This is a post written as part of the series of posts about sewing for changing bodies. I want to share with you the story about my relationship with my body. It’s a story about struggle and reconciliation. A story about body image, food, sewing, acceptance, mindfulness, change, and empowerment. Get yourself a drink and take a seat!
This is me, my name is Monserratt. I was a scientist in my past life, and I’ve been sewing for over 8 years now. Today I’m going to take you through my journey. It all starts, as it often does, with a belief told to us about our body. In my case from a very young age, 7 years old, one year after my parents got divorced, when I started to find myself home alone with my sister. We started to eat in order to fill the void that was created. I became the mom and my sister my daughter. My mother had to work to provide for us. Often, that meant long and never-ending hours in traffic between one client and another. I admired her – it must have required a lot of courage, love, and determination to do it. It still hurts. We were good kids, we stuck together and we experienced childhood very differently from the way my kids experience it today. We learned to trust, appreciate, and be there for each other. We felt the void, we used to fill it up with cookies and food. We were pushed by life to become independent at a very young age. At the age of 7, I was told that my body was wrong, that it was not small enough. Do you know what this meant? It meant that my relationship with food was inappropriate, that it had to change, that I and my sister had to stop eating to numb our emotions. My mom suggested that we go on a diet: “Bananas and Milk”, for a full day on a night with a full moon… As if the moon had anything to do with this…
This is how many of our body stories start, by us being taught at a young age that the problem is our relationship with food, and how do you fix it? By dieting, of course! Well, my friends, the problem was not my relationship with food, my problem was the pain of a divorce, of seeing a mother cry for a man who no longer wanted to be with her, a woman who was in love, a woman who had to gather the strength to provide every day, a woman who had to pay for the private schools and for the rent, for the bills, for the food. My problem was that I had to become the mom, that I had to take care of my sister and me, that I had to direct us and protect us. My problem was the emptiness, the grief, the loneliness, the repulsion I felt. My problem was not my relationship with food, my problem was how I dealt with my emotions: I was scared, I was worried, I was resentful, I was hostile.
I think back and I don’t know how I did it, I would have much preferred to be asked what I felt and what I needed to overcome that feeling. Two questions that now I know can heal my life.
Our relationship with food is a naturally intuitive relationship. We are born with innate body wisdom to eat intuitively. Our body knows how to send the message to our brain that tells us when we are hungry and when we are full, when we need to eat and when we have had enough. The problem is that we often try to bring our willpower into the equation and impose control, and try to break that connection with our innate wisdom; we disturb it and we tell our body that the messages it’s sending for hunger and satisfaction are incorrect. There is a dissonance.
My life continued and as the dieting waves kept on coming and going, my weight fluctuated and overall, I just kept on gaining weight after each anxious, stressful or traumatic situation, because I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings. My willpower to control myself around food grew thinner and thinner and thinner. Like many of us in this journey, many days, I felt unworthy, I felt ugly, I dressed mostly in men’s clothes because finding women’s clothes in my size was impossible. I felt unattractive, it was a miserable situation, a situation that ruled my life and the way I engaged with the world. My body image was broken. On the pictures, it was mostly my face, as I tried to hide my body. For several years, I lived in a psychologically abusive relationship that at some point edged into physical abuse and if it wasn’t for the fact that I moved to Canada, my life would probably have continued with this momentum.
Now, you ask, did the diet make you lose weight and made you be who they wanted you to be?? You know the answer to this one, right?? OF COURSE NOT! Every time I was on a diet, I lost a little weight and after a few weeks and months, I regained what I had lost and a little more. Weight regain is the typical long-term response to dieting, rather than the exception. In fact, research shows that over 90 – 95% of the people who diet, regain the weight they lost completely within 1 – 3 years. Have you seen that trend resulting from the dieting cycle in your life?
And then, one day, I found sewing. I started sewing at the end of 2011. I was living in Montreal, working on my PhD in Physics and Neuroscience. I had just started my relationship with my long time friend, now partner, and I needed a hobby, so I took up sewing.
I say I took up sewing, but what really happened is that sewing took over my life. It gave me the power to create, to love and care for myself. Sewing made me not give a fuck about not finding clothes in stores, it taught me that size was just a number, that I wasn’t defined by it anymore. It taught me that the clothes should fit my body and not my body in the clothes. It taught me to think of myself as able and eager and I loved it. I was finally able to imagine, experiment, and explore new styles, patterns, and fabrics. I even made myself a crappy handmade copy of myself, a duct-tape body form. Did you try making your own yet?? Hahahaha!! It wasn’t useful at all, but at the time it was just what I needed in my life.
Then, in January 2012, my mom passed away. Every single time we talked or she wrote me something, she used to ask about how my weight was, how I was caring for myself, how I was eating or how much exercise I was doing. She worried, she thought she was caring for me by caring for me being the way she thought I had to be, she suffered for me. She was happy and excited when my weight went down and she was disappointed and sad when my weight went up. My weight determined, to a large extent, my value to her.
-” I’m sorry this system never worked for us mom . I really tried to follow your lead, I tried to be a “good fat person”. Today I know this system is not even supposed to work.”-
-” I would have prefered to feel worthy of your love and admiration regardless of my weight, I would have prefered to know that you supported me unconditionally and without judgements. I would have preferred that you taught me that my worth wasn’t dependent on the way I look. I would have preferred to be taught that in order to be happy, I needed to care not only for my physical, but also my mental, emotional and spiritual well being. I would have prefered to live knowing I’m worthwhile, just because I am. I would have prefered to be taught how to make my own decisions, to be kind and compassionate to others, to decide what I wanted to believe and to stand up for it. “-
-”I want you to know that I’ve figured it out. It’s okay. Today I forgive you and I forgive me. I forgive myself for trying so hard to fit the standards of society, I forgive myself for worrying about what everyone else thought I should look like. I forgive myself for thinking I was unable to lose weight and thinking my will power wasn’t strong enough. I forgive myself for feeling like I wasn’t worthy of all the things I had achieved in life. I forgive myself for feeling like a failure so many times.”-
She used to say, the most beautiful thing about me was my smile, and so I decided to keep that. My smile reminds me of my mom, her courage, her strength, her willingness to take on challenges. It keeps her present in my life every day. It keeps me thankful for what I have. My smile is my gift. I am the person who I have become because I had my mom: she taught me to be strong, to not give up, to be courageous, to follow my passion.
Sewing became my refuge. I was able to create love and acceptance towards myself. I was able to reconcile the way I looked with the way I felt and thought. It mended me. It enabled me to discover myself, to establish my worth as a person, to make an opinion about the things I consumed and the situations around me. It enabled me to start to think for myself. I started craving to sew more and more, and I finally understood that I used to dress with men’s clothes simply because there were no other options for me.
And then, in a different season of my life, I had my children, and for a good while I lost my sewjo. I went through depression and anxiety with my first one, through crazy body changes, through the fatigue of pregnancy and delivery of my second one. I started my business @enfance_durable and the new normal became a life where the time to sew for myself dropped to zero. My body felt no longer like something I recognized, and the self-love feelings had slowly dissipated and were replaced with judgment and discomfort again. I no longer felt like I knew how to sew for my body any more. I no longer knew which size to wear or how to change patterns to better fit me. I felt frightened, scared and worried and the social standards and expectations crept back over me. I worried about no longer fitting in the current size range of the patterns. Life felt heavy. I tried to go on a few diets, but nothing lasted, not even for a week. My body knew that dieting wasn’t the solution I was looking for.
Why is it so hard to gather the courage to step out of our comfort zone, even when we know liberation and growth are on the other side? Why do we prefer to prevent ourselves from reaching our goals? Why was I so easily manipulated into a poor and judgmental comfort zone in the first place? Why do we listen to the media??
I reflect and think, how many people are getting this same message of needing to be different to fit in the society we live in??? For how many of us this is the reality? What are we to do when we don’t know better? In this respect, I feel like we’re very fucked up as a society. We should be working towards being kind to ourselves, loving, accepting and respecting ourselves so we can do it for each other. Stephanie, a nutrition expert and an overall science geek who runs the “Going Beyond the Food Academy” says, we have the power to choose. Choose from a place of love over fear every single time.
This time it took a pandemic to become ready to take steps to regain my power. When the pandemic lockdown began in Canada, it hit me hard. I lost my business income because my orders were cancelled and my classes were postponed. I was bound to the house, I had to care for my kids 24/7 and I had to support my husband so he could keep his job. It was a struggle to adjust and I quickly realized either I made time for myself or and I went into a crisis. As for many of us, this was a turning point in life. I decided to start my #yearofpants to push myself to sew and learn how to fit pants for myself. This kicked back up my sewjo and now I’m super excited about sewing again and about sharing with the online sewing community. I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it, and to say no to the things that are not a priority. I decide. I turned to an approach where I attune me to what my body needs, as in what it tells me it needs, and with the help of Stephanie, I finally started to feel liberated and empowered again.
Sewing and sewcializing have helped me to break the isolation and enabled me to let go of the shame I felt towards my body. I re-discovered a world where like-minded people meet, where we accept, understand, care and support each other, where our weight, the size of our belly, our thighs, our arms, or our height is just a quality, and not a determinant of our worth. The online sewing community provides a space to meet people that look and think like us. Dare to take the step to be part of it.
Today, thanks to Stephanie, I am learning to honour and respect my body, to listen to my feelings and to give my body what it really needs. I get to choose to be mindful rather than judgemental, to act from a place of love. I’ve learned to be more curious than afraid. I am aware that every time I try to do something new, I step out of my comfort zone, and I accept that I will probably feel scared, but I also know that being scared is just a feeling and that daring to step out of my comfort zone and exploring will lead me to where I want to be. I choose which direction I want to go. Today I feel more thankful and confident than ever. Today I know that there’s a long way to go, and I’m thrilled to meet the path I will build for myself. This is empowerment.
Engage with your life from a place of mindfulness, love, and respect.
I leave you with these thoughts to consider:
- What if we took the time to report every single ad that tells us our body is the problem?
- What if we gave up the rules and preconceptions about food and our body image and instead dared to explore the alternatives?
- What if we could decide to not be affected by the words and actions of others?
- What if we were curious instead of judgmental?
- What if we truly believed our thoughts were created by us?
- What if we had the power to decide to detach the “me” from the “you” and what “I think” your intentions are?
- What if we were attuned enough to listen to our feelings and determined enough to give ourselves what we need?
- What if we didn’t hide in the toilet to secretly carve some time to ourselves and escape our realities?
- What if we were mindful and present in our interactions with others?
- What if we were kind to ourselves and others?
- What if we truly embraced diversity?
- What if happiness meant not only our physical but also our mental, emotional, and spiritual well being?
- What if we thought more about how we consume and remembered to cherish things more?
- What if we were not worried our tummy would bust the waistline or the buttons when we ate?
- What if we lived proud to take up as much space as we do?
- What if every time we looked at the mirror, we didn’t judge ourselves?
- What if we could determine what we want our relationship to our body image to be like?
- What if instead of feeling like we should be less, we focused on being happy?
- What if the objective was to be as comfortable as possible?
- What if we dressed in the fabrics and designs we like?
- What if every time we dressed we looked for pleasure and satisfaction?
- What if we were able to buy clothes we could be sure to fit in?
- What if we chose to support only companies who represent us?
- What if we dared to write to the pattern companies who don’t make us feel included?
- What if we could dress to feel like ourselves and express authentically?
- What if we focused on finding the clothes to fit our body rather than fitting our bodies into clothes?
- What if we cared about the way our clothes are made and who makes them?
- What if we engaged in physical activity because we enjoy it and we have fun, and not because we have to?
- What if we could decide to live a more mindful and fulfilling life?
- What if we could teach the future generations to think and live this way?
- What if we dared to ask the hard questions and together change the world through our choices?
The power to decide is in our hands.
I encourage you to take a moment this week to consider these questions and if you decide to integrate any of them into your life, and you want to share about it, I would be very thankful if you could please tag me in the post (@monserratt_l). I’d love to see how we change our lives together through love and mindfulness.
I love you!
If you struggle with your relationship with your body, and you feel ready to make a big change, but you feel like you need help, find a coach who can help you. It has completely changed my life.
If you are looking to learn more about me, you can look me up on instagram @monserratt_l. I’m a contributor to the Curvy Sewing Collective and you can read a couple other interviews more about me here and here. I still occasionally write on my blog MexicanPink.
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