The Clothing Carousel: I want off

by Charlotte on October 23, 2012 · 40 comments

In case anyone is wondering to get me for Christmas… Nevernude, yeah!!

Plastic zippers are an abomination. Metal zippers are one of my favorite things about wearing vintage dresses. I have dresses that are nearly 70 years old (oh yes I do!) that the zipper still works perfectly in whereas the cute vintage-esque dress I bought a few weeks ago now has a permanent home in my sewing box thanks to an invisible zipper that was apparently constructed out of Barbie shoes and dental floss. This is important because this – this dress and its stupid zipper – is how I ended up in a heap on my floor this weekend, not once but twice.

Sunday morning found me performing my usual insane ritual of trying on every item of clothing I own and getting progressively more upset because everything “makes me look fat.” (No I don’t say it out loud, I have the kids to consider.) At last I settled on what I thought would be the perfect outfit – only to have the zipper get stuck about 3/4 of the way up my back, right at my, um, muscular lats. My husband tried. My sons each tried. Even Jelly Bean tried. But it wouldn’t budge. Exasperated I performed a move that even a contortionist would have been impressed by and yanked the zipper the rest of the way up. “See?” I declared. “It does fit!” Then, as I turned to walk upstairs, the entire zipper burst open. Yep. It’s bad enough I Incredible-Hulked my jeans but now a dress too?

If I’d had better presence of mind I could have turned it into a burlesque act and made my husband think I did it on purpose. (Oh and probably scandalized my kids too.)

Unfortunately I have no presence of mind when it comes to this kind of thing. Confession: This is about to be the most embarrassing confession I’ve ever made on this site. Yes, I know I’m the girl that talked about pooping what I thought was a pile of bloody entrails thanks to eating a ton of beets. And I’m also the girl that blogged 10 different types of gym humiliations. But for whatever reason, this feels worse. It feels shameful in a way that makes me want to hide it from everyone. So of course I’m going to talk about it. (Dear Mom and Dad, that’s what I do. I’m sorry.)

The thing is, I change my clothes all the time. I’ve mentioned this before as a vestigial habit left over from my eating disorder days. But I don’t know that I’ve ever explained the impact it has on my life. Even on days where I know I’ll be home all the way until I crawl in bed, I can’t just throw on a pair of mismatched sweats and be done with it. I’ll sit paralyzed in my closet, the minutes ticking away so loudly I can feel my productivity falling into the abyss with them, unable to just pick something and put it on. Some days – good days – the process takes five or six outfit changes and twenty minutes. But on bad days it can consume an hour. Or hours. And the more upset I get the longer the process takes. Sometimes tears are involved (like Sunday). Sometimes I get really angry at my dumb body for not fitting into any of my cute clothes (when in reality it’s the clothes’ job to fit me, not the other way around). And sometimes I just feel really hopeless. Always I feel humiliated. Humiliated and judged and found lacking – by a pile of inanimate objects.

I’m not sure why I do this. It’s not vanity, I swear. I know people think it is. But I’m not prancing around admiring myself from every angle. With each new outfit I get more critical, more depressed.  And while it’s certainly got elements of OCD, that’s not the whole story. It’s also not about a need to look perfect or impress people or get compliments. Really it’s not about the clothes at all. It’s about me and how I still, after all these years and all this time in eating disorder therapy, can’t see myself as beautiful. I can’t really see my self at all, actually. It’s a “fat and ugly attack” of the worst kind. And I still, after all these years and all this time in eating disorder therapy, don’t know how to stop it.

But I might have stumbled on something today. Like most good ideas, it didn’t originate with me but rather came to me like a bird on my shoulder. Like all good ideas, it started out small and grew big.

This morning, thanks to a challenge I read on another blog, I meditated. The goal was just to be still for five minutes. As I’ve said before, I am not a natural when it comes to meditating but that is perhaps why I need it even more. In a soul as frenetic as mine learning to cultivate calm is extraordinary. I know this. But I still never do it. (Kinda like I know I should take fish oil and change my razor every month and wear flip-flops in the gym shower and I never do those either.)

Yet today I did. Even though I was in the middle of the morning breakfast-homework-carpool-missing shoes rush and didn’t really have time, I decided to make it a priority. That was the first thing, the who, what and where.

The second thing was the how. This time I didn’t try to focus on counting my breaths or drawing an eternal circle or repeating a mantra (not that those are bad things) like I’d been taught previously. Instead I focused on just feeling loved. For me, as a Christian, this took the form of imagining sitting quietly next to my Savior – the person who died for me, because I’m worth dying for. And the person who conquered death and lived for me, because I’m also worth living for. I didn’t imagine a conversation or a lecture or even a face. Just the feeling. (And I think that this would work for anyone regardless of personal belief – imagine Allah or God or Nature or an ambient universe, whatever makes you feel like you have a purpose beyond yourself.) The effect was powerful and immediate.

And when the five minutes was up – faster than I thought it would go, surprisingly - I stood up, put on the first outfit I saw and walked out the door. Not only did I stay in this outfit all day but I felt good in this outfit all day long. I can’t remember the last time either of those things happened. And when my husband told me I looked nice, I didn’t contradict him.

I don’t yet know the why.  Maybe it’s too simple. Maybe it won’t work again tomorrow. But I hope it will. I’m going to try.

Anyone else get stuck on the clothing carousel? Anyone else ever been surprised by a meditation? If so, what was it? Got any tips for me??

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Ruth October 23, 2012 at 1:52 am

I’m sorry to hear clothes are such a demon for you! I’m a teacher so I have to wake up pretty early for work. I like to maximize my sleep so I get everything ready the night before – including laying out what I’m going to wear. I check the weather, but other than that I don’t put too much effort into it – if I wear it all day and realize it doesn’t look good I just remember that for the future. I’m also trying to minimize my wardrobe right now because while I love clothes, I’m traveling a lot in the next few years and I don’t have a lot of space for them (I’m becoming into minimalism in general. I don’t want my possessions ruling my life!). I think if you make an effort to only own clothes you like and think you look good in then it makes the whole process easier – and if you’re having an off day you’ll have fewer outfits to work through.
I like the idea of your meditation a lot. I’m not good at meditation but when I’ve done it focusing on an idea or visualizing a place that has meaning to me has worked well. I hope this meditation or a similar one keeps bringing you success!

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Charlotte October 23, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Thanks Ruth! I’ve tried laying out my clothes the night before but it doesn’t really help. It’s not the clothes that are the problem or even that I’m indecisive. It’s that all my insecurities manifest in my closet and suddenly everything (even the outfit I thought was adorbs the night before) makes me feel awful. I love your tip though about only keeping clothes that fit and flatter!!

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Naomi/Dragonmamma October 23, 2012 at 6:29 am

Do what I do: Have an entire wardrobe that looks like you mugged a homeless person, then it doesn’t really matter which outfit you choose.

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Jasmine October 23, 2012 at 10:04 am

I needed that laugh this morning, thanks ^_^

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Charlotte October 23, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Buwhaha! You are awesome.

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Anne October 23, 2012 at 8:21 am

I do this ALL THE TIME. While I’ve never had an eating disorder I have had a lifetime of disordered eating. & currently seem to be in the middle of a permanent fat & ugly attack……and as a result do this more often then not. I have a daughter around Jelly Bean’s age & so I’m trying to find a middle ground – where I’m not super-critical of myself or on a permanent diet – I really don’t want to pass my bad relationship with food on to her, but moderation does not come naturally to me & so I keep trying.
Will give meditation a try next time I have to get dressed.

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Charlotte October 23, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Let me know how it goes! It worked again today for me:) And thank you for telling me about your own struggles. I keep waiting for the day when I post something like this and all I get is “Wow, nope. You’re just weird.” Thankfully that hasn’t happened yet;)

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Denese B. October 23, 2012 at 8:24 am

Hi Charlotte, Been reading your blog for quite a while now (over 18 mos.) and enjoyed your book too. I have to agree with you that meditation on how loved we are (I am a Christian too!) is very powerful. So often we as Christians are obsessed with activity and serving but I think taking the time to let God “love on us” is really important. It is the place from which we are able to go and do. So glad you are “feeling the love” today! : )

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Charlotte October 23, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Aw thank you Denese! I agree – it can be hard to remember that to be able to love others we need to be able to accept love as well. I need to let God “love on me” more often:)

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Abby October 23, 2012 at 9:01 am

“It’s about me and how I still, after all these years and all this time in eating disorder therapy, can’t see myself as beautiful. I can’t really see my self at all, actually.”

This. This this this. Honestly, this almost brought tears to my eyes, it so perfectly captures my experience. I’ve realized I never see myself as a whole. Just as a sum of ugly parts that add up to less than a whole. And I’m sick of driving to work almost in tears because I wasn’t able to find that one perfect outfit that fixed everything.

It makes me so happy to hear you had success today. Will you keep us posted? I’d love to hear if it keeps working for you.

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Charlotte October 23, 2012 at 11:10 pm

Well it worked again today. Not sure if two days is enough to establish a pattern (or just me wanting it to be a pattern) but I’m glad I’m not alone in this. It feels so so humiliating to me and yet so trivial at the same time. I mean, it’s just CLOTHES. But this: “I’ve realized I never see myself as a whole. Just as a sum of ugly parts that add up to less than a whole.” makes it a lot clearer. You said it perfectly.

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Irene October 23, 2012 at 10:19 am

Sometime when I read your blog Charlotte, I want so badly to hug you! ::Virtual hugs for a virtual friend::
I truly believe that as bad as the demons in your life may be, the love of your Savior and your family will win you and you will one day truly love yourself as they do. I have a somewhat tumultuous faith at times, but I am always brought back to the belief that there is more power for good and for love than for evil, even in this sometimes crappy world of ours. I think the more time you spend allowing yourself to feel loved, the less room there is for self doubt and ugliness.

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Charlotte October 24, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Ah thank you Irene! I’ll accept all hugs – virtual and otherwise!

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Joshua October 23, 2012 at 10:32 am

Okay, I just can’t get past that Tobias Funke NeverNude dress-up doll.

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Charlotte October 24, 2012 at 10:28 pm

I KNOW, right?! I want one so bad right now. Also, don’t tell my husband but he’s totally getting one for Christmas.

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deb roby October 23, 2012 at 11:07 am

I am the opposite. I can wear the same clothes to bed, get up and walk out the door in them. (often without combing my hair). Because I don’t look mirrors. If I don’t look in a mirror, I can’t see that I’ve gained back weight. I can’t judge myself.

So I look like a pile of crumpled clothes and a messy hair…

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Charlotte October 24, 2012 at 10:30 pm

I like the part about not judging yourself! I read a study once that said at the turn of the 19th century, before mirrors became household institutions girls hardly ever wrote in their journals about dissatisfaction with their bodies…

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Happier Heather October 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm

I’ve never thought about this until reading this post, but whenever I’ve been down on myself for any reason at all, it takes me FOREVER to get dressed. I go through the motions you described. Weird how that works. It also occurred to me that I haven’t gone through this process in months now, perhaps even a year. This might be a very good indicator of the state of my mind lately. Happy and Content.

Thanks for the reminder to be still and meditate. Even though we’re happy and content, there’s a chance we’re still missing something important in our busy lives when we don’t take some time to just be.

Glad you had such a great day yesterday and I hope it continues.

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Charlotte October 24, 2012 at 10:31 pm

I love this SO much: “It also occurred to me that I haven’t gone through this process in months now, perhaps even a year. This might be a very good indicator of the state of my mind lately. Happy and Content.” And yes, meditation is good for so many things!

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pensive pumpkin October 23, 2012 at 3:16 pm

And this is why shopping is considered a leisure activity in our culture: the search for an outfit that will make us feel loveable. You are not alone. Promise.

I personally used to do this (put me in the disordered eating column) and then I gave up. Now I do like the commenter above and just wear my pajamas out without brushing my hair. It’s the new hotness. (read that hot mess.) My mother constantly wants to buy me real clothes because she thinks I was happy then. Huh. I must have faked it pretty well.

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Charlotte October 24, 2012 at 10:33 pm

This: “And this is why shopping is considered a leisure activity in our culture: the search for an outfit that will make us feel loveable.” such an astute observation! And such a sad one… I’m so glad you’re doing better with it now though!

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Alyssa (azusmom) October 23, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Well, since I’ve been living in yoga pants and tops for the past 20 years, I can’t say that I go through the rigamarole every morning. I DO do so on the rare occasions I have to dress somewhat nicely. And they are VERY rare. It’s depressing, and it’s difficult, and my husband doesn’t understand it, because he weighs pretty much the same as he did when we first met 17 years ago. I, however, do NOT. And I hate to spend money on new clothes because I always have in the back of my mind the thought that I WILL lose weight soon, and the clothes will, blissfully, no longer fit me (they’ll be too big, you see), so why waste money on them?
I recently spent $30 on a dress for a cousin’s wedding, which I really resented. I also resented the fact that I had to buy it in a size 14, when 7 years ago I could have bought a 10. But you know what? I wore it, along with some nice shoes and makeup, and I actually looked nice. More importantly, I FELT good! (Except for my feet. I wore my heels for the first time in a long time, and reminded myself of one of the many reasons why I don’t wear heels. They huuuuuuurt!!!!!!!)

So, yes, I’ve been meditating. And I’m reminded, every time I do, that there is so much more than the everyday stuff going on. It reminds me that we are all connected to something much bigger, whatever we prefer to call it. And we’re connected to each other. Even to that guy who took our parking space, the one we were waiting for for 5 minutes. Even him.

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Charlotte October 24, 2012 at 10:35 pm

THis: ” It reminds me that we are all connected to something much bigger, whatever we prefer to call it. And we’re connected to each other. Even to that guy who took our parking space, the one we were waiting for for 5 minutes. Even him.” is beautiful! And I bet you looked stunning in your dress:))

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Tamara October 25, 2012 at 8:53 am

Agreed, very well said. Loving everyone/everything is such a powerful gift. Even the jerks out there. They’re all human, flawed, trying to figure it out, just like us. They all deserve love, most of all when they least seem to deserve it. Thank you!!!

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Jody - Fit at 54 October 23, 2012 at 7:58 pm

I don’t even have enough clothes to make it thru 3 days so this is not a prob for me! ;-)

I think if you find a way to deal with it that works for you, that is all that matters…. meditation works for a lot of people. I have not tried it but I hear good things – not sure I can turn my mind off from everything….

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Charlotte October 24, 2012 at 10:36 pm

All the more reason you should try;)

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Tamara October 25, 2012 at 8:54 am

YES. That which we resist/think is not for us is often exactly what we need the most!

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Cadie October 23, 2012 at 8:24 pm

I am 16. And I have been doing that same thing since I was 7 years old in 2 grade. My mom would get so frustrated with me (and my brother to when it was his turn to drop me off at my school before he went off to his high school). And while it’s not usually so much that I end up crying now a days (although I might feel like it), it still happens and I do get over it by doing that sort of meditating. “Just let it go” – that is what I’d try to tell myself sometimes. But that wouldn’t really work because I felt that by doing that I was letting go of something more important than an outfit. I just didn’t realize what that something was. I still can’t point my finger directly, precisely, exactly at what it is. But zooming out and refocusing when I can in those situations – with whatever obsessions, whatever it is that I can’t get over – it helps ask why I am so upset. Is it really that I can’t find anything that fits right?
Also, I remember this:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be given unto you.”
And I think that’s like the same sort of meditation.
Hugs to you Charlotte!!
Also, I think you are so brave for posting this as it is a deep embarassing thing for you! Kudos!!

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Charlotte October 24, 2012 at 10:39 pm

So funny you should mention that scripture from Matthew! Right after I put this post up, I was doing my scripture study and ready that exact same section. It was like God telling me “SEE?! I told you!!” And this: “But zooming out and refocusing when I can in those situations – with whatever obsessions, whatever it is that I can’t get over – it helps ask why I am so upset.” is wonderful advice. Thank you Cadie!

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Emily October 23, 2012 at 10:48 pm

I teared up reading this, Charlotte. I know the exact feeling you’re describing…. I know it all too well. Just this morning, my therapist was giving me a new way of framing my self-hatred, which is really the only way to name it: she said, if you were so bad, if you were so terrible in every way, would your dog love you unconditionally? Would you have supportive friends? Would your bosses praise your work and value you? She is trying to help me see what I have never, ever been able to see: how others view me. I know so clearly what she means when I hear your struggle with this, because we all see so much beauty, so much intellect, so much humor and compassion in you, but alas, you don’t see it in yourself. Just like me. I’m so happy to read that you’re getting there… I hope I can follow in your footsteps. :)

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Charlotte October 24, 2012 at 10:42 pm

And I teared up reading your comment Emily:) If you read through all these comments you’ll see that it’s all a progression. We’re all moving forward in our own way and those that are higher up the ladder reach down to help those of us below them. I’m so glad I could help clarify your therapist’s lesson – I’m 100% sure you are a beautiful, loveable, worthy and wonderful person!

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Tamara October 24, 2012 at 8:55 am

I like to sometimes use the mantra “love. light.” when I meditate. I send love out, I take in light. It’s great. I also love the book One Moment Meditation and this video encapsulates why. It’s worth checking out!

http://youtu.be/F6eFFCi12v8

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Charlotte October 24, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Beautiful mantra! And thank you for the link – can’t wait to watch it!

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Tamara October 25, 2012 at 9:04 am

Happy to share it with you. You give so much of yourself, Charlotte. It means the world to me.

Also, building on the words of the commenter above me, I know it may be difficult to imagine, but when you look to yourself, either inwardly or outwardly, try to step outside of you and see yourself as if you were a beloved sister, best friend, or daughter. Use the words and loving eyes and kindness that those people would in talking to/about you. You deserve nothing less than to treat yourself as you do your most beloved souls on the planet. You deserve to be one of them. In my opinion, you deserve to be your NUMBER one beloved, but baby steps are good. :) Lots of love, my friend. xoxo

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Beth October 24, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Hi Charlotte,
I love your blog and your book! This post really resonated with me. I have struggled with an eating disorder for seven years and can firmly say I am (mostly) recovered, yet I often end up on the clothing carousel…nothing looks good on me, which I find to be more a reflection of how I’m feeling about myself physically and emotionally at the moment than my actual weight and appearance at the time. When I’m most confident (for whatever reason), it doesn’t matter how much I weigh – I think everything I wear looks good. When I’m low, stressed, upset, or just letting my ED control me, nothing – no matter what – looks awful, and only emphasizes how “fat” I am (aka not good enough).

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Charlotte October 24, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Yes. Exactly. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one and you understand the pain involved. But I’m sorry that you struggle with this too! May we both just keep healing:)
PS. And thank you for the kind compliments – you have no idea how much that means to me that you’d invest your time in reading my stuff!!

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Crystal October 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm

I just want you to know I thought I was the only person who did this. People don’t understand why I say I can’t find anything to wear. They say you have a whole closet full of clothes. Well they don’t know what I go through every morning and why I am usually late for work.

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