Welcome to Pop Culture Week! While you can always find us waxing poetic about the hefty overlap between fashion and pop culture, we're dedicating the next five days to the subject of our favorite music, movies, TV, celebrities, books and theater, and how that all intersects with the fashion industry.
Whenever I call myself "big," people recoil as if they'd just accidentally touched a hot pan. My stomach rolls over my jeans and my broad shoulders have split a number of jackets. I'm six-feet tall and I don't know exactly how much I weigh because I don't weigh myself. In fact, when I go to the doctor, I ask if I can stand on the scale facing backwards and that they don't tell me the number. One time a doctor forgot and I spiraled for a week.
As much as I've been obsessed with my body, I've been obsessed with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and specifically, their sartorial choices. I know I'm not the only millennial who fawns over their every look; there are entire Instagram accounts dedicated to photos of them outside their West Village office building smoking Marlboros, drinking coffee and talking on their iPhones. I was first introduced to them the same way as everyone else, on "Full House." I followed along as they solved crimes, fell in teenage love in foreign cities and navigated the dangerous waters of an ABC Family high school. I was a steadfast Mary-Kate, never an Ashley.
My eating habits have been disordered for as long as I can remember. There was the time in eighth grade where I convinced myself I could subsist on a few strawberries a day. In college I replaced food with amphetamines and black coffee. Even at my lowest weight, I felt bigger than most (if not all) of my peers. My clothes never draped delicately over my décolletage — they tugged and pulled over my 38D breasts. All I wanted in life was to be smaller, and to be able to dress like the twin moguls I so admired, but the goal post kept moving.
I still remember the black silk turban headband Ashley wore with denim shorts and a black shirt and belt. I remember the way Mary-Kate styled a green hoodie with a brown leather jacket and blue infinity scarf. I remember the purple-and-white dresses they wore to the unveiling of their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I remember the red beret Mary-Kate used to wear. I remember all the gorgeous Balenciaga City bags, distressed from years of use without a care that they cost more than my rent. I remember the towering platforms, the flip flops, the big sunglasses and hell, even the Starbucks cups.
I've attempted to unpack my feelings about my body for the past two decades, but the boxes keep piling up. Did I start getting tattoos as a distraction, quite literally covering giant swaths of my figure? Do I mostly wear big, black T-shirts as an escape and to divert attention? Is my inability to stick to a diet an excuse to funnel Cheetos into my mouth, or does my subconscious know that dieting is a slippery slope into restriction? Will I ever be able to look in the mirror and be fully happy with what I see? Why did I latch onto the Olsens specifically, instead of someone who looked more like me? Would that have stemmed this decades-long cycle?
There has always been something so simple and yet so fantastical about the way Mary-Kate and Ashley dress. The designers behind The Row and Elizabeth & James are often credited with inventing the modern Boho-chic aesthetic: The way they can take a ripped pair of jeans and make them look like so much more; the layers and layers of silk and cotton; a gigantic bag dangling from the crook of their elbows. Before the days of Twitter and Instagram, I would pore over blog photos, trying to recreate their outfits on a Walmart budget. I still remember the moment I found knockoff Dita Supa Dupa sunglasses — they currently retail for $450, I most definitely spent no more than $20 — on '80s Purple; I paid for rush shipping so I could immediately have them in my possession. Accessories have no size, and I was trying to live an Olsens-inspired life as if mine depended on it.
When you're already in the XLs and trying to dress like an Olsen, you end up a couple Xs larger and looking like a kid who ransacked their mom's closet. How do you dress oversized when you already are? I think back to this Dazed piece often, about how hyperfemininity is expected of bigger girls because the athleisure of our thinner counterparts isn't a luxury we can afford. Aside from the totality of the fashion industry catering to women between the sizes of 0 and 8, certain styles of clothing are especially regarded towards those without curves or bumps.
I have never (and will never) project eating issues onto another person, but in the early aughts, both Mary-Kate and Ashley got noticeably thinner and the tabloids buzzed about it. I would pinch the fat between my bra and arm, watch the stretch marks on my sides grow more cavernous and desperately wish my ribs would be visible from the side or that my back would look like a jutting mountainscape. I still wanted to dress like them, but I went from wanting to be a Mary-Kate to wanting to be Mary-Kate, a distinction that still haunts me.
Now, with numerous CFDA awards under their belts, Mary-Kate and Ashley are bona fide fashion industry juggernauts. And I still find myself referencing their outfit photos from more than a decade ago, trying to replicate them on my decidedly not-Olsen-like body. I recently found a photo of Ashley wearing jeans with a split hem, scoured the internet for hours to find what I thought would be a suitable ASOS pair, only for them to cut off my circulation and be relegated to the bottom of my drawer, unable to return them and admit defeat.
I weigh a lot more than I did when she wore those jeans to that basketball game, but I'm also more okay with it. Do I love my body? No, I don't. But it's the only one I have. I restrict a lot less, I know how to dress my figure to hide the parts that make me feel uncomfortable, and showcase the ones that don't. I really love cheeseburgers and won't apologize for choosing them over a salad. I'm still a work in progress. I even finally bought a Balenciaga City bag (secondhand!), and if that's not proof of how far I've come, I don't know what is.