How thrifting helped my self-esteem

A student explores the relationship between her journey towards body confidence and her love of second-hand shopping.

Clothes, for as long as I can remember, have been both my best friend and worst enemy. 

But suddenly, our toxic relationship took a turn for the better. This is when I met thrifting.

Thrifting is a shopping outlet I always overlooked. It didn’t take me many trips to know I cherished the experience. 

I love creating outfits and looks that tell someone a little bit about me before we even speak. My wardrobe and clothing are pieces of me that capture who I am, who I want to be and where I’ve been. It’s probably my most important outlet of self-expression.

But my relationship with my wardrobe has not been an easy one. 

I struggled with eating disorders and body dysmorphia in high school, resulting in my body looking a lot different from its natural frame. 

I was wearing size eight jeans and medium tops then, so I never struggled with trips to the mall and could easily find my size in mainstream, “trendy” stores. 

I dressed like the people around me, hoping it would help me fit in and feel like the girl I thought I needed to be. I believed my peers would be more accepting of me if I had ease slipping into smaller-sized jeans and borrowing my thinner friends’ tops. I thought being skinny was everything. 

When I got to college, I realized my eating habits had been dysfunctional in high school and I needed to make major changes. I began to eat intuitively and not restrict myself how I used to. 

Now, three years later, I am a size 16 to 18 and feel far more comfortable in my own body than I ever did 10 sizes smaller. I feel like I am finally the size my body was meant to be. 

But every once in a while, I am submerged in my old, body-shaming thoughts once again. I’ll shop with my friends and find out the store doesn’t have my size in person or online, and it can be really upsetting and almost embarrassing when this happens.

Clothing availability and variability for plus-sized women is not anywhere near where it could be and should be. It can be very frustrating and discouraging when I go shopping and can’t find any of the latest trends and fashion in my size. 

Many mainstream clothing stores only go up to size large for tops and dresses and size 12 for jeans and bottoms, and these size restrictions aren’t accessible for women with larger, curvier figures. Fashion options for plus-sized women are limited, stemming from the industry’s fatphobic beliefs and tendencies. 

It can be very easy for impressionable, young plus-sized women to never feel as if their bodies are embraced and celebrated in society. 

I knew I had to find an alternative way to shop for clothes that made me feel comfortable and proud in my body.

In most second-hand stores I’ve visited, there’s a more extensive size selection that is representative of all beautiful body types, not to mention thrifting is a sustainable and often more affordable alternative to retail shopping.

I’ve had so many exciting experiences finding pieces while thrifting that both make me feel comfortable in my body and fit my fashion sense. From cozy, comfy Levi mom jeans to graphic tees and cardigans, some of my favorite wardrobe essentials have all come from thrift stores. Awesome thrift shops right here in Philadelphia are Urban Exchange Project, Philly AIDS Thrift and Village Thrift, and all have a wide range of sizes.

I was feeling so stuck when I had to donate my clothes that did not fit anymore and go shopping for a new wardrobe in my bigger, healthier body. Being a plus-sized woman has become something I love about myself and embrace, so why should the fashion industry make me feel like it was something to be ashamed of? 

I would’ve done anything to be tall, thin and beautiful when I was in high school, and those unhealthy efforts and habits I built resulted in a lot of hurt. I thought if I looked like the models I saw on Instagram or could fit into Hollister jeans, I would be happy, but I was wrong. 

We should be embracing women who are comfortable in their bodies and providing women of all sizes with the freedom to dress how they’d like to and buy the clothes they want to. 

We haven’t quite gotten there in the retail fashion industry, but I truly believe that thrifting is a great option for plus-sized women to find clothing that fits their look and makes them feel comfortable. I’ve never come home from a thrift store without a smile on my face, some awesome pieces and a newfound confidence in my body.

1 Comment

  1. Absolutely incredible. You’re beautiful the way you are Molly, and one step at a time, you are learning that for yourself. Keep doing you Mol.

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