Credit: Megan Kirby

Every time I opened my closet, I saw the jumpsuit. Thick denim, dark blue, with a wide 70s-style lapel—beautiful, even on the hanger. Whenever I spotted it, my heart sank. Because it used to fit me, and now it didn’t.

I know all bodies change, but I feel betrayed when mine does. Over 18 months of weathering the pandemic, my body shifted, but my wardrobe stayed the same: gorgeous plus-sized vintage clothes I could no longer pull up over my thighs or button over my chest. I’d sift through the hangers with a certain wistful toxicity: Maybe one day I’ll be that skinny again. It didn’t feel good to constantly compare my current self to my past self, but it also felt involuntary, as mindless as checking my Twitter notifications.

In my heart, I knew it was time to be merciless. I needed to get rid of all of the clothes that didn’t fit me anymore, no exceptions. Turns out, cleaning out my closet was a minefield of emotional turmoil.

I am fat. I have always been fat. I spent most of my teens and 20s hating my body, hiding it behind oversized hoodies and control top tights, living on tuna packets and Crystal Light and avoiding looking in the mirror when I got out of the shower. And yes, I was affected by gross dudes who berated me on the Red Line, or the urgent care doctor who prescribed diet pills for an ear infection. But as I got older, I realized that most often, the call was coming from inside the house. My own brain was crueler than anyone else could ever be.

So I instituted a new rule: No negative self-talk. I strove towards body neutrality—and once I got better at silencing my inner bully, I found that sometimes, I could actually love my fat body. I loved my body on long walks, my legs strong and my brain buzzing. I loved my body dancing alone in my apartment to Charli XCX. And I loved my body in the outfits I carefully curated from hours at thrift stores—the way the clothes made me feel fashionable and desirable and visible in a way I used to fear.  

Finding cool clothes is tough when you’re fat. I felt bitter. How brutally unfair, to spend years of time and money to build up a beloved wardrobe, only to outgrow my favorite pieces. When you’re above a size 12, replacing a piece isn’t as simple as running to the mall. I find my best clothes at thrift stores and vintage shops, which ties me to a long line of chubby babes who came before. That gave my closet purge an extra layer of sentimentality.

Farewell, my jumpsuit.

I eulogized each item before tossing it into the donation pile. The severe green linen dress I wore to a Chicago Zine Fest kick-off party: Farewell, my darling. The matching shirt and pants printed with cartoon cocktails that made me feel like Post Malone: I’ll never forget you.

It’s not just that the clothes didn’t serve me anymore; clinging to them was causing me harm. I loved these clothes, but the only future in which I could imagine wearing them again was full of crash diets. And I had to remember: I wasn’t happier or hotter or healthier in the past. I was just skinnier. And I was ready to let that go.

But the jumpsuit, oh the jumpsuit. I wore it to a zine release party I threw with a best friend. The night was full of whiskey cocktails and white candles and art and poems projected on the walls. All my favorite people in Chicago, toasting and laughing. And me at the center, in red lipstick and a denim jumpsuit, just sparkling. It felt like letting go of the jumpsuit meant letting go of that girl. But that’s not really how things work. I’ll always have that night. And there are more magic nights and incredible outfits in the future, spread out through the whole of my life.

Now that I’m vaccinated, I can hit the Village Discount Outlet, the chaotic center of the Chicago thrifting universe. I’m on the hunt for “new” clothes that fit and make me feel good. I can tell I have a deeper understanding of my body and style, and that fills the search with a fresh joy. When my arms strain with options, I claim a spot in front of the coveted store mirror to try everything on, and I think, “Damn, I look good.”

In a perfect world, my discarded clothes deserved a Viking funeral. I wanted to douse them in lighter fluid and push them out on Lake Michigan on a pool floatie, carbon footprint be damned. In reality, I just threw the bag in my sister’s trunk and asked if we could run to the donation bin.

Catch and release, baby: Return to the sea from whence you came. It’s better this way. Because maybe one day I’ll go to a party full of soft light and conversation, and I’ll see a fat babe wearing a familiar, incredible jumpsuit. And I’ll walk across the room and say, “Hey, you look so, so cool.”

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