That funny little word, 4 characters so misused and abused that nowadays it’s all we can think of.
Size matters. Or does it?
Men have their own troubles with size 😀 while women are by all means and purposes judged exclusively based on it. Heck, even Hillary Clinton – who’s running for President of the United States, not your local gardening committee – has had her measure of body insults, as if somehow her size made her more or less capable of performing her duties. Funny how that’s never the case with a man: I don’t recall Obama being measured and judged based on his suits, but I do recall everyone talking about Michelle’s arms.
For as long as I can remember I’ve always been voluptuous. I had curves since I was a teenager, a shocking experience as I discovered men couldn’t go past my breasts or my backside when attempting to have a conversation. As years went by I loved myself and my curves, differently from my school companions whose sole conversation themes were the size of their jeans and just how much they had them tightened by a seamstress. (there was one girl in particular who never actually went beyond that phase: I still see the occasional duckface selfie and soft-porn poses on Facebook.) I always enjoyed my femininity: I grew up with the myth of the ’50s and ’60s, the silhouettes of Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth, Italian actresses such as Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida were my own idea of perfect. In fact, I could say I never had a problem with myself until the society decided something was wrong in that, attempting to make me feel less worthy for not being a size 0.
(Mind you, not that I have anything against size 0: I’ve seen women who look amazing and are naturally thin. It’s just not something I aspire to, nor I think I could ever be – it would be grotesque)
Yet, despite my teenage years and the pressure to conform exerted by my peers, I had one big advantage: I had a loving family. I lived with my maternal grandparents and they loved me (and still do) so dearly that I never had any self-doubt. My mom was and still is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen, and she is curvy too: you know, hourglass shape, same eyes as mine, brunette – no wonder my father pursued her for five years.
I was lucky, I admit it. Having a strong family support, always being encouraged and told that I could do whatever I put my mind to, being trusted with responsibilities and never abusing said trust – that was key. I went to regular school in the morning, had lunch, then spent my afternoons in music school, and that went on until I was 18. I had various extracurricular activities too, friends, when I was old enough a boyfriend too: I did not have the time to doubt myself. Oh, I had my rebel moments too, but it would be safe to say I was a bit of a nerd with the added bonus of a hourglass body and – I was told – a funny mind, always ready to laugh.
(Also because there wasn’t much else to do from 1991: war swept away our worlds as we knew them, and suddenly we had to make do with what we had, which was exactly that – smiles and not much more)
Then at the grand age of 18 I went to university, at 20 I met my husband and the rest was history: I faced the world without my family in immediate proximity and I discovered Italy was much more cruel than I could have ever imagined in terms of body-shaming. Everything in Milan rotated around “how thin you are”: there was never such thing as “too thin”. You’ll say, what did you expect – fashion capital of Italy – thin is the new black! Well, to me that was just silly. If your own body shape and form were predisposed to be curvy, starving your organism and making your mind miserable in the process would not help you in any way except that it would give you a nice little shortcut to food disorders.
I’ve had a period when I was in fact what you would call fat. I worked a lot at a desk, had a very reserved life and I stayed far away from gym. I wasn’t unhappy: I was just in huge denial about my physical shape. Again, I was loved: family, husband, friends. Every now and then someone would say something along the line of “why don’t you move a bit more”, which was a kind way of nudging me to get my health back (I won’t lie: it was like carrying around another person on your back, and it was not healthy in any way) but there was no bullying.
The turning point came when I put braces on my teeth: I simply could not eat. Eating was painful, annoying (all that food stuck in braces, yuck!) and I preferred smoothies, fruit, etc – effectively losing 22 kg in a year and half and getting my figure back after years. I started my Instagram, I decided fashion was my true love, I opened myself to the world.
In that moment I realised also who my true friends were. As soon as I was no longer the fat friend I was a danger and a rival, something to be belittled and ridiculed up to the point of creating fake profiles on Instagram just to fill my pictures with insults during the night, so that it would be very hard and time consuming to delete them. While I was no longer heavily overweight, I was still a far cry from the society accepted ideal: I was not a model – which is something I never aspired to anyway. It was mind-boggling to me to see women hating on me: what did I ever do to them to be so abhorrent? Did my size justify all this venom being spat on me? Or was it the fact that I was not ashamed of myself?
As I would soon discover, it was basic good ol’envy combined with malice of those who just could not stand the fact that I was unapologetic about bettering myself. I was always smiling in pictures, I did not starve myself (I eat and I eat happily. That is one of the things my husband told me when we first met: You make me happy when I see just how genuine you are: everything is joy to you. Eating, loving, living.) and I dared to wear high fashion despite being an IT 48.
Oh, the 48. It was the nightmare of any fashion house. The number itself was never to be mentioned in any store, never present on e-commerces with the happy exception of Yoox and Net-à-porter (who have two different buying policies: the former buys everything unsold, the latter smartly orders every size). It was (and unluckily still is in many brands) a hypocrisy: you produce the size, you want the money from customers wearing it, yet you hide it from plain sight and treat it as if it were a bad disease!
I was told in a store of a company I am very tied to that the brand did not produce for people my size. I was smirked at, secretly laughed at, talked about – but funnily enough, except for that one outrageous statement, nobody actually dared challenge me openly. I’ll concede that this has a lot to do with my attitude of a single child: I learnt at a young age to speak my mind politely yet firmly, and I never leave space to any kind of manipulation. If I should give an advice to anyone, it would be to work on that: nobody can respect you if you do not make it clear you are to be respected.
Gradually, brands learned that 48 was a reality not likely to go away anytime soon, and I have inadvertently started being a poster child for curvier women. I had salespeople coming to me saying, you know, customers come in clutching their phones with your photos on them. They say: I want what she has. Women of all ages and shapes wrote emails and messages to me asking all sorts of opinions, paying me beautiful compliments that I could scarcely believe I deserved and generally telling me just how much seeing my daily looks made them feel better about themselves.
It dawned on me: for the first time, I had a responsibility. I did not have millions of followers, yet somehow, in my little world, I was changing someone’s reality, making women accept their bodies and wear clothes that weren’t sacks. There was no need to hide: my mantra was and still is, as long as you are healthy, your size is irrelevant.
People often underestimate the importance of the imagery being pushed in magazines and on tv. Sometimes I have to do a double take when I see someone’s pictures: between blurring images to the point of resembling aliens, contouring even arms and legs, heavy makeup, fake nails, fake hair, it is hard to say what is normal and what is not. My take on this is fairly simple: I am ok with anything that works for you and makes you happy, but as long as you do not push it on me as the sole example of beauty / acceptable image. Nobody is as perfect as they appear on images, myself included. Pictures are there to make us dream, to inspire and
to spread beauty, but have also become such a deadly weapon that annihilates women’s feeling of self-worth. Everything in this society is measured upon your clothes size: from job interviews to dating scene, if you’re not Gisele, you might as well bury yourself in your house and never come out.
But I do come out. I go to events, I see runways, I am never ever afraid to say, does my size bother you? Well, get over it! I am loved, and I love. I love myself, and that can only stem from all of the above: friends and family who support you, your own satisfaction in following your dreams, and a good dose of attitude to uphold everything.
I still get the occasional hater who calls me all sorts of names: from bored fat housewife (as if being a housewife would be an insult to me!) to ugly, you name it, I’ve had it. Yet somehow whenever I ask a simple question: .. and your point is?, I never ever get a coherent answer. Nobody can actually pinpoint the exact reason why people insult others over their body shape and size, but it’s certainly the most common thing to come out of people’s mouth. And as for all insults, it always speaks volumes about the one who’s spitting them out, and most certainly doesn’t say a thing about you. What to do? Work on yourself, smile and just generally be the best version of yourself you can be.
You’ll lose friends in the process. There are people who get a kick out of humiliating others, who will smile on you and say something that will make you think, was that a veiled insult or a straightforward backhanded compliment?
But you will meet people along the way who will make you believe in yourself. They will give it to you as it is, encourage you to break your personal glass ceiling, will be generous with their time and experience in order to get you out there. I have them. I love them. They are essential to my existence, and I make sure they know it all the time. Without them, there would be no me as you know me today. Concentrate on this type of people, and mercilessly eliminate everyone who tells you you’re anything less than worthy of respect and love. You don’t need that in your life: if something makes you unhappy, it is not for you. Find something you are passionate about and go for it: it might be fashion, it might be work, family, children, charity work, whatever. As my grandfather says: worry not, honey. Nobody will ever give your size, hair or whatever’s the current issue in your head, if you just smile.
(And if they still give you grief…. send them to me! 😀 )
XO, Lady V