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Progress, Not Perfection

169

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bikini-mirror

I heard this pithy saying a little while ago: “progress, not perfection.”

For me, it was a lightbulb moment. I’ve always struggled with the paradox of simultaneously accepting who I am and wanting to be better.

There is even a Zen koan that deals with this issue: “All of you are perfect as you are, and you could all do with a little improvement.” But try as I might to understand this paradox, it never clicked.

I’ve long struggled with this, in relation to my body, my habits, my work, just about everything in life. It’s difficult to simultaneously want positive change and NOT beat yourself up for falling short. Or compare yourself to others who seem to be doing better.

How can change and self-acceptance co-exist?

But when I heard these three words, I realized that the answer is obvious. Look at what you’ve accomplished and celebrate that. Let that be what guides you forward.

Why hate doesn’t help

Today, I’ve got a swimsuit to show off, but first I would like to share a little of my story with you in regards to my body.

I was not an athletic kid. As an introvert, team sports held zero interest for me, and I just didn’t think of myself as a physical person. At all.

Couple that with being constantly surrounded by junk food (seriously, how is it possible that Pizza Hut and Taco Bell can sell food on school campuses?) and some pretty gnarly emotional eating problems, and I was not a healthy young woman, in body or in mind.

In fact, I hated the way I looked. I also felt divorced from it. I rarely looked at my body clearly in the mirror, it was so painful. I also had the added impact of my scoliosis to make me feel abnormal and at war with my physical self. I just wanted to forget about it all.

I never decided to make a big physical change. But I did decide to stop hating myself. I remember reading Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth and feeling the tragedy of so many women’s internalized misogyny and self-loathing. And I simply decided I didn’t want to be one of those women.

Slowly, I overcame my depression and emotional eating problems. I was now living in New York City and walking miles a day for transportation. I discovered that I really liked cooking, and I even might like exercise. Over the course of the next year and a half, I lost a good 40 or 50 pounds.

I never dieted; I never even set out to lose weight. But once I started, I loved seeing the progress just from making better choices, and that kept me going. I exercised more, found new activities I enjoyed, learned more about nutrition. It was a positive feedback loop.

But first I had to stop hating myself. It’s the exact opposite of what they sell you, that if you compare yourself and hate yourself enough, you’ll have the motivation to do better.

It’s a lie. You know why? Because the hate won’t stop. Self-flagellation might help you make some changes, but once you accomplish what you set out to do, you will not magically feel good enough. The hate will still be there. I’ve been there, many times.

So today, I am celebrating progress and saying to hell with perfection. I’m not going to point out every “flaw” in my body to you, as much as I want to. I will look at myself and be proud of a body that has run a marathon, can do pull-ups, and hikes in the forest, no matter what its size, shape, or level of symmetry.

It won’t be around forever. I want to enjoy it while it lasts.

The swimsuit

Now, on to the swimsuit!

bikini-standing-02

bikini-standing-2-up

I found this amazing cloud print fabric at Spandex House online. It’s a poly-spandex blend and it’s absolutely perfect for swimwear. I lined it in swimsuit lining fabric. I’ll warn you that ordering from them is sort of a weird process where you have to give your credit card over the phone. I have no idea why they don’t just use paypal or something, it’s really strange.

bikini-in-pool-02

I drafted the pattern and decided to make it in the style of a longline bra. Traditionally, swimwear would have more covered elastic rather than the decorative elastic with the little picots and whatnot, but I had it and it looks cute, so whatever.

bikini-in-pool-01

I added underwire for support, but no foam in the cups. The spandex is so sturdy with the lining that it really didn’t need foam.

bikini-back

I struggled a bit with what do to with the back of the top. I wanted to use a swimwear hook, but because the top is longline, I didn’t want to taper the back from several inches at the side seams to only 3/4 inches at the back. So I hit upon the idea of doing two sets of straps in back.

I rather like the unusual look, and it helps provide quite a bit of support. I have to fix the fact that the top strap rides up, though.

on-swan-float

The good

This suit is all kinds of adorable. I love the longline style and the simple style lines let me use this crazy print. The fabric was awesome. The cut is perfect for me.

Overall, I love it and want to make more variations!

What I’d change

Fit wise, it could use some minor tweaks. The cups are a bit minimizing, so I’d probably deepen them a little. I’d make the back band tighter. And I need to angle the top back band, because you can see how much it’s riding up.

I also would sew the bottom elastic band differently, since the cups wanted to sag over it a little.

I stretched the elastic slightly when sewing the waist and leg openings, and that really wasn’t necessary. So I’d sew it 1:1 next time.

One final note: Before you ask, this is not supposed to be a preview of an upcoming pattern! At least not any time soon. This is definitely more of a fun experiment right now. I wouldn’t mind hearing if you’re interested in sewing bras or swimwear, though. At the very least, I can recommend some great books.

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

Comments 169

Katie

Cheers to positive, positive feedback loops! Down with negative, positive feedback loops! I also discovered the phrase “progress, not perfection” a few weeks ago. I instantly wrote it on a piece of paper where I will see it every day. Lupita Nyong’o’s speech at an Essence magazine awards event also resonates very deeply for me. Thank you for sharing your gorgeous suit and self with us. XO

Angela

I love the structure of the top – the way you’ve made the cups is really flattering. Beautiful suit!

alice theknittingprincessandthepea.blogspot.co.uk

You look fabulous, and so does your swimsuit.

I have never heard that zen koan before, but I have often thought the same thing in relation to my son. To me, he is utterly perfect, yet, of course, I know he is not. Because no one is. But he is to me, because I love him unconditionally, even knowing his “faults”. And I suppose that’s (in an ideal world) how we should try to feel about ourselves.

Jennifer

Wow, I wish to have had your talent and drive when I was young….now that I’m a grandmother (and great-grandmother) it is more difficult than ever to buck up when my body is uncooperative and creative urges desert me. However, I did manage to lose 9 lbs during this unending winter, so I shall press on! Enjoy your posts and your patterns, encouraging to know that when my need to sew again outweighs my need to “relax” I’ll be building a whole new, unique-to-me wardrobe. Happy Day!

Lauren thats-sew-lauren.blogspot.co.uk

I love this post, because my body is very similar to yours and yet I rarely see people being photographed with a body like mine. I feel like I’m sharing your acceptance because you look amazing and it’s starting to make me wonder if all my negative thoughts are more based in low self-esteem than reality. Thank you for sharing your experiences!
Lauren

cathy cathywu.com

I love your story – I’ve also never worn a 2 piece swimsuit before. I joke that my stomach has never seen the sun, but now it all seems rather sad. I’m inspired to wear a 2 piece as well once summer rolls around!

Angela bonnechanceblogspot.blogspot.com

These are such great words of wisdom! Congrats on how far you have come and how good you feel! You look fantastic and confidant. I do love the swimsuit so much, I would love it if you published it as a pattern.

Lisa S. askauntann.com

This post is so inspiring on so many levels. I am always amazed by your creations and talent, and I would love to learn how to make vintage inspired lingerie and swimwear. You are such a wonderful role model!

liza jane lizajanesews.blogspot.com

Oh my gosh, you look fantastic!! I absolutely love the swim suit. Can we not convince you to make this a pattern?!? ;)

Patricia stenaros.blogspot.com

Super cute! And thanks for the big prelude about the body issues stuff. It’s a good reminder. I’m trying to get out of the habit of evaluating everyone (including myself) as if they were runway models. This is especially important because I don’t think runway models are what we should all look like. However, it’s a hard habit to break. That said, you look great and I love what you did with the back.

Lady ID peppermintandpaisley.com

Swimsuit is great. I love the vintage inspired lines. I don’t wear bikinis but if I could find some like this, I’d consider it. I totally thought it was designed to go up in the back until you said otherwise:)

And good for you on loving your body. We are all made beautiful in God’s image. But we do have to learn to love and take care of what we have. And yes, doing that simultaneously doesn’t always seem possible but as you said it’s more about actively making good choices.

Laura

I hope you feel the gratitude beaming at you from across the country! Those three words are awesome! Thank you.

Glinda

I think you are very brave and so talented.

Brenda

I have a seventeen year old daughter with scoliosis and I agree it can mess up your body image. She is so beautiful but she hides behind big sweatshirts and jeans most days. Hopefully one day soon she will realize how beautiful she really is and forget about one hip sticking out farther than the other and that her back is crooked. One thing that has really helped her is ballet. She has no problem commanding the stage when she’s dancing! And the beautiful costumes!! What a joy to watch!

Dalila tiacuervito.wordpress.com

You look great : )

Isaboe Renoir

One more vote for yes on swimwear and lingerie please – I’m on a quest for a 1-piece cup bra pattern for a 38I. And if I may say, I think you have a lovely figure!

Kaysie Schreiner kzjostudio.typepad.com

Great post! I absolutely adore your swimsuit, it looks amazing!

Annabel Helena annabelhelena.blogspot.com

Thank you for sharing this story, very inspiring!

Amanda symondezyn.wordpress.com

Congrats on making such a unique and lovely swimsuit!! I think it suits you perfectly, and you look great!! Also huge props for having the courage to model it on the blog – while we all see you as being a beautiful, classy lady, it’s really tough to get past those hangups (and we all have them, sadly). I think the more we celebrate each others’ unique beauty, the more we may be convinced it’s ok to celebrate our own, so thank you :)

The swimsuit has been my bugbear too, for a long, long time. I haven’t worn one for at least 10 years. I’ve gotten fit and improved my body but I still haven’t mentally crossed that barrier yet… perhaps I’ll have the courage to do it soon too – thanks for being so inspiring! :)

Sytha

Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I know you’re right, I know I should love myself (and that’s a start really) but I still struggle with HOW to do it! Sewing is a start. How much I hate shopping, feeling like a freak because I cannot find clothes I can enter or that would fit! Still I meet the same problems with sewing and sometimes I feel downhearted. But I know one day I’ll master fitting and grading up patterns and that day I’ll be able to feel wonderful in my clothes, I can’t wait! (By the way I thank you for offering a large range of sizes!)
As for the title of your article, I should Tattoo myself with it, because it is the attitude I should keep in mind to go through life. I’ll be much more unfazed and happy in every aspects of my life…THANK YOU! (PS: Sorry if I made misatkes, English is not my native langage)

Claire errantpear.blogspot.com

Thanks for this lovely, affirmative post. I don’t think we will ever get to a place where people don’t criticize their own bodies at some point in their life, but maybe the more positive messages we put out there the faster they will move beyond those negative attitudes and learn to appreciate themselves.

Lita

I had my teenaged son read your post. He has a learning disability which has made his school experiences since the age of 3, very difficult. You may not have thought about it this way, but what you said rings true for us as well. Thank you.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

That’s so touching, Lita. I am going to keep this in mind the next time I struggle with hitting “publish” on a post like this.

Magali L. Tremblay passioncouture.ca

Nicely Done!
I’m not sure I have your confidence yet to put a pic of myself in a bikini on internet.
I do a lot of made to measure swimwear and maybe I could give you a solution for the back of the bikini top. If you really want to keep the swimwear hook, instead of separating the back in two all the way, you could only add a small opening in between the 2 hooks and leave the band in 1 piece.
For the one you are wearing in this post, you should consider crossing the bands for more support (bottom left band with top right band).
Otherwise there are swimwear plastic clasp available in many width.
Hopes it can help you :)

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Great suggestions, thanks!

Juliette Williams

I bought the perfect swimsuit fabric, the pattern and all the trimmings and I’ve been waiting for the body to match…. Needless to say, it’s all still sitting in the bag. Perhaps it’s time to face facts and go for a walk!!

Juliette Williams

I wanted to add that I think your swim suit is lovely and your figure is perfect. I agree that it’s hard to not point out all the flaws (and in our sewing too!!) so well done to you for keeping it positive.

Elaine

Sarai, I just want to thank you for your very thoughtful article on progress, not perfection. I wish I had read it years ago. Like yourself I have scoliosis, but more than that, for almost 20 years I suffered from an eating disorder. It is only now as I try to recover, mentally and physically, that I realise my body is something to be loved and cared for and not something to be abused or manipulated into looking a certain way – which was far from healthy as I was very underweight. We tend to underestimate how our thoughts can be so faulty that we hurt ourselves, as well as those around us. Thanks for showing that we can learn to change how we think about ourselves, and learn to value and accept who we are as individuals.

Ellen

Wow you can do a pull up! I am working on that and will get there. Thanks for a great post.

Laurie suncat.dreamwidth.org

You have drafted your own swimsuit pattern. Not there in sewing experience yet so I am crazy impressed. My favorite detail is actually the double straps across the back. Would love to see a version 2.0 when you’ve made the adjustments you speak of.

Karen at A Glimpse Into My Reveries aglimpseintomyreveries.com

You have a great figure and I think your suit is fabulous! Thanks for your bravery in showing your personal journey!

lynn

I have sewn swimsuits over the years using Stretch N Sew patterns. I would love a good pattern to make a tankini top or a top w/ underwire. Usually wear a 34 D or DD bra and have found that the SNSew halter top gives enough coverage where other tops do not. Any recommendations for tops for the busty would be appreciated. Thanks! Love your page and patterns!

Maureen

You are too fabulous for words. Such a great little swimsuit!
And an excellent life coach.

Ro

Great swimsuit, Sarai. Wish we could go in the pool now ,prob wont happen for 3 0r 4 months. Still have snow , and cold temps. Your pool looks so inviting!
I would love to see more swimsuit patterns, and yes they scare me . Never made a swimsuit. You may have inspired me to so. lol Thank you.

raye215

Love the suit and the idea of making a suit…even though I’m a novice sewist and may never reach those climes. I’m not even sure I understood your comments about fit! What is “longline”? When I do an internet search I get NSFW photos haha!

Katy

Your swimsuit is amazing. It’s cuter than the swimsuits I see in stores and it looks so great on you. This is inspiring.

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