What I wore last… Tuesday

Dress: primark via charity shop; cardi: Monsoon; belt, from another dress (Asos); shoes: Matalan

I wore this staple black dress twice last week, swapping the blue tones here for an ochre cardigan with a pair of Matalan moccasins and belt later on. Conference wardrobes are all about working around a theme for me – making one dress do twice the work! I also wore the same cardi & shoes with the Asos dress that belongs to this belt!

Various colleagues asked me about my style over the last week – calling it girly, ladylike, romantic, traditional… all terms which I’ll happily embrace. In fact, I remember doing a quiz in Sugar or Bliss magazine on the subject of personal style in my early teens: I came out as romantic then, and I guess it stuck! But one thing that always comes up in conversations of this ilk is that of emphasising my waist. I always go for something fitted and flared from the waist, because I am the typical English pear.

When I saw the lovely Gemma of Big Girls Browse talking on the very same subject on the M&S body shapes advice hub, I thought I’d share. You can read more about her experiences here, or about other body shapes and the hub, here.

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Secondhand shopper’s guide to hold ups

Or rather, guide to hold ups for the curvier amongst us! Many of my more voluptuous friends regularly comment that they can’t wear hold ups. But this isn’t true! You just need to know what to look for…

As far as I’m concerned, there are two dealbreakers when it comes to buying hold ups for the wider thigh.

Sizing

The most flattering and comfortable hold ups are the ones that come right up the leg. Anything that stops any lower has the double effect of creating bulge (a smooth line under your pencil skirt is a must!) and encouraging painful rubbing thighs. Therefore, the first rule of thumb is to find hold-ups that have sizing options. I pretty much always go for the largest option – unless dress sizes are specified, in which case I go for the correlating size 16. But it’s always better to have a bit of give rather than create the over-stuffed sausage effect.

Band-width

The second dealbreaker is a narrow band. To create that smooth silhouette we were talking about you need as wide a band as possible. The very best of luxury hold-ups often include several inches of lace around the top, and more than one band of rubber.

All images from UK Tights.

You may need to spend a little more cash on these hold-ups, but they are worth it – if you’re not stretching the material too tightly over your legs, you’re less likely to ladder them: obvious, but true, nevertheless!

My favourite brands – all of which combine size variation with a decent width of band include: Marks & Spencer, Le Bourget, Charnos and Levante. Levante in particular combine great quality and stretch with ladder-resist material, a great band and wide, sturdy elastic. Their hold ups are a bit pricier, true, but last longer than any other I’ve tried – I could buy several £4.50 pairs in the time it takes me to wear through one £7.70 pair from Levante.

Levante Sheer Fantasy hold-ups – my personal reccomendation

One element of hold-ups which can only be discovered on a trial and error basis is the roll factor. If the rubber is too far down, or if the band is just cut slightly wrong, they can roll down at the top, making them uncomfortable to wear. Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict if a pair will do this, and I’ve had identical pairs, one of which rolls and one of which doesn’t. This can sometimes happen over time too, as your rubber starts to disintegrate.

A rule for all tights wearers who want to minimise the apparent girth of their legs, is to avoid high shine. I recently ordered a pair of Charnos sheer-lustre hold-ups, which are fine, for everyday, but not the most flattering I own. They do, however, have a sturdy band with elastic that runs right around the very top, so if shiny is your look of choice, these may be the best.

It’s also worth noting that tights are not the most flattering way to give yourself a fake tan: if your natural skin tone is porcelaine white, American tan tights are not going to give you a golden glow. They are going to make you look like an escaped ballroom dancer who has lost her sequins. The most flattering shade of summer tights is always the one closest to your true colouring.

Caring for hold-ups is simple, the main rule being don’t machine wash them: this can cause the rubber to lose its stick and stretch. I wash the feet of mine after every wear, rubbing the soap directly into the foot area to remove staining from shoes and rinsing with hand-hot water. I then immerse the whole hold-up in warm soapy water after every few wears for a more thorough clean.

I love hold-ups and wear them all year round. Gipsy do a decent range of lace-topped opaques for the colder months, Levante produce 50 denier seamless opaques in black or brown, and M&S fashion hold-ups come in a variety of winter-friendly designs, including patterned fishnets, lace and seamed. Jonathon Aston make fabulous coloured seamed hold-ups (see pink, below), but they are not the most generous of sizes, and do seem to give up on holding UP after just one wear, making a suspender belt a necessity.

Body talk

She looks the way movie stars used to look. She is, in that sense, proof of how certain bodies go in and out of fashion.

Awww, lovely Christina Hendricks! She’s featured on the New York Magazine site just now talking about how fed up she is with people going on about her body. Which is a shame, because I like going on about her beautiful body, and her beautiful self!

“It might sound silly,” she says, “but I didn’t realize I was so different. I was just oblivious. Sometimes I would go on an audition and someone would say something like, Girl, you’re refreshing! That was it.”

It’s a really interesting feature, offering a break from the usual weight-obsessed, body-conscious chatter of celebrity – worth a read if you’re due a five minute break with your elevenses…

Wide load

Today I’m all about the curves. I’ve been putting off wearing this skirt because, well, it’s a little on the tight side. It shows off more of my shape than I would really like. And I’m very aware that if you are blessed with curves, with hips, with a sizeable rear, and you dress them up fitted style, you will always look more glamourous and sexualized than a slinky skinny type in the same get-up. It’s just a fact of life: put Marilyn and Audrey in identical 60s black shift dresses and one will look classic, elegant and demure while the other will look soft, sexy and possibly (as my Mum would say) “a bit common”. Neither can help it, it’s just what their body shape does to the dress in question.

But then I found Musings of a Fatshionista blog, and in particular, the below catwalk shots. And I thought, to hell with it! Because I felt such a lifting of spirit looking at these images, such a connection to the clothes. For the first time I looked at models on a catwalk and thought “Oh – I can look like that!” Followed by “And why shouldn’t I??”

Note: I’ve picked images that depict women whose shape I identify with.
There are more models of varying shapes and sizes over on Fatshionista’s blog
.

If they can wear pencil skirts and bias cuts and floaty chiffon and look so good in them then why am I so ashamed of my shape? The experience really threw a spotlight onto my relationship with my body, with other people’s bodies, and with “fat”. Because – and this is a confession I am far from proud of, and aware might lose me a few readers – despite hating myself for it, I do look at random strangers’ lumps and bumps and think “that ruins the line of that” or “she’s too big to be wearing that” or, most painful to admit, “Ugh! She looks horrible!” I constantly compare myself to others, my internal monologue asking “Am I bigger than her?”, wondering “Is that what I look like from behind?” and stating “God, I hope I never get that big.” I am my own harshest critic, but I mentally criticize others as well – which makes me more critical of myself because, well, if I’m doing it, other people must be too!

(That paragraph was so difficult to compose! I had to go back several times and rewrite my thoughts into exactly what I think, rather than the cotton-wool-wrapped alternative I’d like you to believe of me. Honesty can be painful to write.)

I know this says more about my own state of mind, my own relationship with my body, than anything else. And what is hardest to admit is that it’s not a relationship based just on aesthetic. It infiltrates every aspect of my life, from public eating (“What will people think of me eating this chocolate bar? Will they think I’m fat because I’m unhappy and lonely? Will they think I have no self control?”) to work (“Will the interviewer think I’m lazy because I’m overweight? What about the other people at this networking event – what will they think if I have a cake instead of an apple? Will they think I can’t do my job because I’m too hung up on food?”) via the commute (“Oh god, there’s not enough seats on this train… what if people think they can’t sit next to me because I’m too fat? Let me tuck my coat in and my elbows and make sure I fit into my side of the seat… oh god, are they not sitting next to me because they think because I’m overweight I might smell sweaty?). In recent months I’ve considered signing up for online dating, but haven’t, partly for fear that meeting me in the flesh could potentially be so dishearteningly disappointing – for both parties. And as I walk down the street – and I walk FAST by most people’s standards – I will actually alter my breathing as I pass someone, trying to ensure that I don’t sound out of breath because, horror of horrors, they might hear me and think it’s because I’m so unfit. Which, and here’s the thing, I’m not! I could be fitter, yes, but I walk EVERYWHERE (I don’t drive, and as well as being too tight to pay for buses if I can walk, am afraid the bus driver will think I’m fat and lazy!). My relationship with my body affects every aspect of my life.

And I can’t be alone in feeling this way. I can’t be the only one carrying the extra load emotionally that comes with being overweight. I can’t be alone in worrying that my appearance will give people certain preconceived ideas about my health and mental state. I can’t be the only one who has actually started to believe the hype that if I were just  a bit slimmer things would be better. Everything would be alright.

(Woah, this has turned into a therapy session!)

Getting back to the point, these images provided more than just a breath of fresh air. They provided hope. They provided inspiration. They gave me something to aspire to, to recreate, and to know I could emulate. Because they don’t look like the token plus size models sent down the runway to demonstrate the wearability of the catwalk collections. These girls look like they’re leading the revolution. They look amazing.

A rant about sizing

Last weekend, Nat and I went shopping. We don’t often hit the high street, instead preferring to spend our shopping time together rifling through charity shops for elusive bargains. But on this occasion I needed tights, having worn all of mine to bobbly, snaggy messes, and Nat had convinced me that it might be worth trying a pair of leggings instead of layering 70 denier tights for warmth from now on… So we nipped into H&M.

H&M had rails and rails of sales stuff. I quickly unearthed a fabulous floral mini prom dress in a 14 (£10) and a pencil skirt in a 16 (£3), both of which looked roughly the right size – which in H&M is the ONLY way to choose clothes, as their sizing even within the brand is SO ERRATIC. Nat picked up a skirt, and we headed excitedly for the fitting rooms.

None of the items we had selected fit. The dress, though a size 14, fit as if it had been tailored across my bust, waist and hips… but didn’t actually cover my bum cheeks. Which, as I’m a very average 5 ft 6, worries me a little… The skirt, meanwhile was SKIN TIGHT in a way only Girls Aloud can really carry off. Nat’s skirt too was on the small side.

Nat and I are both bang on average UK sized. We have the same measurements (excepting that her boobs are bigger), though we struggle to share clothes as she is a few inches taller than me and therefore has different overall proportions. I wear a Dorothy Perkins size 16 (I tend to find Dorothy Perkins offer decent middle-ground sizing; M&S too) – which is very different to Laura Ashley, where a size 16 DROWNS me, or Topshop, where a size 16 skirt won’t actually fit over one of my thighs…

I know I’m not the only one who hates the diversity of sizing on the high street. It makes buying clothes online an exercise in gambling, and accepting clothes as gifts without having tried them on first an often embarrassing trial (except when it comes to gifts sent to me by my lovely blogging friends, who seem to have an eye for exactly what size I am!). It also makes every single shopping trip a chore, as I take two of everything into the dressing room, unsure which will fit.

And, as I was reminded on Saturday, the complete lack of standard sizing is the reason I stopped shopping at H&M, despite the great designs on offer there.

As an aside, I did buy leggings, which I’ve yet to try… But ended up buying my tights from trusty Topshop. Their clothes may be flimsy, badly made and distinctly on the skimpy side, but their tights are velvet-soft, long-lasting and surprisingly generous in the body. At £6 for an 80 denier pair (or £3 in the sale 🙂 ) they may seem expensive, but these babies go the distance!

Lovable bods

This lunchtime a friend sent me a link to this slide show from MSN Life & Style, showcasing the 10 Celebrity Body Shapes we Love. My friend thought I might appreciate the generous application of the word “curvy” in what he deemed an “insidious and dangerous” feature.

Cheryl

(Almost) all images from MSN Life & Style

Dangerous is the word. I worry greatly about the mixed messages high school girls (and younger) are getting about their bodies these days. Too thin = bad, too fat = wrong, Cheryl Cole = just right (but only now, after she and her girl-next-door, slimmer-than-average Girls Aloud bandmates were put on a strict diet and exercise regime that saw a steady weightloss for the few years after they first made it big…)

Dita

I will never understand why Dita is described as curvy. She wears a corset that gives her an 16 inch waist, yes, but she is the tiniest of women and there’s not an inch of flesh to her. This dress gives the impression of flesh, and I’ve no doubt that she has a naturally hourglass shape, but to hail her as a curvaceous role model is downright iresponsible. I adore her, but with its current connotations of voluptuousity, “curvy” is not a word she should ever be attributed.

Drew

Drew Barrymore was better when she was natural (as in Charlie’s Angels) – looks positively ill now regardless of what they say. Just look at her back!

Kate Kelly Scarlett

Kate, Kelly and Scarlett are three of my favourite ladies ever – Kate for finding a happy medium, Kelly for being just “as is and ever was” and Scarlett for being the woman I’d kill to look like! But none of them is a particularly accessible role model for body confidence. They have found a way to be accepted into the Hollywood norm despite being larger (except in teeny Ms Johansson’s case)  than your size 2 average starlet, and for managing that within the existing constraints they are praise-worthy. But every single one would look extraordinarily slim standing alongside your average-sized British (or American) woman. I’m not saying we (average-sized women collectively, as a nation) couldn’t stand to lose a few pounds for our health’s sake, but to label any of these celebs as curvy is plain ridiculous.

christina-hendricks

Now, to get onto a favourite subject of mine, Christina Hendricks (conspicuous by her absence in this list) is a different matter. I’ll be interested to see whether she eventually bows to pressure, but have great expectations of her sticking to her guns and staying plus size. She had roles when she was slimmer that didn’t take off as Joan Holloway has, so her shape has become part of her brand image. The Hollywood climate has been softened by the aforementioned not-actually-all-that-curvy women with their happy mediums, complemented by the endless documentaries and makeover shows that have aclimatised us to shaplier forms. And she’s arrived at the right moment economically too: as she hit right around crunch time, the concept of “plenty” she epitomises has become aspirational in a way that only our subconscious can explain.

Disney vs Feminism II: the rematch!

I got some great responses to my Disney vs Feminism post yesterday, thank you all! But one, from Fia at The Laundry Narrative, really inspired me. I ended up writing a long reply to her comment… and eventually decided to address the issues in a follow-up post instead!

(This is why I love social media – so much opportunity for debate and interaction!)

Fia commented:

“I don’t always like the messages of femininity and masculinity that Disney teaches: http://www.feministing.com/archives/010140.html. There seems to be only one type of feminine character and one type of masculine character that is appropriate in these movies and anything else is villianized or ridiculed. I don’t see choice being presented in these movies.”

I agree that Disney promotes very specific ideals about beauty and gender. But I must point out that the shots in this reel were cut in such a way to prove the maker’s point rather than taken in context. Take the clip of Belle leaning seductively against the door as an example. Having tried every other strategy, this shows her finally giving in and using the only remaining weapon at her disposal – her “feminine wiles” – to get Gaston to the exit – which she then opens and unceremoniously pushes him out through. The clip being cut the way it is manages to depict her as a flirtatious cutie seducing her man, rather than a the unwilling object of an arrogant’s affections.

A lot of this study focusses heavily on Beauty and the Beast, on Gaston being the attractive, strong, muscled role model, despite him actually being the bad guy. By contrast the good guy – the Beast – is monstrous of appearance, kind and gentle, a deliberate subversion of the tradition that is the whole point of this classic fairytale.

What’s more, Gaston’s arrogance and overt masculinity are actually the subject of as much ridicule as (and a lot more hatred than) Lefou’s bumbling (and sometimes distinctly vindictive) chubbiness.

The point that masculinity is about standing up for the girl, acting as protector and ultimately fighting for what’s yours, while I don’t agree with the violent elements, I actually agree with in principle. We should stand up for ourselves and for the ones we love, whatever our gender. This isn’t to say that the princess couldn’t put herself between danger and her prince – and in more recent Disney offerings she often tries at least – but that in-keeping with their afore-mentioned ideals the heroine is often too waif-like to have any real effect and the hero, even if a scrawny street rat, has more chance of victory.

(This is often true across the idealised Hollywood scale – take the Branjen triangle. Lara Croft may be a mean shot, but I’m pretty sure Angelina would literally snap if a dragon got hold of her miniscule frame. Jen, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t even last long enough for grasping – she’d break the moment Maleficent turned her icy glare in her direction. Nope, even putting Ange and Jen in together, tag-team stylee, my money would be on Brad to dispatch the beast…)

The use of the fight scene in The Lion King as an example of violence between men is, to my mind, ridiculous. The story is about animals. In the animal kingdom, that is how lions demonstrate their superiority and hold onto their pride. We don’t pull the same film up for it’s degredation of women because Nala is one of Mufassa’s many “wives” – because that’s how a pride of lions works – that is their social structure. There’s nothing more to it than reality.

As for the rest, I’m afraid I don’t know Mulan well enough to comment, although the fact that masculinity in any armed force is measured by strength, speed and physical prowess is hardly shocking – it’s what keeps them alive in battle. But Hercules is directly rooted in myth. He fought and killed monsters, with his sword and his bow and arrow, and was lauded for it. The Greeks had a chiseled idea of perfection too – how about that? Maybe it’s not all Disney’s fault afterall…

But to place Disney in its wider Hollywood context, I challenge anyone to find me one film, one TV show that doesn’t conform to the same ideal of beauty WITHOUT ovetrly utilising it in the storyline. Ugly Betty may be about inner beauty, but that focus of the show is clear before a single viewing, is right there in the title. The same goes for films like Shallow Hal.

Or look at Friends, one of the most successful and most oft-repeated TV shows of the last decade. Fat Monica is centre of ridicule and humour in every single flash back, and often even laughed about in non-flashback episodes. Meanwhile, the cast get skinnier with every rise in ratings…

“Beauty” as we have come to expect it does not exist – it is created through lighting and airbrushing, digital liposuction, and yes, an army of Hollywood make-up artists, dieticians and personal trainers. When someone comes along to challenge the beauty status quo they are heralded before being beaten into submission. Their shape, size, colour or face becomes more important than anything else – Kate Winslet’s weight outweighed her acting in Titanic, Halle Berry was the first BLACK woman to win an Oscar, etc etc.

Disney has always favoured an unobtainable ideal, but at least we all knew – even as children – that it was a cartoon, not real life. I’m far more concerned about our children being exposed to digitally enhanced images than Belle’s miniscule waist, to Zac Efron’s painted-on abs than Hercules’ barrell chest. In a world where I can watch a programme featuring a group of anorexics and think “but they don’t look that skinny to me” (Supersize vs Superskinny, BBC3, I actually sat mesmerised, thinking that exact thought) I am more concerned about the modelling agencies and catwalk designers that promote a pre-pubescent ideal of beauty, the digital artists that shave inches of a size zero waistline, and the casting directors that would rather cast a waif than a woman in the heroine’s role than I’ll ever be about little girls who want to marry a prince.