What the Kimono Taught Me About My Body

Finding contentment and comfort in how I look

Kaki Okumura

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Illustrations by Kaki Okumura

There was a time in my life where it was very difficult for me to feel good about the way I looked in my clothes– feeling great was something of a rare, and often brief, occurrence. It did not matter if I was overweight or if I was perfectly slender, the way I felt about my body was exactly the same. I realized that the internal dialogue can be a lot harder to shape than the actual physique.

When we feel unhappy about the way we look, we often think that something is wrong externally– that we need to be at a certain weight, measurement, or body type to like the way we look in clothing. But anyone who has embarked on these goals and successfully met them will tell you that it’s not as simple as crossing a finish line and suddenly feeling great about the way you look.

Obsession with the body can feel inescapable, like it’s everywhere in the world. But one day I found a little relief in a piece of clothing that didn’t pay much attention to the body: the kimono.

In traditional kimono dresses for women, the goal is to wear it in a way where the body looks like a tree trunk: no curves, just a straight, thick pole. Why? Because wearing a kimono is not about the body’s appearance, but it’s about showing off the kimono’s fabric and pattern, and you want it to look strong, crisp, and clean.

Instead of worrying about how to make your legs look longer, your waist look narrower, or your arms look thinner, when you wear a kimono you ask yourself questions like: How can I match the fabric’s color to the season? What color obi band matches the dress? What hair accessories would complement the color accents on the pattern?

From a Western perspective– a perspective historically informed by corsets for women, heels for men– clothing has often been seen as a way to enhance the body, to show it off to others. But Japanese kimono tradition had shown me a perspective where the shape of the body was of very little importance when it came to the art of dressing yourself. Instead, you could simply focus on how you…

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Kaki Okumura

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: www.kakikata.space 🌱