Top Five Reasons to Stop Dressing For Your Body Type

The best ways to hide a tummy! Perfect jeans for pear shaped women! Create a waist with these three easy tips! Look slimmer by dinner!

I have clicked on every one of these articles. I even read an entire book entitled How to Never Look Fat Again.

In my defense, I thought the book would help me feel better in my own skin. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The book slogged along, shaming every body part that had the audacity to store fat and discussing ways to make it disappear. The book is 253 pages long and basically has one solution that I will summarize here:

For whatever part of your body you don’t like: Drape it in fitted, but not tight, dark fabric. Then wear something bright and shiny on some other body part.

Oh, and wear shapewear and high heals with everything. And get a tan.

Did you know you’ll look substantially slimmer if you always stand next to a giant statue of a caveman that looks weirdly like Chris Sharma? It’s true. So you should probably carry one around with you at all times, like Ann and I do.

Now I don’t want to suggest I’m so fabulously body-positive that I never follow the dark fabric prescription. Often it’s just a matter of simple aesthetics and proportion. Because I am high waisted, and have a compact bustline* wearing a lighter top and darker bottoms will help balance me out. But it’s not going to make me look, or more significantly make me feel, any thinner. Here’s why:

The more we focus on something, the more we see it

Have you ever played the license plate game with your family on a long road trip? It starts out kinda of slow but by the time you hit Idaho you, and all your family members, are expert at seeing the colors and patterns of license plates. This is because you have trained your brain to recognize a pattern.

Ooooh, Colorado! Two Points.

If you get up every morning thinking, “I gotta cover this thing up!” you will start to focus on whatever that “thing” is, and worry about it all day long. Yet literally no one else in the world is focusing on your “thing.” They take a quick look at you and think, “Nice top,” or “I love her hair,” or “She really ought to shave the pills off that sweater.”

If you want to go through your life worrying about your belly (or whatever), by all means read a ton of articles about hiding it, wear punishingly tight shapewear that reminds you all day long of your belly’s transgressions, and be sure to bring it up in conversation.

Anyone want to discuss how huge I think my calves look in this picture? Anyone even care?

The “right” clothes for your body might be the wrong clothes for your life

One of the funniest article I’ve ever read was taking issue with the puffer coat and snow boots. It noted that a puffer coat, filled with down, makes you look larger, and snow boots make your feet look big.

I mean, duh.

The article suggested that instead one ought to wear a dark princess cut wool coat, high healed black boots and a fur hat. In the snow. I don’t know when I’ve laughed so hard. Just because something narrows your silhouette doesn’t make it the right thing to wear.

The ensemble on the left is perfect for when it starts snowing in an opera house.

Your body probably doesn’t fall into a specific “type” anyway

Pear? Apple? Package of string cheese? Not only are these labels a little mean, they in no way account for the complexity of the human body. By most body calculators, I am considered a rectangle, and the accompanying article goes on to tell me how great I’m going to look in dropped waist dresses and tunics. I honestly look terrible in dropped-waist dresses and tunics. I’d post a picture of that horror if I weren’t so vain.

Not wearing a tunic top.

Body calculations are based solely on hip/waist/bust measurements. Strong shoulders, muscular legs, long or short torsos, height, posture – none of these things that have a huge impact on how clothes hang on you are taken into account.

Getting dressed is so much more fun when you don’t have to follow a set of rules

For years I had a list of “can wear” and “can’t wear” clothing, not at all unlike a six-year-old’s eating habits. Having “look thin” as the hard and fast rule of getting dressed is limiting to one’s style, not to mention one’s warmth and comfort. I remember the day specifically when I first broke my own rule and wore a wild, patterned skirt. The world continued to turn, this human venture marched on, and not one person said “Dang! You must have had some dinner last night. You look a full two pounds heavier!”

Wear what you love. People will see you, happy and enjoying your ensemble.

Things that used to be illegal in my wardrobe

Since when does looking thin mean looking good?**

Walk into any public place. You will see women of all sizes and ages who look beautiful. When we see a good-looking human, we are generally reacting to someone who feels comfortable in her skin, and is wearing clothes that compliment the wearer and the occasion. Start scanning for beauty everywhere you go, and my guess is you will see all sorts of women flouting the rules of skinny-dressing, and looking good in the process.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Light skirt, dark top, very small statue of NOT a caveman*** peeking over my shoulder. And yet I feel fabulous.

Ultimately, articles on hiding, slimming or otherwise attempting to erase any part of my body just wind up making me feel worse. Focus on wearing what you love, dressing for the life that you have, and you will feel fantastic. And that looks good on everyone.

* How’s that for a nice way to put it?

**OK, I can actually answer that question. In the western world, that notion began with the industrial revolution and consistent food surplus. That’s also when we start seeing eating disorders.

***That little statue is one my dad created, inspired by the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi. I love it, even if it does make me look fat.

In Celebration of Gritty Women

“Gritty Woman” Alexis is my daughter’s piano teacher and she runs 100K races, making her one of the coolest people on earth.

A strong woman hikes alone on a rocky plateau, a vast lake and mountains looming in the background. This woman’s image is powerful and determined, and so far in 2017 it is the most purchased picture for the search term “woman” in the Getty Image library.

Getty Images is where every company, blogger, brochure-maker and training-PowerPoint-assembler goes to buy the images they use. Popular stock photos represent the consciousness of mainstream culture in a way that nothing else is really able to. They are purchased by anyone and everyone wishing to use an image to persuade an audience. Ten years ago the most popular pictures of women were largely naked and completely docile. But not anymore. The popularity of photos featuring strong, active women outdoors is such that Getty Images has even given the phenomenon a name, Gritty Woman.

Mainstream culture is finally catching up with what so many of us have known all along: grit is beautiful.

Lydia, being her awesome self, having serious fun in the knee-deep snow.

 

There I go again, hiking alone like a woman.

Since childhood, we are saturated with images of digitally re-mastered, inactive women. We are told to buy clothing we can’t move in to go with shoes we can’t walk in. The lessons of the media seep in and shape us in ways we can never fully be aware of.

Dana, enjoying the mountain’s beauty, no re-mastering necessary.

But this year, this crazy, difficult, disaster-ridden year, the picture that meant “woman” to the most people was of a woman hiking alone. And that, my friends is cause for celebration.

It’s always a celebration when Lex is involved.

Criticism of the concept is rife, because if something’s different we should probably criticize it, right? Here are my responses to Gritty Woman’s naysayers:

It’s just another impossible body image, set outside

OK, Getty images isn’t getting swamped for pictures of 45-year-old hikers who use reading glasses to look at the trail map and have generous behinds. I’m sure they’ll call me when that happens. Women’s clothing company Title IX prides itself on using “real women” in their catalogs, rather than models. Still, the not-models always look exactly like actual models, only with extraordinary triceps. But at least the women are moving. I’ll take powerful, active female images over the alternative any day.

Sandy, just hanging out, looking gorgeous.

These images encourage women to go outside for the sole purpose of taking a great instagram photo

Fact: I do not care why anyone goes outside. If a woman goes outside just to take a picture of herself in a cute puffer jacket, this is none of my business. She’s outside, and inasmuch as outside is awesome, it’s likely she’ll be back for more. If her pictures roll across my social media feed, I will probably put hearts on them.

I think Danielle is actually outside more than she is inside.

Ten years of improvement is more of a trend, rather than true evolution

Yes, human civilization will continue to change. The popularity of gritty women will wax and wane over time but right now it’s here, and I am going to enjoy every dirt-filled, sweat-accepting image. With time I expect to see more cultural and size diversity in the media, and it will happen as we respond to every positive representation of women we come across.

Lina and Geoffrey, representing grit… and grime.

Ultimately, when my daughter opens up her social media feed, she is flooded with pictures of tough women doing awesome things outside. When I was her age, I was flooded with pictures of buxom women with big hair lying on sofas, beds and occasionally the floor. When I envisioned my future as a 7th grader, I imagined being wealthy and beautiful. My daughter imagines herself living in a van in Colorado, being a professional rock climber. For this I’d like to thank everyone who has ever searched “woman” on Getty Images and chosen the hiker.

Alexis and her dog: tough, beautiful, and having a really good time.
Angela: capable, confident and completely adorable.
Renee, being a total boss having a great time on the McKenzie River Trail 50K.

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you like Mud and Grace, but want to save yourself the trouble of finding it on Facebook every Sunday evening, please consider subscribing.

What to read more about the Gritty Woman phenomenon? Check out this great New York Times article

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/07/upshot/from-sex-object-to-gritty-woman-the-evolution-of-women-in-stock-photos.html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_up_20170908&nl=upshot&nl_art=0&nlid=79147650&ref=headline&te=1&_r=0

 

Breaking the Body Shame Cycle: A practical and philosophical guide to feeling good in your skin

Full confession: I changed my clothes 12 times before work on Friday morning. Twelve. And it’s not because I don’t have anything to wear.

It was because I felt fat. Again.

You’d think after a lifetime of wrestling with this issue I’d be able to kick myself out of these fits of dysmorphia before they start and be happy with the body I have. But… it’s wet and muddy early spring. End of trimester and final exams are stressful. If you’re like me, times of stress often lure us back into our worst habits.

Feeling good about your body is a major step in creating an easy, effortless wardrobe. You will never feel comfortable in your clothes if you don’t feel comfortable in your skin. I have written about this in the past, (Love and Appreciate Your Body ) but if all you need is a later-winter body-confidence pick-me-up, read on for some practical and philosophical advice on loving yourself at winter’s end.

Set a fitness goal that has nothing to do with wearing a bikini

“Get your body bikini ready!” the media has been screaming from all angles, spraying us down with photo-shopped pictures of women who have somehow become tan in the dead of winter. I’m sorry, media, but how did wearing a bikini become a goal? Any one can put on a bikini. Even the president, were he so inclined.

Fitness, on the other hand, is a fantastic goal. When you decide to push your body, push it in the right direction. Maybe you want to try a half-marathon, or learn to play tennis, or ride the recumbent bike a little bit longer and faster. These are sound goals. Attempting to make your body into some media-fed myth by deprivation and exhaustion is insane.

My goal this year is to become a stronger lead-climber. In order to do this, I will need to lift weights, build up my core muscles, hang from my fingertips in the breezeway of our home, and spend a lot of time climbing. If I am successful, I will be more fit than I am now. But I won’t be any more tan or photo-shopped than normal. And I certainly won’t be wearing a bikini. Those things are ridiculous, they fall off if you so much as move! One jump into the river and you’re flashing the fish. No thank you.

I’ll just be here, getting my fingers bikini ready for the summer.

Use your body for something it’s good at

In the throes of self-hatred, flip the switch by doing something your body does well. Whether it’s yoga, going for a hike, riding a bike, or dancing in the kitchen. Allow your body to show off a little, and appreciate its ability.

I’ll never forget watching my friend Janet pull a weighted sled during a Tabata workout. A grandma, with a lot more fully-lived life behind her than anyone else in the room, Janet casually grabbed a hold of the rope and set her face in determination. While the rest of us were sweating and grunting as we attempted to make that thing budge, Janet just reeled it in hand over hand. Do something you’re good at, and if a room full of younger women happen to be watching, so much the better.

I’m pretty good at playing with my goat.

Find a better mirror

Basic mirror facts: The larger the mirror, the smaller you look. Overhead lighting makes you look larger, lighting on either side of the mirror makes you look smaller. Cheap mirrors can distort your image based on the weather.

Thus, the little sliver of a cheap mirror you picked up for $10 at Target and stashed in you overhead-lit closet makes you look your absolute worst.

Stores have figured this out, of course. So if you need a quick, body-confidence pick-me-up, stop by a clothing store known for having great mirrors. In Eugene, Talbots, WHBL, and TJ Maxx have great mirrors. Just don’t let them fool you into buying clothes you don’t need!

I have no intention of buying anything. I just want to enjoy the big, well-lit mirror.

Choose self-care over self –indulgence

When I am struck by an attack of dysmorphia, I start by taking a day to treat my body well. Then I do it again the next day. Healthy breakfast, endorphin producing work out, calm, leisurely lunch, time outside, ensure a good night sleep by avoiding screens, alcohol and caffeine in the evenings.

So often when we feel bad about ourselves, we dull our discomfort with food, alcohol and distraction. Honestly, when I don’t feel great, I don’t want to go outside. I want to go to Pinterest. But treating our bodies poorly to distract ourselves from the fact that we are unhappy with our bodies is a vicious cycle. If I just drink a glass of wine, I haven’t gotten to the root of the problem, which in my case is almost always school stress. On the other hand, if I take a walk, I can let my mind unravel the problems of the day, and soak in some feel-good vitamin D while I’m at it.*

I didn’t want to go for a walk, but after 10 minutes of fresh air I’ve revamped a failed lesson plan AND set off a few endorphins.

Don’t buy anything new**

Body-shame shopping will derail all your goals for an easy, effortless wardrobe. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve blown money in early spring on clothes that were completely inappropriate for my life, simply because they made me look a little thinner. Plan your wardrobe thoughtfully, and buy what you need, but don’t go shopping out of a sense of unhappiness with your body, or anything else for that matter.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Do not, under any circumstances, cut off all your hair

You are free to cut all your hair off at any other time of year, but not early spring. When you are feeling down on yourself for any reason, a major haircut will not cure your blues. If you feel like cutting all your hair off, message me and I will convince you to keep it until May. At that point feel free to go pixie at anytime.

My face, when you tell me you want to cut off all your hair in March.

To everything there is a season

In March, I am pasty-skinned, a few pounds heavier than normal, and pretty tired. By then end of August, I will be tan, rested and a few pounds lighter. That’s just being a human.

Weird outfit, covered in dust, bad hair and no bath for four days? There’s no end to my confidence in August.

As the sun comes out and the days lengthen, I will plant my garden. I’ll walk up and down the hill to grab the first leaves of lettuce, then be hauling armloads of veggies up to the house. I’ll walk up to the neighbor’s more often, and down to the river. And by mid-July I’ll find I feel pretty good about my body. Then fall will blow in, with the excitement of a new school year. I can wear my boots again! All the leaves will drop off the trees in one week. I’ll look forward to holidays and make a hundred delicious choices to eat rich, wonderful foods through December. The rain will come, there will be beef stew with lots of potatoes, and full Saturdays cozied up before the fire with good books to read. Suddenly it’s March, and students turn in late work with desperate pleas for mercy and I will feel frazzled and unable to keep up with my job. I’ll have gained a few pounds and gotten kinda pale, and probably have to deal with a few more dysmorphic episodes. Then I will plant another garden. All the time I will still be me, rocking the same denim jacket and the same size pants, and the only thing I have to change is my attitude.

 

Does this sport make my butt look big? And does anyone really care?

*OK, there’s actually no Vitamin D to be had this winter in Oregon, but there could be elsewhere in the country.

** Yes, you are sick of all your winter clothes by now, I understand. But it is still pretty cold out, and no amount of shopping is going to change that fact.

*** My face, when you tell me you’re cutting all your hair off in October

Love and Appreciate Your Body

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.

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Not the world’s hardest route, but seriously fun.

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.

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So, you mean I could eat this healthy meal, instead of a lump of coconut oil covered in turmeric with a side of cauliflower doused in hot sauce?

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!”

Right.

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.

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I like my collar bones.

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.

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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.

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Sorry, but I’m probably going to re-post this picture of my grandma about a thousand times. It’s good for you.

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