How to Use Clothing as a Tool for Body Respect

Let’s talk about one of the most common challenges when it comes to body image work: our closets.

For years I started every morning rummaging through my closest for something cute and comfortable to wear and coming up short, just in time for a mirror-front mental smackdown. I had a section of “someday” clothing haunting me (the things I was waiting to wear until I lost weight), and a section of stuff that I felt meh about, but didn’t bother changing because what was the point? I was waiting until I lost weight, remember. The few options in between those sections that I actually liked, fit comfortably, and made me feel great were extremely limited and usually in the wash. Killer combo for daily confidence right?

It took a while to work through my wardrobe woes after starting the process of healing my relationship with food, but with time and intention, clothing became a tool to help build a healthier body image, rather than something I was constantly battling.

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And now I can see this shift happen for our coaching clients too. Clothing is something that comes up for almost every woman we work with, because it’s inextricably linked with body image. We gotta get dressed everyday, you know?

So if at some point throughout the process of healing your relationship with food and your body you have a ‘freak out’ moment about your wardrobe, know that you’re far from alone. 

But getting dressed with ease, feeling comfortable in your clothing, and confident in your own skin is absolutely possible. And facing our closets, ‘meh’ sections included, is a vital part of getting there.

Today I’ll address how to handle your mindset around clothing if it’s something you struggle with, and offer some practical tips for using your wardrobe as a tool for body respect. 

Before We Get into the Nitty Gritty, There Are a Couple Important Things to Note

  1. You don’t need to completely change your wardrobe, or spend a ton of time, energy and money on clothing in order to improve your body image. If you either aren’t that interested in style or clothing, or it’s not a big pain point for you, rock on. This may not be relevant for you, and we have plenty of other blog posts about body image.
  1. There are a few privileges to acknowledge when it comes to clothing. One, is that finding clothes that you like and fit well is often more accessible for straight sizes, due to a  problematic fashion industry that is not very inclusive of body diversity. While there are brands that understand this issue and cater to bodies of all shapes and sizes (largely thanks to the work of body advocates demanding brands do better), the industry still has a long way to go. We know it can be more challenging to find clothes in a larger body. And there is also a financial privilege to being able to afford to get rid of clothes that don’t fit and replace them with new ones, and while there are ways to adjust your wardrobe without spending money, this is not as simple as just buying a bunch of new clothes to solve a problem. 

Prefer audio? Listen to this lesson on the podcast!

How Most Women Who Struggle with Body Image Relate to Clothing

There are a few common patterns we see among those who are battling food and their bodies.

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First, they often believe they can’t wear the clothes they really want to until they lose weight, or they think their bodies aren’t “worthy” of nice, fun, beautiful things. They try to cover up or hide as much as possible, even if it means sacrificing comfort or their personal style. Think, long sleeves on a hot day, or swapping a color they really love for something “quieter.” 

They also avoid buying bigger clothes, even when they would be more comfortable, because of what they make that mean. Most of us have learned to believe that simply accepting our pant size means we’ve “let ourselves go” or “failed at dieting.” But wearing ill-fitting clothes usually results in body checking and discomfort, a constant reminder that we aren’t at the size we “should” be. So while we hold off on buying any new jeans that we like and fit well until losing weight, we squeeze into a much-too-tight pair for dinner and spend the entire time thinking about how terrible we look and feel. We vow to diet harder and get thinner, which never actually works in the long term and our body image continues to deteriorate. 

And finally, they regularly self-objectify. Meaning they often view themselves and their bodies through the lens of how other people view them, as opposed to actually being in their bodies and feeling more neutrality around how they look. So with this perspective, clothing exists to help us look more attractive to others, as opposed to something our bodies should feel good in.

All of this is not to say there’s anything wrong with expressing yourself through clothing or taking pride in how you present yourself. In fact, we love style around here and believe it’s a great opportunity to have fun, be creative, and respect our bodies. 

But we encourage you to shift from using clothes as a way to improve how other people see you, to support how you want to feel. Think of clothing from here on out as a form of body respect. It is disrespectful to the body you’re in today, to force it into clothes that don’t fit. Clothes that pull or pinch or make you physically uncomfortable. 

How to Use Clothing as a Form of Body Respect

Ready to reevaluate your wardrobe and start utilizing it as a tool for supporting how you want to feel? Here are two great places to start.

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  1. First and foremost is comfort. Wearing comfortable clothing, regardless of the size on the tag, is a form of respecting your body, which as we mentioned prevents that constant body checking that keeps us from a neutral mind space. If you’re trying on new clothes, we recommend noticing how you feel wearing them before even turning around and looking in the mirror to see how they look. 
  1. Consider what you actually want to wear. Instead of what’s most “flattering” for your body (which is usually code for what makes you look the smallest), or what’s best for your body type, what kind of clothes do you want to wear? What would you wear if how your body looks didn’t matter at all? Would you try a different cut, or pattern or color? Maybe you’re concerned with “dressing for your age” or following gender specific norms like a shorts length rule. 

My encouragement is to throw out all the “shoulds” from here on out, and consider what you want to wear, because it makes you feel great and it serves your daily lifestyle. It takes a little getting used to, but the more you practice this, the easier it gets to identify what’s comfortable. Confidence in what you’re wearing should come from a place of feeling good and reflecting your personal style and preferences, not your feelings about how others perceive you.

What to Do Next

The next phase of using clothing as a tool for body respect is something we teach in our coaching program and go in depth with our clients, since it’s a very personal process. We have specific exercises to help women upgrade their wardrobes, go shopping, learn how to speak to themselves, and shift their beliefs, all in the name of body respect. If you want to learn more about working with us, set up a free Breakthrough Session to chat with one of us.

It’s crucial to get support through this work around body image, because it’s very easy to fall back into the dieting trap and stay stuck in the painful cycle when working on your body image. How we relate to our bodies is the underlying foundation for our relationship with food, so until our body image is in a good place, it’s hard to find real peace and freedom in our eating experience.

If you want to get a personalized step-by-step plan for improving body respect, set up a Breakthrough Call here. We’ll talk about your unique challenges with food and your body, and exactly how to overcome them. 

And if you’re just dipping your toe into the waters of improving your body image, our free video series: How to Stop Hating Your Body is an excellent place to start. 

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