Comfortable In Your Own Skin – Are You?

When I was studying with Sunny Gal, we had a really interesting conversation about another sewing blogger* – interesting because it spoke volumes about our relative attitudes to our own bodies.

‘What I really like about her,’ I said, ‘is that she’s clearly so comfortable in her own skin.’

Beth cast me a bemused glance. ‘Aren’t you?’ she asked.

I snorted with derision. ‘Of course not!’

Never have been, never will be. Such is my fate, and it’s one I long ago accepted. Why?

Partly, the old cliche of being British. We aren’t very good at self love, and if we are, we probably know someone close who will bring us down a rung or two.

Partly, because of the hand genes dealt me. I come from a long and glorious line of women whose bodies want to cling on to fat cells. There’s a wonderful black and white photograph of my great-great-great-grandmother perched on a tiny wooden chair outdoors in the family’s allotment. The phrase ‘Built like a brick s**t house’ springs to mind. You wouldn’t have wanted to argue with her – there was a lot of her. So I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to control my body’s desire to be obese. (If you think size issues are all down to over eating, I strongly recommend watching this Horizon programme, Why Are Thin People Not Fat.)

Partly because … well, we all need self-loathing on some level, don’t we? I mean, we don’t ‘need’ it but we do it. The turn of the wrist, the hair that’s too thick, the inability to run without tripping up – every single person has something they don’t like about their own body. It’s human!

I used to think that when I hit a certain advanced age, I’d stop caring. I relished my imagined future of drinking gin straight from the bottle, chain smoking Galloise, swearing violently at school children and smearing food down my clothes. Clothes that I hadn’t changed in days. Then, I realised that was never going to happen. If my fantasy truly was a reality, our Oldies would all be in jail! Yet, they’re not. Most people older than me still care about their appearance, and are upstanding members of society. (Note I said ‘most’. Yes, I am looking at you, local Mr Caretaker Man who I hate!)

So now I need to accept that being a little bit squirmish in my own skin is my fate until death. Damn.

What about you? Do you embrace your body or do you wish someone would drape a cloak of invisibility around your shoulders? I ricochet from one to the other, depending on mood, time of day and successful sewing. Are you equally flighty?

* You want to know who the sewing blogger is, don’t you? It was Handmade By Carolyn.

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72 Responses to Comfortable In Your Own Skin – Are You?

  1. Vicki Kate says:

    Heh, I ricochet all over the place too! Mood, time of day, sewing success (or not), direction of the wind… Carolyn is stunning! Australians do seem to have a better relationship with themselves, comfortable in their own skins is the perfect description. I wish I knew her secret…

  2. Sam says:

    I am the same as you, sometimes I can embrace my body and actually quite like it, and others, ugh! I think accepting your body for what it is and knowing how to dress it in a flattering manner is a large part of feeling comfortable – both physically and mentally.

    My knees are my particular bugbear and a part of my body I ALWAYS dislike (other parts fall in and out of favour!) – I KNOW that if I go out in something that reveals them I’ll feel uncomfortable all day. Even my “shorts” fall to just below the knee!

  3. sew2pro says:

    What an emotional topic!

    When I was little, and showed early signs of only being interested in one food group (cake), I was constantly told: “you’ll be just like your Grandmother K….” (short, Italian, ate with gusto and resembled a roly-poly). By my late teens, I ate all the time, thinking “What the hell, how bad can being fat be?” Underlying it all was the fact that I was unhappy and stodge provided comfort.

    The weight dropped off as I gradually learnt what makes me happy and cared less for what others expected of me. Now, I have mostly good days but it’s all relative to those years of total teenage hell.

  4. Jessiekays says:

    I hate my knees too! I have just started the Harcombe diet and I have high hopes! You should check it out as it still let’s me eat however much I want of certain things and after phase 1 and 2 you can pretty much eat anything! You lose a good amount of weight in the first five days too (I’m on day 4 of this!)
    Jessiekays – imake2.blogspot.com

  5. Lizzy says:

    I’m an Aussie and I had no confidence in my body – I always felt too small, too thin, too short and too un-womanly – a fact often pointed out in jest by most of my friends both male and female.
    In the last few years I have come to be quite happy with how I look. Unlike others I’m programmed to not put on weight. A blessing and a curse as I have a distinct lack of bootiliciousness going on.
    There is nothing I can do to change the way I am, so I make the most of my assets – however small they may be! I’ve realised that some of the things that I disliked the most about my build are things that other people envy and likewise for me with others that I admire.
    I’ve learnt to dress in ways that suit my frame and highlight my good points. And if you walk with confidence, good posture and a smile everyone looks better!
    It’s quite funny that I’ve reached this place in life when my stomach looks like a street directory of stretch marks courtesy of two enormous babies that I managed to bear… also a trait that runs in my family – small women and enormous babies – where is the justice in that!!!

  6. Liz says:

    So nice to read someone has similar issues to me! My hubby dearest always seem to think I need more confidence – like it is so easy. I think media has a lot to answer for. I love the sewing blogs and I think they really help as they are all real people making real clothes. One day maybe I will be comfortable…

  7. I’m with You girls, it’s a love and hate relationship all the time but when I’m on a down I think that I’m unique and no one it’s ever going to have what I have and I have to make the most of it. My hate part is my arms. My favourite is my eyes. Just need to look at my eyes and tell myself it’s ok to gain a bit weight, as my boyfriend say… It’s more of you to love.

  8. Joanne says:

    I’m all over the shop about this and definitely at the moment. While I love the idea of what’s happening to my body, the bigger tum, boobs and inexplicably bigger upper arms (but they’re not biologically necessary?!) are causing some consternation, not least in that I’m wondering if they’ll go after the baby’s born. Pre-pregnancy I always feel better in my skin if I’m exercising – whether I’m trim or not. Something about getting close to your body, listening to it, using it – make it all less alien somehow. Do you feel the same when running?

    • Oh yes! Exercise is such a boost. If I ever feel weight insanity fizzing around the edges of my existence, I take myself out for a run. Exercise allows me to feel in control of my body, rather than its victim. It is true what they say, exercise is a great mood enhancer. Enjoy your changing body!

  9. superheidi says:

    Meh, ain’t that a silly waste of time? Ofcourse that’s wisom in hindsight . But yes, I did, always disliked my big hips, thighs or calves and I prefer to cover my behind with long tops and jackets. Now I think being frustrated about those things was a complete waste of time. I finally cared less about it in my 30s, gosh, and finally my body seemed a stable thing I could rely on. I became perfect at scannning clothes of the rack that would fit me without trying them on.
    Then I hit 40 and that idea is out of the window again. My body seems to take a long, slow but definite route to menopause. Totally weird, it changes of shape and behaviour and I have to reconsider many things but it keeps changing. Even the bits I considered good assets, like my eyebrows, are changing! How freaky is that? Feels like back to square one with all of this accepting.

  10. Jane says:

    I’d have to say in all honesty that I’m pretty comfortable with what I’ve got. Yes, I could be a few pounds lighter, and I could and should do more exercise, but quite frankly I can’t be arsed. My philosophy is simple: if my clothes start feeling a bit tight, I just lay off the pies and cakes for a few days. If I could change one thing, it would be to reduce the size of my chubby cheeks. I’m optimistic though and hope the extra insulation will stop me looking haggard when I’m old and mad, and drinking gin straight from the bottle with you! x
    LOVE the description of your formidable ancestor, it was the ‘perched in the tiny chair’ bit that really made me laugh! x

  11. Roobeedoo says:

    I always though there would be a point in my life where I would “fit into my body” and suddenly everything would be “just right”. Having babies turned everythng upside down and although I am now (at 47) pretty much the same weight and measurements as I was at 20, I can’t quite get over the memory of a work colleague telling me all my pregnancy weight had gone to my knees. I was so ashamed that I wore long skirts for YEARS after that and was even afraid of close-fitting trousers. What I also find brain-washingly upsetting is that at the age of 16 I had to buy size 16 jeans and therefore believed myself to be enormous… and yet I measure the same as that now and a size 8 fits me nicely, thank you. Now… what if I had my time again and could be 16 wearing a size 8 – I bet you anything I would not still have it drilled into my stupid brain that I am tubby girl with tree-trunks for legs. The size-label stuck. Sew your own and there is NO LABEL! What a release!

  12. Dibs says:

    Right, where do I start? I have ALWAYS had body issues. I was born with well defined and toned biceps. Growing up in Cameroon, that was not considered cool, as women are considered beautiful when they appear “soft”. I was not. So needless to say, my arms never saw the light of day. Something which still continues today here in the UK. Thank God for our cardigan friendly weather. In Cameroon, it was always hot, but I always made sure I wore dresses or tops with sleeves, no matter how hot I felt….that was just a small price to pay to appear pretty. Thank God I went to boarding school for 7 years, so there were no boys there during my formative years, like it would have been worse. Fortunately for me, I was one of those outgoing types, so was liked, and never got bullied.

    Roll on the teen years, and my hips started going off on their own tangent. My mom is about a size 12 in her bust, and about a size 20 on the hips, so I know that is where I am heading, though I am trying hard to fight it.In Cameroon, women with big butts and round legs/ankles are considered very appealing. So I was in my element there, lapping up the attention, then I come to England, and my body type is not appreciated. Cue all my old body insecurities.

    I don’t exercise, which I think I should be doing, but for now, my body is messed up due to C-section. I can’t exercise as I am in pain most days, and I end up eating loads of chocolate and ice-cream and I swear I can feel my hips dancing their way to a bigger size.
    Ha, what a rant I’ve just had. Sorry its such a long reply.

  13. Pella says:

    These days its my skin that’s not happy on me.

  14. ohh my, where to start with this one.. I’ve always had body issue’s, like every one else has said, the way I feel about myself varies depending on what else is going on in my life. I come from a line of slight but curvy women, I got the curves but then inherited the bone structure from my dad, so no matter what I do I will never have the slender wrists and ankles like my mum. I also inherited massive calf muscles from my dad, which I can be pretty self conscious about but if they get mentioned I just tell people that I use them for kicking arse (usually shuts them up fast!) As I’ve got a bit older I’ve realised that I only have this body, and really it does its job well and I can work with it to make it stronger and better

  15. Rachel says:

    Sorry to say, but I’m an Aussie and while I’m usually comfy in my skin, there are certainly times I am not. Until my mid 20s I was unhealthily obsessed with body image, and since having a baby I definitely have moments of feeling ill-at-ease – things shift, ‘bloom’ and shrink too. But such is life!

    • Rachel, are you saying that … that … that national stereotypes aren’t true?! You’re making my head explode! Yeah, people the world over have issues with their bodies. That’s reassuring!

      • Rachel says:

        Oh no Karen, I hate to burst your bubble!! We Aussies LOVE a good stereotype too – have a squiz at any of our wonderful news publications and all will become clear 🙂

      • Well… since about two years ago (help/Google?) Oz is now officially the most obese nation on earth (total percentage of the population). What is weird though is the guys are generally fit as (beach/ gym/ surfing/swim yoga etc) while the (average) chicks are just… not.. I don’t know why it is that the guys here put so much more (exponentially more) effort into maintaining their bodies (and I imagine it’s not easy considering the amount of alc’m’hol that gets consumed here) + image +hair than the chicks but I can only assume it’s a cultural thing. This is the first country (bar none) that I’ve noticed that about (I’ve lived in different parts of Asia, Europe, NZ). And it freaks me out. Mind you I’m talking about the mall-going population here. The numbers change drastically at the beach/ at yoga/ in the inner city/ hipster suburbs/ upscale neighbourhoods (i.e pretty much everyone looks fit). Which would lead a non-statistics-inclined person to assume hanging out at the mall is what makes people unhealthy-which if you look at the food courts there isn’t that surprising XS

      • In answer to your first question f#ck yea! No I don’t ever want to be invisible, three generations of raging feministas have fought for my right not to XD
        Random thoughts concerning various other statements:
        -Not caring doesn’t normally come with age it comes with the onset of dementia (seriously-a sudden change/ lack of interest in physical appearance is actually one of the symptoms).
        -Biochemistry 101~pretty much the main reason for the obesity epidemic today is fructose.Your body converts it straight to lard just like it does with alcohol. And just like alcohol, fructose causes liver toxicity (for pretty much the same reasons that alcohol does) except it’s around 40x slower than alcohol at causing it. Fructose is addictive just like alcohol i.e. causes a lasting neuro-response = craving + withdrawal. The only difference is alcohol distribution is federally regulated while fructose isn’t. That’s set to change but it’s pretty slow at the moment. You should check out ‘Sugar the bitter truth’ -it’s got this really sweet Pediatrist that specialises in childhood obesity explaining all this stuff and more. The sugar barons sued him in the US but lost because all the scientific evidence overwhelmingly points to fructose as the problem.
        -Short summary: avoid anything that’s billed as low fat (because it’s usually high fructose and fat isn’t the problem, it’s the type of fat that’s important i.e. trans-fat). Avoid anything that’s processed (it has low to no fibre which is what makes the fructose move through your body faster and eliminate it) and stay away from ‘corn syrup’ XD
        -Also you sew so you can pretty much present the shape you want to the world-in this you’re ahead of about 90% of the population so rock on already!

  16. Nikki says:

    I will agree, Carolyn always looks stunning! I’ve decided that I’ll have to make do with my shape. I honestly can’t see it getting any smaller in the places I’d like it to be smaller! I think I’m reasonably healthy and go to the gym, so if I can’t change my body that way, then I’ll have to make do. I tend to stick to styles which I know will flatter my shape and make me feel good (easier said than done!) Although I still have memories of early secondary school where I could wear the same size clothes as my Mum because I was so fat!

    Having moved to a country which seems to be full of healthy keep-fit type people, it still manages to have one of the higher percentages of obese adults. Not sure how that works! So there is a complete mixture here too. Some will dress and look stunning, others not so much!

    I think some of it is just if and how we were teased as youngsters. And I can’t imagine that you’re really unhealthy with all the cycling and running you do, so…

  17. I have days when I feel fabulous and think ‘yeah it’s not looking too bad after 2 kids’ and other days when I look in the mirror and think’ my word, I have let myself go’. Ironically I was about a stone and a half bigger before children, so for me it is less about weight (although a should probably tone up a bit) and more about having time to do a few things for myself like painting my nails or sorting out my eyebrows or even some days trying to have a shower.

    I do get though what you mean with fighting my body’s desire to be obese, because I am from a gypsy russian background and we have the matryoshka syndrome (the russion nesting dolls) so you get one size larger for each child and grandchild 🙂

    • I have never heard of the Matryoshka syndrome! Thanks for sharing that!

      • I am sure it’s something my grandmother made up. However, a lot of russian women are really slim and trim pre-kids (and I have seen pictures of my granny in her youth being a UK size 6) and then after kids the weight just stays on and then menopause … despite all attempts.

  18. Also since you guys are discussing body issues, has anyone had a look at ESPN’s body issue? It features Olympic athletes in the buff-stunning. And NSFW obviously. All the iffy bits are obscured but still. My favourite quote there was this one by Abby Wambach: “Female athletes are getting very, very thin, but I’m a bigger woman.” Sweet. XD

  19. Lin says:

    But isn’t it about style as much as being comfy in your skin? I think Carolyn’s blog is so compelling partly because of her skill and creativity but partly because she has such a pronounced personal style. She always looks incredible.

    I took a long hard look at myself a few years ago and made a resolution to wear outfits rather than just put on clothes. Some outfits work better than others, some are more flattering than others – but by and large, I try to look “togther”. To my amazement, someone recently referred to me as “well-dressed” and I was ridiculously taken aback but so pleased. Given that the majority of my clothes are thrifted or me-made or me-adapted, I seem to have finally hit the knack of giving the illusion of style and confidence – even if I don’t feel like that underneath.

    Now into my fifth decade, with plenty of weight issues and a couple of pregnancies behind me, I think I am OK in my skin. And that’s good enough for me.

    But I am deeply envious of Carolyn’s additional je-ne-sais-quoi. I know very few women (or men) who have it – my younger sister is one – but they are very lucky people. They make style look effortless.

  20. Jody says:

    I laughed out loud at the Matryoshka syndrom! That is awesome! I am fortunate enough to be small and for the most part still am, BUT since having kids (having a belly button hernia and pregnancy don’t mix) and turning 40, my belly will just bloat and I end up looking slightly pregnant. I am like all the rest of the respondents in that I sometimes can deal with my body and other times I can’t. My feelings seem to have a complicated relationship with everyother aspect of my life. If work is going well, if family life is good, if friendships are strong, etc I will typically be more okay with myself. If there is some stress that I can’t seem to get under control, my body image seems to go down porportionally to the amount of stress. Then I get annoyed with myself because I know that it is the same body that I felt okay with before the stress set in. The question is how to get out of that cycle as quickly as possible! I find that exercise and being diligent on what I eat is the best way.

  21. Claudine says:

    I am one of very few people I know who don’t have body image issues. I usually don’t share that information with other women because they can’t relate. Oh, and about the letting yourself go when you get old? I fully intend to start smoking again when I hit 70 or so. Other than that, I’m pretty sure I will always be fastidious about my appearance and I will always exercise.

  22. Jacq C says:

    Once again you’ve started the discussion on a fascinating topic. It seems to have very little to do with how we actually look, I have women friends who are beautiful inside and out but they just don’t feel it. I can see that but have struggled to apply any of the logic to myself. My husband cannot understand why I have low self-esteem about this stuff (bless his heart, he honestly believes I am gorgeous and even on my best days I know this isn’t true) but that’s the crux, it’s the ‘self’ bit that needs work. I think the reasons for it are so complex – getting clothes that actually fit being part of that, which I guess is the driver for many of us to sew (mind you it would help enormously if I could make stuff that fits!). I’ve changed a lot of things in my life this year. I’ve changed the way I eat, at 46 there’s all kinds of uncontrollable stuff going on, whilst I’m genetically smallish it has had an impact on my shape – basically I’m avoiding processed stuff. My energy levels are much better so, in my experience, it’s been positive, irrespective of size. A wise lady told me a trick to being kinder to yourself, judge yourself as you would a friend. If your pal wore those shorts would you think she had funny knees? Probably not. And I figure in 20 years time I’ll look back and think I looked OK and shouldn’t have worried about it so I might as well make the most of it. So I’m aiming for ‘good enough’, my body works irrespective of my funny shape and I’m one of those over 39s who apparently shouldn’t be wearing a bikini anymore! Honestly, this has been a huge mental leap for me but I think we could all treat ourselves with a bit more kindness, frankly if I can do it anybody can. I love Jane’s comments, that’s the attitude I’m working towards, and if I looked half as good in a cherry dress I’d be delighted. And, Karen, I think you look amazing 🙂

  23. Marie says:

    Thanks for sharing this post Karen, it’s a topic I’ve often thought about broaching on my blog, but I never know where to start. I too have many insecurities about my body which I can sometimes push to one side, but more often than not there’s a lot of self-loathing going on in my head. Interesting you should mention your ancestor by the way as my family has always joked about the shape and size of my paternal grandma (think Jabba the Hutt) and how I have to be careful not to end up like her! Erm, sure…I’ll try my best! On my mum’s side we’re blessed with terrible legs too…I’m petrified of what the future holds!

    Bizarrely, I’ve also found that sewing hasn’t really helped me in terms of body image. I love making unique garments and I’m overjoyed to have such a creative outlet, but I still get frustrated when I know I’m not slim enough/have the right shape to pull off certain patterns. And I always think my me-makes would look so much better on me if I was slimmer. It’s so tiresome, but I can’t seem to shake off those kinds of thoughts.

    I find regular exercise keeps me sane mentally and helps to keep me somewhat toned at least, but I never feel that my efforts are properly reflected in my body. I’m nowhere near as slim as I’d like to be. Sadly, I also know I never will be. Instead of accepting this, I let it affect me. But I hope that one day I will finally realise what a waste of time it is and be at peace with my body.

  24. leahfranqui says:

    Well, it’s really interesting because starting a sewing blog and having to take photos of myself all the time has really shifted how I think about my body, probably because I LOOK at it so much more. And while it makes me cringe, it’s also motivated me to work out more, which I now do, and to love my unique characteristics more, which I now do too. I don’t know that I’m always in love with my body, but I’m trying to be kinder to it. I will say things to and about myself that I would never ever say to anyone, let alone someone I liked, and yet I will be hateful about my own body without qualm.

    I’ve got rather wild hair, and I almost never wear make up, and I’m all about comfortable shoes, so I never get called “well put together”. But since I’ve started sewing, people have told me they like my style, and that’s rather amazing to me in and of itself! I like it more, now, too, I think I might actually HAVE one!

  25. LinB says:

    When I concentrate on myself, I tend to see — and fret about — only the perceived negatives in my appearance and my character. When I immerse myself in the things that interest me, or when I turn away from self to concentrate on the needs of others, I disappear to myself.
    The doing is the everything, and I surrender to the flow of joy that ensues. I like to joke that, when I turned 40, I began to manifest the superpower of invisibility to others. The flip side of the “invisible to others” phenomenon is that one can become invisible to oneself — not always a terrible thing! This must be what is so attractive about a contemplative community: the intense focus on the other, to the near-exclusion of the self, all for the greater good. Plus no mirrors allowed. (Am too damnably selfish, my ownself, to ever become a nun.)

  26. I like how you posed this question, it made me wonder; is there a difference between feeling comfortable in and feeling confident about your body? Or does one lead naturally to the other? I’d say I am comfortable with my body on the whole. I don’t show my face on my blog pics (not currently and maybe not ever) but that’s more to do with anonymity than self-esteem.
    Having spent my teenage years surrounded by very slim girls worrying about their bodies, I always feel sad when we castigate ourselves for our perceived flaws/failings. My thinking is time and experiences will have an impact on my body, and I don’t want to look back and think, ‘wow I looked great 5/10/15 years ago, why didn’t I appreciate it?’. Especially cos right now my body works, and one day it won’t.
    That sounds massively fatalistic but it sounds more positive in my head!

  27. LLADYBIRD says:

    I don’t know… I always feel kind of ashamed when these types of posts come up, because I AM comfortable in my body. I pretty much always have been, for the most part. Of course there are parts I would love to change – who wouldn’t? – but I’ve never really even had to get to the point of accepting myself because I basically always have. I guess I feel bad because it’s suggested that women are “supposed” to hate on their bodies for something, and I don’t! It’s a pretty major goal to be comfortable in your own skin, but actually expressing it out loud just makes you come off as braggy to a lot of people. And that sucks.

    Anyway, I guess I don’t really have a leg to stand on here, but I really just don’t see the point in fussing & fretting over something that can’t be changed. It’s one thing to want to lose, like, 5 pounds – anyone can do that. But fussing because you’re not tall enough, or you want bigger boobs (well I guess there is surgery for that :)), or a totally different body shape… you can’t do anything about that, so why waste the energy on worrying about it?

    • I celebrate your comfort in your own skin (huzzah!) and you talk a lot of sense, Lladybird.

      • I’m sort of like Lauren on this score. I mean, recently I have been sort of hating ALL of the photos I put on my blog because I think my face looks chubby. But at the same time, I publish them on the internet anyway because, you know, that’s my face and whatever. Ideally I’d like to have less chubby cheeks but what can I do? I can’t hide my face. So I think what I’m trying to say is that I’m comfortable in my body. I’m not always confident about it and yeah it’d be nice to be taller or not have such a round face and, shit, I’d love to have more than the 7 hairs that grace my oddly shaped head, but I can’t change that and I don’t have the energy to spend a lot of time worrying about it.

        And Karen, not just because I love your blog or think of you as a friend, but I seriously think you are fabulous. I mean that – I know that at the bombshell meetup, you didn’t feel totally at home in your dress, but I admire it so much that you came along, you rocked your bombshell dress, you looked amazing and you were such fantastic, engaging, hilarious company. So, basically, YOU’RE THE BOMB, BABY x

  28. Jenn-NY says:

    I tend to think that the body ‘hate’ is at least partially inherited. My mother was unhappy with her body (she came from the girdle/boning/constricting everything era) and uncomfortable with her own femaleness. From the time I was about 7 years old or so, she was subtly warning me about getting fat (I was a normal kid without any weight problems). I was discouraged from eating when I was hungry (growing kid). I think because of this perceived deprivation that I became obsessed with food as a teenager, going from chubby to periods of extreme dieting. I also got quite a lot of the ‘you-can’t-go-out-looking-like-a-streetwalker’ as a teenager. (Hey, it was the 80s and well, I had a chest). That didn’t help and just added to the body shame issues. I got involved in competitive athletics in highschool, and ultimately, that experience was my savior. Sports didn’t solve the problem, but the physical and mental strength that one gets from really challenging activities can change the perspective about one’s body. I began to get a sense that my body was powerful, and not something shameful to be hidden and constricted. I also went through an anti-shaving period in college, to the true horror of my mother. (Yes, I shave now). To be clear, I don’t blame my mom. She was a product of the 50s and despite the current infatuation with 50s fashion, it was an oppressive time for women. However, I think we need to be very conscious about the sometimes unspoken messages that we sent to girls about their bodies. That doesn’t mean to sugar coat it with the ‘everyone-is-beautiful’ bs, but to be honest about our own insecurities and why we have them.
    ~Jen

  29. I have so much to say about this I may have to do my own blog post!!! We are all bloody fabulous and quite frankly, whom is anyone else to judge how we look. Care not a jot for what others think.

  30. MrsC says:

    Little people make me smile. And darling Karen, you are a little person, to me! Most of my adult life I have averaged a size 26, going up to 36 and down to 20. If I started to pick on parts of my body, I’d end up in one hot mess! To me, it would be bliss to be able to say I don’t like my arms, or knees. I wish you all could spend a couple of days at my size – you would come away with a far greater appreciation of what gorgeous women you really are.
    That’s not in any way an ‘oi vey” of self pity, it’s just a truism 🙂 I am used my body – I don’t wish it to be how it is, but I have learned the hard way that hating it and trying to control it are just a fast route down a black hole for me. Like trying to shift a pile of manure with a teaspoon. But I am one of the only women I know who can stand naked in front of a mirror and not go into a frenzy of criticism. I love what it can do and get frustrated by what it cannot do, or can no longer do. My biggest gripe with it is not fitting comfortably into plane seats and having bumps in places I would rather not have them, that impact the styles of clothing I opt to wear.
    I wish for you a little more self love, as in ones 40’s things start to go a bit agley. And the control techniques of earlier ages don’t work so well. The choices are – get more and more unhappy at trying to do the same thing and not have it work out (one definition of insanity I have heard!) or meet it half way 🙂 And we do want you to be happy!

    • MrsC, I love your comment. So much wisdom and kindness in one blog comment! Thank you so much. Yes, I must find a way of coping with my 40s and I agree that a healthy, functioning body is not something to be taken for granted.

  31. sylkotwist says:

    Wow, what a great post and such interesting replies. It’s a shame most of us have these insecurities but how lovely that we understand, encourage and support each other. Sewing my own clothes has certainly made me more aware of my changing shape, the 23 year old me trapped in my 43 year old body still gasps each time I look in the mirror! But, getting older is just unstoppable and I think I’ve accepted that … kind of, well I’m getting there … pass the gin please Karen!

  32. Paola says:

    The one thing I regret in my life is the amount of mental energy I devoted in my teens, 20s and 30s to body image issues. What a complete waste of time that was! Somewhere in the last few years I decided to become less judgemental of myself and most crucially, other people. My body is OK as it is, and I really try hard not to evaluate it against other people. They have their look, I have mine. End of story.
    Sounds straightforward of course, but it really requires a constant conscious effort not to compare and contrast against others . The payoff is peace with yourself, and the mental space to devote to other things…like, for example, sewing!!

  33. Debbie says:

    A great post. Very thought provoking! It has taken me most of my 49 years to get to a stage when I am mostly comfortable in my own skin. In my teenage years I was too thin (not that I thought so at that stage) then I picked up weight before loosing it and have settled to where I have pretty much been for many years.

    Still trying to lose the last of the baby fat on my stomach. Ok my baby is almost 19, it just takes some of us more time than others!! Then you see pictures of Heidi Klum in a bikini and she has had 4 kids and looks amazing!!

    Running has been wonderful for me, when I feel fit and strong I feel good. The fact that I work with a lot of much younger females and they think I am wonderful because I can run a marathon, that makes up for a lot!!!

    My biggest problem is that I still feel like I am in my 20s and then I will sometimes catch sight of myself in the mirror and think who is that older person looking back at me!!!! Who do these wrinkly hands belong to??

    Such is life!

  34. Tiffany says:

    Eep, no. Never have been. And if you would have told me in high school that I would be photographing myself in clothes that I made and posting pics on the Internet I would have thought you were insane. But following all the wonderful sewing blogs and seeing beautiful women the world over with every shape and size looking amazing and sharing their talent and passion has truly helped change my outlook. Having babies too, I suppose. My body is what it is, and it’s far from perfect, but I don’t want my daughter to have the same relationship with her body that I had growing up. If that means I have to fake it for her, so be it. Maybe eventually I’ll believe it myself!

    Thanks for sharing with us! I’ll agree with many above and say you’re fabulous, indeed!

  35. Uta says:

    Karen, you’re so lovely; I hope you realize that! Fuelled by a weight-obsessed family and ballet teacher ( I though very long and hard before I let DD take ballet lessons but fortunately this teacher is supportive of any body type) I struggled a lot as a teenager and young adult. Funnily, I was always slim. Now I’ve realized it has nothing to do with how you look and everything with what’s inside your head. In my mid-twenties I decided enough’s enough and stopped counting calories and talking my body down. It worked, I by and by stopped obsessing and became quite happy in my skin. I was in for a suprise though when in my late 30s the first serious signs of ageing appeared and I became very angry that after working so hard to make peace with it my body would do this to me! It took a while, but I’ve come to realize that I will look back at this time and wish I were “that young” again. What also helps with not falling back into obsessing is having children especially a daughter. I try very hard to be a good role model in this, enjoy good food, take care of myself, not talk myself or others down. I could cry when I see how many young girls already have body image issues and how much pain they’re in. Thank you for the thoughtful post and the insightful comments!

    • Ack, yes, childhood dance classes. I could write a book on that! I’m really glad you’ve found a lovely teacher for your daughter, though, because dancing is lots of fun!

  36. First of all, as others have said – Karen, you’re lovely and have a fabulous sense of style! I know that what matters most is not how others see us, but how we see ourselves, yet a few compliments are always nice, aren’t they? This is such an emotional topic. I wrote a little bit about this on Valentine’s Day this year and posted a croquis of my 5’10 (178) French size 48/US size 18/UK size 20-22 self. I am 37 and have been all shapes and sizes over the years and had all range of anxieties from feeling ok about my weight but too tall to feeling too fat but loving my height and adding to it with heels to just feeling like a house on legs (when pregnant). But I have at last come to accept two ideas: (1) Life is just too short to waste mental energy on body image stress; (2) my body has done wonderful things for me (given me two children, taken me hiking in Peru and rowing on the Thames and dancing with my best beloved, helped me to be physically strong enough to help others….) and I shouldn’t wound it with unkind thoughts. And the past year and a half of making my own clothes has given me a practical, task-oriented attitude towards my shape: I am what I am, so how do I make the clothes I like as well as I can and as nicely fitting as possible? As a result, I like myself, I like how I look and I feel happy in my skin. That said, I am actively and consciously this year focusing on not just giving my body kind thoughts and nice clothes, but also kinder actions. That’s to say – eating better and exercising regularly, prioritising that even though I have so many other demands on my time (job, family, etc.). Why? For mental and physical well being, to help with some back issues and a few other things. I’ve lost a few kilos, nothing dramatic – I don’t feel skinnier, but I do feel healthier. Which can only help me better love my body. Thanks for this discussion, very thought provoking and good to read everyone else’s experiences.

  37. Rehanon says:

    Late to the party as always but what a great post and really interesting replies. Well for me as off the wall as it with the way I’m put together. I always say I was done last on the shift before tea break as my proportions are out in left field. Despite that I like the form I inhabit. Of course it could be improved but then so could my mental arithmetic but meeeeh 🙂 I look at it this way – this old sack of skin has taken me up mountains, helped me walk 500 miles across Spain, let me jump off cliffs, fall in love and then danced me out of heartbreak so I have to give it a good old back slap for that.

    To be completely honest though I think my joy in my skin comes from being bullied when I was at secondary school. I was lucky (or so I thought) enough to have passed an entrance test and won a bursary to go to a private school. Well I thought it was gonna be all jolly hockey sticks and tuck (I had been reading Mallory Towers) but no this was not to be instead I got systematic abuse from a small clique of girls who decided I was too “common” to be at “their” school (my first experience of the class system by 11 year olds!). The first thing I did was turn inward for a year or so and eat a lot of donuts, which led to my Ma getting really concerned because I’ve always been so bold and technicolour. Then the worm turned not long after I heard Pulp for the first time and realised different is bloody great. So I dyed my hair blue and developed the F**k You gene and decided I would like me just the way I am and not bow to the populus ever again.

    In fact music and the looks I love like Prince and Cyndi Lauper made me realise style will far outweigh any concerns I have about form.

    Plus I don’t worry about ageing now I sew as I fully plan to age disgracefully in the manner of Joan Collins and I can now make up a wardrobe full of pizazz and wholly inappropriate to do it in.

    By the way Karen I have met you several times now and you’re a corker :-*

    xxx

    • Well, that has really shocked me to hear you were bullied. Spiteful little brats. Nobody puts baby in the corner!

      • Rehanon says:

        ah bless you 🙂 The way I look at it is they way just letting off their angst on their slow, painful march to the middle of the road and as much as it was an ass at the time I now look positively on the experience. As at 15 I really knew and and liked who Rehanon was and balls to anyone who wasn’t supportive of that.

  38. I’m also a late commenter and, really, I don’t know where to start, so maybe I won’t (I might never stop). I was intrigued, Karen, to read your remark that suggests you found Californians comfortable in their skin. My own experience was that there never were a folk less comfortable in their skins. What I saw was people trying hard to be glamorous for reasons I could only guess at and, well, if looking uncomfortable is being comfortable in your skin then, yes, I guess they were. They certainly didn’t appear to be so. Mind you, that was 20-odd years ago and it’s possible things might have changed. Also, perhaps it was merely my perception. I suppose we all see things differently.

  39. Sigrid says:

    I have always been thin even though I eat like a horse, so i find it weird when people assume that my size has something to do with discipline and hard work. Nope, it’s mostly luck, not any kind of moral superiority. Sadly though, I have my own body issues, and I must say that taking pictures of myself in clothes doesn’t really help the tendency to be self-critical. Then I remember that I tend to be so much harder on myself than I could ever imagine being on anyone else and post those pictures. I think this aspect of the internet is great, because there are now so many photos of beautiful, stylish women of all ages and sizes wearing all kinds of fashions.

    • Ah yes, a long time ago now I had a very slender friend who would fizz with fury about how people felt perfectly able to comment on her size, when they wouldn’t comment on other people’s size. I truly think people were trying to celebrate her, but I also think she made a good point about what is and isn’t appropriate to point a big finger at!

  40. symondezyn says:

    I’m quite passionate about this topic because almost every single solitary woman and girl I know has suffered from self loathing, and it can be a cause of constant pain to them and their loved ones. I often wonder why we beat ourselves up so much when if someone we loved did the same we’d think they were crazy, and it would hurt us to see them do so. it’s so sad! Why can’t we see ourselves the way our loved ones do? I look at all these beautiful women commenting here and many of them I know from their blogs; I never once look at them and see flaws; just a beautiful and talented woman 🙂

    So do I practice what I preach? I wish I could say I always do, but I’m kind of schizophrenic about my body image. I’m aware of my flaws, and i don’t love them, but I’ve accepted them. I’m also aware of my good parts, and accept those too. So most of the time my body and I have a pretty good relationship, and most of the time I can walk around feeling pretty confident. Until I see photos of myself, and then it’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde… how is it possible, I wonder, that I can transform to such a hideous monster the second the camera comes out?? LOL. I don’t know why that sends me into fits of self-loathing, but it really does 😛

  41. Laura says:

    An ex-boyfriend (not ex at the time) once said I was just like Kate Moss from the waist up.

    Unfortunately I didn’t have the quick wit at the time to tell him he was just like Albert Einstein from the neck down. :-p

  42. One of the things I have loved about learning to sew is that I feel so much more in control of how clothes look on me, and as a result, I feel more confident about how I look day to day. I think you mentioned the Advanced Style blog at some point, and I so enjoy the spirit that those ladies show when it comes to what they wear – they have really learned to play up their strengths and make it an art. I don’t think I really learned how to dress myself until I turned 40, and a big part of that was learning to have fun with it. Having fun and experimenting with what I wear (even when I try something that flops!) goes along way towards making me like the feel of the skin underneath.

  43. And, full disclosure, I just finished a blog post that I’ve been working on for some time that address this topic so I’ve been thinking about it a lot! Thank you for giving us such great topics to think about, Karen!

  44. Sewist from across the Pond. says:

    Well, I guess I’m officially English. I don’t feel comfortable in my skin, never have, and actually, and I’m gong to be un-American and full-on judgmental, I very often don’t like people who are. They’re frequently narcissists.

    I’m also African American, and have had to live with the stereotype that all black women are big, curvy, and they just LOVE all their curves, some supposedly even like being fat. Not true.

    I’m quite familiar with the appraisal vicious: When I was a teenager, my very catty and cruel maternal grandmother told my younger sister, who is not willowy, that she was “Built like a brick s**t house.” That was the exact phrase she used. I’d never heard it before. Then, after the uproar that ensued, she tried to claim it was actually a compliment.

    I’ll never love all of me, in part because I’m a smart, critical person. I have flaws I can’t iignore, especially if I’m comparing myself to some kind of abstract idea of perfect beauty. I’ve also noticed that the world is silently (and not so silently) judging me.

    But I’m trying to appreciate what I have. In regard to personal presentation, learning how to sew is enabling me to make clothes that flatter me and express my personality. If something fits properly, it makes me look slim and trim. If I buy something off the rack with the wrong proportions I look squat. I try to watch what I eat, but I’d have to eat nothing to be as thin as I was at 20.

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