To see their faces when they see themselves represented as mannequins - as modern icons of beauty and perfection, made me cry. And it got me thinking a lot as well.
Some years ago, I met a wonderful woman named Deirdre.
I can't remember the exact details of how Deirdre's leg had been injured, and to be honest that isn't the important part of the story. In any case, following a nasty accident, an attempt to repair her leg had gone wrong, or rather not as well as hoped. She had been left with one leg significantly shorter than the other. We're talking about a 10cm difference here. It had taken her a long time to rebuild the strength to walk. Deirdre's shoes had a thick platform attached to one of each pair, to enable her to stand comfortably. They looked quite odd lined up along her front door. But she didn't seem bothered by them at all.
She told me that when it first happened, and learned that her legs would not be the same length, she had been angry. Particularly at the doctors who treated her.
Then she met someone else who had had a similar surgery. He was on crutches. She asked him how long until he was going to be off his crutches.
He said that he wasn't expecting to ever be able to walk without crutches - that in his case, the doctors had been unable to repair the damage.
That changed her perspective. Instead of feeling that she had lost by having one leg shorter, she suddenly realised that it could easily have been the case that she could never use the leg again. That she wasn't unlucky at all - she was very fortunate.
Deidre's perspective gave me perspective too. If she could be happy with her mobility, despite the misfortune she had experienced, then I had no right to ever complain about my legs. Ever. Now, my legs are not my best feature. But I have two legs. They work. They are the same length. In terms of what legs are about, they are 100% on the mark. And not having the figure for skinny jeans is not a problem of any real validity. Whatever else I may feel about my body, the fact that it functions as well as it does is always a reason to appreciate it.
We (by which I mean those of us in Western cultures) talk a lot about body image. And I do believe that dialogue is important. Because we are surrounded by a lot of negative messages about our bodies.
But maybe 'body image' is the wrong phrase to use.
You see, image is something intended for others to look at.
But the very idea behind the term 'body image', no matter how well intended our conversation may be, is that we are using our bodies for creating something for others to look at. This is probably where we go wrong - that even in those words we compare ourselves to other images - other crafted impressions.
Can we instead talk about 'body gratitude'?
Can we embrace our differences (rather than flaws) as the things that make us unique? Can we celebrate our bodies' function - with all it's wobbly bits, jiggly bits, fuzzy bits, too-wide bits, too-skinny bits, too lumpy bits whatever and instead of worrying about how we think our looks stack up against others, just be grateful? Most of us simply don't have a real struggle with our bodies, no matter how we may feel in the change rooms.
And while it is perhaps a much smaller goal in all of this, can we stop worrying about dressing to hide the things we think are wrong with us, and instead dress to show the things we think are best about us?
I guess, without intending to diminish the broader topic, by making our own clothes, we have one small opportunity to step away from those external models of 'perfection'. I don't know about yours, but the stuff I make doesn't have size labels in it.