Welcome to a new series on Cashmerette: the Curvy Confidence Interviews. I’ve spoken before about how sewing helped to radically improve my body image, and from conversations I’ve had with fellow curvy sewists, I know I’m not the only one. It isn’t always easy finding yourself not conforming to society’s ideas of beauty, but learning to sew your own clothing can be a huge boost in becoming more body positive. I’m fascinated by how other women have experienced this kind of journey, so I decided to start up a new series that I’m calling the Curvy Confidence Interviews.
For the first installment, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Monserratt Lopez of Mexican Pink. Monserratt’s blog fills me with joy. Every photo of her shows a glowing, gorgeous, incredibly happy and positive woman, wearing funky clothes that express her personality and suit her perfectly – she’s so inspiring! (And as if that’s not enough, she’s also a brilliant scientist). I wanted to learn more about how she became this fantastic person, so here is the inaugural Curvy Confidence Interview. Over to you, Mons!
I would like to first of all thank Jenny for asking me to share my journey to self-acceptance. It has truly been an eye-opener to think about my self-acceptance issues and how I have been able to overcome them. Thanks for the opportunity to share my experience of how sewing has transformed my life.
Let’s start at the beginning! What was your body image like as a child and teenager?
Ahhh, well… This is a story that happened over most of my life and likely through the lives of the generations before me. My story is the story of what most of my family finds, and found, wrong about me and about each one of themselves.
The fact is, my genes are ’big’
I come from a maternal family (mom and siblings above), in which people take pictures cropped just below the neck so as to show the face, but not the size of their belly. My mom was very frustrated with her body when she was a kid and as a teenager, she decided to lose weight and stay active. I still remember that as a mom, she used to go out for a jog every morning. By staying active, she was able to stay off of diets, and give into her cravings for sweets. Diets, frankly, affected her mood quite dramatically.
As for my dad, well… he was never too fussed about showing the size of his belly in full body pictures, but he is a tall, robust and sturdy man with Spanish genes who loves sausages and pâté.
This genetic blend naturally resulted in non-petite offspring, my sister and I.Although we grew up happy and mostly well fed (as per current standards), we were constantly reminded that we were a little chubby and overall bigger than the average. Mom tried to instill in us a sense of limits, sports and good eating habits, however, she would often buy and hide cookies and chocolates, to share them with us later. After my parents divorced (when I was 6 years old and my sister 4), our mom started working hard most days until late. As a result, my sister and I found ourselves with lots of time at home alone, and we got into the habit of meticulously looking for the boxes of cookies, chocolate and candies everywhere in the house.
Once I became a teenager, my mom kept on reminding me that I was reaching the age at which I had to lose weight if I wanted to be happy and find someone to share my life with…
Since I wasn’t losing weight, I was not able to comfortably fit into girls clothes normally sold at stores for average sized people in Mexico, and therefore, I started to develop a sense of comfort in wearing boys’ clothes. For most of my teenage and young adult life I exclusively wore t-shirts, mens’ shirts (that I would get as hand me downs from my dad) and jeans.
Along with the teenage years, my body started to develop, and with it my breasts bloomed. It consequently became harder and harder to find bras my size, and the ones I did find were quite uncomfortable; the wires poked through the cups all the time.
Our weight was under constant criticism in our family. Every time we lost weight, we were congratulated for it.
Our body image was pretty distorted by this point. In retrospect, it is interesting to think about how the environment affected my body image. I learnt to look at myself and recognize most of the defects that my family and others saw in me. I became the defects, which in turn affected my self-esteem. It’s quite irrational!
Tell us about your journey to body positivity: did you have an “eureka!” moment that changed your self-perception, or was it a more gradual process?
My journey to body positivity slowly started when I learnt how to sew in 2011, almost 3 years after I left Mexico to pursue a graduate degree in science in Canada. I took a class at the community center, in which I learned to use a sewing machine, and I made a cushion cover and learned to use a pattern. I afterwards registered to a more advanced sewing class, but again, most people in the class were average sized women, and the teacher wasn’t quite sure how the patterns had to be modified to fit my body. I, however, managed to make my first dress, which I wore to a friend’s wedding.
With this new skill, I suddenly often caught myself thinking about the possibilities. However, in order to fit comfortably in the new clothes I made, I quickly realized that I needed to learn how to modify commercially available patterns for plus sized bodies, and so, I enrolled in my first Craftsy class with Barbara Deckert – “Plus Size Pattern Fitting & Design”. I learnt about different body types and how different styles could accentuate certain features of my body. The journey was fantastic and I learnt a ton about my body as I discovered some of its qualities. I even had David help me make a dress form of myself using duct tape!
But I wasn’t quite confident yet, part of me still thought of myself the same way I had been taught to during my childhood and early adulthood. It wasn’t really until I felt capable and encouraged to start my blog early in 2015 that I then discovered that my body wasn’t quite as bad as they (me and my family) thought. I came to this realization when started to look at the pictures David took of me wearing the new garments I had made. I looked at myself and understood that I was beautiful. This body had worth, I started to love it, I accepted it, and I felt happy and pretty for the first time in many years. IT WAS FREAKING AMAZING!!
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the constant support of my photographer and ever loving partner and husband David.
My next realization along this path of self-confidence was learning to sew bras for myself. I enrolled in Beverly Johnson’s first bra making Craftsy class, “Sewing bras, construction and fit”, and I was a sudden convert. It has been fascinating and really exciting to play with bras and learning how to fit them properly to my changing body. Who would have ever thought I would publish pictures of my bras on the internet? Isn’t that like… suicidal??!! Although I was hesitant at the beginning, David encouraged me a little and said something along the lines of: “You should be proud of what you made! These bras are great, they look great on you and you should share them! ” I did actually feel great in bras that I had made for myself that fitted much better than any RTW bra I had ever tried before.
I am now able to look back at pictures from my childhood and teenage years, and I’m able to recognize my beauty as well as the beauty of people around me. It’s truly comforting and forgiving to finally have all that preconception crap gone – it’s like a veil removed from my eyes. I can’t help but recognize at this point the beauty inside and out of one of the humans who has shared most of this journey with me: my sister. I love her and admire her. Here are some pictures of her so you meet her as well (BTW, she learnt before me how to use the sewing machine). Isn’t she just gorgeous?
I now understand the importance of having people who love you, inspire you and encourage you in your life.
What do you say to people who criticize curvy women for being unhealthy?
I no longer feel criticized by people around me, probably because I try to live with more acceptance and I am more confident in myself, I know I am so much more than my body and I surround myself by people who love me and accept me the way I am.
Every now and then, however, I see a curvy woman who struggles with her body image, and I share my story with them and tell them about how sewing drove this change in my life.
What do you find are the biggest challenges to your body confidence today? How do you overcome them?
For the last 8-9 months, my body has been experiencing extreme changes because I’m pregnant. One of the biggest challenges has been to find clothes that make me feel the way I like to feel. Between the reduced energy that comes with the pregnancy, working a day job, baby preparations, and the very limited RTW options available on the market for sizes like mine, it has become almost impossible to feel the way I am used to feeling about myself. So I’ve struggled a little. Lately, however, I’ve found the energy to sew and test one of the pieces of my wardrobe that will be the most important and critical: nursing bras. I am hoping that by the time the baby comes, I will have a well fitted, well-constructed and comfortable nursing bra to wear for the months to come.
What advice would you have for other women who would like to find a peace with their body and self-image, but are struggling?
To all curvy women along the same path I send this message: Don’t care so much about what others say, don’t let them define you. They are probably struggling with body image and other serious issues themselves. Don’t judge them.
It is most important that you learn to accept, appreciate and love yourself, feel good with yourself and surround yourself with people who love you beyond what your body looks like. Treat yourself and others with compassion, love and respect. Be happy to have the body and health that you currently have, be confident that you deserve and can have all you want, walk with a good posture, believe in yourself, smile, and take care. I stumbled upon this little piece on how to talk to your daughter about her body. I found it interesting, and I wanted to share it with you.
And… If you manage to get the hang of sewing for yourself, then have fun! Try new styles, colors and silhouettes! Rediscover, redefine and enjoy yourself!
Thanks so much, Monserratt! I loved hearing your story, and I’m only more in awe than I was before.
Let me know what you think of the Curvy Confidence Interviews – and who you’d like to see interviewed next!