During the pandemic. many of us, present company included, put on weight. While thankfully, I didn’t get COVID per se, my “COVID-19” weight gain remains. For the past two years, like many folks working from home, my daily wardrobe consisted of some form of tank top, leggings, sweatpants, and athleisure. So, now that I’ve started to go out and about again, I’ve recently started clothing shopping. And truthfully, the experience has shed a lot of light on my body image and related self-esteem.

You see, before the pandemic, I lost a significant amount of weight — so much so that my husband was concerned that I may have an eating disorder. Though I don’t believe that I had an eating disorder, looking back, I do believe I attached too much significance to my relative insignificance size-wise. In clothing, I went from a size 2 or 4 petite to a 00 — and in some cases, the 00 items were a tad big on me.

In contrast, with my 5’1″ frame, I thought I looked better than ever and reveled in the sight of seeing my size 2 petite pants appear as if they were ten sizes too large on me. I felt like I was on one of those commercials where people reveal their striking before and after. This was reinforced through the many compliments I received over my appearance, especially so on social media. Only in my case, unbeknownst to me at the time, the dramatic weight loss was not only unwarranted, but also unhealthy.

Having somewhat of a yo-yo weight cycle over much of my adulthood, there have been times when I did my best to keep my muffin top under wraps with Spanx and camouflage. So, when I had literally nothing to hide, my appearance related self-esteem soared. Yet, at the same time, somewhere deep inside, I knew I was at an unhealthy weight. I think that hit me the most one day when looking in the mirror and seeing that my breasts were reduced to the size of ping-pong balls (and my bra size went down to a 30AA).

In fact, funny story – to compensate for my dramatic breast reduction, on one date night with my husband, I donned a pair of what I call “chicken cutlets” that are adhesive so that I had some semblance of a chest. But that quickly backfired when the cutlets kept falling off, at which point, I had to go to the restroom and remove them, wrap them in a paper towel and stash them in my purse.

Fast forward to more recent months when shopping for jeans, I discovered that I am now at a size 6—a larger size than perhaps I’ve ever worn previously. My initial reaction involved a gasp and negative self-talk. Fortunately, at that moment (and on the daily) my husband expressed how beautiful, sexy and gorgeous he thinks I am and, that I look better now than when I wore a 00. And, at times, when putting the right look together that compliments my current dimensions, I can have breakthrough moments of lucidity and agree with him. However, the ugly truth is that I still struggle with a critical internal voice that views me as heavier than I should be, which negatively impacts my body image, self-esteem, and confidence level.

I often say and share with people that I consider myself a work-in-progress, in most areas of my life, and my body image perception is no exception. No doubt that as a society we have many pop culture and lifestyle imagery that can wreak havoc on one’s self-image. That said, I felt compelled to share my story, as I believe we need to circulate and share more of those raw feelings and struggles rather than just showcase our highlight reels.

Also, I believe in sharing and celebrating small wins, tips, and tricks. One thing I have found helpful in my body image journey is to remove, and donate, the 00 and XXXS items from my wardrobe. I realized that seeing them proved a daily reminder of what size I used to be and how relatively larger I am now. Not healthy, not serving me and arguably not thoughts which I should entertain. Regardless of one’s size, trying to squeeze into items that are too small doesn’t do anyone any favors. Rather, let’s reframe the dialogue by embracing whatever garments emphasize and compliment one’s body. Let’s encourage, own, and celebrate styling, not sizing!

Jennie Azoulai

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