Among the many challenges of motherhood, especially new motherhood, is feeling alien in your own body. Our Advisors Circle member, Talitha, is here today to talk about how sewing has aided her journey to body acceptance.
Before we get started, I just want to note that I don’t judge anyone for where they are in their relationship to their body and/or weight. We’re all on our separate journeys. This is an examination of my particular journey towards body acceptance (and perhaps even body liberation!) and how sewing has played a role in that.
So if you are trying to lose weight, I see you.
If you’re sick of trying to lose weight and feel any sort of way about it, I see you.
If you are done with all of that (like me!), I see you!
So, read on if you’re interested in learning about where I am in my journey and how sewing helped me to learn to appreciate my body for what it is, rather than for what I wanted it to be.
Sewing clothes for kids and babies is so much fun. For one thing, it’s less expensive (you can use smaller cuts of fabric, or even your own clothes) and they’re typically not as close fitting as adult clothing, so there’s less tailoring involved. But it’s also because we generally don’t have as much emotional baggage about figuring out where they are on a size chart. Sure, your baby might be 6 months old, but by measurements you might have to sew up a garment in 3 months or 12 months size. Whatever works!
If only it were this straightforward when it came to finding my own size on a pattern size chart.
When I started sewing my own clothes a few years ago, I quickly became familiar with those “lengthen/shorten lines” since I’m 5 feet tall and most patterns are drafted for a taller person. And that part was easy! We’re pretty ok as a society with the idea that bodies come in all sorts of different heights. So not only was that a straightforward pattern adjustment to make, but it didn’t trigger any sort of negative feelings for me around my weight.
However, those measurements around my waist and chest … hoo boy, did I not want to see those numbers for what they were. My postpartum body looked a lot different than it had for most of my life. Not only because of my c-section, but because of what life looked like with a kid in it. No longer could I go to the gym for hours a day (although looking back, I wonder if I really ever did enjoy this) or focus as much on the calories I was taking in. And, quite frankly, this caused me a lot of stress and anxiety for a couple of years.
Looking back at all of the garments I sewed for myself in those first two years, I can see my anxiety about my weight stitched directly into them. How many times had I pulled that measuring tape just a little bit tighter so that I could fit into one of the smaller sizes on the chart? How many times did I think, “Well, I’m this size now, but I don’t want to make it too big otherwise I won’t be able to wear it once I lose all this baby weight.”
Spoiler alert: the baby weight never came off. And, I started to become frustrated with sewing for myself. I kept putting off sewing new garments because it felt like everything I made for myself was just a little bit too tight. Also, looking back, I think I felt a lot of shame that I wasn’t able to fit into the sizes that I thought I should be able to fit into (i.e. the ones I used to be able to fit into). And not allowing myself to sew nice things in beautiful fabrics was a little bit of a punishment. I wish I could go back and give myself a big hug, and let myself know that it’s not what my body looks like that is important, but what I can do with it that is.
Around this time, I stumbled across the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement and intuitive eating (IE). Like many first-time parents, I researched everything having to do with this new little being in our lives. And one of these things was feeding our kids using an intuitive eating mindset.
Learning about IE in particular was transformative to me. I could trust my body to tell me what it needed, exercise because I enjoyed it and not because I needed to “burn calories,” and think about my health and wellbeing without worrying about the number on the scale. Part of IE is this idea of people having a “set point” to their weight that they will naturally gravitate to when they practice IE. And, just like height or shoe size, this will be different for everybody and that’s normal and ok. And wonderful! Having people of all shapes and sizes is a wonderful thing!
Somewhat ironically, becoming an intuitive eater meant that I put a pause on sewing new garments for myself as I rediscovered the pleasure in food and exercise without thinking about how much I weighed or what size I was. I began to see those numbers on the measuring tape as what they were—useful reference points to help me fit a garment to my body—rather than what they made me feel. And until I found my “set point” weight, I knew those reference numbers wouldn’t be super helpful.
As I continued along my intuitive eating journey, I learned to let myself trust my body again. I had forgotten what it really meant to be hungry and full and had to relearn how to tune into what my body was telling me. And let me tell you, it is wonderful. Liberating, exciting, delicious, energizing! The mental energy I was putting into maintaining a particular body size before is totally freed up for other things, like enjoying my daughter and partner, political activism and devoting more time to my hobbies and work. (And in case anyone is worried, yes, my health is fine and even better than when I was in a smaller body.)
Over the last six months or so I reached my set point and I began to feel like I could devote time, effort, and money to sewing for myself again. I knew that the Gelato Dress would be the perfect dress for life right now: not too restrictive, stylish enough for those many Zoom calls, and a satisfyingly quick sew. Doing this meant taking measurements of my body for the first time in over a year, and bracing myself for any sort of feelings that might trigger. And I’ll be honest, this wasn’t super fun. But it didn’t send me into any sort of spiral, and I very importantly didn’t try to force my body to fit into the size I wanted it to fit into. Instead, I looked at those numbers, and saw them as mere data points about my body, not really a reflection of who I am: a mother, a librarian, a partner, an activist, a quilter and more.
I found those numbers on the size chart, and printed out the corresponding size of the pattern. And after making a muslin and all sorts of adjustments, the size was no longer a number, the size was Me. And Size Me was wonderful.
Here are the details on the dress:
Gelato Blouse and Dress View B, size 18 in cotton ikat fabric. I made a 1/4″ narrow shoulder adjustment, 1/2″ full bust adjustment, shortened the dress 6 1/4″ and moved the pockets up 2″.