Chaos to Cosmos
The path from chaos to cosmos was discovered by telling one's life story

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Fashion for the fat over-fifty with chronic illness

Getting dressed, let alone being stylish, takes an awful lot for granted: things that, if you're in perfect health, you won't even think about. ME and fibromyalgia take all that away.

You won't get any fashion tips here, I'm sorry, but I'll have a jolly good whine that will make me feel an awful lot better when I'm done, thank you. Maybe, once you've read it, you'll understand why we can't always do much to improve our appearances - this does not indicate that we do not want to, because we really would like to. Maybe you'll understand why these illnesses causes depression (no, it isn't the other way around) and, put yourself in our (very painful and uncomfortable) shoes.

Probably foolishly, I answered this quiz, Are You Stylish? ... knowing full well what the answer was going to be (personal sarcasm inserted in italics):
You Are Not Stylish (No, they don't say?) To be honest, you think fashion is a complete waste of time. (Yup and, worse, it encourages consumerism, planetary destruction, wage slavery, etc.) You don't really care about how you dress, and those who do are simply superficial. (I do care, but mostly agree.)
While you don't have to look like you stepped out of a magazine (Oh, I know I could, but it would be the "BEFORE" picture. LOL), maybe you should update your wardrobe. People treat you better when you look better. Besides, it's fun to express your personal style!
I'd love to update my wardrobe, actually, but there are around 1001 reasons why it's difficult to do. I really don't give a flying-fig about appearances, just for appearances sake, because there are far more important considerations in life, but one still cannot escape that such things do have an effect on the way others view and treat you and, it has a large impact on the way I view mirrors - I avoid them like the plague.

Budget has a lot to do with it: the amount of handouts / benefits I've had for the last decade and a half hasn't provided money for clothing at all, so I've had to rely on charity for the money, or the clothes themselves. For this reason, I avoid colours that are likely to come and go in and out of fashion. The inability to get to shops where there is a choice; because of lack of transport, costs ... restricts further.

Compared to many people, I'm not THAT old or fat (yet), but enough that they do make an impact on what looks nice and what's suitable too (i.e. nothing I actually like.)

Yet it SHOULD still be possible to reflect some sort of personal style that one is reasonably happy with, no matter what the circumstances. However ... though I don't tend to let on exactly how I feel about this, what I end up being forced to wear and how I look, because of a long list of challenges, has become really depressing.

And whilst I think nobody would accuse me of being vain, I really do miss the person I was and the things I used to wear that were even halfway decent. When I was younger, I didn't follow fashion either: I set trends and then other people wore them.

In the 70's I wore those huge platforms and heels and I long to again and can't ...

Is it any wonder that I feel a really profound and aching sense of loss; of my identity, of my dignity, my personality ... my very being? This psychological pain, which results from the physical, feels as though it reaches right down into the depths of my very soul. 

Oh, I suppose a certain amount of this is inevitable as we age, but chronic illness takes this to an extreme I just can't cope with: it's like somebody died - me! 
  • Showering and hairwashing have become real chores. I'm starting to have problems getting in and out of most baths, I rarely sit in one, because of recurrent cystitis and often have trouble lifting myself out, but balancing to wash myself in the shower, or even standing there long enough to do it has meant that this has become exhausting, difficult and painful. Unless I have to go somewhere now, I just don't volunteer for the extra pain. Do you have any idea how disgusting, degrading and undignified this makes me feel?
  • The style of my hair (well it can't have a style) has long been restricted to something that I can just wash and leave and then tie back for the remaining days while it's greasy and lank, because pain and stiffness mean I can't manage to wash it more frequently, nor can I do so other than in the shower, nor style it even when I do manage to wash it. Some colour would probably help lift my mood, but I can't easily manage to do that myself now either and I certainly can't afford to keep going back to the hairdressers to keep it maintained.
  • I've worn a little make-up for a special occasion once in around 10 years, because foundation gives me a rash or zits, eye make-up irritates my eyes to the point of pain and blindness, lipsticks (even new ones) provoke cold sores ... but I still feel like something the cat dragged in without some finishing touches.
  • Niceties like underarm and leg hair removal (don't even talk about other parts), were abandoned years ago, because whether it's shaving, creams, waxing or whatever, it causes a rash and burning that looks - and feels - like I'd tried to remove it with a blow torch. 
  • Because they rub my skin raw I cannot comfortably wear any sort of bra, no matter how soft, so I mostly stick to dark coloured (often black) baggy tops. Of course, I feel like I'm wearing the style equivalent to a bin-bag. 
  • Same goes for anything like waistbands, or any fitted clothes, or anything made from firm, solid fabrics. I can only wear stretch jeans for short periods of time, so I'm mostly restricted to track pants with loose, elasticated waists. Oh, I know, let's make them black to match the tops. It may be uninspired, unflattering and a tad gothic, but I'm happier with that than the wardrobe equivalent to magnolia walls: beige or grey, or worse, the matronly colour of choice, navy blue!
  • Also because of 35+ years of cystitis, I cannot ever wear tights and have to restrict any fitted clothing on my bottom half to short lengths of time. Clothing I wear regularly has to made from mostly natural cotton fibres.
  • When everything aches, just putting clothes on is difficult or painful, so again, they have to be as easy as possible to manage with fabrics that give and fastenings that are easy (or preferably no fastenings that would dig in.)
  • And nothing that ever needs ironing, because I can't stand up to iron and my wrists couldn't lift / operate an iron anyway, even if I sat down.
  • Footwear is just one hell of a nightmare. Any amount of heel whatsoever will cause pain, so that rules out anything smart and everything I like. I can't wear anything made of a stiff material, stitched or reinforced in any way, because it will rub sores, blisters or deep gouges in my feet within 20 yards - then it can be days before I can put shoes on or go out again (and this is in addition to the fact that my feet and legs are already crying out in pain.) Almost all sandals rub wherever they touch and, the few I've found that I can wear are hardly suitable for the UK winter. Come to think of it, with the amount of rain, they're about as useful as a chocolate fireguard in the UK summer too. Closed-in shoes are never suitable, because I have low ankle bones and every shoe I've ever tried rubs on that bone - now that causes blisters virtually immediately. In any case, any shoe that doesn't support my ankles is only comfortable as long as I don't walk further than a few feet: after that, I feel like my ankles have been twisted or broken. Booties that come up over and support my ankles are the only footwear that I find even remotely comfortable or suitable. But try finding some that are not too stiff, that don't cause blisters, are sold in my size, at a price I can afford, in the UK. Oh and they must have cushioned rubber soles, because the undersides of my feet hurt like they're bruised after walking a few yards otherwise and, soft zips or Velcro fastenings, because I can't manage laces, or buckles that rub, or dig in somewhere. I can't find any and, even if I could, you'd hardly call them stylish and they wouldn't enhance stylish clothes. And of course, they have to be worn with socks - which have to be made predominantly from natural cotton, or they'll make my skin raw. And just trying to put socks on is a task that takes it out of me that, by the time I've done it, I feel ready to call it a day and lie down ...
So, yes, I've developed my own lazy "non-style", because there's no other possible way to deal with this level of pain and sensitivity. And I've been coping with this for years, in silence mostly, so it isn't obvious exactly why: it just looks like I gave up living. There really aren't that many choices left and, despite knowing the result is unstylish and crap, I'm forced to accept this as comfortable enough for everyday, doubling nicely as my pyjamas. How do you think you would cope with such restrictions?