I’ve been thinking a lot about self-image lately and how it relates to clothing. My caregivers put a lot of emphasis on body image and our outward appearance. This sent me the message that I needed to look attractive to be loved or even liked. This was especially apparent regarding the subject of clothing.
How You Look on the Outside is Not Who You Are
About two weeks ago I got it in me that I wanted to throw away two sweatshirts that I’ve been holding on to for almost two decades. I had just bought a pair of hiking boots for the winter weather we’ve finally got up in the Northeastern part of the States. And I was thinking about what else I needed to replace. I had just bought some wool socks and work shirts, so I thought I’d throw out the sweatshirts, a few other items and that would be that.
So I gathered the sweatshirts first. There were two. One was from a private school I never went to and the second was from a Pawsocks game I saw in 2004. They had sentimental value for certain. The private school, a cross-country club sweatshirt I got from a good friend when we used to work at a Mexican takeout place together, that was located next to a screen printing shop. He had traded a couple of burritos for the sweatshirts and gave one to me. We were counterfeit brothers in sweatshirts from a school we never went to. Nor could afford.
The second was from a Pawsocks game I went to that reminded me of my childhood. When my family would all go to Red Socks games together. When I took the sweatshirts out to examine them, they had so many holes in them that they were literally falling apart in my hands. I was sad at first. It felt as though my memories were directly connected with the condition I kept these particular sweatshirts in.
The good times I had with my friend, riding longboards around the city while drinking 22’s. Or the time I spent helping to paint my niece’s bedroom before she came home from the hospital. If I let go of these memory’s physical counterpart, the entire package may be lost. And worse yet, they were falling apart on their own. Which meant it was only a matter of time before I lost everything.
I thought about keeping them, but I felt like I was being held back by gripping these memories too tightly. I felt stagnant. As though I was refusing to leave that part of my past. And they were good times and memories for sure. But there was also a lot of fear, anxiety and insecurity. Fear because I don’t want to go back to that time or way of being now and. In fact many of the people I made those memories with I don’t even speak with anymore.
Letting Go of the Past
So there I was in front of my dresser, holding two sweatshirts that had been past their prime for 14 plus years and riddled with so many holes they were barely discernible as garments. And with those who my memories were tied to I no longer spoke with. The absurdity of the situation finally made sense to me. I got a few bags, thanked the sweatshirts for their service in Mari Kondo fashion and began the process of sorting through my clothing, tossing what I no longer needed.
The more I sorted, the greater my realization that most of the clothes I owned resembled the original two articles of clothing I had finally mustered the nerve to toss. I was holding on to pairs of socks that had sizeable holes in them. One long sleeve tee that was in worse condition than the two sweatshirts, if that was even possible. And dozens of other articles that I kept for no other reason than I felt that’s what I deserved.
I had been living with the discomfort of not having my basic needs for clothing met for so long, due to the neglect I experienced around not being taught the most basic life skills, coupled with my family’s inability to discern self-worth apart from the things they buy, that I had become the embodiment of my family’s polar opposite while staying loyal to the legacy of neglect I learned from my care-givers by dressing like a hobo. If No Labels Living had a thesis, this would be it.
So with this new knowledge, and about half my clothes that were headed for the garbage and the few pieces that were in good enough condition to be donated, I made a plan to get some new clothes.
I made a list of what I needed and set aside some money that wasn’t in the budget. Because if not having enough clothes to wear isn’t an emergency I’m not sure what is. And struck off to the local thrift shop to get some new threads. I’ve since replaced a good portion of my clothing. But the more I focused on this mindset of letting my basic needs be left unattended as a form of neglect, I started noticing it in other aspects of my life.
Neglect in the Rest of the House
My pantry for example. I have dried beans and pasta, some teas and a few other items that have been there for up to 5 years! I had been treating my pantry as you would curate pieces for a museum. Not a place to make meals from. And the shower caddy in my bathroom was so old that it had rusted around the edges. The reason I even thought to check was because I had boughten four new towels and wash clothes to replace the two towels and plastic luffa I had been clinging to for the past four years. Things I never liked all that much to begin with!
And what held it all together was a feeling of self pity. Also empathy for inanimate objects and feeling as though I somehow deserved to live a life filled with discomfort. While also feeling unworthy of something better. What I realized was that my caregivers had been living life the same ways I had been living. And I felt as though I were judging them as inferior just for wanting something better than how I was taught to take care of my needs. As though I was betraying them for feeling like there was something more than what I had been taught. I was afraid to let go of these things and lessons because letting go meant losing one more thing in a life’s time worth of loss and feeling neglected.
Curating Things That Will Last
My family also has a legacy of poor boundaries. So discerning who was feeling what was a confusing endeavor. But I’ve since made plans to begin replacing all the things I’ve been neglecting in my life. Keeping in mind that I want items that will last and are made sustainably. If you haven’t visited Buy Me Once, check them out. Their mission is to connect people with items that will last a lifetime. For example I’m looking into buying alpaca throw blankets and sweaters. Because when treated with care, they not only keep you warm but could be handed down to the next generation.
I’ve also been shopping for clothes at thrift shops instead of buying them new and saving a ton of money to boot. At my local Savers I spent 90$ for two pairs of jeans and eight shirts that would have cost me around 400$ retail. And I’m also recycling at the same time as taking care of myself. That’s a win in my book.
And knowing that I’m comfortable in my own clothes gives me a new healthy self-image. One based on my values. I can replace the things that aren’t working in my life and that feeling is empowering. Also a source of confidence. Knowing that I care enough about my self-image, by taking care of myself has been a real resource for my emotional well being. I’m worth my time and the effort it takes to make my life better. I’m worth being a part of my own life. And it all started from tossing a couple of old sweatshirts : )
Healthier Self-Image Leads to a Healthier You
Neglecting our self-image can take a lot of forms. Clothing being only one. Next time you’re cleaning or doing laundry, take a look around at the items you’ve collected. Are there some that you don’t like but put up with? Is there a particular towel or set of sheets you dread using? Ask yourself why are you holding on to these. Especially if they cost less than 20$ or 30$ dollars to replace. Is the discomfort and disease worth putting up with for something that could be replaced so easily? Why or why not? And stay curious. It doesn’t help to be forceful or judgmental. And be kind to yourself while you listen.
I hope this has been of some use. I know it’s not easy making changes, especially those that take some self introspection. Or that are connected with our basic needs. But making these changes can be an incredible source of strength and lead to healthier self-image. So take heart, and know you are not alone and be strong! Peace, and thanks for reading :]
Image Credits: “Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without” by AlyssssylA is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0