I recently read an interview with actress Allison Janney in the New York Times Magazine. Aside from admiring her acting skills and comic chops, I am a little in awe of her lanky proportions. Turns out she is six feet tall and has always been self-conscious about her height. Turns out she had to play men in her first dramatic efforts as a teenager. Turns out the grass is always greener, as they say...
Personally, I don't know anyone who doesn't wish that they looked taller and slimmer! Myself included. I'm pretty tall (5 feet 8 inches) but not exactly slender. I was in my youth, but for most of my adult life, my weight has fluctuated from average for my height to about 10 pounds above where I'd like to be. I gave up trying to diet years ago because the results never seemed to last. Recent articles have suggested that our bodies have a "set point" in terms of weight; trying to reset it means constant struggle, and I'm just not up for it. I used to swim laps and go to the gym regularly, but now I just walk as much as possible at a brisk pace, swim in the ocean when I can, and hike with my husband and dog, occasionally.
I haven't given up on looking my best! I have just accepted that this is the body I have and I will dress it in ways that will make me look as long and lean as possible.
I am always surprised when women say things to me like "Well, you can wear whatever you want since you are so tall." Not true! I have just learned a few tricks to balance my proportions and make me look somewhat slimmer than I really am.
Here are a few tenets:
Dress monochromatically or tonally in dark colors. Everyone knows that wearing black is slenderizing (there's a reason fashion folks live in it), but you can get bored pretty quickly if that is all you wear. You can get almost the same effect wearing any dark shade--navy, charcoal, burgundy--if you wear it on top and on bottom. A navy shirt and trousers will make you look slimmer than a sky-blue top and navy pants. However, if there is a big discrepancy between your proportions--say, you have wide hips and narrow shoulders/small chest--wearing a lighter shade on top can even things out, visually. Keeping it all in the same color family (shades of blue) is more flattering than wearing an orange or pink blouse with a navy bottom, for example.
Keep your silhouette close-to-the body, but not tight. Fabrics that skim your curves and drape are more flattering than stiff materials, in general. Avoid voluminous shapes such as gathered skirts, pleated trousers, puffy sleeves and exaggerated, horizontal details, such as wide lapels and waistbands, double-breasted jackets, thick belts and ankle-straps.
Show some skin. While your impulse may be to cover up everything if you are overweight, don't do it! Nothing will make you look heavier. If you are busty, wear an open neckline (but not too low). If you have a tummy, put the focus on your legs with a hemline near the knee or just above. If you have wide hips, try an off-the-shoulder top to draw the eye towards your face. A shoe with a low-cut vamp can elongate your legs and slim your ankles. Even a bracelet sleeve can work wonders. You don't want to look like you are hiding everything.
Use patterns and graphic details to your advantage. All-over prints in muted tones can make wonderful camouflage. They keep the eye moving and,therefore, distract from the outlines of your figure. Vertical and diagonal details, such as stripes, color-blocking and piping, can do the same thing by making the eye move up and down or at an angle that deemphasizes your width.
Stop comparing yourself to others and find a good tailor. Very few women have perfectly balanced proportions. Clothes that you buy off the rack assume that you do. It's not that fashion designers are insensitive; it's just that they have to work with certain mathematical parameters based on averages. The bigger the body, the harder it is to offer a decent fit because the variations are greater. One woman may carry her weight in her middle, another on top, another in her hips. The only option is to accommodate for all of those possibilities--which usually results in a somewhat shapeless garment.
The answer? Build an alterations budget into your shopping strategy. A difference of an inch or so in the length or a dress or pair of pants may not seem like much, but it can deliver incredible results in your overall appearance. Raising the shoulder slightly on a jacket or nipping the waist on a skirt can take a so-so purchase to so-fabulous! Having a few clothing items that fit perfectly is much better than having a lot that don't quite.
So, allow yourself to order a side of fries or an ice-cream cone now and then. Life shouldn't be all about denial. A little acceptance goes a long way! Enjoy.
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