I've come to think of my body as an artistic canvas. I get to drape it with fluid fabric of any colors of my choosing, I get to form that fabric into shapes that I find interesting, flattering, and comfortable. I recently expanded the canvas to include tattoos that hold deep emotional meaning as well as aesthetic intrigue.
Unlike canvas, however, the body is not only subject to the artist's vision and direct hand- it is the work of life itself. There are lines on my body that came about through my own creative agency, and there are lines and contours that are written by growing babies, painful accidents, and joy-filled meals. There are crevices etched by worry, and wrinkles bearing witness to hysterical laughter. We all move through life with a body that is partially our own making, and partially at the whim of time and circumstance. My body is a visual artist in its own right – a storyteller – of all I have lived through. Through making my own clothes, I intend to honor both my artistic agency and lack thereof when it comes to living with this ephemeral body of mine.
I have long admired the work of photographer Jade Beall, and last year, I had the honor of having a photo shoot with my friend Jessi Blakely, as part of the process of opening to the beauty of my body's story. The intent was not purely about my own body acceptance, but to be a strong example to my son, Lachlan, who has some storied lines of his own – the first of which he acquired two days after birth. Three open heart surgeries and countless chest tubes later, a mere glance at his chest shouts of his story, his sorrow, his pain, and his strength. I want him to know that his scars are beautiful, and so I will embrace mine as well.
After the photo shoot, I was on my way to peace with sharing my body with life's paintbrush, but I still had a hurdle to cross: swimwear.
Intellectually, I believe that a bikini body is a body you put a bikini on. Emotionally, I always remember the times I overheard the words “really bad stretch marks." I remember the time I wore a bikini and I overheard a child asking a parent what was wrong with my belly. In front of my kids, I unabashedly state that my squishy skin is a testament to my wondrous ability to grow their very selves and carry them each around for nine months. I feel an obligation to show all the little kids that stretch marks are normal, but I am not made of steel. No advertisements feature women with stretch marks. If you have them, you're expected to cover them up. Unfortunately for me and my short torso, that meant ill-fitting one pieces that made me feel matronly and didn't help me have any artistic agency in my collaboration with the tattoos that life etched on my body.
I never thought sewing myself a Sophie Swimsuit would bring me into harmony with my body, but it has been transformative. The suit's design has helped me find a happy medium between feeling completely exposed to scrutiny and being a representative of love and acceptance of a mother's capacity to stretch and grow. The bikini bottoms cover most of my stretched-out skin, but I am happy to have a nice bit peeking out over the top. I reduced the rise of the bottoms just for that reason, and omitted the waist elastic so that my belly skin doesn't squish out over a tighter waistband. It's like putting on yoga pants instead of an elastic-waist pair. Big difference in comfort.
The details: My measurements are 29” underbust, 34.5” full bust, 29” waist, and 37” hip. I chose to make a size 4 top with a size 5 cup. In the future I will enlarge the cup slightly, as you can see that my measurements are 1/2” more than 5” underbust/full bust difference than recommended for a size 5 cup. I cut out a size 8 bottom.
The fabric is a denim lookalike swimwear spandex from The Fabric Fairy. I have a multi-colored version in my head, but this suit is an elegant (very) wearable muslin.
I can jump in this thing. Play with my kids. Bend over. All while feeling confident, secure, elegant, and creative. No store-bought swimwear can make you feel like that. Thank you, Heather, for being an agent of self-love. You can do it, too. It's not too hard – just one seam after another. #sewingisselfcare