Surrendering the Skinny Skinny Jeans

Posted by on Jul 29, 2014

I returned home from 40 days of residential treatment this spring to a predicament no one warned me about: my jeans.

I’d spent the last month and a half carefully unearthing my past, examining and grieving it, and then finding it a final resting place within myself. But I’d forgotten about the parts of my past that were hanging my closet.

Most of the clothing I owned was rather old. There were even several relics from my teenage years. My natural frugality said these pieces were perfectly wearable clothes, while my eating disorder lurked in the background scheming a perverse reward system to attach to them. These clothes could help me gauge my “progress.” As long as the “skinny clothes” still fit, I was okay.

Once in a while, when even the smallest sizes had grown loose, I would tell myself that I was done with it all. My body was not meant to be child-sized forever. While I tried to eat more, I placed a moratorium on all clothes shopping until I could fit into a healthy size.

As a result, I rarely bought new clothes.

So when I returned from residential and opened my closet doors for the first time in 40 days, I knew I was going to have a problem.

I spent two weeks wearing oversized shirts and leggings before I told my therapist I was afraid to confront my clothes. An eating disorder veteran, she said that I had to get rid of the anorexic clothing if I was ever to get rid of my eating disorder. She encouraged me to bring some of it to treatment so that she and I could dispose of it together.

So one harrowing evening in April, I tried on each article of clothing to decide which I could keep and which I had to relinquish. My husband helped me through the bouts of tears and mirror-cursing. At the end of the night, I took refuge in a pair of gym shorts.

I saved one pair of jeans and a belt I could no longer buckle, and I brought both to treatment the next day. The jeans had been a birthday present from my mother several months earlier. They were my only new pair of pants that year, and the only jeans that fit. Two weeks into residential treatment, when I struggled for the first time to zip them, they were banished to the bottom of a pile of yoga pants and leggings.

Surrendering the Skinny Skinny JeansMy therapist laid the jeans out on a table between us. A tag sewn into the fabric dubbed them “Skinny Skinny Jeans.” She asked me if I had anything to say to them. I couldn’t muster a single word, being too preoccupied by the dual horror of losing my skinny jeans and of having sunk to the point of conversing with a pair of pants. She suggested that I go home that night and write a letter instead.

So I did:

To my Skinny Skinny Jeans,

I’m struggling to come up with words to say to you, because I’m stuck on the thought that I’m supposed to be angry with you. That’s certainly what my family feels after all—they want me to tear you to shreds, throw you in the trash, set you on fire, and walk away. They say I need to stop holding onto you, because you will never fit me again.

If I had just a flicker of that fire, I think I could walk away from you and never look back. In truth, when I think of you, I just feel sad. The words I actually have for you will betray a lingering attachment. I’m supposed to hate you, but in fact, I miss you. I think of you when I put on bigger jeans and longer belts. I think of you when I look down at my body and feel confused by what I’m seeing, because I’m still adjusting to there being more of me now, to taking up more space in the world.

I don’t miss you because I feel fat or ugly. That’s the strangest part of all of this—I could actually get used to this body. But then, it was never about aesthetics with you and I. We were never on a mission to catch the world’s eye or to appeal to some thin ideal. No, you and I were accomplices in something more grisly—the mission to disappear completely. And you, Skinny Skinny Jeans, were the benchmark of my success. You kept me on track. And now that you’ve become just a lifeless pair of jeans that are supposed to evoke my anger, I feel regret. Regret, because you and I actually did well in reaching near invisibility. I see it now when I look back at pictures of us, and I regret that I never saw it then. Because now it’s gone. You’re gone. And I’m still here, wearing a whole new skin that I still can’t get to fit right.

However—I know that it isn’t me writing this and feeling regret. I know these words belong to whatever miserable force brought us together in the first place. But I’m working to override that. I’m learning how to claim my space in the world. I’m starting to understand that watching my bones recede beneath my skin means that the shame, loneliness, and depression are receding, too. And I’m realizing that all you were was another poor excuse for a voice. You helped me wear my misery on the outside instead of putting that misery to words and giving those words away. You’re not my voice. You’re not my purpose. You’re a pair of pants.

I don’t feel ready to let you go. But I know that feelings aren’t necessarily reality. You and I walked into treatment together on that first day back in December. Now, in April, as I’m about to walk out, I need to leave you behind. I’m ready to let you go.

From, Joanna

I read the letter out loud the next day to the stretch of dark denim my therapist had placed on the table again. When I finished, she handed them to me and then led the way out of the building to a trashcan on Park Avenue. I dropped them in and we walked away.

I’ve since bought new jeans.

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One Comment

  1. Hello,

    What a fantastic blog! I wrote something similar a few days ago. I’m in recovery and was faced with piles of clothes from the ill days which I then got rid of. It’s so hard.

    Thank you for sharing with me, I’d love to collaborate with you maybe.

    Best wishes,