Improving My Body Image, One Pair of Non-Skinny Jeans at a Time

Consciously choosing to wear clothing that fits well and makes me feel good is one of the most effective things I’ve done to counteract the taxing mental fog of bad body image I still, after so many years, can’t seem to shake. It felt like a breakthrough tantamount to discovering electricity. I guess that’s how logic manifests in a pretty extravagant case of brainwashing: by accident.

When skinny jeans departed from the zeitgeist after a solid nine-year streak, the wide-leg culotte silhouette that replaced them was a welcome reprieve. Where wearing skinny jeans felt like an unwelcome anatomy lesson, wide-leg, high-waist cropped jeans felt…compassionate. It’s an odd word to associate with clothes, I know, but in this case it’s apt.

Wearing culottes wasn’t a magic trick that made me love my body, but it did make me think about my body less. They had literal and figurative wiggle room. The extra space to breathe and expand and roll and ripple — that’s what felt compassionate.

Like all trends, though, this one was doomed from the beginning, and there came a point of over-saturation whereupon culottes just weren’t that exciting anymore. I sensed the trend pendulum starting to swing back to more constricting shapes like straight-leg raw denim, but I wasn’t ready to let go of wide-legged freedom, even as it became noticeably less fresh.

As I digested this realization, I felt a familiar sense of conflict. While I’ve always been keen to let fashion’s fickle trend tides sweep me up in whatever direction they choose to head, I’m mournful when they inevitably move away from a style or item that made me feel like my best self. (I’m looking at you, off-the-shoulder tops.)

The transient nature of trends means that “cool” and “flattering to me personally” don’t necessarily overlap every time. (To clarify: by “flattering,” I am referring to whatever makes your emotional self feel like a million bucks, which obviously varies immensely from person to person).

In my wardrobe’s long-standing game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, trend beat flattery time and time again. I purchased things that I rarely wore, or if I did, that made me feel self-conscious. My love for wide-leg pants was the first time the scales tipped. Flattery beat trend fade-out. I bought two more pairs — one white, the other hot pink — and I’m currently eyeing some corduroy options to round out my expanding, multi-seasonal collection.

Once I realized how good it felt, it unleashed the flood from behind a dam I didn’t know existed. I bought a high-waist bikini from Marysia that I delighted in wearing so much I decided I would continue to do so for as long as the delight lasted, no matter what swimwear trends cropped up in the meantime. I also gave away any item in my closet that failed to properly celebrate the distinct composite of skin, cells, bones and guts that works in miraculous harmony to keep me alive.

I expected this shift in thinking to hamper my sense of personal style, which I always proudly characterized as experimental. Instead, it sharpened it, making me more confident than ever about what I wanted to wear and why.

I still experiment, but I try to do so in a way that feels curious instead of compulsory. If I don’t like how I feel in something, I don’t have to wear it. In the end, there’s nothing cooler than that.

Feature image by Horst P. Horst via Getty Images.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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