Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Body image and vintage clothing

Depending on what source you're looking at, between 70 and 90% of women in America express dissatisfaction with their bodies. Many of them turn to fad diets, body-shaping garments, or even cosmetic surgery in order to change their appearance. It seems like every week, there's some tabloid cover with a smiling celebrity celebrating their weight loss, or cruel speculation about how someone's gained weight and now no one loves her.
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I usually feel like I have a pretty positive body image. I've always been a fairly confident person, and my body type is considered acceptable, even desirable, by society's standards - tall and fit, with a small waist and a big butt. I know, intellectually, that I have nothing to complain about. No one discriminates against me on the basis of my size. People don't make comments about what I eat, and it's wholly unremarkable if I exercise in public. No one's ever told me that "some guys are into women like me," as if I could only ever appeal to a niche market.
It can be uncomfortable to talk about how I think of my body because, as a thin person, no one really wants to hear me complain. I want to be clear that I'm not trolling for compliments, and I'm not trying to ask for anyone's sympathy. I fully acknowledge that any issues that I have are relatively minor, but I think they're issues that a lot of women have, and I think it's important to talk about them, particularly in the context of blogging.
The world of fashion is populated by thin women. This is just a statement of fact, and is not intended to denigrate them in any way. There is a very particular body type in fashion (at least in high fashion; I will get to pinup and retro styles in a bit) - tall, slim hipped, small breasted, with the long, slender limbs of a gazelle. Toned, but not muscular, and very lean. That's the typical model body type, and the most popular fashion bloggers tend to look to have the same look. Not as tall, perhaps, and maybe a bit softer and rounder, but it's still all about slender, graceful bodies that the clothes can hug and hang off of just so. Of course, it's also unusual for anyone to acknowledge how difficult it can be to maintain that body type. I'm sure that for some people it's natural, but most people have to be on a pretty strict diet to get to and maintain a size two. There's even an Instagram account called You Did Not Eat That, which capitalizes on the phenomena of very slender fashion and lifestyle bloggers posing coyly with macaroons, slices of pizza, giant burgers, and ice cream cones mere inches of their lips.
Although others usually see me as a relatively thin person, it can be hard for me not to zero in on what I think is wrong with my body when I look in the mirror. I said before that I usually feel pretty good about myself, but sometimes if I haven't been eating well or am just going through a rough patch emotionally, I look in the mirror and all I can see are legs like tree trunks, flabby thighs, and cellulite. My boobs look too small, my ass looks too big, and where the hell did these bingo wings come from? My weight rarely flucuates by more than five pounds either way, but the way that I see myself can vary widely from day to day.
When I take photos for outfit posts, I'm always conscious of how I pose. Hands of hips to make my waist and arms look slimmer, head tilted to elongate my neck, up on tip-toe if I'm not already wearing heels to make my legs look longer and slimmer. I try very hard to be conscious of any bias that I might have, and that includes being biased against heavier people; still, I work very hard to make sure that I, myself, look as thin as possible. I'll take photo after photo trying to get everything just right.
I don't wear pants that often, and I almost never post photos of myself in them, mostly because I really don't like the way my hips and legs look in them.
I have mixed feelings about the influence that the vintage fashion world has had on me. On the one hand, size acceptance seems to be one of the core tenets of the scene, and the body types that you see are far more diverse than in mainstream fashion. The message that women of all sizes are beautiful is widely distributed, and popular clothing brands work to make sure that they can accomodate a variety of sizes. Practically speaking, there's also greater acceptance of using undergarments to reshape your body. Don't like your waist? Wear a corset! Don't like your ass? Girdle, she wrote. It's kind of refreshing to hear that you don't have to achieve physical perfection all on your own - just go out and buy this thing to put on under your clothing and problem solved. Vintage fashion generally acknowledges the articfice involved in nipping waists and cantilevering breasts, which creates more realistic expectations.
On the other hand, much of the media that we draw inspiration from features women who are almost as slim as today's fashion models, and if you prefer to buy vintage rather than reproduction, good luck finding larger sizes. I'm often annoyed by how much cheaper really beautiful items can be in very small sizes. I'll stumble across something on Etsy and think, "Oh my god, that dress is amazing! And it's only $60? And it's... 32-24-32. *sigh*" It just makes me think that I'm a medium now, and that's ok, but what if I were a small? Or better yet, an extra-small?
I've never had an actual eating disorder, although I am prone to disordered eating. It's gotten better, but there was a time, not that long ago, when I would count every calorie, obsess over how much I was working out, feel extreme guilt if I slipped up a little bit, and then have a down moment and eat until it was painful. On a couple of occasions, I would take laxatives afterwards to "get the food out of my system," as I thought about it. It's behavior that I recognize now was deeply unhealthy, and could have led to something much worse. I have to be careful about how I think about dieting and exercise and my body, because even though I recognize how terrible some of my choices were, I still find myself falling into that mindset sometimes.
I'm going to keep blogging, and I imagine I'm only going to become more deeply immersed in the world of vintage fashion as time goes on. I want this blog to be successful, so I'm probably going to continue to take dozens of photos every time I want to post an outfit to make sure that I'm presenting the best possible version of myself and my clothes. I want to be honest, though, about how I feel about myself, and the struggles that I have had and continue to have with my weight and with my self-image. I would feel like a fraud and like I'm doing a massive disservice both to myself and those of you who read this by doing anything else.


  1. This post, every last word of it, deserves a standing ovation. What a truly refreshing change of pace to hear someone speak so candidly, intellectually, rationally, and realistically about both their own body image and those of the group(s) they find they most associate with.

    Though I try love my body every day (it's the only one I've got after all), that has never been an easy task for me and until just a few years ago, I actually (sad to say) loathed it most of the time. I've never been, not even when I've been on death's door (no exaggeration) because of IBD or any of my other medical conditions, not eating (or almost not eating, in the hospital and so on, a size zero or two (I've been a four, but it's been quite a while now since that last happened), I think I would truly have to be starved - like desert island - starved for a long time for that to happen. Of course I'm not saying that I liked such circumstances dropped my weight so much, good Lord, no, it's just the only time as an adult I've been "so thin" (and even then, again, I wasn't model thin by any stretch of the imagination).

    On the flip side, I've also (largely due to certain evil medicines) been much (!) heavier (a point I've never been able to bring myself to elaborate on publicly on my blog or really anywhere for that matter) at times, and am grateful for where I'm at now, even if it's not ideal. I have a crap metabolism, take meds that mess with it and my hormones further, and can only exercise (on my best days) by slowly walking, so I must count every calorie and eat very low carb or else the pounds pack on quite literally overnight and that's something I really don't want to ever have happen again, if at all avoidable. 95% of my vintage wardrobe (minus accessories) would fail to fit any longer if I was even just 10 pounds heavier. A point that I actually find very motivational when it comes to making smart, healthy food choices.

    For the past few years, I've been a modern Canadian size 6 to 8 (very rarely a ten if a brand cuts ultra small, and on the flip side, have a few size 4 garments that fit great, too), but because I'm short and very curvy, people sometimes think I'm bigger than I am (my waist, for example, is currently 27/28 inches), which can be frustrating - but then again, really, I shouldn't care what others think of my body. I've gotten significantly better at accepting, appreciating and adoring it and that's what matters. It takes one hell of an internal beating everyday due to my medical issues and when I think about that, my perception of the outside doesn't look half bad any more.

    Thank you for letting me share these thoughts with you today, they're something I almost never speak of anywhere or to anyone.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. Thank - really, thank you! - for sharing that. My mother and grandmother had serious hypothyroid disorders, so I've seen what it's like when you struggle with a medical condition and have basically no control over your weight. People really do look down on you when you're larger than they think you should be, and it can be painful to experience that. It's so hard to have to watch what you eat all the time, and I really sympathize with your issues. I'm glad that you've found a degree of acceptance and love for it - that's a struggle for so many people.

  2. I know that it is always a sensitive topic to post about, but I love reading other people's honest feelings about their bodies. It is an important reminder that whatever our shape, we all have things we love and things we don't about how we look. I totally agree that shopping for vintage clothes is frustrating for someone in the healthy weight range by modern standards, not just because of the tiny waists, but the hourglass around them! I grew up in the shadow (ahem) of a very large-busted sister and it took me a long time to feel confident in that respect. When I try on vintage (or reproduction with original proportions) that fit me at the waist, they balloon around my upper torso in a very sad way. It's hard not to feel that you are either flat-chested or too tubby around the waist!

    Anyway, I think we all want to present what we have in the best light, and there shouldn't be anything wrong with that. I take hundreds of photos to choose from! Mostly because I have trouble finding a good "camera face" that I like, but I think that's ok. I want to feel good about sharing photos of myself, and if that is what it takes, then that's fine.

    1. Good camera face is really tough, isn't it? I look so derpy all the time, like I'm going to have a string of drool coming out of my mouth any second.
      I definitely agree that it takes effort to make sure you're presenting your best possible self, and that's part of what I wanted to point out. I think about how I used to feel, reading other blogs (vintage or not), and just getting down on myself because I didn't wake up looking that good, that cool, that nonchalantly fabulous. Part of that is me, dealing with my own insecurities, and part of that is the fact that there's a lot of unacknowledged work going on behind to scenes to make them look like that.