picked the suit off the rack mostly for the skirt. The fabric was a thick black tweed flecked with green and orange, inappropriate for the day’s heat but perfect for the coming fall. My arms were loaded down with several dresses already; I added the suit to my haul and went to try it all on, glad this booth was my last stop. I had started the day joyful, pulling beautiful garments off of racks and planning outfits in my head. But a morning full of imaginary styling had given rise to the familiar sense that my body was a problem.
As someone who’s been in eating disorder recovery for almost five years, I can’t remember the last time I felt completely at ease in my body. Days when I manage to avoid thinking about my body much at all have been some of my best. Days when I am moving between dressing rooms — tugging at dresses and sweaters, thinking about how I look, noticing every place where fabric catches or pulls — are some of my worst.
The dresses I’d chosen were nothing special, and I could feel myself settling in to disappointment. But then I put on the suit: The skirt zipped up easily; settled right at my waist. It didn’t stick to my sweaty summer skin or ride up when I moved. The jacket skimmed over my torso, never squeezing my softer parts. I felt good in it; was relieved to have found something that fit so well. Something that made my trip to the flea market worth not only the time, but worth the discomfort of destroyed optimism and the heightened awareness of my physical form. Something about seeing myself in the suit let me relax. I took it home and put it in a drawer to await the cooler weather.
When I stepped into the suit again come fall, what had been relief at the fit turned into amazement. I marveled again at the construction: carefully-placed darts at the hips; sturdy — if slapdash — stitching. But I was even more struck by the idea that this had been made especially for someone. So much so that when I put it on and looked in the mirror, I imagined the woman who wore the suit before me: A woman just trying to make her way in the world. A woman doing so in a body that must have looked a lot like mine.
I imagined that she was young but working; busy and resourceful — the fabric is formal but the skirt length is not, after all. I imagined her, sometimes, ditching the jacket after a long day to go have fun. When I imagined how good she must have felt in this outfit made to fit her just right, I felt the same. The discomfort I am so used to feeling in my body began to fade. I began to see my body without all of the associated emotional weight.
I know nothing, really, about the woman who once owned this suit, but wearing it gives me the sense that I share something with her: a body that is just a body instead of a problem. When I think of this woman in this suit, I think of her fondly, as I would a friend. I always imagine that she looked beautiful. And maybe that means I do, too.
Illustrations by Meredith Jensen.