Happy Body Image: Clear Your Mind

Consider: Advertising seeps insidiously into our minds, training us to want things we don’t have.  Sure, some advertising is for things we need.  More often, the purpose is to create a desire that must be satisfied by buying a product.  The simplest way to create desire is to attack our sense of well-being.  The simplest way to resist is to look away.

For example, recently I ran across an advertisement for iPod in a magazine.  It showed a “cool,” handsome guy, with a sleek new iPod.  The tagline said “What does your iPod say about you?”


It’s not enough to have the product, make sure the product says the right things about you.  That is, don’t be caught dead with an old iPod.  Give me a break.  It’s a little plastic thing that plays music.

Governments are waking up to the psychological impact of advertising.  In 2006, the mayor of Sao Paulo, Brasil (Largest city in the Southern Hemisphere) ordered a blanket ban on all outdoor advertising.  How marvelous!

 (Empty Signs, Sao Paulo)

Clear Channel, a giant media outlet, fought the ban for years.  They lost.  The people of Sao Paulo love the ban.  Once billboards came down and giant signs were stripped from buildings, people could see the city they live in.  This has led to urban renewal projects including closing of brothels, restoring historic buildings, and brightly re-painting much of the city.  How to find your bank?  Look for a doorway painted a particular shade of blue…

Recently, Spain passed a law banning “Beauty Advertising” during certain hours.  To quote The Guardian:

“{The ban} states: ‘Broadcasters cannot carry advertisements for things that encourage the cult of the body and have a negative impact on self-image – such as slimming products, surgical procedures and beauty treatments – which are based on ideas of social rejection as a result of one’s physical image or that success is dependent on factors such as weight or looks.”

I applaud Spain.   We can hope eventually it reaches further and more countries will follow suit. Unfortunately, such restrictions on advertising are unlikely to take root in the United States due to craven businessmen skulking behind the First Amendment.  Advertising is not free speech.  Advertising is manipulation.

Ultimately it is our own personal choice whether to participate or not.  I don’t have to expose my mind to images, words, and articles that tell me I am less than what I am- but assure me I’ll get better if I buy some crap.  Governments can only regulate advertising to a certain extent.  The rest is our own look-out.

In reading sewing/fashion blogs, I am astonished at the number of posts to do with body image that blame the media/designers/everyone else for the problem.   Agreed, it is a dirty industry based on negativity.

I read posts lambasting the fashion industry and their use of skinny models, how nothing ever fits plus sizes, etc etc.  Then the next post is a round-up of 2010 summer trends, or a long list of this week’s pop culture doings.   Isn’t there an alternative?

Just don’t look.  Don’t get sucked in.  Refuse to be a part of a fashion culture that rejects you based on your size.  Once you quit looking, it starts to fade away.  Then when you do notice, it seems faintly ridiculous.   No magazines, no “cult of body” sites on the internet, no “uber-cool” tv shows.   Isn’t it all rather a waste of time?  Isn’t pop culture rather smug and self-perpetuating?  Wouldn’t you rather spend your time sewing than focusing on images like this:

 Or comparing yourself to this:

(I love the sticking-out-the-bottom pose to emulate curves.)
Side note on skinny models– I think about it as a sewist, and one who does alterations for fit on a wide variety of sizes.  Fit is a function of two factors: bone structure and fat distribution.  If you remove the weight from a model, leaving little more than a skeleton, she is far simpler to dress.  So this super skinny high fashion look is little more than laziness on the part of designers.   Hold that up as the ideal, and bingo, there’s suddenly an industry that caters to people who eat and still want to look like those bondage-models above.
Instead, consider the work of Peter Paul Reubens.  He painted gorgeous pictures of well-rounded women.  The Three Graces: (Definite “Pear” body shapes, aren’t they spectacular?)

Venus (have you ever seen a skinny goddess?  No?  Just checking.) :

I know most people want to look like they live in 2010.  We can’t all run around in Art Deco overcoats, I get that.   Why not find the colors, the cuts that work for you, and then incorporate elements of 2010?   I think of it as “Magpie Fashion.”  Use several base pieces that you know fit and work well for you, then add in other pieces picked up here and there, whatever catches your eye.  I strive for clothes that flatter my shape and coloring, that are suitable for my lifestyle, and comfortable in my climate.  Not much coming out of Milan or NYC or the latest whatever fit those criteria for me.

It is not necessary to immerse yourself in a culture of shame and rejection in order to look good.

We’re lucky, fellow sewists.  Not only can we make our own clothes, the online sewing community has its own trends.  Colette, for example.  Look at all the vintage seamstresses, the alternative fashionistas.  We turn to Gertie, Selfish Seamstress, Cupcake Goddess and hundreds of other sewing blogs for ideas and inspiration. These are real women, real sewists, who lead real lives and are kind enough to open up about what works for them and what doesn’t.  What a gift.   The sewing community offers warmth and acceptance to people of all shapes and skill levels.

Erin at Dress A Day had a huge impact on how I think about dressing myself, especially in her post on Dressing for Joy.  Profound, changed my entire outlook on dressing.

The point is- if it upsets you or makes you feel bad about yourself, don’t be involved.  Find positive images and ideas to focus on.  Life’s too short.

Two elements of happy body image down, two to go.  These are in response to a question posed several months ago- “How do I know when I’m good enough?” The question haunts me.


  1. Interesting! I'm teaching a lesson to my students this fall where they are going to learn about propaganda in advertising– maybe I can teach some of them not to get sucked in. I'm new to the sewing blog world and I find it all so fascinating. It's such a great community. Thanks for the nice comments on my blog. I am in awe of the things on yours! I love the coat you just made. I spent a year of college in Australia (Newcastle) and I remember desperately missing the pine trees when I was there. Looking forward to following your blog!

  2. Brilliant post. I gave up all my beauty and fashion magazine subscriptions around the time I reaced "a certain age" (mid-forties). I realized I was making myself crazy looking at those images. You are so right!!It is very freeing to "just say no" to advertising.

  3. Nice one – I love to pick apart ads too. Thank god I have confidence in myself most of the time to not feel pushed/manipulated/whatever into feeling put down by media too much….

  4. I completely agree with your comment about advertising as mental pollution. Here in the US so many places look exactly the same because of outdoor signs and billboards. The charm of cities is lost and I appreciate it all the more when I am in other countries.As for television – I do enjoy some shows, and the digital revolution means I never have to watch a commercial. Watch out advertisers, I am ignoring you!

  5. I'm with you on the advertising. I think I'm largely immune these days. On the other hand, as I find myself dabbling in the stock market, part of me is thinking that I want other people to keep spending money on whatever stuff my index-linked funds might be behind! I loved Erin's post about wearing what brings you joy. What I didn't quite understand was "How do I know when I'm good enough?" Good enough to/for/at/inside? What? Look good enough? Sew well enough? Maybe I don't really want to know…maybe then it will haunt me to!

  6. I could have sworn the question lingered at the end of this post : http://3hourspast.blogspot.com/2010/02/poured-into-my-clothes.html but I'm having a hard time finding it. The search on Blogger seems to be down. It could have been in an email associated with that post. The question was something like "But how do I know when my body is good enough?" In response to me talking about how I decided I finally liked my new body and would make clothes to fit me as I am.It broke my heart, I've pondered it ever since. I spent the past few months examining why I love my body, why I don't feel bad about it, and how to help others find some similar sort of equilibrium. I have two (possibly three) other posts about the other elements involved, and they're all proactive choices that don't involve blame or negativity. I'm pleased by the response I've had to this already, I was a little afraid of sounding angry or preachy or otherwise awful when my intentions are rather otherwise. Thanks for the responses, everyone!Urgh, it is going to drive me crazy until I can re-find that question that has played in my mind incessantly for months…

  7. Wonderful post! I will pass this along for my 3 grown daughters to read. This society does place too much emphasis on appearance (& age), especially a woman's. Thank you.

  8. I was actually thinking about this topic this morning, how ads basically make you buy their stuff by highlighting what is "lacking" or "not good enough" in your life, or what they think is lacking and not good enough in your life. And you hit the nail on the head with the ipod example. It's no longer good enough that you have that little piece of plastic that plays music, it has to not only be a specific brand but the latest version of it. I like the idea that cities are starting to do away with exterior advertising. I really hope it spreads, although I think you may be right that it probably won't happen in the US. Probably not even in Canada, where there's so much influence from American business.Excellent post. It's made me think about this all day.

  9. I agree. It's really easy. I have always limited it but I completely stopped watching TV about four years ago because it made me discontented with my own physical self and my environment. Those feelings go away. They can be slightly prodded by Burda magazine but for some reason not by pattern models.It's nice to get rid of all the comparisons between my home and TV homes too. And if you have ever seen a home that is used in film/TV (which I have because one of my neighbours used to rent out her tiny rent-controlled flat for that), you will know how the camera "up-glosses" what it shows. Bizarre but true.Getting rid of TV has made me (and my family) much more cheerful, contented, upbeat, fit and active! I don't need to spend my time "deconstructing" either. I am much more likely to be found "constructing" something. Like everything I wear, for example….

  10. I don't watch tv either except the occasional documentary. I was brought up without it. Husband likes to have it around, eventually I'll win and we won't have one. :)

  11. This is so pertinent today. Most of my clients (young brides and debs) fight this body concept and they all come to me and say that they are "on a diet" and will be loosing weight soon. I tell them I don't care. It's not their job to fit into the dress I design for them, but my job to fit a dress to them!!!! They look at me in complete amazement.Although I disagree slightly on your premise for thin-bodied models. I'm not sure it's so much laziness as it is financial economical. After all, if you have to go out and fit not only the bones but the body fat (which depends upon lifestyle, environment and genetics), then you've got about a gazillion more variables to calculate into the design. That many variations in size like: waist small, large bustwaist small, large chest, small bustwaist straight, hips large, small chest, large bust, etc.,then it's almost impossible to design a dress much less a line that is economically feasible.Of course the solution is to learn how to fit your shape and style, and the only practical way to do that is to have it made for you or make it yourself. But I am constantly on my soap box about the inappropriate message of eating one rice cake a week then sticking your thumb down your throat mentality as being "healthy" or an ideal figure. It's not. It's warped and it's unhealthy mentally and physically. Oh dear – I've gone on too long here!!! Great post!

  12. The iPod example is spot on. My father noticed the advertisement somewhere and said the exact same thing you did about it. And added that it's actually a crappy thing that plays music, because his Nokia smart phone does the same and numerous things in addition (it even has GPS, which he uses a lot on his travels). Go figure…Also, seeing the same advertisement was used in your part of the world and my part of the world… um. I like some aspects of globalisation (the internet made the wonderful sewing community possible, yay!) but this is mostly stupid. And pointless. So I should not bother, right?We've never had TV, and I'm really grateful for it. Thanks to that, I grew up with my mom before my eyes as an ideal of beauty. She's a bit on the Rubensian side. :-)

  13. I don’t actually agree with the complete ban in Sao Paulo—I think stores having *some* kind of signage makes much more sense than an obscure colour-code—but I definitely can sympathize with the impulse. I try to avoid as much advertising and mainstream media/fashion/stuff as I can. In some ways I have it easier as I am similar in general body type to those models (and I eat considerably more than a rice-cake a day ;) ), but it still creates the urge to shop/craving for things I don’t actually need. When we first got cable I watched a lot of Much Music and found that all the music videos gave me similar issues—so I keep a tight rein on how many of those I watch, too. It’s easy to forget that what you’re seeing is purely a fantasy, a work of art (or fiction) as much as any painting, and start wishing for that in your life.

  14. What I find particularly insidious is how women’s magazines have so many anxiety-producing articles and then advertisements for “solutions.” For example, there will be a gross article on liposuction and then ads for slimming pills. I would love to just be able to look at photos of women wearing clothes, but instead I have to endure so much advertising for products that fix problems I wasn’t even aware of. Oh right, I don’t have to look at that crap, I can look at sewing blogs!

    • Yes! I love that about the online sewing community, and I’m starting to see (maybe because I’m looking) more and more “regular” people doing style blogs. I think it’s fantastic.

  15. Awesome post yet again! Well done for promoting a healthy body image, people really have forgotten that we are all gorgeous human beings, no matter what we are told by the media! And yo are so right about all the fantastic craft and style blogs that are out there, written by real men and women. X

  16. It’s totally true, sadly. I work in advertising (in creative) and we’re always told that we have to create a want so xxxx will sell.

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