Unicorns, Fashion, and Eating Disorder Recovery

Can unicorn fashion help heal eating disorders? For me, yes.

One day, blissfully zoned out while reading In Touch Weekly in the supermarket checkout, a lady behind me in line said “my six year old daughter collects unicorns.” She was referring, I surmised, to my leggings, which had an all-over print of unicorns in white, pink, and black.

I’m not sure that I felt challenged, per se, but my response came out perhaps harsher than I intended: “I definitely have more unicorns than your daughter.” She didn’t seem so interested in talking to me after that.

It’s true: I have more unicorn apparel than the average six year old girl--possibly more than the average all-girl’s class worth of six year old girls. The way I like to dress can be easily summed up as “Lisa Frank chic”. If you could purchase stock in sparkles, I totally would.

The unicorn is like my totem animal: it is the magical beast which has helped me overcome bulimia and anorexia.

I’ve always been attracted to, for lack of a better word, bold and sometimes garish clothing. When I was at my lowest weight, I loved being smaller because I could shop in the children’s department with abandon. A lot of it was unhealthy joy, because I felt a victory at attaining the smaller size, but at the same time, it also had a lot to do with what I felt was a superior and far more fun color palette at my disposal in the Girls 7-16 department. If you're interested in unicorn apparel, the children's department is the place to score it--too many boring neutrals in the adult section.

Because I am naturally smaller-framed, even at a normal weight I can still fit in clothing from the kids’ department, although I’m an XL now, which is typically the size equivalent of an Adult Small, as opposed to my low weight heyday of a children's size Medium.

 (As a side note, I also love glasses. I have worn them since I was in the sixth grade. My prescription hasn’t changed in some time, and now I have eight pairs in various colors and shapes. I like to match them to my shoes or outfits.)

It's a fine line that I navigate with my garish apparel: while I don't mind being bright, I don't want to look like a cartoon. I may be biased, but I do feel like I know when to stop. Even my older sister Kelly, who views my outfits with a wary eye, admits “somehow it works for you.” She says this to me as I am wearing a sequined unicorn dress.

I’m aware that dressing like a little girl might come across as a bit of a psychological issue. Lisa Wade, PhD, wrote, “The fact that many women dress up as sexy little girls points to both the sexualization of female children and the infantilization of adult women.”

I can certainly see what the doctor is saying in this passage. And I think that during my low weight, as I mentioned previously, part of the lure of wearing children's clothing was that I had shrunk myself out of adult territory. But as I gained weight regained my womanly bits, I still liked the sparkles, so I think that in a much more simplistic way, I really just like wearing bright colors, because they make me smile.

As I became earnest in my recovery efforts, I found that I began to gravitate toward unicorns in particular.

Why unicorns?

I wasn't joking: the mighty unicorn are my totem animal. They are magical, yes, but most definitely fierce. While I'd imagine 99% of a unicorn's life involves rainbows and eating candy, they are definitely capable of kicking ass should the need arise. I like to think of myself like that with my eating disorder: mostly being kind and sweet to myself as I recovered, but not being afraid to stand up to the old disordered thoughts.

 While my unique fashion choices do tend to get noticed, shouting “here I am!” isn’t the goal and end result. It’s actually a quiet and playful way that I have found to communicate with the world, to say “hello” with a smile to everyone I meet. Like writing about sweets, wearing clothing has become a language with which I speak to the world in my authentic voice. It makes me love myself, and this makes me a better candidate for loving others. Even if they’re mortified by my unicorn leggings as we walk around town together. I get more smiles than confused looks when I wear a t-shirt that says “Pugs Need Hugs” or "I Believe" with a unicorn emblazoned on top.

This engagement with the outside world is where the connection to healing comes in.

Eating disorders are nasty little entities that want to keep you boxed up in your own personal jail. They do not want you to flirt with the outside world. In fact, they'd prefer you not socialize at all, and they definitely don't want you wearing something as happy as leggings with pink unicorns printed all over.

By deciding to wear what I do, I am making a decisive choice to joyfully engage with the world. It is an invitation for others to smile at me, or to have a conversation which might start with fashion but actually could lead to other subjects. It's a way for me to be alive and present in the world, with a twinkle in my eye. 

Be the change you want to see in the world.

An acquaintance was once explaining to me the interesting attitude toward fashion in Japan. It was very costume-y, he said, and it wasn’t out of the question to see the same person wearing country club outfits one day, tim burton style getup the next, and a demented sexy ballerina dress the next day. This isn’t because they are crazy, but because they use the fashion to project something to the outside world: how they feel, what they represent, what they are interested in.

I can relate to this. I use my bright and happy unicorn-heavy fashion to project the happiest version of me, to “be the change” I want in my own world.

And it works: the way I dress makes me smile. If I dress myself like a big smile, instead of wearing garments designed to make myself disappear, what could come of it? If I'm smiling already from the time I get dressed, what kind of happiness ripple could that send into the world?

I'm not saying that everyone should burn their wardrobe and begin investing in unicorn-only apparel (after all, what would I wear then?). But how could you embrace your own "inner unicorn" and make the world a better place? 

What would happen if you could be yourself and still be at home in the world?