Ok, you should always wear pants in public. But you get the idea: plus size figures don't have to be limited to a predetermined set of fashion choices. If it works, do it. (I know, this woman is only plus size in the modelling world!)
Here's a story I've never told, or even alluded to, on this blog. (Stay with me on it, there's a twist). I was always the skinny kid at school. At 12 and 13 years old I cried twice (in private) because 'friends' commented on my boniness, one telling me as she looked me up and down, 'You're pathetic.' Gee, thanks. I was dying to be like this one particular girl in my class (a very nice girl) who I thought was absolutely perfect. Her body seemed to be well on its way at a time when we should be looking like little women, so I thought, whereas I was the stick figure who could have physically passed for a 7-year-old. What is so interesting to me now, is that this girl I so desperately wanted to look like, would be considered plus-size today, without a doubt. She was very curvy, average height at best, and her arms and legs could never have been described as anything near slim, but she was beautiful to me probably because she was the opposite of what I was. It's not that I had low self-esteem necessarily, I just seemed to be a bit behind on the 'filling out' phase; I could have been the main character in the Judy Blume pre-teen bible Are you There God, It's Me, Margaret. Yes, I was 'Margaret', worried I would never, ever blossom and be forever known as the one who looked like a little girl. Of course a slim-equals-beautiful body image was being promoted through the media (back then it was just TV and movies, I didn't read fashion magazines yet and the internet as we know it hadn't been invented), but it simply didn't resonate with me; I didn't emulate anyone I saw on TV. All of my 'idols' at the time were male rockers (though most of them could have passed for women). So there was no influence there, other than terrible metal-head hairstyles which I will never live down. It wasn't until I was in my mid-late teens that I embraced my figure because of what was now positive reinforcement from those around me. Skinny was A-Ok, and some girls were doing terrible things to look that way.
Skip to 15 years later. I got married, had a baby and moved from Canada to the UK in the span of less than a year. Not surprising, I had some struggles moving to a new country (in the dead of winter when it got dark at 3pm, no less), as a new mum who hadn't slept properly in months, and didn't know anyone and had no friends or family for support. (But the people were lovely and we lived by the sea, it wasn't all bad!) I needed help but didn't know it; I figured if there were reasons for why I felt awful, then it was what it was and it should be ok eventually. I was wrong and it got worse. When I finally did get help, I gained a lot of weight in a very short time and didn't make the connection, which was probably a good thing because I had more serious issues to deal with first. It was like I became a plus-size woman overnight. (I actually never did need more than a UK size 12 which is a perfectly normal size and I believe the national average, but when you gain three sizes you don't look healthy and you develop a completely new and odd body type, which is very different from being a natural size 12. To give you an idea of how drastically my body had changed, I was once stopped while trying to board a plane out of Paris at Charles de Gaulle airport and was told 'I'm sorry Madame, you are too pregnant to fly.' Of course I wasn't even pregnant. That was the best day ever!) None of my clothes fit, or if I could squeeze into the more generously cut styles, I just didn't look good in them. I had a new body to dress and it took me a long time to get my head around the situation, accept that things were the way they were at least for the time being, and try to make the best of it. The problem is, I didn't want to invest in a new wardrobe for what I saw as a 'temporary' body and so I wound up wearing make-do clothes to hide my body. Big mistake. For most of that time, which spanned a few years, I never dressed right for it. Going to Fashion Week in Paris and London when I didn't feel or look myself took some bravery which I managed to muster up. I just told myself that everyone was far more concerned with what they looked like than me, and that pretty much got me through because it was true!
Here's what I finally learned in dressing for my new shape, and I wish I'd embraced it much sooner (life would have been a lot more fun):
- Don't hide your body. It's natural to want to enshroud yourself so others can't see what you don't want them to see. I had a habit of never taking my coat off in cafes and restaurants because I was so self-conscious of my stomach, and I've since found out it didn't go unnoticed. I felt more comfortable that way, but didn't realise how conspicuous this was - I was unwittingly drawing attention to myself. And it made me hot most of the time! Also, it's natural to gravitate toward loose, shapeless clothes so you don't have to deal with bulges and lumps, but in fact, and cruelly, the only figures these styles actually look good on are tiny ones. If you're fuller figured, they will make you look bigger. Even in black.
- Look for fitted clothes with clever details. This went against every fibre of my being, but my instincts were dead wrong. The last thing I wanted to do was wear form-fitting clothes. Remember my story above about being mistaken for being 'ready to drop' pregnant? I was wearing an empire-waist dress thinking I looked ok, but it actually had the opposite effect. If I had been able to step out of denial mode and deal with my body positively, I would have looked for clothes made for fuller figures rather than shoehorning myself into regular size 12s which were proportioned differently. It's fairly recent that high street brands such as New Look have committed to offering a full-range of plus size fashion, and not simply bigger sizes but clothes with clever features such as panelling to accentuate or create a waist, visually slimming patterns, ruching (in the right places it works wonders), and combining loose with fitted pieces to create a well-proportioned look. A real godsend, these clothes will change your life. There's no reason not to feel good every time you leave the house!
- Body-slimmers are not infallible. Flab is a tricky beast. No matter what kind of industrial-strength shaper you've enlisted to show your lumps who's boss, it has to go somewhere, doesn't it? I found that instead of making me look slimmer, shapers gave me an altogether different and totally weird shape. I realised I actually looked better without them! And felt a lot more comfortable, too. Instead, opt for something that smooths.
Things are back on track with me now, all it took was getting diabetes last year! Yes, that scared me so badly I immediately cut out sugar, exercised every day, and within six months I reversed it. But I don't have any bad feelings about my time as a fuller-figured woman, that was still me, slim or not, I didn't change. I now view it as an enlightening experience and love the fact that I have the benefit of perspective from both sides. Skinny isn't everything and is highly over-rated as it's not the key to happiness. Being healthy and confident is highly under-rated. I think curvy bodies can be gorgeous and some are downright drop-dead sexy (above and below). At the end of the day, it's not 'us and them', it's just us.