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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Before we fit : how we see ourselves and the voices in our heads

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.

Then we can I think we can talk about fit.


annie said...

Wow. Talk about starting a movement.

annie said...

Your mother was my mother. So I tried very hard not to be that woman. Not sure I succeeded but there it is. Since my first comment, I've opened a dialogue with my girls, including a copy of this post. Six degrees of separation and all that may help to advance this wonderful opportunity to begin freeing ourselves of all this s**t.

RebeccaHoward said...

What a fantastic thoughtful post. Thanks Barbara. I follow a lot of posts with women of all body sizes and shapes and I find it absolutely fascinating and liberating to see the photos of their makes. As a sewer/sewist I am looking at the details of how the garment fits their body or the details like how deep is that v neck and so on. Not critiquing their body shape. Sewing for yourself is liberating because you get to know your body really really well. The ‘my shoulder is lower on that side’ and ‘I need to go up or down 2 sizes between here and there’ are just inner knowledge to make a garment fit how you want, not defects in a perfectly functional human being. By the way, I have never even noticed your hair, thin or otherwise, except vaguely realising it was light brown!! Too busy trying to see how you’ve hemmed that garment or how long the sleeves are:)

Esther said...

I did love your post, Barbara.
Only wanted to mention that, being 52, I am starting to feel fed up that all the models in the magazine patterns are half my age. I would like to see women of all ages, appart from women of all sizes, in pattern magazines. I must mention Ottobre, who uses women of different ages to model their garments. Only, I am not a fan of Ottobre patterns btw, but that's another story.
Happy travels!!

Laceflower said...

Having been anorexic and skeletal, and then depressed and ballooning to the scary 200 lb mark, and finally settling around 175 for my work life, I've been everywhere man.
I was not happy with 175 and hated myself daily, pressures of work and accommodating home life to that work life kept any try at weight loss negligible. After retirement and seeing a picture of myself at a Cmas function, I did not want to look like that and got a fitbit and started a diet plan. I started losing weight, I hoped for 10 lbs and was so scared I couldn't do it. I lost and lost and eventually lost 30 lbs. I could hardly believe this happened. I have kept it off over 2 years and no longer hate the person in the mirror. I've got wrinkles and arm sag skin but I don't care, I'm maintaining a weight I'm pleased with. My tools where the fitbit and desire. I no longer hate the me in the mirror, that is worth everything. Downside, all my patterns are TOO LARGE!!!! My take away is if you are ok with the image in the mirror you are ok with yourself; if not - do something about it.

Marie said...

"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."
You have a gift for words. Real words, words that spoke to this womans heart. I too, am losing my hair due to an autoimmune disease that is not nice. I have come to the realization that hair is just hair. Life is so much bigger than the size of my ass or the length of my hair.
Thank you for being you. You are a blessing to so many women and anyone who cannot see that, well thats on them not you.

Angela said...

Wow, what a post! As far as your hair... I have never met you in person and only seen pictures - but I simply thought you had a cute, chic haircut and never once thought anything bad about your hair. The bad body image, yeah, I'm a poster child for it. I still remember some horrid comments from my teen years and yep, they stay with you all your life. "your toes look like fingers!" (I do not have small feet but they aren't size 18 either!). "Hope no one called your pretty because you aren't!" And while I'm not a model, I'm not awful either. But to this day I DETEST getting photos taken and feel very self-conscious about my appearance. So sad people feel the need to make hurtful comments about appearances that aren't needed or helpful. My daughter was told that she has a giraffe neck. Now honestly - she is tall and has a long, elegant neck, it isn't abnormal at all - but she felt SO self-conscious for so long from that stupid remark.

My daughter is almost 19, has high functioning autism, and had an eating disorder for a couple of years so bad that she required a specialized feeding tube (NJ, not NG) for awhile. She spent time in a residential hospital for females with eating disorders, only after that did a doctor finally figure out that she was autistic and her issues stemmed from autism/anxiety. Any how, at that hospital they drilled into the girls how society expects women to have bodies that are not realistic, how women have died trying to starve themselves into the perfect body, and how this is happening to younger and younger girls now - prepuberty age. SO very very sad. And, even boys are being diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. One of the things they did was to never, ever tell the girls their weight. Either they still were getting extra calories to gain back needed weight to be healthy or they were on maintenance calories. To this day - over a year and half later - my daughter still doesn't know her weight because it would "trigger her" and she knows that she can't let herself get hyperfocused on a number. I must be SO very careful to never say anything she might take the wrong way, which can be difficult. We just went shopping today because she needed some casual shirts. She asked me what size to try on,and when I said XL she about flipped out - I spent quite awhile convincing her that someone 5' 11" would be deathly sick if an extra small fit, that XL on the label does not mean SHE is TOO BIG. Oh, the battle is real.

Ugh, I could go on and on, but I will quit rambling...

overflowingstash said...

When it comes to bodies I think health is most important. People understandably get cranky when they're ill.

Beyond that enjoyment of the colours, shapes of clothing, the texture of fabric - that stands out for me. A world of size 0 models is so boring especially when they look miserable a lot of the time. Seeing people enjoying clothing they made or bought makes me happy too. I never gets why in the West modern Anglo-Saxon cultures are so ashame of bodies that doesn't conform to a slender mode.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this. It's now the 2nd time today your words have moved me. Knock it off already willya! I have three kids to sew for, can't be sobbing here. Others have shared more elaborate comments with precisely my thoughts, any woman's thoughts, on this. Yet I add to it. What a time to be alive. We're shaping the world for our daughters, bc unlike over our bodies, we may be critical over the culture we show them. Sewing my own clothes has started the process of liberating the love of myself. Not only of my body, which I've fussed over --broad shouldered, tummied, not a shapely waist in sight-- but also my inner self, not living up to expectations, not being successful enough, not being as organised or disciplined yet kind and generous as I should be. Odd how sewing is this kind act of mindful crafting, moving fingers like they have for ages, in it self taking care of the person you sew for, sometimes it gets to be you, who needs attention to detail and hurting, who thrives on good hemming and comforting thoughts, on careful cutting and listening to whatever cares come floating.
I don't know what I'm trying to say. Only also this: I did notice your hair thinning in the video. I thought: look, what an elegant lady she is, and so very confident. She bears herself with such wit & grace while sharing her wisdom, this is how we need to stand as women, show ourselves without apologies throughout our lives, whatever the circumstances, whatever the factor we think is lacking in or appearance. Like her we should be, graceful and unapologetic, bright and attentive. That's all it takes to set a standard: your own standard; this is me, this is what I look like, and I am this beautiful because I take care of this person.
I hope you don't find me offensive in saying this. It struck me as gracious even before reading this post. Now I'm also deeply in awe. Thank you, again.

SewRuthie said...

My view of my body is inspired by Psalm 139 where the psalmist says "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,when I was woven together in the depths of the earth."
I love the imagery here of being knitted and woven by God and being wonderfully made. I may have unruly hair and non standard proportions but that's how the knitting and weaving came out, so its wonderful. My job is to look after the body as best I can including dressing it in flattering and comfortable clothing. I may not be making the best food and exercise choices right now but I'm still wonderful.

Kansas Sky said...

Oh, such wisdom. Thank you!!!

Anonymous said...

Yes. So thin, so young. Thyroid cancer, 150 pounds. Yes. 150 pounds. That’s a double person! How does my sewing change? How do I grade up, cover up, deal with all this? Suddenly one day I looked in the mirror and realized I survived. I changed. I survived. So the sewing got better. The acceptance came along with that. I do not shop for clothing. My clothing is mine, all mine. My expression. My statement. I have lost 50, but while it may be a long road, it will not be an obsession. My sewing is mine. All I can say is make your sewing yours too.

Thandi said...

YES!!! Go Annie go! You don't have to be like our mothers. We believe in you.

Thandi said...

Hi Esther, have you taken a look at Colette and Cashmerette? They're much more inclusive.

Thandi said...

Last year a friend of mine bought me a gift voucher from Cashmerette. She's a tiny, gorgeous vision of perfection and I'm almost twice her size, but we have the same body issues (and it is possible that our mothers are clones). Her gift changed my life. For the first time in my life not only was I sewing for the body I had (because I didn't have to change the pattern to fit me), but I felt so proud of how I looked. And do you know what my mom said when I sent her pictures of my first shirtdress? She said she wanted to make one just like it. Something started healing in me that day. I still have a loooong way to go. I had an argument with a doctor about how yes I know my waist size is problematic, but my sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure are all exceptional. But he wouldn't leave it alone and I walked out of there feeling ashamed again. Today, though, I'll make myself a quick t-shirt and feel proud again, of my hands that can make Beautiful things, and of my body that shows them off to everyone.

Unknown said...

@sewruthie that is wonderful. Very inspirational.

BarbaraShowell said...

Anonymous, a few posters up, I was a healthy fit 150 pounds in 9th grade and 15. I now weigh around 290 and hate it. Menopause, a hip replacement too long delayed, and a non moving night shift job have piled it on. I can’t seem to be able to sew or buy clothes that fit, except oversized men’s casual athletics and medical scrubs. I vacillate between not believing I’m this size and hating it. I keep thinking, I’m going to loose this weight but in the meantime the clothing choices are getting very very slim. I look at these plus size models and think most of them look fine, any distaste is related to style. I quit smoking after 35 years 5months ago. I’m going to start on this weight soon, but there are going to remain some age things to adjust to, and yeah, my whole life I’ve been more critical of my body than I needed to be.

Great list of independent pattern makers. One day I’ll have to dig the rest out of your posts.

Summer Flies said...

Well another amazing post Barbara. I think about this a lot. I've haven't been the usual thin that is in for a long time... not since I was 11, but I was never really fat (I fixed that though, the last few years). I did some healthy eating dieting to lose some weight and I got really slender once when I worked out at circuit training with this amazing trainer. The trainer stopped and so did I as I didn't enjoy the next teacher.
I have big thighs with cellulite and a big tummy and just to match perfectly a big bum too, but you know what, I don't care. I have said many times that I am not missing out swimming with my son, playing in the beach, doing exercises, riding my bike or anything else just because I have cellulite. I have had friends who are very slim/slender/skinny whatever you want to call it, and they wouldn't wear shorter skirts or just togs (swimwear) with no board shorts on... (these are people with beautiful, perfect (?) ) because they compare themselves to models. One told me the sorts of things her mother would say to her - horrible - my Mum had 5 daughters and she never said a bad word about any of us. She was too busy with more important things like learning English and getting enough money to pay the rent.

At a gathering at a friend's house not long ago for a girly night, I was sitting with some of her friends whom I didn't know and they were saying things like "God, I'm so fat it's embarrassing" while pinching their skin and " I would really love to get plastic surgery and get liposuction on my legs and gut" and these were women who were gorgeous. Without even thinking (I actually was shocked I had said it aloud), I said "get over yourself" to one and they all looked at me with goggle eyes. I said "your daughter (a teen) is right next to you listening to you say ridiculous things when you look perfect, how is she going to feel if she doesn't and what must she think you will think of her if she is less than model like?" Then I left. I don't care how good they look, how much money they have, how many nice things they have, they are destroying their girls. I would never say anything like that to my child (a boy - they are not immune now), I teach him to eat the best quality food he can afford, show by example not to drink too much and to treat your body with respect. Genetically some of us can't help having big saddlebag thighs but you know what, nobody died from saddlebags but they have died from the Hamilton diet. Don't know that one - it's the wine diet they have named after a suburb in my city used by many fancy pants women to keep themselves slim. Lets not talk about the cancer it helps along or the dangerous driving - picking up the kids from school in their BMW's and Mercs. Helps them get the 'right' man but I don't care about that either... I don't want someone who wants a handbag...plenty of them about. I want someone who thinks I have good conversation and am interesting if not a little quirky! Ha ha ... Does being skinny make you a better person... no, it does not. Oh, with no thyroid problem, I may have more hair, but it's still crazy hair, getting crazier the older I get. But I'm happy and my boy at 14 still calls me his best friend... that's the things that make me happy.

mariestitches said...

Tears. Many. At age 58 I still have to remind myself that the short, muscular legs (rather than long lean ones) are the legs that allowed me to start skiing at age 42, ski black runs now, cycle up to 90 km a day on summer weekends, hike up mountains and walk my dog every day. The voice of the dancing teacher that put "the pretty girls at the front" and put me (one of the best dancers in the class,) at the back still rings in my head 40 years later. Sewing for the body I have and being inspired by the beautiful women of many ages and sizes who model their self-made clothes has made me a happier person and content with the body I have. Only yesterday I was looking at Helen's Closet website and decided, yes, I will buy that leggings pattern along with the cardigan. Barbara -- Thank you for your posts. Yours is my go-to blog and your beautiful face and what I always saw as a trendy haircut is on my favourites toolbar.

Anonymous said...

I rarely comment on blogs, (though I read, and so enjoy, many) but this post really spoke to me. I generally get told that I look okay for my age (I'm 53), but could benefit from losing a few pounds (like 20 or so! - I'm a UK 14 on my top and a UK 14/16 on my bottom half). But this need to lose weight is affecting my sewing performance so badly.
This is the standard picture:- I cut out my fabric and dread the basting and try-on, convinced that it's not going to fit and I'll have ruined a whole piece of fabric. A commonly-occuring end result is that I either opt out of making up a pattern, usually the woven-based ones, or I cut it so large that it's difficult to adjust and I don't have a clear idea how I got to the fit in the end, so a re-make is just as difficult.
When I'm not sewing, I give myself a talking to and tell myself that I'm not making things any easier for myself. I say things like, "you're sewing so that you have the fit that you want, and that you can't get on the high street, so get on with it!" and "no-one is in the room with you when you measure yourself or try on your basted garment, so what are you worried about? And it's not like you're going to stick a size label in it afterwards for all to see!! So what's your problem?"
But the problem is that when I'm selecting my size from the pattern envelope, when I'm cutting out the pattern pieces, and when I'm in that room on my own, trying on my garment at whatever stage, the voice that chants society's standards is with me. I'm never truly on my own - society's expectations sits on my shoulder and whispers in my ear, pointing out how far I deviate from the 'norm'.
And it's crippling my sewing!
I've read a few blog posts over the last while about sewing in relation to body image, mental health accepting oneself for who you are. And it's given me the courage to write this. Accolades to those indie pattern designers who step away entirely from standard sizing, and from the dreaded L, XL, XXL etc (I totally agree with the lady's autistic daughter who had a negative emotional reaction to needing an XL in retail). I prefer it even more when numbers aren't used at all, like Goheen Designs, who opt for other descriptives and representatives. I hope in the future more pattern designers follow suit. The world is changing, and social media is having a big part in that from what I can see. And little changes lead to bigger changes over time. Long may these changes continue - maybe someday there won't be a negative societal voice whispering in our ears.
Sorry this has been so long but, as is probably quite clear, I feel quite strongly about this topic. Thank you Barbara - and I also think that your hair's absolutely fine!

oriole said...

You know what, Barbara? I really like you. Thank you for this wonderful post, I think it resonates far beyond what you will credit it for with many women, me included.

KS_Sews (Dressmakingbacles) said...

Thank you for sharing this. I think it’s really important for people to read, hear, and share.

A part of it that most amazes me in the sewing community, is the projecting that a lot of people do.

I remember feeling pretty furious when I made my first swimsuit posted it on my blog and had so many comments calling me brave etc. But I never considered myself brave.

Or using that dreaded ‘F’ word to suggest altering a pattern (flattering). The vast majority of the time, flattering is intended to mean it makes you look thinner/slimmer/smaller and so I refuse to use it.

I never had an issue with posting anything I made. But I don’t have body image issues. But I suppose they do; and so they decided that because I’m not the perfect size or the perfect shape...or that I have a tummy and thick thighs (which are glorious mind you), that I SHOULD want to cover up more. That I should want to camouflage certain parts of my body.

But I don’t. Shrug. I love my body. Now, I have a hard time mid-cycle when the cysts and fibroids are wreaking havoc and my belly is swollen and tender. It’s hard to find comfortable clothes to wear that Make me feel “like me” :(

I guess I should thank my mom <3 and I’m glad to be an inspiration for my daughter— who has her dad’s physical makeup which is pretty much the opposite of mine. But she knows that we’re both just fine as we are...and so is everyone else.

bbarna said...

For a few brief years, I was a "perfect" size 12 in the big 4 pattern world. That was BC....before children. Suddenly I was on a wild ride upward, and after 3 beautiful kids, that all weighed over 9lbs at birth (no I did not get gestational diabetes), I ended up at 235lbs. Now I have almost no waistline, the bust I always dreamed of (funny how that happens) and big hips. Despite too many diets to count, it never budged much. Now I just eat healthy food and get up and going as much as I can. I am loving the new indie patterns for us larger folks, as the big 4 for women's sizes still aren't graded well for my measurements and require far too many changes. Having said all this , in my minds eye, I am still smaller than I think I am...walking by a mirror or a window always gives me a bit of a shock. Thanks Barb for keeping it real-we need to try and love ourselves as is.
Barb from Prince George.

Anonymous said...

Hot buttons all over the place here. At almost 70, I too grew up with a mother who was zealous in pointing out flaws; mine, my friends, my sister's, her own. And I still hear that tape running sometimes - the very harsh inner critic. I try hard to consistently counter it with more positive thoughts, and to speak up when I hear criticism of others. So damaging and pointless and most of all unrealistic!

As for Barbara's hair, I thought it was one of those trendy spikes dos!


celkalee said...

Wow, Yikes, Ditto. Interestingly, I was just remembering some of the debasing comments I received from my Mother and Father growing up. They are still there and surface much too often. I was a normal weight and size but always, and I mean always, compared to anyone else, it was a form of control on their part. All it did was strengthen my resolve not to fall into the body hating format. I am 70 years old and you know what, I am still not happy. I think it is human emotion and no matter what, we all do it in one form or another. This conversation is long over due and needs to be in an even more public forum but quite frankly and happy as your models seem to be in the photo's I wonder if they really are? I think this is so ingrained in our culture that even those of us who have fought it our entire lives continue to question our own value and strengths. Not to sound over confident but I was professionally very astute but it didn't matter to the people who raised me and ingrained my self-worth, no
matter what I sewed or studied or accomplished....I was a little "hippy" and that is just not good enough. I'm done, sorry for the rant but you caught me in the middle of a moment!

Jodie said...

Thanks Barb for this post as it resonates with so many of us. I'm younger than you (mid 40s) and blessed with good genetics so have been thin all of my life without much work. However as I head into menopause things "shift" and now my body is a little different than what I'm used to. SO FRUSTRATING. And I don't have much to complain about but still. However I am a teacher of teenagers (high school foods studies) and the social media/commenting on pictures world that they live in is hard on them. Especially for those that don't fit the stereotypical "box" of beautiful. That age is so hard and the constant comparing that girls do doesn't make it easier. We know as women it can be hard to eventually be comfortable and happy inside our own lives and skin (whatever we look like). I'd like for us to consciously work to change the conversation to become about "healthy" and not about "thin". But it is hard. Thanks for this.

Catherine said...

Beautiful and very thought-provoking post. I'm 55 and have always been overweight. For years I tried to hide as you said. I have finally-at my age-have come to terms with my size and my measurements. I don't try to hide anymore but sew for personal pleasure and have broadened what I think is flattering and what just makes me happy.

bbarna said...

Forgive me for posting twice..but I have a suggestion for anyone who would like to take it for what it is..something that helped me a lot. One day I was sick of looking at a closet stuffed with clothes. Clothes that were multiple sizes- ones that fit, some bigger for those kind of days, ones that were one, two, three sizes smaller, for you know, when you lose the weight!!I pulled it all out, and got rid of everything, and I mean everything that did not fit, or make me feel good, or fit with my lifestyle...I was brutal. From that day on, there was nothing allowed in there that did not fit or make me feel good while wearing it. That was over 15 years ago, and it still works for me. Barb you look great, I love your style and the fact that you want to include all of us. Take care.
Barb from Prince George.

Bette Nordberg said...

It is amazing, the power of the voices in our head. I think we should be careful about simply rejecting the negative voices without considering the things we will say to ourselves when we replace those voices. By rejecting them, have we really moved forward? I am a lifetime weight watcher. I have learned that caring for myself involves making wise choices, not because of how I will look, but because of how a healthy, fit, strong body feels. I do this because of my deep love for myself, and also my enduring love for my kids and grands. I want to enjoy every moment I can with them. I can't control everything, but I choose to control what I can -- myself. My mom and dad both filled my head with horrible messages. "My God, you are getting to be as fat as a pig." I've rejected them (it's a lifelong job) and replaced them with messages that heal and encourage me to continue to care for myself in ways that enable me to live my very strongest and best life!

Anonymous said...

Your article stirred up memories of a very unhappy childhood. I was constantly told by my Mom that I could never do anything right, that I was fat, even though I wasn't, ridiculing everything I did. I made cheerleader when I got in high school. I was so excited and could not wait to tell my Mom. I thought she would finally be proud of me only to be told by her: "Well, how much is that going to cost me?" That was on a Fri. I cried all weekend. When I got engaged she told me: "Good, I never wanted you anyway. I just wanted your brother. You were an accident."
I am now 68 yrs old. As a result of all the emotional abuse, I try to please everyone, I stress eat without realizing what I did until after it is done and am never able to express my feelings without anger. I hate my 5'2", 200 lb self. I can hardly stand to look at myself in the mirror. Yes I tried counseling. It just stirred up memories of all the verbal, physical and emotional abuse I suffered from my Mom growing up and made things worse.
I honestly do not know how some women get the courage to out in public and not care about other's opinions. I am not criticising them as I look like the way some of them do just a lot older. I would just like to know where the courage comes from. I can't find mine. I want to go out and do things, but am so self conscious about my looks.
I have medical problems that make me unable to walk very far. Fibromyalgia, and a very bad knee and back keep me from exercising and being very active like I use to. I take steroids for the pain, which make me balloon up.
When I try to sew, I end up just throwing what I made in the trash and crying because I can not get anything to fit my body and have noone that can come over to help me with pinning and helping me fit things to my body. I use to sew for a living. I have designed and made costumes for dance troupes, stage productions, and costume shops. Fitting others is no problem, but me, not so much.

Tracy King said...

Thank you Barb! You’re awesome and your thoughts written on the internet reflect and mirror many of my own. Many things I have tried not to pass on to my own girls but life and other people seem to drag them down anyhow. Those models you mentioned who spend their lives making their bodies their businesses, my girls look at them and feel inadequate and fat. I do too and I can’t stop myself from saying how fat I am whenever I model a new sewn or crocheted creation. Ladies like you who call is all on our own inner voices and share their own are so special. Thanks for the reminder of the fact that my body does it’s best and tries not to let me down.

Jean Shaw said...

Multiple thoughts, memories, and emotions. Just a few observations:
--love your haircut, actually.
--as this conversation is about shame, I strongly recommend reading Brene Brown's work. Once you "see" shame in action, you can't unsee it, and her language is so supportive, honest, and straightforward. (Also: deeply rooted in research.)
--Also strongly recommend Cashmerette to those who've never explored that pattern line. (And God bless Jalie!)
--just saw early release of a study in a major US medical journal suggesting that BMI guidelines be shifted downward for postmenopausal women, to reflect concern over expansive waistlines. In other words, those who thought they were "high normal" would now be considered "overweight." (And those who were at the high end of overweight would be obese.) Hoo boy.

Thanks, Barb. I think you're a treasure.

me said...

WOW great post. Like all the other - I can and do relate!

Pattyskypants said...

I work on a university campus and I have good news: young women might be on the right path. I don't see much shame. I see a lot of confidence in appearance, no matter what the shape. Although I have heard some shaming ("Girls like that should NOT wear leggings as pants"), it doesn't seem to affect them and it seems to be coming from women in their 40's or 50's. So I think giving ourselves permission to happily be whatever we are is good for all!

Brenda said...

So many wonderful comments! Barb, I love your honesty and realism and your sense of humor! I am 61 and have sewn for years. I grew up being called "Boney-Maroney". When I was little we had a little girl that lived next door who was over weight. My mother said to us, we need to cut off some of your fat and put it on Brenda. How horrible for both of us! I was large breasted in high school and my sister was much smaller chested. Our mother said I should be a Playboy model and that my sister had fried eggs for boobs. Who says that to her children??!?! She wasn't all bad, of course. I love her with all her flaws (and rude comments). She gave me the love of sewing. She made all of our clothes and they were gorgeous. She made our wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses. She still makes rude comments because, "if it's true, why can't I say it?" Now I look like my grandmother but I'm a grandma of 7 so that is ok. Being a little thick in the middle makes for a good grandma lap! Thanks for all you do, Barb. I look forward to every post.

Janine said...

Barbara, another great post. Have you said anything to your mother about her comments ?I wonder how your grandparents treated her ? It is interesting that all your photos are of larger women. Thinner younger women have hangups too. It is sad any woman has hangups. If we can have the healthiest lifestyle achievable for our individual circumstances and be our own best friend then that is the important thing. I have sadly learnt in the last few years that you are the only person in the world who is truly there for you so no point hating yourself as well. I hope and it seems we are starting to get there. I was teased all the time about my breasts from my siblings to outsiders for being flat. It was horrible . Thankyou again for a great post and blog.

thornberry said...

Oh wow. What a blog post, and what amazing comments.
I love all those photos that show the body shape and size diversity of the sewing community- which I think is indicative of the diversity of the community as a whole.
My story? Grew up a skinny kid to a mum who 'struggled' with her weight all her life. Used to hear things like 'Lara will never have her mum's weight problem'. I am overweight nowadays - but I don't consider it to be a problem. My health indicators (other than the number of the scale or the tape measure) are all fine and dandy.
I have two daughters, and am SO conscious about what I role model to them about our bodies. I think that I'm lucky and read quite a lot of feminist writing about size and fat and beauty standards a long, long time ago and that has informed quite a lot of my thinking and behaviours.
I don't worry very much about what others think about how I look. Because it is what it is. And I have so much else to fill my head with than concerns about my appearance. I like to feel good in what I wear, and I think I look good in my clothes - but my mental space would rather be occupied by which fabric and pattern I'll pull from stash next, and how I'll construct it!
And I had never noticed that you have thinning hair - it always looks like a cool haircut to me!

annie said...

If you can stand one more comment... my husband and I have spent most of the day talking about this issue. His stance is that this is as much an economic issue. Look like this woman in the magazine. I have the product/service/magic to make you look like her.
I shall discount what's under that skin, etc. So it is a multifaceted problem. Let's take heart in an observation. In the 1890s, women poured themselves into weird corsets to produce an unnatural shape. We got past that. We can do this!

Cathie said...

Thank you so much, also to the posters! Have you ever seen the RTW Smart Glamour? All made by 1 talented lady, and models are all sizes, and smiling. You can see the fashion shows on-line. A small caring company. I am 68, and have had loads of body image issues (!). I also had a facial paralysis (1/2) at 34, and it was very distorted. But I am alive. I also weigh about 220 (now), though I was once verging on anorexia and moving south. We have to like ourselves, but hard to do. Sewing really is soothing, and you make things for your body. I use commercial patterns as pieces (leggo parts), then put together as I wish, also modifying.... I get a lot of compliments, but also (this is another problem women can have) some people get angry at me, because I have fun with clothes, and look good. However inside I have an almost permanent battle with depression. I say to myself - I have to do things that make me happy and are good for me! Cathie!

Anonymous said...

First of all--your hair looks great! I suspect you even look lovely with nail polish on your face---thank you for that great idea:)

I am 65 and have survived my first major heart attack. I think my people-pleasing days might have ended with that heart attack and I am having lots more laughs at myself.

Right now I am purging my sewing room of supplies and projects that are clogging up the space I need to have fun with my sewing. It's a total pain in the arse and I sure hope I get this done soon!

I had my husband trace my body according to the instructions in Real Fit for Real People. Ok, so much for that great idea! I should have just brought the paper to my quilt group and found someone there to do it. Has anyone else had any luck with that tool?

I love your column! You are my hero! And your hair looks much better than mine:)
Lisa SF Bay Area

KS_Sews (Dressmakingbacles) said...

In my freshman English class in college we discussed advertising and body image. There was one other black girl in class. We were both a bit mystified because we had never experienced what the other girls did. When my (now sophomore) daughter was a freshman in college they had the same discussion! And she had the same response!

I suppose that’s one positive of underrepresentation! I couldn’t even name a supermodel at that age.

Now social media has made it all worse for everyone IMO. Constant, targeted messaging.

Patricia said...

Wow, what a wonderful post, I am trembling with recognition, excitement, whatever! I need to know more about indie patterns, and can't wait to read the posts. I am 71, have sewn my clothes since 14, up and down through the sizes, currently grown out of half my wardrobe. Love your blog, and always feel inspired to sew another day. Thank you. said...

Wow, this post. I love you all. My mother's sister and family made me feel unattractive ("You are the one with the personality!") and for many years I felt undeserving. I'm 58 and imperfect. Ten years ago, I took a chance and married a man to whom I am eternally grateful. Loves me for me and now I am happy/beautiful. So I say to all of you, turn up the music, start sewing and you are all beautiful. I love you all!

Marian Johnston said...

Amazing post. Thank you!!

tmd said...

I am top-heavy, an inverted triangle slowly spreading into a square (thanks, peri-menopause). I get “you’re so lucky” comments—and I am, weight was not a concern for half my life. Buying clothes was, though—if it fits the top half, it tents the bottom. If it fits the bottom half, I either can’t button the top or can’t move my arms. Yes, you can alter waists and hips, but after a point you’ve whittled away the proportions of the garment (and I still haven’t found an indie pattern company whose focus isn’t on the hips. I hold out hope for Itch to Stitch and Kennis Wong’s cup size patterns, but haven’t had a chance to make one.) There’s no such thing as a sports bra supportive enough to make running painless, and I have no idea what it’s like to do a down dog with “proper form.” The big body issue I have, though, is that my bust precedes me into any room...and it is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman with a bustline can’t have a brain. (Just ask my last degree program.) Marina Sirtis, incidentally, does a very funny bit on exactly this issue when she talks about the cheerleader outfit she had for Star Trek, The Next Generation. It’s on YouTube a bunch of times, if you want to end your day with a giggle.

tmd said...

It is absolutely an economic issue, further complicated by globalism. Where, 30 years ago, Western retailers only had to deal with “thin” and “thick” shoppers—and, being thought of as a minority, larger shoppers were marginalized away into “big and tall” stores or departments with specialty clothing lines and much smaller selections, now they’ve got new Asian markets complaining a 00 petite is neither small nor short enough, and Western and (increasingly) African markets that keep extending the outside limit on bigger and taller. The trick is how to provide the styles disseminated globally in the, frankly, vast array of configurations the world now demands; I think most planners fold under the pressure and retreat to size standards that make nobody happy. (Or just design endless maxi dresses.)

Nethwen said...

That's concerning. The only way I can stay at the midweight BMI is to count every calorie, exercise every moment I'm not working or sleeping, and eating so little that I'm constantly cranky and sick. I refuse to live like that.

LinB said...

How fortunate we are, to be able to make our own clothes -- or to alter rts clothing -- so that we are comfortable, so that we can wear the colors we like, so that we can re-make our wardrobes as our bodies change over time.

When I analyze my own body parts, it is not out of hatred or misery that I list "short, wide neck; saggy upper arms; long torso; deep rise; short legs; round belly; flat derriere." It is because these are things I need to take into consideration when construction clothing -- not to "flatter" my body -- so that I am not choked by too-tight collars, not cut in twain by a crotch depth too shallow for my torso, not tripping over too-long trouser legs, not in pain from a too-tight waistband.

It is a good habit for human beings to look for the beautiful in other people, and then to compliment those people. You can do this by offering a wider-that-usual smile as you pass them on the street; or you can go out of your way to tell someone that she/he has great shoes, or looks great in that color, or looks so happy to be wearing that hat/coat/shirt/jewelry/etc.

Anonymous said...

Reading these posts have made me think of Maya Angelou's word, " People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did but people will not forget how you made them feel."

We should strive to make people feel good. It will also make you feel good. Whatever form of creativity makes you happy pursue it, as long as it isn't illegal:-) Hang out with folks who make you happy. The internet has been a wonderful connection for people who sew and I see only positive comments and happy faces.

Even in my senior years the voices in my head can take over but not nearly as often and I have learned not to let them stay very long.

Anonymous said...

Me again.. I did not intend to sound like Pollyanna nor did I intend to sound like I had all the answers.

I still struggle with not being good enough. Perfection perfection perfection!! It can drive me and those near and dear to me crazy. I also know that there have been people in my life who will not forget how I made them feel, most often unintentionally but occasionally on purpose. I truly hope, to err is human and to forgive is divine.

Thanks for this thought provoking post Barb.

M-C said...

That "I made it myself" smile is key 😀. I started sewing because at 11 I was already too tall to fit easily into the rtw offerings. If someone else had imposed the clothes of my self-taught teenager - hood on me, I would have been a lifelong therapy client, but in fact all I felt was pride. And now that I am old and fat on top of even taller, I still have a totally unusual positive body image. I can work up some angst about the functionality of my knees, but I could care less about the size of my butt.. Thank you sewing!

MAM said...

What a beautiful post! I nearby solemnly swear not to ever again say I hate any part of my body! I am upright, I have at least 1/2 the hair I used to have, I'm 75 years old and probably don't really look it, I am fairly healthy and many many more positives. thank you for pointing out all the things you pointed out! Hooray for our jiggles and wiggles or boniness if they are there - we earned them all!

mandysaunders said...

What a wonderful post. I have had terrible body image for years. Much as my mother is fantastic I do remember her negative comments. I had an ex husband who continually reinforced my poor body image. I have a wonderful partner now and together we have worked on changing my view of myself. He is so wonderful and amazing and now I'm starting to like myself. thanks for the post.

spatch said...

I do get and appreciate what you are saying. I am overweight and have been for probably 20 years. I am 100 pounds overweight. Where I differ with you is that I have to recognize all the consequences I have because of that. Numerous health issues and now diabetes. Putting stress on my legs with all the extra weight I carry and now walking is not comfortable after short periods. And that ties into normal everyday exercise diminished. Blood pressure meds. In other words, I cannot disguise it is ok to just accept my body image as is. The medical community terms me morbidly obese. I do and have tried to lose weight and will continue to do so. I don't want women creating a false security just believing image is the only component of being overweight and they will be fine if they accept their bodies staying that way.

Anonymous said...

So here we are, alive and with our own particular challenges. When a nurse at the VA put me through the wringer to lose weight before a necessary surgery, while I finally got the surgery (umbilical hernia repair), I also sort of got angry and began writing down calories and protein of everything I saw fit to eat! I found Mike Vacanti online and while I can't afford his coaching, I was impressed with his talk. Two years later and still journaling, I am way over 70, down 40 pounds, getting physical therapy to keep shoulders back and overcome hunched posture from years of inputting, piano, sewing, knitting -- much of it to earn my living! Now I can see why when I was young, I could pack on 30 pounds almost overnight because I would lose myself. Sharp comments really hurt, starting with the family friend who said I was "getting to be quite a filly" and Mom said don't wear that top again -- like it was my fault! I was 12 and 32AA. Now I don't go to the bitchy knitting group and anywhere else that people are not nice to me. I try to be clean and to smile. Dammit, how I am is good enough! I've asked for help for "emotional stability" and I try to get out of the house, help with wildlife, a charity book shop. I tried to make a family. I cry inside when I hear moms curse their wonderful bodies. Now I hope I said something helpful for others. I've been listening to Jordan Peterson's book "12 Rules . . ." and the entire book, not the summary, is full of marvelous ideas. God bless!

Anonymous said...

Well said - I enjoy seeing the fantastic photos of people wearing garments they have made themselves in the Indie Pattern photos - it gives me the confidence to not only sew for myself again, but also to wear what I make with pride - now I am not longer a slim, young thing, but instead a happy, healthy,'nana'.

Anonymous said...

Spatch makes a point I can affirm: that at some point it ceases being a body image issue and becomes a health issue. After 3 a.m. calories still count. We need to read labels and say "I don't think so" to a lot of bad stuff many would have us indulge in -- including dear friends and family. Maybe my food choices sound like an exotic religion to some, but my hands are not crippled with arthritis. Also my mom lost it to Alzheimer's, so I am doing everything I know to avoid that. For example, the brain needs fat! Oh, yeah, she was a Neiman-Marcus 4 but when her care-giver went to Penney for sweatshirts and pants, she got size 8. Fertility didn't used to be a curse. People worshipped a body of a type that now is denigrated as thunder thighs, etc. . . . Now isn't this a sewing column? I'm back to my Bernina 930 to finish a hooded Burda jacket made up in teal polar fleece. It's blanket weight and I'm having to push it through. I have 3 1920's coat buttons from my Nana to put near the fastening. There is still snow on the ground, and I hope to wear it for Easter. After this, whatever I sew will be duck soup!

Anonymous said...

I quit sewing for a while when I didn’t know how to adjust patterns to fit. I lived in Lands End clothes for years until I felt like a blob in the shapeless garments. Then I found a sewing teacher who helped me fit the patterns, I love how she talks about my body and fitting - she just notices where the pattern is not right for my shape. Our mantra is that the pattern is a good place to start.

Last year I had a double mastectomy due to breast cancer. I knew from the start that I wouldn’t have reconstruction. I knewit wouldn’t work for me to have implants or wear a prosthesis. Now I sew for a “flat” chest and appreciate that my body survived all of the treatments and I have hair again. Yes, I could lose a few pounds, but it’s most important that I survived.

Martina said...

I’m a little late to this comment stream, but I agree that society pushes women to look and act in certain ways that are socially acceptable. Last year I has weight loss surgery (vertical sleeve gastrectomy for those who care), and I lost 85 pounds. I had a really good result, and a lot (if not all) of the health issues that qualified me for the surgery have resolved. I feel much better, and physical activity is so much easier. What’s been interesting is the reactions I get...from “You’ve lost a lot of weight, was it on purpose?”, to “You look fantastic, so much younger”. I appreciate them all, and know that people think they’re being kind, but it’s exhausting sometimes. Even with that said, I still have issues, just different ones...but I don’t regret the surgery one bit. I agree about being grateful for the body you have, and what it can do for you...I still have one leg smaller than the other (birth injury), and crooked knees, but I’m going to make beautiful clothes for the body I have and wear them proudly.

Mimi Routh said...

Congratulations, Martina! I so wish people would find something else to say, like "Wow! I'm so glad to see you!" Personal comments are really not proper. Sometimes I reply with "Why do you ask?" or "Oh, I manage . . ." I am technically elderly and live in affordable senior housing, so it's easy to begin to notice who is "losing it" etc. etc. Friday I went to a barbecue at my physical therapist's. Actually, it was a baby shower with a lovely crowd of women of all ages just pushing out love to the gloriously beautiful business owner who is just about to pop! In the crowd were all ages, some elderly, some poor. It was a last summer day for white slacks, pretty sandals, bright colors. Physical therapy has stopped my headaches, pushed shoulders back, tummy in. I do the exercises every day. Journaling to include calories, protein and what's going on -- that has helped helped me get the weight down. It went up 15 pounds this spring when I had hand surgery -- left hand and then right hand -- and could not cook from scratch so well. Money has been very tight, and we had a stressful HUD inspection this summer where I live. This effort stole the heart of my summer. I have a duvet cover to sew, a dust ruffle, doll clothes -- oh, my! I have thrift shop slacks to shorten. Plenty of stash. This afternoon I was looking at shirt patterns and pretty flannel for nicely fitted shirts with a curved hem. When I'm smaller, I can layer them over turtlenecks like the thin women do. I can't be "perfect" but I can be on time, clean, and smiling.

Anonymous said...

I need to comment anonymously, I apologize.

I have been apologizing for my 4'11" height all of my life since my teenage years. I had more than one (1970s era) boyfriend break-up with me because I didn't tan as darkly as Farrah Fawcett or Christie Brinkley.

While I have long moved on, well past being ashamed of my fair skin...I cannot move past a lifetime of "being on the verge of overweight" as noted by my mother every time I saw her...or actually being overweight by 10 to 25 pounds since her death 15 years ago! At my height, every 5 lbs on me equals 10 on a average height woman.

Happily I had a lifetime of sewing skills, as my family owned a fabric store. I was teaching sewing to those a number of years older than me when I was 17. I had my choice of lovely fabrics..and had the skills to use them. That said, even after 35+ years as a (moderately well-known) professional shirtmaker...I haven't posted a photograph of myself in well over 10 years...because all I see is "Too Fat x Too many Wrinkles = Ugly" when I take one! I even turned-down a relatively recent 2-page book-spread of my shirts and shirt-making skills...because...yes you guessed would have involved taking photos of myself.

(on the verge of tears now) I can't imagine changing how I feel...anytime soon...

Anonymous said...

Here's Mimi Routh again. Dear Anonymous! What has helped me is Louise Hay's book, You Can Heal Your Life. Also Stuart Wilde and Sylvia Browne. I believe we chose our bodies and our circumstances -- even the evil parent, where we live -- all the lessons we hope to learn. Where I live, in senior housing, it is not about becoming a model or hot chick or catching men; it's about being alive and glad, putting on tinted lip gloss and a smile. I got very sick around Thanksgiving, watched the Bush funeral in ICU, had pneumonia and a wonky heartbeat, was put on blood thinner and coughed my head off, making a blood clot in my belly the size of a 6-month pregnancy. The nurses said it was gas. So once home I got cable TV, realizing my internet sources were lacking. So this morning I was 215 and grateful. It seems in the hospital you don't own your body; on new medicine, it responds differently. However, I believe "BETTER 'N' BETTER" is a natural law. On 7 Feb I go for a procedure to re-set my heart to beat normally again. It's a good heart; I'm a veteran and still have a lot to do. I love shirts but am challenged fit-wise, being full-busted. I think I need bust darts. I like a released pleat into the back yoke because fullness keeps a top from clinging and showing all the bulges! I don't like shoulder seams that sag way down on my arms. I simply don't understand putting spandex or stretch in voile or crepe de chine. That stretch stuff is for dancers and athletes. We managed fine through the 20th century! All this said, Dear Anonymous, we need your expertise! Please gather the courage to move past your personal stuff and get out there however you are that particular day, whatever weight, get help with makeup, buy a silk knit tank top to go under your beautiful shirt, wear the prettiest colors and your gold hoop earrings -- just do it! Get on your own team! When we push out love, I think people can see what a dish we were! Please, while we're young. I love you!