I own one pair of jeans. They're Gap Long & Leans, size 20. They're 100% cotton—not an iota of stretch. I bought them in the winter of 2006. When I bought them, I was the smallest I'd been as an adult; it was just after I'd had emergency surgery and had lost ten or fifteen pounds on top of already being at the bottom of my range. I thought that two-weeks-of-starvation-induced-muscle-wasting drop was real; I thought I'd keep it. I was wrong. But from that brief deluded flare of insistence, I retain these pants. My only pair of pants.
See, I don't really wear pants. I haven't worn pants out of the house in three years, probably. I have leggings for under things and for the gym, I have a pair of yoga pants for cleaning the bathroom and puttering around the house. I used to have jeans. Mostly Lane Bryant's; I liked their jeans back
when I wore jeans. But as I've consolidated my skirts-and-dresses
wardrobe, my jeans became neglected, then obsolete. I got rid of them. I think the first winter I was at grad school I still had a pair of pants—I remember wearing them in a snowstorm—but while I think I may have worn them once or twice on hung-over morning breakfast outings, I've been a skirts-and-dresses kind of lady, with near absolute exclusivity, for the past five or six years. Skirts and dresses flex. You can wear them at several sizes—a cardigan covers a multitude of small fit problems. And because I'm big-assed, a garment that drapes over the hips gives me a lot of size play. Also, for me, wearing skirts and dresses has been a way of fending off judgments of fat people as sloppy. "I don't think I've ever seen you dressed down," I recall a friend from grad school saying to me awhile back. That's because if I wear a t-shirt and jeans and sneakers, people don't look at me and think "adorably casual!"—there's the very strong possibility that they think I've forgotten to get dressed. What looks like a choice on a size four looks like the total absence of investment on a size twenty.
But these jeans have survived because of their symbolic value. They are the biggest straight-size jeans around (Old Navy's "straight" sized line does not count, at least in my brain; in my experience at least the upper end of it is cut like plus—I take at least a full size smaller in their jeans than I do in Gap's—their straight 18 fits me easily); Gap feels ambivalent enough about carrying my size that they only sell it online and only in one inseam length (too long for me). But back when I was a senior in college, back when I thought I'd figured it all out and was just waiting for my new, smaller, non-eating-disordered self to emerge, that shrinking would be a slow, steady, inevitability, I bought these pants to shrink into. I bought them on eBay, as I recall; not from Gap. What I liked about them when I bought them was their dirty, taupey wash; it felt somehow better than the indigo-or-suburbia wash situation in plus stores. Like real jeans. Real jeans for real girls. I wanted to wear them as the harbingers of a different relationship with clothes & shopping. I wanted to wear them as an imprimatur of normalcy.
And I never could. They never fit. I don't remember if they buttoned but I know for a fact I never wore them outside.
I've been trying on these pants regularly the past few months. Since this July, when I uncovered these pants during a move, they have become a part of my process and have gone from not being able to get all the way up my thighs to buttoning reliably but muffin-topping me in a serious way. That's where we stand now, me and the pants. They button pretty easily, but the muffin-top bulge means they're not really properly my size. (Yet, affixes my mental sense of trajectory.) I realize I am using them as a substitute for a scale (which I don't own). I am using them to provoke or to assuage—mostly the latter. Recently I became very concerned that I'd gained a bunch of weight. I felt this way because I'd been stepping up my efforts to eat within a relatively brief amount of time from the time at which I feel hungry, and because I had my period and my face looked puffy. Trying on the pants reassured me that I was just being neurotic, that I "could" continue working on my eating-when-I'm-hungry response time. The pants were authorization.
And I'm trying them on, too, because when they fit (look at me saying "when," just like I always do when I've lost some weight) they will (just for grammatical agreement) mark some kind of categorical shift for me. There are the world's categories, and then there are mine, and mine are mostly defined by clothing sizes. This is an incredibly weird one that I'm defining here, because, as you'll recall, a Gap 20 is the extreme end of straight sizing (Old Navy is the only other straight-size retailer I know of that makes a "straight" 20, and Old Navy neither appeals to nor counts for me, for various arcane and unimportant reasons) and because the 20 doesn't come in my inseam length. This is not really the opening of a major new set of clothing options. I couldn't wear these pants without having them tailored. And am I really going to have a seven-year-old pair of jeans altered? Unlikely. Even a new pair. But still, the imminence of having these pants fit properly feels enticing. It feels like someone, some big company, is saying that I'm almost normal. Almost good enough. And as much as I resent their definitions, their decisions, I want to be on the inside.