body positive

By Erika Farber
Woman Newspapers

I have what has often been referred to as an “unconventional body type.” I’ve also been called “hard to fit,” “curvy,” “voluptuous,” and, at times, “juicy.” Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s disturbing, but what this means, very simply put, is that my body is smaller in some places and much fuller in others, and it has taken a lot of time, education and effort to not only find clothes that flatter my physique and fit me appropriately, but more importantly, make me feel happy and comfortable in my own body. 

Having grown into my womanly figure at a younger age than most, I began to notice early on that the clothes that fit my friends so perfectly just didn’t work on my body. I was a pre-teen during the neon-spandex-stirrup-pants-years of the 1980s, and a teenager during the boxy-genderless-plaid-flannel-grunge-years of the early- to mid-1990s. I wanted to fit in and dress like my friends, but no matter how hard I tried, I always wound up looking - and feeling - different. Sticking out was a scary notion, considering that my aesthetic included not only a “grown up” bra at 11 years old, but also glasses and braces. I longed to just blend into the invisible background of conformity.  

Being of Eastern European descent, and having been a competitive swimmer in my early- to mid-teens, I developed a muscular but pear-shaped body, and despite having given up swimming for sport, some remnants of this physique still remain today, including prominent trapezius muscles in my shoulders, big thighs, and a protuberant posterior, the latter of which has gained notoriety and appeal only in recent years. It’s been a lot to...carry.

I currently lead a healthy and active lifestyle that includes smarter food choices, walking, bike riding, and the occasional hike in the woods or boxing session. I prefer the outdoors to a stuffy gym, so during the winter months, there is an increased degree of wiggle and wobble. For the most part though, I am a healthy middle aged woman. Yes, I have experienced fluctuations in my body’s size and weight throughout the years due to health issues, but am now, overall, fairly fit. 

But this does not mean that clothing my body doesn’t come with challenges. 

As any woman blessed with an ample bosom knows, finding the right tailored shirt is a near impossibility. Proper button placement is absolutely key, and, in my experience, very few designers get this right. Instead, I am often providing a convenient sideways peephole that detracts attention from everything else that’s going on. V-neck t-shirts and scoop neck tops are nothing short of obscene, and I have to be extra careful to not drop anything on the floor that that would require bending over.

With the exception of the ever-popular wrap dress, finding a fitted dress that is able to accommodate my narrow shoulders, fuller bust, tiny waist and broader hips and behind is pure fantasy, and I almost always have to consider the added time and cost of a required visit to my tailor for alterations and/or the need for a rubberized shaping undergarment before I can debut my new look. A strapless dress is a cute idea, but a mere idea, at best.

Searching for a pair of jeans that fits is akin to trying to find the Holy Grail. They are almost always too tight around my hips and thighs, but gaping around my smaller waist. And a smaller waist size usually means slender legs, which I do not anatomically possess.  Trousers have become a thing of my past. I remember my favorite pair being a wider-leg, stovepipe cut with a high waist and buttons, like sailor’s pants - perfectly suited to my body, but in style only every 15-20 years or so. Leggings work as long as I have a long sweater or jacket to pull over my derriere, otherwise there is the resulting attention and commentary I could do without. 

For so many years, I longed to have a body with a little less of this, a little more of that. Skinnier, taller, simpler, easier. I wondered if I should be spending a lot more time at the gym, or dieting more strenuously. And it made no sense to me that my closet contained clothing that ranged from a size XS to a size 12, all of which curiously yet perfectly fit my body.

But I discovered that in spending so much time resenting and resisting my genetic inheritance, I’d been neglecting to celebrate and appreciate the body I lived in. And most of the time, despite my inner crankiness about having such an unusual body type, I really am pretty happy with how it all turned out at the end of the day, so it was time to stop complaining. 

Eventually, I decided to stop sweating the small stuff and appreciate and accept everything about my body that made me look different. I’ve learned to love the curves that I possess, that are inherently mine. Maya Angelou said it best: “It’s in the reach of my arms, the span of my hips, the stride of my step, the curl of my lips.” This is what makes me a woman, phenomenally! And this is what makes me ME. I’m not like anyone else. Thank goodness!