I will never forget that fateful afternoon in 2008, when I was heralded into a fitting room at the nearest Old Navy with an armful of clearance clothes to try on. Amongst the more common choices of plain tees and unfortunate sweaters was a pair of short, medium blue denim skinny jeans. A coworker I was shopping with at the time implored me to try them on because they were swiftly on their way to becoming the epitome of cool in California. Thirty minutes later, I had tried on and modeled all the clothes in that pile. I fixed my hair. I adjusted my make up. I made a phone call. All the while, I sat there staring at those jeans with a look akin to what you would give a wayward homeless dog standing on your porch.
Now, I am a reasonably sane woman, but for some reason the idea of squeezing my size 18 body into those small ankle pants filled me with woe and worry. Firstly, they were just starting to come back into popularity at this point and they reminded me of the terrible jeans my Aunts were wearing in the mid 80’s. Secondly, why would anyone with my thighs and butt want to wear pants so tight on the bottom that my legs would look like two giant upturned arrows, pointing dramatically at my gut?
With my co worker banging on the dressing room door begging to see them, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to leave that fitting room with my dignity intact, and had no choice but to squeeze my way into them and face the awkward stares of the size 2 fitting room attendants congregating at the folding station. I slipped them on, and looked in the mirror, and felt…unimpressed. I didn’t feel an overwhelming sensation of “Whoa, looking good!” nor did I feel the instant disgust towards them that I thought I would. They just weren’t anything special, and as I walked into the hallway, my coworker said nothing more than “Cute!”. But I didn’t feel cute. I felt like two sausages wearing shoes. How did people find these pants to be practical or attractive? How could you wear them with sneakers? What kind of shirt could I wear that wouldn’t scream, “Look at these thighs!”. Now, let’s be honest, I ended up buying the jeans because even though i wasn’t in love with them they were marked down to $3, and I can’t resist that kind of a deal.
The jeans make the journey home with me that day and sat in the back of my closet. They made three cross country moves, tucked in a box, all the time with the tags still attached. I couldn’t bring myself to wear them in public. It wasn’t just that I thought they looked terrible on me, but it was this idea that had been drilled into my head that plus size women simply mustn’t wear anything that put their bodies on display. I would pull them out, try them on, get mere inches from my front door and shrink away like the handle was molten lava. I’d turn right around and glumly change my pants. It sounds irrational, but I seriously considered the idea that if I walked out into the streets with those skinny jeans on that I would be laughed all the way through town. I couldn’t shake this idea that “big girls” shouldn’t be trying to follow trends.
Flash-forward to 2010, where I picked up a part time job at a very popular plus size women’s store in the mall, dedicated to showcasing styles that screamed “Look at my curves!”. I was suddenly immersed in a world of all sorts of clothes I had been raised not to wear, and with a fabulous discount at my disposal, quickly started grabbing up all sorts of items I would never even imagine wearing before. Working everyday with women who were my size, or smaller, or bigger, who had larger than life self-confidence and personalities slowly opened me up to the idea that I could still be sexy and fashionable at my size and live life with as much vigor and passion as any of my single digit sized friends. But still, I wasn’t jumping on that skinny jean bandwagon, no matter how insanely popular they had become, or how many of my friends tried to get me to put them on my hourglass figure. And those $3 clearance skinnies? Lost, still packed away somewhere in a box of clothes, with the tags still hanging on them.
Then one day I had a customer come in with her ten year old daughter, cute as can be, at a size 16. I took one look into her eyes and knew exactly how she felt having to shop for women’s plus size clothes, and the dread that came along with knowing that you wouldn’t be wearing all the same clothes the cool kids in your class could wear. I was shopping in the women’s section in the third grade and in the early 90’s, plus size fashion didn’t exist. I had to dress like an overweight grandmother, and had more cat t-shirts than should be legal. I made it my personal mission to help this girl put on every single pair of age appropriate, trendy, stylish jeans, tees, tops, jackets, shoes, belts and skirts I could fit in that fitting room. With every outfit that actually fit her body and looked like something her friends would wear, I could see her eyes light up.She looked in the mirror and smiled and I knew for the first time in a long time, possibly ever, that she saw a beautiful, worth while budding woman looking back at her.
Three hours later, her and her mother left with bags brimming with clothes that I knew would allow her to truly feel like she fit in. I was riding this cloud of euphoria, knowing that I had helped a fellow curvy girl feel good in her skin, and given her an opportunity to say, “OK, I can wear what I want and I deserve to feel good about myself wearing it”. And then the inevitable happened: a pair of skinnies were sitting in a pile of mark downs, staring me in the face. They seemed to be taunting me, saying, “Hey, you tell every woman who walks through that door that they are beautiful and shouldn’t be afraid to follow trends and put themselves out there, yet you think you’re too fat to wear me?”
I’d had enough. I grabbed those skinny jeans and I locked myself in the dressing room for fifteen minutes trying to come up with the nerve to put them on. How many times had women come in and said no way when I suggested the wide variety of skinny jeans lining the walls? How many women had told me plus size women couldn’t wear them because they emphasized their hips, or their butts or their stomachs? And how many times had I said they looked great wearing them and it been true? It was time for me to take a dose of my own medicine. I undid the button and the zipper, stepped in, one tentative ankle at a time like a child learning how to swim, and pulled them up. I turned around and looked in the mirror and you know what I saw? Me. All short legs, thick thighs, big bootied, tubby-tummied me, in all my rubenesque glory, all dressed up in skinny blue denim. And I looked good; more than good, I looked fierce!
I bought those skinny jeans and since that day I’ve accumulated 15 more pairs; dare I say, I now own more pairs of skinny jeans than cat t-shirts. I unabashedly mix them with tanks and tees, short dresses and plaid shirts, dressed up with heels and dressed down with flats. I have them in blue, black, red, purple, green, and leopard print. I wear them so often and with such confidence that I can’t believe I ever went without. I wear them to work with pride and every time a full figured woman walks in my doors and says, oh no, I can’t wear skinnies, I point down at my legs and say, “I bet you can.”