Double-Standard Dressing

Published January 9, 2011 by sleepydumpling

I bought the cutest dress from Evans.  I wore it on Christmas Day, you might have seen my earlier post about that outfit.  I just love this dress, it’s so soft and comfortable, and I feel great in it.

On Wednesday this week, I wore it again, but instead of wearing leggings underneath, I wore a pair of rust coloured opaque tights from We Love Colors, and my cute new olive coloured Mary-Janes from Rivers.  It felt so cute and fun and I really felt good in it.

But when I got to work, someone who works on the same floor as I do, made a little comment about how short my dress was.  Just a little statement of “That’s very short, lucky you’ve got tights on.”  The tone was just disapproving enough for me to pick up on it.

The following day, I wore another new outfit, with an above the knee skirt, almost as short as the dress, again with tights.  Same person, sees me in the hall, and says “You’re really getting into wearing these short skirts, aren’t you?  Bit short perhaps?”

Strangely enough, I heard her the afternoon before say to another young woman who works on the same floor, who was wearing a much, much shorter skirt than mine “Oh, look at you with your cute legs!”  No tone of disapproval there.

The difference is, I’m a mega fat woman.  The other woman is thin.  Petite in fact, perhaps a size 6 or 8.

This is a very good example of the double standards fat women face when dressing for work, or even other events.  Clothes that are considered appropriate for thin women, are suddenly deemed inappropriate when worn by fat women.  As much as our bodies are desexualised because of our fatness, they are also hypersexualised.  We literally have more breasts, more butt, more flesh that may be seen.  The same amount of exposed cleavage that is appropriate for a thin woman is deemed inappropriate on a fat woman, simply because she has more breast tissue behind it.

This double standard also stems from people who find fat flesh offensive.  It’s perfectly socially acceptable for a thin woman to wear a sleeveless dress or top, or something with spaghetti straps, or strapless, but for a fat woman to wear it, and expose her “back fat” or “bingo wings”, it suddenly becomes offensive.

It’s difficult enough when we have to suffer through disapproving comments on our clothing choices that other’s don’t have to tolerate, but it can even translate into real discrimination in the workplace.

I’m one of the lucky ones, in that I don’t have to deal with that in my workplace, well… other than from narrow-minded people who work nearby.  But many people are not as fortunate as I am.

Appearance based discrimination is a very real issue and even particularly so for fat women.  Fat women are considered lazy, gluttonous, less intelligent, messy, unprofessional and disorganised, simply because of their body shape and size.  When someone who is less qualified gets a job because they are thinner/more attractive than the other applicant, despite qualifications, this is discrimination.

Even once they have a job, fat women are passed over for promotion, pay rises, are treated less equitably than their teammates, and are expected to dress and perform to a different standard than their thin colleagues.  Fat women are even held to a different standard than fat men.

Body policing and size discrimination are not something that we imagine.  Whether it’s just commentary from people we encounter on a day-to-day basis, or out-and-out workplace discrimination, it’s real and anyone with a fat body is open to it.

So what do we do about taking it on?  How do we change it?

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25 comments on “Double-Standard Dressing

  • The thing that I found most useful was to stop judging other people, of any size, age or shape, and then (after a while!) it was much easier to feel good about myself and ignore negative comments – they just turn into irrevelant noise. I wouldn’t care about that person’s opinion on anything else, why care about it on my fashion? I know this doesn’t fight institutional oppression (except in my own small workplace!) but it gives me a strong place to stand. Then again, I’m 36 and the older I get, the easier it has been to ignore assholes and bullies, especially the snide, friendly ones!

    • One shouldn’t have to just ignore them though. One shouldn’t have to just suffer through. I very much believe in not carrying around other people’s shit, but the fact that they’re attempting to put that shit on you in the first place is something that needs to be addressed.

      • It’s not so much “ignore” as “they are truly irrelevant to me”. If it was a workplace situation, I might feel the need to address it – for the sake of stopping bullying at least – but sailing on by completely untroubled seems to really stupefy them.

  • it is so interesting to me (ok, mostly rage-inducing) that folks feel entitled to comment on someone else’s appearance, particularly if they feel the clothes aren’t “supposed” to be on the body they’re looking at. have you heard of that awful awful website called People at Walmart (or something. i’m not sure of the exact title and i’m damn sure not gonna link to it). from what i can tell, it’s basically a bunch of pics of fat people in jeggings and any other outfit that the picture-taker deems “inappropriate” based purely on the person’s size. my GOD, feeling the need to comment on someone else’s clothing because it personally offends you says WAY more about you than it does anything else. fuck that person on your office floor and her fat shaming, that’s what i have to say about that (and here comes the rage :)
    and your outfit was cute as shit! so there!

    • I am indeed aware of People of Walmart. I loathe that site, and those of it’s ilk, with a passion. I have blogged before about those sites. People who think it’s acceptable to ridicule others, particularly strangers, on their clothing choices and bodies are just douchey. I have asked friends who like those sites how they would feel if they saw ME on there, and they’ve been horrified. “But you’re not like those people!” they say. However, to strangers, I AM like those people, and have in fact had my photograph taken and posted on douchey websites because someone thought it fit to ridicule my fatness and my clothing choices. It’s all about “othering” – if someone is known to you, they don’t fit the stereotypical assumption of fat being “lazy, ugly, gross, dirty, smelly etc”.

      And thank you, but even if I didn’t look as cute as shit, I still have every right to wear tights and an above the knee skirt as the next person.

  • Thanks for this. I’m reminded of my first engineering internship when I got nicknamed “Tits” by male coworkers and sexually propositioned tons. For wearing such alluring clothes as, oh, t-shirts like this. Not that it’s OK for anyone to call a woman “tits” unless she asks you to. It’s just the level of body policing and shaming or sexualizing or desexualizing talk that gets thrown at people DOES depend on their bodies and how marginalized or not they are.

  • My workplace, fortunately for me because I’m never compos mentis enough early in the morning to think much about what I’m putting on, doesn’t have a dress code. What this post made me think of was an incident back when I was temporarily living with my mother after my divorce. I bought a sleeveless dress to wear to a cousin’s birthday party; my mother yelled at me till I was in tears, then yelled at me some more till I took the dress back to the store and changed it, claiming it wasn’t appropriate and showed too much flesh for that kind of occasion. Get to the party, and surprise surprise, three or four of my (thin) cousins, the birthday girl included, were wearing the exact same style of dress…and she didn’t bat an eyelid. (Yeah, I used to be a lot less assertive. These days I’d have told her where to go.)

    Face it, a lot of the time, when someone says your clothes are inappropriate, what they’re really saying is that they regard your body as inappropriate. And still would no matter what you were wearing. To people like that, anything you wear in public is a compromise, because they’d really rather they didn’t have to look at you at all. And if that’s what they think of you, why should you listen to them?

    • Oh yes Emerald, I had moments like that with other people policing me with shame and humiliation about clothes in the past too. I live in the sub-tropics and I can’t tell you the number of years I sweltered with cardies and shrugs on because it was so hot and I was shamed into hiding my arms. Nowadays I bare them and anyone who doesn’t like it can fuck off.

      We don’t really have a dress code per se, but one is expected to present a “professional” look. Of course, that depends wholly on a) what your profession is and b) who you are. As a librarian, I have a different level of “professional” than say someone from Water & Sewage. And someone from the legal section has a different level again.

      And you’re bang on the nail with regards to the offense being your body is inappropriate, rather than you clothing!

  • I think people should be able to wear whatever they want. I have written articles in fashion zines on how to dress to flatter your body type, and I have gotten tons of flack from people about it too… but that’s all just opinionated guidance, not rules to obey or anything. I would never be the type of criticize the fat woman for showing some leg, shoulder, breast, or anything else.

    • They should indeed.

      However nobody should feel that they need to “flatter” their bodies. By implying that there is a particular way to dress to hide or disguise certain parts of one’s body, it suggests that that part of the body shouldn’t look like that. For example, by suggesting that there is a “flattering” way to dress arms, suggest that there are some arms that should be hidden.

      Wear sleeves if you prefer them. Cover your knees if you wish. Wear black if it pleases you.

      But flattery dressing is a fucked up notion, seriously.

  • This double standard also stems from people who find fat flesh offensive. It’s perfectly socially acceptable for a thin woman to wear a sleeveless dress or top, or something with spaghetti straps, or strapless, but for a fat woman to wear it, and expose her “back fat” or “bingo wings”, it suddenly becomes offensive.

    That’s what it’s all about, IMHO. It’s not the clothes that are “inappropriate” or “offensive” – it’s our bodies.

  • Story time!

    A few years ago, I attended a themed costume party. The theme was, basically, geek characters. You had to be something from a comic, or manga, or Harry Potter, ect. I dressed as Enid from Ghost World. I basically had to wear thick black-framed glasses and a simple “punkish” outfit. Part of my costume was a short black skirt. Now, I loved this skirt, it was super cute, but I hardly ever wore it because it seemed like it was too short. Now in my case, I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with the length of the skirt, and of course that’s way more important than anyone else’s opinion. When I went to the party, though, I felt really self-conscious. I felt like people were staring at my really big, really lumpy, really exposed thighs. Given how short the skirt was, and how judgmental people can be, I’m gonna go ahead and say that yeah, I was probably being judged. However, had you put the same outfit, and the same length skirt, on someone much smaller than me? I doubt anyone would have a problem with it and some would probably find it hot (hey, it was a cute outfit). I am still trying to get comfortable enough my body that I don’t apply those double standards to myself.

    • I hear you outrageandsprinkles. It’s one thing to be dressing to your own comfort levels, and we all have to work on those thoughts and self criticisms. Every one of us is a work in process when it comes to self acceptance.

      But when someone ELSE is applying those criticisms and prejudices, actually applying them by making comments or judgements, not just the inner voice our own self-consciousness, it’s a WHOLE different kettle of fish. Self criticism is personal and it’s our own baggage. Criticism from others based on appearance is so many levels of wrong I don’t know how to express it.

  • I’m probably not considered fat by most standards. But I do have a twisted sternum which means I have a fist size hole in my chest. Sometimes I choose to hide it, avoiding v-neck tops or blouses or strapless anything. And as for bikinis, forget it. It’s just a giant sign saying ‘hey you are a freak.’

    This year I am trying not to hate on my body. I know why we use the term ‘fat acceptance’ as things are different for fat women than for those considered thin. But sometimes even skinny women might also have something ‘wrong’ with their body that needs acceptance.

    • That’s the thing with fat acceptance. It benefits all bodies, regardless of size, shape, ability, or anything else. It’s all about accepting your body as it is, and demanding respect from the rest of the world no matter who you are.

      Hang in there Stef, all bodies are amazing things, even if we hate on them sometimes.

  • i have two words about all that: catty bitches I hate them ALL nothing better to do my remedy is to call their asses out, “your comments about how I look are not really appropriate in an office setting. I would appreciate it if you kept your opinions to yourself.” I hate hate hate those ugly little comments women make that are like a sucker punch to the kidneys…bitches!

    Oh but I have a question for you. I love tights but as an apple I find most tights are too..well tight in the waist and give me a muffin top look which sucks :( I was wondering what the we love colors does… does it give a smooth line or does it bend in at waist cause I wanted to buy some.

    thanks!
    Jenna

    • We Love Colors tights fit me very well. I am definitely an apple. Or maybe a gourd. Punkin. Something round in the middle. I get the Lycra blend tights in the size my height and weight are supposed to be, and they’re probably a smidge too big. I might try the next size down next time I buy, just to test. They have plenty of room in the waist/body – in fact are a little long, I can pull them right up under my boobs. But the legs fit very well, and though they do give, they tend not to bunch up all ugly. And they’re SO comfy, once I put them on, until I need to pee, I forget I’m wearing them.

  • Jeebus. This woman needs to mind her own fucking business. Her comments are really a reflection on her own level of self awareness (hatred? ignorance?), and I hope on principle you continue to wear whatever you damn well please.

  • The job I’m temping at right now allows me to wear jeans but I still feel the need to dress it up a little because as a size 26/28 who also wears 30/32, I know the flak women our size can get. I know I have the right to wear sweatpants and velour track suits, but you will never see me in them because of the hurtful stereotypes and the fact that I just can’t pull those off. Some fat women can and look great, I’m not one of them.

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