“We don’t carry your size.”
I was 14-years-old and dress-shopping with my mom. The salesperson’s words hit me like a tractor trailer: How could they not have my size? I wasn’t possibly that big, was I? I was.
As soon as my mother and I got home, I locked myself in my room, stripped naked, and picked apart every single flaw I could find on my post-pubescent body. And I found plenty.
Fast-forward to age 18: Finally out publicly as a lesbian, I embraced my new identity with excitement. I couldn’t wait to be the gayest gay my smalltown high school had ever seen. I raced to the nearest men’s store to stock up on plaid shirts, tailored trousers, and other masculine-of-center staples—only to relive that same humiliation I encountered at age 14.
“Sorry, we don’t have that size.”
I’d already experienced this dilemma as a straight-presenting, femme teen: How could history repeat itself on the opposite end of the sartorial spectrum? Were my wide hips, thick thighs, and pronounced chest just too large to be worthy of the latest lesbian fashions, the kind of clothing my gay style icons wore?
I came to the realization that I would never look like Hannah Hart or Ruby Rose or Rain Dove. I didn’t have the right body to be the cool, fashionable queer woman I wanted to be.
Three years later, I turned 21 and celebrated three years with my wonderful partner. Feeling we had established a base of trust and love, we mutually agreed to open our relationship. I didn’t have any innate opposition to an open relationship, nor did I think it would bring that body shame back to the surface. But, like all major life changes, our switch to non-monogamy brought with it a slew of unexpected changes. The most drastic occurred when my partner started sleeping with thinner, more conventionally attractive people.
People I deemed “prettier” than me without even consciously realizing it.
These men, women, and nonbinary folk didn’t have my wide hips, my full chest, or my pudgy stomach. They didn’t shop in the plus size department. I highly doubt they’ve ever been humiliated in a retail setting with those fateful words, the ones that forever etched in the recesses of my memory: “We don’t carry your size.”
Those same insecurities I felt as a teen flooded over me, now compounded with the double-whammy of intense jealousy. Heartbroken, I banished myself to our bedroom and repeated the same procedure I’d performed at age 14: I stripped naked and examined my body for flaws. But now 21 and physically matured, I found new ones to gripe about: stretch marks, rolls, freckles, moles. You name, I found it.
I felt utterly destroyed. My body was queer, fat, and ugly—and I’d never find someone besides my partner who’d sleep with me. Who’d cherish my body in its imperfect state.
I wallowed in these feelings for longer than I’d care to admit. I didn’t even begin to rethink them until my partner offered a suggestion: “Why don’t you try putting yourself out there? You know, on Tinder?”
I was taken aback: Tinder? We’d had missed that window, committing to a monogamous relationship before it became a cultural phenomenon. But desperate for something, anything, that could help my body insecurities, I made a Tinder account. I put myself out there. And the results were astonishing: Complete strangers were into me! Things I’d grown to absolutely loathe—my wide hips, my ample breasts, my thick thighs—were the exact things women on Tinder loved about my body.
With my open relationship and newly-minted Tinder profile as the catalysts, I began to examine the physical attributes I’d deemed “flaws” in a more neutral light. If I couldn’t love my body, maybe I could at least look at it through someone else’s eyes.
Surprisingly, the strategy worked. And, as the self hatred began to subside, I decided to seek out alternative style icons—queer women whose bodies looked like mine. And without even trying too hard, I found them: The Mary Lamberts, the Beth Dittos. I found lesbian, bi, and queer ladies who were unapologetically fat and remarkably stylish.
I saw bodies like mine reflected back at me. And I’d be damned if they didn’t look absolutely amazing.
Perhaps most importantly, though, I found solace. I found validation of what I’d always hoped and prayed was true: that there was no wrong way to look or be queer. That my fat, tomboy/femme, gay-as-hell body was just as right as anyone else’s.