First, a Friday picture, because there aren’t many more in this post… that’s a bit of an ancient (as in 17th C) glass bottle unearthed from our garden. I’ve tried and failed to capture the full glory of the iridescence: you’ll have to imagine it. And the taste of the pears.
As a child I was taught that it’s impolite to speak at length about oneself. Too (as in ‘two’) many sentences beginning with ‘I’ would earn a swift reprimand from my mother. I’ve been very tempted not to write about what I’m going to write about, partly because of that lesson, partly because it’s embarrassing, and partly because what I want to say (need to say?) might seem to suggest I’m feeling sorry for myself. I’m not. I’m really chuffed, as the British say. I want to be able to read this as a reminder, and I also harbour a faint hope that someone else will read it and find it helpful. So. Honesty.
For most of my life I’ve believed that I’m fat. Ugly word, that, and painful. A childhood illness left me unable to take exercise until my early teens, my mother fed us all very well indeed, I had to clear my plate at every meal… I might have been fat, I don’t know. But my mother told me I was… oh, how frequently she told me. “Never cut your hair” she said, “it’s your only beauty.” When I was 9? 10? I had to wear her girdle to school to find out just how uncomfortable I was going to be all my life if I didn’t lose weight. I still remember how the top rolled down to nearly cut me in half as I sat at my desk. This carried on through my teens, too, and is probably responsible for my complete lack of interest in clothes or fashion. I simply assumed whatever it was, I’d be too fat to wear it. I wore heavy jeans, bulky sweaters and baggy t-shirts, practical clothes that also completely concealed whatever shape I was. When jeans became fashion that fit tightly I switched to camo trousers. We don’t go out much; if we did, I wore ankle-length skirts and the loosest top I could find. Did I need to? I don’t know. I’ve never owned a full-length mirror, and we’ve only just bought a set of scales. But whenever I went into a shop to buy clothes, I couldn’t get into the only jeans I could find, the shirts were impossibly tight across the bust, and all I could see in the changing room mirrors were the bulges of flab that were so obviously preventing me from wearing anything other than a flour sack. So I’d buy another large t-shirt.
Fast-forward to about four years ago. I’ve ‘always’ had lower back pain; a new friend suggested I try Pilates to strengthen it. By sheer good fortune I signed up for a class taught by a serious professional (it was the only one in this area). The exercise helped my back and I found I enjoyed it. In fact, I enjoyed it enough that I wanted to be better at it, which meant trying to be fitter and thinner than I was. So I started going to the gym. I probably have lost weight and my posture has certainly improved, but most importantly I am learning to appreciate this body I inhabit. I am fortunate to inhabit. For something 49 years old it works well, for the most part (leave aside the dodgy knees); it is, in fact, amazing. If you’re reading this, think about how you’re reading it, how your skeleton and muscles are supporting you, your senses allow you to balance. Think about how you walk, how you bend and straighten, how your body moves as you walk down the stairs (if you’re lucky enough to be able to do that). How you breathe, swallow, digest. Your body is amazing, regardless of its shape. I don’t need to say it three times to make it true: I look at my fingers typing these words and I KNOW it is true. I gradually began to think that I shouldn’t feel that I have to hide this amazing body. Perhaps, I thought, I should try to find out what clothes suit whatever shape I am. That’s where things stood at the beginning of last week. I’d decided to make a ‘sweater that fits’, but I had no idea how and where it should fit.
So I asked M, who knows more about clothes than I do, if she’d spend a day in London showing me what I should and shouldn’t wear. She asked why, and I explained (cut the above long story short) that as a fat person who hates her bust, I just wondered whether there were clothes that could minimise the impact of the size and so forth. Horrified, she pointed out that I wasn’t fat. I begged to differ. End result, she said she’d come with me to see a Third Party, a professional. So at her suggestion, bolstered by the fact that I wouldn’t be alone with a horrible person sneering at my shape, not to mention my taste in clothes, I booked a session with a Personal Shopper at Liberty. It’s all right to gasp, I did. Just remember it’s free and there is absolutely no obligation to buy anything. Just leave all the money, the credit cards and all valuables that could be pawned at home and it will cost nothing.
That was Tuesday morning, that was. My birthday, enjoyed early. It was revelatory (and good fun. Although the other ‘personal shoppers’ looked rather intimidating, Antonella was delightful). I learned that I’m not fat, it’s just that the ‘average’ clothes sold by most ‘average’ shops for people who don’t feel middle-aged aren’t designed to fit people 5’4″ with a 32F bust. The clothes exist, oh, indeed they do. And, dammit, I looked good in them. I felt good in them. I learned that wearing large t-shirts simply makes me look like a large t-shirt with legs, walking down the street. A top with a v-neck to break the expanse of chest and fitted to prove I have a waist is much more flattering. I learned that bootcut jeans make legs look longer. I learned that I don’t have to accept a predictably middle-aged look to find clothes that fit, there are styles I like, styles I wish I could afford to live in. For the first time in decades I have a shirt that actually does fit. It cost a small fortune (UKP100), but with care it will last years and when I’ve worn it to ribbons I will keep a scrap to remind me to buy *fitted* shirts so I don’t look like a ship of the line (scroll down to HMS Marlborough, lovely thing but not really a look for the High Street). Most importantly, I have had two people make the point time and again, as we looked at me, that I am not fat; It’s just that most of the clothes I see every day are thin. I cannot tell you how happy I am to begin to believe this. I can only hope that anyone with the same problem is able to find a similar revelation somewhere.
And if you’re a knitter, I hope you find the same unbelievable array of knitwear. WHERE are the patterns? Elegant sweaters draping beautifully from fitted shoulders, with huge shawl collars. Asymmetrical, one was. Others came to mid-back at the back and mid-thigh in front. Some were longer. Floating knee-length cardigans in gossamer stockinette that grew out circularly from the centre of the back. The cables, I tell you, the cables… The Winter 2006 Vogue Knitting pales by comparison. I need to work out how to make some of these things, I woke up at 4 am on Wednesday morning and lay awake considering short-row shaping for collars. I wonder if they’d notice if I brought a tape measure and a camera? But first I have to make a sweater that fits me. It will take some time, but the yarn awaits. Isn’t it beautiful?