How many of us got into sewing because we didn’t fit in “off the rack” clothing? I know I did.
It started with a middle school trip to the opera, we had to wear really nice clothing to attend. I don’t know if we were truly poor but money was always tight and clothing in the department stores either didn’t fit me in the kids section or was more money than we could spend in the adult’s. The tween/junior’s section was no help either, I was a B cup sometimes C cup chest with matching booty, baby teen of the late 80’s.
Fast forward to my 40’s, sewing has always been there for me when I didn’t find things I wanted in store or just wanted to express my truest self. I have skirts made of thrifted curtains, a wedding gown of store bought tencel linen with thrifted vintage lace bustle, bras out of old peignoirs.
Fabric and fibers are in lots of places, once you start to understand the construction, source materials are everywhere.
It hasn’t always been sewing successes. Early on, as a high schooler, I submitted garments for our local county fair. I made a self drafted Romeo and Juliet costume. I didn’t know anything about wearing ease back then but I remember cutting the bodice out on the floor of our living room with a paper bag as my pattern. Thankfully my best friend was the right size to fit it for the fashion show. Mistakes still happen, just recently a pair of jeans that my sewing retreat group and I worked on didn’t fit me right but fit my husband quite well.
As my sewing skills continue to grow and be tested, I can’t help but notice how intertwined self esteem and body image are. I still have a hard time with my mistakes, or when the fit isn’t just right. Now, instead of thinking I need to change my body, I know I can change a seam. So much easier.
I can now only imagine how hard that must have been to navigate for my mom, having always been a straight size but also sewed clothing she wanted. I am frequently infuriated by the clothing industry on behalf of my teen and elementary schooler. I want better for them, so body image bs will not continue with me. It made me do some digging, so here’s some of the science of it. Just like sizes are just data points, our brains are doing brain’y things.
Body image is both a mental picture of your own body and how you see yourself in the mirror.
Body image is a four part concept in our gray matter:
Perception is how you think you look but might not match reality. Affective is how you feel about your body in relation to how it looks. Cognitive is the beliefs and thoughts you hold about your body. Behavioral is what actions you take in relation to body image. All of these can have positives and negatives, and the way to counter the negative is mindfulness.
Mindfulness can look like walks to enjoy the scents and visuals of a place, self acceptance talk, the way we talk to ourselves in our heads (“my glutes are so strong, they help hold me up or help me sit down”) and being in the moment.
Children as young as 3 can have body image issues.
Body image is both a mental picture of your own body and how you see yourself in the mirror, self esteem is how you value and respect yourself as a person and can affect how you take care of yourself. This is why I feel it’s important to recognize and get rid of our inherent biases, children as young as 3 can have body image issues.
I continue to sew these days because I love garments made out of natural fibers. Silk, denim, cotton lawn, lightweight knit merino wool all these fibers not only wear well in the climate where I live but they keep me from overheating. I don’t avoid all man-made fabrics but through sewing I have found fibers that help me feel good in my body when sometimes it’s hard.
Sewing is for everyone, every body, every gender (I don’t think sewing has a gender but historically it has been marketed to those who do underpaid and unpaid domestic labor, mostly minorities and women) but body image has been used as a selling point in so many ways that it’s always going to be something to examine with garment making.
Just like with making a seam, when we know better we can do better. I choose to keep stitching and improving, won’t you join me?
Lauren Durr (she/her) is a Los Angeles based creative educator and entrepreneur. She helps students young and vintage, cut through body image BS by making, altering or editing garments for the body they have right now. You can find her on instagram @laurenmakesitwork.