Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Body Image Issues and a Challenge: Show Off Your Skivvies!

Settle in, this is a long one.

Disclaimer: I can't speak for anyone but me so my apologies if I come off that way. I am a young, white woman living in America so I'm not sure if this is relevant to everyone who reads this, but maybe? There is also some language ahead, but please stick with me because I eventually come back around to sewing, I promise!

I never had a serious weight problem. I was a healthy child and mostly a healthy adult. I did gain about 35 pounds after college, but most people don't really consider that overweight, and if I show them pictures, I look almost exactly the same as I did now. Luckily, kind of, I'm a pear shape, so I can hide all of my weight in my hips.

One of the few swimsuit pictures I have of myself (from 3 years ago) because I don't normally take off my cover/dress.
I'm sharing this because even though I looked adorable as any child does and like any normal person as an adult, I still have scores of problems with my weight. I tried to go on a diet when I was 6. I told my dad I needed stomach surgery when I was 9 or 10. (My poor dad.) I rarely dated in high school because I didn't think I was skinny enough for anyone to even consider dating. My mother is very much overweight (though incredibly gorgeous - I get my looks from her) and yet I heard for many years that "no one would love [her] because [she's] fat."

This is an absurd statement and I refuse to address how ridiculous it is, but hearing that and internalizing that for years, among other equally ridiculous statements, while I was growing up did not help my love life or really, my life and body image in general.

Me after college. 

And after college when I gained those 35 pounds? I tried losing it by going to the gym every day while restricting myself to just 1000-1500 calories/day. I did not lose weight. But after about a year or two of crazy dieting ideas and lots of exercise, I did get food poisoning and I lost 20 pounds in 2 days.

I was so excited because I looked amazing skinny. Plus, everyone wanted to know my secret because I looked good thin. After explaining about the food poisoning and how I wanted to wait before resuming dieting and exercising so I could recover and be healthy, no one could understand why.

No, this isn't a healthy way to live. But worse than that: I know I'm not the only one who experiences this because I have talked about this with other women. Lots of them.


Now I'm at the lowest weight I've ever been at, I'm happier with how I look, and you know what? My cellulite hasn't gone anywhere. My thighs still touch. I have a belly pouch that swells several inches for a few hours after each meal. I'm completely disproportionate. And yet I feel amazingly confident in clothing. But not without clothing. I hate undressing. I hate going to the beach. I still have a lot of body issues even though I've gotten a lot better.

However, today, at this point in my life, I am fed up with it and want to stop. And I want everyone else around me and in the media to stop.

Of course it's not that simple, especially living in this culture. Why do we sexualize women, starting with when they hit puberty? Why does our worth always seem to tie into our looks? Why does the media, and to a larger extent men and even other women attempt to police our looks and wardrobe? Why do we listen to them?? (Seriously, I understand having beauty icons, but how did we take it so far?)

Another disclaimer: I do not claim to be above any of this. As I stated before, I am a woman living in America so I am in this just as much as everyone. But my point is that women should do what they want, look how they want, be how they want, and they should be free from criticism in as far as looks are concerned. (Criticize my seams all you want...)

I know that the world will never be perfect, but why shouldn't we continually strive for a better world?

I'm a pear shape. Describing my body as a piece of fruit that has no arms or legs or even a head has always seemed strange to me, but I definitely fall into the pear category. As a pear, I have heard my entire life about how I need to camouflage my hips and thighs. I can wear swimsuits, as long as I wear a skirt or sarong to cover up my "problem areas." A-line dresses generally are the best thing for me to wear because they emphasize my little waist and flare out so people don't have to take notice of my "unsightly" hips.

I should also stay away from anything loose because it will make me look "fat" and I should stay away from anything tight because it will also make me look "fat."

I understand that most women trying to come to grips with her fruit partner has her own set of rules she must abide by. I'm sure they're all equally ridiculous.

Sexy pears breaking the rules and looking hot.

When the Mad Men challenge comes up every year, I look through all the dresses before I resign myself to doing a Betty dress. I don't have a body like the other women on the show so I don't think I can pull off something tight and formfitting so something that flares out would be perfect for me. This is usually the point where everyone yells, "What about Joan?!" But Joan, in all of her gloriousness, does not have a body that represent me.

So when I chose this year's pencil dress, I figured it would be another disaster. I was planning to go ahead and make it A-line to "fit me better," but then something strange happened.

I spoke about this briefly before but Romola Garai influenced me a lot. She's a beautiful and somewhat larger actress. She's by no means overweight, but at least in America, if she worked in our modeling world, she'd be considered plus-size.

So anyway, she has a set of hips of her, which I love, and she rocks the pencil dress in The Hour.

Interestingly, all the pictures on google are either of her waist up, sitting down, or standing at an angle so you can't see her hips. This is the closest I could find and does not do her justice.

After watching both seasons of The Hour, I hesitantly decided to go forward with my own pencil dress. And it was perfect, at least in the way all perfection is when you stand 5-10 feet away. (Pay no attention to my seams!)

A similar type of terror went through me when I signed up for the 1920s Great Gatsby sewing challenge for the exact opposite reason. Instead of showing off my curves, I'd be covering them up with bagging clothing. What would I look like when the smallest part of me wasn't highlighted?

I was not one to back away from a challenge so easily so I researched tons of patterns and photos and drawings from and inspired by the era. How would pleats make my hips look? Should I nip in the waist and top? Would ruffles emphasize my hips? I even had my brother photoshop a bunch of different designs for me so I could get an idea if I would hate it or not.

Really what stopped the craziness for the Great Gatsby challenge was the fact that the fabric store only had 1.25 yards of fabric left for the material I wanted. Since I was too lazy to go back and get contrasting or complementary fabric, my mind had to stop with all the what-ifs and figure out how to make it work.

Then I came across an article for plus sized clothing in the 1920s and how flattering it could be, and as I looked at the women (and they did look great), I just realized how ridiculous I was being. I just seemed to be hearing over and over in my mind: Just do it. Who cares? None of these women cared. They look great.

And so I went for it. I found a pattern that had minimal cuts (so I could make something else out of it if it was a disaster) and I love the result.

The point is this: We women are taught that we have to look a certain way, we have to act a certain way, and we have to make sure other women look and act a certain way so we don't feel as bad about ourselves. We call each other names and put each other down, and for what? Why? We don't feel better about ourselves.

Why do we constantly compare our bodies to each other when we don't compare anything else in our lives? (And if you do, you should stop doing that too.) But even more importantly, why do we allow ourselves to be treated this way?

I've been there, really, I have. I still struggle with it, and I probably always will. But just because someone's smaller than you, doesn't mean that they don't have body issues themselves. Just because someone is larger than you doesn't mean they have a problem.

I write about my own struggles with accepting my body because I want to acknowledge the problem that's there and overcome it.

But I'm also writing about it because sewing (especially sewing my last two dresses) has helped me overcome so many of my body issues.

Sewing has helped tremendously because for so long I thought many fashions were just not accessible. And honestly, they aren't if I choose to buy my own clothing. In being able to craft and sew and make things work with my body shape, I've really come to love and appreciate everything I have going on.

And as well, it makes me want to speak out to encourage more self-love and remind everyone that we shouldn't be competing with each other, especially over something as fleeting as our looks. We're all in this together.

I really don't want my weight to be an issue, but it's not something I can easily ignore. No matter where I go, I see someone exercising, someone on a diet, someone complaining about their body, someone else getting called fat, someone asking me how much weight I'm trying to lose, and I've even had a stranger tell me not to buy a cookie with my lunch because it has too many calories. (I bought it anyway.)

Look, beautiful women of every size!
Ladies, we're not only making ourselves miserable, but we're making everyone around us miserable. You want to be healthy? Fantastic. I'll support you 100%. But crash dieting and crazy exercising and obsessing over weight isn't going to achieve that.

Furthermore, I'm tired of being policed on what I wear. Fuck these rules and A-line dresses. I want to wear what I feel good in, which is anything I damn well please. I'm sure there are things that make me look awful, but you know what? It's not my job to look good for you.

This is something I've internalized and struggled with and it seems like more people are talking about it now, especially with the Bombshell swimsuit challenge. And even with Gertie's post about people complaining about arm flaps. For real! Arm flaps, like, where your arm connects to your shoulder - something everyone has if they have arms.

I know I look lean, but I don't have the perfect body by any means. And that's okay because I'm human. I don't want to compare my body to anyone else's because there's no one exactly like me. I like my stretch marks, thighs, and a belly pouch. I'm still learning to love my cellulite, and hopefully one day it will come. I'm starting to get wrinkles, and I know I'm weird, but that excites me.

Okay so after all that, I have a point! An experiment! A challenge!

If sewing something as simple as a pencil skirt or a 1920s dress can change my mind so radically, what would sewing a bra or a swimsuit or a pair of underwear do?

I don't know about you guys, but almost nothing I have going on underneath my clothing is comfortable. I'm constantly adjusting straps (in all places) and checking to make sure nothing's sticking out. And in almost every post I make I mention how much I hate strapless bras. And I hate swimsuits! They bunch up. They're flimsy. There's usually no support. And they're usually way too sexy for me to rock! I bought a one piece (see photo above) and it doesn't fit either! My torso is way too long so the top stretches out and the back droops.

I want to start making ALL of my clothes, including bras and underwear and swimsuits and lingerie and maybe even some bloomers just for fun. And if all goes according to plan (and even if it doesn't), I'm going to model them here.

And I want you to join me!

I've been discussing this with Ashley over at Craft Sanctuary and she agrees - it's time we make our underthings and it's time we showed them off - for the same reason we show off everything we make, success or not.

How are we supposed to know how to adjust a pattern or if something is supportive or whatever if we don't have anything to compare it to? Let's create something comfortable and beautiful for us - just like our fabulous wardrobes.

We're challenging everyone to Show Off Your Skivvies! We have a flickr group* and a button and a twitter hashtag (#sewingskivvies) and we're challenging you to make something that goes underneath your clothing by July 31st and show it off! We'll have a big reveal on our blogs on August 1st and we'll be featuring people from the flickr group each week. We'll also have ideas, interviews, and a giveaway or two so stay tuned!

We're not looking for you to make a corset and thong and pose spread eagle on your bedspread a la Victoria's Secret - we're just looking to take back control of our bodies and make some comfortable items for our closet.

I have a few things I want to make - maybe a lacy slip or some french knickers... and a swimsuit or two from this awesome fabric I found this weekend. Eventually I'd love to make a bra, but I'm not sure I can do all of these things by August!

Future swimsuit - that fits!
At the risk of sounding corny, we are beautiful because of our curves (or lack thereof) and our wrinkles and our moles and our stretch marks. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. If they do, they're not worth having in your lives.

So what do you think? Are you in? Have something you want to make? And go check out Ashley's post to get her take on body image - we clearly grew up in 2 different places!

Show Off Your Skivvies

And I know you want the button! Just copy and paste the text to add it to your blog.

*One last note: in the interest of personal privacy, the flickr group is set to private.  You must be a member of the group to post photos and to see photos of others!  When you join the group, make sure there is some way for us to figure out who you are (tell us the name of your blog, say hi, link to your flickr profile, etc.).  We're looking for friendly sewists who want to help each other learn, not creepers who want to look at construction photos of undies.  If you DO NOT want your photos to be a part of the "big reveal" on our blogs for any reason, please let either Ashley or myself know by sending us an e-mail!


  1. Only half way through reading this and I have to comment! I couldn't agree more (with what I have read so far lol) When I think back to all the amazing opportunities I have had and how I let my weight and body image dampen those experiences I get really angry. I travelled to some pretty exotic places when I was in college and instead of enjoying my surroundings I was worrying about how fat I looked in shorts/swimwear/anything. It has taken me until 25 to stop caring about my cellulite on the beach and I wish I could take those years back and replace them with how I feel now which is f*** it I'm boiling and want to swim in the ocean no matter that I have to walk past everyone without a sarong to get there!

  2. I was also always slender, even right after I had my kids. A few years ago I developed fibromyalgia and gained a lot of weight because it hurt too much to get up and move around. I've been feeling loads better lately and have been wanting to make and wear sexy skirts and wiggle dresses just because I feel better - never mind that I'm many pounds heavier than others approve of. I hate that all three girls in my family complain about their weight - ages 20,15,and 12, all thre wear 0 or 1 in jeans. I grew up hearing, from both parents, that my mom was fat and ugly so I have no idea at all what she really looked like. I'm glad that this country is finally seeing beauty in curvier women, like Jennifer Lopez, Nicky Minaj, and Christina Hendricks. Maybe soon we'll stop being forced to believe that super skinny is the only way to be attractive.
    I'll have to see about joining the sewalong - not working right now means I have to plan out what I can do...I do want a slip, though. I'll see what I can do!

    1. Ha, yes, I always rolled my eyes when I heard women (and especially girls) who are a size 0 complain about their fat until I realized that people were doing it to me - and that's when I starting realizing how much crap we're fed and how people who look great (at any size) were still being told that they weren't good enough. I really hope we stop being told super skinny is ideal and that more women like those you mentioned will become beauty icons.

      I would love for you to join the sew along if you have the time! And on a personal note, my aunt has fibromyalgia so I can only imagine what you're going through based on what I see in her - and I'm so glad you've been feeling better lately!

  3. I agree with you on the expectations that are created about how we should look and behave, and that society values us on how we look not on how we behave. I'm afraid there is still a long way to go...
    I like curvy girls/women just as much as I like some skinny girls but I have to add that I cannot support fat/obese people who say: 'I'm gone keep eating all this junkfood and make myself unhealthy and sick and generate a great cost for the entire community (diabetes, heart diseases,...) but hey, you still have to think I look great because beauty is on the inside'.
    I agree with the beauty is on the inside part, but if you don't treat your own body with respect, don't expect me to respect your body...
    And if you don't take care of your body on the inside, it shows on the outside (skin problems, fatigue, moodiness...) and then you don't look great. The same goes for skinny people who deprive their bodies of the essentials just for the sake of being skinny...
    On the other hand, people who take care of their body on the inside, almost always look good on the outside, regardless of their clothing size. They have great looking skin, nice hair, a sparkle in their eyes, a positive energy. And in the end, it is the whole package that makes you pretty, not just your measurements.
    Of course, if you are sick, things are quite different. If you hardly have the energy to get out of bed in the morning, it is only logical that you don't get the exercise you would want (exercise can be interpreted very loosely e.g. doing the laundry or vacuuming the house) and I can only imagine how hard that must be.
    I struggle with self-image problems as well, although by aging this gets better. I am not one to hide away as long as I am covered, especially if I am wearing a great dress or something really classy looking. But when the last of my clothes come off, that is when I get really self-conscious... I wish I wasn't but I think it is something that I will always suffer with...
    I think your sew-along is a really brave thing to do. I wish I could enter, but I have so many other project on my to-do list with all the patterns and fabrics all ready, that I am going to sit one out. I wish you a whole lot of success and support your initiative wholeheartedly!
    (Sorry for this long comment but I really wanted to say this...)

    1. Thanks for commenting (though I hope you could participate as well!). I just want to say that I understand where you're coming from and as big proponent of natural foods, I agree with you that it's frustrating to see someone of ANY size shoveling processed food into their mouths. I also agree that if you feed your body healthy things (fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, whatever), it reflects on the outside in many of the ways you mentioned: great skin, great hair, and a general aura of positivity.

      That said beauty doesn't have a standard size and people can be overweight for a multitude of reasons (just as skinny people can also be unhealthy) and since I'm not best at picking out who is what size for what reason, I want to include everyone. Plus, I think adopting a welcoming and accepting environment helps everyone work out their issues in other ways. For example, my very overweight mother eats whenever she's unhappy or feeling fat or feeling anything negative, which just unfortunately perpetuates the cycle of her feeling bad about herself. Unfortunately, that's something I've picked up as well - but to break the cycle I refuse to buy anything unhealthy and if I really MUST eat something unhealthy I must make everything from scratch, including the pie crust or pastries or whatever I'm choosing to make to indulge my negative moods so in the end it almost cancels out the damage I'm doing to my body.

      So yes, I agree that being unhealthy is bad and I totally agree that when you're healthy it shows in so many areas. And if you're sick, it really sucks (I was sick almost all last year and had difficulty walking down the block - a terrible thing in NYC). But I also want to mention that I hope people of every size DO participate and I do want to feature everyone (PS CONTACT ME IF YOU WANT TO BE FEATURED) because I want to create a welcoming environment for all sizes regardless of whatever circumstances brought them here. We're all ultimately victims of the media and a patriarchal society. :-)

    2. I just made shorts, so those are pretty revealing. Maybe I'll post them on your flickr-group as soon as I get some pictures.

    3. That would be perfect! Shorts can be so revealing, and at least for me, are pretty terrifying to wear in public. Can't wait to see them!

  4. Oh, fun fun! I'm in!!!! I already have a skivvies (knickers) pattern that I'm going to make! My flickr name is also "Gjeometry". Will pop over to Ashley's blog now.

    1. Can't wait to see your knickers! I'm making a pair this weekend too!