Skip to content

So Much More Than a T-Shirt

Pictured above is a t-shirt that I made. It took me 8-10 hours, which, given how simple it is, is probably a long time.

When it comes to sewing straight lines, I’m an advanced beginner. I made a quilt for each of my kids when they were little and went through a whole making bags from old jeans phase while I was working up the courage to write my first novel. But when it comes to sewing clothes, I’m an absolute beginner. Every step takes three You Tube videos and lots of deep breaths to figure out. (I do have the option of going down to the sewing store for lessons, but am pretty much staying home at the moment, thank you Omicron.)

To make this t-shirt I had to take my own measurements. Once I got over my own fear and shame and nasty self-talk about what my measurements should be, as opposed to what they actually are, that was very enlightening.

You see, I found out that I have narrow shoulders. And my hips are wide.

By narrow and wide I mean, compared to the pattern.

Shoulders and hips are bones. Bones cannot gain weight. By this reasoning, when I was at my thinnest, I mean back in my ‘I’ve done two aerobics classes can I eat this apple now’ days, my shoulders would still have been too narrow and my hips too wide to fit this standard t-shirt pattern.

While I’m talking about bones let me bring up that age-old euphemism tossed out at women who don’t fit our highly restrictive ideas of how women’s bodies should be (i.e. small). Calling someone big-boned is a way of saying they don’t fit in or measure up. It’s telling them their very bones, which they have absolutely no control over and did not choose, are a problem.

Bones are big how exactly? And compared to what? Compared to the societal ideal that women should take up as little space as possible? Compared to the jeans sizing chart at The Gap? Compared to the tiny bird-like bones of models on runways, whose bone structure is chosen for its very ability to drape fabric in the same way a hanger might?

What if the problem were the sizing chart, the societal ideal? What if the problem is the pattern, not the density of my bones or how they hang together, narrow at the shoulders and wider at the hips?

Could it be that the pattern is the problem? Not my body?

Turns out, a pattern is easy to adjust. The basic sewing book I bought shows exactly how to narrow or widen the shoulders or hips, lengthen or shorten the waist. The sewing book recognizes that bodies (and their bones) are put together in all kinds of ways and that all these different bodies have the right to be covered in clothing through a Canadian winter. The sewing book leaves it up to the individual seamster to adjust the pattern accordingly.

This doesn’t happen with off-the-rack clothing. Of course it doesn’t. And yet the messages around fashion and clothing size and weight are ubiquitous in our society. I expect we all have our own version of how this plays out in our minds. Certainly over the course of my lifetime I’ve come to have a strong (and very mean) internal voice telling me all the ways my body is wrong because standard clothing sizes have never fit me quite right.

Naming the Real Problem

Body-positivity activism and anti-diet research have become almost trendy in the past few years. There are articles and podcasts and books everywhere now taking a good hard look at how societal expectations, corporations and yes, scientists, have got this wrong for a very long time.

My first introduction to these ideas was this podcast episode on “The Obesity Epidemic” and this corresponding article by podcast host Michael Hobbes. Hot take: scientists have know since the late 1950s that dieting does not work long term. A whopping 95-98% of dieters will regain the weight, and then some, within a year, prompting more dieting and more weight gain. In fact, the greatest predictor of long term weight gain is… wait for it: DIETING.

From there I started listening to the incredible podcast Maintenance Phase, hosted by Michael Hobbes (author of the article linked above) and fat activist Aubrey Gordon (who also wrote a great book that you can find here). If you are interested in this topic, you’ll want to listen to the whole catalogue, but if I were to recommend one episode it would be this one: Is Being Fat Bad for You? (Short answer: within a certain range, no, and some studies show that being too thin is worse for your health than carrying some “extra” weight.)

Next I read the book Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison, who describes herself as an anti-diet dietician. This book is definitely worth reading for a full background of the research behind these concepts and the growing understanding in the nutrition field that weight stigma, weight cycling and anti-fat bias are significant factors behind the link between overweight and poor health outcomes.

If you are interested in taking a deep-dive into these topics, there are two other body positive / anti-diet folks I’d like to mention:

Virgie Tovar is an author and influencer who shares all kinds of resources, including a podcast, blog, books and frequent media articles about body positivity, actual enjoyment of food (imagine that!) and plus-sized designers and style.

Virginia Sole-Smith writes a fantastic newsletter and now podcast called Burnt Toast. She writes about intuitive eating for families. She also has a series on Jeans Science which basically explained to me why I have never been able to wear jeans, no matter the dimensions of my body at a particular time.

Back to My T-shirt

I’ve finished my t-shirt now and it’s far from perfect. The fabric is bamboo with a bit of spandex in it, which means it has a bit of stretch. I haven’t gotten the hang of folding and sewing the hem without stretching the fabric yet, which means that the collar and hems are all a little stretched out and have some puckers.

I’m planning to make about five more of these t-shirts, so I’ll get the hang of it eventually. I’d rather have a stretched out hem on a t-shirt that fits my body, thank you very much.

Having a t-shirt that fits my actual body, not some idea of what a body’s measurements should be, makes me feel very powerful indeed. And you know what else it does? It frees up my thoughts from the constant shame spiral of my clothes not fitting properly or feeling frumpy from wearing boxy t-shirts. It saves me actual time (all that pulling and adjusting ill-fitting clothing) and energy (shame is exhausting, dieting is exhausting, leaving out multiple food groups for years at a time is exhausting) and frees me up to do actual work I want to do in my lifetime.

And that work involves taking up more space in the world, not less.

[If you’re interested in keeping up to date with what that work is and how it’s going, I send out a monthly letter where I share all of that and more. You can sign up here.]

2 thoughts on “So Much More Than a T-Shirt”

    1. I already love your t-shirt, this is important work! Making my own clothes is the most challenging sewing I have ever done. Liking the end product is the 2nd most challenging task!! Keep it up

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *