DIY not?

I came across “The Class Dynamics of DIY Clothing” the other day while looking for something completely unrelated. (Because that is how the internet works.) I can’t help but agree with the essay, and own my privilege in this area.

I know how to sew, have a decent machine in working order, a good amount of fabric squirreled away, and pretty much every sort of notion you might need to make basic items. If I like a pattern that doesn’t come in my size, I know how to make it bigger.

The initial buy-in to begin sewing is expensive – mostly because of the equipment. You need access to a sewing machine, an iron, an ironing board, good scissors, pins, needles, marking tools, and a space large enough to cut fabric (whether on a table or the floor). You’ll need a pattern (or the ability to make a pattern), thread, and fabric – which is often more expensive than a ready-made garment, especially if you wear natural fibers. You may need zippers, elastic, buttons, bias tape, interfacing, or trim. You will need adequate time (and energy) to sew.

The bottom floor for sewing is several stories up the building, if you catch my meaning.

I learned to sew in home economics when I was 13, though I wasn’t very into it at the time. Various relatives pooled their money to buy me a basic sewing machine for my 15th birthday, after I became interested in making my own clothes…because I couldn’t find anything I liked in my size in stores. (Does that sound familiar?) My grandma worked in a garment factory and had access to very cheap fabric remnants that I used both for practice and for finished garments in those early years.

By the time I was 18 I was working as a theatrical costumer. My experience is absolutely atypical.

I think there’s something else going on beneath this cheerful admonition to “do it yourself,” too: a little whiff of the “you’re on your own” mentality so prevalent these days. Society (in the form of the retail marketplace in this example) is failing to provide for your needs? Well, too bad! You’re on your own! Just do it yourself. Go sew your own, fatty, and get out of my face.

I could be wrong about that, but it seems to be there.

I truly love clothes, and I enjoy sewing. I would never tell someone not to make their own clothes if they were inclined to do so. And though I think that retail options should definitely be expanded in larger sizes, I’m not sure how much change we can expect in the short term. Even before the economy tanked, when fat ladies were (supposedly) lined up with cash in hand, retailers didn’t do much to expand plus size offerings anywhere other than online. So what do we do?

I wish I knew.

IMG_20120914_192505

 (I made this dress, and I wore this exact same outfit today – though this photo is from last fall.)

“Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.'”
— Kurt Vonnegut

Confirmation bias.

I came across an interesting series of photos taken in shopping malls in 1990 a while ago on Retronaut. The photos were interesting in and of themselves, particularly since I was a teenager at that time, and it reminded me pretty fiercely of emo days of yore – but I noticed something else.

Check out the fifth comment on the page: “I like the lack of self-consciousness people seem to have in these pictures. I also notice the almost total lack of obese people. Wonder what changed in only 20 years?”

Really? An “almost total lack of obese people”? I beg to differ.

In virtually every crowd scene, and most photos with groupings larger than 5, there are plenty of “overweight” and “obese” people in those photos, especially in the background. (Which says something about the photographer, too.)

Keep in mind that “overweight” and “obese” look a lot different than the headless fatty photos accompanying “obesity crisis” articles would have you believe. (Don’t believe me? Check out the Illustrated BMI Categories set on Flickr. And remember that this woman is “overweight,” and this woman is “obese,” according to BMI standards.)

I’ve started to think that when people hear that a third of Americans are obese, they think that 33% of us actually look like the photos they see on the news. And sure, some of us do look like that*  – but only a very small fraction of the population does. (Something like 2%.)

Fat people have always been around. I was a fat teenager** in 1990 – just like some of the kids in those photos. You can argue the point that there are more fat people now (which is something else entirely, and is debatable in its own right), but you can’t argue that there were virtually no fat people 20 years ago.

I think what’s changed in the past 20 years is the level of vilification fat currently has in our culture. That’s my opinion.

Teen girl with terrible 80s hairdo is captured mid-sneeze.

*And all of us, fat or thin, deserve to be respected and treated well regardless of size. No ifs, ands, or buts.

**I was not in pain in the photo. I was sneezing. It’s the only photo ever taken of me…mid-sneeze. (Circa 1988.)

Posted in Fat