As a plus size CEO, leggings saved my career

I’m cool with school dress codes. I’m not cool with adults making students feel bad about themselves. When I read the story of Principal Heather Taylor telling freshman and sophomores that “unless you are a size zero or two and you wear something like that [leggings], even though you’re not fat, you look fat,” I started crying because I remember what it felt like standing in front of my closet, trying to get dressed for work and knowing that nothing fit. Being able to wear leggings saved my career.

I understand she’s apologized and didn’t intend to hurt anyone’s feelings. I believe her. Unfortunately, this unintentional pain is what happens when you can’t relate to being overweight. You don’t intend to be hurtful, but you are, and this isn’t a case of young women being too sensitive. This is a legitimate feeling of pain, emotional and physical.

Feeling pain and stress are often contributors to becoming overweight. Yes, I like chocolate, and I ate a lot of candy as I gained 75 pounds and 75 inches and went from a size medium in 2010 to a plus size 2x in 2015. But more than enjoying food, which I do, I used food to deal with stress.

As I gained weight, I needed to wear pants that stretched because my traditional dress pants and jeans didn’t fit anymore. My pants were too tight, and it physically hurts to wear clothes that squeeze and pinch. In the photo of me at the awards ceremony, I prayed that no one could see that I couldn’t button my pants, but I didn’t have anything else to wear. I was literally busting out and spilling over my clothes.

This is super embarrassing as an adult. Now imagine being back in high school, worrying about homework, college admissions, and if a boy was ever going to ask to you to the homecoming dance (thank you Andy Queisser for helping me with that last one). On top of all this pressure, high schoolers shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable in their clothes. School is supposed to be a safe place, and adults shouldn’t make students feel bad about their bodies, intended or not.

You can debate whether leggings are pants or not, but once I was in plus sizes, traditional dress pants didn’t look good. I needed to wear tops that were loose and hung a little longer, like Eileen Fischer style, and wearing leggings looks good with that kind of top. I’m so thankful for Nordstrom and Eloquii for carrying plus size fashion and for helping me learn what to wear as a plus size professional.

Overweight people aren’t trying to gain weight, even though it may look like it to outsiders. It’s possible that we’re going through something stressful or painful, and one of our coping mechanism is overeating. It’s possible that our bodies are inflaming due to a food allergy, and we don’t know it yet. It’s possible that we just don’t know how to fix it, and we need support more than a Weight Watchers cookbook or gym membership.

The next time you see someone in leggings or clothes that are a little too tight, think of me. Remember my story, and understand it’s more than overeating, there’s something else we’re trying to soothe or save or fill. Instead of judging or worse, saying something hurtful, smile and acknowledge someone. It might be exactly what she needs in that moment. Remember, we’re all in this together.

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