Wherein I talk some more about body image and mental health and making your own clothes.
In the Swim
A few days back, I posted a photo of myself in a new me-made swimsuit on Instagram and people were super encouraging and nice about it.
In fact, that swimsuit post got three-to -four times the interaction my posts normally do. It was such a huge uptick in activity that made me think about how a culture of body-shaming has made being female and wearing a swimsuit in public an act of bravery worthy of praise. (That said, to everyone who said nice things, thank you)
And to be clear, I didn’t post it because I’m some paragon of body-positivity. I did it because I’m faking it until I make it. Because I am not comfortable with my body right now and because I really want to be. (Also, I made a swimsuit, which is undeniably cool).
I’m sure a few people saw that picture and thought, however briefly, “She’s gained some weight” or “She’s bigger than I thought” because it’s a) human nature and b) totally true.
I have gained some weight. A rather lot of it in the past few years.
But I wanted to let you know, this isn’t me letting myself go. This is me pulling myself together.
I’ve posted before about my struggles with anxiety that led to taking much-needed medication that came with the side effects of weight gain. In fact, I’ve hesitated to write this post, because it felt repetitive. But I’ve come to feel that it’s important to share because it is repetitive.
I’ve watched a lot of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic with my daughter and have become quite the fan myself. There’s an episode in the 7th season, where the ponies publish the friendship lessons they’ve learned over the previous six seasons. The book becomes a hit, but suddenly everyone has an opinion about whether they’re learned properly or enough. One exchange in particular stuck with me.
Lemon Chiffon: We wanna know why Fluttershy keeps learning the same thing over and over again! Be assertive already!
Fluttershy: Listen up! I am more assertive! And yes, it took me a while to get there. But can you honestly say that you could learn something one time and completely change who you are? [beat] I didn't think so.
So often we see/share/praise the epiphany, but miss the work that comes after. It can be easy to forget that any kind of progress or recovery is more often two steps forward, one step back, than anything resembling a straight line.
A year ago, I came to terms with my bigger body as it was. I decided that I deserved to be comfortable. I sewed myself a new wardrobe (literally 20 items of clothing in 2017) for my new body. Check and check. Done, right?
But I continued to gain weight. Once again, all winter long I’d rip off my pants and bra as soon as I got home and would change into my pajamas because my day clothes were (sometimes quite literally) cutting into my skin.
A Big Change
For two years, I felt the tradeoff between the side effects and the improvement in my mental health was worth it, but when my blood tests revealed a huge spike in my cholesterol levels and considering my strong family history of heart disease – it was too much. I’d also been in therapy for over a year and I felt like I had 1) stabilized and 2) had the tools to deal with the bad days when they inevitably came. It was time.
I decided in November (in consultation with my GP and therapist) after an unsuccessful attempt to change to a different SSRI, that I was going to taper off my medication. Any other med changes would be to a different classification and would require cross-tapering anyway, so it made sense to come off completely, see what my baseline was, and then move to something new if needed.
I decided to wait until after the holidays to taper off my medication. I could wear pajama pants for now, I told myself, because coming off the meds would fix the weight problem. In the meantime, I changed my diet to deal with the cholesterol issue.
I tapered off my medication over the course of February and found that I am indeed able to manage my anxiety without it at this point in my life (that’s not to say that I might not need it again at some point in the future). There are definitely old habits/demons that try to creep in, but I am much more skilled at keeping them at bay.
And that’s a huge triumph.
But coming off the medication didn’t solve the weight issue. Even though I had changed my diet, the weight I had gained over the past few years didn’t suddenly disappear. Or disappear at all.
And now, I reasoned, I had no one to blame but myself for it.
I could no longer blame the medication, so my inability to lose weight was a moral failing on my part, a lack of effort or willpower. That’s what we’ve been told, right?
Surely, I thought, if I just gave up sweets or took up running it would solve the problem. I just needed to work harder.
And working harder is totally my thing. Boxer – “I will work harder” - the Clydesdale horse from Animal Farm is a kindred spirit (for better or worse).
But I am tired. For once, I don’t want to work harder. I love baking and I really don’t enjoy running. What is the good of having achieved some balance in my mental health only to force myself to do things I don’t want to do and give up things I enjoy for the sole purpose of a smaller pant size?
This is point were the well-meaning advice usually comes in – find a type of exercise you like! Enjoy your favorite treats in moderation!
I have and I do. To the extent that I can at this point in my life and that’s all anyone (including and most especially myself) can ask of me. If I’ve learned anything in therapy it’s to treat myself with kindness and not to place burdensome expectations on myself. That goes for my body too.
Bodies change and this is the body I have now. Instead of spending my time and mental energy working to change it (working from a negative viewpoint), I am going to work to love it (developing a positive viewpoint).
Making for a Body I'm Struggling to Embrace
For me, one of the key aspects of feeling comfortable in my body is feeling comfortable (literally and figuratively) in my clothes, and for me, that usually means sewing. As with the last go around, I didn’t sew for months. I hesitated about knitting sweaters for myself. I bought clothes for the first time in a long time. To make for myself was too hard. I needed a break. And that’s okay.
Making clothes for oneself is often held up as shining example of self-love and embracing your body, and I love when that is the case for someone, but I think we also need to acknowledge that it comes with its own set of complications and potential triggers.
I have no idea what size jeans I would need to buy at Old Navy anymore, but I know all my measurements. I know what they are today and I know what they were six months ago. If I’m making my own clothes, I can’t just try things on to see what fits, numbers be damned. If I’m going to make something that fits, I have to double-check my measurements and cross-reference them to the size guide, or spend time calculating out my own pattern.
It’s a regular, accepted, and necessary part of sewing or knitting, but if you struggle with numbers, it can also be really hard. I have cried while I cut out a pattern, because I was at the tippy-top of the pattern’s size range and I wasn’t sure if I could make it fit. Or I would worry: what if I spend hours making something that won’t button in the end?
I know what adjustments I need to make to the standard sizing. I know how to make them (or where to look up a good tutorial). Because we know the tricks for adjusting fit, it can be easy to tip over into a need to get the “perfect fit,” to obsess over tweaking one more thing.
How we do get around these challenges? Are there things we can do as designers and/or makers to make it easier for our peers?
I don’t have the answers, I’m just starting (or restarting) this journey. But I am ready to get back making for myself. Never one to start small, I made that swimsuit. Now I’m on to regular clothes and I am protecting myself as I need to. I remind myself that standards are simply a baseline for designers to work from and that sizing out of a pattern’s range is not an reflection of my stylishness or worth. I made myself a muslin to allay my fears about fit. I made a small number of adjustments to accommodate my changed body shape. The end result is good, but not perfect. It is comfortable and it makes me smile. It is good enough.
And so am I.