I’m taking off for a few adventures, some much needed rest and serious binge reading. I’ll be back in few weeks. Enjoy the summer!
There’s something about looking good when no one else is looking that makes me feel like I’ve pulled one over on the beauty industry. It’s like, “Ha! I’m not out being the perfect mom/giving a major presentation at work/meeting my well-groomed friend-set for drinks. I’m on my sofa, making grading essays look good.”
For the first 40 years of my life nice loungewear was not on my radar. I wore ratty old pajamas around the house. I did not own sweatpants or slippers. I did own five or six cocktail dresses for cocktail parties I rarely managed to stay up late enough to attend, but no comfortable, around-the-house-clothes.
Dressing nicely for yourself feels satisfying on a level that dressing for others simply can’t match. When your loungewear can take you from a good book to the goat pen in comfort and style, you will feel downright smug. Here are my thoughts on the matter –
My loungewear capsule consists of two pairs of leggings, three sweatshirts, one pair of joggers, one stretchy black skirt, a stack of t-shirts in varying sleeve length, slippers and boots. Like the outfit formulas mentioned last week, all of this can be mixed and matched easily, creating 12+ outfits and keeping me easily ahead of a laundry bomb.
My loungewear is the most expensive clothing in my wardrobe, by a long shot. It seems counterintuitive to spend more on clothing that fewer people see, but none of these purchases were frivolous, and everything is earning its keep when considering cost per wear. Every piece with the exception of one t-shirt* was bought new, and in my closet that is rare. Second hand loungewear is rarely in good condition. These high quality pieces are soft, they last forever, and for the most part are largely responsibly made. Because no one else will see them, styles and trends don’t matter. You can wear a good sweatshirt for 20 years if you like it. Just ask my husband.
Keep it flexible
Grey and black, with a couple of colorful sweatshirts, is an easy color pallet to maintain. Pick two neutral colors for your bottoms and t-shirts, then buy sweatshirts or sweaters in colors that make you happy. The stretchy skirt and boots make it easy to step out to run a few errands if need be.
Keep it simple
Nothing is less relaxing than getting mired down in a jumbled mess of leggings, t-shirts and sweatshirts.** You don’t need much loungewear. I have 10 pieces of clothing total, and it all fits neatly into one drawer. Except for the boots, because that would be weird.
Don’t forget your feet
I used to wear socks around the house. Ratty, hole-in-the-sole, old socks. Then I slipped on our slate-covered staircase while carrying the vacuum cleaner down on Christmas Eve and got a nasty bump that is still visible. Quite coincidentally, and owing nothing to the unpleasant “stair incident,” I received three pair of slippers within the next 24 hours. The universe, it seems, wanted to me move past the socks. The universe had a good point.
I’m also including this pair of boots as part of my capsule, which I put on if I have to run down to the barn, across the street to get the mail or out for an errand.
Don’t forget to actually lounge
Every year it seems my co-workers, friends and students are busier and busier. We get so caught up in “busy” that even when we do have downtime we don’t know what to do with it. Investing in loungewear helps me remember to slow down. By blocking out time, and an ensemble, for reading, writing, or just staring off at the river, I find myself taking the time to relax.
Internet wisdom would have us believe that we should always dress nicely because we might run into someone we know, or a neighbor might come to the door. Out where I live, I can easily go all day without seeing anyone with fewer than four feet and/or a pair of wings. Wearing high quality, comfortable, beautiful clothing when you are alone is one sign of self-respect. It’s like making your bed, or flossing. No one will ever know if you skip it, but in the action of these things you are caring for yourself. Creating a simple, flexible loungewear capsule make this self-care reflexive and easy.
* I bought this black, short-sleeve Banana Republic t-shirt from a neighbor at her garage sale over 12 years ago for $10. At the time $10 struck me as an exorbitant price for a used t-shirt, but I really liked the way it fit. I have gone on to wear the shirt once or twice a week for 12 years, making it possibly the best clothing investment of my life.
** This might be an overstatement.
Meet the rest of the capsule:
I am not a puritan. If I’d been in England in 1620, I would not have thought, “This place is too sinful. Let’s all get on a miserable boat and endure incredible hardship to make a point about living our values.”
No, I would have been back in London, wondering if I had enough rotten fruit for the remount of a Shakespeare tragedy.
It’s just who I am.
While I want very much to be a good, contributing member of our society, nothing saps my inspiration faster than a strict code of conduct. Restrictive diets? Useless. Crazy detailed lesson plans? Not gonna get followed.
But unless I, and the entire fashion industry shape up, there’s not going to be much of a planet left for me to not follow rules on.
Everyone, no matter their politics, depends on this earth. And we can all see how environmental degradation and bad labor practices are harming the poorest of our planet’s people. Fashion is among the worst offenders out there.
But how do we keep easy, interesting wardrobes while not participating in sketchy environmental and labor practices?
What follows are some of the best ways to lessen the impact our closets have on the environment. But we will avoid the frumpy, eco-friendly hairshirt. Building a wardrobe in line with our values should be a joyful challenge, rather than an unstylish experiment in martyrdom.
Buying used clothing is the easiest solution to this problem. Some of my favorite pieces came from our local Buffalo Exchange.
But it is extremely hard to create a highly functioning wardrobe in a second hand environment alone. Thrift shopping depends on being open to out-of-season and unexpected finds. Creating a functional wardrobe depends on planning and shopping for boring pieces like layering t-shirts and perfect black leggings. In the last 25 years I have probably bought a hundred t-shirts at second hand stores and worn five of them regularly.
And what about underwear? Socks??
And some of you readers just don’t feel very comfortable in second hand clothing. This does not make you a bad person. The whole point of effortless dressing is to feel good in your wardrobe, and if you don’t like wearing second hand clothing, don’t beat yourself up about it.
I love the hunt of thrift shopping, and resale items will always make up a good portion of my closet. But if this isn’t you, don’t gather up the rotten fruit just yet, read on.
Do your research, then do some more
There are fantastic ad campaigns out there geared at making us all feel better about ourselves as we buy clothing. But beyond the green-washing there is a complex web of suppliers and owners that funnel the money from your well-intended purchase into the wrong hands.
Your research will depress you. Dove, with its gorgeous, body-positive advertisements, is owned by Unilever. Unilever also owns Axe, which beyond making every boys’ locker room in America smell nasty, has a crazy objectifying ad campaign. All the Dove money and the Axe money goes into the same pockets.
Research clothing companies off their own sites, and see who owns them. Then look at their chain of supply. A company might have good practices, but get their fabric from another company that is destroying farmland and using near-to-slave labor to grow cotton. A small company under private ownership with a short chain of supply is your best bet.
Keep it simple with go-to companies
Obviously, I’m not out googling every clothing brand, every time I shop. To simplify things for myself, I have a few companies where I know I can, in good conscious, shop. And truth be told, most of us buy most of our clothing from 2 or 3 primary shops.
Without reservation, I recommend Patagonia. Founder Yvon Chouinard (my imaginary grandpa) has taken every possible move towards sustainability and not just decent, but down-right awesome labor practices. Plus he’s an incredible climber.
Eileen Fisher is a model company, very progressive and always looking to improve their practices. I’m not at a point where I can afford much from here, but you might be.
BedStu Boots are amazing. Handmade in NYC with ever-strengthening environmental practices.
This article has some interesting looking places. I haven’t investigated yet, but I’ll report back if they are promising.
The problem, of course, is that these companies are expensive. If you know you are going to wear a piece for years, invest. We can also support positive change by seeking out companies who are moving towards better practices all at price points.
The power of one good piece
These pants are from Old Navy. They are a perfect color and fit for my wardrobe. They get a lot of wear.
I like to avoid Old Navy, and other fast fashion stores. But in buying one perfect pair of pants, I haven’t bought five pairs of imperfect pants. Every piece of clothing made impacts the environment, no matter how green the company. Buy one piece that works, rather than seven that kinda work, then wear it for years.
Sustainability is a complex and noble goal. None of us will be perfect as we take the steps needed to save our planet. I have to be careful of taking a few baby steps towards environmentalism and allowing that to justify the rest of my behavior. “Look! I planted a garden while wearing a second-hand pair of shorts! So I’m off to go buy some quirky plastic dishware at Target to serve these veggies on…” But having broad guidelines, rather than nitpicky, puritanical rules, helps me do my best.
Sustainability is at the heart of much of the Mud and Grace philosophy. Don’t buy something unless it is perfect. Shop second hand while experimenting. Love your body the way it is and effortless style will follow. Wear what you own for a long time. Then get out there and have some fun on this beautiful planet.
“What size to you wear?” my boyfriend asks casually over the phone. He’s at a scratch and dent sale at Backcountry Gear and they have some good prices on rain jackets.
What size do I wear?
What kind of a loaded question is that for 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon? Are we talking physically or emotionally? What size do I wear today, or what size do I suspect I’ll be wearing next month?
All these years later I can still remember the long and awkward pause that followed his question. I am silent, holding my phone and trying to think of an answer. My boyfriend stands across town next to a rack of Patagonia rain jackets, wanting to buy me one. I can’t answer this simple question. In my closet there are dresses that range from size 8 to 2. I have extra small shirts that are bigger than some large shirts I own. Pants run the gamut. Rain jackets are anybody’s guess.
Because, as you are already well aware, women’s sizing means nothing. You can find clothes that fit and clothes that don’t fit with any number imaginable on it. We can, and do, allow our self-esteem to soar and plummet with each unimaginably inconsistent little digit dangling off the tag.
Women of Mud and Grace, it’s time we put an end to the arbitrary tyranny of size.
According to Julia Felsenthal, the US attempt at standardized sizing began in the early 1940s with one of those wonderful depression era WPA projects. Mail order catalogs could be equipped with a sizing system that would increase customer satisfaction (and decrease returns.) Two statisticians, Ruth O’Brien and William Shelton and their team were sent out to measure 15,000 women. They took a whole mess of measurements in hopes that they could create one standardized system of women’s sizing for the United States.
The data, by their own admission, was inconclusive. Women’s bodies were too different to conform to any standard system.
Yes, it took two statisticians and all their operatives taking 59 distinct measurements of 15,000 women to discover that our bodies don’t fit a standard form.
Despite this failure, the government revisited the work in 1958. One can only assume the mail order catalog companies wanted an answer. That system, however bedraggled, still exists today. Based on a late 1950’s study, women’s clothing is sized according to bust, with the assumption that all the rest of a woman’s measurements will fall according to an hourglass figure, where the bust and hips are of equal size, and the waist is exactly 10 inches smaller.
I hope you are laughing hysterically by now.
In the 1960s, clothing manufacturers figured out that by making an article of clothing just a little bit bigger than the size on the tag, women were more likely to buy it. Crazy smart, those fashion execs. By the 1970s the US standardized sizing system was getting harder and harder to enforce. In 1983 any government standards were dropped completely. A manufacturer could size however they saw fit.
Enter vanity sizing. According to a 2011 NYT article, a size 8 waist can vary as much as 6 inches between manufacturers. This holds true even when the clothing is made by the same company, like the Gap/Athleta/Old Navy/ Banana Republic behemoth. I went on line to check the sizing guides and discovered that a size 8 waist at the Gap is 29.5 inches. At Old Navy it’s 28 inches and 29 inches at Banana Republic.
And you just thought your weight was fluctuating from one end of the mall to the other.
I’ve always hated vanity sizing because I don’t like being reminded of how vain I am. But dang, it works doesn’t it? How many of us bought have something simply because we were pleasantly surprised when we had to go down a size? How many of us have given up on a dress because the one that fit is bigger than the size we identify with?
We have to let go of any attachment to size numbers if we’re going to look good in this world. We must consider them mere suggestions of possible fit, and certainly not anything to hang our emotional self worth on.
Here are a few tips to help you move past size.
You choose the fit you want
Designers have an idea of how they want their clothing to fit your body. You may have other ideas. If you want an oversized cardigan, don’t wait until you find one that a manufacturer has made in your size, only oversized. Just go find the perfect cardigan and buy in the size and shape you want.
Right now, people making jeans seem to assume that women have very small calves. I’ve never thought of my calves as particularly enormous, but apparently they are freaky big if I were to judge by the way so many pants fit. If I need to size up, then take a tuck in the waist so that my massive (really?) calves can fit into pants, so be it.
Don’t allow the numbers power over you
One school of thought is to buy the size that fits best, and then cut out the tag so you won’t be reminded of the number each time you look at it. I’ve tried that, and instead of being reminded of the size, I’m reminded of the fact that I’m so vain I can’t handle a tiny little flap of fabric with a number on it.
I think it’s best to leave the tags in tact, eat well, exercise reasonably and let my size be what it will be. Remember, the size has absolutely no meaning in this reality.
Watch your language
“I wear a size 6,” as opposed to “I am a size 6.” Words matter.
Find a more worthy vessel for your self esteem
Feeling down after needing to size up for a better fit? Go do something meaningful. Call your grandma, take a bike ride, do your job, make some burritos and deliver them to the fellows who have set up camp under the bridge, try to get your daughter to clean her bedroom. You have plenty to do in this world without letting a randomly chosen number get you down.
Back on the phone with my attempting-to-buy-me-a-coat boyfriend, color choice enters the conversation and I wind up driving across town to pick out my own rain jacket. “Make sure it has plenty of room for layering under it,” he said with some concern. “This is about keeping warm and dry.” He doesn’t need to add that it’s not about looking slim, or feeling slim because I can zip up a coat with a smaller number on it.
And he’s right. I don’t wear a rain jacket to feel skinny; I wear it to feel dry. Years have passed, the boyfriend became my husband,* and continues to care about my outerwear. I’ve worn the coat for years now and can’t even remember the size as I write this. What size do I wear? The size that fits.
P.S. Need more of a talking to on this issue? Please read my post on why you need to start loving your body Love and Appreciate Your Body
*P.P.S Never pass on a potential partner who tries to buy you a Patagonia jacket.
We walk dogs. We work. We run kids to various places. We show up late to book club. We attend important meetings. We attend unimportant meetings. We zip outside to grab herbs from the garden for the meal we’re making. We need wardrobe basics that work for this, real life.
I have read every fashion guru’s ‘must have’ list and they always include items that would never, ever work for my daily life. Animal print pumps? Black wool pants? A suit?! All these lists and lists of wardrobe essentials won’t do anyone any good at all if you can’t wear half the pieces listed.
I don’t know what dress code limitations you have on your particular beautiful life, but I do know that there are certain pieces that work well for most women’s waking hours. Here are the Mud and Grace recommendations:
An easy dress
On the first day of school, my friend Ann and I showed up to greet our students in nearly identical dresses. Mine was a little more casual, and I wore it with boots and tights. Ann looked classier, in a more structured version of the dress and walkable heels. But the sentiment was the same, we both wanted to look professional, be comfortable, and get through the blast of energy that is the first day of school.
An easy dress can be dressed up or down and layers well. I’ll wear mine to work, church, the grocery store, out to dinner, and anywhere else life takes me.
Plaid flannel or substantial stripes
Both are cozy and comfortable to wear around the home, and neat enough to wear out. Flannel is having a moment, so seize the chance to get something you really like. Nicely weighted striped tops can always be found at classic retailers. Like a denim jacket, plaid and stripes are not going out of style. Always appropriate for running down to deal with an escaped goat, comfy plaids and stripes also look good enough to pop into town, or up to the neighbor’s.
This flannel has plaid and stripes, making it the world’s best shirt.
For fancier days, or days you just feel a little fancy, a soft, floating top in an easy-to-wash fabric can dress up your jeans or a skirt. Buy a couple that are really pretty, and you’ll wear them to work, to dinner, to the school fiesta, anywhere. Just make sure you love the pattern and are prepared to wear them over and over. If you enjoy caring for silk, by all means, choose silk. This is one area where I really appreciate the ease of a human-made fabric.
These days, t-shirt shopping has become akin to jeans shopping in the frustration it produces. Sheer, sloppy, too tight, too long… all for something that’s supposed to be simple and comfortable? Keep shopping. Find the t-shirt that works for you. Talbots makes a nice ribbed t-shirt that is fitted without being too tight. I like LL Bean’s classic waffle Henley.
Stepped up t-shirts
These fun pieces look elegant, but can also come off as casual. If you’re unsure about the dress code in a particular situation, they can be a life saver. Plus they’re comfy and great looking.
Fryes or other mid-height, flat boots
Wear them everywhere, with everything. Kick-start your wardrobe with one investment piece
A nice alternative to flats, these classic kicks can take you most places. More elegant than your Fryes, but still comfortable enough to get on with your life.
Clean, good quality tennis shoes
Vans and Converse have nice options. Josef Seibel makes lovely leather sneakers, but any simple pair will do. Keep them clean, wear with anything.
If you live in a rainy climate, get mud boots. If you live in a cold climate, get snow boots.
Mud boots are essential for kid’s outdoor sporting contests, mucking around in the garden and letting the chickens out. Hunter boots really are comfortable and hold up well. I often find last year’s colors and styles at a local resale shop. My chickens are fine with last year’s boots.
Nice snow boots can be a cozy, stylish addition to your wardrobe. Enormous yeti-like boots are (thankfully) passé. Try a sleek pair with just a hint of shearling or knit. Northface makes some elegant, functional boots.
Your denim Jacket or a cargo jacket
Read more here: Friends for Life; You and Your Denim Jacket
Fine knit wool or cashmere sweaters
Sweaters should be soft, and made of 100% natural fiber. They must be pill-free and in good shape. Nothing says frumpy like a sweater gone bad. Lighter gauge sweaters work well for fall and spring, and can be layered with long-sleeved silk underwear for more warmth in the winter.
A chunky fisherman’s sweater
Just google image search Marilyn Monroe, or Grace Kelly fisherman’s sweater. Enough said.
Perfectly fitted, fine wale corduroy or a soft cotton/ stretch pants.
Corduroy or cotton/stretch pants take the place of wool (too much lint and dog hair) and chinos (too many wrinkles) for situations where pants are acceptable, but jeans are not. Or for days you’re just tired of your jeans. Both have an old school, collegiate feel that works perfectly with sweaters and/or a denim jacket. A good pair can last for years, and the more broken in and fitted to your body, the better.
Casual, fluid leg pants
These are a stylish alternative to jeans for weekends, road trips, or watching a cross-country meet. A wide leg or fitted ankle are both nice. My tall neighbor looks elegant in wide-leg versions. At 5’6” I find a fitted ankle contains the look. Just be careful to buy pants in a fabric that won’t wrinkle, and whatever you do, don’t size up. You want to look free and breezy, not like you’re channeling MC Hammer. (Unless you want to, I’m not judging.)
We are living in a marvelous age for jeans, as there is no reigning shape or wash we need to stuff ourselves into. Skinny, slouchy, boot cut, it’s your call. Inexpensive, used Levis are getting as much play time on fashion blogs as uber-expensive designer jeans.
Skinny jeans work best on my frame. You might rock a pair of slouchies. Take your time and find the right jeans for you, then wear them with confidence. If they look good, the price, style and design truly don’t matter. Need a place to start? It’s hard to beat well-fitting dark wash jeans for versatility and flattery.
The right undergarments
No one wants to spend money and time finding good foundation pieces, but honey, if you want dressing to be effortless and fun, you need to start here. It’s the foundation, like Mesopotamia; brutal, but we’d be nowhere without them.
Go get the well fitting bras and unders you know you need, and no, that’s not gonna be cheap.
I love silk camisoles, rather than the stretchy, fitted ones. I have one from Lands End that I got nearly 10 years ago and I still wear. On cold days, I slip on silk undershirt on for luxurious warmth.
Tiny picture of Land’s End silk undershirt.
Mud and Grace does not go in for shapewear on a daily basis. I’m not into stuffing myself into sausage casing. According to Hollywood costumer Alison Freer, it doesn’t make anyone look thinner, and I have to agree. You are still you, and it’s better to get comfortable with that fact, rather than uncomfortable in spandex. Love and Appreciate Your Body In fact, seeing the outline of someone’s spanx under a dress can really kill a look. Shapewear is good for reducing lumpage in a body conscious dress, but other than that purpose, I’m not a fan.
Family fan wear
An area of special consideration: If you have athletes in your family, read on. If you have artists, skip to the next section.
Buy a well-made, stylish top showing enthusiasm for the team you are expected to support. How many times a week do you wear clothing supporting your child’s school, soccer club, the local football team, your own co-ed softball team? I spend a good portion of my waking hours watching my children’s teams and my husband’s high school runners. This is my social life.
My son got this sweatshirt at the end of his first season playing football. He wore it nearly everyday for the next year. He’s too big for it now, but it still fits me. (And it doesn’t smell) I look supportive, I’m really comfortable, and I remember how little he used to be.
You can buy from the fan shop or school front office, but if you don’t find something that makes you feel fabulous, be open to other ideas. A few years ago, tired of looking frumpy in stiff, blocky t-shirts at cross country meets, I had a sweatshirt made for myself in the team’s color and used their logo. It cost me $50. I wore it to tatters. My friend Ann has a vintage U of O Ducks jacket that looks awesome. My friend Lynette wore a simple purple puffer jacket to support the high school soccer team. Whatever you choose it doesn’t, and really shouldn’t be fancy, it just needs to give a nod of support to the athletes.
I wear red and black to my daughter’s climbing competitions. For some reason there are a ton of fancy moms at climbing comps. It’s counterintuitive. Still, they stress me out. I always wear a sweatshirt.
Artists in the family?
Roped into volunteering behind the scenes at your children’s plays? Buy a good set of blacks. Do not go rummaging in your closet at the last minute and come out with faded black jeans and your husband’s old Access Fund t-shirt turned inside out. (Not that I ever wore that behind the scenes at the Wildish Theater…) Find yourself constantly attending recitals? A couple comfy, knit dresses can look elegant as you sit through 16 other children’s piano pieces while you wait for your child to play. Supporting the artists in your life is a place where your fun tops can hook up with your corduroy pants or jeans for an easy, artsy look.
I have a dress very similar to this Banana Republic piece. Add a nice necklace and you’re fancy. Put a puffer vest over it and you’re casual.
Just last night I had to run from a cross-country picnic to a gallery opening where a student had several pieces on display. I wore the floaty peach top, jeans and ankle boots while running from the north to south sides of town to make it all happen. I felt great.
Questions to consider when choosing these pieces:
Is it perfect?
The trick with essentials is that they have to be perfect. Far more energy should go into finding the right layering t-shirt than into finding a dress to wear to the high school Hall of Fame dinner. You will need to wear “almost right” pieces until you find perfect pieces because you cannot go out without pants on. Take your time with these. When they are right, you’ll know.
What can roll over from summer?
Check your summer wardrobe to see if any of the pieces from summer can layer with your cooler weather wardrobe. (Mud and Grace Summer Essentials) Are there tank tops that can slip under a plaid shirt? The chambray top you wore on cooler evenings can certainly find a spot in your winter wardrobe. In general, it’s best to get anything you won’t wear out of the way, so the process of getting dressed is simplified. But if you have clothes that can work year round, keep them within easy reach.
How much is enough?
Ideally, you should have two weeks of outfits, with mixing and matching. I like to wear neutral pieces once a week, and standout pieces every two weeks. I may have more sweaters than are strictly necessary.
These 16 pieces can be the foundation of your wardrobe, with you adding in fun extras and trendy pieces to suit your style. As mentioned in the last post, a wardrobe functions like a car, all pieces need to work together. Most fashion writing centers on women whose wardrobes are more akin to a sleek BMW in which no one ever snacks in the back seat. My wardrobe is more like a Volkswagen Westphalia, fun, versatile, and largely second hand.
Use these pieces to tune up your closet where it needs help, then enjoy the cozy, busy days ahead without a second thought about what to wear.
Ladies, it’s time. We have to stop the madness.
Having felt acute shame surrounding my body from my earliest years, I know how difficult it is to love and appreciate your body. Unrealistic images, unhealthy habits, unimaginable time spent worrying about my body have shaped much of my life.
I’m done. There is too much going on in this world to fuss about my figure.
If there is one, truly important thing I want do with this blog, it is to help you love your body. (The second most important thing is to convince you to buy a pair of boots, Kick-start your wardrobe with one investment piece)
If you don’t love your body, you will never have effortless style. You will always look and feel a little uncomfortable. You will buy outfit after outfit, and nothing will ever feel right. You will never have a moment’s peace. It is my hope that this post will start you on the road to loving the body you have.
Step 1: Decide you want to stop hating your body.
“Well, obviously I want to stop, lady, or I wouldn’t be reading your post,” you may be thinking. But indulge me as we dig a little deeper. We focus negative energy on our bodies out of fear, anxiety and frustration. In this chaotic world we come up with elaborate food constructs and measure our bodies for results to impose some regimen of order over a life that we can’t control. We nurse our body-hatred in times of stress.
We fear that if we allow ourselves to love our bodies we will gain weight, even in the face of good scientific evidence to the contrary. If you’re going to feel good in your own skin, it will take a major shift in thinking and habits. Ready to commit? Then keep reading
Step 2: Exercise out of respect for your body, rather than punishment
We know healthy, daily activity is good for us six ways to Sunday. You’ll sleep, your mood will improve, dopamine will be released and small happy birds will flutter around as you go singing through the woods, etc.
We can express respect for our bodies by giving them the exercise they need. But so many of us take exercise to the level of punishment. We exercise on empty stomachs, leaving us light headed and cranky. We exercise out of anger at our own bodies. We exercise only with the goal of being thin.
Regular, enjoyable exercise is good for you, and it’s even better if you can do it outside. Grueling workouts done in shame and frustration are not.
Make your workouts cheap, easy and fun (walk somewhere, ride your bike, do yoga in your living room with a YouTube video) and do it regularly and selfishly. If you enjoy more activity, do more. If you want to, go ahead and join a gym, take up a sport, get a horse and train it. But do it on your terms, because you love it and love the way it makes you feel.
Step 3: Stop the crazy diets, step away from the internet weight loss advice
By all means, eat healthy food. Good food is essential to respecting and loving our bodies. But bypass the draconian and even goofy diet plans. There are a few straightforward, doable, steps to keeping your weight at a healthy set point. There are no “secrets of a flat belly,” there is no “one weird food” that will be the key to weight loss. Eat reasonably, exercise reasonably and your body will settle at a healthy weight. Then get on with your life.
Step 4: Go on an image diet instead
When I first got serious about kicking my dysmorphia, I found my attempts were thwarted by the constant barrage of catalogs and magazines I received. They were full of pictures of emaciated women. Not just thin women, not women with great bodies, but literally emaciated. (Sundance, I’m calling you out here. You are the worst. You market to women over 40, and you use models who look unnaturally thin. Knock it off.) I wrote a scathing letter to Sundance catalog, then another to Garnet Hill and another to JCrew. I put my name on the national “no catalog lists” (This, as it turns out, is as good for the budget as it is for the environment.) I cancelled several magazine subscriptions.
Don’t allow an industry that makes money off of women’s dissatisfaction to profit by you. Take a week off from media images and see how differently you begin to view your own body.
Instead, seek out other images. Turn to classical art. Look at the wonderfully soft faces of the women pictured during the Song dynasty in China. Track Raphael’s Italian Renaissance attempt to paint the perfect woman, culminating with the rounded beauty in La Velata. I can’t get enough of the gorgeous faces portrayed of the women in Mughal Indian art. Enjoy the svelte ancient Egyptians and their attempts to make their bellies seem larger than they actually are. Mayan glyphs, beautiful Benin bronzes, Paleolithic stone carvings all show an ideal that differs from our modern one.
Step 5: Compliment your body, basic
I can’t stand it when someone tells me to engage in positive self-talk. It always seems so fake, and almost passive aggressive. “You’re just great, body! I don’t care what society says, I’m completely happy that you store fat every single place except my breasts. That’s fantastic!”
And besides, my body always knows that I’m just saying it for some ulterior motive, and that I don’t really mean it.
The trick is, you have to actually mean what you say. You have to give your body an honest compliment. Start small, like, “Cuticles, you’re quite nice.” Work your way up to larger body areas, “Forearms, you have a lovely shape.”
For parts of your body that you’re not quite comfortable with yet, you might try something like this, “Belly, I do get annoyed by your general floppiness, but I’m really grateful that you were willing to stretch way out, twice, to accommodate the babies. I love my children and if you have to be floppy for them to exist, that’s fine.”
Be honest, but find something truly nice to say. Do this until you are ready to move on to advanced body compliments.
Step 6: Compliment your body, advanced
You will respond to the habit of saying honestly nice things to your body. You’ll begin to look for the best, rather than focus in on the worst. As you start to recover from the negativity with which you have viewed your body, move to a more advanced appreciation. Every day, take a moment to admire your particular curves and edges. Look at yourself with an artist’s lens, rather than Hollywood’s lens. Wear clothes that show off the particular beauty of your body.
Step 7: Play what if
I was getting dressed one morning, bemoaning my high waist. If it were just lower, I thought, if my waist was just lower, then there wouldn’t be quite such a long space for my belly, all clothes would fit me, then everything in the world would be right.
And then I thought, what if? What if a high waist offering plenty of space for a softish belly were the cultural ideal? I pictured models padding their bellies and setting a belts on their ribcages. I thought of designers pushing reams of high- waisted clothing, despite the fact that only a lucky few genetic winners had this sought-after form.
Why not? When you think about it, nearly every shape has been idealized throughout human history and across the globe. At someplace, in some time, your shape was the unattainable ideal.
I walked out of my closet with this in mind, pretending as I went about my day that all my body’s little idiosyncrasies were what other women spent enormous sums of money and time and mental space trying desperately to emulate.
And suddenly the whole system seemed ridiculous. When I thought about other women trying to create my body through extreme exercise, (“You’ve got to build up those butt muscles so it really sticks out!”) diet (“I heard recently that if you consume at least two tablespoons of fish oil at every meal it will burn fat everywhere but your belly”) and silicon (“I’m thinking of getting inner-thigh implants…”) the whole enterprise is ridiculous.
Every time you start to measure yourself against our culture’s crazy beauty standards, replay them with your own particular beauty as the ideal.
Step 8: Look at your family photos, listen to your daughter
When we look at family photos, there is never any talk of who had fat ankles or sloping shoulders. We talk about the people; what they accomplished, who they were, the funny stories they told.
Beauty is transitory, but our words and actions will outlast us. Do I want my great grandchildren to be told stories of how I kept slim all my life? Heck no! “Great-Grandma could climb 5.11 trad!” is more like it. (OK, I have a long way to go before I get to 5.11 trad, but I also have a long time to go before there will be any great grandchildren. I can do this.)
Similarly, do we want our children to be proud of how we declined bread in a restaurant, or do we want them to see achievement as a little bit deeper? Watching my daughter, and my friends’ daughters grow up with confidence in themselves and their bodies is beautiful. I love to hear them talk about delicious food, great clothes and the awesome activities they pursue. If we can learn to love our bodies, they will emulate us and love theirs.
Ultimately, my body is fine. I’m not a supermodel, and I’m not interested in putting in the time, energy and silicon it would take to get me there. My body may not fit the standards of beauty for any time period, but it has scaled cliffs, run thousands of miles, made countless rounds of a classroom to check that every student is on track with their current assignment. It has created two upstanding human beings, and been a willing canvas for some great ensembles. It deserves respect and care. All bodies do, no matter what standards people choose to measure them against.
P.S. Want to read more? Here’s an article I wrote for the Eugene Weekly on teens and body image http://www.eugeneweekly.com/20150108/lead-story/let-them-eat