Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Making my clothes fit my body, not my body fit my clothes

GENDERING ONLINE SEWING, PART 1 -- This post is the first of a series featuring snippets of my Gender-Studies M.A. thesis on the online sewing community.

The online sewing community has enriched my life in many ways. Most of all, however, it has improved my sense of embodiment (i.e., how I feel in my body).

Like many women in our image-focused culture, I have struggled with body image and weight. This is probably because I learned through magazines, television, and the Internet that a girl’s looks are of paramount importance, and that mine were somehow inadequate.

The complex system of media and corporations that produce these damaging messages is what feminist-theorist Sandra Lee Bartky calls the “fashion-beauty complex” (a reference to the “military-industrial complex”).

Learning to sew my own clothes and adjust them to my own unique body has enabled me to distance myself from this system by giving me the power to “Make my clothes fit my body, and not my body fit my clothes.” (This is actually the title of a paper I presented at the 8th European Feminist Conference in Budapest in May.) The “problem” is not my body: the problem is the clothes.
After interviewing members of the online sewing community, I realized that I was not alone in experiencing this change in the way I related to my body. As one blogger said: “Self-acceptance is possibly the most powerful part of the sewing and knitting blogging community. [It’s about] understanding that your hips or your belly probably aren’t going anywhere – that you’re with them for life. You can either fight it, or work with it. The better answer is to work with it.”

What about you? Have you found that dressmaking – and blogging about it – has improved your overall embodiment and body image?

Further Reading

-       BARTKY, S.L., 1997, 1988. "Foucault, Femininity and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power". In: K. CONBOY, N. MEDINA and  S. STANBURY, eds, Writing on the body: female embodiment and feminist theory. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 129-154.

You will find in this source the concept of the “fashion-beauty complex,” among other useful theoretical tools derived from her feminist appropriation of Michel Foucault’s framework.
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