Saturday was the first day I braved the January sales. Full of Nando’s and wielding an umbrella to jab fellow bargain-hunters with (not really), I took a deep breath and walked into Topshop.
I’m always struck by how pretty the girls who work in Topshop are. They look in real life how I look in my dreams and Instagram photos. They seem to be the kind of people who wake up at 5am to get ready. The kind of people you’d never see with greasy hair, who only own really expensive make-up and can pull off those high-waisted vintage Levi’s jeans without resembling an overweight potato. Within five minutes of entering their workplace I want to claw my own face off and throw my entire wardrobe away. It’s never a positive start.
Seeing these girls turns me into a temporary wreck, made up entirely of jealousy and angsty aspiration. As a result I try to avoid visiting Topshop for the majority of the year but have realised there’s a certain sort of thing I look for when I venture slowly back in during the January sales – and that’s ‘stuff I would never fit into now but will 100% wear when I am thinner and better-looking’. I see the mannequins in the window and think “If they can do it, why can’t I?”, as if they were salad-eating people instead of malnourished bits of plastic. I flick sale-rail metal between my fingers, searching for tiny items that haven’t been stretched beyond recognition by poorly-fitting hangers or covered in foundation stains. Skin-tight bodycon dresses. Leggings. Cropped jumpers. This time around I tried on a camel-coloured dress, which was baggy around my top half but strained awkwardly against my bottom half, making me look a bit like a pregnant deer wearing really big pants. I cried for about five seconds, then decided, as I always do: I’ll buy this weirdly-shaped dress – FOR WHEN I’M SKINNY!
What an incentive. Entranced by my plan, I pictured myself eating lots of broccoli and running on a treadmill, before emerging from my gym chrysalis as a size 4 goddess with little-to-no body fat. “…And it was all thanks to this dress!” I’d say, and everyone would laugh. But then I remembered that this was a vision I’d had before, during Januaries and summers and birthdays past – it’s a vision that never leads to anything and is the sole reason why most of my new ‘for when I’ve gotten prettier/lost weight/had a really nice haircut/got a big event to go to’ clothes end up in charity bags with the labels still on them six months later. I crashed back down to earth and returned the dress to its rail sullenly.
Later that day, it dawned on me that I didn’t even really like the dress that much – it was just something so small it looked as if it would fit a child, and I felt like I’d somehow be a better human being if I could squeeze into it. I feel stupid admitting that but it’s true. It’s the same in H&M, which is NOTORIOUS for its fiendishly tiny items – every time, without fail, I’d rather force myself into a skirt that cuts off the blood circulation to my legs and threatens to burst its own zip than just admit defeat, go up a size and buy a skirt I’ll actually WEAR.
Everybody walking around Topshop on Saturday was pondering the new year and resolutions and how to be happy. For most of us – especially women, I find – the happiness that eludes us seems like it’d be so much nearer if only we weighed a bit less. I spent so much of my life looking like an underweight teenage boy that I view my current, completely normal size as grotesque and flabby and it’s only through writing this now that I’m realising how absurd that is. I don’t look at anyone else and think that they’re overweight – they’re just people – but for some reason I compare 25 year-old Sophie’s weight to 15 year-old Sophie’s weight and find older Sophie to be lacking. And sure, maybe I could work towards losing a couple of pounds and suddenly find inner peace, but if wanting to do that comes from a place of self-loathing rather than a place of self-care, it’s probably not going to be something I stick to for long.
Thank you, uber-attractive Topshop staff – you inadvertently made me realise how hard I’m being on myself. Sometimes I’m so nasty to Sophie I wonder why she’s not in tears for most of the day. I’m being nasty to her right now in my head for REFERRING TO HERSELF IN THE THIRD PERSON.
I need to be kinder.
Being gentler on myself doesn’t mean eating chocolate for two hours straight – it means not beating myself up on the occasions when I do. It might involve cooking spinach instead of oven chips and appreciating the good it’ll do for my body. It could mean reminding myself that just because the Topshop sales assistants look good, that doesn’t mean I look bad. Maybe it’ll involve buying that stupid deer dress and trying not to care that I don’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model in it, because we all have a bit of a belly when we wear bodycon and everybody else is too worried about themselves to give a shit what my stomach looks like anyway. Perhaps it’ll mean deep breaths and calm words when I want to delete this post and shout “WHY IS EVERYTHING I WRITE TERRIBLE?” the second I hit ‘publish’. It’s 2016, but my focus isn’t really on the new year. It’s on new days and baby steps and trying not to cry when I walk into Topshop. There’s nothing wrong with that.