Clothing sizes used to be a big cause of distress for me.
Fitting rooms were a source of pure shame: I was conditioned by messaging that any size above a 10 was undesirable and something to be embarrassed about, and my ever-fluctuating (but never as small as a size 10) body just never measured up.
I was desperate to try and squeeze myself into sizes that just weren’t for me and I would sometimes even walk away from shops with those sizes, knowing that a higher number just wasn’t an option for me.
Squeezing my body into a size too small and dealing with the ensuing discomfort seemed favourable to purchasing the same item was a bigger size on the label.
Being ruled by the size label in my clothes made me feel very restricted: to certain shapes and styles of clothes – ones that were generally looser as it was easier to get away with a smaller size – and also stores, ones that I knew had more generous sizing than others.
I would leave shops and changing rooms feeling so deflated, sad and ashamed. I’d go home and scrutinise my body. I’d look at myself in the mirror and feel despair… Sometimes even anger: Why didn’t I fit that size 10? It must be my hips, or my bum or my boobs.
The feelings of shame caused me to spiral and I had some really low moments triggered by clothing sizes. I think maybe I didn’t even realise at the time it was the clothing sizes having the impact, rather than my body. I wish I could go back and tell the younger me that there was nothing wrong with my body; it just wasn’t the right size for me.
I often think of all the great clothes I left in the shop or sent back because they didn’t ‘fit’ me or weren’t what I considered my size. I wish I could go back and tell myself to ignore that little label and just dress my shape, which is unique to me, even if that means sizing up or even down.
Now I look back and realise just how sad that was.
Thankfully, I now have a much healthier relationship when it comes to clothing sizes and shopping. By talking extensively about body confidence and diet culture online, I have built resilience to clothing size.
A big part of this is knowing that the industry sizing standards can vary so drastically from retailer to retailer – and, actually, as I have grown to accept my changing body, I’ve realised it’s about the garment, not the number on the label in the back of it. if I don’t feel comfortable, I will now size up to the point that it fits and feels good.
I am different sizes depending on where I shop, which is frustrating, but it’s the world we live in. They’re irrelevant and no one sees them, so we shouldn’t let them rule us.
I started to accept myself and accept that we’re all built to be different shapes and sizes and that this is mine – and why shouldn’t I embrace that? I was sick of not allowing myself to live fully because of my body, because I believed it wasn’t good enough.
I missed out on a lot – holidays, social occasions, memories with my friends and family – because I was ashamed about my size. I’m now super passionate about helping other women to realise they are not a ‘before’ picture, either, and that they deserve to live their lives as an ‘after’ picture. It’s for this reason that I really loved being a guest on Simply Be’s brand new podcast Shaping Success which celebrates women, as they believe as an inclusive retailer that fashion should fit every single body.
One thing I always say to people who tell me they’re struggling with their bodies is: You're not alone. So many people feel like this, and it's absolutely not your fault.
I strongly believe that we have to be kinder to ourselves. We allow so much negative self-talk – the vast majority of which we would never dream of saying to someone that we love - and we can really lack self-compassion.
Why don’t we celebrate our bodies for what they do? Easier said than done, especially living in a world so focused on appearance and thinness, but it shouldn’t be about how we look: our bodies are powerful, incredible vessels that keep us alive so we can experience new things, bring life into the world, travel…
It was only when I started to be kind to myself and just gave myself a break that I felt things turn around so I’d say, before you put that dress back, and feel hopeless, just really tackle that inner critic, and simply try the size up.
Focus on your shape and what makes you feel good. Pick garments that you genuinely love – not ones that you deem ‘flattering’ (a word that has become synonymous with slimming) – and make you happy.
What does it matter what size is it? You never have to tell anyone and if you’re initially struggling with the concept of sizing up, you can cut the label out of the garment. It could be a good transitional idea to becoming more comfortable with your body whatever size it is.
And lastly, I’m sending lots of love to anyone struggling with this. I know how hard it is and I know how all-consuming it can be, but every bit of progress you make is something to be acknowledged and celebrated and I promise it gets better.
Listen to Alex on Simply Be's Shaping Success podcast, available on all audio platforms.