Jackie Ramerez discovers life, sans sleeves 

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Although Jackie Ramerez's before and after photos triumphantly declare "I did it," there's volumes the Empress' new clothes keep mum. Jackie downgraded her size 20 clothes for size 12s and finally size 8s following an 80-pound weight loss.

But the 26-year-old Los-Angeles-based sociology student found letting go of her previous wardrobe as complex as ushering in the new, svelte wardrobe of sleeveless dresses. She had to fit the emotional demands into her new clothes, as surely as she did her legs. <!--more--> "It's a tough transition, stuff people don't really talk about, unfortunately," Jackie says while on lunch break as a receptionist for a hardwood flooring company.

"You do hear about famous people like Oprah, who are up and down." Jackie says. "You don't really think about what's going to happen after you get to your goal weight." Longing to learn sewing to rescue her former clothes from oblivion, Jackie remembered each piece of clothing carried with it a memory.

Not all of them she'd miss -- the pair of jeans bought at Lane Bryant in High School when her classmates indulged in trendy Forever 21 fare. But then there's the hard-fought find at a store.

Or the stylish coat, a gift from her boyfriend in two ways.: not only did she approve of her boyfriend's purchase, the coat didn't instigate an embarrassing moment when it didn't fit. Once Jackie realized she couldn't keep wearing her old clothes anymore, the happy memories intermingled with an equal amount of fear of gaining the weight back.

Of no longer celebrating a weight loss success -- letting go of the "proof" and just being the new, slimmer Jackie.

And if she does let that success be part of her past, what if she failed, regained the weight and abandoned the new wardrobe?

"Once I started wearing things that were more snug, I thought 'What if I go through a few weeks of going through … ' I don't want to say a time of ‘being bad,' I guess I was just afraid of wearing things that are fitted, and then maybe having a bad month, or a bad few weeks. All of a sudden to have them not fit anymore," she says. "I saved on old message board thread I came across. Someone asked "what are your fears about losing weight? I thought it was really interesting having that fear of gaining it back."

But Jackie said her emotional goodbyes, gave the clothes to charity and faced a new challenge: restocking her wardrobe. And that wasn't any easier. First was re-learning what "fit," which meant forsaking her litany of "fat girl rules" -- no sleeves, no bright colors, no light-colored tops, no form fitting wear.

It meant forsaking the "I just lost weight!" baggy look.

After years of size 20 mandates, then size 12 edicts, the freedom of size 8 was both exhilarating and scary, she says.

The process begins at Old Navy, which she found sizes clothes larger than other stores. Size 8 fit, her first single-digit dress size in memory. She immediately concludes Old Navy, yet again, viciously lies. "So then I went into Gap. I thought, ‘Oh, these probably won't fit because Old Navy is weird. Oh, Gap fits too,'" she says. "It's hard to believe sometimes. I can't believe I made it to an 8. I was a 12 for so long, but I remember being 20 and not even being able to find anything at stores. The feeling of wearing something that was snug was strange, too, y'know?"

She even find tops but not bottoms at Forever 21, a living-well's-the-best-revenge nod to her high school years. Now she's expanding her wardrobe considerably, making new rules.

Able to comfortably shop at vintage stores, Jackie's keen eye scans racks for unique dresses at a bargain, daring herself for the form-fitting sleeveless dress complete with a poofy, dramatic circle skirt.

She appreciated the thrill of the hunt before her weight loss' post-weight the search is more fun knowing the hunting's out of choice, not necessity.

Her brother's wedding stands as a particular triumph, wearing a sleeveless dress without fear of attendees muttering "Oh, the fat one" under their breaths. "Although my arms weren't perfect, I had definitely gained a lot of confidence, enough confidence to walk down the aisle," she says. As she continues buying new clothes, Jackie took the thrill of the hunt a step further into other areas of her life.

"A lot of time my friends don't know what to do on the weekend. Are you kidding? This is Los Angeles. The possibilities are endless, and you're living here so long and you've never been to all these places ... a lot of people take it for granted, y'know?"

So she chooses to she takes the City of Angels by storm with her boyfriend, even on a student's budget.

The couple delights in the flutter of birds at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, a love of running along California beaches, combing the city for the organized scavenger hunt called letterboxing.

To stay connected with her successes, challenges and breakthroughs, she frequently chats with comrades-in-arms at the weight loss social networking site Sparkpeople.com. As her friends whittle away in boredom, a newer version of Jackie keeps emerging.

The clothes are just another metaphor -- always new adventures in new clothes, always exploring, always making opportunities when they're not found. When others choose resignation, Jackie chooses forges ahead -- living life gloriously sleeveless.

Russ Lane