Why Not Dress to Look Bigger?

Why Not Dress to Look Bigger?

By : Amanda Richards

Lainey in The Trench, Chol in The Kanda Puffer

I’ve spent a lot of winters in my life thinking — really, truly, believing — that I was too fat to be warm.  I was so terrified of looking bigger than I already was, I refused to wear what my mother would describe as a “proper coat.” To me, a down coat, overcoat, or winter coat with any amount of volume — aka, warmth, insulation, protection from the elements — would add too much girth to my frame, one that I felt was far too big already.

I think my younger mind thought because I lived in a larger body, I didn’t deserve to be comfortable. In the winter, I couldn’t bring myself to pile on layers and thick coats, lest I start taking up too much space. Instead of enjoying my life and dressing appropriately for the weather, my choices centered around being less visible. I’m not alone in this. The importance of taking up as little space as possible has pervaded women’s collective consciousness for generations. In one way or another, women of all shapes and sizes have felt pressure to shrink themselves, both physically and emotionally: lose weight, keep your voice down, downplay your accomplishments, cross your legs so you look smaller your chair. The narrative around our clothing choices reinforces this idea. Sometimes, it’s overt; How many times have you heard a pair of jeans described as slimming? Other times, it’s more insidious: we’re taught that all of our clothing is supposed to be flattering, which is really just code for “makes you look smaller than you actually are.”

And so for years, I internalized all of this messaging. I wore all black. I always stood in the back for group photographs. I made sure not to laugh too loud. I was petrified to raise my hand in class. I avoided conversations about clothing like the plague, terrified that someone would, for whatever reason, discover what size I was. And, despite the fact that I grew up in a place with frigid temperatures and lake effect snow, and even when the temperature was freezing or below, I wore the thinnest or smallest coat I could find. I couldn’t stand the idea of enhancing the size of my body, even if it was for a functional purpose.

I wonder how ridiculous I looked going to class during a midwestern February in nothing but a hoodie, trudging home from work during a snowstorm in a leather jacket,  or standing outside of a bar in 20 degree weather in nothing but a blazer. I was freezing, yes. I was miserable, certainly. I caught approximately five colds per season, no doubt. But for me, the only thing that mattered was that I didn’t look bigger. The idea that I’d actively choose something that made me take up more space than I already did was unfathomable.

Nao in The Puffer Bomber

But like so many things I used to believe about my body and its relationship to the world, I no longer subscribe to the idea that I need to sound, act, and dress smaller in order for me to feel comfortable, or for the world to feel comfortable with me.  For me, voluminous outerwear — whether it’s wooly, furry, padded, overstuffed, or oversized, symbolizes a choice to put my physical comfort and ability to enjoy the world before my self-consciousness and insecurity, a notion that might seem self-explanatory but, for many of us, is hard-earned. And when it comes to my outerwear choices, I add layers to make up for the bad ideas I’ve shed.