Today, I’m super excited to bring you the fabulous Mary Alice from Well Sewn Style. Love her style, her story, and her passion and I hope you will too!
Let’s start at the beginning! What was your body image like as a child and teenager?
I think as a child and teen my body image was relatively positive, although I did have a few insecurities. I was already 5’10’ at 14 years old, significantly taller than nearly all my classmates (I grew another two inches in high school.) As soon as I hit puberty, I developed round hips and thighs but had a terribly flat chest when all I wanted was big boobs! As a teen I became super self-conscious of my fair skin and actually used tanning beds and wore WAY too much bronzer. Despite these insecurities though, I was actually pretty self-confident as a kid and I think I can attribute that to my supportive, quasi-feminist mom and to being an athlete.
As a kid my mom didn’t let my sisters and I play with Barbies as she didn’t like the image of women they portrayed. My mom was fanatical about my posture, always encouraging me to stand up straight even though I was so self-conscious of my height. As an athlete my thick thighs, hips, and long legs made me powerful and strong on the basketball court and eventually landed me a full-ride to college on an athletic scholarship.
I’ll say that whatever fleeting insecurities I had about my body were just that, fleeting. My friends were athletic and strong so I had people to identify with. Was I still the tallest person in my class, and did I always get paired up with the tallest guy, totally. But I think I faired relatively well in the self-confidence department.
It wasn’t until I got older and my body changed after the birth of my daughter that I started having some pretty harsh insecurities about my own body. My body was suddenly squisher, rounder, softer and I could no longer fit into straight sized clothes. As someone who had loved fashion and getting dressed this was an enormous adjustment and my self-confidence took a nosedive.
Who or what most influenced your perception of what women’s bodies are “meant” to look like?
All the women in my immediate family are curvaceous. So I’ve always been surrounded by plus-size bodies. As a kid I don’t recall my sisters and mom putting down their own bodies very much, but I also didn’t see them complimenting themselves very much. I think as a kid I always thought women’s bodies were “meant” to have curves including hips and breasts, but I didn’t know anyone who celebrated their body.
When I got to college I was pretty isolated in that my friends were basketball and volleyball players. So nearly all of us were tall with strong hips and thighs. I knew I was very tall compared to other women, but generally I was surrounded by tall women so it didn’t phase me. After college I attended graduate school in the Philadelphia area. No longer having a team to identify with, my height became super-apparent. Perfect strang
Tell us about your journey to body positivity: did you have a “eureka!” moment that changed your self-perception, or was a it a more gradual process?
I think as a teenager and 20-something I was pretty pleased with my body, granted it wasn’t perfect but it looked good in clothes and was strong. I vividly remember getting pregnant with my daughter and googling “how to get your body back after baby” for HOURS. I was about to bring a life into the world and was obsessing over how I would erase the evidence that I ever carried her in the first place. After my daughter was born, despite 18 months of breastfeeding I hadn’t lost the “baby weight.” I remember one night laying in bed before an important meeting and feeling ready to throw in the towel. I told myself that I would just wear boring clothes for a while until I lost weight, because I couldn’t find anything stylish that would fit my tall, curvy frame. I allowed myself to really feel bad for awhile, which is a shame and I wished I had acted sooner.
It dawned on me that perhaps I could actually make my own clothes. I’d always known how to sew but I’d never applied it to making garments. After many hours of Googling and Pinteresting I found the Curvy Sewing Collective and realized there are a whole bunch of women all embracing their bodies and sewing their own clothes. I got back into Instagram and found a whole host of plus size models, curvy fashionistas, body positive bloggers, really a whole movement dedicated to women loving their bodies just as they are. This was the eureka moment for me. That I didn’t have to change my body back to the way it was to regain my happiness and self-confidence. I needed to accept my body exactly where it was in that moment and make the decision that I would love myself regardless of my dress size.
What role has sewing played in your self-image?
I can’t stress enough how big a role sewing has played in my self-image. I feel more confident, more creative, and more at peace everyday I sew (and I do make a point to sew at least a little bit everyday!). Sewing is a game changer, you go from making your body fit the clothes to making the clothes fit your body. Sewing my own clothes is this super-powerful combination of body-positivity, intellect and creativity, I just love it!
What do you find are the biggest challenges to your body confidence today? How do you overcome them?
My biggest challenge is staying positive and resisting the urge to compare myself to others. Sometimes I fear I am living in a fantasy land and that I should lose weight. Sometimes I wonder if my husband wishes I was thinner. Sometimes I can feel more body-meh then body-yay, if you know what I mean.
I overcome these thoughts by 1. Sewing (better than therapy!) and 2. Reminding myself of how freaking awesome my body is. Through basketball, it paid for 4 years at a great college. It brought my beautiful daughter into the world. It gets me where I need to go each day. And it looks killer in a wrap dress if I do say myself. Being body-positive and having body confidence isn’t a final destination nor is it a linear process. It’s more a back and forth dance hopefully inching closer to the positive side. And I can confidentally say I spend 100% more time on the positive side than I do on the negative side.
How do you think issues around body positivity affect women’s broader role in society?
I look at the role of body-positivity as a two-way street. On the one side is women who are activity seeking to embrace a more body-positive self-image. Each day they’re putting in the work, trying to view themselves more positively, loving themselves for exactly who they are in that moment. On the other side is society including our partners, friends, family, coworkers, employers, strangers, etc. So while we’re over here working our hardest to feel good there’s a whole mess of people on the other side who are completely unaware of the struggle or who are actively fighting against us forcing plus size women (who represent 67% of the American population) to the fringe. They don’t notice or care when only straight-sized women are cast as leading roles in movies while plus-size women play the supporting role or the slapstick comedian. They don’t recognize their bias when they pass over the plus-size woman in hiring decisions and instead go for her slightly less-qualified yet thinner counterpart. They offer no support when you complain about the lack of quality clothing in your size and instead mumble ‘what about Lane Bryant’ (not throwing shade but I want more than one option, ya know?) Being body-positive is an incredibly powerful tool in helping women attain a more equitable role in society but it doesn’t stop at the way we view ourselves. We have to constantly help others recongize their bias and their impact so that together we can demand more inclusivity.
What advice would you have for other women who would like to find a peace with their body and self-image, but are struggling?
Say nice things about your body everyday. Look at yourself in the mirror naked, appreciate it!
While you’re working on the inside to feel better about your self-confidence it doesn’t hurt to do something nice for yourself on the outside. Make a new dress or buy something that makes you feel pretty. Take it to a tailor or alter it yourself to make it fit perfect! Buy a new lipstick. Give yourself a facial. Take a mental health day and relax.
Take as much control as you can over the media you’re consuming including social media, websites, magazines, tv, etc. If you’re on Instagram make a point to follow only body-positive people who promote inclusivity and self-love. I follow tons of plus-size models, style bloggers and yogis. Some of the people I’m currently following on instagram who are spreading positive vibes include @mynameisjessamyn, @anastasiaa
And lastly recognize that this is a process, and it’s not always linear and you’re going to have good days and bad days. People are going to say dumb shit. They’re going to want you to lose weight, or hate yourself, or conform– don’t listen. And don’t let it tear you up inside. Be firm in your decision, that you’ve decided to love yourself today and there’s no going back.