Learning to love and dress your body Shape is a critical aspect of fashion and building a capsule wardrobe
The Universal Struggle
“I’m struggling at the moment because I’ve gained weight. My tailored favorites and excellent fits now make me feel bad about myself because they don’t fit right. That isn’t what you asked us to share but that’s where I am right now.”
One of the great blessings about my job is I get to talk to and know so many of you through your emails, DMs, and posts in my groups, and I get to be part of your triumphs and challenges. My inbox is full of messages like this from women who are frustrated because the clothes they love and want to wear don’t look the way they want them to.
It breaks my heart to read about their frustrations, partly because I’ve been there. I know those feelings deeply and intimately, and I’d say most women do, unfortunately. But why?
I’m Not Wonder Woman
When Linda Carter was Wonder Woman and Catherine Bach was Daisy Duke, I was a little girl being spoon fed a bowlful of lies about the ideal female body. When I hit my teen years I thought I’d fill out to look like they did, and it didn’t happen.
I was all elbows, knees, and ribs until well into adulthood, and teased for looking like a little boy. I hated my body. But why?
After having six kids in six years, including triplets, I had filled out some, but mostly in the wrong places. With the stress of all those pregnancies so close together, I developed a diastasis, which is a separation of the abdominal muscles, and my guts were literally hanging out. I looked 4-5 months pregnant. After my last baby the weight didn’t come off like it had, and none of my clothes fit. I hated my body. But why?
My body had delivered miracles, literally. It’s not normal to carry three babies at once, and our bodies aren’t made to do that. It had given me six beautiful, healthy babies in a very short timeframe. My body got up in the night to take care of them, it lifted and loved on each one, it carried me where I needed to go and did all that I asked it to do. Why would I hate a body that served me so faithfully? Because of the lie.
I hated my body when I didn’t have enough curves, and I hated it when I had too many curves in the wrong places (no, I wasn’t pregnant, I just looked pregnant), but WHY? At every stage of my life my body has been perfect, and done what I needed it to do, and now I love it for all that it does for me.
The Big Lie
Since the beginning of time, a female ideal has been presented to us, and if you were born to match it, lucky you! If you weren’t, welcome to a lifetime of self-loathing. Before social media it was presented in artistic media and dictated by the elite.
The ideal has changed over time, and it varies from culture to culture. In recent decades we went from favoring a full, hourglass figure in the 50s ala Marilyn Monroe, to the lean, straight figure of Twiggy in the 60s, followed by the toned, athletic and curvy shape of the 70s I grew up seeing, back to Kate Moss and a very lean look in the 90s.
Before that the full hips and narrow waist look were considered the feminine ideal because it indicated good child-bearing abilities, and women wore bustles to enhance their backsides and bound their breasts to flatten their fronts. During other times it was a full chest that mattered.
For many cultures a full figure meant wealth because you could afford food, and a body that was too slender meant you were poor and starving. Very fair skin was once a status symbol because it meant you weren’t working in the fields, and now a tan means you can afford luxury vacations where the sun is always shining.
These days the ideal isn’t even real, it’s a Photoshopped lie. The models we see on the covers of magazines have been digitally altered to the extreme, but we believe it, we start to hate our bodies, and we hold ourselves to an impossible standard.
The truth is, there is no one ideal body shape, type, or size, it’s a lie we’ve been fed our whole lives. I decided years ago to love and dress the body I had, and it was life-altering. Did that mean I didn’t want to still look and feel my best? No! I learned to dress the body I had to highlight my best assets so I could feel confident and attractive.
Photo credit: Poster Revolution
Photo credit: Mirrorpix/Getty Images
Photo credit: Niagra (1953)
Photo credit: CR Fashion Book
One thing that hasn’t changed is the aesthetic value of balance, which is universally pleasing to the eye, and what makes up the elements of every type of design from photography to landscape to fashion.
Learning to dress so I could make my body look more balanced really helped me feel my best in my outfits. I’ve known since my 20s I have a pear-shaped body, because no matter how thin I was, I was still proportionally thinnest in my torso and fullest in my seat, thigh, and hips.
Wearing outfits that help balance my proportions creates a look that is pleasing to the eye. It has nothing to do with size or weight, and you can dress to balance your proportions at every size.
It’s Not You, It’s Them
What if you had a boat and you bought a cover for a different type of boat? Would you curse the boat for being the wrong size and shape, or would you buy a different boat cover that fits properly?
It’s the same with your body! Buying clothes that are meant for another body shape and cursing your body for not looking right in them is the same thing. It’s not you! It’s the clothes! By choosing clothes that fit and suit your body, they will not only look great, they will feel great!
This summer we talked a little about the muffin top and where it comes from. Even Twiggy could have given herself a muffin top by wearing the wrong pants. It’s not you, it’s the pants!
Great, Now What?
The key is to learn what your body type is and the rules of balance and proportion that help you achieve balance. It comes down to choosing the items and combining them so they highlight your best features and make you appear balanced.
This year I’ve talked a lot about style rules and how I love to break them and make my own rules. The only rule I have is, “Wear what you love,” so why am I talking to you about rules now? As I’ve said before, there is power in knowing the rules. Instead of rules I think of them as tools in my belt. I choose the ones I want to use to achieve my goal and leave the rest.
I know the rules for dressing to balance my body, and if you know the rules too, you’ll also know I don’t follow all of them all the time. Dressing to balance my body shape is only one facet of style, and when it excludes the other parts, I still won’t look and feel my best . Just as we are talking about balancing our body shapes, we also have to balance our needs, preferences, and reality.
So much comes into play here. Heels make your legs look long and lean, but does it suit your lifestyle? Your comfort preferences? Your personal style? Nope? Then scratch that one. That might be a tool we use occasionally when it suits us, but it usually stays in the belt.
And speaking of belts, I love them, but I’m not supposed to wear them if I want to flatter my body type. In this case, my preferences override the rules and I wear them anyway, but I wear them in a way that still helps me balance my proportions.
I learned all the rules of dressing for my body type, and felt so frustrated by them that I decided to learn how to break them…and still achieve my goal.
Rules Are Meant for Breaking
Along with all the messages I receive from you about your frustrations, I also get a lot of requests, and I keep track of them so I know how I can help you. Right now the number one request I get from you is for help dressing to flatter your body type.
Many of you are frustrated with trying to dress your bodies in clothes that aren’t made to fit you and meet an impossible ideal. And others of you are as frustrated with the limitations that come with the rules of dressing for your body type and feeling like you have to choose between balancing your body and wearing what you love.
I said no for a long time because there are a lot of great courses, books, and articles out there that cover this topic, and I didn’t feel like I had anything new to add to the subject…until I did. Right now I’m working on a course to help you learn how to dress for your body shape and break the rules.
By knowing the rules you can learn which ones you want to use, and also learn how to break them if those rules don’t serve you.
Let’s Love Our Bodies
Your body is a miracle. It has fought battles, climbed mountains, given you gifts, carried you through life, and it deserves gratitude, appreciation, and love. If you don’t love your body as it is right now, I promise you will never love it no matter how fit, thin, or perfect it looks.
It can take time to shift your mindset, but you can start by thanking it right now for all the things it has done for you. And you can continue by making a list of things about your body you’re grateful for. Keep it somewhere you can look at and read every day.