TW: Disordered eating
Before I start, I want to acknowledge that I experience tremendous size privilege in the knitting industry, in the accounting field, medically, socially, and beyond. My story is one of a medium-sized person grappling with diet-culture and the ways in which I've experienced marginalization and have also perpetuated a framework of marginalization, and I hope that sharing my story helps readers connect with additional resources to help them confront and heal from their own place in our fat-phobic culture.
Size inclusion is personal
You’ve seen my picture, you already know - I’m in the lower middle of my size range (which generally goes 30-62+” bust). And yet I DO GO ON about size inclusion. It's a justice-based core value for me, but I didn't start out here.
I never got a professional diagnosis for my disordered relationship with food and exercise, so I feel a little weird taking up space and writing about this. I’m gonna do it anyway.
As someone who was in a larger body (what we’d now call small-fat), I set out to lose a great deal of weight and got deeply lost. Eventually, I beat back my own stigma about seeking help, but orthorexia was just beginning to be recognized by professional therapists. As I laid out my panic and the way my life was distorted and utterly warped around eating and exercise, the professional I saw suggested I just ‘try to eat something tasty.’
I never went back.
Instead, I struggled for several more years with spreadsheets and food scales and carefully counted half-almonds and meal timers and relentless multiple-times-per-day gym schedules and digestive distress and endless overtraining injuries (including pushing myself into a mountain biking accident that landed me at UMBC’s Shock Trauma unit with a head injury and torso damage that would require two surgeries).
So, I guess I also feel okay taking up space here because someone’s got to take up space if we’re going to start offering help to the vulnerable.
It’s hard for me to say where I am in recovering from disordered eating. Not at the very beginning, but not yet at the place of equilibrium I'm striving for. But you know who’s gotten me this far? Fat knitters - and I owe them everything.
Man, when I first got serious about knitting I was in my early twenties and if you wanted a knitting pattern that was kind of cool, the only options were skintight cabled hoodies modeled by elven preteens. They were beautiful, and it was very, very, very clear that I was NOT invited.
As my body shrank, I thought I’d be able to knit sweaters for myself, but my gym schedule didn’t leave enough time to knit, and I was too panicked at the idea of gaining weight and losing my entire self (and the sweater becoming a physical artifact of my worthlessness) to cast on anyway. Besides, I was sure I was going to lose just a little more weight. So I still couldn’t go to the sweater knitting party, but now it was because I was too disordered.
Eventually, I received an unrelated diagnosis that obliterated my ‘fitness’ based identity. In a stroke, I lost everything I thought I was and wanted to be. I was utterly and totally unmoored and in total identity freefall.
As I began to do recovery work, and my body drifted in a new direction, I stripped every single diet-culture media source out of my life. Mostly I felt bitter and robbed and lost. Every fitness account, every 'healthy eating' resource, almost all television - they all had to go. Gradually, I began to invite different messages into my spaces. Front and center were feminist fat activists. It was an alien world, and I was flailing, trying to replace an entire system of seeing the world with a whole new and totally contradictory one. I want to be very accountable to my process here - part of my challenge was struggling with dysmorphic thoughts and I took up space that wasn't mine to take up.
In the middle of the collision of my diagnosis and my disordered healthism, the one thing I had left of my old life was knitting. I sat in waiting room after waiting room, and knit. I found new designers to follow on Instagram - fat ones, with amazing designs for all shapes of bodies. They were angrily, defiantly, flipping the bird while they ate ice cream. And they were all super, super cool.
As I challenged the fat-phobic beliefs with which I’d been tormenting myself I confronted the truth that the deliberate pursuit of weight loss is an act of oppression. It’s one thing to not know that and do what you think you have to do to survive, but once you know it, you can’t just wake up one day and unknow it. I got really mad. I'd been tricked into this crappy framework that robs literally all of us. It's a money-making empire that's chewing up generation after generation. I wanted to opt-out, and I wanted to obliterate the system.
My current body is somewhere between the largest and smallest it’s been, and I don't really know how it's going to change in the future (spoiler: none of us do). I fit in most, but not all, knitting patterns. Feeling seen in knitwear has been deeply healing for me, and I want to see everyone in my community too. Size inclusive design honors my own experiences, my own body, my own struggle - and gives me a way to honor and connect with other knitters too.
Size inclusive design is also my responsibility to the fat activists I follow and learn from. It's profoundly unfair that the work they're doing has changed my life so dramatically, as an average-sized person, while their fight for access rages on, mostly unacknowledged.
Putting Size Inclusion into Practice
Before I started my first design, I knew I wanted to make fat-activism an explicit value for my small business. I'm hopeful that by sharing this framework, other designers might find a place to start. I'm also hoping that other designers, testers, and knitters who read this and have additional suggestions will reach out to me and help me grow my practice!
My 8 Practices for Size Inclusion
1. Grade the schematic for every size before beginning. By doing this, I’m making sure that every design element and structure will work consistently across my range. No size - at the top or the bottom of the range, is an afterthought.
2. Grade with consistent ease. We’ve all seen sweaters that aren’t graded consistently - the necks get wider and the shape changes, the armholes approach the waist, the hem moves from the high hip to below the butt.
3. Offer thoughtful shaping for each size, and make patterns transparent so that knitters can make modifications. Often this means I’m writing seamed patterns so that I can offer detailed shaping that’s easy to follow.
4. Offer modifications within the pattern when sensible, or point out places where modifications can be made.
5. Make tests sufficiently long for testers at the top of the range to knit their sweaters. This also is an issue of financial and physical accessibility. In general, I offer a week for every 400 yards whenever possible.
6. Testers are encouraged to make whatever fit-based modifications they would normally make, such as widening the sleeves or working different lengths.
7. Testers aren’t required to publicly share their modeled photos (I do try to choose testers who can share a modeled photo with me privately, but cropped photos are fine and I never share without consent and don’t make testing decisions based on who will share a modeled photo).
8. Knitters get to make their own decisions. I don’t assume that you want to hide anything, flaunt anything, or don’t want an oversized design. I don’t assume that you don’t want a design in chunky wool, and I don’t assume that you won’t knit an oversized sweater in fingering weight yarn. I'll make it - you get to choose whether or not it's for you.
There's still so much I'm excited to learn about and want to include in my design work. There's a big discussion ongoing about sizing for the upper chest, and as someone with shoulders smaller than predicted by my waist and bust, I think this could be a real game-changer for me personally. I'm also interested in developing appendixes for my patterns that offer additional grades for components (sleeves, for example), for alternative ease. Finally, I typically use myself as my model - but as I begin to think about moving from the initial startup phases of my business model I'm excited to expand to different points on my size chart.
I'm hoping that you'll write me back too, and tell me what advances have been the most meaningful for you as patterns have changed over the years - and what you're still yearning for!
Learn more about intuitive eating and get mad about the history and economics of diet culture from Christy Harrison.
I didn't love Roxane Gay's book Hunger the first time I read it. I wasn't ready. But I needed to see some perspectives that at the time seemed radical, and that made room for other ways of relating to grief and trauma. It took me two years to be ready to think about it, and I'm still learning from my reaction to it.
Designers - consider working with a tech editor who is vocal in the size-inclusive space and who is knowledgeable about grading (ideally, they offer grading services) - and be explicit in your agreement with them that you want them to assess your grades. And go watch every! single! resource! published by Sarah and Kristina at Tech Tip Talks!