Transitioning to adulthood in leggings & a hoodie

How my childhood body insecurity has impacted my adult wardrobe

Kirby is striving to find a sense of personal style.
Photo: 

As  a child, I hated shopping for clothes. 

Every summer, I would have to be dragged to the mall by my family to buy new clothes for the upcoming school year. They would pull things off the shelves, trying exceptionally hard to find clothing I liked. On the rare occasion we would find something I was excited to try on, that excitement would end the minute I looked in the dressing room mirror. 

“I like it,” my mom would assure me. 

“It actually looks really good,” my older sister often added, worried that our mother’s enthusiasm would be taken as a signal that what I had on was totally lame.

The encouragement didn’t matter. All I could see were the parts of my body the clothes didn’t cover the way I’d hoped they would. 

Most of the time, I would leave the mall with only a few t-shirts, a hoodie, and a pair of jeans. These weren’t clothes I necessarily liked, but they felt relatively safe. I couldn’t bear looking at my legs in skinny jeans, so I would spend hours hunting for  boot-cut long after they had gone out of style. 

From the age I started choosing my own outfits, I didn’t pick my clothes based on trends or what I thought looked good. Instead, I chose whatever I felt could hide my body insecurities. 

When I started high school, my wardrobe shifted even further away from ‘fashionable.’ 

I found comfort in leggings, with their lack of a defined waistband and button. As I got older, I grew more insecure in my arms, leaving even t-shirts out of the question. Most of the time, I chose to wear a large hoodie with nothing but a bra underneath, a security policy that left me unable to take my sweater off even when I wanted to. I leaned into my comfortable look, wearing slippers to school most days and even carrying around a blanket in the winter. 

A ‘lazy’ style became what people expected of me. When peers made comments about my clothing, I chose to believe it was a good thing: if I could keep everyone focused on how bad my outfits were, they wouldn’t notice what my body looked like underneath. 

I knew I couldn’t hide behind my clothing forever. Eventually, I was going to become a real adult in a future where I would have to dress in a way that was at least semi-professional. 

In high school, that adult future existed in a far off, untouchable world that teenage me wasn’t concerned about. I had always imagined that once I graduated high school and moved away from home, I would fall into adulthood naturally. Your college years are supposed to be about growth and self-discovery, so it made sense to me that a natural spurt in confidence would gradually alter my style.

Moving from Vancouver to Kingston to attend Queen’s, I planned to use the fresh start to reinvent myself. I dreamed of becoming a version of myself that wore shorts without worry and wasn’t embarrassed in a tank top. I believed that the version of me at Queen’s would buy jeans and only wear sweaters when it was cold outside. I was determined to be confident and unapologetic as I walked around campus in clothes which asked to be stared at. 

After I arrived in Kingston, it didn’t take long to find out that a change in scenery wasn’t going to wipe away the years of insecurity and doubt that had plagued my adolescence. 

If anything, my university years have worsened my relationship with my wardrobe. While I expected being at Queen’s to challenge and push my sense of style forward, I found campus life to be incredibly accepting of my lazy, comfortable aesthetic. 

Kingston was a much colder climate than I was accustomed to, so my wardrobe choices started to centre around keeping me warm. Then, around the time I turned 19, my hips and breasts went through a last-ditch growth spurt, altering my body in a way I hadn’t experienced since early high school. 

The shock of how differently clothes were fitting me was enough to send me running back to leggings and hoodies because I could trust them to fit me no matter how much my body had changed. 

After six months of living in a pandemic-ridden world, I’m at an all-time low in terms of what I feel comfortable wearing. Even on days that nearly broke 30 degrees this summer, you could find me with a sweater on to cover my arms and stomach. 

In the last year, I’ve noticed my clothing purchases getting larger and larger while my body has stayed roughly the same size. The only t-shirts I wear are about three sizes too large, and any pair of pants with a waistband have been shoved to the back of my closet. 

With only two years left in my undergrad, I’m worried about how I’m supposed to transition into an adult world. I can’t walk into a professional setting dressed in leggings and a hoodie, but I never learned how to dress any other way. My obsession with hiding my body has impacted my life in a way I never expected: I feel clueless not only about general fashion, but personal style. While my friends can go to a store and find outfits that make them feel like themselves, I look at a rack of clothing and am left questioning who I am.

Every now and then, I make an effort to change how I dress. I open YouTube or Pinterest and start looking through the endless amount of content on how to dress better, but I usually give up around ‘everyone should own a black turtleneck.’ The online information about individual fashion is seemingly infinite but incredibly overwhelming if you’re not sure you could put on a miniskirt without wanting to cry. I feel far too old to be trying to learn how to assemble an outfit, and it’s discouraging. 

The process of shifting my wardrobe to one that is more acceptable for the professional world is not only emotionally daunting, but incredibly expensive. The clothes I’ve purchased over the last few years were never intended to do anything but hide my insecurities. If I were to make changes in my wardrobe now, it would be a ground-up process I’m scared to begin. I can’t afford to buy clothes without knowing whether I’ll end up wearing them. 

The barriers are obvious: money, lack of experience, and insecurity are significant factors which have prevented me from stepping into a more adult wardrobe. I realize there’s never going to be a stage in my life where all of those barriers suddenly go away; I’m going to have to fight my insecurities and actively work towards finding clothes that make me feel like myself. I’m going to have to commit to starting that process now. 

I recognize that a lifetime of body insecurities isn’t going to disappear overnight. It might be a long time before I feel comfortable outside of oversized and dull clothing. However, the hard work is going to be worth it if I can one day control my clothing choices instead of letting them control me. 

 

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