It all started with the dressing room, sometime around 6th or 7th grade, most likely in late August.
My mother Jeannie and I were back-to-school shopping, and we grabbed all the same sizes that we did the year before: adult medium. (I was too mature for Gap Kids.) Stepping out of the dressing room, however, she identified the muffin top in the room and said, “Lift up your shirt, honey.”
Then she tugged at the waist of my khakis from the belt loop, “Spencer, these are too small. Pants should a little have room.”
But it was fine. I was still a soprano (e.g., hadn’t even learned how to spell puberty yet), so she reassured me, “Don’t worry, you’ll get tall soon. And all this extra will find its place.”
Finally, a few years later, I was touched by pubescence and it was time to go shopping for my first high school dance.
My mom wanted to make it a special event, so we went up to Saint Paul from Madison to visit my brother and go shopping on Grand Avenue. Our first stop was also our last: J. Crew. Because when I say I was touched by pubescence, it was really more of light brush. I was barely hitting 5’ 7” and that whole baby fat thing was slowly turning to teenager fat.
I was the body frame of a small or medium, with an extra-large stature. In that dressing room, it all came crashing down. I looked at the mirror and realized nothing was magically going to happen to make me fit into these clothes. This is the body I was stuck in, and it was going to be like that forever.
Storming out of the store, I immediately started to bawl openly on the sidewalk. My mom pleasantly refers to this moment as, “That one time I broke down outside of the J. Crew.”
There’s this track bag on the floor of my closet, filled with clothes that I don’t fit into anymore. It isn’t meant to be shameful, or even a goal necessarily. It’s just that every time I try to get rid of them: I can’t, but I don’t necessarily know why.
More bags and bins litter the hardwood of my apartment though. The trash bags filled with clothes that I swear I will donate this weekend. The boxes of extra blankets that I haven’t really unpacked since I moved last year. And of course, there is small mountain of winter clothes.
When I break out the storage bins, the explosion of coats and gloves and scarfs is almost immediate. And while it mostly looks like a bomb went off in a 2005 Gap, there are some pieces that I’m always so excited to see. There is the v-neck sweater I got while studying abroad, my 1980s Gortex ski-suit from Savers, but most importantly, the bright green North Face jacket that I bought in college just in case I passed out into a snow bank.
But the problem with my winter apparel, and for most of my clothes for that reason, is that I’m terrible at getting rid of them. My closet and multiple dressers are stocked beyond capacity, from every size between medium and extra large. Which is completely due to the fact that my weight has fluctuated more than 50 pounds within the last five years. My body seems unpredictable at times and will decide to slim down.
I have found, however, that there is a correlation between my fitness and the amount of times I go to the gym in a week. But that’s nothing scientific.
A couple months after I joined Solcana, I participated in the Thanksgiving Throwdown at a sister gym. I was partnered with this amazing woman named Amy from the sister gym and together, we got dead last. It was a really fun and welcoming experience, but there was this moment. And it’s a moment that has changed the way I see myself forever.
It was during the Clean & Jerk ladder, a weightlifting event that men and women competed in separately, meaning I was all by myself. As the event progressed, many of the guys took off their shirts. And while usually, I would never complain about that, I was filled with this feeling of overall not-good-enough.
So rather than wilting into my insecurity, I decided to rise to the occasion, by pulling the bottom of my shirt through the neck collar. The clothes were not fitting me anymore, I was fitting the clothes for me. And thus, came the birth of the crop top.
It was the first time in my life that I showed my hairy belly with pride. But it definitely has not been the last. Since that November day, my mid-drift has become a four-season event, and it has been a marker and reminder to myself.
While the crop top may have started off as a joke and defensive reaction, it has become my one-man rallying call. Clothes do not have any power over me, they empower me.