Tearing Down or Building Up? The Body Image Debate

This morning, I found myself thinking about the “Body Image and Media” debate (or I dunno, call it a war crusade) that rages through women’s blogs and social media.  I get the occasional petition announcement from change.org.  They sent me this one about Cleo magazine today:

Public pressure is building across the world for magazines to stop altering images of girls. In the US a teenager convinced Seventeen Magazine to publish one unaltered spread a month after thousands joined her petition. I think Cleo should do the same for their readers.

I want Cleo to stop selling images that hurt girls and break our self-esteem. Let us see real faces and real shapes in at least one photo spread a month — and always put a warning symbol on any image that has been altered.

Ok.  I confess ambivalence.  On one hand, I think that’s great- girls and women joining together to tear down harmful standards and practices to reform the mass media.  In fact, I signed the petition.  Why not?   It’s against something I think is stupid and harmful, and in favor of something I think could be positive and useful.

On the other hand, I have a deep conviction that buying and reading these types of magazines only serves to reinforce the legitimacy of such publications.  That is to say- if people buy it, then there’s a market for it and fashion mags that present unrealistic ideas of beauty will continue to exist.

I had to google Cleo magazine to find out what it was.  Turns out, it’s a fairly run-of-the-mill magazine that targets Australian women.  I don’t see anything about it that would set it apart from any others.  (Hey now, maybe their marketing department should pay attention, it’d help them stand out from the crowd if they did as the petition asks…)

You know what I do read?  Blogs, mostly sewing blogs.  I also read style blogs, “entitlement” style blogs written by wealthy teenagers (maybe she’s 20 now), parenting blogs, domesticity blogs, cooking blogs, history blogs and classic movie blogs.  My google Reader is my own personal magazine, I choose the authors and the topics.

After I checked out the Cleo petition I thought about the futility of trying to turn around the massive nuclear tank that is the women’s magazine industry and started clicking around to catch up on some of my favorite sewing blogs.  Liza Jane recently made some rad brightly printed shorts for her upcoming vacation and shared heaps of delicious construction details.  In my “de-Cleo” frame of mind, my eye skipped over this:

Click for a great post on Burda shorts-making

Ok, so they are not super short or anything but this is a big step for me.   I have not worn short shorts for several years now.   I feel silly for saying this, but I haven’t worn shorts because as I got older and more, um, well-rounded, I always thought my legs looked funny.  I’ve always had big legs, this I know.  But really?  I can wear short shorts.  My legs are totally normal.  One positive of snapping so many pictures of myself over the last couple of years is that I have a much healthier image of myself.  Hope that doesn’t sound too self-centered, but if you take photos of yourself you know what I mean.  This is what my legs look like.  And they are just fine.  They take me where I need to go.  Ok, enough of that.

I love this for several reasons.  First because I know what she’s talking about- blogging has definitely helped me become less judgmental about my body.

Second because the sentiment she’s expressing is not a thunderclap out of nowhere but a personal epiphany that’s expressed a thousand different ways on sewing blogs all over the internet.  Somehow or the other, body acceptance has become a part of the fabric of blogging about sewing.  I think that’s wonderful.

Third- read the comments section.  It’s supportive and positive.  Many of the commentators express healthy attitudes towards their own bodies.  It’s pretty typical of comments on sewing blogs.  Posts like that do help change women’s ideas of what’s beautiful, what’s normal, what’s healthy, and what’s acceptable.  I see it as “building up” each other.

Finally- LizaJane’s post is not about her legs.  It’s a nitty-gritty “this is what I sewed, here are the insides, and this is the pattern” type post.  The focus is not on the way she looks, but on what she has done and the way she chooses to share with us.  Again, this is common in the sewing world- sharing knowledge and celebrating a job well done. (disaster sewing posts are good, too.)

Besides, print media is dying- or at least, print media is no longer the primary way to disperse information to a wide audience.  Changing one monthly spread in one magazine can definitely be counted as a step in the right direction, but it’s a drop in a bucket.  A leaky bucket.  It’s possible to change something like that one step at a time, but it’s very hard work.  Why not focus instead on building each other up, and improving our attitudes towards our own bodies to create a thriving alternative? I think that’s already happening, and blogs are definitely competing with traditional print publications on several fronts.

But I don’t just mean blogging.  We can take the positive attitudes we find in the blogs and “build up” in the real world, in daily life.  Ever stopped a stranger on the street to tell her the color of her blouse sets off her eyes?  (Try it sometime, but make sure the compliment is sincere.  Compliment-bombing is super fun.)   What about praising a little girl not for being pretty, but for sharing well with the other kids?  Or taking the time to show a younger person how to sew their first seam?  Or making space in your day to go for a short jog to keep your heart healthy and get those endorphins going (rather than exercising primarily for weight control)?

What do you think?  Is it worthwhile to attempt to “tear down” the toxic universe of women’s magazines, or is it better to simply work on changing our personal attitudes to create an alternative?  Or both?  Or neither?  How do you “build up” in your daily life?


76 comments

  1. I agree that women are increasingly turning to blogs instead of magazines for style inspiration. And why not? You can completely tailor your reading. Magazines need to step it up to compete.

    • Step it up indeed… I read something on Jezebel recently to that effect… It’s interesting, I doubt print media will completely disappear but I do wonder when/how things will equalize between digital and traditional media…

  2. I always feel more at peace when doing what I can to change what Is within my immediate sphere of influence, whereas I feel worn down and overwhelmed by the enormity of trying to change the establishment. And feeling worn down and overwhelmed is not far from how I feel just looking through the mags. So, I avoid them.
    There was a fabulous mag in NZ about 10 years ago called Bella which celebrated women of all ages, shapes and sizes and backgrounds etc. And it died because none of the usual advertisers who enable women’s magazines would advertise in it. No perfume or cosmetic companies would touch it. No emaciated teenage models, no advertising dollars, and that is that.
    How I love seeing women accept themselves as they are. Yes, looking at lots of photos of yourself will have that effect. I sincerely hope that the huge blogging movement will shift the world in a way that one photo spread a month may not :)

    • MrsC, once again you find just the right words to sew it up!

      I am not surprised a magazine like Bella would fold when it did. It’s a shame.

      I bought some magazine or the other a while ago “for research” to see what was up in magazines.. I just never got around to reading it.. Sat on the table for weeks and then I put it in the recycling… Flipping through was pretty yawn-worthy… Blogs are definitely more varied and dynamic… And interactive..

  3. Another brilliant post. I am fortunate to work in a small and supportive group of strong women. I regularly hear them complimenting patients (and each other) on their outfits and how they look and it warms my heart. All around me I see women who give each other positive reinforcement. It’s a small island in the sea of negative reinforcement that’s out there, but it’s a start and all of the women I work with have daughters, so the message is getting spread little by little.

    • I love that. It’s really wonderful to be a part of a small community for so many reasons.. That’s a big part of what I miss about the quilt shop, being surrounded every day by so many strong and confident women…

      • A small island, indeed, you are so right. But I live on this island, not in NYC, Paris or Florence. I made a targeted decision a few years ago to be positive, kind and complimentary. It has enriched my life more than I can ever say. Insightful posts and comments that follow, like this one, will indeed spread and support real females of all ages. The fashion mags are best left to the beauty shops and dr.offices, I will not waste $ on them. Just me.

  4. I used to be an avid consumer of magazines such as Cleo, Cosmo, Shop til you Drop, Madison, Vogue, etc etc etc. Then I started blogging. I haven’t bought any of those magazines for years now. A friend sometimes passes hers on to me – they tend to lie in piles unread. Now I read online about the things that interest me, and I definitely have much more acceptance of my own body and shape since photographing myself in the clothes that I’ve made over and over! I’d rather that we work together to build up, and think that many of the things that need tearing down are or will be slowly crumbling away into dust of their own making.

  5. Thanks for your post, I quite agree. Style blogs like Inside out style have changed the way women see themselves, how they shop. Women that sew realise quickly that if they are sew something for themselves that fits, it often flatters. It’s the rare dress that looks good off the peg on anyone except a size 10 model. With that they also realise it’s not a problem with them, it’s the clothes. Self acceptance becomes easier. i am much more inspired by sewing blogs and style blogs than what’s out there in the shops, often stuff for 20 something twigs…

    • Inside Out Style is fantastic. I find it’s really great to read style or fashion blogs written by people who are a different size/lifestyle/age to me, it broadens my perceptions of “beauty” or “style” or whatever. Aw, we gotta look out for the twigs, too. ;)

  6. Thank you for this. I always thought my decision to accept my body as it is came with age, but now I realize that sewing has played a big part in the process. And being not fully dependent on (often badly fitting, and unflattering) RTW also helps to build one’s self-confidence :).

    • It really, really does… Or at least, I’d think so. I really can’t remember the last time I went shopping for clothes.. But I do remember it was always a disappointing experience once I was over the age of 18-19.

  7. Count me in with “P” and her non-dependance on RTW. If you want to feel bad about your body, hit a department store and try on trendy clothes…whoa…who are the designing for?
    Being a full time seamstress I see women in their underwear every day and no matter how slim they are they apologize for their body…imagine a woman who is size 0 with 32 inch hips…yes, they are out there and they hate their body as much as my clients who have 60 inch hips. Most have tons of money and clout in the community but when they are standing in front of the mirror they just resort to tearing themselves down whether they are 20 or 80+. My job is to encourage them in their clothes, reassure them they will get compliments and if nothing else at least rave about their latest designer purse or sunglasses they are carrying.
    Sewing blogs are great…they focus on the clothes inside and out and not on the numerical size. Magazines will always cater to the super thin, super rich, super trendy until they realize real working women have no time for that mental masturbation that goes along with egotistical designers. Aging is a natural process which no one can escape…in the end we all get saggy skin and if we follow our heart and hands we can still make clothes that make the best of our remaining good parts and camouflage the rest. Even those untalented limelight seeking (fame whores) the Kardashians will fall out of fashion and super models have a limited shelf life…let’s celebrate what Nature gave us…a great brain, a kind heart and unique skills wrapped up in a workable body and bloggers like Steph who point this out!

    • Yes! Mrs Mole, I’ve noticed that for a long time… I see all kinds of shapes in their underwear for fittings too, and truly the only time it bugs me are in cases of inadequate undies… I don’t actually care what size someone is… But it’s like this universal thing women do, a stream of abusive words about their bodies, no matter their measurements.

      I usually try to make classes a place where it’s not ok to b*tch about your body… It’s so harmful, it really is.

      Sigh. I guess even fame whores need love and understanding… I just read a very interesting article about the Kardashians in New York Mag.. I don’t really know much about them though…

  8. It made me really sad, I was listening to the missed in history podcast the other day and they were talking about how Amelia Earhart was the Aviation editor for Cosmopolitan magazine. To think that magazine had such inspirational women writing about aviation, and now it’s all fake tan and sex tips.

    • Oh wow. I know cosmo took its current form sometime in the 60’s-70’s, but I never realized they had such quality content… I’d love to read something she wrote!

      Fake tan… If ever there was a silly thing to do it’s a fake tan… It’ll be one of those things that shows up in “weird history” type lists in the future and people will think “I can’t believe they DID that…”

  9. There are so many fantastic points here, but I don’t want to waffle on needlessly. Women’s magazines are awful, really awful, and I stopped buying them years ago. I don’t care for pictures of miserable women in expensive clothes. It’s becoming harder to relate to a woman who has been morphed and had reality retouched away. I’d rather look at a picture of someone clever showing off their latest creation, or read their interesting ideas. Humans vary so much, and not all women want to read or see the same things every month. Media can be a horrible thing, and can influence people in such bad ways. Like Sarah said, it’s all fake tan and sex tips. Blogging is fantastic – reading about real ideas, seeing people create… I love how you’ve called it your own personal magazine!
    I think sewing for yourself brings with it a brilliant understanding and acceptance of your body (and of other people’s bodies). When sewing your own clothes, it’s about your size, and what will work around that, not whether or not your body will work in the clothes. I believe it promotes a healthier outlook on women’s body shapes.
    I’m not sure whether ‘tearing down’ the current images and ideals will realistically work. Like you say, people keep buying it, so they’ll keep making it. I wish it were easier for people to build themselves up, but hopefully if enough people change their attitude, it will create change.

    • “miserable women in expensive clothes.” That sums it pretty well.

      I hadn’t thought about the relatability aspect of mags/blogs, but that makes so much sense! Of course!

      The thing about building up… I think it often works better to build others up, because doing that has a very real positive effect on yourself without focusing too much on the self. If that makes sense… Hmm!

  10. What a thoughtful post! Discovering the sewing blog community has done more for my self-esteem and body image than ANYTHING else. I think largely because it’s totally self created; WE are the agents of fashion, and this is inherently a much more empowering position than having fashion dictated to us. I think sewing is about learning and accepting your body’s quirks, and seeing so many women loving and accepting their bodies as we all do this together has been transformative (having said that I am trying to lose 10 pounds in a healthy, reasonable way but I’m not hating on this bod in the meantime)….

    About a year ago I stopped buying Vogue every month. I had been a dedicated reader since 2002 but I just had it with the privilege and entitlement and complete lack of awareness for the current economy and the future of our environment…. As you said, I now have a monthly magazine delivered to my google reader EVERY day. Content I choose. It’s the BEST. I will occasionally pick up Vogue nowadays (the September issue was impossible to resist) but it no longer feels like a Bible or a window into an alternate reality. Now it’s all about ripping off construction details and shaking my head at the 1%.

    • I think it’s also because the online sewing community tends to have certain “standards”… Positivity and politeness being a big part of it… Not telling someone else how they should be, mutual respect despite differences, and body-acceptance… I think it’s great we have a “vibe” like that, and I hope nothing changes it… But I think all those things- respect, positivity, etc are a side effect of the interactive nature of blogging. It’s not like a traditional publication which is a one way street and the voices are carefully chosen. It’s a melee! But a very nice one.

      (I could lose a few pounds, too… But like you said, I don’t get obsessive about it.)

      My bestie and I used to buy Vogue and go through it with a thick black marker to pick out details we liked, and cross out things we thought were stupid… It was such fun. I pick one up occasionally, but the last few times I looked into Vogue I wasn’t very inspired… Vogue Italy often has some cool photoshoots. And yeah, the September Issue is always an interesting flick-through…

      • The nicety, politeness and amicability of the international online sewing community keeps fascinating me. It’s not such a usual thing! I don’t think I’ve encountered it anywhere else (online). Anywhere else, there tend to be trolls and a certain amount of bickering. Not so much here.

        • Yes, me too. When I get cranky about something, I take a deep breath and walk away. Usually it’s just that someone does something differently than I do, or whatever. I figure that crankiness is a sign I should challenge myself a bit more, which is usually true. I think we tend to be protective of our nice, supportive little community… The world is nasty enough, why add to it?

  11. As a temp many years ago in NY, I did a fair amount of work for the magazines (nothing interesting, just standard temp work). Most of the magazines are run by women; the men seemed to be few and far between in those offices. So, the images, objectionable or not, are mostly produced by women or with some direction from women. They over-photoshop the models and go to extremes because that’s what people will buy, what their readers want to buy, perhaps unconsciously. Frankly, I don’t worry about it too much because I don’t see any of it as real, but that’s me. (Past work in the photo business tends to erase the illusion). What I don’t like is the focus on celebrity. Apparently sales go up when there’s a celebrity on the cover, but unless I’m getting on a plane, I’m not going to buy that cover. Also, I’ve gotten really tired of the excessive consumerism that is the focus of fashion magazines. Can’t remember the last time I bought one. (I also think that the quality of American magazines has gone way down in the last 20 years or so).
    ~Jen

    • I think you’re onto something with the word “unconsciously.” Human beings tend to be drawn to exaggerated ideas of beauty, and always have. I’ll have to dig around a bit to find it, but I remember watching a documentary last year about beauty… Among other interesting things, they analyzed the bodies of ancient Greek statues and demonstrated why those bodies are just slightly exaggerated, just enough to make attaining bodies like that impossible from an anatomical perspective. So I see that tendency toward exaggeration as an inbuilt part of human nature. Which doesn’t make it ok, but understandable.

      I TOTALLY pick up magazines before flights. Or trashy pulp fiction I wouldn’t usually bother with. There’s just something about being on a plane… Like it’s suspended reality or something… ;)

  12. My husband works for a company that publishes both digital and traditional media. Thankfully not in women’s fashion! There has been a significant shift in the 5 years he has worked there away from paper magazines to on-line content. Several of the traditional publications have been amalgamated into other editions, and the primary focus of the company is developing it’s digital offering. I don’t think that this is a unique experience for companies publishing weekly or monthly magazines.

    I love your comment that your Google Reader is your own magazine, in which you select the content. I know that in recent years I’ve gone from buying several magazines a month to only buying the occasional one…Threads/Burda excepted, of course.

    Obviously the online sewing community with it’s beautiful women in all shapes and sizes plays a huge part. But I also recognised that I didn’t want these images in the house where they could negatively influence my children in both the area’s of body image and confidence, and also in terms of materialistic consumerism. Children certainly focus the mind!

    People are always telling my children how gorgeous they are. I’me sure you have the same problem. I’m trying to instil in the kids that looks aren’t everything and that being a kind person and using your brain are far better things. It’s a battle! But as long as we keep having these kind of discussions and continue to vote with our wallets and our computers, we may slowly make the necessary changes. But I do think it will, sadly, be slow progress indeed.

    • I’ll tell you, I’m pretty guilty of telling my little monkey she’s beautiful. I can’t help it, I just fall right into those big brown eyes and that’s it. I do make a concentrated effort not to, and to focus more on praising her for working hard, for helping around the house, for making funny jokes, for being sweet and gentle to smaller kids, for learning to sound out new words, etc…

      It kind of doesn’t help that people give her stuff for being pretty and charming. Like… The other day we went to a Japanese burger-slider joint (a treat). Lila chatted with the cashier who was enchanted and then all of the girls working there were trying to chat with Lila and giggling… She has that effect on people. They sent her some crispy “chips” with the meal as a little gift… I was pretty torn about that… I’d hate to teach Lila that being pretty gets you stuff, and that food is a reward…And I’m not the biggest fan of chip-eating either… But at the same time, it was well meant. So I let it be but didn’t draw too much attention to it.

      But yeah, I’m really aware that little kids absorb the attitudes of the adults around them. And I’d hate to teach my girlie that part of being female is hating your body.

      • I don’t think there’s anything wrong with celebrating her beauty because that’s part of who she is…just not the only part! Button has us in stitches most days…she’s sharp as a tack and has an amazing sense of humour. I’m sure Lila is the same. We just take every opportunity to reinforce that whilst she is very pretty, she’s also smart and thoughtful and funny, and, and….. You know how it goes. At home you can control it.
        Outside…I just grit my teeth and work hard not to beat old ladies with their zimmer frames when they insist on grabbing her cheeks and cooing over her looks. They do it to The Boy too! It’s infuriating, but I just let it slide so it doesn’t become a big thing.
        I know it takes a village to raise kids and I’m grateful for that, but sometimes you wish the village idiots would go on holiday! ;-)
        Have a great weekend. thanks for these fabulous posts. They provoke such amazing discussion.

        • Yeah… And fwiw, there’s a Marilyn Monroe quote that has always stuck in my head.. Something about little girls should be told they’re pretty…

          Aw! How does Button respond to pinchy cheeks?

          When Lila was a baby, old Asian women in particular would come up to her and rave about her big forehead, that it means she’s smart, and her big eyes… I always found that a bit weird and hilarious.

          The discussions are REALLY fun for me to read… There’s so many intelligent and thoughtful people who read this old blog…

          • And one really thoughtful and intelligent woman who writes it.
            Button is delightful. She just smiles at them which makes them happy.

  13. Since I started reading sewing blogs, my interest in fashion magazines and clothing catalogs has dropped precipitously, but I still browse them.

    My feeling about the fashion and cosmetic ads in women’s magazines is that false advertising ought to be illegal. Just as diet commercials have tiny little “results are not typical” disclaimers; drug ads have small print lists of possible side effects and a “consult your physician” blurb; advertising images should have tiny little “this image has been digitally manipulated” disclaimers. I believe it would have little effect on magazines, advertisers or consumers, but there ought to be an enforced minimum standard.

    It’s funny, I remember occassionally flipping through women’s magazines before I got interested in fashion and being frustrated by all the ads. Now I mostly ignore articles and focus on the fashion images, which is the ads.

    • There’s an idea- treating it like false advertising.. I don’t see why not. It would be pretty difficult to enforce, more or less on some kind of honor system… I’m all in favor of trying to get the magazines to change, I’m just not sure if it’s a good use of my time and energy…

  14. I think what’s happening here is that it’s the blogs and other media that are already changing women’s minds enough that they’re actually doing something about the monolithic fashion institutions. I would never pass up a good petition :-), but this one is useless really, the writing is on the wall. When you can look up to Beth Ditto as a fashion icon, Anna Wintour becomes irrelevant.

    Ironically, I’ve become much more interested in fashion since I’ve had alternatives to the fashion mags. I’ve been sewing all my clothes most of my life, and I’m a long-time geek, so fashion’s been pretty much irrelevant to me. But having access to pictures and thoughts from women who reflect my real life more, whose bodies don’t fit into twig mold, and who’re putting feminism into their life, now that speaks to me. So I’m happy to be inspired by what I find online..

    • I hadn’t quite thought about it like that, but I think you may be onto something- that blogging etc are changing minds enough that we’re trying to change the mags. Very interesting. And yeah, google image search has done a lot to democratize fashion. Or something…

      Remember twigs need love and support, too! :)

  15. I think focusing on being kind to ourselves and to others is largely more helpful than tearing down such a negative industry. Tearing it down just takes too much energy that could be used helping others and ourselves be grateful for the bodies they’ve been given. I think in whatever form, those kind of publications are always going to exist–someone somewhere is going to be on a worst dressed list I’m sure. But if we take the time to protest against all these people however or in whatever form they continue to exist, how many opportunities will we have lost to tell a precious girl that she is valuable?

    • And you know… worst dressed lists are funny, and somewhat entertaining, but in small doses… I guess the *only* part about trying to change the mag industry that appeals to me is knowing that there are a LOT of people who pick up magazines who don’t necessarily have a strong sense of self. Like teenage girls, among others. They might take the stuff in those publications a bit more seriously than you or I would, and that’s where the trouble lies…

      But yes… I definitely think it’s more powerful to work to influence others in a positive way in daily life than to picket or kvetch about “the system.”

  16. Blogging/sewing/reading blogs – all these have had a positive influence for me in the “body influence” department, which is something I certainly didn’t expect. I think I just inherited a set of thoughts, and it wasn’t until I “grew up” (the “growing up” being spurred by “making my own”) that I acquired an entirely different set of thoughts. Hopefully I’ll pass something better on to my kids.

    A team of editors financed by advertisers is going to end up with much different content than a personal sewing blogger sharing her journey. On the one hand you have incohesive, contradictory and unrealistic messages, and on the other hand you have (mostly) honest and thoroughly processed thoughts with the added benefit of interaction.

    I flipped through a style mag in a doctor’s office a while back and came across the ubiquitous “what you should wear” article. I was surprised to find the “women have too much body image pressure” rant AND the “10 rules of what to wear for your body type” advice in the same article! Talk about having your cake and eating it too! I don’t believe these magazines are actually trying to create serious content.

    • I know! I’ve seen this on blogs, too, though… One day there’ll be a post about body image, blaming the media, yadda yadda, then two days later a list of links for pop-culture and fashion doings of the week. Because that makes sense…

  17. excellent post!! You really made me think about how the broader issue with women’s magazines is that they are all about ‘improving’ yourself unnecessarily (losing weight, being sexier, etc etc). The photos are just one symptom of that.

    I’ll admit to being a Vogue fan, but I buy it only for the pictures. (I just realized while typing that – I’m the opposite of most men who say they buy Playboy for the articles!)

    • Thanks…. :)

      I’m all in favor of learning to be a better, kinder, or healthier person, but not to any sort of extreme such as is usually celebrated in those kinds of magazines. It’s just not worth the effort.

      Heheheh! It’s funny, but I do get what you mean… Love it.

  18. I believe being positive is always the best choice. Building things up, rather than tearing down. A few years ago I went 10 weeks with extremely limited media use and it was amazing. Every week I could watch 1 movie, 1 hour of TV (no commercials), and the only magazines I saw were crafty ones used for collages. It was a scary thought at first, then I realized how awesome it was. After I got back to “the real world” I had to adjust. Since then, I have stopped looking at (most) magazines and only read blogs that I see as positive. Whether your focus is negative or positive, it will consume you. I’d rather be surrounded by happiness, than anger or hate.

    • Neat! Isn’t it AMAZING what you get done, and how clear the brain is when you media fast? I grew up with almost no TV, or movies or any of that… It made me a bit of a martian when I moved into “mainstream” culture… Like… I didn’t know the Beatles, or the Simpsons… I spent several years “catching up” only to discover that it’s all a bit empty and silly and I’m happier consuming very little mass media…

      (Though don’t get me wrong, I do like the Beatles and the Simpsons…;)) We don’t have a TV, so we don’t get many commercials or whatnot.. We do stream entertainment and news, though.

      The last bit you wrote reminds me of the old Apache (?) story… The grandfather is talking to his grandson and says “There are two wolves inside me. A good wolf, and a bad wolf and they are always fighting with each other.” The grandson says “Which one wins?” and the grandfather says “The one I feed.”

  19. I do go out of my way to compliment strangers on what they are wearing, if I think they have done an especially nice job of choosing a pleasing garment, or if the color they are wearing makes them look happy, etc. (Women, though, and usually women of my own age or a little older.) Sometimes I have to stop myself from thinking “What on earth has that woman put on her body today?” to consider that, perhaps, what I see as hideous she sees as beautiful, and makes her happy, and is comfortable to wear. Those are the women whom I try to engage in conversation. They seem to have more interesting lives than the rest of us.

    • Yeah! :) You’re so right about interesting women standing out in a crowd… Absolutely. They’re often quite happy to sit and chat a bit about life and the world around them, too. Usually quite open people.

      I don’t compliment-bomb men…Even with a kid in tow, it’s just not appropriate for me to go talking to strange men. Truth to be told, I don’t really have many interactions with men, it’s just the way my life is set up and I’m pretty comfortable with that. I like them just fine, but I don’t know many and keep the ones I know at arm’s length. (stephen’s the exception, of course… ;))

      • Oh, too true! Our culture so sexualizes the relationship between men and women that I don’t even feel comfortable complimenting the teen-age boys in my life when they look sharp. Boys need affirmation at least as much as do girls. The ancient, old darling men are often so deaf they don’t hear me, anyway. The middle-aged man in the produce section at my grocery store compliments me sometimes, and my husband is sure that the guy is hitting on me. I do not think so. Were we not in the middle of a pack of women selecting salads, maybe, but I think the guy is just lonely. (Glad to know that you allow Stephen to invade your personal space occasionally, lol.)

        • Yeah for sure… Though when I used to wear 40’s style to the exclusion of almost anything else, I used to get some cute winks from very old gentlemen. That was fine.

          More than just occasionally… ;)

  20. Fantastic post. I don’t know what to add but I too would sign the petition, but I too don’t buy that kind of magazine so really I vote with my wallet. Sewing is one of the best activities for your mental body image. I know the tape measure can be scary in the precision, but the focus is on the results, the size is irrelevant. I’d actually say for me, it’s been really positive to put my figure into perspective. Understanding how a FBA works, I see my frustration with button up shirts goes beyond the button gap but the poor fit in the shoulders/sleeve as well. Looking at my high bust and waist, my hips are not out of proportion.

    • Yeah, I did think when I signed that I don’t actually buy those mags so probably my opinion isn’t important. Except that’s the reason I don’t buy them, so probably it’s valid… ;)

      Yes- that’s just it… The focus is on the results. And isn’t it AMAZING the first time you wear something that fits the bust properly? I’ll always remember the first button down blouse I made that didn’t gape over my bust. It was a revelation.

  21. great post.. very inspiring and thought provoking (i have recently started following your blog and am really enjoying it.. you cover an interesting mix of different stuff)

    • Thanks, Rhonda. :) I often worry that my topics are a bit scattered and I butterfly around too much, but that’s just the way my brain works I guess. :)

      • But isn’t the scattered nature of blogging the beauty of building your own magazine? There actually isn’t a cohesive story to your “current edition” (ie the posts you read in a single day) but when you look over time there really are themes that hold it all together.

  22. I really think that the healthy person is a person who is creative.

    Making things for ourselves is incredibly empowering. When we depend on others to make what we must have, we give them the power to determine what is available, we give them the power to determine what we should want, we give them the power to determine what we should be.

    I have to make so many changes to patterns that I’m starting (baby steps!) to learn to draft my own things off of my slopers. Imagine what RTW shopping is like for me – demoralizing doesn’t begin to describe it.

    But though the learning curve on fitting isn’t slight, the work is worth it. (And I much appreciate the help youve given me). I look amazing in what I make for myself, and if someone wants to “lose 10lb in 10 minutes” wearing properly fitted clothing will do just that.

    • I think you’re right… Creativity (that is, creating something) is a very human impulse…. And the empowerment thing is so true. I have this idea that decades of TV and other passive media consumption (as well as a rise in “instant gratification” culture) has left a lot of people feeling rather powerless. Sewing a shirt, baking a cake, building a backyard pizza oven, growing some tomatoes, all of these things remind us that we’re creative beings and our actions have some kind of meaning…

  23. Well said, Hearthie! A huge part of why I make my own is because no one else should determine what I should want and what I should be!

    I hadn’t thought about blogging about sewing as good for my body image, but now that you’ve said it I realize it’s so true! In a similar vein, I love how taking photos of myself (especially during Me Made May) got me to think about my own style and what I am saying to the world when I get dressed, in such a more focused way. I loved some of the outfits I wore, and it was so great to get positive comments on them from others who participated, really validating.

    • I just checked out your blog and WOW I’m so inspired by the Cyan Silk… It’s beautiful and haunting… I wish I could see it in person.

      I think the photos thing helps build objectivity.. Or something. I know my response to photos of myself is much less emotional than it used to be… I tend to try to pick photos to use that show the clothes best, too… So I guess I’ve trained myself to focus more on the clothes, and less on imaginary flaws.

  24. Pingback: Burdastyle 05-2012-103 Liberty blouse | starryfishathome

  25. This is a great post! You have perfectly put into words what I have been thinking for quite some time.

    I’m not really sure what I can add to all the wonderful comments above except that I want to say that I too used to buy fashion magazines. I slowly stopped buying them in favour of sewing blogs and it was then that I realised how much those magazines hurt my body image. Sewing has empowered me and my love for my body and reading sewing blogs for inspiration is better for me. I am so proud to be a part of our super creative community and it’s healthy body attitude.

    Non-sewers always ask me why I sew, they always assume it is to save money, which for me has never been the reason. I’ve never really been able to give a straight answer beyond it being my creative outlet and that I just plain enjoy sewing, but now I think I’ll take the time to explain further to them, maybe I’ll convert a few more that way ;)

  26. There is a kid’s book called “How Full Is Your Bucket?” that is popular among teachers. It’s a story about kindness and the metaphor is that everyone has a bucket that needs to be filled, not taken away from. Hurtful comments and negativity cause things to drip from your bucket, making it empty, while positivity and compliments add to your bucket– filling it. It’s a neat way to explain to children about building others up instead of tearing them down. Kids remember the story and you can say things like, “Have you added to anyone’s bucket today?” I like interacting on sewing blogs because it’s all about filling buckets, not taking away. Sorry for the teacher metaphor, but I’m back to work now ;)

    • I will have to get my hands on that book for Lila, that sounds like a wonderful way to teach kids about the power of kindness.

      Yes- I have found that to be true over and over again about sewing blogs… :) It’s nice.

  27. Steph – this is the best post I have read for a long time (and I read a lot of blogs). I am much better for reading sewing blogs than magazines. I have overcome our body image problems as you discussed and I get inspired from other people’s creations and ideas. The sewing community is so supporting with their comments, and other bloggers become your friends. Some even manage to meet up and become real in the flesh friends, but even if that doesn’t happen, you feel as if you know that other person so well. The only magazine I buy is Burda, and I don’t look at the photos because of their looks, I look to get inspiration and hopefully a pattern or two that would suit my frame.

    • Thanks! :)

      I tend to count my online friends as “real” friends… I’ve only met one other sewing blogger I knew well online before our meeting (Leimomi, the Dreamstress) and that was cool. :) But I don’t tend to differentiate between “offline” and “online” friends… I guess because I’ve moved heaps and so many of my former “offine” friends became online ones in order to continue the relationship… But that’s a tangent!

      I like Burda, too. :)

  28. I’ve never thought of my reading of blogs as my own personal magazine reading but I think you’re right it is. I agree that print magazines and newspapers too for that matter are a dying breed.

    • Yeah definitely. I also think it’s interesting that publishing relies less and less on the taste and marketing departments of publishing houses… If you think about it, we’re standing on the edge of a Renaissance that could be compared to the invention of the printing press… It’s just nowadays, you can carry the press in your pocket (smart phone).

  29. As someone who grew up in the 90s when magazines were at one of their peaks before the internet came along, myself and my peer group were very influenced by Cleo and Cosmo and those kind of magazines. I had terrible body issues as a teen, I was tall and and a size 12-14, and did develop some eating issues. Was it is a result of the mags? I think the mags definitely reinforce what is the ideal, and at that impressionable age, it can be very difficult to get away from. Now I don’t know what it is like for teens, those magazines aren’t the only thing out there now the internet is here so there is more variety and more discussion which is a good thing. And really I think magazines are definitely a dying breed.
    I would have say though that sewing can make you Very aware of when your body changes, as you rely on body measurements when fitting all the time, you are much more aware of when your waist goes up a few inches!

    • That’s really interesting… I was actually pretty surprised that a 20 year old wrote that petition… You’d think someone that age almost wouldn’t know what a magazine is.

      Yeah, I don’t know what I weigh, but I know my measurements like the back of my hand…

  30. Steph I have not read all the comments but I realized some time ago that the more I sew the more comfortable and appreciative I feel about my body. My real body, lumpy bits and all. It is not that I do not want to be sleek and fit. I do but I appreciate my body as the vehicle I travel around in. (Excuse the bad grammar!)
    Great post.

    • Yeah… after a few weeks of being bedridden, my body needs some TLC… This is the first week in a while I’ve been able to get up and go walk/jog, feeling pretty lumpy myself… :)

  31. Pingback: In answer to your comments « Do you want to help create a better magazine for teen girls?

  32. I like blogs too. Fashion magazines, from cover to cover, are ads. Sometimes they are disguised as stories but they are ads. They have yet to offer me any real advice I can use. Their diets are impossible to follow and don’t deliver the 14 pounds in two days promise. The styles for all body types “stories” never have my body type! Even the “fat models” look thin! I’m better off looking at blogs because the writters do not have a financial agenda! Blog writters are real people writing about real successes and challenges and they come at it from my point of interest. Haven’t gotten to the point of being totally Ok with my body because of taking photos of myself yet…may be one day…..

  33. Steph, what a thoughtful, conversation-provoking post. This is a daily subject in my world, as I am a lucky mom of an amazing almost-17 year old daughter! Her age cohort is entrenched in electronic media. Being an artist herself, she follows art blogs, but also fashion/style blogs, and I guess what would be called lifestyle blogs. The horizons of this generation are incredibly more vast than that of my generation, and I believe that many young women are more empowered by the knowledge they’ve gained. Indeed, my daughter is often outraged by some of what she sees/reads, photoshopping being just the tip of the iceberg. From my viewpoint, it seems that social justice, feminism (which has a different flavor from when I was young), body image/body acceptance, and gender equality/gender identification issues are very important issues to today’s teens/young adults.

    Funny, my mom and I never had a conversation that began with the words “I read on a blog today…”. I’m both touched and ecstatic that my daughter chooses to share with me what she reads, believes, values, or finds repulsive. It opens doors for wonderful discourse. I love it when she is surprised in a good way by my answers or comments. If she didn’t ask, she possibly wouldn’t have known.

    So, these issues with the mags and photoshopping have conversational value in the very least. I’m more of a build ‘em up type myself, but probably, as in most things, the real answer lies somewhere in the middle. You have a good point about there being a market for the fashion mags. As outraged as my daughter gets over alteration of model’s photos, she still bought one this week. ;-)


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