As a child, my body did not enjoy the feeling of clothing. It also hated the feeling of being naked. From an evolutionary standpoint, I probably shouldn’t exist if something so fundamental proved a hardship. Fortunately, I had very permissive parents who, rather than instructing me to suck it up clothes-wise, allowed me to explore some solutions to my discomfort.
And, after the requisite trial and error, I discovered some effective strategies for combating a body that doesn’t like the feeling of anything, is irrationally afraid of outrageous hypotheticals, and is just overall precious.
1. “MAYBE ALL MY CLOTHES WILL FALL OFF!”
One of my main concerns with any and all clothes was that, regardless of how secure they might seem, they could betray you at any moment. As an adult, I think about this belief and try to remember if it came from some traumatic something. I’m completely at a loss, which means to me that it was either an irrational invention or I have repressed some shit.
My favourite way to combat the possibility of suddenly being exposed was to wear only very thorough pants with sturdy elastic waists. It was important to pull these pants up as high as they could go to ensure plenty of notice, should they decide to head south. Ideally they would be pulled so high that I should be physically uncomfortable but this was always offset with the padding provided from wearing three pairs of underwear at one time.
The next step was key. I would take a belt and fasten it as tightly as it would go, using the extra hole I made three inches from where the belt company saw fit to stop making holes. Next I would take the top of the pants and roll them down several times over the belt, forming a secure little fabric tire around my child waist. And, finally, once I was totally strapped in, I felt safe enough to go into the big wide world.
2. “I FEEL EVERYTHING AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO MAKE OF THAT!”
My skin is extremely sensitive. All physical sensation is heightened which generally manifests as extreme and indiscriminate ticklishness but at other times just high sensation, plain and simple. This is all just a delicate way of explaining that I have very sensitive nipples—I always have.
Obviously, now that I’m an adult human woman I’m able to view my intense nipple sensitivity as a positive (…duh) but as a child, I had a very “We’re gonna beat this thing” attitude about the situation.
Summer afternoons spent in my family’s above-ground swimming pool inspired the realization that my physical discomfort was dry-land specific. Rather than embarking on a life as a suburban mermaid, I deduced that it was, in fact, the slick material and fitted silhouette of bathing suits that accounted for this relief, not the water itself. I started wearing my bathing suit every day under my clothes and considered the problem solved.
“The bathing suit situation” actually marks the only time my mother intervened in my experiments. Concerned about the possible health and hygiene repercussions of an entire life spent in swimwear, she took custody of my bathing suit and returned it to me only when I was headed directly to the pool.
In lieu of a swimsuit, I turned to undershirts belonging to my sister. She was three years younger and smaller so they squeezed my body with a promise to totally stay put. I layered them to make myself feel even more secure (see example 1, clothes might fall off) and would wear them year round, convinced that sweating through the summer was preferable to the prison of feeling things so much.
In Grade 3 I was chosen to play a glamorous queen in the class play. My costume was a beautiful red gown that I loved right up until I realized that its stiff fabric was going to be a problem.
I put on the dress for the first time alone in a bathroom stall and when I felt the rough crepe against my chest, I collapsed onto the floor beside the toilet in devastation and cried the self-pitying tears unique to a neurotic eight-year-old. Every time I shifted in the dress, the material would send an unpleasant shudder through my entire body. I felt a panic rise up in me because I knew I couldn’t suffer through that feeling, even for the duration of a short class play.
I was not accustomed to explaining my clothing issues to anyone outside of my immediate family so I knew I’d have to solve this dilemma coyly. I announced to my teacher that my actor instincts told me that my character would wear three toddler’s undershirts underneath her royal robes. She informed me that her director’s instincts told her that was, in fact, not the case. Moments before I was about to go on stage, distracted by the dress rubbing tortuously against my nipples, I was desperate. As a last resort, I grabbed a prop tablecloth and shoved it in the front of the dress, stopping it from shifting around at all. To my mind, I had found my elegant solution; no discomfort and I looked awesome.
I didn’t, by the way.
The nipple thing lasted the longest of any of my other clothing neuroses. I wore really tight sports bras everywhere, even to bed, right up to my second year of university, when I started seeing my first serious boyfriend, letting our adult sleepovers unravel me a little bit. Now I am even known to go braless in public, so if you notice that I’m doing that, you should congratulate me like you would for anyone else in recovery from something.
3. “ONLY CERTAIN PANTS CAN BE TIGHT!”
Another aspect to the skin sensitivity situation is that denim is completely intolerable to me. The sensation of such an abrasive material directly against my skin is hell and I have never been able to comprehend the fabric’s mass appeal.
Before I was 10, it was all very simple. I hated jeans and so I never wore them. I almost always wore tight stretch cotton leggings in various colours, selected for me by my mother from The Gap. I was utterly content and could anticipate no change in the uniform ever being necessary.
That is, until Class Bully (a current resident of his parents’ garage in our hometown) pointed out insistently that there was something very wrong with my pants and me because of them. He called me “Pinkie Pants,” which emerged from his mouth like a scathing insult but actually seems to mean nothing whatsoever. Despite the perplexity of their meaning, I reacted to the tone of his words, and that night I went home, a woman broken, and tearfully begged my mother for jeans like everybody else. And because my mother was a merciful mother who had never seen her weird little daughter so convinced she was missing something crucial, she took me out and bought me my first pair of jeans.
From that day on, my desire to fit in saw me pulling my legs into my new blue jeans that stubbornly refused to soften, and then remaining inside them for hours. The minute I got home, I would run to my room, rip them off and climb into something more humane. This was my daily routine until last year when I decided I’d suffered quite enough for one lifetime and adopted a wardrobe comprised almost entirely of dresses with opaque black tights or bare legs.
It’s only fair that I mention my brief affair with a pair of high-waisted jeggings two years ago. The whole thing had a very “my only love with my only hate” appeal. Sadly, they stretched out, warped and disintegrated as jeggings are wont to do, and I am sensibly hesitant about buying a second pair.
4. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU’RE WEARING AS LONG AS YOU’RE WEARING HIGH HEELS FIVE SIZES TOO BIG
At seven, I decided that the white sneakers I wore to school every day were too flat and unglamorous for the extraordinary person that I was becoming. Resolved, I appropriated the red high heels (adult women’s size nine) from my classroom’s dress-up box and insisted on wearing them every day and to every occasion including gym. I blame my teacher’s indulgence of this gym-time practice for why I am not now a natural athlete.
I loved that I could wear anything and as soon as I was clomping around in those shoes, I was “my best self.” In my mind, the sound of my heels clicking against the marble floor of my primary school broadcasted the kind of feminine authority I was born to project. I would constantly volunteer to take the attendance down to the office in order to hear that sound in an empty hallway. And once there, the office secretaries would fawn all over me, telling me how beautiful I looked, how utterly grown up. Little did they know, they were feeding a beast.
I became known as the girl in the red heels throughout my school to the degree that at the year end assembly, marking my rise to Grade 3, I was officially given ownership of the shoes by the school principal himself. I was touched and delighted by the attention but it was also the first time I ever paused to consider how my shoes looked to other people. I was embarrassed by my ugly, naked desire for attention; that I hadn’t thought to glance around at my peers’ reception of my everyday performance. I regret to say that I never wore those red shoes after that day, returning instead to the white Keds favoured by my classmates and feeling decidedly less grand.
5. HOW TO BE POPULAR
In my childhood diary, one feature repeats itself identically on three separate occasions. On a blank page I would write the heading “HOW TO BE POPULAR” and underneath that, only “1. get a tongue ring” with nothing else to follow. As if the list just stopped there.
I never did get that tongue ring and I never was popular. Go figure.