Real women, real old patterns, and really moved

Well. We have a place to live, and that’s good, but I am so ready to never, never move again. Of course, spending the rest of our days in a two bedroom apartment with three children is probably not an option, but I hadn’t remembered how much I hate moving. I thought I remembered hating moving, but that was before my loathing grew to epic proportions in the course of actually moving.

Yarn, by the way, makes excellent packing filler. It’s light and squishy, and it works very well in keeping boxes filled but not too heavy. Just a tip for all you knitters, should you have cause to move.

We hadn’t moved in four years. It’s the longest we’ve been settled anywhere, and it meant we were both out of practice and more entrenched than usual.

In the course of moving, as is usual, I rediscovered many things I’d lost, including the pattern magazines of the sixties and early seventies that my grandmother left me. Good heavens! I must scan some of the pictures in – there are really remarkable things to be seen. I’m not going to give too much away, so I’ll just say this: pornstash, bow tie, knit zig zags. All in one place. Oh, the humanity! Many of the sweaters are quite lovely, actually, but the knit items for men are…well, who in 1972 decided that what men really need is to accentuate their waists? There are all these perfectly decent sweater spoiled by an ill placed belt or a long laced slit at the throat. It’s terribly exciting, but not good fashion sense. Worse yet is when the belt is slung at the hips. I don’t know how, but this looks even more accidentally feminine.

In other news, I finally got into Ravelry! It’s rare that something is as good as the hype, but Ravelry is every bit as good as I’d heard it would be. I’m having so much fun. I can’t wait take pictures of my stash and get them up there.

One of the most interesting discussions I saw on Ravelry was about Real Women. I capitalized the term because it seems like in recent years Real Women has taken on a cultural meaning having to do solely with weight. When a magazine refers to Real Women, they’re not talking about real women. They’re talking about people who are not skinny. Real Women doesn’t have to mean overweight, but it means Not Skinny almost exclusively.

The Ravelry discussion was about banishing the term as a pejorative since we’re all real women, regardless of size. It’s not a new idea, but it’s not one that I think can be brought up too often. One of the most unpleasant aspects of being female is the constant competition in which we all seem to be engaged. If I’m OK, it must mean that everyone different from me is not OK. Since there’s been a trend toward skinniness since the 1960’s, skinny has come to be the forbidden and unhealthy ideal that is difficult, even impossible for most women to attain. That there should be a backlash is entirely understandable, but what perhaps is not as well understood is what the backlash does to women.

Obviously, if you’ve seen my pictures here, you know that I’m skinny, so there’s some self interest in this discussion. What I may not have mentioned overtly is that I tend toward the unhealthy underweight end of the spectrum. It’s not something I have a lot of control over. My natural body size is small and I have a hyperactive metabolism. I don’t really mind being skinny in most respects, but I do mind the unhealthy part of things, because when I drop below a certain weight I get dizzy and spinny and tired and it becomes harder to get through the day. Anyway, because of this I don’t view my size as a positive, but merely a fact. I’m skinny. Not just thin, not just willowy, not just slender or graceful or elegant or any of those lovely words, but skinny. I look better with 10 to 15 pounds more than I usually carry, but it’s very hard for me to get up to that weight and then keep it on.

Maybe I’m extra sensitive, but it makes it hard for me to read reviews of knitting books or patterns sometimes, because a lot of times the smaller sizes are referred to as being for “anorexics” and the models disparaged as pathetic, sickly, unattractive, not like real women, or otherwise disturbing. I had a bad evening some weeks back in which I read one of these reviews on Amazon and then cried. It’s no more appropriate for people to disparage the in body type than to make fun of people for being overweight. Moreover, if the models are simultaneously being held up as an ideal and ripped down as hideous, then we’ve created a space in which no woman is ever attractive or acceptable as she is, rather than making it more acceptable to be real. Real is many, many sizes, and many, many shapes. Real is a big nose or a dainty upturned nose, a svelte figure or a curvy one.

Women look their best in so many different ways. Some women look better with a little more meat on their bones and some look best thin and sleek. It all depends on build and health, and in the end, health is 99% of attractive. I’d like to see a space where all of us can feel our best about how we look and stop worrying about weight.

I’d also like to see a wider range of sizes in knitwear, too, though, and with that in mind, I’m going to try to write up the pattern for Arthemis soon in many sizes. I think the shape should be flattering to most figures with the loose fit but curved outline. Arthemis will be a free download like Maude Louise (which I’m also hoping to edit soon). I recently stumbled upon Ysolda Teague’s wonderful size chart, and I’m going to refer to that for future sizing.

If you made it through the rambling, good for you! Thanks for letting me pour out a little bit of mind.


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7 Responses to “Real women, real old patterns, and really moved”

  1. Sarah Says:

    My knitting New York friends have had some interesting discussions along these lines. One of our number, also a skinny girl, submitted a beautiful pattern to a popular online knit magazine only to be told that its ribbed body wouldn’t look good on most women and that she should make it a loose-fitting empire waist in stockinet. We were all annoyed that the editor seemed to be favoring shapes so generic as to look ill on everybody and water down the design, too. No pattern can suit every body type, and while I sympathize with the sentiments of larger women long discounted by a fashion industry that favors twig silhouettes, I don’t think it’s worth trying to make every garment work on everyone. Bigger gals can wear shapes that look like crap on me, and so can my scrawny little mom. I tend to design things for myself because it’s easier to know what will fit correctly, but ultimately I’d like to feel confident enough about my skills to issue patterns that will work for bigger ladies and others for smaller ones. I couldn’t agree more that health is most important, and I think we should celebrate a) that health takes different forms on different people and b) that knitting gives us the skills to adapt clothes to our own shapes.

    I can’t wait to get a glimpse of Arthemis!

  2. whitknits Says:

    Oh my goodness, what a wonderful post. I’ve been meaning to write about my feelings on the whole “Real Women” issue (which is something that’s been especially on my mind recently, after dropping 20 pounds off my already thin frame due to illness and feeling very hurt by the “anorexic” references in knitting book reviews, and the dirty looks I sometimes get from other women when I go out now), but you’ve said it so very well already. Do you mind if I link to your post?

  3. stitchywitch Says:

    I completely agree with everything you have said here. I also feel that the term “real women” can be used in a very hurtful way towards those of us who are petite. I have talked about my sizing problems on my blog, but I have hesitated to post about the “real women” thing because I feared a backlash (silly, I know!) I have always been small because I have a small frame, and I have experienced hurtful comments.

    I am glad to see what seems to be a growing awareness of this problem in the knitting community.

    Thanks for adding me as a friend on Ravelry! Sometime I’m going to get around to knitting Maude Louise, which I love!

  4. kae Says:

    I really enjoyed this post. As someone who is slim (but not skinny), I have often in the past taken offence to the fact that magazines and media now consider me to be not a “real woman”. I believe women are women no matter the size they are – it’s what a woman does that defines her, and not her bust, waist or hip line. To me, it’s sad to see that in the move to address larger women’s issues, they have left behind the smaller women who also have their own (different) sizing issues . I think that all women in every shape and size should be celebrated, not subjected to terms such as “real women” or otherwise.

  5. Eva Says:

    I really enjoyed this post, too (linked from Whitknits, btw). As someone who *isn’t* slender, but rather in the odd no-man’s-land between “average” and “plus” sizes, I’m always shocked at how violent the backlash against thin women can be. I know how frustrating it can be to feel ignored by designers, but that frustration should be directed more positively, in a push toward expanded sizing ranges and variety in designs. It’s so hypocritical to react disparagingly toward people who simply come in a smaller size.

    I think there *has* been a strong push in this positive direction lately, at least in more recent Knitty issues, on many blogs (Ysolda’s, for example), and even in some Interweave designs. That’s really nice to see. It would also be nice if someone prominent (Knitty, IK, etc.) ran an article on modifying sizes in both directions; might solve a lot of angst. Oh Miss Eunny…?

  6. amanda Says:

    Kristen, very well said. I am middle-of-the-road in terms of body proportions, but I agree that this issue has been a one way street. Thin women are usually envied and criticized, as if being thin is their choice. Clearly it is not always the case, and sometimes we must accept the body type we were born with. I think you’ve brought an important point to light here.

  7. Fattitude « superblondgirl Says:

    […] just making more women feel bad about how they look, just a different demographic this time. Like this post at Knitting Kninja – it’s not fair that she should have to defend herself for being thin. […]

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