Sometimes, when I venture into the way back of my closet I am surrounded by past versions of me. Each outfit a different occasion, a different purpose. Some garments I have grown used to. Others I have resigned to never wear again. Shadowed reminders of parts of me that may never again fit.
Hanging in the way back of the cluttered closet are a set of my Army PTs. A soft, gray, worn t-shirt with reflective letters for those 5:00 a.m. five-mile runs. Black, water-resistant track pants that kept the morning dew off my underwear during hundreds of sit-ups. Even in the best shape of my life, this uniform was a little tight around my chest and thighs. As if the Army tailors had yet to get their measuring tape around the last hundred years of women in the military. I had grown used to my soldierly competence measured in tape hatch marks cinched around the largest part of my hips. This uniform served as my work-out gear and my military-issued pajamas across one deployment, three countries, five states, and seven duty stations. Even though it doesn't fit me now, I don't have the heart to get rid of it.
I do squeeze into the fading t-shirt a few times a year and look at myself in the mirror. I don't look like that mid-twenties girl who served six years in the Army anymore. But when I wear the shirt, for a moment, I remember what it felt like to be her. The thousands of hours of sweat and exhaustion. Trying to keep within the Army's acceptable allowances for my weight in the sweltering nights at the make-shift gym on my base in Iraq. Even underfed I was still worried about being over their standards for my body. 156 pounds is a hard weight to maintain at 5 foot 7 while still having enough muscles to carry a loaded M-16, a flak vest with armor plates, and full battle rattle at all times. I remember the confidant camaraderie, the instant forever friendships, and the mindless chats spanning the hours, weeks, and months of deployment boredom. And I know that for my small part in history, as a soldier, I belonged.
100% Heavy-Weight Cotton
My Judo Gi is folded in a perfect square with my hard-earned brown belt slip-knotted around it. It is perfect and periwinkle, and as I rub the woven cotton in my hand, I remember standing on podium at collegiate nationals. I felt the weight of the bronze medal around my neck as I looked out at the hundreds of people crowded around cheering. I competed in sports my whole life, but this was my highest award--my highest honor. At that moment, none of my ex's jealousy of my success could dim that moment for me. He questioned my weight and tried to push me in a lower weight class saying it was more competitive. He harped how I shouldn't be proud of being good if it meant that I was lumped in a heavier weight class. His condemnation of my eating habits, threats to break-up if I ever weighed more than he did, and his "helpful" new fad diet supplements couldn't take this moment away from me. On that podium, I belonged to a group of sweaty, smiling athletes and this place was just mine, and I loved that.
It has been about a decade since I let an elbow break end my competitive Judo career. I am at least 50 pounds out of my fighting weight class, regularly winded on a flight of stairs, and I am scouring stores that have clothes in the dreaded double-digits. I joined a Ju-Jitsu gym thinking I could get back in shape and maybe reclaim some of my old Judo glory. I pulled up my beautiful blue gi pants and they were so tight around my thighs, I could not squat all the way for fear of ripping them. The drawstring on the pants wasn't long enough to secure around me anymore. And the worst was when I could barely knot my old brown belt. I folded my blue gi up, tied my belt back around it, and said goodbye to my old friend as I put it back in the far reaches of my closet. I never ended up going back to that gym. I couldn't bring myself to buy a new one in such a larger size; that person just wasn't me anymore. But my gi is still tucked away on the top shelf of my closet. I like to go and visit it there and remember. I bring it out and run my fingers over the stitching, and re-tighten the knot in my belt. And I remember how for that moment in time, I once belonged to that group of collegiate athletes, and that makes me happy.
95% Polyester, 5% Spandex
In the front of my closet are the clothes I wear the most. The sad small cycle of outfits that fit me right now. And by fit, I mean what fits with my lingering post-baby mentality of "if it zips, it fits." I never was a big clothes person. Most times I'd be wearing whatever cheesy tourist t-shirt I could find matched with whichever jeans were the cleanest. Now I layer away the bulges, imperfections, and sags with cardigans, long coveralls, and pashminas tied to perfectly cover my problem areas.
I opt for my favorite black pants when I am trying to look professional at my job like I belong there and know what I am doing. I call them my magic pants. My sister gave me these pants when I was five months pregnant. She told me they would make me look like I had my shit together at work for the rest of my pregnancy even if I was secretly throwing up in the trash bin under my desk. I love these pants. They are comfy, make me look professional, and prevent my legs from rubbing against each other as I fast-walk down the hallway late for a meeting. They were a little big on me when I got them, but soon enough my body grew into them.
After I had my daughter, I set no time restriction on how long I would wear my maternity clothes. With all the changing craziness of my life, at least I could wear pants that didn't leave a waistband line embedded in my stomach. In about a four-month time span, I got out of the Army, bought a house, moved into a house, started a new job, and had a baby. My wardrobe choices were the furthest thing from my mind.
My daughter is six years old now, and those pants are one of the few I own that don't have me running for pajamas the second I come home. When I am home with my daughter, I am in charge of bath time, snuggles, and special treats. I make her feel beautiful and special anytime I can. And when she wraps her little arms around me and her tiny fingers squeeze the body-shaping stitch lines layered on my stretch marks, she doesn't care what size or section my favorite black pants are from. She just loves me. With her, as I am, I belong.
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I wish I was as comfortable in my expanding skin as I am in those magic pants. If I truly look in the mirror, I can see the toll of a decade of yo-yo dieting failures in every bulge. I see how I am now carrying a club card to a group of people to which I never expected to belong. Sitting in a room of point-counting women who are trying to stay on their eating plan was not where I imagined I would spend the Saturday mornings of my thirties. I started going to these meetings to help jump-start my post-baby quest for pound shedding. But even with a keychain jingling with success charms, I find myself a few pounds heavier than at the end of my third trimester.
Some days, I just smile and act as if I am not panting while trying to keep up with my friend's pace to the parking garage. Other times, I feel burdened to publically act like I have a plan to fix this "problem." To get back to a weight I haven't seen on a scale since my early twenties. But most of the time, I know those almost too tight size 18 jeans crumpled on the carpet are the newest version of me. I know that they work hard to create a slimming effect on my thighs and to cinch in my stomach while allowing me to still draw steady breaths. And I know that they now belong to me. The me I am for this particular time in my life. And for now I am okay with that. I can't keep letting a measuring tape quantify my worthiness a quarter of an inch at a time.
I know I will never be these versions of me again -- the soldier, the athlete, the new mom. But there is still some room in the back of the closet saved for my magic pants eventual retirement. And there is a place with my Judo medal to add more medals from the races I want to run with my daughter as she gets older. I am looking forward to trimming my closet's fat to make room for these newer versions of me that are soon to come.