by Roz Rea ‘19
Content warning: suicidal ideation
Senior Spring has culminated in one event after another where I am supposed to wear outfits that make me look “nice.”
Senior Soirée required “cocktail attire” with the caveat of “whatever makes you feel comfortable.” But if everyone else is in cocktail attire and you’re not, you sure won’t feel comfortable anymore. I wore a blue lace cocktail dress. It didn’t zip all the way up.
Hoop Rolling didn’t require anything in particular, other than our gowns. But if you’re taking pictures, as tradition demands, and you don’t have a lot of pictures to begin with, you’re going to want to look nice. I wore a pinafore. It barely zipped up.
Marathon Monday has no requirements despite the time-honored combination of crop tops and raincoats. I wore jeans and a t-shirt, telling myself I wasn’t going to drink much anyway. My jeans, tight at the start of the day, wouldn’t zip all the way up after all the rum I drank (and the bagels I ate to soak up the rum).
Ruhlman. Department dinners. Job interviews. Thesis oral defense. Senior Gala. Baccalaureate. Commencement. All need outfits. All of these outfits will probably have zippers—zippers that maybe won’t zip up because my clothes don’t fit me.
Let’s start with the thesis part. My clothes used to fit me. This year, however, with all the stress leading up to these events—writing my thesis, applying to jobs, completing senior year—making sure my clothes continued to fit took a backseat to the stress-eating, drinking, and gym avoidance that characterized my thesis-writing era. This year, I became so concerned that my honors project wouldn’t be good enough, or even get done at all, that I didn’t notice the subtle increase in my fat, until this dress didn’t zip up anymore.
This dress. Oh, this dress. Forest green, belted, A-line, sewn-on buttons, zippered back, all for a classic mod look. It was something sophomore Roz had bought for a department party. When I first bought it—on sale even!—I was blown away by how amazing it made my boobs look. It felt like a dress for a grown-up. I could see myself wearing it to various parties and even to job interviews and around the office after Wellesley. The green dress paired with a black blazer matches my black and green resume which matches my black and green portfolio website. That kind of dress would make for a memorable interview, should anyone ever deign to give me one. More than that, it was a piece of clothing that made me feel good about myself for the first time in a long time. I had bought it at the beginning of one of the most depressed points in my life. It was something nice during a time when nothing was nice. It was a piece of clothing that helped get me out of my suicidal ideation. I couldn’t kill myself wearing something as fun and mature as this dress.
It was a great dress made even greater by the fact that I could zip it up all the way by myself every single time. Except for that morning. That morning it got stuck halfway up. It was the boob gap all over again. Worse this time since scotch tape wouldn’t fix it. I unzipped it and rezipped it over and over, each time getting stuck at the widest part of my back. I was really getting frustrated now. I had just worn it a few months ago. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I get it this time? I texted a friend close by asking if she could zip me up. I didn’t hear back for five minutes, and in those five short minutes I started to spiral. I started to cry and feel helpless. So I pulled out two more dresses to see if it was me and not the dress. The next two dresses also had zippers, and I could not fully zip them up either. I was really crying now. Then my friend Empress showed up, saw the sobbing, and reached for the zipper. It did not go up for her, just like it did not go up for me. Oh. So not the dress. It was me.
This dress, this perfect dress that had meant so much to me, didn’t fit me. But the dress wasn’t the one that changed. No one had snuck into my neglected closet to secretly take it in at the seams. I had changed. It wasn’t that the dress didn’t fit me, it was that I didn’t fit the dress anymore. I started crying harder, telling Empress that none of my clothes fit, that I didn’t know how I had let it get this bad, that I thought I had had it “under control.” I can imagine that was a lot for her given that we’ve both struggled with body image in the past. I think it’s important that I write “body image.” We haven’t been struggling with our bodies. Our bodies are the way they are.
She told me my body wasn’t something to be controlled. Empress had been my roommate when I had first bought that dress. She knew that I’d had it awhile. She kindly reminded me that it was a long time to have something, especially given how much growth I’d gone through. She kindly reminded me that we get fatter when we’re happy and she could see how much happier I was than sophomore-year Roz. I blamed my weight gain on stress-eating from my thesis, not on happiness. Objectively, I know senior Roz is happier, but standing there in a too short, too-tight dress which I felt I had both betrayed and been betrayed by, I wasn’t quite objective. Empress and I talked more. More about Jameela Jamil, and I was able to pull off the dress. More about Lizzo, and I was able to put on a robe. More about Shrill, which I had just finished binging, and I pulled on a pair of jeans, giving up on the dress altogether. We talked about opportunities for me to play around with my wardrobe, to maybe even buy new things not tainted by the period of my suicidal depression. And I put on a t-shirt, telling Empress it wasn’t nice enough out to wear a dress anyway.
But that dress was a whim. And the clothes necessary for these upcoming events at which so many people will be looking at me—some even existing for the sole purpose to be looked at and listened to—need to zip up.
They need to zip up because society sees fat women as slobs who don’t take care of themselves. A dress that doesn’t zip up plays directly into that harmful narrative: I am no longer seen as the thoughtful Ruhlman presenter, or the talented job applicant, or the prideful graduating bachelor’s candidate. I am seen as fat first. No, not first. Fat Full Stop. While that might be okay at Senior Gala where thick bitches need to fuck it up to the tempo (God Truly What Would We Do Without Lizzo?), it isn’t okay when it’s used to dehumanize me. Society tells me I am a burden, that I am less than. They use the evidence of an unzipped dress—clothing that fits normal people, “straight sizes” (as if I could ever be straight)—to prove it.
I feel like zippers are complicit in that dehumanization. The zipper doesn’t zip and that’s the worst feeling in the world. Despite the fact that zippers are put in impossible-to-reach places, it still feels like a personal failing when I can’t zip them up. I want the zippers to close so I can close this chapter of my life, college, thesis, and all. I’ll get through the rest of these events, hoping my clothes fit and looking for post-grad clothes without zippers.
From the May 2019 issue.