I'm a Man, I Shop at Forever 21, and that's OK

I knew there had to be a happy medium between channeling my usual “Sunday Afternoon Lesbian” and “quietly masculine bassist in a fringe-alternative band.”
Publish date:
November 9, 2011
Forever 21, token man, body dysmorphia, man boobs

I think my body is weird.As a child, I looked famished. Until puberty, I was so skinny that I had a protruding rib cage (JEALOUS, SUPERMODELS?).

But then, once the hair started growing and the voice started changing, I began training to be a lifeguard, which inexplicably turned me bulky. I mean, I suddenly shopping in the "husky" section (or what they so lovingly called “Talbots Woman” when I worked at Talbots) (P.S. I worked at Talbots!), but gone was the slender frame hidden deftly by an enormous starter jacket. Granted, it was the late 90s on Long Island, so everyone basically dressed like Missy Elliot, although most of us had no idea how important it was that only Missy look like that.I momentarily ballooned in college, and a homeless “entertainer” on the subway called me “the fat one” in front of my friends, which was a GREAT way to build immediate bonds freshman year, as we were headed uptown to a dance club, no less (“Do you guys think ‘the fat one’ will dance?”).Then I started to hit the gym, but only worked out for 20 minutes at a time, which conveniently burned off the calories packed into three Skittles (and, um, I liked Skittles a lot at the time).After college, I managed to make myself look reasonably more fit by spending entire workouts, soaking wet, on the StairMaster, but it wasn’t until I learned that lifting weights could actually change your shape that I became somewhat confident in my body. To be called “beefy” or “muscular” is now a compliment, even though, ideally, it would make me feel better if my body shape was “ripped” or “slim,” or some extreme sense of perfection drilled into my head by the media I consume with an allegedly diligent critical eye, but oh well.My sister insists that we were genetically handed the most “extreme” of body types, mine being hyper-masculine and hers being hyper-feminine in that she refers to her sizable chest as having “BOTS” or “Big Ol’ Titties” (we’re very close).

In fact, I’ve convinced myself I suffer from gynecomastia, better known as “man boobs.” I don’t actually have man boobs, but I’ve firmly convinced myself that the breast tissue around my nipples gives me the illusion of having “puffy nips” behind shirts and jackets, something you usually only see on adolescent girls. (Please don’t arrest me for noticing that, Police!)Being that fall (and, quickly enough, winter) has hit New York hard, I’ve been EBULLIENT to see summer end, since I sweat like a prostitute in church who sweats a lot. (Prostitutes should go to church whenever they want!) And what does fall mean besides apple picking, pumpkins, and new episodes of Happy Endings? A FALL WARDROBE!Cords! Jeans! Boots! It’s the season for looking like a handsome lumberjack. My boyfriend has convinced me to rid of my jeans, all of which are boot cut-style, and leave me looking like Wynonna Judd (don’t get me wrong: Wynonna Judd looks great, but I shouldn’t look like Wynonna Judd because I have a penis). But on a writer’s budget (#carriebradshawproblems), even premium straight-leg Levi’s are expensive. Lluckily, however, I’ve found a new favorite store: FOREVER 21.As a 28-year-old male who doesn’t care that much about what I wear (although this essay would have you think differently), my main haunts for clothes are usually Urban Outfitters, Club Monaco, Uniqlo, and The Gap. On a whim, however, I poked my head into Forever 21 just so see “what was up” with the men’s section. I had remembered going into the store in the mall near my parents’ house on Long Island when it opened, at which point the men’s section was minuscule and essentially fashioned for confident gay teenage boys who were still in that fresh-faced “LOOK AT ME,”, three-snaps phase. There was a lot of embroidered embellishments, I’ll say that much. Like, if Jon Gosselin was a twink who took down e-mail addresses on a clipboard at a suburban gay club called, like, SPICE BAR or HOUSE OF TAINT, that’s exactly what his closet would look like.However, the tides have turned and suddenly FOREVER 21 IS THE BEST STORE FOR A MAN LIKE ME. In an attempt to convince a nearsighted person that I’m Foster The People bassist Cubbie Fink (why isn’t he plastered on everyone’s bedroom wall because ZOMG HE MAKES MY PANTS MOVE), I’ve been ecstatic to see the men’s department at Forever 21 suddenly filled with things that grown-ups wear: fitted, chambray shirts, poly blend, woven cardigans, and “classy” hoodies with, like, “toggles,” which I initially called “ivory tusk-shaped buttons” because I didn’t know that they had a formal name until I found it on the Internet (thank you Internet!).In fact, initially, I had decided over the summer that I was going to dress like a cast member on early 90s Caucasian television drama "Thirtysomething," but my intention to channel Ken Olin turned more into a Timothy Busfield thing, if Timothy Busfield was fishing around in Melanie Mayron’s wardrobe.) (Lost yet?)I knew there had to be a happy medium between channeling my usual “Sunday Afternoon Lesbian” and “quietly masculine bassist in a fringe-alternative band.” And thanks to Forever 21, I’ve found one with some sweet [pumped-up] kicks, snug mustard-colored trousers, and a couple of hoodies that leave me looking put together in a way that has not only garnered me compliments, but left MANY A JAW AJAR when the owner of said jaw learned that my clothes come from the same place where her obnoxious niece bought her studded, belly-length poncho.I will continue to patronize Forever 21 as long as I remain convinced of my nonexistent manboobs, as no amount of shop-shaming me can make up for the fact that there, my gynecomastia is barely noticeable. Although it's not noticeable ANYWHERE, according to my boyfriend, best friends, sister, mother, father and that weird guy with whom I felt enough of a “spiritual connection” to ask about my chest while Ace Of Base played over the speakers and we shuffled in and out of pairs of pants.

Still, I realize that, on some days, my decision to pair up the store’s slim, distressed khakis with tweed high-tops and an aforementioned “classy” hoodie makes me look like less Cubbie and more like Whoopi.

But, whatever.