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I have always lived in terror of my leggings and jeans ripping in public. I’ll just be, you know, walking, or sitting at my desk, or bending over to pick something up, or tying my shoe, and I’ll feel it — that sudden loosening of fabric that was meant to be tight, a gap where everything was once smooth and solid. My goddamn leggings will have torn again.
I think this fear began when I was young and realized I was fat, and that most fat jokes involved clothing being totally unable to contain the horrific, bulging, disgusting, unsightly fat body. Fat people on TV shoved themselves into shirts like sausage casings only to have buttons ping a thin character in the face. They would put their pants on and bend over to a flatulent ripping noise that was not a fart, but the seat of their pants parting like the Red Sea, exposing their (embarrassingly patterned or stained) underwear to the ridicule of the world. There was never a fat girl on TV or in any movie I saw who was allowed to wear a pair of jeans without struggling into them, blotchy and out of breath, just before tearfully standing on the scale and eyeballing the number.
Finding clothing that fit me at all was a trial and a half — in the early 2000s, when I was a tween, it’s not like there was a cornucopia of cute clothing options for fat kids — so as I’d wrestle with clothes in various fitting rooms while my mother waited outside, these images of fat people cramming their bodies into unforgiving fabric would be front and center in my brain. I wore mostly loose-fitting clothing that was honestly a bit too big, so that the odds of any of it exploding off of me lessened (in theory). It was a while before I would wear jeans, and longer still before dresses and skirts became regular parts of my wardrobe. Even as I grew older and realized it was ridiculous, there was always a tiny fear in the back of my brain: Would today be the day my clothes spontaneously combusted off of my body?
I am now an adult with a diagnosed anxiety disorder and I understand that this fear is ludicrous, and that even if something like that did happen, it would not be that big of a deal. And yet. And yet.
And yet I cry every time another pair of leggings shreds in the thigh. It feels like a personal failure — because I didn’t care for my leggings carefully enough, or because my thighs were too thunderous to be contained. Because I’ve been throwing money down the drain and washing by hand and air-drying and spot-treating and carefully rotating six pairs of leggings for years only to have the thighs give out over and over and over again. Because I am too much; I am out of bounds, uncontrollable, destructive. A joke. Fat.
The love I feel for my fat — my curves, the stripes of my stretch marks that make me feel like a tiger, the strength in my legs, my resemblance to ancient stone statues of goddesses — is hard-won. It has taken years and years of deprogramming and acceptance and eating disorders and running the shower too hot as if that would melt most of my body off of me. I guard this love jealously, fiercely. I brook no resistance to it. I accept no criticism of it.
But these leggings, man. There’s something about the shredding of my leggings that drops me right back into a changing room at 12 years old, sizing up the clothing I’m meant to try on as if I’m getting ready for a fistfight. It’s like my anxiety, in that way. I organize and exercise and meditate to practice letting things go, and now I’m on medication, and these things help; they prolong the calm spaces in between the times of panic where my emotions explode off of my body with buttons pinging everywhere, but they don’t fix it entirely. Nothing ever really will.
I’m trying to accept that. I’m trying to let my anxiety exist as another shape of my body. Because, really, it’s fine. I am fine. I am good, even. I buy leggings that I love from stores that are making clothing for women my size, and if they rip (and they always do, no matter how carefully I care for them), so be it — an excuse to get them in new colors, or turn them into bike shorts.
There are times I’ll go to use the bathroom and I’ll see tile through a section of my jeans that is meant to be decidedly opaque, or I’ll sit at my desk and feel a rogue breeze around my inner thigh. I am getting better at not plunging into a pit of emotional lava when this happens. Fabric wasn’t meant to stand up to walking five or six miles a day; my thighs are too mighty to be contained by mere fabric, anyway. I reassure myself, gently talk my anxious-brain off a cliff. I’m getting better and better at it — I can make jokes about it now, post in Facebook groups for rad fat women like myself and get a bunch of people chiming in. My anxiety, my tree-trunk thighs; these are facets of me, like my eye color or the size of my nose. And one day, my leggings will just be leggings. My jeans will just be jeans.