Note: this post contains thoughts about body image (positive and negative) and mentions dieting.
Happy New Year friends! You’d have to be living in a cave not to realize that it’s a time of great change in the world, and, as always, the new year brings lots of energy and fervor to bring change in our own lives too. For an astonishing amount of my life (I’d hazard a guess at ages 10 – 34) every time Jan 1 came around, I had one resolution: to change my body.
I hardly need to say that my efforts didn’t work beyond mid February at the most. But this type of thinking actually did change my life – in a negative way. It reinforced the idea that my body was a “before” just waiting to be fixed (check out my blog post on that very topic), and every year was the time that finally, my body would transform into something totally different to what it had been for my entire life thus far (pretty obvious what was going to happen when you look at it from the outside, eh?). And, every year, I felt devastated by my “failure”.
These days, there are no dieting resolutions for me. It’s unsustainable, turns me into a manically focused and unhappy person, and ultimately it doesn’t even work in the long term. However, the new year flurry of body focus is still challenging, and I’m sure it is for many of you too, so that’s why I remind myself of the things that have helped me get where I am, and that I need to double down on at this time of the year.
1. Surround yourself with images of beautiful diverse bodies
Discovering the blog of Gabi Gregg was a turning point for my body image. Here she was, at least a dress size or two bigger than me (at the time), looking absolutely fabulous in every single picture. It sowed a seed in my head: if she can look great in those clothes, then why can’t I? I even went so far as to buy entire outfits that she modeled on her blog!
I’d got into a mental rut where I felt like I was always the largest person in the room, and that there was no way I could look great. But transforming my “input” – stopping reading fashion magazines, stuffing my Instagram full of plus size gorgeousness, editing my blog reader to include a wide diversity of bodies – caused a tangible shift in my brain. First, it altered where I felt I “fit in” – you can’t say with a straight face that you’re the only fat person, or some kind of aberration, when you see others who look like you every single day. Second, it constantly reinforced the fact that people of any size whatsoever can look totally amazing. Style isn’t a clothes size number, it’s a skill set that can be learned.
If you want inspiration, check out this list of curvy sewing bloggers, or search the #curvysewing hashtag on Instagram. There are also huge numbers of non-sewing style bloggers and models who I find inspirational – check out Nicolette Mason, Garner Style, Tanesha Awasthi, Tess Holliday or Fashion Hayley for starters.
2. Create resolutions that are positive, supportive and nourishing for your body
I am someone who gets a high from creating new plans, and imagining life changes – you don’t end up living in 9 countries without having that kind of drive! So when I feel that fizzing enthusiasm to come up with new ideas for the New Year, I now actively channel that energy into plans that will help build and expand me as a person, rather than shrink or restrict me. I mostly focus on non-body related plans, but as someone who suffers from chronic illness and pain, sometimes I do want to try new activities that will make my body feel nice on the inside.
- Going to the gym has always made me shudder. But I have been really inspired by seeing lots of plus size babes (see #1 above!) doing weightlifting, so I started going to see a personal trainer at the YMCA. And it’s amazing! She’s SUPER body positive (I made very clear at the start that I was totally unwilling to discuss dieting or any code for losing weight in the process), hilarious, and I am actually looking forward to going to see her every week. I’m also getting tangibly stronger, which is a fabulous feeling. Re-focusing my attention on movement that makes my body feel good rather than viewing it as a way to shrink myself, has been transformative in my attitude towards physical activity.
- I can sink into food ruts really easily – always buying the same dozen things at the store, cooking the same handful of meals. So recently I decided to try to expand my repertoire by learning new ways to cook vegetables that I typically don’t love (basically, the un-sweet kind). That led me to my new absolutely favorite recipe – for cauliflower, something I’ve never enjoyed before! I’m looking forward to continuing to experiment and expand my palate in 2018.
Of course, not everyone has the ability to lift weights, or access to new foods, but the idea is to focus on things that make you feel physically well and content, whatever that may be; being kind and supportive of your body rather than harsh and punishing.
3. Only try on (and sew) clothes that will fit you
This is one where sewists have a major head start: stop trying on clothes that you know aren’t going to fit you. If you’re anything like me, you spent years and years trying to squeeze into the largest size in stores, and then feeling utterly horrific. Just stop it. Don’t do it any more. If you know something isn’t going to fit, don’t go anywhere near it – it has such a negative impact on body image it isn’t worth it.
For sewists, that means taking accurate measurements and using them to pick a size that will fit you, and ideally only using patterns that come in your size (more on that in a second). I absolutely revel in the fact that 100% (ok maybe 95% to allow for occasional mistakes!) of the clothes I try on are made for my body and therefore fit. In this instance, I mean “fit” as “will fit comfortably on your body” – refining nuances like shoulder fit or swayback is a fantastic thing to do, but in my experience, it’s not quite as emotionally impactful. Rather, I mean, make clothes you know aren’t going to pinch or dig in: that will fit you at your bust, waist, hip, thighs, arms and so on.
High quality sewing patterns have finished garment measurement tables which tell you how big the garment will be, so you can know in advance if they’ll fit. Check out my guide to plus size pattern sizing to see which brands will fit you. If you know before you start that a pattern won’t fit you everywhere, then alter your pattern first so that it will fit your body – there are tons of tutorials online, and I also have two online fitting classes available, on Fitting for Curves (which covers fitting your upper body), and Full Bust Adjustment for Every Pattern on Craftsy (you can get 33% off by using this link).
Of course, even with pattern companies expanding their ranges, not everyone will fit them, which (as I well know) can feel far from great. One major upside to sewing, however, is that instead of literally having no options, you can grade up patterns – it’s definitely not ideal, but we’re far better off than our non-sewing friends. If you want to learn more about grading up, the Curvy Sewing Collective has a series of great tutorials.
Wearing a button-down shirt that doesn’t gape, or a skirt that doesn’t dig in at the waist when you sit down? That can have a huge impact on your body image.
4. Have your photo taken – and smile.
Avoiding having photos taken is such a common thing for plus size women – I know that I studiously dodged cameras for many years. First, it’s such a shame to not have photos of you over time, even more so if you have kids who won’t be able to see photos of you having fun with them during their childhood. And even if you don’t have kids, I want to be able to look back on my adventures and remember the fun I had.
If you’re afraid of having your photo taken, you miss out on those captured memories, and your fear is going to show in the photos. There are countless photos of me hunched over, barely smiling, as a young person – which is really not reflective of my personality at all. Eventually I realized that if I wanted photos to look like me, I had to just be me – sit up, not ashamed, and smile. When I see those photos, I smile back!
Not everyone can have regular professional photoshoots, but I can tell you that when you have lots and lots and lots of photos taken of you, they lose their power to make you feel sad, and you actually learn how to look most like you in them. By the time a full-length full-page image of me in a swimsuit appeared in a Scottish newspaper I realized with a shock that I just thought I looked nice and joyful! Something that would have been unthinkable a few years earlier (when, ironically, I was also smaller). Much like surrounding yourself with images of other curvy women helps, so does seeing lots of pictures of yourself looking happy and confident.
5. Get rid of the scales
This is a simple one, but just do it. Your weight is not something you need to monitor every day, any more than your blood pressure or respiratory rate (unless you have specific medical issues, obviously). If you live in the US, your doctor will monitor it anyway – remember you can choose not to be told the number, if you’d prefer – and frankly, you don’t need a scale to know if you have changed weight in such a radical way that you need medical attention. For me, stepping on the scale multiple times a day was almost like self-harm: a regular dose of hate in my brain. I stopped, lo and behold, my body didn’t change radically, but that voice in my brain turned down much lower.
Have you tried any of these strategies for improving your body image and being more body positive? Do you have any to add? It’s an ongoing task for all of us, but trust me that the rewards are entirely worth it.