How Queer Eye helped me see fashion as self-care, not as a privilege my body didn’t “deserve”

The day after I finished watching the third season of Queer Eye, I went to the mall and bought a new bra for the first time in a year. My previous bra was worn out, the straps barely staying in place. The sides of the cups were streaked with deodorant remnants that had sweated off long ago. Putting on that bra every morning depressed me—it didn’t make me feel sexy or supported, which are two things that a bra is supposed to do, in my opinion. Instead, it made me feel sloppy.

I didn’t feel good about myself and it showed.

With each pound that I gain, my choices in clothing seem to become more and more narrow. I used to be able to walk into any store and guarantee that I’d find my size. I didn’t have to think about shopping because getting dressed had never been hard. There was never a guessing game about whether anything would fit. Shopping was easy. Then my stomach began to extend over the top of my belt, and my thighs began to stretch my pants to the point of breaking. Suddenly, I was told by employees that, unfortunately, the biggest size they offered was still two sizes too small, but I was welcome to go to the other store across town or browse online; they’d even be so kind as to wave the shipping charge if I found something that fit. I’d smile, my cheeks becoming warmer by the second, and thank them for their courtesy. It was the least that I could do.

Soon I learned how to draw less attention to myself when I dressed. My clothes were black. No item in my closet could be described as form fitting. I’m an extrovert, but all my clothing looked more appropriate for a funeral of a distant relative. When I shopped, instead of breezing through the store, I dragged myself to the corner in the back, where the shapeless dresses lived. This was my life now, and while I would try to learn how to be fine with it, it was difficult.

Over time, I slowly introduced color into my wardrobe. My friends were ecstatic, and soon I was too. It made me happier when I got ready each day. I loved walking into my closet and looking at the different outfits presenting themselves to me. Would I wear a jumpsuit today? A floor-length maxi dress? A simple shirt and shorts combo? When I selected an outfit, I could be anyone that I wanted to be, and I loved that. However, no matter how excited these items made me, the nagging thought in the back of my head was, “This joy is fleeting.”

I would continue to gain weight, and then, this dress, this jumpsuit, this piece of clothing that had once laid across my body beautifully wouldn’t make it up my thighs or over my stomach.Those garments would pile up at the bottom of my closet, and the optimism in me would believe we’d reunite soon enough—even though I knew that wasn’t true. My closet was soon divided into two categories: Things That Still Fit and Things That I Loved. Rarely would an item fall into both of my categories.

Looking back, I truly believed that my body didn’t deserve to wear nice things because I didn’t believe that it was a nice body.

I was too big, and I took up too much space. I felt as though I was always on display, no matter what I was wearing. I’d attempt to force myself into clothing that was much too small for my new figure because I believed that I deserved to be punished. I didn’t like to go shopping anymore because I would be sure to cry in the dressing room when something didn’t look the way I wanted it to. I began to dress more masculine, believing that appearing feminine was something only for smaller women. I would still break out the dresses and jumpsuits on special occasions, but for the most part, I would wear men’s T-shirts (women’s T-shirts were much too small for me) and whatever pants that I could find. I wore those items until they literally fell apart. In one instance, I wore a pair of jeans until the inner thighs had eroded away, allowing a nice breeze to flow through whenever I walked. I became too afraid to bend over while at work, which was hard because both of my jobs are very physical. I held onto those pants because I figure that if I could fit into them, I didn’t need new ones. I didn’t want to have to go through that dressing room experience again.

When I first learned that Queer Eye was being revamped with a whole new cast and message of self-love and self-care, I was excited—but hesitant.

I hadn’t been the biggest fan of the original series, so I didn’t know what to expect with this new group of people. But I was curious, so as soon as it was available to stream on Netflix, I came home and immediately started binging the series, breaking out into a dance whenever that catchy theme song began. It was oddly comforting seeing them give makeovers to everyday average people (or “heroes,” as the episode subjects are called)—especially when you could tell that all these people really needed was some help becoming their true selves, whatever that may be.

This new Fab Five—Antoni, Bobby, Jonathan, Karamo, and Tan—seemed more like superheroes than mere mortals to me. I laughed with them. I cried with them. I even threw a piece of pizza crust at the television when I became frustrated that these gorgeous and kind souls that were receiving help couldn’t see how worthwhile they were. How could they not see it? I was shocked.

Then I realized, most importantly, how could I not see it when it came to myself?

I knew that my weight affected how I viewed myself, but that emotion really became clear to me when Tan dressed people with bodies that looked like my own. He allowed these heroes to wear things that they really wanted to wear, and only gave them tips on how to dress in a more “flattering” way. Now, the idea of dressing in more “flattering” styles can be frustrating to a lot of people, especially those who identify as fat positive. It has a negative connotation because it still asks you to create certain illusions to try to be thinner. I’ve always understood that line of thinking, and I am aware of how harmful “flattering” clothing can be—but as someone who hated her body for so long, finding comfort in the idea of “flattering” outfits was actually a big step. Dressing in a way that I personally deemed flattering for myself meant that I didn’t want to hide in the shadows anymore. I began dressing this body of mine in the stripes and bright colors I’d hung up. I wore jumpsuits again. I wore dresses that would occasionally slide up my thigh because the dressmakers neglected to think about how women with bigger bottoms move about.

The best part? I looked good, and most importantly, I felt good.

When I found myself in a clothing store at the mall after my Queer Eye Season 3 binge, I stared at the overwhelming assortment of bras before me. I had to sit my shopping bags on the floor to get my bearings. These bras came with underwear, and the underwear was cute. It was both dainty and sexy, and I held my head high as I pulled out the ones I liked best from the bottom drawer marked “EXTRA LARGE” in the biggest font size imaginable. With these new undergarments came the new clothes. I grabbed jeans and a polka dot jumpsuit, and as I pranced around the fitting room, I beamed. When I had to poke my head out to ask the attendant to grab me a pair of jeans in a bigger size, she didn’t look at me with pity. She probably didn’t care or even have time to—she was racing around grabbing everyone a new version of this and that. As I listened to the conversations of my fellow customers, I realized that bodies are constantly changing. Sometimes that means you need to grab a different size, and that’s okay. Having any body at all is a privilege in the first place.

I ended up needing to ask a different sales attendant to measure me so I could find a bra that fit. Once I found one, the straps actually stayed in place. I looked down, and there were no deodorant marks in sight. This bra was brand-new, and it fit like a dream. I paid for all of my new clothes grinning at the salesperson as she handed me my purchase. When she told me to have a good day, I looked at her and told her to do the same. Then I turned on my heel, my bags swinging about, excited to get home and put these clothes—and this body—to good use.

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