Who We Are: An Essay on Representation

Hello! I'm Ebi, a plus sized sewer.

Hello! I’m Ebi, a plus sized sewer. Top is Butterick 6258, pants are Burda 6789.

More and more indie pattern companies and RTW companies are including plus sizes in their lines. So when I heard that Colette was joining those ranks, I was pleased but not particularly interested. After all, I’d never sewn a Colette pattern, and there were issues with a previous pattern. So that would have been that, except I actually saw one of the new plus size patterns.

A little info on Colette’s new inclusive pivot  – they’re now drafting all their patterns on a traditional sized block *as well as* a plus sized block, thereby creating an opportunity for a better fit for larger ladies, as well as the opportunity to fit larger ladies better. And while many brands’ plus sizes stop at 48”/122cm hip, excluding many plus size women, Colette’s size 26 has a generous 58” hip size! There are already several patterns drafted under the new sizing, and it seems like plus sizes at Colette are here to stay.

Okay, back to the story.

The Claudette pattern had just dropped, in both size ranges, at my local fabric store. I’d rushed in one night to speed-buy some last minute notions for a garment I just had to finish *Right Now*. While being rung up, I looked around for a distraction, and noticed both versions of the Claudette patterns on the counter. Immediately, something bothered me. At first I thought it was jealousy, because it came from that part of my gut. (You know the part of the stomach I’m talking about!) But that wasn’t quite it.

Here's the pattern in all it's glory - the Claudette, by Colette!

Here’s the pattern in all it’s glory – the Claudette, by Colette!

I pointed to the plus sized version. “It creeps me out, that she looks like me. I mean, she doesn’t look like me, but you could describe us using the same words.” I paused. “It’s like seeing myself, but in a photo I didn’t pose for. It makes me feel funny.”

My Real Body Croquis (and my hair!).

My Real Body Croquis, by Najah @wannabesewingsomething.

I’m a fat, black, tall woman with short hair. In the American aesthetic, fat is ugly, black is ugly, tall only works if you’re a supermodel, and short hair is not feminine. No one who looks like me is ever a part of any aesthetic campaign. When I was a slim, black, tall, little girl with natural hair (which, at the time, was just called ‘hair’), there were actually a number of girls I could relate to, like Rudy on The Cosby Show, the sisters on Family Matters, and there were also some black mothers I could aspire to be in the distant future. But none of them were beautiful. The little girls were little, and the mothers were mothers. Beautiful black women, I noticed, were generally half white, very light, or ambiguously black.

So I never experienced aesthetic representation. I saw that anyone who was beautiful had no features in common with me, and what they did have I couldn’t recreate. I grew up knowing I was not beautiful, could not be beautiful, and no one wanted to look anything like me. But here in front of me, years later, was this model wearing the latest Colette pattern – and she looked like me.

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The funny feeling in my gut? It was representation. It was seeing myself, in public, in a beautiful dress. Standing apart from the rest, like a star. Looking good. And being looked at – positively.

Colette has made some missteps over the years, but this is a huge turnaround for them. Having plus sizes up to larger sizes, basing plus sized patterns on a larger block, and thoughtfully making the necessary fit adjustments for a pattern to look as good on large bodies as on small ones are wonderful changes. But diversifying their models to let everyone see themselves in a Colette design before sewing a single stitch, is a great final touch on their new direction. Three cheers for representation!

Ebi Poweigha is an infrequent, but passionate, body positive sewing blogger with absolutely no connection to Colette besides meeting Sarai once. You can find her opinions, sewing hacks, and reluctant selfies at  www.makingtheflame.com and on Instagram and other social media @makingtheflame.