I seem to bump into discussions on sewing and body image issues everywhere I go. Not just Gertie and Carolyn, but also in real life. I have a slightly different take. I feel there is a sort of stigma towards people who work hard to have nice figures, like it is a vanity or selfish. I don’t look down my nose at people who are a different size than I am, in fact I help them fit patterns. But I think there is another aspect of this debate that should be addressed.
Since I was a teenager, I made an effort to maintain my figure. I exercised, generally ate properly, even counted calories. So I had a nice figure. I never have been a waif, but I like my pretty curves and waistline. When I found out I was pregnant, I felt a certain freedom about what I could eat. I still exercised, and never “ate for two” (which is a fallacy) but by the time I had my daughter I had gained nearly 25 pounds. That translated to a 20% increase in my body weight. I felt like a fertility goddess in the months after I had my little girl, enormous breasts full of milk, gorgeous wide hips, a rounded tummy. Then slowly the glow of New Motherhood wore off and I became embarrassed about my weight. I didn’t fit into any of my pre-baby clothes, I couldn’t find clothes to wear to work that fit me the way I wanted, the way I was used to. I hated how I looked but somehow I thought I had no power to change any of it. After all, I had had a baby, what did I expect?
The breaking point came nearly a year after her birth. I had turned to sewing for myself again in a desperate attempt to make some clothes that would look nice on me. I gritted my teeth and made a linen tulip skirt two sizes larger than any size I had made before. I took great pains over the skirt, double lines of contrast topstitching, watching out for just the most perfect buttons for the center front.
Then the moment of truth when I tried to wrap it around my body. Nothing doing. I couldn’t even get the edges of the front to match up, let alone button. No way. I threw the thing at my machine and then went to bed for a while, sobbing. It was my own fault for eyeballing the pattern and thinking “No way is my waist bigger than 29 inches” rather than measuring. I was trying to fool myself, trying to fool the fabric. I had set myself up for that failure. I laid there crying and my husband patted my hair. Such a lovely man, he told me I was fine how I was, that the loved me and loved my body. I sat up and told him that I didn’t like my body. It felt foreign, somehow just disgusted me. He said that was my own problem and that I could change it or accept it.
Profound man, my husband. I realized I didn’t just have to accept a “mommy body,” and started going to the gym and eating mindfully. I was kind to myself but unrelenting. Every time I met a sort of milestone, I celebrated by making myself a new skirt, a new blouse for work. Then last fall, in time for the PR wardrobe contest I had an epiphany. I was not down to my previous weight, but I was down to my previous waist measure. The bust and hips might never be the same. I was healthy, I was energetic, I was not depressed, I slept well at night and was not obsessed with my body. I decided that shape was something to stick with so I made an entire wardrobe tailored to that shape. There is very little room for weight gain there.
For me, sewing was a great way to change my body shape. I know a lot of ladies beat the drum of “fit the clothes to your body” but for a long time, I did it the other way around. And I still do. When my skirts are a little tight or my blouses get “fat girl” wrinkles, I know I need to watch it. This is not an unhealthy way to operate. I do not harm myself to maintain my figure, but I do work at it. I do not try to look like a waif, God gave me a feminine body and I love it. I maintain my curves, I do lunges, squats, pushups and tricep workouts so my curves are firm, strong, healthy. I jog with my daughter in the pram. We do yoga together. It’s a part of my life just as much as sewing.
With sewing and body image, honesty is the best policy. If you are unhappy, then change. If you don’t have the fortitude to change, then accept it. But be honest, I wouldn’t wish my Tulip Skirt experience on my worst enemy.
(I had to take it in, but it fits just great now.)