Artwork by Sarah Abrahams
“I took this word at face value as I looked at girls with slim tummies modelling this latest trend, and saw these jeans as something that weren’t designed for me to enjoy.”
Our relationships with clothes often develop in tandem with the relationships we have with our bodies, and for me, this can be summarised by the lifelong love affair I’ve journeyed through with one particular garment: jeans.
As a pre-teen growing up in the 2000s, the Disney Channel-approved bootcut jean was my denim of choice for the majority of my upbringing. But when I got to the age where shopping trips to 915 at New Look and Tammy Girl at BHS became my regular weekend activity, I noticed my beloved bootcut style fade into the background of young female fashion whilst the skinny jean took centre stage. As I became aware of this emerging trend, one word reverberated in my mind as I perused the (often questionable) fashion pages in Girl Talk Magazine: skinny. I took this word at face value as I looked at girls with slim tummies modelling this latest trend, and saw these jeans as something that weren’t designed for me to enjoy. I was never particularly overweight, but I certainly retained a lot of so-called ‘puppy fat’, which I didn’t seem to grow out of like I’d expected. I viewed skinny jeans as jeans for skinny people, quickly ruling myself out of that demographic.
It wasn’t until I was around 13 that I finally accepted the fact my trusty bootcut jeans were no longer embraced in the fickle world of teenage fashion, and reluctantly zipped my soft stomach into pair after pair of skinny jeans in various changing rooms, taking too much time examining my still-developing figure in the unkind luminescent lighting. Once I’d finally discovered a pair I felt somewhat confident in, I took them to the till and felt as though I had purchased the rite of passage to my next style evolution.
After becoming an advocate for skinny jeans as soon as I realised the transformative power of stretchy denim in conjunction with an ultra high waist, the next milestone in my personal fashion journey came with losing weight when I was 19. This was an initially harmless goal that sent me spiralling into an incredibly disordered relationship with food as my body shrunk before my eyes. Seeing my dress size shift from double digits to single digits, I finally felt as though I had the body that the world of fashion prioritised, having previously felt alienated by many trends long after my reluctance to wear skinny jeans had ended. When you have grown up seeing messages about how to “dress for your body”, it’s not difficult to see that the world of fashion favours those who are slim. Once I’d become ‘skinny’ enough to conform to these trends, however, new, contradictory anxiety arose as the Instagram algorithm served me photos of beautiful models with the typical teeny waists but also with round, voluptuous bums, and I realised that I wasn’t curvy in the slightest. Exacerbated by a boy I was seeing commenting on how incredibly narrow my hips were, this body type I thought I’d wanted my whole life no longer felt desirable. I even once tried on a pair of ‘butt pads’ in Peacocks, mainly in jest but secretly hoping they’d give me the Brazilian Butt Lift-esque derriere that was becoming more and more popularised on social media. The capital in slimness I had spent all of my teenage years wishing to own suddenly seemed to lose value once it was finally in my possession, making me question the social worth of my body yet again.
Even now, aged 22 and in a much happier relationship with my body (and my new favourite straight-legged jeans), I still find myself nitpicking at my figure in relation to what seems to be currently in fashion. Social media fads seem to pop up and then disappear so quickly that I often can’t even decide how to criticise myself. Are my boobs too small, or not quite small enough? Have my efforts at the gym made me too muscular, or does my body still possess too much squish? Is my bum finally an acceptable level of peachiness, or will trends soon have us once again asking the age-old question “does my bum look big in this'' with negative connotations rather than positive? And do I really have the energy to care?
With dieting and body shaming playing such a huge part in the popular culture I’ve hungrily consumed since I was a pre-teen and the undeniable influence of social media, it’s easy to see how so many of us are prone to disliking parts of ourselves based on the waves of what’s widely seen as ‘beautiful’ or ‘attractive’ at any given time. Trends may be constantly changing, but this shouldn’t mean our perceptions of our personal worth should be as volatile as the value of the British Pound. The relationship between body image and fashion is incredibly complex, and it would be unrealistic to say it won’t always play a small part in how I feel about myself, but stepping back and examining my history with it reminds me that no matter what I see when I pull on a pair of jeans (skinny or not), my body will always be mine—not a passing trend.
Article by Olivia Cox