Thoughts on Being “Othered”.

Published February 28, 2012 by sleepydumpling

A few days ago I was writing an email to a friend of mine about fat, fashion and marginalisation, and while I was doing so, quite a few things kind of went “Ping!” in my head, and I realised I wanted to expand upon the subject in a general sense here on my blog.  We were talking about how many fat women feel about clothing and fashion, and the desperation so many of us feel when trying to find clothes that fit us, suit our lives, we like, make us feel good, and that are fashionable.

Those of us who engage in fatshion, the act of dressing/styling ourselves with pride and personal expression as fat women are outside of the acceptable cultural meme for fat women.  Fat women are expected to constantly be expressing their shame at having a fat body and doing everything they can to hide those fat bodies.  Regardless of whether or not that suits our lives, our needs or our personalities.

That’s the thing with inhabiting a fat body.  People see you as just that – a fat body.  They don’t attribute anything else to you, like a career or family, hobbies or convictions, let alone sense of humour, or intellect, or talent, or kindness and caring, or passion, or dedication… the list goes on.  The world sees you as FAT.  It’s the first thing people use to describe you, even if you have other more noticeable traits.  In my own personal case, my fat even trumps my candy coloured hair and tattoos as the most noticeable thing about me.  People notice that I am fat, before they notice a single other thing about me.

But of course, if you identify as fat and actually own this quality about yourself that the world constantly reminds you of, then the vitriol intensifies.  How DARE any woman not be ashamed of being fat.  She must be reminded that she is of lesser value, she must be brought down to the level that she belongs.

Clothing, indeed fashion, is one of the ways that society does that.  By restricting the options to fat women, it is another reminder that we are other.  That we don’t deserve the same things as “normal” people.  It serves to make us look even more different to general society, and then of course it is very effective in making us FEEL different to general society.

Having access to clothes that are fashionable and on a par with general society is both empowering and deeply emotional.  Because it takes away that demarcation of being socially other, and brings fat women to a point of being able to not just dress like, but BE peers to others in society.

I’m old enough to span a few decades of awareness of clothing and fashion.  I remember what it was like in the 80’s to try to find clothes to fit my fat body.  It was agonising.  So as a consequence, I spent most of my teens through to my early 30’s hiding.  Hiding in black, navy, burgundy.  Hiding in shapeless boxes.  No personal expression, no style, no fashion.  I never got to engage in fashion as a social event, so I was distanced from other girls/young women.  Therefore I never felt I could be friends with girls/women – and consequently only had male friends until my 30’s.  Of course, I didn’t know back then that this was institutionalised misogyny – teaching me that if I couldn’t “compete” with my peers, I couldn’t participate with them.

See how this shit works to push fat women further and further down the cultural hierarchy?

Then it came to work, and I couldn’t find clothes that matched those that my professional peers were wearing.  Instead, more shapeless, sloppy, dark sacks – which in turn made others (and myself) believe that I was less capable, less committed, less able than my thin peers.  After all, if you can’t dress yourself confidently, surely you can’t do anything else confidently right?

It just keeps going on and on and on.

I’ve also been the fattest person at the lunch table while everyone else talks about how disgusting their own, much thinner bodies are.  That’s always a special feeling.  I’ve been the one that the person with the fucked up food obsession uses for thinspiration.  I can’t tell you how it feels to have someone in a position of power use you as their metaphorical piggy-on-the-refrigerator, stalking your every move around food… and because they’re in a position of power, you can’t say “Fuck off.” or if you say anything to anyone else you get told you’re imagining it or over-sensitive.

I understand.  I know how it feels.  I live it every day of my damn life.

My only way of coping is to take it on and try to change the world.  I did 35 years of trying to change me to fit the world, and it didn’t work – it almost killed me.  Now I intend to devote the rest of my life to changing the world to fit everyone.  After all, the world is a big diverse place, there is room in it for all of us, no matter who we are, what we look like or what our lives are.  And we fat people have as much right to it as anyone else.

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41 comments on “Thoughts on Being “Othered”.

  • Right you are. I’m almost 50. It wasn’t until I was 45 that I realized I should try to stop hating myself for my body. I spent my teens, twenties, thirties, and half of my forties yo-yo dieting and using disordered eating. I still haven’t made peace with the fact that exercise is for health, not weight loss, but I’m working on it.
    Such a waste of time all this agonizing, really.

    • I think we’ll always be a work in progress faycinacroud. We all have different things we have to work on making peace with. But the fact that we’re working on it is the healthy thing.

  • My mother, at way beyond 300lbs, was a plus-size fashion model for a while. She always dressed in bright colors, with lots of jewellery and bright red hair. I never had the idea it might be inappropriate to dress any other way, and my sisters, who are all in the curvy department, are just the same. The women in my family wear what they want to wear, in whichever color they like. And if we do not find what we want, we make it ourselves.

    (Truth be told, I was “only” overweight, and have put that behind me, but still I really love my mother’s and sisters’ fashion sense.)

  • Beautiful writing Kath, as always. You are constantly inspiring me to think about prejudice and privilege. Until a year ago I had never realised how much was wrapped up in finding clothes I liked and that fit me. Thank you for reminding me that I don’t have to be apologetic for being me and taking up space in this world. xx

  • This made my eyes leak a little :)
    I used to know what it was like to dress in clothing I didn’t really like, but which “hid” me. It compounded how I felt about myself, it didn’t help me one bit to hide away. I hated the clothing and it made me feel worse about myself. Then I’d go indulge in unhealthy behaviour – overeating, purging, self insults … the sorry list.

    Nowdays, it’s different. It’s tough to find clothing I like, especially as an alternative chica, but I proudly walk about in my bright blue DM’s and bright red tights. Do I feel self concious? A little, I don’t actually enjoy being looked at full stop, regardless of my body size. But is sure as s*** beats the bad feeling I used to get on the inside, when I was dressing myself in the frumpy clothing.

    • ((Hugs)) Jenny Jameson. I understand how you feel, I have been there myself. The self loathing, the self soothing, the self punishing… all because the rest of the world won’t allow us the space and resources we need – the same ones that everyone needs.

      I have similar difficulties with my tastes too – I love kooky, quirky, bright and fun stuff, and it’s so hard to find!

  • Reblogged this on faithandmeow and commented:
    Beautiful blog post – speaks from the heart.
    “My only way of coping is to take it on and try to change the world. I did 35 years of trying to change me to fit the world, and it didn’t work – it almost killed me. Now I intend to devote the rest of my life to changing the world to fit everyone. After all, the world is a big diverse place, there is room in it for all of us, no matter who we are, what we look like or what our lives are. And we fat people have as much right to it as anyone else.”

  • I am recently obese. And I keep torturing myself about it. Places like this give me permission to stop hating my body, myself. To stop the incessant envy of all things thin. I am in therapy (for other stuff) but it’s about time to start talking about my body and dumping the shackles of shame. Thank you for writing…for existing, proudly. It gives me hope.

    • saradraws – you don’t have to call yourself “obese”. That is a medical term that is used to pathologise our bodies. It’s designed to shame us for having bodies outside the arbitrary measure of “normal”. It’s an awful way of referring to human beings, as if we are a disease or epidemic. You are worth more than that.

      Dump those shackles of shame and hold your head high.

      • Now that’s an education. I’m always referring to the role of language in oppression, but I said “obese” without even thinking about it. Thank you.

  • I vividly remember being a thin child, and then a thin teen. My very fat mother spent hours and hours designing and creating my wardrobe (in a fabulous collaboration with me). Some of my earliest memories are of us working together to create just the sort of clothes I wanted in just the ways I liked best. As a teenager I started joking that ‘Mom lives vicariously through my wardrobe.’

    It took me another decade to realize just how true that was… and how bitter it could be.

    I still treasure the memories of working together to create fabulous clothes. I just wish we could have spent more time doing it for her, too.

  • “No personal expression, no style, no fashion. I never got to engage in fashion as a social event, so I was distanced from other girls/young women. Therefore I never felt I could be friends with girls/women…”

    This actually made me tear up a bit. I feel like I hold back – or have to hold back – in my friendships with other women because we cannot bond over fashion. It’s a lonely feeling.

  • This is fucking awesome. I love how insightful it is about how fatshion is a relatively new concept. I remember being a teenager and not being able to shop at the same places that my thin friends could. They would still bring me out shopping with them, not realizing that I couldn’t wear those clothes and didn’t really have other “mall” type options. Now it’s different but it’s important to remember how the shit that happened in the past still has powerful ramifications today.

    • It’s odd just how little clue straight-sized people have about dressing a fat body. Every time I talk to someone about this, they’re absolutely astonished. Even when I talk to plus-size clothing retailers, often they have no clue about their customers lives, their needs, their experiences. So many people just never consider how othering a whole industry is.

      We need to talk about this stuff more and more and more. We need people to hear just what kind of experiences we go through when it comes to life in general.

      • I agree. I really feel like this is the next step in the fatshion movement. Yeah, we have ok resources now when it comes to fatshion (although that’s another story) but this is a relatively new thing and the damage has been done. There needs to be more demand for clothes that fit a range of sizes, needs, and experiences. <3

  • My sister constantly jokes that I have no fashion sense (she and I have very different tastes). But it’s bittersweet because I keep reminding her that what I wear isn’t what I would chose if the entire range of ‘normal’ women’s clothes were available to me; I have to live within the small sample we fat girls are allowed. My sister laughs this off as “Tanz’s excuse”, which hurts.

    And this last winter I was one of the coldest for a long time; we had snow here in my little piece of New Zealand, in a part of the country where it *never* snows we had 3 days of it and school was even cancelled for a day. And guess what was almost impossible to find in the shops when it came to fat female winter clothing? *Long Sleeves*. That’s right – there were a lot of short sleeved tops, some with no sleeves, and a couple with elbow length or even 3/4 sleeves – but pretty much nothing with full, long sleeves. And warm clothing was also very hard to find. Sure it may not snow here normally but it’s damn windy and it gets damn cold! I have no jacket and no rain coat because I can’t find any in my size. When it rains I get wet (too windy for umbrellas, usually).

    Having a tight budget makes it even harder to find nice clothes and to add insult to injury here in NZ most dedicated plus size clothing lines/shops only go up to a NZ size 22 (which I think is about a USA size 18/20). So I can’t even shop at most ‘Plus Size’ retailers anyway.

    • Maybe try telling your sister, “It’s NOT an excuse, it’s the truth. Now stop bullying me about it. I’m sick of you saying this over and over again.”

      The sister thing hits a nerve with me. I remember my thin sister going on and on how awful it was she gained 5 lbs, how she could tell, her clothes didn’t fit anymore, how it affected her running, how I JUST DIDN’T UNDERSTAND!

    • Tanz, your sister is being a jerk. She has no right to laugh at you, she has no right to belittle you for the way you dress, and she has no right to make you feel lesser. icedgreentea is a lot more polite than I would be, I’d be telling her in no uncertain terms exactly what she could do with her attitude.

      You deserve better than that Tanz, you really do.

  • Oh I could relate to many of the examples you listed. I am in the unenviable position of trying to find and outfit suitable for the mother if the bride. I would love to wear something flowing, sexy and pretty. So far no luck, but I do have one lead but that’s not a sure thing.
    Thanks for a good read, as always you were able to voice the stuff that rattles around in my brain.

    • It’s just so wrong Jan, that we can’t find the things we need and want like any other person. I hope you find a magic seamstress who will make you a dream outfit that makes you feel gorgeous.

  • “I’ve also been the fattest person at the lunch table while everyone else talks about how disgusting their own, much thinner bodies are. ”

    If it’s mild, I just change the subject, but if they keep coming back to it, I deal with this by agreeing with them. “Yes,” I say, “you know, if you gain any more weight, you might not fit through the door.” Usually they don’t know what to say and shut up.

    I use humor in other ways, too. When someone points out to me that I’m fat, I glance down at my body, then look up at them with astonishment and say, “Ohmigod! You’re right! I never knew! Why didn’t someone ever tell me before? Hey, Susan, did you know I was fat? Betty just told me!” Put the emphasis on the jerk where it belongs.

  • I find my biggest obstacle is convincing myself that I’m worth the effort and expense. I feel like a complete fraud in anything fancier than jeans and a t-shirt… like the world will see me and think “who the hell does she think she’s kidding?”. Logically I know that’s seriously effed up. At 41 I’m more comfortable with my size, but I’m not yet comfortable with letting the world know I’m more comfortable with my size!

  • Thanks for this great post. It brought back a lot of school memories for me. For a long time I thought I was “over” what I went through as a fat girl in school, but lately I’ve been taking out those memories and looking at them again in the light of my adult experience. I shared the dilemma you write about of not having fun, fashionable clothes, or even clothes that were made for a body like mine, and it really put me on the sideline. It made me a bystander in my own life. And I’m still dealing with the repercussions of that today. (Lest this get too dark, I’m okay, really I am, and I’m glad to be in a place where I can look at that part of my life thoughtfully and honestly.) Anyway, thanks again, for speaking up for us fatties and helping us understand our own lives a bit better!

  • I used to dress like a boy. Baggy jeans and baggy tshirts. I was made fun of for wearing shorts. I was ridiculed for just about everything I wore.

    My mum (who is much thinner than I) used to take me clothes shopping, and it’d end up in me shouting at her with tears in my eyes because I couldn’t find anything in my size or for my teenage body.

  • I know how you feel! I hate fat shaming and I hate the way our culture always tries to make victims of mistreatment responsible for the disrespect and bad behavior of bullies. Everyday we all make a choice as to which culture we are going to build, the culture of abuse and the pecking order or the culture of community and respect for others.

  • “I’ve also been the fattest person at the lunch table while everyone else talks about how disgusting their own, much thinner bodies are. That’s always a special feeling.”

    This, this, a million times this. Thank you for being another person who gets this. Dear size four friends, you are not fat. And if you were, you would still be just as amazing as you are now.

    This week I explained to my partner that “FAT GIRLS LIKE SHOES BECAUSE THEY FIT.” Amiright?

      • I loved this post so much.

        I, too, remember listening to endless conversations with other (not “plus sized”) girls about how fat they were. And then when I stated the obvious fact that I was fat, they tried to convince me I wasn’t and that I had a pretty face. I am fat, dammit! I wish I had had the understanding to not internalize all the hatred that was directed at me and at others.

        About the accessories, I agree that that is where it’s at, because usually they will fit us fatties. I am a huge fan of scarves and earrings. However, I can’t do the shoe thing. Having bunions, heel spurs, flat feet, and $600 orthotics that I have to wear in every shoe and which have to be replaced yearly, I can’t buy “cute” or fantastic-looking shoes. I’ve never worn heels after I bought my first pair of “oh, I feel like a grown up in these” pumps at 13. It’s probably a good thing too because it would have compounded my foot problems. I wish it would become fashionable for me to wear “granny” shoes with an otherwise fatshionable outfit. It kinda breaks my heart a little. I had to get rid of so many cute shoes after I got my orthotic insoles. And don’t get me started on boots. I long for boots, but have superlarge calves and ankles, so they don’t fit. Sigh.

        Also, (hoping I’m not hijacking the thread) I feel the need for a little rant about underwear. I live in the US (so I don’t know if it’s the same elsewhere) and for about the last decade I have been wearing Lane Bryants’ Cacique brand hipster panties. About 2 years ago, they changed them to a thinner fabric with thinner elastic at the leg openings and they get holes in them the first time I wash them. So, I stopped buying them and have been looking for a replacement. I feel really uncomfortable because the layer of cloth actually touching my skin doesn’t fit right and is constantly in my awareness. Is it sooooo hard for a company to make panties that will cover my butt, not ride up it, and also be short enough in the rise to stay below my trousers at the top? Seriously! It’s pissing me off. Oh, and it would be nice if they didn’t cost more than $10 a pair. I think I’m going to have to learn to sew clothing because this is just ridiculous.

  • I teach English in Korea and have recently started swimming at a public pool. This involves getting naked with strangers in the locker room and shower area. At first, I was terrified. I’m twice the size of the average Korean woman, extremely white, and have a physical disability. Then, I realized that no one was looking and no one cared. I’m gradually becoming more relaxed about exposing my body in front of others. Blogs like this one helped me find the courage to take this kind of step.

  • People are too quick to judge one another and unfortunately do tend to classify one another as a “skinny bitch” or “fat cow” before really considering the rest of the individual. It is unfair, hurtful, and diminishes the value of the person in their own regard.

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