The Labor of…

Moderatrix Note: “The Labor of…” is a somewhat intermittent series to re-explore things in daily life taken for granted before living with chronic pain and/or disability.  This is a space to share experiences.


I was never, and am not now a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination or definition of the word.  I have had a wary and ever changing relationship with clothes throughout my life.  I have had phases of my life where I have loved them, like, in college, when various eating disorders whittled me down to a size where everything fit (in a manner of speaking) and I really didn’t have to think about it.  If I liked something I saw I bought it and that was that.  When I woke up I rolled out of bed and wore whatever I grabbed, whether it was going braless in a sweatshirt to my 0750 class, a work uniform I passed out in, something cute I had just picked up last week, or my favorite Guinness t-shirt, which has survived every phase and is hanging on my drying rack right now.  I didn’t have to think or care about any of it.  Hell, I didn’t even do laundry a lot of the time…I just bought new underwear and work shirts if I needed them.

I had phases where I hated clothes, for instance, when I was pregnant, and not one damned thing ever fit or was comfortable.  Maternity clothes are a cruel joke, and those jeans with the stretchy thing in the front are some deamon’s plaything, if you ask me, although no one did.  I did, however, find great amusement in maternity underwear, though I seldom actually used it (I preferred my non-maternity duds), but I digress…  The colors, the cuts, the materials, everything was wrong…and in the end I had one pair of pants and a pair of blue jean overalls that fit and I survived in those.  Somehow I escaped the whole experience with a great Kid and a few stretch marks that I would show you if you asked, but ask me about maternity pantyhose…and I will ramble on for about twenty minutes about how they are made of pure evil.  Did I mention that I hated being pregnant?

I had a phase for about four years where clothes mattered dearly, as in, the creases and cut and hems all had to be perfect, and I took immense pride in my appearance and great personal pains to maintain it.  I call that my Military phase, because it was, literally.  The difference between a Good Sailor and a Hot Shit Sailor who got noticed was hir uniform, and I had mine down, all six standard issue Navy uniforms (this was before the new roll out of NWUs).  I was too poor to afford the dry cleaning that all my peers used and it worked to my advantage.  I spent great swathes of time carefully creasing my shirts and trousers and steaming my skirts.  I hand sewed my own rank patches on the sleeves because I trusted my work, and soon my friends were asking me to do the same.  My gig-lines were perfect and my boots and dress shoes mirror shined every wear.  I kept my combination cover in the box to keep it clean and well shaped and kept a spare dome for it in my glove box wrapped in plastic just in case (along w/ a neckerchief, and a shoe shine kit).  I had nail clippers in my purse for stray threads and a sewing kit for loose buttons.  Since most of my male superiors didn’t know female uniform and hair standards I made it my pet project, and I had a reputation at my “A” school for knowing my shit come inspection time.  My massively thick hair was always secured well withing regulations so that at any time any female sailor could see my example, and the “kids” fresh from boot were sent my way for guidance.

That thing, I held dearly until my body turned on m, and my health made it impossible for me to maintain that.  As the pain grew I was unable to maintain my physical standards, and my uniform standards became more difficult to keep up with.

Now, dressing is a laborious effort, but for an entirely different reason.  Practicality demands that I think about each and every garment that touches my person.  Is this cut going to pull on my shoulders and give my neck a strain and trigger a migraine?  Is this sports bra going to do the same?  If I go without one will it hurt my back too much?  I have to examine the seams along the toes of my socks to determine if I should wear them inside out, or if it is OK to wear them the “right way”, so that the seam doesn’t hurt my toes (a trick I learned from my diabetic grandfather).  I have to consider the weight of pants on my shins for high pain days, and the tightness of undergarments around my joints.  Even my wedding bands sometimes have to be set aside when my fingers are hurting.  My feet have always been wide, but even the widest shoes will still rub my feet raw on longer walks which makes buying shoes difficult (and sometimes expensive), since my beloved Crocs and Birkenstocks aren’t always practical for all weather.

Fabric is a concern as well.  I tend to break out in rashes at odd times, and for no medical reason we can determine, so I have to make sure that the fabric isn’t harsh on my skin today, and sometimes I have to change my clothes two or three times before I figure out what I can tolerate.  Oh, yeah, and did I mention how many spoons it takes to get dressed just once?  Sometimes getting dressed for public consumption means that my only activity for the day was getting cleaned up and dressed for said occasion.  Sometimes that means that I might have to choose between the shower or getting dressed at all.

How I wash the clothes matters.  The detergent and fabric softer need to be gentle, and at any time my skin will decide it doesn’t like the one I am using, again, for no medical reason we can find.  I have circulated through as many “free and clear” as I can find, hitting all the “natual” ones in the way.

Getting dressed has moved beyond practical for me.  The formerly simple act of covering my body somehow became a great labor, one more thing to take my time and my spoons.  Not exactly a fun thing to admit for the fashionably inept, who would rather just pull on the first thing she grabs, and who never really understood why “you can’t wear those shoes to the bar” *shurgs*.

About Ouyang Dan

is an extremely proggy-liberal, formerly single mommy, Native American, invisibly disabled, U.S. Navy Veteran, social justice activist and aspiring freelance writer currently living in South Korea on Uncle Sam's dime. She has a super human tolerance for caffeine and chocolate and believes she should use those powers for good. She said should. She is not a concise person, and sometimes comes on a little aggressively in comments. Sometimes her right arm still twitches when military brass walks past her, but she would rather be reading YA Lit or pwning n00bs. She can be found being cliche about music, overthinking pop culture, and grumbling about whatever else suits her fancy at her personal website, random babble.... She also writes about military issues for's Women's Rights blog. If you have something interesting to say email her at ouyangdan [at] disabledfeminists [dot] com. Lawyers in Italy looking to hold lottery winnings in her bank account may wait longer for reply.

6 thoughts on “The Labor of…

  1. I take my hat of to you, or I would if I wore one. I’ve been whingeing because I find it almost impossible to fasten a bra.

  2. Crying in my beer with ya. I dread getting dressed, but I love clothes. I have the opposite shoe/foot problem. I wear an 8.5 AAAA. They used to be 7s, but my arches flattened out. I had hoped when that happened that my feet would widen, but no dice.

    I’ve been having the strangest clothes-related problem. If a waistband actually fits well, my back will be in terrible pain within 10 minutes of putting the item on. I guess it has to do with my posture – a well-fitting garment requires a straighter back, and I am really swaybacked because my spine resembles a Slinky. Dunno.

    Oh, and bras. Going without isn’t really an option. Cymbalta helped me pack on 30 or so pounds, half of which is in my chest, I swear. But if a bra fits, it rearranges my ribs. But at least I’m unlikely to drown – surely boobs can act as floatation devices?

  3. I take my hat off as well (and I do wear one!)

    I sometimes have problems as well, putting clothes on and taking them off. It can be exhausting, but I persevere, because I love clothes and colour, and I don’t want to deny myself another pleasure of life.

  4. Fashion is a painful thing for me to talk about. It tends to bring up a lot of poor, fat, nerdy girl anger/pain. I just don’t “get” fashion. Something is always off when I try to do it. I see other folks pulling it off and I sometimes feel crappy about myself that I can’t do that.

    In terms of my disability, the main thing is the time and effort it takes to find clothes to buy, acquire the resources to buy them and then put them all together in a cute way and actually be able to keep plans that allow me to wear all this out of the house. These days its mostly pajamas. I also hear all the foot woes. I am relegated to wide shoes for buniony people and there just aren’t a lot of cute ones out there (imo). And my femme self is always admiring the heels on other folks and I wish so bad I could wear them. (Even if they made them wide enough to fit me I would last like, 2 minutes at most).
    .-= KatieT´s last blog ..Just Saying =-.

  5. OMG Yes.

    I don’t leave the house often, so stay in comfy jammies most of the time. When I do go out – even if I’m wearing the most comfortable outside-going-wear I own, I immediately rip it off and put my jammies back on when I get in the door. And even with the jammies – I’ll often change into different ones throughout the day based on things like – that shirt is rubbing me the wrong way or the fit of those pants makes me feel funny or whatever. ALL of my shirts and undies get their tags torn out eventually – usually violently while I’m wearing them because I don’t think to do it beforehand and get to a point where I can’t tolerate it another second. I have raynaud’s syndrome, so my feet are always cold but most socks and slippers are highly uncomfortable so I often go barefoot (around the house anyway) and wrap my feet in blankets while sitting down. Jewelery makes me so antsy that it often comes off in the middle of an event if I dare to wear some.

    And yes. The spoons it takes to get dressed. And shower. And some days even brush my teeth. I’m not exactly a model of either fashion or good hygiene.
    .-= Rosemary´s last blog ..Transphobia is Wrong =-.

  6. Thanks for all the input everyone!

    A note on shoes: I love shoes. Shamelessly. I also love the look of heels. I like to wear them for pictures, so I have been known to wear a comfortable shoe someplace while carrying my high heels in a bag, and then change upon arrival at the photo place, get the pictures done, and then get right back into my comfy shoes again. I have a whole shelf of heels that I wear only for pictures. Heh heh.

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