition, on my dorm room. I changed everything I could think of, but my body continued to grow; the dark purple stretch marks climbing their way around my torso, thighs, and breasts.

I think it was around this time that I began to reject style. I decided that if I couldn’t be the skinny version of myself that could easily pull off any gendered clothes, I would instead lean away from taking care of myself. I started taking pride in how little I showered, how I never worked out, how I would never again pay for a haircut because I could just do it myself and it came out fine (this was not true). I rejected any image-conscious care and told myself I was rejecting vanity. I made the decision to abandon any semblance of style, because I didn’t know how to shift it to include my changed body. I felt like this until very recently.

I am moving into my new apartment in one week. My current place is full of furniture I pulled from dumpsters or scavenged from friends and family before they threw it away. Almost everything has some kind of defect, but because it still does its job well enough, I refuse to abandon it. I was prepared to take the same mindset to my closet, dragging along whatever I had because they were still clothes that covered my body, and that’s all they were meant to do, but something changed.

On a whim, I booked a haircut. The first professional haircut I’d have paid for in years. I had given myself such awful trims during the pandemic, and I just wanted to have someone even it out. My hair was a triangle just below my ears, lank and fried from haphazard bleach jobs and sloppy coloring. I told the hairdresser that I didn’t care what she did, that she had the reigns and I trusted her, still deep in the mindset that my reflection would never live up to what I wanted it to be. But she gave me the best haircut I’ve ever had.

I cried when I got home. It took a second to get used to it, but my hair finally made me look a little more like me. My friends and family sent an overwhelming number of messages telling me how good it looked, which made the tears come even harder. I cried because I was mourning the years I lost to purposefully not taking care of myself. I cried because I was so frustrated that all it took was the right haircut for me to feel less pressure about my looks. All of a sudden, it felt like some of the parts of my closet that I had locked away were available to me again. The haircut embodied my personality and gender identity so well that I no longer had to rely solely on my closet to express myself, which took so much of the pressure off. Suddenly, I could wear something more low-cut or feminine and still feel like I looked non-binary (whatever that means).

In the one week since the haircut, I’ve taken multiple shirts to the sewing machine and made them into something I like much better. I’ve started wearing real outfits every day instead of my pajamas. I’ve revived old pieces from the depths of the boxes and put them back into active rotation. While most of those boxed-up clothes I will keep just in case I lose the weight, an unhealthy and unhelpful idea that I’m not ready to let go of just yet, I am finally feeling like I know how to find my style again. Although I still see a stranger in the mirror most days, I think we’re slowly but surely getting to know each other.


Words: Jenna Sylvester

Art: Fempower Art