health

Let's talk about the clothes every woman has that don't fit now, but might 'one day'.

This post deals with themes of body image that might be triggering for some readers.

Yours could be tucked away under your bed or pushed to one end of your wardrobe. They could be squished back behind a pile of shoes. Tucked up high on a shelf you can’t reach. A single dress hung in a dry-cleaning bag.

Mine take up three boxes stacked on top of one another in my spare room. Three boxes full of clothes that don’t fit now, but might ‘one day’.

Before I moved into my current place and had the luxury of a spare room, they hung on my $15 clothes rack. It heaved under the pressure and often toppled over in the middle of the night. Before that, it was under my bed in flat storage containers I’d wheel out and open up whenever I felt like taking a gamble on my self-esteem.

It’s a very privileged problem to have – owning too many clothes – but when none of them fit you, it’s all you see when you get dressed every morning. Not clothes that are too small, but a body that’s too big.

WATCH: I spoke alongside other Aussie women about my relationship with my body in the video below. Oh and I did it in a pair of swimmers. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia

Like me, you might’ve been holding onto your too small clothes for years. Or like my mum before me, even decades. Clothes you don’t like anymore are easy to donate or give away. But small clothes? You’ve got to hold onto them just in case. Sure, you won’t be able to wear them anytime soon, but you’d kick yourself if you threw them out because, after all, you’re not going to be the size you are now forever, right?

This is the message my too small clothes tell me. Yours might say something different.

‘I’ll start eating healthy on Monday. I‘ll lose the weight before the wedding. I’ll look great in this once I’ve lost a few kgs.’ 

And just when I think I’ve forgotten about mine, something will remind me they still exist. A photo on Instagram. A Facebook memory. A dress online I really love that looks an awful lot like one I already own…

Even when they’re packed away, these clothes are a reminder my body in its current shape, size and weight is temporary. An incomplete project I’ve been working on for 17 years.

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When I brought up my box(es) of too small clothes with a group of women at work, everyone in the room nodded. Some let out a murmur. Others a wry smile. Because, of course, I am not the only woman in the world who owns clothes that don’t fit. In fact, you’d struggle to find a single woman who doesn’t own at least one thing at this very moment that isn’t even the littlest bit too tight.

amy clark clothes
This is just one of my boxes of clothes that don't fit. They represent who I wish I could be. Image: Supplied/Amy Clark.

Whether it's a single pair of 'skinny jeans', a dress for a special occasion or a whole season's worth of clothes you bought to celebrate hitting a number on the scale, we need to talk about the very real impact they have on how we feel about our bodies, just the way they are right now.

When Shape Your Mind Director and Clinical Psychologist Olivia Patrick described it to me as always seeing yourself as the 'before' photo waiting for the 'after' to happen, it clicked for me.

"We are constantly sold the idea that smaller is better. Keeping clothes that are too small is like hanging onto the dream of having a smaller body," she said.

"But more than that, I think we're explicitly encouraged by weight loss companies to do this. The same as keeping an old photo of yourself on the fridge, hanging onto a small dress, or buying one on purpose, is sold to us as a motivational tool."

How we collect the clothes in the first place plays into the same narrative - smaller people wear smaller, cuter clothes - but for any of us who have been bigger and then smaller, part of it is finally getting accepted into the club after being excluded from fashion for so long.

"When we are at a smaller weight, we just tend to buy more clothes, and clothes we actually like that we haven't been able to find before. But the fact is, when we're at our lowest weight, it's not always a sustainable weight, which means we end up with clothes we really love that don't fit. Rather than accepting they don't fit, we keep them because we love them, just in case."

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Patrick confirmed what I already knew about my three boxes of too small clothes. Just having them in my apartment prevents me from accepting my body as it is at this point in time. I don't have to love my body to accept it, but I can't even get there if I don't take the first step.

Just get rid of your clothes. Sounds simple. But if it was, we'd have done it already.

Mia Freedman spoke with body image activist Taryn Brumfitt about her mission to address body image issues in society, before we raise another generation of humans who hate themselves. Listen in the podcast episode below, post continues after audio.

Many of Patrick's patients have a history of eating disorders and disordered eating, and many don't. Always, her first suggestion isn't to throw out your clothes that don't fit, but to start by buying some that do. The catch is, you have to like them.

She said, "So often if we're a size we're not comfortable with or in a body that's larger than it used to be, we won't buy clothes now because we're not planning on wearing them for very long. Or, we buy 'make do clothes' - clothes we don't like and kind of fit, but don't cost much. We end up with this wardrobe of 'fat clothes' we don't like and 'thin clothes' we wish we could wear.

"Within your budget, go out and buy clothes that fit you now, that you like and feel comfortable in. The end goal, no matter whether you're planning on staying the same size or not, is to end up with a wardrobe of clothes you feel great in that fit and none that don't. Because when you wear clothes that fit, you can get on with living your life. The whole idea of having a body isn't about what it looks like. Looking at it that way actually stops you from living."

Everything Patrick told me about my three boxes of too small clothes makes perfect sense. Theoretically speaking, I could chuck them in the back of my car and drive them to the nearest charity drop off bin tomorrow.

But I'll be honest. I'm not ready to get rid of them yet. I'm not ready to let go of the body I wish I had - a body that fits into size eight jeans and doesn't have to worry about how it looks in a pair of shorts.

Now when I look at those clothes, I can finally acknowledge that truth. And that's a great first step.

For help and support for eating disorders, contact your GP or the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected]. You can also visit their website, here.  

Does this resonate with? Do you hold onto clothes that don't fit? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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