Photography by Erinn Hargis

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been an inventor. A saleswoman. My mom used to call me a walking infomercial. I’d crush flower petals in the backyard, stuff them into my mom’s perfume bottle, and brand my own perfume. I’d create the most complex booby traps for the Tooth Fairy, made of whatever toys I could find in my room, and place a recorder under my pillow, just to find out what she sounded like. I sold magazines door to door to get toys I thought were ingenious, like this device that allowed me to hear what the adults were talking about from the other room. And when I was old enough, I’d take my babysitting money and buy everything I saw on TV, things I thought were the newest, latest, greatest inventions. Any problem in the house, I’d tell my parents there was a solution I saw on TV. Hence, the aforementioned “walking infomercial” nickname. I even chose my university based on its placement program with Disney, because all I wanted to be was an imagineer. Being an inventor, a dreamer, an idea person has always defined me. I’m not an engineer, but I’m still an idea person, selling different marketing ideas, stories, campaigns, and so on to retail brands in the Northwest.

But as bright-eyed as all that sounds, how I felt about myself was never good enough. I knew what was great. I saw it on TV. I saw it in the magazines. And it wasn’t me. A few years ago, I told my therapist these exact words, “I’m not pretty.” And she sort of sat there in shock. It was mean of me to think that about myself. I don’t know why I thought that about myself. My earliest memory is wearing this green and tan, silk floral dress for an elementary school assembly, and I remember looking down the row of girls in my class, noticing my belly stuck out, but theirs didn’t. It’s such an innocent observation. But it’s stuck with me. I gained more weight in junior high, and my mom finally confronted me about it in high school. I joined a gym, dieted, lost the weight, but even after years of therapy, self-love continues to be a struggle for me. Constantly comparing myself to everyone else. Maybe it’s mimicking that first moment I realized I was different. Just wanting to be like everyone else. To fit in.

I told my therapist these exact words, “I’m not pretty.”

And when I worked on the floor at Nordstrom, I’d hear it so much. Every woman had a hate-hate relationship with finding jeans. And being the problem solver I am, I’d study all the jeans we had on the floor, knew the product inventory like the back of my hand, and would put women in jeans they didn’t think existed. It was like finding their glass slipper. And I got addicted to that feeling. Giving women something they thought they’d never find. In a way, making them feel good made me feel good. Hope for them meant hope for me.

But it didn’t quite work like that. I was really good at solving other people’s problems, but not so great at solving my own. Every boyfriend I’ve ever had, I never believed them when they told me I was beautiful. How could I be? I knew what beauty looked like, and I wasn’t it. I felt like they “had to tell me that.” I don’t know why anyone would have to tell me that, but I assumed it was a form of being nice. I assumed boys dated me to be nice. I wore sexy lingerie because that’s what I thought cool girlfriends wore, but I never felt comfortable in it. I wore bodycon dresses because that’s what I thought guys liked, but I never felt comfortable in them. I’d wear Spanx like the rest of us who hate our bodies, just to mask how I truly felt in those dresses. But the minute I’d take them off, I was back in my own skin. Hating every bit of it.

After I left Nordstrom, I started writing product copy for what was a small start-up at the time: zulily. I hid behind racks of clothes, writing about each piece, the way it fit, why it looked good. Back in my world of optimism, writing about new, innovative products that solved all life’s problems.

And then some tights come across my desk. All of us in the copy room had similar comments, “I love tights, but they’re just so damn uncomfortable.” Everyone had a “trick” to wearing them. I remember my co-worker Alaina telling me, “Cut the sides of the elastic. That will loosen them up.” So that night I tried it. I was getting ready to go dancing, and wanted to feel comfortable. But to my disappointment, cutting the sides of the elastic didn’t really help, so I cut the entire elastic waistband off.

Little did I know, they wouldn’t stay up without it. And halfway through the night, I about had it. I was tired of pulling up my tights and charged into the bathroom to rip them off. After taking them off, it dawned on me that I could just wear my underwear on the outside of my tights to keep them up. And the minute I pulled my underwear over the top, I had this epiphany: why don’t my tights have the same waistband as my underwear? A waistband that didn’t dig in, roll down, sag, or go up to my bra, but looked sexy and followed the curves of my body. So that’s when I decided to make a pair that did. The child-like inventor in me, reborn.

But being older, a little wiser, I knew better than to sew a pair myself. I’m not a fashion designer by trade, so I sought out the help of a pattern maker. The first time we met, I brought her a basket of lace, legs, and sad sketches, but thankfully she saw my vision. It took us over a year to find the right lace and backing to create the perfect fit. We tried it all: rubber, silicone, soft lace, stiff lace, stretch lace, different heights of lace. And I’ll never forget the moment I put on that final prototype. It was like magic. The tights literally felt like they were made for my body. I felt sexy. I felt like dancing. And I realized I totally revolutionized a product. A product every woman had a trick to wearing.

You might be thinking, “Well, yea, your pattern maker literally made them for your body.” But I took that sample and put it on my sister, my nieces, my friends, and they stretched and sat beautifully on each of their different body types. To see their faces light up like my customers at Nordstrom, I knew it was something I needed to patent.

But there was a lot about intellectual property I didn’t know: what I could actually patent, what I couldn’t. But my patent attorney and I agreed, nobody made tights with a waistband that flared out to accommodate different body types. We worked with an illustrator to really hone in on that aspect, filed the patent, and two years later, it got approved. When I got the physical patent in the mail, my inner child (the inventor in me) was bursting with joy. I doubt there was a happier, more fulfilled person on the planet at that moment. I sat on my living room couch alone in my apartment, held that patent close to my chest, and cried. I felt a whole range of emotions, and was overwhelmed by the fact that I had just done something huge for myself, and for other women. And in that moment, I made this commitment: I want to change the way women feel in tights, and feel about themselves.

“I want to change the way women feel in tights, and feel about themselves.”

Tights have been made the same way since the beginning of time. They take two tubes of nylon, and sew them together. But women’s bodies aren’t shaped like two tubes sewn together! We have curves. Rolls. Love handles. And the hosiery industry has chosen not to design around that. Instead, we’re told we need to slim and shape.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of feeling like my body needs to be something it’s not. Whenever I wear traditional tights, the elastic digs in at the worst possible place on my waist, directing all my attention to an artificial “problem” area. It’s impossible to feel good in them!

That’s why I’m so excited about LOHO™. Wearing these tights has really helped me find a source of self-love, self-acceptance, and body positivity. I just had to shift my perspective — from me being the problem — to the hosiery industry being the problem. It wasn’t my fault tights didn’t fit me. The industry wasn’t thinking about me.

And they most definitely weren’t thinking like me. The entire hosiery industry is still focused on slimming and shaping. But when you find a pair of tights that aren’t designed to suck you in, and instead meet your body where it’s at, something crazy happens: you start to love your curves. Why? Because you feel comfortable having them! I truly believe the most comfortable you is the most beautiful, self-loving, confident you.

“…when you find a pair of tights that aren’t designed to suck you in, and instead meet your body where it’s at, something crazy happens: you start to love your curves.”

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that with the rise of athleisurewear, there’s been a rise of body positivity. Comfort equals confidence. The more comfortable we are in our bodies, the more confident we are in the world. And who wouldn’t want more of that?

But I want to be real here, it wasn’t just my tights that helped me learn to love my body. I was also listening to Christy Harrison’s podcast, Food Psych, going to therapy every week, and it took hearing Connie Sobczak, author of Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and quiet that critical voice!), talk about how she’s skillfully and lovingly reconnected readers to their authenticity and beauty. She worked with a therapist named Kim Chernin(who’s actually a relative of mine) who wrote The Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness. It provides an interesting, thought provoking discussion around the reasons why men have encouraged this obsession and women have embraced it. It’s a book about women’s efforts to become thin rather than to accept the natural dimensions of their bodies.

And after reading it, I felt the same, strong desire to help women heal from their obsession with body image. In Harrison’s podcast, Sobczak talked about therapies she explored using nonjudgemental touch, and it being super powerful. Something I never really thought about, but felt compelled to try. And that night, I went home, asked my boyfriend to take a bath with me, put on some spa music, lit some candles, and really embraced this idea of nonjudgemental touch. Each of my rolls were like ripples in the water, beautiful, at peace, womanly, warm, natural. I wouldn’t let myself push my boyfriend’s hand away when he touched my stomach. I embraced it. Reminded myself it was a loving touch. I felt one with my elements, with myself, and with my partner. And that simple exercise changed so much for me. I realized my body is lovable — just as it is.

And here I am today, with pretty strong convictions, reading about Spanx’ newest invention, Arm Tights™. “A solution that will smooth and flatter your arms.” says Spanx Founder, Sarah Blakely. Maybe it’s because all the self-love, body positive work I’ve done, but something about the idea of profiting off women’s insecurities just feels so wrong to me.

What sucks is that I actually admire Sarah Blakely for a lot of other reasons. She’s one of the few billionaires who’s signed the Giving Pledge, dedicating the majority of her wealth to philanthropic causes. And when I heard her speak at Rent the Runway’s Project Entrepreneur Intensive this year, I sat in the front row, soaking up a wealth of business knowledge. She really spoke to me. Hearing about her struggles manufacturing Spanx early on was something I could 100% relate to, because I got the very same reluctance when I approached hosiery mills about changing their process for LOHO™.

But I find myself at odds with what her newest invention represents. Maybe it’s a generational thing. But to me, shapewear represents a history of body shaming that needs to die. Trust me, women already feel like their bodies will never be good enough.

It’s why former Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe talks about avoiding Instagram’s “popular page” on her podcast. And why Raw Beauty Talk’s #realstagram posts are a necessary breath of fresh air in social feeds packed with perfectly staged photographs nobody can live up to. Women are in desperate need of a reality check. And the last thing we need is another product telling us that our bodies aren’t beautiful as they are.

Little girls deserve to live in a world where they don’t have to be told, “Pain is beauty.”

Let’s think about what are we telling younger women. Little girls deserve to live in a world where they don’t have to be told, “Pain is beauty” like we were. But rather, “Comfort is confidence.” They deserve products that follow their lead instead of the other way around. I don’t have kids, but I do have nieces, and I have to say my sister’s done a great job with them. I took them school clothes shopping this last year, and one of them was having a hard time finding her size, and said, “I hate that Target doesn’t make clothes for me.” And boy did my heart sink, but I immediately thought, wow, it’s so much better than her saying, “I hate that I don’t fit in Target’s clothes.” Such a simple shift in perspective from her being the problem to them being the problem. And I love that. We have to remember young women are watching us, and how we feel and talk about our bodies is what they’ll mimic. We have the opportunity to stop the cycle. Right here. Right now. With Arm Tights™.

“…to all my fellow inventors, creators, and designers: is what you’re making helping or hurting our progress as women?”

Take a note from my niece, and demand that brands acknowledge your body. It’s not your job to shape yourself into fitting their clothes. I’m just now starting to realize that building my brand is going to be like building a mini resistance, having to disagree with people I admire, to voice what’s right. But we need to demand brands look at real women — and not just at their bodies — but at their well-being. So to all my fellow inventors, creators, and designers: is what you’re making helping or hurting our progress as women? Are you improving their well-being?

Darrah ChristelComment