Yes, I’m Wearing Sweatpants: On Clothing and Body Image

*Content warning: This article discusses issues with body image extensively throughout.*

 

When I came to Kenyon my freshman year, I didn’t own a pair of sweatpants. I woke up a half hour earlier than I really needed to so I had time to both eat breakfast and put on makeup nearly every morning. Before I went to bed each night, I thought methodically about the clothing I wore to make sure it was cute or quirky enough, or matched, or looked like I had tried but not too hard. It needed to be something that showed I was put together and worth noticing, but not too out there as well.

As I started attending ballroom at the KAC in the middle of my freshman year, I refused to wear workout clothes (even though everyone around me was) because I wanted to look nice. I was going to the gym, even if not to use the exercise equipment, but still not wearing gym gear. What? I worried I would look chubby or like a fraud in workout gear, and I didn’t want people to see me looking frumpy or accentuating the wrong curves. I wasn’t comfortable with how I looked.

I do not want people who have an extensive morning routine or spend a lot of time on their appearance to feel like they are wrong. Caring about how you look is okay. You are more than allowed to wear whatever you want as long as it makes you happy and comfortable. I still care very much about how I look. I still choose what I am going to wear the night before rather than throwing something on in the dark while my roommate is sleeping, and I love putting on make-up. With each passing semester, however, this initial system started to be too much for me.

For most of my life, I have not liked my body. When I was in elementary school, all of the girls in my grade were stretching tall and slender while I slowly grew while maintaining what seemed a significant layer of pudge. I looked squat and small compared to those future volleyball and basketball players, though I steadily grew to an above-average height of 5’8”. While their growth spurts were early and immediate, mine was more gradual. I grew about three inches my freshman year of high school, and stopped growing the following year. I was the second tallest person on my cheerleading squad, and I was proud of that.

I am still proud to be tall, but the details of my body were never what I thought was right. My thighs are large and squishy. My stomach pokes out, neither flat nor with defined ab muscles. My hair is frizzy and messy, never tameable the way other girls could get their hair to be soft, shiny and smooth. I have had acne as long as I can remember, seeming like mountains of redness to add to my naturally flushed, round face. If there were features I did like, there was always at least two others that cancelled out that good quality.

As far as clothing was concerned, I hated wearing jeans. I could never find a pair that fit my body quite right, so I rarely wore pants in the winter when I could avoid it. (Being from California, I could get away with this most of the time.) I would rather freeze in a skirt and tights than feel like a blob in ill-fitting pants.

I also never wore sweatpants. I owned one pair, as part of my cheerleading uniform. They were warm and comfy, but did my body type no favors. I wore them in my house on occasion, or in the stands at a particularly chilly football game. The one time I wore them to school, my friend asked me “Are you okay?” because I was wearing sweatpants on a Tuesday. I had a cold, and I wanted to be at peak comfort if I had to go to school. Otherwise, I would never have been caught in sweats at school.

That sounds so silly now. As I write this, I am sitting in sweatpants at work because I have practice tonight and no time to go home first. These details from past were hard for me to write because it seems so long ago now. It feels so disconnected from how I feel when I look in the mirror now. I am proud to say I love my body. I love what it is capable of doing. I love the way I can dress it in all sorts of fashions to accentuate the features I most love. I still sometimes look in the mirror and wish I could change this or that detail, but it is what it is, and I have too many other cool things to do, too many good qualities and great achievements to be consumed by something as small to my identity as my appearance.

I was walking to Peirce for breakfast in my sweatpants and thought about how far I had come. Freshman year, I didn’t own any sweatpants. Now I have two very comfortable pairs that I wear all the time, and don’t even get me started on leggings, which I also discovered a love for in college.

In workout gear and my heels.

 

I still care about my appearance, but it evolved into something different. It is no longer a focus on what other people will think of my clothes and if I look “together enough” every single day. It is about practicality and comfort. Some days, I dress better than others. I dress more nicely if I have an event to attend for work. I dress up on some days to make me feel more confident. On other long days, I like to wear whatever will keep me the warmest or the coziest so running around campus is as easy as possible. As a second semester senior about to enter non-college life, I also want to enjoy wearing jeans and sweats for as long as I can before I have to look presentable more regularly than now

Dressed up for the opening of the Gund Gallery’s latest curatorial project, Black Women/Black Lives

 

If you are someone who feels they are not allowed to wear sweatpants outside your house, I would think about why you think that is. If you’re like me and realized it was an issue of body image and worrying more about others than yourself, you might want to reevaluate whose needs you are prioritizing: the opinions of others or your own comfort and needs. If you don’t like sweats, that’s okay too! Wear what you want, and do what makes you comfortable. That is what I have been doing, and I am loving it.

Image credits: Morgan Harden, Debbie Wendler