Saturday Musings: Perception is Reality

Body positive Saturday Musings about perception and body image on Making the Flame.

Mother Knows Best

Growing up, my mother had an endless supply of pithy sayings. One of them was ‘perception is reality’.

What did that mean, exactly? To my childhood self, it meant nothing at all. I was too young to wrap my head around such a real-world concept. To my idealistic adolescent and young adult self, it meant that she was pessimistic. I couldn’t reconcile what she said with my dreams of my inner character shining forth and being all that people could see.

But now, in my thirties, I’ve seen this phrase play out time and time again. I’ve personally witnessed women hired and promoted solely because of how they looked; the branch of friendship rejected because it was held by someone who dressed wrong; and personality attributes bestowed upon people based on their race, size, grooming, and gender.

So it seems good ol’ mom was right: perception really is reality. How people perceive us really is who we are. And because their perceptions are a mix of their upbringing, personal viewpoint, and life experiences, there is very little we can do to change their perception. So we’re stuck being whoever it is people think we are. Or are we?

Stitches Save the Day

For those of us who sew, the answer seems obvious: no, of course not. We create our appearances by making our own clothes. We pick the fabrics and the patterns, pair them together, and devise creative solutions for construction problems and material shortages. We are appearance wizards. We defy the phrase ‘appearance is reality’.

Except when we don’t. When we shy away from patterns because they’re not for people like us – we’re too old, our arms are too flabby, our legs are too short, our boobs are too small. When we avoid fabrics because we’ll be too visible, or girly, or masculine. When we fear the process of fitting a commercial or block pattern because it will take multiple sessions of looking closely at our real life, non-airbrushed bodies. When we perceive ourselves as we think others perceive us, and then make their imagined reality our actual reality.

Even a body positive sewer like myself struggles with this. Recently, I decided I want to resume dating – and suddenly became acutely aware that men’s perception of my plus sized body leads to a less than positive reality. As a ‘big girl’ I can provide a man with a safe space by being too unattractive to be distracting, or being an easy chick to hit and quit on the down low. But that’s nothing new clothes can’t fix. Right?

Body positive Saturday Musings with Making the Flame. Talking about perception and reality.

After successfully producing curve-celebrating, feminine garments – like a fitted dress and a pencil skirt – it was actually a wearable muslin that brought me to my senses. The Ella Top didn’t work for me. I observed women of all shapes and sizes wearing floaty, loose but not baggy, woven tank tops. They looked great! Following their example, I attempted Ella again using some amazing stash fabric (pictured at the top of this post). I sewed the darts, assembled the back, bound the neckline, and then…stopped.

I asked myself: why I was making another Ella? To stay cool in the summer? To try a new type of garment? To fit in? All of the above? Despite my creative intentions, my ulterior motive was to make feminine clothes to override men’s perceptions of me. Suddenly, Ella went from a WIP to a UFO and took my sewjo with her.

Today, I’m working on Ella – binding her armholes, French seaming her sides, and ¼” double fold hemming her lower edge. Why? Because I finally realize that while I cannot change the ‘reality’ men perceive when they look at me, I can change my own reality by perceiving myself differently. I can see myself as a lonely single woman sewing her way into men’s hearts, or as a creative free spirit open to new experiences, new styles, and new people.

I know which reality I’m going to perceive – how about you? What do you want to perceive into reality?

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9 Comments

  1. Love. Love. Love. Yes, I too go through (am going through) those same transformations. I felt compelled to make beautiful lingerie for myself this year, even though I didn’t have a special someone in my life. And as a result, I discovered a beauty in myself that I hadn’t seen before. I’m so grateful that sewing is helping you and me transform into the beautiful butterflies that we are and simply glow with the beauty of our soul’s existence. You’re amazing. Keep going. I’m loving it, you, all of it. So great Ebi! Thanks for being powerfully you.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Gwen! I didn’t know you’re a single lady like myself — and I must say, I bow down to your ability to make beautiful lingerie just for yourself. It’s such a barrier for me, that I really want to break down. Thanks to you as well for being powerfully you, I really love your spiritual awareness. :)

  2. Great post! I too also find myself trying to make sewing plans that will make people see me a certain way. I’ve recently started to check myself on times like those because I really want to learn how to be authentically me with no other person’s input but my own (and God’s lol).

    Najah is right about sewing being self-confidence on demand. Once we get it right for US it doesn’t matter what other people’s perceptions are. We won’t care :-)

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Tasha! I especially appreciate your viewpoint as a faithful woman — it’s clearly a struggle even when your mindset is less worldly than some of us (hopefully you know what I mean by this!). Sewing definitely is self-confidence on demand, if we let it be.

  3. Wonderfully deep post, Ebi. Sometimes our perceptions of our reality get blurred or hijacked and we end up singing somebody else’s tune. Sometimes it affects our sewing. I’ve had a few garments that had so much expectation stitched into them, I needed therapy before I could wear them comfortably.

    However, sewing is also self-confidence on-demand. Recognizing that YOUR perception is all that matters and that you can control it with thread and fabric shapes is a reality to embrace daily!

    1. Thanks so much for weighing in, Najah! I totally understand the feeling of a garment so weighed down with expectations, you can’t even look at it without ‘triggering’ something. It’s so wonderful we can sew and challenge this problem head on with our creative gifts.

  4. An excellent post and positive way of how we should preceive our bodies and the styles we incorporate into our wardrobes. I’ve just spent 2 weeks trouble shooting a TNT pants pattern that I’ve put off working on for two years. Why did I procrastinate?, I just did not feel like spending large amounts of time in trial and error sessions. Need finally forced into starting the tedious process – the results: after taking and retaking what seemed like 1,000 measurements, countless pattern adjustments and making 2 muslins, I’m almost finished with not only what I hope will be a great fitting pair of pants, but also an excellent pants block that will be used for future great fitting pairs. Sewing is a very important part of how I look at myself and how I present myself to the world. Great patterns, great fabrics and great fit produces happier clothes and a happier me. The way I feel about my clothes affects my mood and that mood is what people see. I just want to make happy clothes.

    1. Hi Faye, thanks so much for your excellent comment! Love it! Pants fitting is the most challenging and revealing of all the garments you can fit, so kudos to you to getting back on the horse after two years. I love that you make the choice to create your own appearance and perceive your own reality — which other can then also perceive. Sewing is such a gift, even though it can be a challenge, too.

      PS: I hope you blog about fitting your pants, because I also have a pants block languishing in a corner. I can’t tell if my pattern needs more work or not…have been reading books and watching classes to figure it out, but whew! It’s a lot.

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