“Body Positivity” Highs and Lows with the Persephone Pants and Shorts

I tried my hand at, arguably, one the most popular indie patterns of the moment: the Persephone Pant and Short Pattern by Anna Allen.

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As I’m sure you know, positive reviews of this pattern are a plenty. It is a trendy sailor pant wide leg cut, with a high-high waist and without a side seam. The pattern (one with a decently inclusive size range) seems universally flattering on all sorts of body types–except, as I currently feel, mine.

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Now, I bring this up not as a way to ask to be reassured, but to acknowledge one of the harder sides of making ones own clothes. I seek to achieve a good fit with the garments I make. Even if this doesn’t always work, my homemade clothes fit in a way my old RTW garments never did. I’m aware of this as I write this post. However, the process of creating my increasingly comfortable wardrobe has a flip side. My attention to fit has made me hyper aware of minor fit issues, and has since opened up into a sprawling terrain where my creative anxiety runs wild with my insecurities. Sometimes I miss my previous ignorance of the ambitions of topstitching and aspirations of the wrinkle free garment.

A hyper awareness to fit or image is an unfortunate consequence of the many wonderful aspects of sewing and blogging. And, that is what’s going on with my Persephone pants. This is a classic case of “I loved it until I saw the photos.”

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My pant version is the third-ish time I put the pattern together. First, I made a muslin. Next, I made shorts (in a white denim I found to be a little thin and unforgiving). Then, I got to the pant version. By this time I had ironed out a few of the issues that troubled me the most–a gaping fly closure, getting the right crotch curve. I tried on the pants and, to be honest, I was decently pleased. But by the end of the day, after my husband took some photos of me, I changed my mind and began doubting whether the style was for me.

Although I’m very fond of this style and had achieved a decent fit, the photos made me feel like these pants emphasize all of the parts of my body I dislike. Since the photos brought a whole new (negative) perspective to these pants (and which really clashed with how I felt after they were finished!), I now feel stuck. Do I love them? Do I hate them? Am I ultimately “body-negative” because I still remain sensitive to the tense issues of size, weight, and clothes?

 

Body positivity is a sewing community mantra that, for all its good intentions, sometimes leaves little space for us to acknowledge that we remain very sensitive to how our body looks in clothes. Or, it may allow us understate that sharing photos can make us too conscious of what (we think) our bodies look like. A selfie is a personally curated image where we can select what we want to see, while a photo taken by another may reveal what we are so often trying to hide. Yet, both of these forms of amateur fashion photography are our means to communicate image to self and other, and it can be painful when our hopes are contradicted by our fears.

I’m not sure being “body positive” means only showcasing what we can easily accept. Nor am I convinced that it is idealizing what we are personally uncomfortable with as a means to prove our “strength,” or the ability to “overcome” beauty standards. There is something violent about constantly going against oneself in the name of “empowerment” when we could also just take an alternative route all together.

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These pants stir up all these contradictory thoughts–I like them (they are fun, they swish, they go with SO MANY of my other garments) at the same time I think they are unflattering for my size–too tight, to revealing, too high. I think they are unflattering for my personal size and shape at the same time I feel guilty for not wholeheartedly “accepting” and celebrating my body. I fear they make me look ridiculous at the same time I think they are very cool, and even represent something I value in myself.

I won’t pretend I’m totally comfortable in them, but I will wear them. And I won’t pretend sewing has made me “love” my body, cause it doesn’t and I don’t. But sewing does make me grateful I can create and the flow of the creative process is something I find more valuable and worthy of my physical energy and mental space than trying to convince myself that I’m totally comfortable in the world. I appreciate how sewing my clothes ultimately makes body image less important to me because I now prefer to focus on experimenting with shape, fabric, and thread.

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To wrap this up and to get back to how of feel about the Persephones as a pattern–I had other issues, too. I’m not one to complain about PDF patterns usually, but this one drove me nuts. The pieces are not optimally organized. Rather than being embedded within the same pieces, the short and pant are unnecessarily separate. The same can be said for the waistband and waistband interfacing pieces in addition to the fly pieces which are all separated into individual sizes.

To be sure, there are no more adjustments to make on this pattern then on any other pant pattern. With the exception of the fly gaping, the drafting is nice. My reflection on the Persephones is mainly based on how they make me feel. But because of that, I think I will enjoy the pants I did make (cause despite my current issues, I know I will enjoy them often), and move on to another pants pattern.

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31 thoughts on ““Body Positivity” Highs and Lows with the Persephone Pants and Shorts

  1. Hi Jess, I think you’ve touched on something that has become swept under the carpet in the body positivity movement. It is a fantastic goal to celebrate all bodies and body shaming is wrong, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with choosing the clothes that we make and or wear because we find them personally flattering. Most of us want to look and feel good to ourselves, and wearing clothes that help with that is just fine in my book. I too have been pretty disheartened after seeing photos of clothes I thought were pretty great at first, it is a problem of our photo heavy age!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Chloe! I agree that we loose something being in a photo heavy age. There are many ways to evaluate a garment (like how we perceive how we move in it or how it makes us feel) that are perhaps more reliable than photography, yet photography is held up as more “real”.

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  2. I’m struggling with a lot of similar feelings right now, and have been for a long time, as you may guess…

    Since we don’t judge others as harshly as ourselves (and as we feel others judge us), I can tell you that the photos look all right to me! I am, however, not wild about these ultra-popular pattern after I saw a post about the crotch curve on these (and the Lander pants, too, I think).

    I definitely need more pants in my wardrobe, but every pair is a struggle. I live in fear of the crotch curve being too shallow and all the wrinkles it could generate — but, really, of that area of my body being noticeable to other people.

    The real culprit: those dirty, shaming spreads in tabloids screaming “camel toe!” at candid shots of celebrities.

    I don’t much believe in the whole “modest dressing” as a legit movement. I think at the heart of it, the cult of modesty comes from what we’ve turned into the unspoken abject when it comes to women’s bodies. Fretting over what fits and flatters always has that side to it — a tacit shadow sibling of the interest in making the geometry of garments correspond nicely with the geometry of our bodies…

    I hope I didn’t make it too dark. I think you have a very compelling personal style, and I like these photos probably much more than you do… but I wanted to say that I hear you because I’ve been there and there are quite a few garments that I wear with similar unease (or not wear)…

    So thanks for writing this post.

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    1. I very much agree with you that the an underlying abject of women’s bodies is at play in these discussions. When it comes to working on fit (even if it can improve the quality and feel of the garment), body “policing” seems to silently ride along side “liberation.” Plus, and maybe I am exaggerating the reality of it, in addition to feeling like we loose the “right” to wear something that doesn’t fit “properly,” we also risk feeling like we loose the “right” to make it. As opposed to just buying clothes, making clothes calls into question our talents as homesewists when we struggle with fitting aspect. Maybe I just made things even darker…!

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      1. You’re so right — making clothes can be so fraught with this kind of double judgment.

        This reminds me of Marion Woodman’s book Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride. One of the sentences I underlined in it when reading it for the first time is: “Crucial to the healing process, therefore, is working creatively with the rejected body.” The book opened to that fragment, so clearly, the spine is well worn in that spot…

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      2. I will admit—that quote touches me deeply…and then gives me so much hope that I’m working towards the answer of the question I harshly throw at myself : “well why do I even bother?!”. All I can say for now is that I am glad I do bother!

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  3. I was so interested to read this after your first post of these pants. So much of what you said hit a cord. I think popular patterns tend to be a bit of a trap. I think we “drink the koolaid” and I am willingly in that trap often, but I don’t know if it helps me truly find what I love to wear on myself. Case in point, muslined the Jenny trousers by Closet Case patterns. Good solid pattern, but after I tried on the muslin I realized that that is a lot of trouser for someone my size, or the proportions, or why didn’t I look like the gorgeous model on the package? Also, I am in the elastic waist club. Or just to say that pattern reconfirmed that club membership. Ack! There is a lot of support in the sewing community but also a lot of conforming, which is crazy because we get to sew whatever we want!
    You achieved a great fit and nobody will notice what you notice. My daughters who don’t sew can’t get over how much I fuss about fit on RTW. Enough already! “Wear them like you mean it” (my mother would say)

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Janet. I, too, find the tendency to conform in the sewing world quite fascinating. I mean, of course this is part of it–there is something very human about conforming! With this specific pattern, I don’t think its that the style doesn’t work for me as much as the lack of a side seam doesn’t allow me to easily make the pattern work for me. I’d like to add just a little more ease to the hip, where a side seam would normally be. But, I guess the lack of the side seam is the “trendy” part of the pattern

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      1. There are other pant patterns with no side seams, for example Cutting Line Designs (usually an older demographic) and some people swear by them! Me, I tried, not so much….
        🙂

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  4. A really interesting post Jess.
    It does seem like ‘flattering’ has become something we are not allowed to aspire to as we should all be right out there loving all the lumps and bumps or lack thereof. But personally I am still into making clothes that make me feel really good when I make them, which is not to say makes me feel like I look like someone else.
    I *mostly* feel positive about my body but am VERY aware of the power clothing has to change or amplify that feeling. I have some things in my me-made wardrobe that make me feel way better than others, but – as you will do with these pants – I still wear the things that don’t make me feel like my best version of myself.
    That said, I know that the difference may not always be visible or obvious to others, as with your pants. I really love your personal style and perhaps with these pants you will find a way of styling them that feels both “you” and also not so exposing of the things you feel they expose. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, Naomi! I also don’t think “flattering” needs to be a dirty word. We might suggest that it’s just another way to say “that outfit makes you look slim” but I don’t think it is such a limited concept. A specific color may be flattering because it represents confidence. Personally, I am very drawn to this use of sewing. I used to avoid ample clothing because I didn’t think it was “flattering” (in the sense that I thought it make me look bigger). I’ve since realized I really like ample shapes and now, I find them visually flattering because for the beauty of the garments movement and the relaxed playfulness they express.

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  5. I don’t usually comment in response to blog posts but your comments really struck me, what an insightful and thoughtful post. Your comment about the hyper-awareness of fit etc has exactly put into words how a lot of people I suspect, feel.
    I got lost in thinking about what you were saying to really take too much notice of your Persephone pants!! I have made them and feel like you do about them..not sure.
    Having spent the time and energy on them I will wear them and enjoy the bits I like …the waist height.I will probably try them try again as one thing I enjoy is the challenge to get them looking like I want.!
    I like your style and enjoy reading about your makes.

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  6. Great post. And I agree, those pants are not for you. These pants are a mixed bag. I’ve seen so many posts and I either love or hate them depending on the person wearing them. I actually think the back side looks pretty nice on you, but the front isn’t, as you say, flattering. Based on yours and other posts these pants will not be joining my pattern collection. And that fly issue is huge, and I’m a little appalled it wasn’t fixed during pattern testing. I loved your analysis and I think we all feel this way! Love your blog.

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    1. Thanks! I think the “no side seam” is a bit of a trap. It sounds cool…but ultimately diminishes the fit and design quality. If I had been able to add just a little more of a curve to the front hip area, I’m sure the front would be smoother, without so much pulling on the buttons.

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  7. They are lovely and so beautifully made. I know if I feel comfortable in clothes – and I generally find my own makes are the best – I will walk better and they will hang better. Personally I will always do a side opening instead of centre front as I find the hang is better and it can be very flattering and it keeps the visual line on clothing very simple. If I was making these I would have done a side button (as the buttons do look cool) and this would also have had that vintage look. You really wear them well

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    1. Confidence in clothes absolutely influences posture! I am going to take your suggestion to use a side closure. I can see how that’d be a more “natural” place, with less tugging, for the closure. I’ve been thinking about the Named Astrid wrap pant pattern. I think that might be a better option for me.

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  8. I have a similar long torso, both above and below the belly button with most of my hip curve happening just below the waist, then pretty straight down to the top of the thighs. I have alot of acreage in the pelvis! Front fly and pocket stitching help break up the area and help me feel less self conscious, and not having a side seam also probably gives the illusion of more volume than is actually there. I think perhaps the row of buttons accentuates the distance between waist and crotch, and highlights the wrinkles? I would try patch pockets if I thought the bother of doing it less than the bother of how they looked in my head. I think the back view looks really nice. The front is fine too, if you dont mind fitted tops I think you would see more of your “hourglass” shape if the waistband was visible at the front. Thats how these shapes were worn in the 70s, with cropped or fitted tops. I actually have a similar pair of pants that I really like, but also probably dont make my body look as “ideal” shape wise that we are all supposed to aspire too at this point in history. Mirror-shirror, I’ll wear it if I want to.

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    1. Your style analysis is apt! I agree! I think a slimmer shirt tucked in would bring more balance to the way I wear the pant. And, I’ve since come to the conclusion that the lack of a side seam is the real culprit. I think the side seam area is just too straight. I have an urge to add more space to the front hip area. which would bring more of a curve to the side seam area. As I write that, I have a slight impression that this pattern is less inclusive than advertised because of the lack of a side seam. Many people need more curve in that area, or the option to adjust there.

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  9. I second so much of what you said – and what others have said in the comments! – that I don’t really have much to comment myself, other than I hear ya, sister, sometimes being body positive is really damned rough, and I think more people should actually talk about that side of things more often – we don’t yet live in a utopia of body positivity after all, we’re allowed to have bad moments/hours/days/weeks/months and that is totally okay. *Huge hug* Sometimes, no matter how positive I’m trying to be about my body or how I look, I’ll try something on, look in the mirror and feel like dissolving into a puddle of tears, and it can almost be worse if that “something” is a garment I’ve made – all that time, work, fabric, and money feels like it has gone down the drain along with my confidence and I beat myself up even more for that. Self esteem is a tricky, tricky beast.

    Your personal style is FABULOUS, as others have said, and I always enjoy seeing what you’ve been making – it never fails to put a smile on my face! I think you look great no matter what, but if these pants don’t make you feel amazing right now, maybe set them aside for a bit and come back to them later on and see how you feel. Maybe they (or this particular pattern) just aren’t right for you at this moment, and that is okay. Hang in there, Jess. ❤

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  10. I totally hear what you are saying about body positivity, but I just wanted to say that sometimes photos just look bad and if you look good in the mirror you should believe it! The lighting can make the creases and lumps and bumps look much more prominent and people just don’t notice that stuff in real life. I think your outfit looks great and you’re a stylish lady!

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    1. Thanks, Naomi. I think you’re right about the deceptiveness of photos. The light was intense at the moment of the day they were taken and since I know that a photo is not always the best gauge, I will let myself get used to them with time!

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  11. I never usually comment on blogs but your thoughtful comments on your make and the issues it triggered have resonated with me as well as so many others. One thing I have to also remind myself about photos is that they capture a static moment in time which is not actually how I am. We are fluid moving beings with energy and spark from our expressions, gaze, smiles. It is the whole gestalt of a person, including the clothes they are wearing, that we see in reality, and this can never be conveyed via static Instagram pictures. So, if you love the texture or colour or form, even if the fit is not what was aimed for, the impact of this will add into your total mix and the enjoyment of these elements will also be part of your living picture.

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  12. You have stated my feelings about the “body positivity” movement almost exactly. It’s a good thing, mostly, but it just puts a different kind of pressure on us.
    I also have to say I agree with Robyn. They say pictures don’t lie but they do. They really do.

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  13. I really feel that sentiment about ‘liking an outfit until I see the photos’, and what it shows, and doesn’t about my body.
    I think your Persephones look pretty good, and I love the colour. I have to confess I do love this pattern, and have made three pairs. But, I used stretch fabric, which makes them way more comfortable and forgiving, and I also swapped the straigt waistband for a curved one from another pattern. I knew a straight waistband would never work for me. I’m not sure if you’re planning to make these again, but given they are tight at the front but not the back, maybe you could go a size up, then increase the width of the darts in the back to compensate? Also the Tessuti blog had a good tip about sewing between the buttonholes to reduce the gape as well, although I think what you did with the exposed buttons looks lovely.

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  14. Obviously you don’t have to wear anything that makes you feel bad, even if you made it. And I don’t think loving everything about yourself all the time is the minimum entry requirement for body positivity. But I think behaving lovingly towards yourself is always a good idea! Also, while she might not have the same effect for you, Lizzo is my high-priestess/sun-lamp – might I recommend this straightforward celebration of many differently-shaped women that also has an amazing heavy beat? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yzsh-PDF30

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