“All life derives from a cosmic thought which is so pure there are no judgments. It is the mind of (wo)man that judges…and breaks the pattern of understanding.” — Syd Banks
Several times, when I’ve spoken to international audiences about psychological and spiritual health, I’ve been asked if well-being is correlated with “normal” weight. The question, always from men, comes across as a thinly veiled dig about my body size. Depending on which chart you use, and where I am in my constant quest to lose weight, I’m either overweight or mildly obese. I’ve felt embarrassed but also resigned, rightly or wrongly, that the questioners were giving a voice to what others wonder. I could give you example upon example of times when my body has been shamed.
Because of my psychological and spiritual understanding, these days I feel mostly happy and content in my skin. I exercise daily and I eat in a healthy way. If a magic genie could grant me a thin body but I had to trade away my present level of peace and joy, I would not. I know that the love I feel for myself and for others, the love that I’m formed of, is weightless. It has no shape …it is one size fits all and is all. That is a comfort.
Years ago, at a corporate training, an author of a book on diversity shared that overweight people are scapegoated, discriminated against, and judged more than any other group. He said that adding the word “overweight” to a list of adjectives (like happy, warm, smart, etc.) changed the evaluation of a person from positive to negative. It was all I could do not to burst into tears. I felt an unfamiliar compassion for myself. Recent research suggests that weight discrimination has gotten worse, not better. We are the seamstresses of our self-image. It’s time to discard outdated patterns formed of culturally conditioned thoughts.
I have been ashamed of my body for as long as I can remember.
As a teenager, I had a classic hourglass figure. I was small in the shoulders, ample in the breasts, slim at the waist and lush in the hips and thighs. My mother was an expert seamstress and made many of my clothes. She used dress patterns that had been created for a figure the fashion industry deemed desirable. I was not overweight, but I was curvy, and the patterns weren’t created for that.
As my Mom made my clothes, she bent in intense concentration over the thin brown tissue paper the patterns were printed on. With her square blue dressmaker’s crayon, she whittled away, paring back certain lines on the paper forms, and enlarging others.
I stood, quiet but impatient, as she held the fragile, transparent slips of paper up to my body, front and back, to see if she had made enough corrections. I disliked the crackle of those forms as she smoothed them against me. My mom didn’t judge my body, but I sensed her frustration at the extra work it took to make the patterns fit me. My body was outside the norm for beauty. I felt intense pain about that.
Many years later, I needed to buy a dress for my only daughter’s wedding. I tried hard to lose weight for her big day but wasn’t successful. I waited as long as I could, and that created a tight deadline for purchasing an outfit.
I shopped in a posh clothing boutique in Morgantown, West Virginia. Sylvia, the store’s owner, dressed to the nines in a chic, form-fitting outfit accented by classic pearls, make-up perfect, not a hair out of place, was nice enough. She appeared to want to help me find a dress, but maybe she was mostly motivated to make a sale. She had no idea how much courage it had required for me to walk into her shop. Her store catered to thin, sophisticated women. It was not for the big, curvy, and ordinary. Or so I thought.
I tried on a pretty, taupe-colored dress. On the hanger it had looked elegant, but something seemed completely wrong about the fit. “I think it’s been sewn improperly,” I said to Sylvia, “the darts don’t fall where they should at the chest.” The shop owner took a deep breath.
“The problem is your bra,” she said. “Your breasts are falling to where they don’t belong. Let me get you a bra that fits and uplifts.” She was right. The tight, uncomfortable shaper with a built-in, stiff, underwire bra hoisted my breasts to where they had been when I was younger and hadn’t nursed a child, and the dress fell into place. But it was still wrong for me. My heart sank and inside I grew smaller.
Sylvia pursed her perfect pink lips and rummaged through the sales rack in the clearance section of her store. Mind you, those sales dresses still cost a fortune. She pulled out a gown in a deep teal color that set off my eyes and skin tones. Layers of gauzy, filmy fabric and sequins rippled across it from top to bottom. The price tag read $400. I had never paid that kind of money for a piece of clothing. But the dress was way too big. Sylvia assured me that her seamstress could easily cut four sizes off. “Easily,” she said. The seamstress, Camille, was not as certain.
Camille was Eastern European and spoke a broken form of English. “Ach”, she said, “I don’t know what Sylvia was thinking when she said I could fit this dress. You’re a missy size 10 at the shoulders, a size 14 at the breast, a size 12 at the waist and a size 20 at the hips. This dress is a 22 Woman and I’m not a miracle worker.”
The petite, dark-haired seamstress in black pants and a print blouse, trim and neat, bent over behind me, yanking at the fabric of the dress. She pulled straight pins out of her pursed, grim lips as she marked places where she would have to cut away swaths of fabric. Frustration oozed from her, and I wanted to hide, but there was nowhere to go.
I watched in full-length mirrors that did not care whether they reflected my size, as she pulled and pinned until the dress took a shape that conformed to me. Underneath, the body shaper I had been poured into made it hard to breathe or to move.
A bright red pincushion sat on the mauve-colored chair pushed into the corner of the room. My mother had a pincushion just like that and seeing it transported me back to similar days when she had worked hard to make patterns work on my hourglass body. My 56-year-old self and 15-year-old self were compressed, standing there in layers.
The seamstress fussed and fumed over the dress while I fussed and fumed internally. I was having one of a thousand pained conversations I’ve had with God about why I got stuck with this form.
Finished with her pinning, the dressmaker said, “That’s the best I can do. I’ll make it work.” She wasn’t unkind, in fact, I think she was an artist, proud of her skills, who wanted to create a masterpiece out of a disaster. I know she sensed my discomfort. “You are beautiful,” she said. “This color could not be more perfect for you and it emphasizes your unusual eyes. No one will fail to notice them.”
Her cutting and hacking, in the end, worked well enough, but the dress never fit quite right. At my daughter’s wedding, on a day when I wanted to look my best for pictures, I felt self-conscious. I struggled to breathe through the entire event, straining against the constriction of the body shaper. At least my breasts were in the right place. I had learned, thanks to the spiritual teachings of Sydney Banks, that I was not the pained, self-castigating thinking that crossed the screen of my consciousness. I knew I had the power to shift my focus away from that conditioned thought thunderstorm so that I could stay in a place of presence and love for my daughter, her new husband, and their deep joy. Knowing I could do that, and doing it were no small victory. I ended up embracing the romance and love of the day.
When I lost 56 pounds five years ago, I was ecstatic. I had not been that low in weight since I became pregnant with my daughter. My smaller waist had come back, my breasts just seemed lush and my legs looked athletic and strong.
The two-year epic story of getting to that weight was heroic, requiring a big increase in exercise, a restricted calorie intake and vigilance, constant vigilance. I held my greater trimness for several years. I bought beautiful clothes. I have a closet and dresser full of my happiness. For the first time in a long time, I did not have to buy clothes just because they fit.
And then, in August of 2017, I wrecked my bike and my right knee. A knee replacement left me permanently impaired and jettisoned a slow uptick in my weight. I console myself that I’m still 25 pounds below my zenith before the weight-loss epic, but sometimes the old conditioned thoughts that my weight is a measure of my self-worth crowd my mind and threaten to squeeze my heart.
The Inner Seamstress
I see where I am as an unfolding spiritual lesson. I am the seamstress of my body image. I remember more often than I used to that I am formed of weightless love. What I see in the mirror is perfection, a reflection of the body my soul has created to this moment.
I know that any moment I do not love the body I have brought into this illusion is a moment when I forget who I am and identify with my judging, ephemeral ego. There is so much freedom, wonder and awe in knowing that as I am, I am a thought on the mind of the I AM, full of power, truth, and creative potential. I was, always am and always will be, weightless love.
The seamstress was wise beyond her words. I am beautiful.
Photo: IStock, InCommunicado
Copyright 2020, Linda Sandel Pettit, Ed.D.
Dr. Linda Sandel Pettit, a priestess-at-heart and retired counseling psychologist, can be found at www.thedrspettit.com. She loves putting her intuitive nature, spiritual understanding and clinical experience in service to others. She is available for on-line and phone psychospiritual and intuitive conversations. For information about fees and packages, visit BOOK NOW. Email Linda for more information or fee assistance.