There's this independent Melbourne clothing label I was once a teeny bit obsessed with. I even met the designer for, like, two seconds and she looked so cool, kind of like Pat Benatar at her peak with a hint of David Bowie thrown in for a bit of hipster irony.
I'm talking Japanese inspired simplicity. Silks, wool crepes and beautiful hand-designed prints.
It was love, love, love. Until I tried some pieces on.
When the bottom half fit, the top section billowed out like a deflated hot-air balloon. If the top flattered, my ample behind practically burst the seams. On the verge of tears, I blamed myself and vowed to quit the carbs.
We've all heard the stories. Women who cut the labels out of their clothes so no one will know what size she wears. Those who refuse to buy a size 14 even if it fits them best. Crazy liquid diets just so the size 8 wedding dress zips at the back. The sweaty-handed fear associated with walking into a shop that looks like it sells clothes only for tall skinny model-like folk. The anxiety of trying on jeans. Or worse. Swimwear.
Who would have thought that the advent of mass market ready-to-wear fashion in the mid-20th century would have brought with it such a minefield of body image issues? Fashion, no longer tailored to unique, individual bodies, is now constructed to fit a made-up ideal body shape – an almost impossible task complicated further by the fact that, without industry sizing regulations, one label's 12 is another brand's 8.
I grew up with a mother who, as a former anorexic, constantly told me to lose weight when I felt something didn't fit right. Like so many women, Mum was terrified of being anything bigger than a size 12. She hasn't grown out of her body anxiety as she's aged, her carefully regulated figure a source of pride and achievement.
For most of my life I've followed in those footsteps, indoctrinated from an early age that thin is best, never quite cutting the mustard. Until, after the birth of my second child three years ago, I decided to learn to sew.
During those crazy newborn days my daughter was starting school and this time round I had been blessed with a baby who slept. Unable to leave the house while he napped I had time to teach myself to sew by following patterns and reading sewing blogs.
I was also feeling exhausted and depleted, struggling with a dark wave of postnatal depression that made it difficult to concentrate or find enjoyment in most things. Yet the ability to grab a piece of fabric and turn it into something I could actually wear was not just a creative outlet. It was empowering.
I thought often of my grandmother, a postwar refugee who suffered severe depression and post-traumatic stress after losing her family and home in Latvia. She was a skilled seamstress and her ability to make beautiful dresses and coats and trousers always seemed a bit magic. I wondered if sewing helped her too by giving her a creative outlet through which she could escape.
But the best thing about learning to sew was that I could make clothes that fit. Perfectly. Sure, I often cut up to four different sizes when making a single garment. But so do most people. I've discussed the size of my boobs with complete strangers in a fabric shop and compared measurements with sewing buddies without a hint of competition or judgment. I've made clothes for friends who at first feel sick at the very thought of offering up their measurements, only to realise that these numbers mean nothing more than a perfect fit.
I still buy the occasional piece of ready-to-wear. But if I try something on and it doesn't fit I can honestly say I don't give a damn.
This piece was first published here: http://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/fashion/those-body-image-blues-are-all-sewn-up-20131008-2v5o6.html