Recovering from My Eating Disorder Helped Me Learn to Love Fashion Again

Now that the ED voice in my head is muffled, clothes aren't a means of gauging how close I am to the "perfect body."
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Mary Sukala
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Now that the ED voice in my head is muffled, clothes aren't a means of gauging how close I am to the "perfect body."

I was never one of those girls who guzzled down Vogue like sugar-free peach tea. I've never reached an "average" weight, let alone "morbidly obese," and no one has ever called me "fat." But somehow, at the age of 12, I developed an eating disorder anyway; one that has woven in and out of my life ever since. 

It manifested itself in countless ways, but the sneakiest aspect of it was the way it affected my perception of clothes over the years. The eating disorder made the number on the tag everything. I've had a long and unusual journey with my personal style, feelings about size, and my relationship with fashion as a whole.

Now, I wear what I want — no matter what the size is.

Now, I wear what I want — no matter what the size is.

I spent half my life in a tight-knit unit of a mom, a dad, two fellow triplet sisters, and another sister, a partner-in-crime, two years younger. A little brother arrived on the scene when I was 10, but my childhood was pretty much over by the time he was old enough to be blamed for any shenanigans.

My sisters and I were home-schooled until we entered seventh grade (fifth grade for my little sister), and when we came to public school, it was a major shock. I wasn't used to eating in public. Paralyzing anxiety slammed me every day at 10:53 a.m., and that, in part, is what first triggered my eating disorder. 

It started with picking at my lunch like a bird and tossing most of it in the trash because I was too nervous to choke it all down. It quickly became just as much about having a flat stomach and "looking good." By the end of seventh grade, I was skipping lunch and breakfast and bingeing every day after school, well into the evening, because my body and brain were screaming for sustenance. All of my sisters struggled with eating in front of other people, too. They grew out of it, but I haven't completely shaken the eating issues that it sprung up in me.

My sisters and I were also the recipients of plenty of hand-me-downs from a variety of people until around the age of 13. Trying to keep four growing girls in clothes is one of the quickest ways for a family on the poorer side to break the bank, and we couldn't swing it. It didn't really bother me. I felt like apparel was just something to keep you toasty in the winter and covered-up in the summer. 

School made it a different story, though. Our thrifted clothes — mostly baggy jeans and worn t-shirts — set us apart from the kids with brand-new American Eagle jean shorts and Charlotte Russe tops, and this was just another bullet point on the laundry list that made us different and targets for bullying.

The hand-me-down cycle ended in the summer before eighth grade when my grandparents took us back-to-school shopping, but it wasn't until around Christmas of my sophomore year that my idea of style changed. A kindhearted couple who knew my priest noticed that my parents had a pretty large flock of kids while visiting. They struggled financially when their kids were younger and knew how difficult getting everyone garbed up could be at times. They passed several gift cards for clothing stores off to him to give us. To this day, I don't know who they are, but this seemingly little act turned things around. 

For the first time, clothes weren't just covering for my body. It dawned on me that I could use fashion as a way of blending in and getting a chance at acceptance from my classmates. I bought what would become my staple wardrobe for the next two years: oversized sweaters, loose, flow-y blouses, crop tops that draped over camisoles, and ultra-tight skinny jeans. Also, for the first time, I got compliments from people on what I was wearing, and it felt amazing. From then on, I never left the house without looking completely put-together.

After that, I continued to add to my stash here and there. I'm very petite, so I've ranged from larger children's clothes sizes to the lowest junior's sizes in pants. This is where my ED colors things. It started out with an obsession with being as tiny as possible. I felt a rush of excitement when the children's size 14 boot-cut jeans slid over my butt without any jumping. Then the size-12 skinnies. At one point, I could almost get into a size 10, a size many nine-year-olds have outgrown. 

I slowly began refusing to try on certain sizes. If a kid's size 12 didn't fit, I would try the 14 slim. And if 14 slim didn't fit, I would move on to a different brand. 

The same later occurred with juniors sizes.

I've moved past the looks I lusted after in school.

I've moved past the looks I lusted after in school.

A few months ago, I decided to finally kick anorexia to the curb, put on weight, and commit to recovery. I felt like I'd made many strides in beating my disorder, and as a pat on the back for my hard work and accommodation to my weight gain, I treated myself to some new denim. 

But here's the catch: I didn't stray from the size zeros. I was bent on finding zeros that fit me, and eventually found a single pair. I wouldn't even venture to the next size up. I casually flipped through the dresses and steered clear of mediums, limiting myself to smalls. The idea that there are good and bad sizes was so ingrained in my mind that I didn't even realize what I was doing until recently.

Now that my weight is fully restored and the ED voice in my head is considerably muffled, clothes aren't a means of gauging how close I am to the "perfect body." Fashion is a means of self-expression for me. And now that I'm out of high school and more independent as a whole, I've stopped caring what other people say my style should look like and started dressing in things that make me feel the most like myself.

Trends mean nothing to me anymore. It's not a vain or materialistic thing for me, though; I just love putting together outfits that mix opposing parts of my personality, like combat boots and long cardigans with a quirky graphic tee underneath. The first thing people notice about me is what I'm wearing, so I like to give them a glimpse into the different sides of me right away.

I've stopped getting hung up on numbers. If something is two sizes larger than what I used to consider ideal but fits like a dream, I'm buying it anyway. No one but me knows the size on the tag; no one ever cared. And now, I can honestly say that I don't care, either.