I have been percolating this blog post for a long time. I know there are things I really want to say but I have been almost overcome by how many, and how intense, my thoughts are on this subject. To talk about body image I also have to talk about myself and mention my family and my mother and I am not sure how much I should do that.
Even now as I start to write this I can feel myself getting flushed and anxious.
That's what the voices in our heads have done to us.
Let's start with a sewing story and work on from there.
I have taught I don't even know how many sewing classes and measured I don't know how many women.
Not once, not once, not once did I ever move my measuring tape down to a woman's hips and not have her apologize for her hip measurement. Even one woman, I can even remember her name Joyce, who had a hip measurement of 35"
I even remember her hip measurement.
I can't count either the number of times a woman would pick a part of her body or appearance and use the word hate. I hate my legs, I hate my arms, I hate my nose, I hate my saddlebags.
Always part of your own God given body that has carried you through pain and love and loss and got you out of that door to the bus for work when you felt like shit, that has got you up out of that chair when you yourself were heartbroken because someone called your name, that hoisted some child onto your jiggly but comfortable lap, that lifted a million loads of laundry, rinse a million dishes, fitted tired feet into stiff shoes and walked you smiling into a million meetings where you had to listen at length to someone who was half as smart as you were making twice the money.
There is some part of this body that you hate.
So even when we sew the voices in our heads, those of ourselves and of our ancestors, come into the sewing room with us.
We agonize for 30 years over pants that fit. Make a million muslins and take dozens of classes trying to fit what's wrong. We cover our whole bodies in tents like burkas to cover that one part that we hate, hiding the 90% for the sake of the 10%.
I thought this might even be worse among women of my generation. I know for certain that I grew up knowing that a normal woman was 5'5" 120 pounds and had a chin length blond bob (I still see those women now overpopulating the neighbourhoods where the doctors and lawyers live, jogging in small groups on weekday mornings).
What I didn't know was what a person was to do if that was not them and never would be.
My mother like many cared a lot about appearance. So did my dad. He had four daughters and was worried. On a teacher's salary we all were put in braces, as his investment in our marital futures. Our teeth to be inspected I suppose like horses as the summer fair.
My mother, bless her for all she did, tried to hide her feelings about our appearances but it came out. One of the truly terrible things every mother knows is that it is the offhand comment that children will remember, not the thousands of supportive things you say.
You know what I mean.
Being told that dress was great on you because you look slim type comments. When I was younger I was too thin (apparently a neighbour once described me as cadaverous when I was a teenager my mother reported) and as I have got older it is that I am too heavy.
For me primarily it was my hair, and still is.
I have an autoimmune thyroid disease that on medication causes me no problems at all. I had half of my thyroid removed too at one point and the meds are not negotiable. Unfortunately one of the side effects in some people is hair loss and there is not a damn thing I can do about it.
Personally I quite like my hair. I know it does its best. There are worse things and I am grateful for my thin old hair sticking out randomly out of my head every morning ready to do another day.
What I don't like is having to deal with how other people view it.
The hairdresser who once asked me to get out of the chair because there was nothing he could do with hair like mine. The other helpful stylists who suggest vitamins from Costco. The fact that my mother's record for starting to discuss my hair once she sees me again is 26 seconds (my daughter once timed it). The fact that when I won the medal for the highest standing in my faculty in my university and my picture was in the newspaper, unfortunately with my hair messed up when I put on my academic gown, the first thing my mother said was with that hair people will think anyone who looks that dumb must be smart.
I think you get the picture. No need for me to keep get going. And I know you have your own stories, and I want to hear them, I think we all do.
However I was reminded of this yesterday morning.
I knew I was going into my publisher to shoot videos. When I heard there would be overhead cameras the first thing I thought about was my hair. I decided I wouldn't bring my mother's attention to the video.
I thought I was doing just fine but you know what I did?
Without my glasses on picked up my bottle of nude nail polish, that is more or less the same shape as my foundation, and I put nail polish on my face. It was only when I put my glasses on that I realized what I had done.
Oh yes I was real calm. Kept thinking about those cameras.
So it seems to me that before we even talk about fitting we need to own our bodies.
A huge revelation, and a wonderful discovery, particularly today one day after international women's day, has been the indie pattern companies.
As you all know I have decided to explore indie patterns this year.
I need to say though that I am focusing a bit on what I would call second generation indies. The first would be any company like Stylearc or the independent designers you see for sale on sites like Patternreview.
The second generation are the home-based business type .pdf patterns who market themselves mainly through Facebook and Etsy and their Shopify websites.
These patterns, Patterns for Pirates, Rad Patterns, Stitch upon a time, Greenstyle Creations, Five before Four, etc. (this is a partial list only, look for reviews over the year) and others of this generation have a few things in common:
- they come in a large range of sizes - XXS-XXL
- they have many options obviously intended for adaption to different body types, a bomber jacket in a short and tunic version for example
- the garment/sample pictures are collected from pattern testers, chosen as far as I can make out, by the range they represent - these are clothes on real people
Now after decades of seeing size zero models in the pattern books I was at first really struck by seeing real bodies. And not just real bodies but real bodies and happy faces. These were sewers not hiding themselves, not dressing to compensate for their flaws, as we were trained to do.
Hating your body or part of it on these women seemed to be over shadowed by the look of satisfaction, the "I made it myself" smiles that I think distinguishes sewers from retail buyers.
I invite you to check out some of these pattern companies and just give yourself time to look at the models. I want you to consider any reactions that these women have figure flaws.
I want you to look at a picture like those posted at the top of this post. I want to ask yourself when did you ever see these women in the pattern catalogue. Ask yourself if these women look like you or someone you know. Maybe ask yourself should this woman be in a tent if she doesn't want to, or in a house, or off the beach, or should she be proud of something she made, so proud she is sharing it, and that she is smiling at that person behind that camera who is proud of her too.
So look at these pictures and tell me what you think, what you feel, and share your stories.