July 4th, 2018 is my personal independence day. It marks one year since I quit eating sugar and flour. Just over one year later, I’m 70 pounds lighter and have gone from an L to a C cup in bra size.
You’d think dressing this smaller body would be easy, right? Shopping like a kid in a candy store? Pure joy and effortless adornment?
Very, very wrong.
I spent so much of my adult life learning to love my larger, curvy body that it never occurred to me I’d be here.
Skinny with tiny boobs.
I know I completely chose this. I sacrificed for this. I struggled to achieve this. I literally ran my ass off for this.
And my improved health and pain-free back and feet remind me every day that I’m so very grateful I did.
But I didn’t realize how much of my own identity was wrapped up in being a zaftig woman.
In the blue frame above, you see two images of me at my current size paired with one of the awful “before” photos that I took of myself on July 4, 2018, to (hopefully) chronicle the before and the after of my breast reduction and lifestyle changes.
Well, it definitely shows an astounding change!
However, do not think for one moment that I walked through this world looking like that poor woman in that striped turquoise tent.
I’ve always worked to present the best image possible of myself to the world. In the pink frame below I offer the same two “after” photos next to a very different photo of me at the exact same weight as the turquoise tent “before” photo, still a size 14, and wearing an L-cup–
–just dolled up and enjoying my largesse:
Hardly a woman who had “let herself go” or given up.
When I was a size 14 and an L cup, I special ordered bras from Poland because nothing else fit me. I wore gorgeous, curvaceous clothing from Bravissimo (a UK company that specializes in items cut for the big-boobed among us). I wore corsets to accentuate my already ridiculous dimensions. My entire closet was full of wrap and retro dresses and I rarely wore pants because it was practically impossible to find one garment that was both large enough for my thighs and small enough for my waist. The walls of my bedroom were adorned with Hilda the plus-sized pin-up to inspire my fleshy aesthetic. I embraced the Health At Any Size movement zealously and explored being a boudoir photographer for a time, even branding my own version of Hilda in my business logo to encourage women of all shapes and sizes to celebrate with me:
But my health was deteriorating because of my backaches, and I had to make a drastic change. After my breast reduction last October, in four brief hours I went from an L-cup to a C-cup. Here’s a photo of the bra I wore to the hospital next to the first bra I wore post-surgery (and that smaller bra is padded, mind you):
I loved 90% of the clothes in my sized-14 closet but overnight could wear only 2% of them. Everything I owned now looked hideous, which I wasn’t prepared for–I mean, my body wasn’t nearly as small post-surgery as I am today (for point of reference, I was a size 10 when I had the surgery; now I wear a 4/6). I woke up pain-free, which was glorious after all the years of ever-worsening backaches, but suddenly the very shapes and lines of the body that I had learned to love during my 50 years sojourn with it were dramatically different.
And most annoying of all, I couldn’t figure out what to wear!
I already shared my initial frustrations about trying to dress this completely altered body and some of the fledgling reading I did into the world of finding one’s best colors, fashion archetype, and rebuilding one’s closet in a prior bloggishness. Click the following to read this post:
But that was February, this is August. A LOT has transpired since that post, specifically, my own weight loss has finally stabilized at 70 pounds released. With these diminutive breasts and the substantial weight loss, knowing my best colors and basic body type just wasn’t cutting it for me anymore.
I have a dear friend who has always had smaller boobs and normal body weight, and I went to her for help. We went shopping together but quickly discovered that even though we were similar in size, we certainly didn’t look good in the same clothes. I am much taller than her with a long torso; she is short-waisted with fabulous ankles. My shoulders are equal in width to my hips while she has broader shoulders and narrower hips. My waist and ribcage are quite small, but her breasts are now considerably larger than mine. Her coloring sparks dreams of autumn leaves and pumpkin lattes, mine inspires musings about the sugarplum fairy in a wintery production of the Nutcracker.
I began to grasp that the problem was not one of size but dimension.
I scheduled an Ultimate Style Session with stylist David Zyla, the author of the book Color Your Style. During this remarkable four hours, he not only crafted a personal color and archetype for me that was spot on but more importantly helped me figure out what shapes, necklines, hem lengths, fabrics, and styles suited this altered body of mine. On the other side of it all, let me just say that this session was one of the most profoundly important gifts I have ever given myself. I have every intention of giving my daughter the same gift when she is in her late teens.
However, the session with Zyla was quite expensive and I recognize probably out of reach for a lot of people. Plus, the valuable lessons I learned there were completely personal, and I wanted to learn the fashion science (is that even a thing?) that underlay the reasons for line, shape, proportion, scale, color, and texture.
So, I dug deeper. Much, much deeper than my initial personal answers.
There’s remarkably little published about what to do AFTER a major body change. Some basic books on how to live post-bariatric or other weight loss surgery and a couple of books about recovery from mastectomy, but what few things I could find on living your life AFTER major weight loss seemed to amount to further weight loss or fitness advice. An ever longer road to eventually achieving some amorphous but never-to-be-attained body that you actually love living in.
So here’s my question: How can we love, celebrate, and adorn the body we inhabit today in the midst of change, loss, aging, and mortality?
Three books have stood out during my process of dispelling the “Myth of After” (a phrase I coined to describe this period of fashion and body-image purgatory); three books have helped me discover what’s still me in this dramatically altered body, and I’d like to share each with you.
And I promise: I’ve saved the best for last.
The first book that took my research in a remarkably different direction was–
Dressing Your Truth by Carol Tuttle
I initially heard of this book from a Facebook advertisement and was further encouraged to read it and peruse Ms. Tuttle’s expansive (and I suspect quite lucrative) website and program offerings online to find out more about her system for dressing effortlessly from some online friends I met in another Facebook group. I spoke with a handful of women who feel they have truly benefitted from this dressing system, which is based on four basic “Energy Profiles”. What I find refreshing about this system is that it is simple, clear cut, and although not particularly personalized, it is self-consistent and offers well-conceived tools beyond the book that can be purchased and utilized to remove the guesswork from implementing her system. (Plus, it costs much less than a personal session with a celebrity fashion stylist!) Tuttle’s “Energy Profiling” is based on yin-yang theory, and culminates in four basic energy “types” —
- Type 1: Nitrogen/ Air/ Upward and Light/ Bright and Animated/ Yang-Yin (reminds me of the classical Spring in color theory)
- Type 2: Oxygen/ Water/ Fluid and flowing/ Soft and Subtle/ Yin-Yin (reminds me of the classical Summer in color theory)
- Type 3: Hydrogen/ Fire/ Active and re-active/ Rich and Dynamic/ Yang-Yang (reminds me of the classical Autumn in color theory)
- Type 4: Carbon/ Earth/ Still and constant/ Bold and Striking/ Yin-Yang (reminds me of the classical Winter in color theory)
These four types, it seems to me, harken back to the four primal elements of alchemy–Air, Water, Fire, and Earth–as well as the four seasons of color theory popularized by Carole Jackson’s Color Me Beautiful movement from the eighties, based on Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter seasonal color typing. Nothing develops in a vacuum, and the fact that Tuttle’s system draws on elements of what has come before in no way detracts from what makes her system unique. She expands on these earlier premises with her energy and movement theory, as well as her consideration of how a person’s basic energy can be seen in the lines of her face and the energy with which she expresses herself in the world. Although I found the limitations of only four types confining and personally limiting rather than freeing, I can see how this system could be quite liberating to someone seeking a system that takes all the guesswork out of dressing and expressing oneself through clothing. There is a further exploration on her website of expanding these 4 types into 12 through “Yin-Yang Energy Combos”, but in order to take advantage of this exploration, you have to join her Lifestyle group which costs additional money.
What I found most valuable in her system is when she describes how to dress for each of her types using the “5 Elements of Style”:
- Design Line–shapes and lines of the garment itself
- Texture–what we feel when we touch the garment
- Fabrication–fall and structure of the garment
- Pattern–shapes and level of contrast of the images upon the garment
- Color–chroma of the garment, taking into account its tint, tone, shade, and hue
I read these five elements, and I realized they held the clues to what I was personally seeking: an exploration of how concrete artistic elements determine and shape how we dress. I am glad I read this book, even though I don’t personally identify with her final system. If this sounds like something that is right for you, check it out!
Muchier Scale: 7 out of 10.
I knew there was no way that Tuttle’s ideas were unique in their origin, so I researched further to uncover what’s beneath the surface of what we feel good wearing, and discovered a gem of a book:
I wish I’d read this book before all the others, it’s that good. Not only is Ms. Pflaumer the best writer of the bunch, but she explains everything so clearly and concisely that other authors take pages and pages to explore.
Beginning with the premise that any fashion advice is NOT intended to be another “giant should” in your life, she explains that “perfection is a myth”. The goal of dressing yourself is first and foremost to ENJOY yourself, or else why else do it? Color is a backdrop to your life rather than a prescription, and your best colors should make you feel happy, make you appear healthy, and enhance your natural coloring. Everyone can wear every color, it’s just the shade, tint, or undertone of the color that varies from person to person. Consider the amount of saturation, the contrast level, and the undertone temperature. Pflaumer explains the theory BEHIND so many of the other color and archetypal systems in a way that is down to earth and easily applied to the “real you.”
Building on the foundations of famous stylists Suzanne Caygill and John Kitchener, Pflaumer is the person who at last demystifies the process of determining the best colors for both myself and others. She uses the four basic seasonal pallets as a place to begin, but reframes Winter as “Striking Contrast”, Spring as “Lively Bright”, Summer as “Subtle Blended”, and Fall as “Earthy Rich”. She emphasizes that every person’s best colors are based upon his or her skin, eye, and hair color (just like David Zyla), and explains the reason for the seasons of color: just as each of us is a part of nature, so our colors reflect nature itself. One aspect I really appreciated about Pflaumer’s system is that she explores the transitions between seasons as an explanation for the broader color spectrum and why so many of us are not purely one season or another. The price of the book alone is worth her checklist to determine if a color is right for you or not when shopping.
Pflaumer touches on 7 basic style archetypes, but rather than basing them on personality or energy, she focuses on how our actual physical attributes lead us toward a certain archetype: height, shape, posture, facial structure, eyes and eyebrows, nose, mouth, hairstyle, skin, manner, voice, and walk. Like Tuttle, her system also arises from a Yin-Yang spectrum, the most Yang being Dramatic, then Natural, High Spirited, Classic at the apex (and balance point of Yin-Yang), then progressively more Yin in Romantic, Youthful, and finally Angelic. She emphasizes that most people are a combination of the 7 basic types, and considers many permutations and mergings of these 7 ideas into new types. I especially appreciated when she points out that Yang types look best in straight lines and angles, while Yin types look their best in curves and fabric that moves. Her ultimate goals for our wardrobes is that they are: functional, easy, and attractive. Although there are many more excellent ideas covered in this book, the most critical portion for me was her mathematical breakdown of Fibonacci’s ratio in balancing and building harmonious outfits for our bodies. Brilliant and well-defined. I won’t reveal the rest of this thorough book, but if I’ve piqued your interest, buy this book! Mine is dog-eared and now a permanent part of my collection.
Muchier Scale: 9 out of 10.
If you’ve stuck with me thus far, you know that by this point in my quest I’d already learned so much about the hows and whys of what we wear. From Pflaumer’s book, I researched the people she mentioned, and at last, I hit the motherlode:
In my humble opinion, this is the ultimate style book that every person should own…and horror of horrors, it is no longer being published! (Although you can buy this book easily enough from Amazon or any number of used bookstores. I was lucky enough to receive an autographed copy in great used condition when I ordered from Amazon!)
This is the bible of fashion for every person who has a body. Utilizing art as its genesis and the basic presupposition that your body’s design pattern is your own unique pattern of beauty, the book uses famous works of art, design, and mathematics to clearly explain:
- How to see and define the lines in your face and body so that you can choose the fabrics that work for you.
- Your body’s basic shape (from art, not based on an apple or a pear!) and how to choose silhouettes for your wardrobe, as well as how to modify your natural silhouette via clothing to create alternate silhouettes as you wish.
- How to see and define your body’s lengths and proportions and having discovered them, learn to balance and harmonize your own brand of beauty.
- How to visually alter, with no judgment, any part of your body you wish (whether to camouflage or highlight) through what you wear.
- The art of scale: seeing and defining your unique bone structure, facial features, and apparent size and how to choose clothing construction and accessories that scale up or down according to your personal preference.
- Your body’s unique color pattern and how to choose colors to enhance it, using a color wheel and explaining all the science of color. On the other side of reading this chapter, I thoroughly understand the whys and hows of what the fashion stylists have been taught and know how to create my own personal palette using an artist’s eye. (When I implemented the techniques explained in this book, I was delighted to discover that David Zyla’s color typing for me was completely accurate!)
- The body’s textural qualities and how they interact with our clothing textures.
Most importantly, this book ends quite differently than all the other fashion styling books I’ve read. The last chapter focuses on your own innate creativity and how to use it to develop your personal style (in contrast to finding your archetype via external sources or experts). Clear, clever, and consummate.
Other than the September edition of Vogue and an Instagram account to follow all my favorite designers, this is the one book I need that explains what’s underneath and throughout all the fashion systems and stylists outlined and prescribed by all the rest. Of course, it is based on historical art, and so is not updated with current trends or models–and maybe far too technical for those who want to just be told what to wear and feel good with little effort. For me, it gives me the framework of understanding I was looking for to find the meaning and revel in my own personal Myth of After.
Muchier Scale: 10 out of 10.