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?
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?