TW: body image, weight
You are afraid of numbers.
Specific numbers—numbers in context, numbers with meaning. A strange fear, one endowed with a weight given by labels and measurements, given teeth by what they represent. Made larger, more threatening, by what they mean.
You are scared of size.
It is curious the way clothing morphes to embody whatever we make of them, taking a role in our identity that it should not have the right to hold. Sizes loom, casting shadows far longer than their actual reach. They have gained a strange power over you, distorting from numbers into goals. From goals into shame. In a reversal of roles, it is you who has begun to try to fit clothes, rather than clothes being made to fit you.
Jeans never fit.
Waist size, jean length, the width of the thighs and the width of the calves. A number of elements jumbled together into endless combinations of ill-fitting products, pants made to fit people made with a blueprint that doesn’t match yours. The numbers sewn into the back of the waistband are a reminder that people of your size and your frame are not meant to fit into these pieces of clothing—there is a new exclusivity in belonging to the class of those who do.
So you roll the hems and pull out the stitching, placing buttons where they weren’t before. You make it into something that fits: this thing that has taken the privilege of belonging from you, that has sown insecurities into the seams of your life. In regaining some degree of power over your clothes, you regain some degree of power over how you see yourself.
You do not regain the same degree over how others see you.
You do not know when Asian came to be synonymous with petite. Slender, slim, a place for pale girls like the movies. Just when you become comfortable within the sizing system of a place that has no blueprint for bodies like yours, you realize there is a whole other sizing system to try to squeeze into.
That sizing system is smaller somehow, numbers reigned in even closer to zero. A stereotype filled with Size 0 and 00, a distinction made by being–somehow–less than nothing, as if the addition of an absence would somehow result in something else. Size 2, Size 4. One-size fits all (which is more often one-size fits some). The lucky ones, perhaps. The ones who get to fit, an unspoken privilege in slipping into a box not large enough to accommodate all. It is not clear when you started to let these sizes determine, to some extent, your sense of belonging.
To fit into one sizing system means not fitting into the other. Sizes don’t translate across an ocean, across beauty standards, across norms. Since you were young, you feared your own growth because settling at the end of that growth would determine where you fell in the slots of sizes. Your body itself would declare where you belonged and where you would fit in.
If you couldn’t even fit into a number, how could you fit into an identity. If you couldn’t even fit into a size, how could you fit into this image born of a stereotype, a generalized perception of your race. The stigma clinging to numbers beyond a certain range has followed you for most of your life; the magic of growing up has been tainted by the terror of growth itself. Because growing means no longer belonging within one number; you are endlessly passed onto the next. You hate how the sizing systems have twisted into something that lives in your head like an auntie’s scorn, an outside eye.
The way you have seen beauty and belonging has been warped as you’ve crammed it into a numbered system, a scale based on labels and tags in the backs of clothing. It is startling to realize that the ugliest part of you is just how much you want to be beautiful; it is the unattainability that makes you ugly to yourself. It is the endless, earnest fight to fit in somewhere. It is the yearning; it is the admission that you are not enough that makes you not enough.
So you are scared of numbers and you are scared of growth and you are scared of moving on and moving past and leaving numbers behind, climbing the rungs of a ladder despite your fear of heights. You are scared of things fitting ill and things fitting well—you are scared of fitting into your own skin for fear that your skin is the wrong size to be beautiful or to belong in one place or the other, one culture or the next. You are scared.
This power you have given to meaningless numbers has created systems that mean something, that generate a fear that does not consume but erodes. You are scared of how you have started grading yourself based on this numbered system. You are scared of your own criticisms. You are scared of your own head.
It is with shaking hands that you peel the meanings from the numbers, because it is only by depriving them of their symbolism that you can reclaim your place in these sizing systems. The labels on clothing shrink back into being splotches of ink and thread; the numbers on charts sink back into pixels. You try to define yourself outside these sizes.
Size cannot determine your belonging; arbitrary numbers cannot determine your worth. Who you are goes farther beyond what jeans you fit and whether you have to roll the bottoms because you’re too short to measure up to manufacturer’s standards.
Size is a construct, and what has once been constructed can once again be taken apart.