January 1, 2016

Body Positive in the New Year: I am not a “before”

Note: these ramblings talk about dieting, and not-dieting.

Happy New Year, lovely friends! I hope your night was exactly as you wanted it, whether that was asleep at 11pm in flannel pyjamas, or bungee jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. I was somewhere in the middle: with my family and friends in London on a high balcony, watching hundreds of fireworks displays happen simultaneously all around the city.

And now, 2016. There was certainly lots of change for me in 2015, and no doubt plenty more in 2016, because that’s what life – and entrepreneurship – brings. The beginning of the year is always a bit of a mixed blessing for me, though, because I find it one of the trickiest times of the year to be body positive.

What is it about January 1 that prompts so many of us to decide our bodies must change? Perhaps it’s the natural inclination for a new start in the new year, or maybe the bombardment of messages letting you know that you’re clearly a “before” picture, and must be in desperate pursuit of your “after” (yes, Oprah, I’m looking at you and your awful WeightWatchers ads). It doesn’t matter if you’ve always been roughly the same size, eat healthily, have great blood work, regularly exercise; the message is loud and clear: you must be in need of an intervention.

I’ll admit: I find it really hard. Being positive about your body and secure in its inherent goodness can be difficult enough at the best of times, even when you’re surrounded by like-minded people and communities. But this time of year is a major challenge. Can I resist the urge, in the face of overwhelming pressure externally and internally, to go on a hare-brained scheme to change my appearance? When surrounded by people excitedly talking about their diets and dreams, can I stay calm and quiet and remind myself I’m OK just as I am, even if others don’t feel the same way? I find there’s something very seductive about even thinking about changing your body: the excited hope that if you changed yourself  your life could be better –  if only you can “just have a bit more willpower”.

And yet. Diets don’t work in the long term for 99.9% of people. Extreme exercise isn’t sustainable for all but a few. Not everyone is genetically determined to be slender. Not only that, but after years re-training my mind and body to be stable and accepting, both through learning to sew, and adopting Intuitive Eating, I know that it’s a treasure far too valuable to throw away for the cheap and destructive high of going on a diet. But most importantly? I don’t need to be smaller to have a good life or improve myself. I can be happy and fabulous just the way I am.

So I’m holding strong, and I hope you are too. Let go of the magical thinking. You’re not a “before”, you’re you, now, fine. Want to make changes in the New Year? Awesome. How about making friends with your neighbours. Going for hikes in the woods. Being kinder to yourself. Starting that hobby you’ve been thinking about for years. Riding your bike. Trying adventurous new foods. Challenging yourself to be brave, just to see what happens. Dance. Learning a language and traveling somewhere new. But the fervor to take up less space in the world is one thing I’m happy to leave behind, not take forward.

Are you in? What are you going to do to build yourself up this year, rather than whittle yourself down?



This lady is just fine as she is.


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70 thoughts on “Body Positive in the New Year: I am not a “before”

  1. Lynn Johnson says:

    Your positive attitude is wonderful. When I see a picture of you smiling, I see a happy person I would like to get to know. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Lynn! I’m not always jolly but sewing my own clothes definitely makes me happy 🙂

  2. Carolin says:

    Oh yes, you are just fine the way you are! Looking great inside and outside. Stay positive!

  3. Audrey says:

    Very inspiring! Happy new year to you ans dont change a bit! Xxx

  4. gilliancrafts says:

    Just remember, if you lost weight, none of your clothes would fit!!!! That thought always keeps me happy to stay as I am. (In fact, I must be a real shut-in, because this post and something you put up on FB are literally the ONLY mentions of dieting I’ve seen this season! I’m sure it’ll start coming up more though once I”m back to work… ugh.)
    Happy New Year!

    1. That’s so true! I feel like sewists must be so different from the average person in not wanting to change size or shape at all 🙂

      (And I’m jealous that you haven’t heard any of the diet stuff – I was absolutely surrounded by it, the whole holiday…. ugh).

  5. Ali says:

    Exactly, I too, am trying to accept myself as I am so this year I have deliberately chosen New Years resolutions which will make me happier and more productive creatively! You always look fabulous in all your photos and creations and I am in awe of your magnificent bust! ha!

    1. That sounds great Ali! So much better to have resolutions focused on positive, building things rather than things stemming from unhappiness.

  6. jean says:

    I think part of the beauty of sewing is that I sew for my body! I tell my sewing students that if you read classic novels, the heroines aren’t complaining about their body shapes. They complain because their clothes are old or out of style. But they never complain about their shapes because their clothes are made to fit only them! It’s not until ready to wear that we start to think our bodies need to fit our clothes rather than our clothes to fit our bodies! Happy New Year!

    1. I am going to share this with my new sewing class! What a great insight!

    2. vickygorry says:

      Oh my, that really is the nub of it, isn’t it? And we sew because we don’t want to be pushed into boxes marked with our size and shape, but rather adorn our beautiful, unique bodies with garments that are made just for us. Well said Jean and well said Jenny.

    3. So true! People totally forget that it’s only in fairly recent decades that we expect ourselves to fit into RTW sizing. Imagine, if everyone made their clothes, I’m sure there would be an awful lot more contentment.

  7. Rory says:

    Every time I see one of your posts I think, “My God, she’s beautiful” You, my darlin’, are so photogenic. What a wonderfully kind message and one that any number of people will appreciate today, especially me. I can’t wait to see what you do into the new year.

  8. It’s funny, I’ve gained a lot of weight within the last year and a half and even though I do want to work on my health (not weight, HEALTH) I have found more peace in my own skin than I had when I was much more trim. Sewing my own garments has led me to that peace. Thanks for your timely dose of body positivity and never stop being fabulous!

    1. Totally agree, Kayte. One thing’s clear for me: the more unhappy I am with how I look, the more likely I am to behave in an unhealthy way, and most likely, put on weight. So glad sewing was helpful for you too!

  9. Janet says:

    I am totally in! I did weight watchers for 7 years. I have not been on the scale since I quit. Weight Watchers is tyranny. I know that is a strong word but it is the opposite to empowering. IMHO Your timing of this message is perfect.

    1. Weight watchers is indeed a total tyrant. It took me literally a year of weekly Intuitive Eating counselling to understand how badly it had warped my sense of normal eating, and get rid of the mindset. It’s so sad that so many women feel they’ve failed when they use it.

  10. carlamayfield says:

    I like body positivity. I WANT girls and women to focus on things that are more important than their appearances. However, as a much older woman, I’ll be 52 in February, I have to say that for me, carrying extra weight has become more difficult and uncomfortable. I’m bigger than you are. I’m 5’5″and was 250, now I’m 220. I’d like to continue to lose weight so that my feet, knees, and tailbone don’t hurt all the time. I have no desire or fantasy that I’ll become any specific size. When I am feeling healthy, energetic and mostly pain free on a daily basis, I’ll know I’m where I’m supposed to be. There are as many reasons for losing weight as their are women, and some of them are meritous, and not capitulation to society’s ridiculous standards. We must honor and support each other, regardless of where in life’s journey we are.

    1. erniek3 says:

      Thank you for putting this so clearly for me. I’m almost 57, I have put on weight this year due to an injury, and the added weight is complicating health issues. It doesn’t matter how heavy I was or how heavy I am now, I am not feeling my best self, and I need to get there again.

      Friends, I don’t want your advice: I want your support. Don’t tell me what to do, tell me you want me to be well.

      The first words of this post sum it up: body positive. Let’s support each other’s best selves. And have a rockin’ new year.

    2. Birdmommy says:

      Thank you for writing this! I think that we need to acknowledge that for many people, the health part of ‘health at any size’ means that they need to get to a size that is different than where they are currently.

      Just speaking for myself, even though my bloodwork and other medical measurements were good, I wasn’t able to do the things I wanted to when I was over 200 pounds. As my weight has come down, I have been able to be more active – which in turn has led me to eat in a more mindful way, which in turn has caused my weight to reduce even more. Now I feel that I have a wonderful balance; I can do the activities I want to do, and I am not starving myself or any unhealthy behaviours.

  11. edj3 says:

    I tend to just assume that somehow you’ve found that magical unicorn place of total body acceptance. So thank you for the honesty and transparency here that lets me know that you struggle the same as I do. I hardly ever comment but always read your posts and find posts like this encouraging, refreshing and (sadly) needed.

    1. Ha, if only! I do try to stay positive, but believe me, I find it as hard as the next person. It’s a work in progress!

  12. Renee says:

    So well said. I love the body positive messages that you post. You are beautiful. Your attitude and confidence are inspirting. I have come a long way with my body image issues but still have a ways to go as I find myself slipping into that train of thought of change occasionally. I just had a baby girl and I found that my pregnancy brought a lot of body issues to the forefront. I found that being pregnant was an excellent exercise in letting go of expectations of what my body should look like and focussing on how healthy I could be as well as how amazing our bodies are in what they can do. On the other side I found others constantly commented on my weight and appearance (you look too big/too small/far along/can’t even tell you are pregnant). This constant feedback from others was exhausting and I found myself telling others “I’m the size I am supposed to be right now.” Now that my daughter has arrived (and people are now commenting on my post pregnancy body), I have a new reason to practice being body positive. I want my daughter to grow up feeling good about herself and about everyone else.
    Anyway, a big ramble, but keep up the great work. I love reading about your sewing and your thoughts on these issues.

    1. I’ve never been pregnant, but my pregnant friends have totally echoed what you’ve said – women’s bodies are public property at the best of times, but when we’re pregnant it’s extraordinary how much people feel the need to pass comment. I’m glad that you’ve made a lot of progress, and it’s awesome that you’re going to be a role model to your daughter – non-body-positive attitudes are so often passed from mother to daughter.

  13. pam says:

    Thanks for the article and I posted the picture to my wall. It will be my mantra for the year!

  14. Wendy says:

    I enjoyed your post very much. It is very refreshing, it is very difficult to lose weight and if you are eating well and exercising, that is all you can do and much better to accept yourself. I am working on eating well and starting to exercise and am looking forward to be able to say I am doing everything I can. You always look very attractive and healthy. I don’t want to spend my life wishing I was ultra slim but am working towards being healthier.
    Kind wishes

  15. PsychicKathleen says:

    Jenny your posts are always so thoughtful and provoking! I think just setting our resolution dial at “I’m perfect just the way I am” is the best resolution of all and will take up most women’s energy and discipline to achieve that in 2016 🙂

  16. LaLa Sews says:

    Well said! This is a great message for the new year. My resolutions include more sewing, more exercise and less noise (I’m kind of loud).

  17. Cadi Young says:

    This is everything, and I am SO with you! Thank you for being a constant source of inspiration, Jenny. Happy New Year, and all the best to you for 2016!

  18. Pemblebee says:

    I have had a change in body image since I started sewing. For years I craved to be a size 10 as I was in my teens, thinking I will be happy and all will be right in my world at that size. But since sewing, although I do still want to lose some weight, I want to lose it for me and me only. I have realised I don’t actually want to get to a size 10, I prefer the look and shape of a curvy body. So instead of aiming for a slim size 10, I am aiming for a 16. I know I look good at that size, I feel comfortable at that size and I will still have curves. I did lose a stone and started to get comments of ‘oh you have lost some weight, you look great’ oh so I looked rubbish before then? I am still wearing the same size clothes as I haven’t gone down a size yet so I can’t look that different.
    I will never decide to lose weight because someone else thinks I should or because the date changed, I will do it for me, if I decide I am happy how I am then I will stay how I am.

  19. Brenda Marks says:

    I’m in! Thanks for the invitation. : )

  20. I love this. The goal is to be happy or even accept that its okay to NOT be happy. 🙂

  21. Janet says:

    Amen Sister!

  22. Valerie says:

    Wow. All I can say is, I love you!

  23. JIB says:

    Thank you for this inspirational words, it touched my heart! I hope I can find the strength to think the same about myself at the end of this year..

  24. Sara says:

    Thanks for this post. Incredibly inspirational!

  25. This is a tricky one for me. In a lot of ways, I agree with your sentiments, but there’s also a part of me that wants to make sure women aren’t judged if they do want to lose weight. Weight loss shouldn’t be demonized or seen only as being in the pursuit of some crazy societal standard. I think what’s important here isn’t if you want to make yourself smaller, but the reasons why you want to do so. Even though I was technically healthy when I was 50 pounds heavier, I felt sluggish and had nagging joint pain, which has totally changed since I’ve started losing weight. Even if your reason for losing weight is as basic as “it will be easier to fit into and purchase clothes”, I think that’s totally fine, provided you’re still accepting of where you’re at in the process and being kind to yourself.

    I think we can think of our bodies as a before without that necessarily having a negative connotation. When I look at my “befores”, I see a girl who was trying her hardest with the tools she had, and that meant she dealt with feelings through emotional eating, and was thus very overweight. But I don’t hate her or think of her as weak. She is a before, but for me there’s no emotional charge to the word. It’s just like, “That was before I started accepting myself and my own feelings, before I knew about proper nutrition, before I saw exercise as a fun way to challenge myself and reduce stress, before I started creating a toolbox for coping with life, etc.” For me, what’s most important to let go of isn’t the idea of a before, but the idea of an after. If all you’re focused on is the end-goal, you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons. But if you think of the after more as the initiation of enlightenment (I know, that sounds woo-woo, but I don’t know how else to explain it), then you realize the good stuff, the stuff that matters is all in the journey. Picking up those new tools and ways of being IS the after.

    1. Lauren says:

      I loved Jenny’s post but also love your sentiments, Nicole. I have never felt better since doing Whole30 and moving to a mostly-paleo diet (which keeps me quite thin). I have been judged quite harshly in the past for my slim figure and my desire to lose weight/get fit after having three babies, so I’ve experienced the double standard. I think body acceptance is important regardless of size – thick, thin, or normal (whatever that is), and I think health and happiness at any size should be #1.

      1. You’re so right about the double standard, Lauren. I’ve never been what would be considered slim, but even I’ve experienced it to some degree once I started eating better and exercising… little things like coworkers making comments to “live a little” when I turn down a piece of cake on a random Tuesday at 2pm. And I know slim people get it even worse–“oh my gosh, you’re so skinny, just eat a piece of cake!”. It can sometimes be difficult to explain that no, I’m not eating a slice of cake, but it’s not because I’m afraid of it, or because I think it’s “bad”, or anything like that. I’m just not eating it because if I eat a slice of cake at 2pm, I know I’m not going to want to work out later, and I know my body feels best when it’s well-fueled and when I get the stress release of exercise. It’s not that I never eat dessert, but I try to keep it to something really amazing and indulgent on the weekend or a day when I really want a treat.
        Best of luck to you in your healthy journey! 🙂

    2. Birdmommy says:

      I’m going to try and think of each new day as ‘the initiation of enlightenment’. Thank you!

  26. Amy says:

    I do think it’s important for everyone to be happy with themselves just the way they are. I fall in a strange camp of having known way too many skinny women who want to be skinnier from my years as a competitive runner. It left a huge impression on me that makes me very wary of almost all strict food regiments (that aren’t done for real health reasons or aren’t done with proper substitutions – like being a vegetarian). No matter your size, eliminating an essential dietary element, like fat, is going to lead to trouble. Thankfully, most common dieting programs aren’t that extreme, but I’ve seen my fair share of bad cases. I’m also reminded of a blogger who made the news awhile ago who’d lost a lot of weight. Her message was that she’s not an after. Perhaps if we can let go of the idea of a before and after, we’d all be better off?!

  27. Lucy says:

    I’m determined to try very hard not to change me this year. Nov 2014 – Nov 2015 I dropped from 30/32 dress size to 20 I needed to lose weight but not that fast or the 4″ in height that went with it :~(
    No one can explain why/what happened I just got so I could not digest food and now my body acts as though I’ve had a gastric band (I haven’t/wouldn’t). It’s odd that for my whole adult life I’ve had problems buying clothes because I was too big, now I’m rejecting clothes because they are too big.
    I know I needed to lose weight (‘cos my Dr. said so) but to be perfectly honest at the moment it hasn’t made me a) happier b) healthier – I have exactly the same health issues I had before c) more confident.
    I do believe from this experience that it’s about liking ourselves where we are, not where we think we should be.
    I agree with prev comments Jenny, your lovely

    1. Birdmommy says:

      Sorry for the unsolicited advice, but have your doctors checked for heavy metals poisoning? That can cause the kind of symptoms you’re describing.

      Be well, and best wishes!

  28. Lauren says:

    Lovely post as always. 🙂

  29. janhatchett says:

    I’m definitely in! I want to make healthier choices, but if that doesn’t change my size, who cares? It’s still a healthy choice. I want to ride horses, be with those I love, and truly LIVE!!! Self loathing just doesn’t allow me to do that. Thanks for your blog posts, your new business, and your encouragement that we are more than just a number on a scale or in a piece of clothing. You ROCK!

  30. Yeah and absolutely!!!! Jenny, I think you are beautiful and brilliant and perfectly you! Totally agree with your thoughts above. In fact, it wasn’t until I stopped weighing myself, thought in terms of healthy, functional fitness, and truly being kind and loving to myself – at least as much as I am to others – that I actually began to get leaner and fitter. Funny that. I haven’t weighed myself in well over a year and I’m never going back. This from once/twice a day – change the position and other variables to see if I can weigh less. I go by how I feel and how my clothes fit. I refuse to accept anyone else’s concept of what a beautiful body is. And to me every body is a miracle – a beautiful miracle 🙂 Rock on, Jenny!!

  31. May says:

    You are right to be happy with the way you are. However, I am going to have to do something. I was utterly humiliated to have to get a seatbelt extender on an airplane yesterday. Never want to do that again!

  32. Andrea says:

    A happy new year to you, too, Jenny! And thank you for another wonderful body positivity post! Actually, thank you for all your fabulous posts, your style and sewing inspiration, and your patterns (just looking at those size charts makes me happy lol). Over the past few months, you’ve inspired me to get rid of the yoga-pants-and-oversized-tee-mommy look I had been used to for much too long (my boys turned 4 in December). I just feel so much better wearing nice dresses! And now that I’ve got a new sewing machine (and a really cool one), I can’t wait to get started sewing the Appleton. And the Washington. And then another Appleton? 😉

    I’ve gained a lot of self-confidence, sometimes I’m surprised at how well I can shrug off comments about my body. We celebrated New Year’s Eve with friends and their almost 4yo daughter. When I was showing her mommy my new sewing machine, she wanted to sit on my lap so she could see what we were doing. As I picked her up, she commented: “You’ve got a big tummy.” Just that, a simple observation. Mommy was obviously embarrassed and explained: “Erm, you know, there were two babies in there, and they needed room, so of course her tummy isn’t as small as before.” I gave her a big smile and said: “My tummy wasn’t really small before that. I just have a big tummy. You know, some people have big tummies, some have small tummies, some are tall, some are short. It’s just the way it is.” Her reply: “Cool. Do you always have big boobies?” I nearly fell over laughing. Mommy explained later that that’s because she can “take off her boobies” (i.e. a heavily padded bra). Well, some ladies have a large bust, some don’t… Body positivity (or shaming) goes far beyond plain weight issues.

    I really enjoy reading your blog, and also seeing all those wonderful dresses on gorgeous curvy women (like on the Appleton sewalong). It’s about time that people stop associating curves with “before” pictures from stupid, brainless ads for useless, sometimes harmful products just to pursue some arbitrary, unattainable beauty standards.

    1. Lucy says:

      Andrea what an inspiring post. I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with body issues. As a slim young woman I had problems. As an overweight woman I had problems. Now I’m coming to terms with a body that is losing height and weight and I’m determined not to let the final outcome be “a problem”.
      I’m a very special, unique individual regardless of the shell I’m in. So as a once (and may be again) curvy “sister” I’m delighted to read that you are going to embrace the fact that your a lovely lady too.
      I think the partners your boys have when they grow up will be blessed to have these lads grow up with such a positive influence in their lives. Happy 2016 to you all.

  33. Great post! I find that wanting to look different is the worst motivation for exercise and living healthily, but if I have a goal that I’m excited about or find some exercise that I really enjoy, rather than it being a means to an end, then I can really get behind it.

    1. Totally agree Rebecca – whenever I’ve tried to diet or exercise because of self-hatred it’s never, ever worked. But when I feel better about myself I’m way more likely to get out and about and do things!

  34. Jane says:

    Lovely, lovely post! The new year coincides with mid-summer and minimal-clothing and swimwear season here in Australia. So yeah, it can be easy to be caught up in the desire to drop a bit of weight. I’ve been skinnier in my life but I’ve never been happier than I am now. Thanks for the perspective.

  35. Stephani says:

    Magical thinking is soooo seductive. Despite my own rather militant stance on body positivity and “I’m okay just the way I am, and I’m okay with being okay” mindset, I found myself strangely drawn to thoughts of sprucing myself up this year, the possibility of finally losing some weight. When I realized that’s how my thoughts were drifting I had to pull myself up sharply, remind myself that none of my clothes–which I love–would fit if I lost weight, plus it gets very cold in New England in winter, and I’ve been this size/shape for many years now and I’m happy with it. Luckily I was able to redirect those weight-loss thoughts into resolutions for more activity in 2016, getting outside to enjoy nature more than I did this year, and to take my exercise routine up a notch or two to maintain its health benefits. It’s hard work being mindful, but so worth it. I think the whole “new year, time to lose weight” thing has become so ingrained in our culture that’s it’s incredibly easy to slip back into that way of thinking, even if the change that’s really desired is a fresh perspective on life, not a smaller dress size. I’m with you on the whole #I AM NOT A BEFORE. This is me. No change needed. And you certainly don’t need to change, lady!

    1. Couldn’t have said it better Stephani! You’re right that you have to figure out a way to wrangle these thoughts and re-focus them on positive healthy plans.

  36. Susan says:

    This is an amazing post. I feel the same way about New Years resolutions in general! If I need to make a change, I’ll do it when I need to, not at the first of the year.
    You are gorgeous. Don’t change a thing.

  37. Joen says:

    I’ve just made the commitment to eat healthier this year – less processed foods. I will get to my yoga class once a week because I enjoy it and if I get to the gym and ride my bike then “good for me”

  38. Jenny says:

    Thank you Jenny – this is so inspiring! And the swimsuit pic is such a good illustration of getting out there and doing something fun. I was feeling a bit meh about the first karate session of the year this evening but after reading this I’m raring to go! (And that is something I never felt back in the days when I was exercising for “points”.)

  39. love this post. you are beautiful!

  40. “I am not a before picture” — that is the most inspiring remark I’ve heard ALL WEEK! And yet it’s so easy to look at our friends and see that THEY are beautiful just as they are, and then look at ourselves in the mirror and see a grotesque distortion of reality, imagining a million flaws that no one else would ever see. I admire and respect you for your message of empowerment and self-acceptance. That is something we all desperately need to hear. Happy New Year!

  41. Kay says:

    We come in all shapes and sizes, so I congratulate you for loving who you are. That is something that many people never learn. Happy New Year. 🙂

  42. Heather says:

    Great post Jenny! You are so my body acceptance hero!

  43. Jenny, I think you should team up with Amber Rogers at Go Kaleo and Eating The Food, she is such an inspiration and champion for body positivity, and her approach to intuitive eating has really helped me.

  44. Ginger says:

    I love your post Jenny! How do you deal with “professional” people such as doctors making weight related comments? I feel pretty good about myself until I have that annual dr appointment. And I leave feeling like crap because the dr wants everyone to fit into a dumb made up chart. If my blood work numbers are fine, I’m good with that. No way could I get into the “normal” range of that chart and I don’t want to. I’m happy and proud of my large boned, muscular self.

  45. I am also so excited about this New Year! My New Year resolutions are so big and vast that a sheet of paper cannot contain them:) Your post is very inspirational! I believe that you will be able to achieve everything that you dream of! Good luck!

  46. Annette Green says:

    I love this post and thank you for writing this. It is difficult to deal with society’s expectation and maintain an intuitive eating mindset with so many opposing messages.

  47. Misha C says:

    I’m going to start ballet this year as my new years challenge. I’m also going to watch my diet but only because I’ve become anaemic after immigrating and I know its because I’ve not been eating properly due to kitchen issues. I’m hoping to move end of jan to a flat where I will have a proper kitchen. I also want to conquer cycling uphill. And I am aiming to make at least one garment a week using my stash … which my amazing mother airfreighted to me from halfway around the world. As for being body positive – I’m going to rock my leotard and tights!

Let me know what you think!