81. Hairpin and Dangerous

81. Hairpin and Dangerous

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Hairpin and Dangerous

Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.

~E. E. Cummings

My dark hair and green eyes have always been my most noticeable features. I’ve had a lot of compliments on my “porcelain complexion” and been told I had “a pretty face.” People have often felt it necessary to comment on the parts of me not associated with my plus-size body.

“Body.” The very word always felt foreign in my mouth, uncomfortable and full. My body was a cage, a prison, attached to my soul like a decades-long ball and chain.

In high school, I was heavier than my peers and was teased and ridiculed for it. I was fit, but 170 pounds and short, so I struggled to find stylish outfits for a teenager. My friends shopped for big name designers at the mall while I browsed the Women’s section in department stores. I didn’t realize at the time that the mainstream fashion industry offered few options for young, plus-sized women like myself. I just thought there was something wrong with me.

In college, clothing mattered significantly less. I spent late nights studying and early mornings trudging to class in oversized sweatshirts. Even pajama pants were acceptable for lounging in the dining hall and in the dorms.

The people I met in college cared more about my thoughts, ideas, and personality than the brand or size of the jeans I wore. I do remember one roommate dieting to fit into a pair of size 0 Tommy Hilfiger jeans. Mouth agape, I said, “I have never heard of a size 0!” She informed me that even a size 00 existed, and I stared at her in disbelief as if she were a lunatic.

“You’ve never seen a 0 in a pair of pants before?” she asked.

“Only after the 2 in the pair I have on!” I said, with a laugh.

As a first-time teacher with a master’s degree, my style morphed again. This time, my clothing selections had nothing to do with weight; they focused on professionalism. I had to dress my body for a real job. Back to the department stores I went, to the Women’s section. Here was a familiar land — a land of clothes devoid of style, but they fit and made me look old enough to do the job. My comfy jeans and T-shirts went to the back of my closet, replaced by pantsuits and uncomfortable heels that made me look as graceful as a giraffe on stilts.

This style lasted through five years (not the heels, which only made it two days), one failed marriage, one baby, and several additional pounds.

Two years after my divorce, when I decided to start dating again, I had no idea what clothes to wear. So I decided I wouldn’t dress my body; I would, instead, dress my soul.

I bought flowing bohemian blouses with interesting patterns and black leggings. I filled my closets with flats, chunky jewelry, scarves and bangle bracelets á la Stevie Nicks. And also, to feed my soul, I played my piano and went to poetry readings. After work, I was excited to get home and read. I started taking better care of my body, adopted a wholly vegetarian diet, and joined a gym to meet new people while staying active.

Dressing myself became effortless — but not because of the new items or a new body. My body was still my body and I was the heaviest I had ever been, tipping the scale at 250. I was still buying plus-sized clothes in the biggest sizes I had ever worn.

The difference was that now I was okay with that.

I had grown to live inside my body and truly inhabit it. It was mine — not just a hunk of flesh I was attached to as some sort of punishment. I was simply a plus-size woman; nothing more, nothing less.

A few years ago, I walked confidently into a bookstore where I was meeting a male friend from work to “talk shop.” We had coffee and were checking out some short story collections to consider for classes. Half an hour into our great conversation, we were laughing in the magazine section together.

“I can’t stop thinking about kissing you,” he suddenly said.

“I realized something I never noticed before. Your curves are hairpin and dangerous.”

I was taken aback. Our meeting wasn’t a date. But then, instead of being horrified, I was completely amused.

“Any particular reason?” I asked.

“I watched you walk from the bookshelves over to the coffee counter,” he said, “and I realized something I never noticed before. Your curves are hairpin and dangerous.”

Right there, in the middle of Books-a-Million, I kissed that man.

I didn’t kiss him because he paid me a compliment or because it was a romantic thing to say or because I had thoughts about a relationship with him.

I kissed him as a celebration of the awareness that my body, after all these years, finally belonged to me.

And because as a beautiful, plus-size woman, I was able to tell it what to do without fear, regret, shame, or hurt — no matter what clothes I dressed it in.

~Stephanie Tolliver Hyman

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