TW: Weight loss, diets, body image
A bubble-hemmed mini skirt, in white waffle cotton, with cute pink, red and green vintage flower motif.
The yellow 1960’s dress with leopard print buttons and pockets.
Those Roxy, indigo, wide-legged, jeans with the pink pockets with heart design on them.
Self-sewn halter neck 1950’s circle skirt dress, in floral print, with flower appliqué.
All of these items I used to fit. Used to.
All of these items I used to keep bundled up, in the top of my wardrobe, waiting to be worn again. Used to.
All of those items I elevated to god-like status convinced that they were the key to my personal happiness, beauty and love. Used to.
These weren’t the only items I kept hold of, convinced of their magic powers. In fact, I had three bulging trash bags of them. The Skinny Ghosts of lifetimes past.
So many cute dresses, preppy jackets, whimsical skirts and vintage blouses. Each just waiting for me to return to them someday. Calling my name, taunting me with the memories of how good life with them used to be, and how great life will become when I’m once again able to slip back into them. Much like an ex-lover who is trying to convince you to take them back.
Like many women I hurriedly stashed each item away, to this unglamorous hiding place, as soon as I had the horrifying moment of trying to put a garment on, only to realise that my fleshy mass had expanded its capacity. Feelings of shame, heartache, guilt, anxiousness and fear suddenly overcoming us. Hoping that if we remove the offending article from our sight, our emotion and pain will be softened.
Each time this happened I told myself, as a method of self-soothing, that “this is just a hiccup”, “it’s temporary”, “I’ll lose that 3kg and I’ll be right back in it”, “this bigger me is not who I am”, “I’ll be good from now on” with a few generous lashings of “you horrible, weak, fat, unloveable, loser” to really get me feeling great about myself.
And so these items got banished to the graveyard of shame that lives at the top of all our wardrobes (or our spare rooms, attics, cupboards under the stairs, garages, storage units), where they remain for years, enshrined in plastic but continuing to limp on in our consciousness, fuelled by insecurity, hope and nostalgia.
About once a year, usually during a change-of-season wardrobe cull, I’d take a big breath, be brave and venture up to that black hole of Skinny Ghosts. Rummaging deep into those daunting bags I’d pull out these long-redundant, but much adored, items. Giving a little sigh of longing with each one, as the stabs of self-hatred once again prickled my tummy, and the feelings of inadequacy crept in.
I’d repeat those same old mantras to myself, the ones that kept me feeling like I was never good enough, the same ones that keep the diet industry afloat and pocketing billions of our dollars every year; “this is just a hiccup”, “it’s temporary”, “I’ll lose that 3kg and I’ll be right back in it”, “this bigger me is not who I am”, “I’ll be good from now on”, “you horrible, weak, fat, loser”.
With a heavy heart I’d promise myself to do better, then I’d lug those corpse-like bags back up into the wardrobe, shut the doors, starve myself for 24 hours, then return to my normal life. Gradually their existence got pushed to the back of my mind, until the next wardrobe clean out.
This cycle continued for years, that was, until my most recent wardrobe tidy.
On this occasion I pulled down the bags, with my usual dread, and knotted stomach, and tipped out the contents. But this time, something had changed. A switch had flicked inside. See, for the first time, I saw those garments for what they actually were – nothing but a bunch of false memories.
I didn’t love the clothes. I loved the idea of the clothes. Or more specifically, how I’d projected inaccurate feelings of fulfilment, and happiness, onto them.
Up until that moment, it’d never occurred to that in the 13 years since purchasing those wide-legged jeans, they had become woefully out of fashion. Or that my tastes had evolved beyond those bubble-gum style skirts. That was not the point. I was blind to these facts. Because this wasn’t about the clothes. All I cared about was what those items represented – a rose-tinted version of me, at my most fabulous, happiest, beautiful, desirable, thinnest and therefore BEST.
As I went though each item, and recalled the memory and feelings that I had, for so long, associated with it, I made the effort to pause and switch my recollections from daydream to reality. Suddenly, it became startlingly apparent how wrong my memories, which I had romanticised and entwined into the fabric and threads of the garments, were.
ITEM: A bubble-hemmed mini skirt, in white waffle cotton, with pink, red and green vintage flower motif
MEMORY: Bought in London, down Oxford Street, on a beautiful and romantic European holiday
TRUTH: Hurriedly purchased in the fifteen minutes that my boyfriend, impatiently, grumpily, permitted me to look in River Island on our entire 4 week holiday (despite him making us look in every outdoor sports shop we came across). I took ten longer than fifteen and he then spent the rest of the afternoon sulking with me, and stomping around, resulting in me crying somewhere around Covent Garden
ITEM: Yellow 1960’s dress with leopard print buttons and pockets
MEMORY: Wore to a lavish and fabulous birthday dinner at an Italian restaurant full of my incredibly hip and cool friends
TRUTH: Someone made a joke to me about the ‘excessive’ amount of parmesan that I put on my meal, which sent me into a spiral of shame and feeling sick. Was too scared to finish my pasta because carbohydrates were evil and out to get me. Skipped dessert out of fear I’d get too fat for the dress. Became very sad and bitter whilst watching everyone else at the table eat their tiramisu and cheesecake
ITEM: Roxy, indigo, wide-legged, jeans with cute pink pockets with heart design on them
MEMORY: Purchased to celebrate completion of 7th form exams. Hot new jeans = teenage freedom & rebellion
TRUTH: Never rebelled. Ever. I was a well behaved and boring kid due to fear, insecurity and shyness. The fly zip on the jeans never stayed up on them, no matter my size, and I hated wearing them out of fear of flashing my crotch, so never did. Should have returned them to the shop as faulty, but shyness meant I didn’t wanna rock-the-boat. A huge waste of a precious $100
ITEM: Home sewn halter neck 1950’s circle skirt dress, in floral print, with yellow lining and floral appliqué
MEMORY: Wore this on my thinnest Christmas. Boyfriend picked me up, and cradled me in his arms, Hollywood style. He told me I looked beautiful, and in this moment I finally felt like I might be good enough and worthy of love
TRUTH: This was the only time, in 8 years, that this boyfriend made me feel like I was beautiful or sexy. New found thinness was a result of him telling me I was getting too fat, a year before, resulting in excessive exercise and eating disorder, in an attempt to win his love and to take back his harsh words about my weight (I know, I know, what a dickhead)
See, these picture perfect, airbrushed and edited memories of my life that I had applied to those clothes, and all of the things that I had built them up to represent, it turns out they weren’t reality at all.
With the benefit of time, distance and personal growth from those moments, one truth became glaringly apparent; I may be 30kg heavier, and those clothes 4 sizes smaller, but I was infinitely happier, and at peace with myself now. For the first time, I’d quit spending every waking moment fixated on food, diets, numbers on screens and putting up with bad boyfriends and toxic friends. Instead, I was living my own, best life, 100% for myself. As a result my current wardrobe, confidence, and personal style, had only grown stronger and more fabulous.
Can you guess what happens when you start living in the moment, not for in three months time when you’re that dress size smaller? When you eliminate those poisonous thoughts and people from you life? You become happier! Gasp! I know, what a revelation!
When you realise this, that those clothes you are so desperately clinging onto, represent nothing but fake memories, they become something else all together. Something far darker, sinister and unwelcome. They are no longer sitting there waiting for ‘when I am thin and happy’. Instead they are waiting for ‘when I am thin and unwell, depressed and being mistreated’. Who the hell wants to invite those kinds of things into their lives? Why am I hanging onto, what represents, aspirations of unhappiness?
And so I immediately tied up those black bags, threw them in the car, drove them to the nearest charity shop and donated them, knowing that they would finally get the wear that they deserved.
I have never looked back. I have never missed those clothes. I do not regret a thing.
It sure does feel good to no longer have decades worth of nasty, self-sabotaging, Skinny Ghosts lurking in my wardrobe.
You should give it a try. Say goodbye to your own Skinny Ghosts. Your heart will thank you for it.