Sunday, May 17, 2009

Clothes Don't Make The Man

If you look at my Facebook page, you will find the quote “90% of my wardrobe is aspirational.”

Trust me when I say it was an expression of pure frustration that I blurted out to my wife one night as I was tipping the scales and no longer fitting into any of my usual shtunky, dumpy fat clothes.

Ever since I was a little boy, shopping for something nice to wear has always been a bit of a challenge.

While others would enjoy buying new clothes for school, I always seemed to come away from the experience traumatized. Every time I would go shopping with my mom, she would hand me piles of clothes and march me into the dressing room. You can imagine the embarrassment of exiting that little room with one or two items that fit.

After years of this, I came to look at shopping for clothes as my own personal version of water boarding. I became resigned to settling for whatever limited choices I could find that were available in my ever expanding size.

These days, as I have been navigating the downward slope, I have finally begun to find some excitement in what I wear.

You see, over the years I have assembled quite a wardrobe of nicer clothes that I purchased on a whim with the hope that one day I would actually squeeze into that 2X shirt instead of the 4X size I was wearing when I bought it.

I call this silliness aspirational shopping.

Yes, it sounds crazy, but when you are a Big and Tall customer and you see something that vaguely looks nice – dare I say "stylish" - you’ll plop down your credit card even if you can’t fit into it.

You do so, because as a general rule, most of what you find on the racks at these stores is way beyond pitiful. Beyond beyond, actually. It’s as though there isn’t a fat fashion designer in the entire world.

You get so desperate for something decent that when you see stuff you like, you buy it hoping that you will finally get your act together and lose the weight just so you can fit into something nice.

Now intentionally assembling an “aspirational” wardrobe is tremendously stupid if you are hoping it will serve as some sort of impetus to get you off your ass and start seriously dieting.

Trust me when I say it doesn’t work. Save yourself the hundreds if not thousands of dollars now.

Only now am I finally fitting into purchases that I made more than 10 years ago. And I am very much enjoying my new wardrobe. But there is a catch. I am also feeling a bit like a fat version of Benjamin Button. Pants, belts and shirts that are tight one week are like a big clown suit a week or two later.

As I have become leaner and leaner, I have grown out of entire portions of my wardrobe.

For weeks, I have been tossing things I can no longer wear onto a pile in my closet. This week, that mountain of discarded clothes grew beyond control and I forced myself to put all of it into a giant box.

As I was packing away this baggage from my larger past, a voice deep within kicked into high gear.

“Steve, are you really going to give this stuff to Goodwill? What happens if you gain your weight back? What will you wear?”

When you are big, no matter how well your diet is going – no matter how much weight you have lost, you live in constant fear of relapse.

I am a weight worrywart at heart. Given the yo-yo of my dieting life, I just can’t help it.

My cousin’s father had a saying that she has framed in her kitchen: “today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” In a nutshell, that captures my neurosis perfectly.

Once I hit a weight loss groove like this, it’s my nature to worry as I wonder when the other shoe will drop. Because in the past, when that shoe drops, it drops hard.

The difference for me now is the recognition that diets end. But when you are changing your life while also trying to keep your family on a new path, the commitment must be forever.

A few weeks back while watching The Biggest Loser, the contestants were forced into a challenge where they had to run over these huge dirt hills while dragging heavy sand bags representing all the weight they had lost.

So if a woman shed 150 pounds, she had to carry 150 pounds of weight in these sacks thru the challenge, dropping some of her bags only after she hit certain course markers.

At the finish line, the contestants were forced to heave their remaining weight sacks over a steep cliff.

It was a powerful moment as these much thinner contestants triumphantly threw their “fat” off the mountain.

Now it doesn’t take Dr. Freud to figure out the symbolism of such a bold act, so why do I feel so challenged by getting rid of a bunch of clothes now 8 sizes too big?

For years, whenever I lost weight, I never got rid of the old sizes. I always kept them on hand as a safety net for the inevitable day when I gained it back.

So now I have this huge overflowing box sitting in my room and I have been torturing myself with this question of whether to keep the clothes, God forbid my best dieting intentions get swallowed whole along with a few hundred pizzas.

I am who I am, and now the decision has been made. Today, the box is leaving the house. I can’t shake my past but I sure can give some of it to Goodwill.

The dieter’s roller coaster takes such a terrible toll on your psyche when you have lived your life resigned to an existence you genuinely don’t desire.

To me, the act of sending the box to charity is just as important and just as bold as those contestants throwing their fat off the cliff.

For the first time, I am saying to myself “it’s not coming back.” I find it much more insidious and even dangerous knowing that my emergency fat suit is tucked away on a hanger just waiting for my return.

I know I can’t afford to have those clothes in my life anymore.

Now if you know me, you may know I am a pack rat. I keep everything. Every closet in my house – upstairs and downstairs – is filled to the rafters with crap I can’t wear. Woefully out of fashion, I am sure somewhere in the house is some husky sized bell-bottoms from the 70s. It’s truly that bad.

My pack rat mentality goes well beyond lunacy, but it is perhaps the surest sign that I have lived my life in perpetual hope that one day I would be able to correct my behavior and set a new course.

And I truly believe for the first time in my life, I am going to be able to stick to this life change. Why? Because I am eating my way thin for the right reasons instead of starving myself with fad liquid diets.

As I have been rummaging through row upon row of hangers in my closet trying to discover what still fits, it really is amazing how much your clothes tell you about your life.

Forget that I have no fashion sense.

That is either a given or a true restriction of shopping at Rochester’s Big & Tall.

But as I was getting rid of my jumbo sized pants, I began pulling hanger after hanger off the racks. To me, the sheer number of pants I had in those sizes meant I had been in that weight zone for years.

As I moved down from size to size, I could tell that I put that weight on quickly because I only had a one or two pairs of those smaller sizes.

I am currently very close to a plateau size that is almost 10 inches smaller than where I began my journey.

What do I mean by plateau size?

I mean that as I hit this new level, it’s the mother lode of clothes from the early to mid 90s. I must have been that size for years and years judging by the number of pants I have waiting for me.

Fitting into clothes I purchased in the 90s and beyond is like stepping into a time machine.

This week I literally had to scrape a huge layer of dust off a suit that had been hanging in my closet for almost 13 years. It was a suit I bought around the time I lost a bunch of weight for my wedding. When I bought this particular two-piece, I had just been promoted and wanted to wear more dignified duds.

To me, the clothes tell a story of a distant past.

So as I once again fit into these old friends, I am transported to another time in my life when I am sure I was just as committed to weight loss and keeping it off permanently as I am today.

You all know that I have always yearned to be thinner and my collection of clothes is also a vivid reminder of how that commitment can fade.

I probably only wore that suit a few times before it no longer fit and the irony now is that I may only be able to wear it a few times more before it becomes a baggy shell.

I have far too many memories of growing out of clothes as I moved up the scale, but this is really one of the rare times I can recall the process in reverse. And that is as exhilarating as it is foreign.

Right now everything old is new again.

My friends think I have a whole new wardrobe. Little do they know I spent the money years ago. In this economy, it’s the kind of shopping I like most.

For years and years, my wife and I had a code word for fat people. Whenever we would see someone obscenely obese, we would whisper “truth” to each other.

It was an acknowledgement that said basically, “Yes, Steve, you are fat, but look at him. You are nowhere near as fat as that guy over there. Truth.” Well, I am finally getting rid of my “truth” clothes.

I want to lose another 100 pounds. My doctor thinks that’s ambitious but we will see. He says go for what is maintainable, not what is attainable. In a few more weeks, I should be half way to my goal.

I know I still have a long, long way to go, but I look forward to the day when I can shop in any clothing store I want.

As proud as I am with all the success we have enjoyed, for me the true measure of my life change will be when Rochester is no longer my clothes store, he’s just Jack Benny’s butler.

 Copyright, Steve Elzer, 2009
All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. I felt really identify because it happened to me a similar story, suffering from obesity and the clothes I was never that feeling is very frustrating I understand you and support you. thanks for this wonderful story