I had to get out of my house so I went to someone else’s. Because quarantine. I don’t own a weighted blanket, so I’ve been using an LL Bean sweatshirt as an anti-anxiety therapeutic. I don’t remember how this oversized sweatshirt came into our lives but I have a vague memory of a Christmas long ago when my husband got it as a gift from his mother.
My husband is not a small man but he is a thin man, relatively speaking. This LL Bean sweatshirt is a men’s XL. My husband is not an XL man. But his mother is the kind of mother who wants sweatshirts to be comfortable and errs on the side of too big. And too big it is even for me. There’s at least half a foot of overhang in the arms and when I put both hands in the pockets I can puff it out so I look a Gilded Age oil baron. Neither of us wears it because it’s just too dang big.
Normally, this would be perfect. I lived in oversized sweatshirts in college because they are so good to hide in. My favorite souvenir from my first trip to NYC 20ish years ago is an oversized hoodie from the Bronx Zoo. I may have once used the term “statement piece” to justify wearing an oversized sweatshirt to a party. But sometime last year in an intellectual exercise in vanity, I made a commitment to stop wearing oversized sweatshirts—even in the relative safety of my own home—because I didn’t want to be seen as lazy. Or unkempt. Or slovenly. I wanted to carry myself with the air of someone who knows tailoring is a given. I wanted to stop hiding.
But when the quarantine hit, I needed something bigger than myself to cling to for comfort. I think the strangest thing about pandemic is that it feels strange to ask other people for support. Because everyone’s dealing with their own existential garbage, ya know? Besides, I’m a big person. I rarely encounter someone larger than me that I can count on to hold me like a weighted blanket and mean it.
So, I found myself gravitating toward the LL Bean sweatshirt. Just once, because I was cold. Then, because I didn’t feel like wearing a bra and the exterminator was here spraying for ants. It was all over after that. The LL Bean sweatshirt was the first thing I packed for this quarantine cabin getaway. “Because it might be chilly at night,” I lied to myself. I’m wearing it right now.
The cabin is out in the middle of nowhere Midwest. That’s lucky for me because my regular house is middle-of-nowhere-adjacent so it didn’t take me long to get here. And it’s gorgeous today. A brilliant 70F, no wind, birds chirping, squirrels and rabbits and a doe walked through the backyard like I’m effing Snow White. Just me and the wildlife and a beer and my oversized LL Bean sweatshirt on the deck when it hits me: this is not an oversized sweatshirt.
Normally, I wear a women’s US 18. An XXL. That puts me right on the cusp of a fun game of trying to figure out if brands carry my size. Sometimes a women’s size 18 is part of a normal, straight size collection. This mostly happens with brands repped in stores like Kohl’s where they figure their ideal bargain shopper is a more generously cut woman. But brands will also do that thing that my dad hates where they cut down the quantity so shoppers don’t know they’re getting less for the same price. (Ask him about fruit cocktail cans sometime…) Target does this. I used to be a reliable straight size XXL but they’ve forced me to move to their Ava & Viv plus size collection and now I pay more for scoopneck tees. (Just kidding. I don’t buy scoopneck tees. But ask me about my conspiracy theory about how Ava & Viv are palindrome names reinforcing the cultural narrative that plus size women are interchangeable and thus disposable.) Most of the time, US 18/XXL isn’t carried by brands at all. Or, if it is technically offered, it fits like a sausage casing. But even if my 18 is a “normal” size that I can try on in stores and doesn’t cost extra like the W (for winner?) sizes at Duluth Trading Co., it’s never oversized. It fits exactly if not a little snug. There’s no give there and SURPRISE if I want to go up a size I’m definitely paying extra if I can even get those jeans in a 20 from your brand!
So, imagine my shock and horror to realize that my beloved LL Bean sweatshirt—a men’s REGULAR size XL—looks like a tarp on me. Imagine how it felt to realize that I’m too much of a woman but a very average man. Sit with that.
I didn’t tell you that I wanted to avoid oversized sweatshirts because I wanted to be seen as more…feminine. My gender identity is, for all intents and purposes, solidly woman but the kind of woman who wears sport capris and Keen sandals to the Home Depot. In other words, probably gayer than a picnic basket unless you see me with my husband and son so then you just think I’ve really let myself go. (Editor’s Note: the author is in fact gayer than a picnic basket but that’s a story for another day) If I were a man, this same body with all its heft would be considered normal. Average. Regular. Nothing to write home about.
I have no response for this other than dugndkughjyfgsiudtgk$gjh! Seriously. Same body. Same LL Bean sweatshirt. A men’s regular XL that would be an unholy abomination in any women’s section with an equivalent amount of material. No wonder I have body image issues that are wrapped up in size and gender.
I’m at the cabin to focus on the blissful now. To remove myself from whatever I was trying to be in a pandemic. To write and write music and sleep in until 9am (#momlifelolz). I’m glad the trees and the birds and the fresh air don’t have to worry about sizes and I’ll strive to be just like them. Happy and warm in the loving embrace of a cotton/poly blend that doesn’t care if I’m an oversized woman or a regular man.