High school, for me, was the worst time to be fat. Being classmates with boys meant you were often a target for unsolicited advice and rude off-hand comments. What was truly annoying, however, were the physical acts of innocuous torment. These were the kryptonite of my teenage girl self-esteem.
This, along with Manila’s recurring tendency to body shame, built up a sense of personal disgust towards my arms. They always seemed too big, too soft, too fat. In other words: ugly. So I spent most of my time trying to cover them up. My closet became overly acquainted with layers—jackets, sweaters, and cardigans included.
So when this challenge to go sleeveless for 4 days was given to me by BeautyMNL, I freaked out on the inside. I accepted the challenge—but I knew, in truth, that what I was being asked to do was bare the very thing that triggered my sense of self-consciousness. Yet the push that eventually inspired me came (strangely enough) from Mr. Chow of The Hangover. In this one scene, Chow (played by Ken Jeong), delivers the line in an iconic, matter-of-fact demeanor: “But did you die?”
This wasn’t going to kill me, so fear be damned, am I right?
INITIAL THOUGHTS ON GOING SLEEVELESS
When I got to work wearing my first outfit (I’m a teacher), my first instinct was to hide. (You have to remember that I’m working through almost three decades of self-esteem issues here.)
But after a personal pep talk and the realization that I’d be making all the body love warriors who had paved the way for me proud, I stepped out. And you know what? Nobody said anything other than, “Hey, you look cute today.” There were no snide comments, no snarky remarks. It turns out (surprise, surprise) that people are often way too busy with their own business to be invested in what another person is wearing. And on that note, here’s what I wore.
OUTFIT 1: IN THE NAVY
The navy blue twist dress, styled with a knot in the middle that gives it a flattering shape, was a very chic choice. Paired with nude pumps, this dress made me look polished and mature without trying too hard. And I got to show not just my arms but the reality that chubby girls can be fashionable and sophisticated, too. The dress hugged me in all the right places and I felt like a woman. It was that very feeling, soft and golden and brave, that gave me the confidence to leave the jacket in my bag for the rest of the day.
WHAT I WORE: Frassino Collezione Plus Size Aliyah Twist Detail Dress in Navy Blue, P999. Shop it here.
OUTFIT 2: BLUE CRUSH
This two-toned maxi dress is such a fun summer outfit! The turquoise skirt swishes with each step and when my students saw me in it, they gushed and said I looked like a mermaid. It’s very easy to pair with sandals, heels, or flats. Because the school I teach in doesn’t have a strict dress code, I wore it there but I could easily wear it to the mall, to an outdoor party (like a barbecue or a picnic) or even to the beach.
WHAT I WORE: Frassino Collezione Plus Alisha Maxi Dress, P999. Shop it here.
OUTFIT 3: THINK PINK
When I saw this dress for the first time, I squealed with delight! It looked so pretty and feminine and I was half afraid that I wouldn’t be able to fit into it. But the dress zipped up perfectly. It was so easy to put on and effortlessly added a pop of sophistication. I wore this to church, and I can easily imagine wearing it to a dinner party, a family gathering, or any event where I want to look and feel just a tiny bit more formal without having to accessorize.
WHAT I WORE: Frassino Collezione Plus Allie Floral Fit & Flare Dress in Peach, P899. Shop it here.
OUTFIT 4: NOT-SO-BASIC BLACK
Ah, the famous LBD. I was nervous about this one at first because it is obviously body hugging but when I put it on, it looked pretty flattering. The ruffled detail gave the dress a classy twist. It’s also super easy to pair with heels or pumps! Whether on a night out for a party or date, this LBD is a surefire classic and a closet staple.
WHAT I WORE: Frassino Collezione Plus Angelina Ruffle Bodycon Dress in Black, P899. Shop it here.
In hindsight, this challenge was a pivotal moment for me. We are constantly asked to learn but the real hard work of being an adult happens in the unlearning. I have lived so much of my life under the assumption that my body would be the subject of ridicule if I ever dared to expose it.
But I think that’s what makes stepping out into plain view so powerful. I’m starting to see that if we own our beauty and our bodies, no matter what they look like, no matter what our own apprehensions are, the world will eventually concede. The world will be forced to recognize that beauty is so much more diverse than the limitations we have created around it.
That, I imagine, will set so many people free.
I might spend the rest of my life inhabiting the body of a plus size girl. My age, my PCOS, and my slow metabolism have ensured those odds. But that’s okay. Because I’m starting to find that that isn’t a death sentence or a resignation to ugliness. That, quite simply, is one reality.
And it coincides with another one: that you can wear whatever you want, even the things you’ve been afraid of, and still look pretty freaking cute. I want to say that it starts with self-acceptance but that seems like the easy answer. I know that my issues are going to be my issues for a long time but this, going out in public without a jacket or a cover-up is one giant step forward.
I think what it really starts with is doing, whether you’re confident about it or not. Put on that dress. Try on that top. Screw what you’ve been told, the boys who squeeze arms or the girls who dictate the beauty status quo. Let yourself be seen, even if you’re shaking in your ethically fashionable boots, and ask yourself that profound question:
“But did you die?”
Chances are that your answer, like mine, is a big resounding NO. So, go ahead. Live.
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