The Hand-Me-Down Pants That Changed Me

pants embrace my body man repeller

When I graduated college and took my first steps into the so-called “adult world,” my mother bestowed upon me three precious gifts. The first were pearls of wisdom, such as, “Never leave the house without cortisone cream,” and “Everyone who’s mean to you is just jealous.” The second was lodging, a sanctuary in which I could collect my bearings while exploring my new state of existence—otherwise known as getting my sh*t together in my childhood bedroom. And the third was a beautiful pair of tailored, black silk pants. She handed them down to me as if passing a baton, and as I ran my fingers down the seams, I felt a sense of purpose. It was my turn to carry the vestments to victory.

pants embrace my body man repeller

My mother explained that the pants were once a prized possession, but she had outgrown them—in taste, attitude, and fit. I could picture her at my age, dressed to the nines, galavanting around Greenwich Village in the 80s, a cigarette hanging from her lips. In my imagination, the pants held a certain power; they were crafted for a woman who knows exactly where she’s headed and why. They entered my life at a time when I felt directionless, and they embodied a confidence I so desperately craved. I had no idea what I believed in, so I chose to believe in the pants.

There was just one problem: I couldn’t wiggle them up past my thighs, no matter how hard I pulled at the waistband or sucked in my abdomen. I panicked. My mirage of piecing my life together one pant leg at a time began to dissipate. I grew acutely aware of how much space I was taking up in the room and felt suffocated by my own skin and bones. I resolved at once to do whatever it took to fit into them, too recommit to the prophecy of the pants. And thus commenced a series of Hail Mary’s—of desperate attempts to shrink the circumference of myself, no matter the cost.

Some days, I’d push myself so hard I’d break down in tears.

I sampled fad diets like hors d’oeuvres, chewing some up and spitting others out. I juice cleansed and I keto’d, attempting to grow full of my own emptiness. Counting calories became a metric by which I measured my days, constantly deleting and redownloading apps that spammed me with endless notifications and negative thoughts. Each diet would fill me with a false sense of fulfillment until I fell off the wagon, then I’d pick myself back up my bootstraps and drag myself back to the church of try-this-and-that, where I’d chant my mantra: The pants! The pants! THE PANTS!

I began spending every penny I earned on expensive class packages and “immersive” workout experiences. Sweat became my holy water and I grew to associate pain with progress. I pedaled and pliéd until my legs ached. I doubled down on fast-paced yoga flows, ridding my body of evil spirits and toxins. Some days, I’d push myself so hard I’d break down in tears. But when I felt my knees buckle beneath me, I looked to the pants to provide solace. They always delivered.

By this point, the pants had begun to possess a God-like sovereignty, so nearly eight months later, when I found them hanging in the back of my closet, it was with the most utmost care that I decided to try them on. I slowly stepped into each pant leg, held my breath, prepared for resistance, and then, to my surprise, fastened the front buttons with ease. I closed my eyes and waiting for the ecstasy to wash over me, but instead, curiously, I felt nothing. I opened my eyes, furrowed my brow, and studied my reflection until I came to a stunning realization: I hated the pants.

I had pushed my mental and physical boundaries too far, putting my body through so much duress and manipulation that I’d lost sight of myself.

I hated them. I loathed the way they fit my body, clinging to my hips and pooling awkwardly at the ankle. I resented the way the fabric wrinkled as I walked, how humid it felt against my skin. I ripped them off and threw them across the room. I was furious. I had spent months envisioning this moment, believing it would repay me in self-esteem what months of discipline had taken from me. I deserved this. But as I paced back and forth from my closet to my mirror, a question rose to the surface: Did I ever like the pants?

pants embrace my body man repeller

I knew I hadn’t. Suddenly it was clear I’d been using them as a control mechanism—a false sense of purpose during an aimless time. And I had pushed my mental and physical boundaries too far, putting my body through so much duress and manipulation that I’d lost sight of myself. This revelation was a chance to revert my pattern of thinking, to get reacquainted with the parts of my identity that I’ve always worn with pride: My father’s dry wit, my mother’s cheekbones. A path to self-acceptance rather than self-love.

I’ve since had the privilege of stumbling upon parts of myself through many different pairs of pants, a process of discovery akin to dating. And while I’ve had casual flings with countless pairs, I’ve only gotten serious with a select few: a pair of white high-waisted, wide-legged Zara jeans, a pair thrifted leopard-print, cotton-voile pajama pants that were never meant to be worn outdoors, and the pair of worn-in Levi’s that found me in a sea of denim, off the $5 rack at L-Train vintage. I’d tried on so many jeans that day that both my thighs and optimism had begun to chafe. But I was drawn to this particular pair’s color; they were such an honest shade of blue. When I tried them on, something internally clicked. There was no need to contort my body—they fastened symbiotically, embracing me as I am. Like the rest of us, the pants came with baggage: a gaping hole near the left side crotch. But I brought them home anyway, and stitched them up myself. Separately, we’re a couple of misfits. Together, we’re a work in progress.

Photos provided by Iman Hariri-Kia.

Iman Hariri-Kia

Iman Hariri-Kia is a New York-based writer, musician, activist, and Bustle's Sex & Relationships Editor. You can often find her performing songs about those who wronged her in Middle School.

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