I’m thrilled to continue the Curvy Confidence Interviews today with Alicia from Pandora Sews Plus Size Clothes. I’ve long been a fan of Alicia’s bold and fun hand-sewn wardrobe, and I loved hearing her story – I hope you do, too.
Let’s start at the beginning! What was your body image like as a child and teenager?
If I am being honest, body image was not something that really concerned me as a child or teenager. I spent most of my Summer days at the pool and it never occurred to me that I should be concerned how I looked in a bathing suit. I was never teased or bullied at school or in social settings. I know that I was very fortunate in that respect, and the only reason I can give for why I was spared that kind of torment is because I was confident.
At home was another matter. I was raised by my great-grandparents. My great-grandmother was constantly giving me mixed messages. In one sentence she would tell me that she, “wished she could just cut my belly off and sew me back up,” and in the next sentence she was trying to feed me. We lived in kind of a large family commune. My uncles and male cousins were all around ten years older than me. They were relentless in telling me I was fat. Strangely, the constant teasing just made me thick skinned and didn’t really affect my perception of myself.
Have you always been body positive?
No, my self esteem started to take a nose dive around the time that I got engaged in 2000. As I poured through bridal magazines and bridal dress catalogs, it became very evident to me that I did not look the way that a bride was supposed to look. For the first time in my life, I started dieting. I can tell you with absolute certainty that dieting always makes me feel badly about myself. No matter if I approach dieting as a lifestyle change or a crash diet it still has the same effect. It makes me look in the mirror and not like what I see.
Who or what most influenced your perception of what women’s bodies are “meant” to look like?
As a young girl I didn’t really have any preconceived notions about what a woman’s body was supposed to look like. As an adult, I think I was most influenced by magazines. Not just the bridal magazines mentioned above, but every magazine geared towards women on the newsstand pretty much was telling me that I was not the norm or the expectation of what a woman looks like. The reality was at a size 14 (at the time) I absolutely was the norm.
Tell us about your journey to body positivity: did you have a “eureka!” moment that changed your self-perception, or was a it a more gradual process?
My journey back to body positivity started about five years ago when I was triathlon training. During the time that I needed to use the pool at the facility where I trained, men were dominating the lanes. For a while I shifted my schedule so that I could swim when the geriatric water aerobics class was taking up most of the lanes. I know not everyone reading this has had the joy of wearing a bathing suit that is cut for swimming laps, but imagine having a minimizer bra on steroids on the top half, and the highest cut brief you have ever worn on the bottom half, with no cute skirt to hide what you want to hide. It takes bathing suit humiliation to a whole new level. One day, I had just had enough of swimming with the elderly folks because it was distracting. I was training, and I needed to be deep inside my brain with no distractions. So, I said F* it. If those men don’t want to see all this, they can just close their eyes. That was the start of my turn towards body positivity.
What role has sewing played in your self-image?
It has been healthy for me to see that other women have the same fit issues as I do, and that RTW clothes rarely fit anyone straight off the rack. I always thought there was something wrong with me because my upper and lower halves were such different sizes. Making adjustments to patterns so that they fit MY body has been very cathartic.
What do you say to people who criticize curvy women for being unhealthy?
It is so very short sighted to say that because a woman is curvy she is unhealthy. Gauging overall health by a number on a scale is like gauging a person finances by the dollar amount in their checking account. It’s only one number in a complex dynamic of numbers.
What advice would you have for other women who would like to find a peace with their body and self-image, but are struggling?
DON’T allow other people to tell you how you should look/act/behave/live your life.
In the end you will be happier and gain more positivity if you make decisions based on what you want to do and how you want to do it, instead of trying to live up to someone else’s standard. Love yourself and other people will love you too.