Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Reviewing Reviews for Body Policing

The regular post for today, a review of knit.wear's Spring 2013 issue, led to my having a very enlightening Twitter conversation with one of this blog's readers. Her Twitter handle is Bunny Knuckles, so I'll call her that. Bunny Knuckles told me she enjoyed my blog but what she called "the CONSTANT body policing" in my pattern reviews had made her decide she needed to stop following it.

Well, I was taken aback, and I tweeted back that I was surprised that she considered me to be body policing, that I expected knitting designs to flatter the figures they go on regardless of what those figures are like. Or words to that effect that fit into the 140 character limit. (I hate Twitter. It's not only the ugliest social media venue on the net — it's like reading code — it's next to impossible to have a coherent and intelligent conversation on it.)

But then I had another look at the review, and found to my horror that Bunny Knuckles had been right. I had essentially told my readers that one particular design, a snug, short, knitted dress, was only for young, svelte women. And I found some other comments that I thought were definitely over the line. So I got back to Bunny Knuckles, saying I thought she had a point and that I had done a hasty edit of some of my comments.

Let me be clear here. When I write knitting magazine reviews, I feel it's part of my job description as a reviewer to help knitters assess whether the patterns will flatter their particular looks. I also write from the standpoint that, regardless of what your proportions are, you deserve a wardrobe that make you look your very best. And if this is true of clothes you buy at the mall with your hard-earned dollars, it's all the more true of clothes you're going to spend not only money but a considerable amount of your valuable time and effort making.

But, you see, my task is a problematic one. The fact is, no one looks good in every style, no matter what his or her figure is like. If I'm to provide honest and helpful guidance on choosing flattering styles, sometimes I do need to say categorically that style X will not suit figure Y. It can be difficult to say that without sounding like I'm shaming people for having figure Y, even though I didn't mean that at all and instead intended to suggest that figure Ys thumb their noses at the unflattering style X and go look for a good design in style Z, which will look fabulous on them.

As much as I want to give knitters useful advice about what will look good on them, to help them choose styles that work best on their figures without making them feel that their figures are the problem, it's a fine line, and it upsets me to think that despite my best efforts it's one I'm probably going to cross occasionally. In the case of that snug, short dress design, for instance, what I should have said originally, and what I have edited my comments to say, is that if the wearer-to-be won't feel comfortable in something so snug and short, to just make the dress a few inches longer and a few inches looser. There are specific styles that simply won't ever work on specific figures (don't even get me started on how an empire cut looks over my D cups), but there are also going to be many more cases in which a design only needs a little tweaking to be perfectly wearable for most people. I need to do a better job at distinguishing between the two. I need to be clearer that I'm critiquing the knitting patterns, not people's bodies. I'm also trying to use more gender inclusive language, but that's another conversation to be had on a day when I don't already have a headache.

So I propose that my contract with my readers will be this: that I will be more vigilant about not crossing the line into body policing, and you are welcome to let me know, via comments on this blog, email, messages or wall posts on The Knitting Needle and the Damage Done's Facebook page, or in a Twitter conversation, when you think I haven't succeeded. I'll do my best to respond promptly and will edit my blog posts if I think you're right.

And then we can get back to ridiculing and critiquing the knitting patterns, because, hoo boy, that's one snark flag we can let fly.


  1. Perhaps there is a sensitivity there... I agree 100% that different styles will flatter different figures. We celebrate the diversity! It's a fun thing to think of the svelte figures might wear (as well as the D-cups) ;). You can't be afraid to lose a couple followers here and there, especially those who hold your blog hostage with their criticisms instead of making suggestions in good faith.

  2. I don't see how you can write a blog about knitting things -- many of which are supposed to be worn on the body -- without mentioning that some may not flatter some bodies. I don't believe that is body policing, nor do I read the comment you cite that way. (I don't know what other things you think were "over the line.") I would not worry about this.

    I can't make or wear many things you talk about, but still enjoy this blog very much.

  3. It is a very hard line to walk because it is REALLY USEFUL to know that I will not look great if I wear a one-button-at-the-top cardigan or a cropped jacket, but at the same time I have heard so much snark of the "Ugh, SHE should not be wearing THAT" variety that it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I think there's a legitimate distinction to be made between saying that people should dress to flatter their body type, and saying that people should dress to look thinner.

    I really enjoy your blog, and I'm glad that you're going to pay more attention to this in the future!

  4. I like Amy Herzog's concept of body shapes. Another approach for those clingy numbers could be "This pattern would look best on a proportional figure."

    Please remember that you are publishing a blog with your opinions. You will not make everyone happy all of the time. I greatly appreciate your ability to listen to a critic but please don't tone things down too much!

  5. I've never felt that you were over the line in any of your comments regarding the fit of certain pieces. Actually, that's one of the things I love about this blog: the honesty. I follow a number of knitting blogs and I feel like things are sugarcoated a little too often. Also, I think it's important as a reviewer to help inform readers on what fits will be flattering to which shapes. But, I am a firm believer in always speaking the truth, even if it's brutal and ill-received. Like the other commenters said, you can't please everyone.

  6. I agree with the sentiments above- I honestly don't think you did anything except point out the obvious. Not all garments are made for all women. I mean, someone like me with hips and curves and a few years beyond my teens can wear a tiny mini-dress, but really now. No one wants to see that.

  7. For addressing this issue head-on instead of getting defensive and reactionary, YOU TOTALLY ROCK.

    This is indeed a tricky area. I stopped reading a very popular knitting blog because she made a snarky off-hand comment about how no one overweight should ever wear a sweater made with bulky yarn. And I was like, "But I get cold..."

    Then again, it's difficult for me to look at the pattern picture and do the mental gymnastics to imagine the finished object on my own body. If a waistline isn't going to be flattering, I appreciate someone telling me so before I go to all the trouble to knit the whole damned sweater (I'M LOOKING AT YOU, SIENNA http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/sienna-cardigan)