Like so many women, I’ve struggled with body image since I was a child: As a four-year-old hearing that my tummy stuck out too much in ballet class; as a fifteen-year-old wearing a skirt with a painful waistband for years, because I could not fit into my school uniform; and as a twenty-something struggling to convince myself that someone would overlook my appearance and go on a date with me. If you told me when I started sewing five years ago that it would fundamentally change how I perceived myself, I never would have believed you. Though my curvy body hasn’t changed, my perceptions and attitude towards it have, quite radically.
First, it freed me from the tyranny of clothes shopping. Knowing you may not fit into the largest size is no fun. There are few things more disheartening than always reaching for the hanger at the back of the rail, asking the shop assistant if a shirt comes in a bigger size, or getting stuck trying to squeeze yourself into pants you really, really wish fit over your hips.
In fact, it wasn’t until I stopped shopping for clothes that I realized how I felt excluded and judged for not being a “normal” size. It turns out that it wasn’t my body that wasn’t fitting the clothes—it was the clothes that weren’t fitting my body! Now, I decide what I want to wear and make it in my size, and it fits 100% of the time. Who cares where I am in the size range of that store’s customers, or if Anthropologie deigns to fit this mighty bosom? Freedom from having to meet someone else’s standards is so sweet.
Once I stopped trying to meet someone else’s arbitrary size chart, I was able to start paying real attention to my body in a neutral, objective way. Learning about the blocks used in ready-to-wear clothing and sewing patterns was an “aha!” moment for me. Of course I don’t fit into the clothes in all stores! No one does! Even if you have the same measurement as someone else, everyone’s weight is distributed in a slightly different way. The joy of sewing is that a pattern can be easily adjusted with no value judgment.
It’s really hard to have a non-skewed sense of what you look like when you’re constantly reminded that you’re plus-size. But if you measure your waist, and it’s 40”; you just make a 40” skirt. It’s a straightforward equation, and there’s really no point in pretending you’re a different size or judging the number. You start to understand that the dimensions of your body are just impartial guides to help you make clothes that fit. The more you measure, the more those measurements just become numbers. Suddenly my bust wasn’t a “problem,” it was just a measurement to help me make something awesome that will fit well.
It’s a straightforward equation, and there’s really no point in pretending you’re a different size or judging the number.
On a practical note, learning to fit was key. In my frustration and desire to wear a certain size, I wore ill-fitting clothes all my life, with waistbands cutting in and button plackets gaping, causing all sorts of lumps and bumps. Lo and behold, once I made things that fit me, I not only felt more comfortable but also looked so much better! Fitting is a never-ending learning exercise but even beginners start to see the results quickly. Psychologically, it can be hard to size up in clothes from a store (and a lot of the time many of us don’t have that luxury as we’re already the biggest size), but I’ve found it so much easier to make the right size when I’m sewing, which always looks so much better.
Finally, the sewing community has been fundamental in my attitude shift. Replacing Photoshop-enhanced images with curvy women of all shapes and sizes, smiling in their crop tops, and swirling in their circle skirts has made me realize that I truly am just like everyone else. It’s so much fun to see a photo of a woman looking fantastic in an outfit and then realize that I can recreate that look and look just as awesome.
There’s so much positivity and confidence to be had, if you just know where to look. The support and community from actively engaging in the blogosphere has also been fantastic. The plus-size blogosphere is rapidly growing, with sites like the Curvy Sewing Collective (which I co-founded) gaining new readers every week. If you want to trade tips on getting just the right button-down pattern or help on how to expand a waistband, there are now many places to go. So thank you, sewing. Not just for my new (and constantly growing) wardrobe, but also for the peace that has come with a positive body image and my ridiculously big grin every time someone takes a photo of me twirling in a garment made just for me, by me.
Watercolor illustration by Laura Row.
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