Welcome back to the second in the Curvy Confidence Interview series! (Want to read part 1? Check out Monserratt’s story here). This time, I’m thrilled to be chatting to Carolyn of the popular blog Diary of a Sewing Fanatic.
Carolyn’s been a real inspiration to me as one of the first plus size sewing bloggers, and I’m in awe of the phenomenal skills she’s learned over 46 years of sewing. She’s known for her fantastic interpretations of designer outfits, or garments seen on TV, and sets a great example of how well-fitted TNTs can be hacked to fill your wardrobe. I wanted to learn more about Carolyn’s confidence, and her history with body image and sewing, so I invited to her to chat. I hope you enjoy this interview!
Hi Carolyn! Tell us a little about yourself.
I will be 57 soon and I’ve been sewing since I was 11 years old – 46 years and there is still so much to learn and do! I live in NJ and work in NYC for a Market Research firm where I’m an Executive Assistant.
As a child and teenager, how did you feel about your body and appearance?
I wasn’t plus size as a teenager. In fact I was so skinny that my family called me “Olive Oyl” – y’know that chick that hung out with Popeye. That whole skinny movement hadn’t arrived yet so I stuck out like a sore thumb. Which was especially terrible for my self-esteem because Black Americans celebrated thick women…women with hips and thighs…breasts and curves. I lacked those and felt terrible about it. It also seemed like it took forever for my body to mature, another thing that weighed on my self esteem.
Can I also talk about the fact that when I was a teenager, big lips, high cheekbones and frizzy hair was the epitome of uncool. So its interesting to see how people are paying plastic surgeons to get those features now – and the natural hair movement may have saved me many Saturday afternoons of hot combs and burned ears. The models of my youth were Cheryl Tiegs, Christie Brinkley and Kathy Ireland – the only black model was Beverly Johnson. So my culture and the media images totally conflicted causing a lot of uncertainty and insecurity when I was most susceptible to criticism.
Who or what most influenced your body image as you grew up?
Probably my family and the black women I saw in movies and Ebony Magazine. Women like Diahann Carroll, Pam Grier, Jayne Kennedy, Marilyn McCoo from the Fifth Dimension. I wanted the class and dignity of Diahann Carroll and Marilyn McCoo and the body and sexuality of Pam Grier and Jayne Kennedy. I had none of this as the tall, gawky girl with the long frizzy hair and thick glasses whose nose was always in a book.
To what extent do you think that sewing your own clothes has changed the way you think about your body?
This is an interesting question because when I started sewing there was a sewing machine in almost every home. I learned to sew from my grandmother but I continued my education in public school where everyone who wanted to could learn to sew. So in the beginning sewing allowed me to have the styles and clothing that my family couldn’t afford. It didn’t affect my body issues then. However, as a grown woman, when my body changed after having children, sewing allowed me to dress the way I wanted to regardless of what was in the stores. Of course, there were some insecurities especially after my body changed from childbirth, but there was a confidence to because I could make whatever I wanted. My life wasn’t dictated by what was in the department stores and what or wasn’t made for curvy women. I could make and wear whatever I wanted in whatever color worked for me.
What types of clothing make you feel most confident? Has this changed over time?
I have ALWAYS loved a dress or skirt and top combination…since I was a little girl a dress has always made me feel more feminine…and nothing has changed!
To what extent do you think the sewing industry embraces plus size women? Are there sections of the plus size community that you think are less visible than others?
*Sigh* it’s better than it was and I believe the big 4 is truly trying to reach women of all dimensions BUT it’s been a long road. Especially since I’ve been sewing for over 45 years and I’ve seen a lot of the cycles of sewing. I do appreciate the fact that there are several indie pattern designers catering to plus size/curvy sewists and giving them fashionable choices but if you wear a size larger than a 26/28, you are still struggling as a plus size sewist. There are very few fashionable patterns available to women in those sizes. Also, we as a sewing community still flock to the smaller thinner bloggers. It’s really hard to be a plus size sewist in the internet community – just read some of the vile things that were said about me and my weight on an infamous online message board. Why would anyone who is plus size or heavier than I am want to put themselves out there for a community to mock you, your lifestyle choices and how you choose to live your life!
What are the biggest challenges you face today in being positive about your body, and how do you overcome them?
Believe it or not, losing weight has really played havoc with my body positivity. I was a happy fluffy person. I hate how my skin looks now that there isn’t that pleasant layer of fat fluffing everything out. Nothing fits and I’ve had to change the way I’m sewing. You would think that losing weight would make me happy and all those things the advertisers tells us makes life wonderful when you lose weight. I can honestly tell you that I have to remind myself everyday that it’s okay. It would probably help if I I liked to exercise but I don’t, or if I was willing to have plastic surgery which I don’t want to indulge in, so I just keep trudging.
I’m still working on loving the body I’m in right now especially since I’m still losing weight. Not as rapidly as before but it’s still coming off. My philosophy now is that life is a journey and I should enjoy the trip.
What advice do you have for women who struggle with their body image?
Don’t fall for the hype. You are wonderful just as you are. Every woman is beautiful and you bring your own uniqueness to the table so revel in that.
Thanks so much for sharing your journey Carolyn! Do you have any questions for Carolyn? And are there any other sewing bloggers you’d like to nominate to be interviewed?