So last week I accidentally hit ‘publish’ on a post that I was nervous about. It’s the one that follows, and it was very hard for me to write and was mortifying when I hit the wrong button before I was ready to share. Gah! as they say – so typical of something I would do.
In a fit of embarrassed panic, I unpublished it, but it ended up showing up in readers, and then I got several amazing emails and comments from people who shared their own stories and were so supportive — I was surprised and overwhelmed in a good way. Since it’s already been out there in the interwebs albeit accidentally, I’m going to go for it and publish it officially (with illustrations! To break up the endless text!). I’m going to ramble a bit so brace yourself – I’ve left the original post largely intact but did add a few bits to make things a little less brain-dumpy.
The reason I haven’t sewn for myself regularly is because I have some severe body image issues. I didn’t want to have to measure my body, to take pictures of myself and post them here (I mean, how un-fun would it be NOT to see the self-made garments worn?).
OK, not an earth-shattering confession, I realize, and I’ve already admitted to it previously. Quite frankly it would probably be more worrisome and off-putting if I was eager to post a gazillion pictures of myself. The fact of the matter is that I kept thinking I might lose some weight before I launched into sharing adult-sized clothes. Vain and ridiculous, I know.
I blame most of my body dysmorphia on being from Los Angeles, where looks are placed at an unhealthy level of importance. But the other day something happened that made me re-examine this hang-up of mine. K was getting dressed in the morning and she refused to wear one of the dresses I made. “It makes me look fat,” she said, “I’m fat”. My heart stopped.
Suddenly I was twelve again, in a bathroom stall in middle school. I was about to flush the toilet, when I heard my name and stood stock still with my hand poised on the handle.
Girl 1: “Did you see Sanae?”
Girl 2: “Yeah, what about her?”
Girl 1: “Have you noticed that she’s getting fat?”
Girl 2: “Totally. Her legs are getting so big.”
Then they laughed and left the bathroom. I’m pretty sure they knew I was in that stall. I wasn’t certain who the girls were, but I was in a special program at the school for “advanced” students and teasing came with the territory. I believe that middle school is a minefield of awkwardness and uncertainty and maybe even cruelty for most kids, but until that moment I had never thought about my weight and it changed the way I saw myself completely. My self-esteem plummeted.
What strikes me as especially heartbreaking about that incident is that I wasn’t fat at all. When I see pictures of my twelve-year-old self, I see a normal, healthy-looking little girl. But that conversation planted a seed, and ultimately it grew into a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believed fiercely and uncompromisingly that I was fat and therefore not good enough.
I was somewhat heavy throughout high school and college, making myself look even bigger with ginormous t-shirts day in and day out. The irony was that I adored clothes and secretly thought that I had a keen eye for fashion. I had a particularly stylish and slim friend in high school who often invited me to go shopping with her (I think she was trying to get me to wear something other than t-shirts), and she was cutting-edge for the times and liked to go to thrift stores for one-of-a-kind outfits when everyone else was wearing Benetton rugby shirts and Guess jeans. I rarely bought anything because I was too self-conscious about my body to try on the clothes, but I admired her ability to mix and match pieces to create her own distinct look. She was able to rock overalls and make them look hip. I thought to myself that one day, one day, I will be like her and have my very own style.
In my twenties, I lived in Japan for a few years where I was considered enormous, and this did nothing to alleviate my body image issues. The Japanese can be surprisingly blunt in some ways and I couldn’t believe the number of times people told me I needed to lose weight. One time, as an activity, a friend took me to a bridal shop. Did you know that in Japan women often rent wedding dresses? The brides usually change outfits several times and that can get pricey, so bridal rental shops are quite common. I kind of think it’s a brilliant idea. Anyway, I didn’t want to be rude so I agreed to put on the astoundingly frou frou dresses ‘just for fun’. “Oh!” my friend exclaimed, dismayed. The largest size wouldn’t fit me.
Guess what size that corresponded to in the US? 10.
So there I am, looking like a giant neon pink cupcake (the bridal dresses also come in all sorts of colors) with the zipper half-done, cameras snapping all over the place. It was epic.
Fast forward many years and several thousand unsuccessful diets and pregnancy. When K was just a wee baby, we lived on the side of a hill that I walked up and down every day, hauling K in an Ergo baby carrier. Without even trying, the daily uphill walk combined with nursing resulted in massive weight loss. I fluctuated between a size 4 and 6, and I’d never been that thin. And yet, I still thought I was heavy.
We don’t live on the side of a hill anymore, and the weight has crept back up. At an intellectual level, I know that I’m not big. Sure, I could stand to lose 10 or so pounds, but I know that with the right-fitting clothes, I could look slender, even (OK, that might be a stretch). But the old body image problem is still very much a part of me, and when K said she looked fat I knew that I had to get over myself. Now. That I needed to be proud of the way I am — just as I am – so that she too will learn to be self-confident. To be healthy and strong and beautiful regardless of size. I can’t preach what I don’t practice. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t strive to be healthier, more fit, etc. etc. But if I don’t show her what self-acceptance looks like as a girl, a woman, a human being, how can I expect her to learn it? Soon I won’t be her main role-model and she will turn exclusively to peers. Being a girl is hard. Sorry boys, I might be biased, but I speak from experience. In this society with the blitz of photoshopped and sexualized images of mixed messages, no wonder a six-year-old is worrying about her appearance. I may not be able to have an impact on how she views herself in the future, but I can plant the right seeds now and hope for the best.
So, all this to say that I’ve done it! I’ve started making clothes for myself and I’m going to learn how to accept the way I look. I think painstakingly stitching garments for myself will help me understand and embrace my body in ways that buying clothes never has. I haven’t told you that I stopped buying clothing for myself since I started sewing regularly for K, have I? It’s been almost 10 months. I graduated from my oversized t-shirt phase ages ago, and it should come as no surprise that I’m a bit of a clothes horse. I used to buy clothes to make me feel better about myself, but it would usually have the opposite effect. It wasn’t a conscious decision to stop buying clothes, but it turned out that way and I noticed that it’s made me a lot happier.
All those years ago when I wanted to have my own sense of style, to be unapologetically me — I’m ready to literally start creating it. There will probably be some stumbling and some heinously fugly style faux pas along the way, but hey, it’s a start. And as my latest celebrity crush Malcolm Gladwell says, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” (Seriously, I am obsessed with MG – have watched every available YouTube video and interview out there this last week. Even the ones that have only 100 views. That man knows how to tell a story, which in my eyes make him brilliantly handsome).
I would be astonished if anyone is still reading this. But this year is all about trying things that feel right for me, and writing about this felt right. So thank you if you’ve made it this far. And now it’s time for me to go sew some more. I just might have something to share tomorrow…