I love sweatpants, and I fearlessly rock them at school without feeling an ounce of shame, though that was not always the case.
Now an important distinction: when I say sweatpants, I do not mean the athleisure-style sweats that are sold at Urban Outfitters or the Adidas joggers that everyone and their soccer-playing brother owns; I mean the sweatpants that are two sizes too big that you might wear when you are sick or when you are in the mood to binge-watch four seasons of the newest Netflix series in a single weekend.
Anyway, I used to have a system set up where I would spend a minimum of 45 minutes every night picking out the next day’s outfit. As arduous as it may sound, I maintained this ritual for the entirety of my freshman year, hoping that maybe, just maybe, a put-together outfit could serve as a band-aid to the wounds my insecurities created. Nevertheless, insecurities persisted, and my goal quickly came to a crash after one fateful day in sophomore year.
I was up all night cramming for a Western Civilization test, leaving no time for sleep, let alone time for my lengthy outfit selection process. My classmates knew about the importance and intensity of this assessment, so I figured I could get away with wearing my pajamas to school that day.
Eyes unrecognizable behind enormous bags, hair twisted into a messy top knot, and wearing my trusty old sweatpants dotted with coffee stains from the previous night, I lumbered into school feeling slightly self-conscious, but too tired and too focused to concern myself with anything other than the exam.
After I completed the Western Civ test, I could finally breathe normally again. I noticed a gawking group of girls that eerily mimicked Regina George and the Plastics from the all-too-accurate high school movie Mean Girls. When I finally grew annoyed with their judgmental glances and approached them, the girls almost unanimously exclaimed, “Wow! You look so . . . comfortable!”: the polite, albeit not subtle, way of saying “You look like you were hit by a bus.”
Despite the fact that I paired these sweats with an equally oversized sweatshirt, these girls somehow managed to make me feel as though my own skin was the most ill-fitting item I wore that day. I wanted to bury myself in the extra folds of my clothes. I wanted to escape and cry in the library bathroom, which had served as my hiding place so many times before. I wanted to call my mom and ask her to drop off a pair of skinny jeans and the most basic Brandy Melville top she could find in my closet, so I could stop attracting so much attention with my sweatpants and go back to blending in.
Before I could dial the last four digits of my mother’s phone number, I heard her repeat the cliché yet beloved Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” There was simply no way my fiercely stubborn mom would ever bring me jeans just so I could appease teenage girls I did not even care about in the first place. She would tell me to tighten my bun, adjust my glasses, and be proud of my sweatpants! I picked myself up from the bathroom floor, looked in the mirror, and laughed, because God knows my mother was definitely wearing the same sweatpants, with coffee stains to match.
I could not believe I let a pair of pants and a petty comment get the best of me. I had always treated high school like an extravagant runway show — your outfit was all that mattered, and the brands you wore determined your place in the vicious social hierarchy. Waking up in the morning, I put on makeup like everyone else did, I wore what everyone else did, and worst of all, I cared about what everyone else did. I never thought about what was flattering on my body type, nor did I care about my personal comfort. Fashion is meant to be expressive and fun, but it had turned into a chore and no longer expressed who I was or wanted to be. I aspired to carry myself with confidence and enjoy school, but instead of focusing on my education, I was tangled in the thoughts of the girls around me.
As I emerged from the bathroom, I held my head high; it was liberating to know that my sweats were unexpected and probably even unwelcomed by my peers. I had finally arrived at the point where I knew I was worth more than what I was wearing, and no one’s backhanded compliment had the power to change how I felt about myself.
I learned to embrace my eyebags, sweatpants, and top knot because they had turned into a symbol of my self-confidence and individuality. My sweats, though oversized, fit me just right.
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