The Seamstress

Apr 27, 2020 | Linda, Love

“All life derives from a cosmic thought which is so pure there are no judgments. It is the mind of (wo)man that judges, analyzes, and breaks the pattern of understanding.” — Syd Banks

Author’s Note: I’m ambivalent about publishing this post. Talking about weight isn’t easy.  I’ve been asked more than once if I would be thinner if I had more spiritual and psychological understanding. That’s a little embarrassing when you’re standing in front of an audience as a psychologist and “spiritual teacher.”  The answer to that question is beyond my pay grade.  I just know I much prefer to be with a bigger person who is contented and full of love than a trimmer person who is miserable and unhappy.  Years ago, at a corporate training, I heard an author of a book on diversity, in an offhanded way, share that overweight people suffer more scapegoating, discrimination and judgment than any other group. He said that adding the word “overweight” to a list of adjectives (like happy, warm, smart, etc.) was enough to change 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. So despite my ambivalence, I’m sharing this post.  The love that we are, is weightless.

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I have been ashamed of my body for as long as I can remember.

As a teenager, I felt the mis-shapenness of my physical form. My mother sighed as she adjusted clothes patterns to accommodate it. She was an expert seamstress and made many of my clothes. I was small in the shoulders, ample in the breasts, slim at the waist and big in the hips and thighs. Curvy, and the patterns weren’t created for that.

My mom bent over the thin brown tissue they were printed on, her square blue dressmaker’s crayon whittling away at the defining lines on certain areas of the paper forms and expanding 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 my body. My sisters were slender and their patterns seemed rarely to require adjustments. I was jealous of that.

Many years later, when I shopped for a dress for my daughter’s wedding, I needed a size 18W.

For so long, I had thought the “W” stood for “wide” and was shocked when, while shopping for my own wedding dress years before, a saleswoman corrected me and said, “Oh, honey, the ‘w’ isn’t for wide it’s for ‘woman’.”  Woman. Woman versus “Missy”. As if being a woman made it alright to be bigger and to have curves.

I found a dress for my daughter’s wedding in a posh clothing boutique in Morgantown, West Virginia. Sylvia, the shop’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 pretty 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 was where thin, sophisticated women shopped. It was not for the big, curvy, and ordinary.

I tried on one dress that was a pretty taupe color. On the hanger it had looked beautiful, but something seemed completely wrong about the fit. “I think it’s been sewn improperly,” I said, “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 underwire bra hoisted my breasts to where they had been when I was younger, and the dress now fell into place. But the dress was still wrong for me. My heart sank and inside I grew smaller.

Sylvia pulled a size 22W dress off the sales rack in the clearance section of her store. Mind you, those sales dresses still cost a fortune. I had never before paid $400 for a piece of clothing. The dress was a deep teal color that set off my eyes and skin tones. Layers of gauzy, filmy fabric rippled across it from top to bottom. Sylvia assured me that her seamstress could easily cut four sizes off the dress. “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.

The fitting room was small and stuffy. Harsh fluorescent lighting twinkled on the teal sequins that pirouetted across the bodice of the dress. It also highlighted my cheeks, flushed fuchsia with shame.

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.

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. Self-loathing constricted my throat and I shut my eyes. I just didn’t want to be there.

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 do the right thing, a beautiful thing. I think she sensed my pain. “You have peaches and cream skin,” she said, “and this color is perfect for you. I’ve never seen such intense blue eyes and the dress highlights them. You will be lovely at your daughter’s wedding. You are beautiful.”

I knew she was lying, but we collaborated in the deception.

Her cutting and hacking, in the end, worked well enough, but the dress never fit quite right and I was acutely aware of that 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. The day wasn’t about me, so I soldiered on. Intense joy for my daughter and her new husband, thankfully, occupied my foreground, moving pain beneath the surface.

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. I felt beautiful, lighter, like my body was mine again. I could see its contours. 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 big decrease in calorie intake and vigilance, constant vigilance. I held my greater trimness for several years. I bought beautiful clothes. I reveled that I wore “larges” and size 16 jeans. I reveled that I could wear snug dresses again, free of mortification. I reveled in bathing suits that showed off my shape. 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 that has left me permanently impaired jettisoned a slow uptick in my weight again. I console myself that I’m still 25 pounds below my zenith before the weight-loss epic, but sometimes I’m heartbroken.

I know that I am more than my body, but do others know that? I have no control over what they know.

I see where I am as an unfolding spiritual lesson. Gradually, I know more often that I am formed of weightless love. What I see in the mirror is perfection, a reflection of the illusion I have 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, beautiful love.

The seamstress was wise beyond her words.