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In Direct Sunlight

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Gosh I used to hate when Karl would take photos of me in direct sunlight. You could see every roll, and often the seams of my Spanx. Karl took this while I was waiting for my Uber to take me to the Washington Post to see Robin Givhan interview Derek Lam. I tried a few different convoluted outfits for this event, not sure exactly what to wear that wasn't too try-hard, not too fancy, but not lame.  And then I stopped, my bed piled with clothing and thought duh, why not wear a look from my real life capsule wardrobe? It was the easiest, and the best decision. I may have been on the higher end of dressiness at the event (I believe it's better to be overdressed than underdressed), but I didn't feel try-hard, and Derek Lam even said he liked the asymmetry of my sweater. The fangirl that I am I replied, “Thanks it's Universal Standard!”

A year ago, this photo would have been deleted.  I would hop in the Uber, we'd get on the road, I'd swipe through my photos, see the rolls, the fallen hair, the pant leg tucked into the back of my heels and I'd be so angry and frustrated. I'd delete the photos and spend a good amount of the ride scrolling through my own Instagram reminding myself that no, I'm cute, going out and being social is good for my business and my business is good and useful and honorable and all of this is worth it. And once at the event, I'd spent a lot of time readjusting my hair, my pants, my sweater worrying that everyone could see how uncomfortable I was in this setting but also my body.

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A year ago I would have instead taken this photo… and depending on my spirit would have shared it on Stories or the actual ‘gram. Same outfit, same night.  This is in the bathroom at the Washington Post, after we met Derek Lam. After Kaarin and I took cheesy giggly photos of ourselves in front of the Washington Post sign both likely thinking how much our 16-year-old selves must be screaming about this occasion.

This is my M.O. I bet a lot of you have one. Your set, how you pose and look when taking a picture of yourself. It's the way you think you look the best, but also the most you. Your legs look long, your smile looks brilliant, your waist looks small, your booty looks big, whatever makes you feel good about what you see. This pose, you can't see how big my upper arms are. The legs slightly apart make my legs look longer, but also lets me pop out a hip a bit so I can create a curve in my waist and look slimmer.

But the thing is, I am not the same body I was a year ago.  I am only ten pounds lighter than I was last December. This morning when I weighed in at the gym I was 190 lbs. Yet at 200 lbs I was a 16 and now I am mostly a 12. I have always weighed more than people thought. I've always been solid, but pretty much once I turned 40 that solid started turning into liquid. And my body wasn't handling it well.  Doctors who had always been cool with my size if my health numbers were good told me I needed to lose weight. So to see this body in the bright sunlight wearing an old-ass “flat tire” bra that's the wrong size and a little pair of Knix with pants of the same fabric of the Express Editor pants I wore the helllll out of in the late '90s and early oughts and not be angry or sad or mad or frustrated with a photo of it and to only be 10 pounds from when I was slimming the handful of photos that didn't embarrass me it's a bit surreal and exciting.

I didn't weigh myself for years.  Sure, the doctor would but it's not like I owned a scale or sought one out when I was at places that had one. Since I've always weighed more than I looked I judged my body by my dress size. And with each size, there would be a bit of time when I had to get used to it. Learn how to dress it, what skills it had, and how to pose for it.

This week I went to an event an event related to Diner en Blanc, an event I attended last year and plan to again this year. Again, I was stressing out about what to wear.  Should I wear white? I don't have all white.  Should I order something from Amazon, it would come in time. That's insane Alison, you're going to spend money to dress for an event where you're not getting paid, you're not a host or speaker, and the invite didn't state a dress code? The doorbell rang, it was a delivery person with a box from Chico's full of things from the Semi-Annual sale and one was this jumpsuit. I put it on, and knew I was done.  But the legs were too long (welcome to my life) and the matte jersey wasn't the kind that looked good with Stitch Witchery.  So I whipped out my highest shoes (the wedges I wore in this blog post) and straightened my posture and I could walk without being a tangled mess.  Grabbed the “this bag is too expensive this is a ridiculous purchase man this bag goes with everything and was the best purchase” bag and some “me” silver jewelry and headed to the atrium next to the Old Ebbitt Grill (the event was to be on the rooftop but it rained).

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I asked to bring a plus one (I always ask) but didn't. The room was half people dressed in white, half people dressed like they just came from work or else also just decided to wear whatever the eff they wanted.  Long lines snaking around the space: one for drinks, at least two for food. I scan the crowd for a long while trying to not look like I was desperately scanning the crowd for a familiar face and see my friend Angelica with a group of people, some I know and some I do not. The event photographer stops to take a picture of three of us talking. I go to my usual side of the row of people location, the place where it's easier to hide parts of my body with a leg or a bag or an arm. They move me to the middle since Lisa and Angelica are both in white. Angelica asks the photographer to take a second photo with her phone and shows it to us. I'm surprised by how small I look, it boosts me and I feel more confident.

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We head next door to the Hamilton and before we go in, I remember that I am a fashion blogger and I'm wearing a cute jumpsuit from a super nice brand so I ask one of the people in our party, a photographer I just met, to take my photo.  I stand where I think it looks good, and I do The Pose. It's a mix of the pose in the bathroom selfie and the one I did with Lisa and Angelica. He takes a few shots as I slightly move a leg or an arm, look at him or to the side.

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Then he doesn't ask me to move, but he moves to the side saying it's a better angle. And it went from being a burden (because every friend I have has had to take my photo of me popping my hip in an outfit at some time in our relationship) to being, well what we do. Two shots, he gave me back my phone, this was one of the two. Again, a pose and angle I wouldn't have considered before now works. I'm, not used to this body and I'm finding I need an external point of view to help me see it for what it is now and not a year ago.

I was never athletic before, and now my trainer is talking about how I'm strong enough to do a pull-up. I couldn't even do a pull-up for the Presidential Fitness test back in elementary school. Things that had turned into a liquid are becoming to form a solid, but this sold is different. This solid may be larger than I was in the past but I respect it more. I'm proud of it and never before can I recall using such a word for my body.  This is unchartered territory for me.

I have nothing to look back on for reference.  There was no time when I was this size as well as this shape, this size as well as this weight, this weight as well as this size, or any of the above and this age.  There's no box of clothes in the attic I plan to fit back into because I realize I will never be what I was before, be it size, shape, or even mindset or style. Nothing will be like as was before, and that is an incredibly good thing.  There's no way to go back, the bridge has collapsed, I can only go forward. So I better get a new M.O. because my old one no longer fits. But no need to worry, this path I am taking looks to be bathed in direct sunlight.

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. Alison,

    I have followed you for years, and really enjoy you on Instagram! I was scrolling this AM and came across this beautiful essay of yours. You have such an amazing “voice” as a writer. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. I have been reading this website for several years now, and I just wanted to say I think this is the BEST post you’ve ever written. It stands alone as a stunning personal essay. As a woman of post-40 and now post-50 years, I, too, am getting used to a different body. I, too, used to keep a box of clothes that I thought I could fit back into, but really, what’s the point? “Nothing will be like as was before, and that is an incredibly good thing.” Amen! Thank you.

  3. THANK YOU so much for this <3 I am about your size and am always impressed by how you have such flattering things, it's helpful in my "quest" for a positive self image (which, ironically and truly, helps me motivate myself to work out) when I look at a (ALL THE) bad pictures know that I DO look like a rockstar like i think I do in the mirror! <3 <3 <3

  4. You’ve been such an inspiration to me! In the past year I’ve also made some changes in my life that have resulted in a new body. Thanks to you, I bought my very first bikini and plan to rock it with my very white, soft tummy. I am slowly learning to love my body and I thank you for modeling the way. Keep it up!

  5. You’ve been such an inspiration to me! In the past year I’ve also made some changes in my life that have resulted in a new body. Thanks to you, I bought my very first bikini and plan to rock it with my very white, soft tummy. I am slowly learning to love my body for

  6. I want to hear about what you’ve done to get to the pull-up phase–as you can see, it’s a concept that resonates us with us all, memories of that stupid Presidential Fitness Test ringing in all our minds (after all, what exactly did we DO to train for a pull-up in Phys Ed?)

    I love the reminder that a new perspective is rewarding. The best things I’ve purchased have often been at the urging of a knowledgeable store owner or sales person.

    And yes–get thee a sewing machine! Costco usually has a Brother version for under $150 and it is all you would need to hem pants! Many fabric stores offer classes in how to use a machine, and fashion-focused ones can teach you how to add darts or hem (but then you’ll have to blog about MAKING alteration!)
    You inspire us–thank you!

    1. I haven’t done it yet. I have done the in the air dips and did ONE only ONE but it’s more than I could even a month ago. I told my trainer I didn’t care about a size or number, I just wanted to be strong and have people be able to look at me and tell I am strong. So that is our next goal! And I have a sewing machine and do use it but this is a stretchy matte jersey and I know it needs a serger, which I don’t have.

  7. Ha! I LOVE that you can do a pull up! I think I actually had a negative one recorded for my “bar hang” one year. I’m pretty sure my PE teacher was disgusted.

    You look fabulous and healthy!

  8. Joining the chorus to say, I love this post. I especially love how you emphasize that it’s not about weight loss per se, but about feeling great in your body. I think back to so many pre-workout posts, where you honestly shared your frustrations and struggles, and it’s a joy to see this phase of the story, where you are happy and confident and rejoicing in your inner and outer strength. I am going through a major life change right now, and knowing that I am physically strong is invaluable.

    1. Oh I love to read that Jennifer. Being physically strong is a cool thing to have, it helps me feel better about bad times, it’s better armor than any amazing dress or power suit. I’m thrilled for you!

  9. I’m trying to discontinue my email from you because for some reason it freezes my email. Don’t worry, I will still read your blog!

    1. Ack, so sorry! I will try to manually remove it but I will be changing newsletter programs soon so I hope it won’t do that any more. Thank you for this feedback it’s really helpful!

    2. Okay you have been deleted. When I re-start my weekly newsletter it will be with a different program and I will be sure to notify everyone here on the blog! Thank you!

  10. First, congratulations on your improved strength! That’s one of my goals this year too.

    You look smashing in that jumpsuit. And in the top outfit as well (I also love the asymmetrical neckline on you!). It’s funny, isn’t it, how not only do our bodies change, but our perception of them too. I’m beginning to realize that I have a very narrow and skewed view of what looks “good”…almost a form of photographic body dysmorphia. I’m trying to relax, open up, and adjust my perception of my own image in photos. I think a fresh set of eyes is a huge help!

    1. We have such weird jobs, we are constantly photographed and spend so many hours looking at our image, editing it, commenting on it, selling it to brands. I do think an external review is necessary sometimes not only to grow in our business but to see how great we really are right here, right now, in any pose!

  11. You convinced me to join the y and take the group classes. 3-4X a week I work with weights now. This is a firs (though I used to run). I am just shy of 40 and want to meet that milestone age with confidence that I’m taking care of myself. That I can be strong. That I may be old(er) but I am not done. Bonus: the exercise helps fight anxiety and depression that are increasingly common companions of mine. Thank you for being so honest and forthright about your MO and how you accept yourself where you are. I particularly loved this: “There’s no box of clothes in the attic I plan to fit back into because I realize I will never be what I was before, be it size, shape, or even mindset or style. Nothing will be like as was before, and that is an incredibly good thing.” I’ve been reticently boxing up clothes that no longer fit to go to goodwill. Your quote alone makes me think that needs to happen faster to welcome clothes that fit me in the now.
    Here is to more good things to come! And thank you for the kick in the butt/inspiration to get me working towards a stronger me.

    1. Oh my gosh, that is AWESOME Amy! I am so psyched for you, you’re right how it really does help with anxiety and depression. Cheering on your stronger self!

  12. My dear, you need a sewing machine! It’s the work of minutes to hem some pants, and just think of the world of fit-tweaking you can do if you don’t have to take everything to the tailor! 😉

    1. I do have one but I don’t have a Serger and this fabric is so stretchy and unwieldy. But I do need to use it more, I just went to the tailor with one item I bet if I had the time and know-how could have altered on my own!

  13. When my nephew was in college (bear with me here), he had a bone density scan done. Turns out he is in the 100+ percentile (actually off the chart) for bone density, which explains why it always felt like we were picking up a sack of lead when we picked him up as a baby/toddler, while other children felt like birds with hollow bones in comparison. It was a revelation for our entire family. So part of the difference people experience on the scale may be the amount of muscle they have, but it also may be the bone density on board. And of course, weight-bearing exercise builds muscle AND bone density. Just a thought.

    1. That is interesting, I’ve always said I had heavy bones just because I can’t otherwise explain how I could be the same size and height as a friend and weigh 25 pounds more. Thank you for sharing this!

  14. A pull up?! I have never in all my 20 years of gym been able to do one lonely pull up. Please ask your trainer to take a picture of this, I would love to see it. The pull up for me is the highest point of fitness I have never attained and I would love to live vicariously a little through you. 🙂

    1. Seriously, if I can do this I will video it, photograph it, likely put it on a t-shirt and run around town wearing it! It’s the goal and we’re definitely not there now. He says I need to lose some weight so I am not having to pull up so much but in the meantime we’re focusing on building the muscle to accomplish it. I did do a dip from that machine where you hang in the air. I did ONE but heck, that was still thrilling. I’ll keep you posted, no clue when it will happen but I’m determined!

  15. I’ve enjoyed your blog for several years, probably back to the beginning. I love the advice you give about how to dress a real woman’s body.

  16. You look I great! Let me say I know what you mean when you say you are more solid than you appear. I currently weigh more than ever before and my doctors office always sets the scale for at least 40 lbs less than my weight. It is shocking.

  17. This post will resonate with a lot of us. I was “perfect” for a minute or two in my forties and that was over! But what I am is healthy. And I’m shooting for “strong and flexible” again (recovering from falling and shattering my right shoulder on vacation), doing modified yoga and PT post surgery to rebuild my arm muscles. But even if I were the perfect weight and strength, my upper arms would still have wing flaps and my calves are thick. So what? I still deserve to look my best.

    I love me. I’m the only me I’ve got!

  18. This post is beautiful. You’re working hard and setting a good example for your daughter. You might even be inspiring someone else to take the plunge.

    And this reaffirms that it’s never about the number on the waistband or the scale. It’s about how you feel.

  19. I can also relate to this! I gave up sugar completely a year ago, and I’ve gone from a size 18 to a size 12 (and I have no idea what I weigh because I also gave up on the scale.)

    “I’m not used to this body and I’m finding I need an external point of view to help me see it for what it is now and not a year ago.” — this is so true for me, too.

    And I work in a profession where professional image is important. The “uniform” that worked – kinda – when I was an 18 looks wrong on a size 12 body that I’m still not confident enough to show. Which is how I ended up here – looking for some new ideas that would work on a body that’s no longer plus-sized but not model-skinny either.

    “So I better get a new M.O. because my old one no longer fits.” — Thanks so much for sharing! The photos, especially are inspirational.

    1. Isn’t it amazing how one small change can have such great impact? You’re my hero, I’ve cut down on sugar drastically but haven’t removed it completely. But I know it will benefit me in so many ways. I hope this blog will help you, I’m cheering you on!

  20. Soooooo you didn’t wear the dearly loved white overalls and white Birkies to Diner en Blanc and instead scraped the bottom of your closet for this old thing—the white and black palm print jump suit.

    You look great: dress code, comfortable, summery, fashionable, graphically. You really rock jumpsuits even though you are not an undernourished basketball player.

    Thank you for writing this post with vulnerability and encouragement about being body proud.

    1. LOL I don’t think that all white outfit would have been appropriate! And nope not from the bottom of the closet, but fresh out of plastic from the mail! I LOVE jumpsuits, I think it’s all about fabric and cut to make them work on any body. Thank you!

  21. I SO relate to this post – as I do to much of what you write. You’ve got it spot on, again, and I love the fact that you say ‘there is no going back’. You’re looking mighty fine girl!! The same fabulous you inside a new skin for a new age.

  22. Encouraging post – thanks. I’m 65, and I’m still not used to this post-40 body, much less the post-menopausal one!!! I love the bathroom shot – your stance is lovely, but the hair with bangs down is what really caught my eye. So young-looking.

    1. If it wasn’t hot and humid and if I weren’t one who is prone to sweating at the drop of a hat my hair would regularly look like that. But no matter what I do, I leave the house like that and in a minute look like the first photo! LOL

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