Recently I’ve come face to face with body-dislike, and the fears and humiliation that so often comes from having a body at all, let alone a body nowhere close to what our western society tells us it should be. Not my body-dislike, but a friend’s. She’s plus-sized, and describes her body with a genuinely humourous grin as a ‘beach ball’. And she generally seems pretty ok about her body size and image overall.
So I was a dismayed when we started upsizing patterns for her, (there are very few patterns, even plus-sized, that don’t need adjusting upwards for her figure) that she – well she very determinedly didn’t disintegrate into tears. Eeek!
There’ve been a number of posts and conversations over the years in the sewing blogosphere that talk about the effect of sewing on body image. I’ve even chimed in on a few. Recently Karen of Did You Make That posting in The Guardian “Can sewing change your body image?” created a lot of discussion, The Colleterie has visited this issue. Gertie‘s visited it. From comments and posts generally, it seems some people have found sewing to have a negative effect on their body image. Most seem to have found it positive.
I particularly liked Julie’s Doodle Blog’s take on it, that fitting the things she sews is about resolving the differences between patterns and her body, as opposed to when she shops for rtw it becomes a list of ‘problems’ her body has. This is probably closest to how I personally feel about size, fit, and sewing. However I can’t tell you how I feel about rtw shopping because quite honestly I hardly ever do it. I sew, or op-shop, and the sizing in op-shops are all over the place, as are the styles, colours, fabrics, and quite often the clothes themselves! (Oh I <3 op-shopping!)
And I can’t tell you how sewing has or has not affected my own body image because I’ve been making clothes for myself since I was 10, a year or two before my body started developing. I kinda have no ‘before’ and ‘after’ to compare! But I do know the freedom to create exactly what I wanted to wear – within the constraints of a typically small budget, and the fabric available in the local fabric shops or op-shops (no Spotlight in Darwin back then, for good or ill, and no Lincraft ever) has meant that my feelings about my body and clothing is simply another part of the creativeness that infuses the rest of my life.
Sewing aside, I also danced all through my teen years (Ok, ok I still do! I’ll dance on my deathbed!) and my dance teacher’s focus on the quality of movement rather than the shape or size of the body doing the movement probably had an overall far more positive effect on my feelings about my body than any other one thing in my entire life. (Thanks Mrs H! You’re a legend!)
Believe me, my generally healthy body image isn’t bullet-proof. I avoid reading woman’s magazines like the plague - they inevitably make me feel huge, ugly as hell, covered in acne and wrinkles and that my relationships with my partner, mother, daughter and all my friends are in tatters.
But… all in all, for me, the numbers on the tape measure are mostly just a (pretty useful!) fitting tool.
So here I am, not sure how to teach my friend to sew clothes that actually fit her without accidentally shredding her self esteem about her body, in my enthusiasm to teach her to sew clothes that fit and look good on her. I’m hoping the ‘looking good on her’ will win over the “OMG that pattern is HUGE, look at the vast expanse of fabric it takes to cover me” reactions. But getting to the hopefully positive end product may not help if she doesn’t survive the negative feelings fitting her properly is bringing up.
Any suggestions would be very much appreciated!
She’s visiting from Melbourne for a month, the day she left home it was raining and 5C *shivers* and she arrived to a balmy 30C here. Oddly enough she didn’t have many clothes suitable for the late dry-season weather we’re having, so we ran up a “pillow-case dress” in a gorgeous bright pink-and-orange hibiscus print. Looks great!. I’d LOVE to post a picture of the first dress we made but she’s not sure if she’s ok with it.
eta: she’s decided she is ok with me adding in her picture here! She’s one brave woman in a lot of ways, and facing her body-image fears is just one of them :-)