Melbourne Fashion Week Plus – The Political

Published September 11, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

What a whirlwind 10 days I had in Melbourne for Melbourne Fashion Week Plus (MFW+).  I think I’m still reeling a bit from just how full on it was, I know I’m still processing a lot of the feelings that bubbled up during the entire week.  I’m going to split my rundown of the week into two posts, this first one is going to talk about the politics and my own feelings about the event, and then I’ll follow up with the pretty fashions later, because I’m still putting together the photos and videos I took – I took a LOT!

I’m going to cover a lot in this post, so strap yourself in for a bit of a long read!

I had a lot of really intense feelings about being invited as a special guest to MFW+, mostly for two pivotal reasons.  Firstly because I’m not a fashion blogger in any stretch of the imagination – I love clothes, and expressing myself through the way I dress.  I love colour and texture and shape and I love the way putting an outfit on can make me feel.  But my focus as a fat activist is changing the way that fat people are both perceived and treated.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe clothing and fashion are important in fat politics – after all, access to suitable clothing is important to be part of society and because fashion and clothing can be really empowering, especially to those of us who have been denied access.  But to be invited and supported by MWF+ as an activist to be part of the event, knowing that they wanted my very political, feminist, fat active perspective to be included in the event means a lot to me.

Secondly, because despite being an almost 44 year old badass angry fat bitch who takes no shit from anyone, there is still deep inside me that heartbroken teenage girl who sobbed into her pillow because the popular girls had laughed at her and told her that she had no place even trying to wear nice clothes, because fat girls should never be seen and would never be as cool as thin girls.  There is still that tiny kernel of her in there and the thought of attending an event full of fashionistas, even be they fat ones, brought on a massive bout of imposter syndrome.  Even though I know rationally that it really matters nothing in the scheme of things in my life, those feelings are deeply formative and there’s still that moment of “All the popular girls are going to turn their noses up at me.”

The reality is, they didn’t (well, the vast majority of them didn’t, I did spot a couple of noses in the air though!) and the rational part of my brain is strong enough to remind me that I honestly don’t give a fuck!

So I flew down on the Saturday before the soft launch started and stayed a couple of days with the lovely Sonya Krzywoszyja (aka GannetGuts) and her famous kitty Dodge, who is now my BFF (best furry friend) who got me completely addicted to Melbourne coffee within 24 hours and was with me when a lovely woman in Brunswick stopped me in the street to tell me how much she had loved my appearance on You Can’t Ask That.  You haven’t lived until you see someone literally drop their phone with a “OMG gotta go bye!” and stop you in the street!  (Waves to Sarah, if you happen to read this – you made my day!)  We were on our way to the soft launch of MFW+ when that happened, and it was the first of many times I was recognised in Melbourne.  Both from within the fat community and from random people on the street – or in candy shops – I walked into a shop and the young woman behind the counter went “OMG YOU WERE ON TV!!”  It’s a really weird feeling but it’s so lovely to get some positive responses to my work instead of the usual garbage that hits my inbox!

It was wonderful to be able to actually speak to some of the designers and other people from the brands who were involved with MFW+.  I am sure some of them didn’t expect to have a middle-aged pink-haired mega fatty bending their ear on how the industry is failing so many of it’s customers.  But I wasn’t there to build people’s egos, I was there to agitate for change!  There is some amazing stuff happening with plus-size fashion in Australia, but there are also some really horrible gaps in the market that are ignoring the customers who have the most at stake when it comes to finding clothes that are suitable and desirable for their bodies.

One of the best experiences for me for the whole week was the panel I was lucky enough to be on, Feminism, Fashion and Fat Bodies.  Not only were my fellow panelists Sarah Harry and Meagan Kerr amazing women who approach fat activism from different perspectives but similar politics to me, but the general atmosphere of the event was incredible.  Several women came up to me after the panel and told me that they were amazed to feel welcome and included in a fashion event.  This is what we should always strive for – to right the wrongs of mainstream fashion, starting with inclusivity.

Meagan Kerr, Sarah Harry and myself at the Feminism, Fashion and Fat Bodies panel.

Meagan Kerr, Sarah Harry and myself at the Feminism, Fashion and Fat Bodies panel.

I’m a firm believer that not only can we be better at inclusive and ethical fashion, but we already are.  That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement – there’s a lot of room for improvement.  But I do see that fat fashion is willing to question where our clothes come from, who they are accessible to, who made them, who is making money from the customer and why some customers are left out.  We’ve taken more steps towards building a more equitable industry.

There are two areas that we do have a lot of work to be done though.  Size representation and affordability.

Unfortunately way too many “plus-size” brands are excluding the larger sizes still.   There is no valid excuse for this.  I hear a lot of brands say they want to expand into larger sizes, but the truth is that brands should be STARTING with the larger sizes.  This is the most under-represented demographic and a clientele that is clamouring for options.  Want to jump ahead from the competition?  Provide what your competition isn’t providing.  It was dispiriting to see so many brands at MFW+ who simply do not cater to my size, a 26/28AU.  The few who did really stood out and they have a captive audience of women who literally have almost no other options.

I know the MFW+ team worked really hard to find brands that both included larger sizes and would use models over a size 16, and that there are simply very few out there.  The thing I want to say to all of these brands who refuse to cater to larger sizes is that you’re not doing anything revolutionary by creating a plus-size range that only goes to 20 or 22.  There are so many brands doing that, just in Australia alone from all kinds of types of fashion and price points.  Size 16 or 18 or 20 is in no way cutting edge, revolutionary or radical.  It’s the status quo and it’s incredibly disappointing that so many of you do not have the courage to step up and do something really radical, which is create beautiful clothes for larger fat women.

Affordability is the next issue.  Now this isn’t a criticism of the brands who are providing quality clothes at a good range of sizes directly – they’re needed.  We need premium product.  But the issue is, we also need product from ALL price points – and that means high end fashion as well as a range of budget options.  As much as I would love to throw down $300 – $400 on a dress, it’s simply not possible.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have premium product out there – it means we need the diversity that is available in straight sizes.

I guess that is what it all boils down to – diversity.  Diversity of style, diversity of size, diversity of price point, diversity of range (ie everything from activewear to formal wear and all in between!)  Until we see diversity, the plus-size market is failing it’s customer.

The second panel on the Sunday was an industry one, comprised of brands and the head of a model management company.  I’m not going to name names, but frankly it was SO frustrating to have the head of the model company speaking over all of the designers, pushing to “drop the plus” and crowing that she was a “proud size 16” who wants to get rid of the labels, without acknowledging the reality that larger women do not have the options she does.  All of the brand reps there mentioned that they couldn’t get professional models over a size 20 and that they mostly sourced amateur ones to use, and the woman from the model company kept saying that no brand wanted models over a size 20, and then when the brands said they do, she told them that they should use “professional models because they’re so much better”.  That would be the professional models you don’t have because you say they won’t get work, forcing the brands to use amateur ones.   Frankly I was glad when the panel was over so we didn’t have to listen to her voice any more.  I felt deeply for the other panelists and for the panel chair!  I was so glad to be sitting next to the delightful Kobi Jae of Horror Kitsch Bitch so we could groan in frustration together!

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I mean, damn, look how cute we are! #SpaceChips

And then of course, there were the runways, with all those fashions.  I had so many feels.  While yes, it is disappointing and frustrating to be excluded from so many brands because they refuse (or consider it too hard) to cater to my size, there is something incredibly powerful about seeing fat bodies walking down a runway.  MFW+ worked like hell to get a diverse range of bodies down that runway, and while I know they got considerable resistance from some brands, to see women with bodies that looked like mine, or shared some of the features of mine was so powerful.  Round tummies, thick thighs, dimples, wide hips, big boobs, round faces… they were all gorgeous!  It felt so good!  All of the models, professional and street style, did an amazing job and kudos to the MFW+ team for their hard work to really make a difference.

So there you have it, a rundown of my thoughts on the political side of Melbourne Fashion Week Plus.  I am still working all on my photos and videos of the runways so I can share with you the actual fashion, but it’s important to talk about the way that plus-size fashion is changing the world and the way fat women can represent themselves.

Ashley Nell Tipton and JC Penney – Still Smashing it Out of the Park

Published September 2, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

I was in the process of writing about Melbourne Fashion Week Plus, but then I saw these videos and it was just a matter of “Dammit, I’ve got to get this out there!”  So the MFW+ stuff will be following over the weekend sometime.

Have you seen these yet?  The three promo videos about Ashley Nell Tipton working with JC Penney to bring out her new line?  No, well here you go…

THIS.  As well as the actual clothes being as cute as hell and totally my aesthetic, this is the way I want to be marketed to by the big box businesses.  This is what I want to see from major department stores.  This is what I want to see from the big businesses around the world who have got the lion’s share of the brick and mortar plus-size clothing market.  I want to see them using actual fat women in their marketing, positive, aspirational messaging that doesn’t shame fat women as though our only focus is getting or looking thin.  Marketing that shows a competent, talented fat woman doing her job and doing it well.  Clothes that are designed BY a fat woman, FOR fat women.  And a business that is PROUD of their upcoming plus-size range and putting some marketing money behind it.

I’m going to speak to the Australian businesses, but I’m sure that the ones overseas should be doing the same thing.  Where are you Target Australila, Myer, David Jones, Big W…?  I’ll add you Specialty Fashion Group – Autograph and City Chic.  Where are you right now?  Still streaming out a pile of boring, dark coloured sacks that look like something fat women would have worn 20 or 30 years ago?  Still offering half a page in a catalogue to show off your dull, dull, dull t-shirts and leggings?  Still not putting any actual fat women in your marketing material, just the same three boring size 10-12 models with no fashion styling or decent make-up, hair or photography?

It’s time to get your shit together and realise that your customers are fed up with your out-dated, poorly planned buying and marketing strategies towards plus-sizes.  It’s 2016.  You want your customer to spend money with you?  Then learn from those that are doing it well and step up your game.

 

In Defense of Leopard Print – a Piece by Sonya Krzywoszyja

Published August 19, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

I’m not one to listen to much style advice, whether it is for clothing, makeup or accessories. I’m a relatively conservative dresser, although I can’t resist a sequin from time to time and have a deep, unchanging love of leopard print. I consider it a neutral.

I’ve often heard that people consider leopard print too “old” (which I don’t even get) or too “tacky” to be worn. Frankly, I aim to embrace the tacky and the tacky fab, and have even converted my younger sister to “cheetah girl” prints.

I wonder where this idea of leopard print being tacky, trashy and cheap came about. Characters on tv shows that are often seen wearing leopard print are usually represented as brash, over the top and loud women. Think Peggy Bundy, Fran Fine, Dolly Parton – huge hair, heaps of makeup and stiletto heels … But I don’t see a problem with having any of those character traits or looking anything like any of those three women. I kind of aspire to be like that. It’s vastly different from the anxiety-ridden, shy person I am.

Why is this look seen as “cheap” when another look isn’t? When in reality, as the divine Ms Parton has said:

It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.

Hello, awesome.

I don’t think that when women turn a certain age, they should immediately only wear dark colours, slimming outfits and cut their hair short. Sensible shoes, a string of pearls? Hey, if that’s the look you like, then go for it. But I don’t believe that once you hit some magic number, every previous style of clothing you loved has to be thrown out or given to Lifeline and you have to go out and buy an entirely different, “suitable” wardrobe.

“Mutton dressed as lamb” is a horrible, sexist statement. It invokes a desperate older woman trying frantically to hold onto her youth. Is there even a male equivalent? Maybe the old Lothario in the sports car with the chest hair and fake tan. But these men are seen with a least a degree of affection, the women are viewed with scorn and pity.

Why do we have to tone it down? Who says? Growing up is not the same as growing old. Some of my favourite style icons are/were older, louder women. Anna Piaggi. Isabella Blow. Every person on Advanced Style. I wish I could be that don’t-give-a-fuck right now. I hope by the time I’m the age of most of these women, I will be.

Rules are Made to be Broken – A Piece by Sonya Krzywoszyja

Published August 19, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

fashion police

My friend recently wore a cropped top out. IN PUBLIC. And she didn’t get stared at. She didn’t get ridiculed. I was recently in Sydney and wore leggings as pants. IN PUBLIC. And I didn’t get stared at, I didn’t get ridiculed.

Ok, granted, my leggings as pants had a longish top over them and I only wore them to grab some stuff from the shop, but it felt, as silly as it sounds, like a radical moment.

Women are taught to follow the “rules” of fashion. No white on the bottom half,, no horizontal stripes, heels with longer skirts, show one piece of skin, not all of your skin, bright lipstick should be a night time thing, etc etc etc. Fat women have to follow these rules as well, but they are also told they cannot wear the same type of clothing as slimmer women can – no crop tops, no leggings, nothing tight, no short hair (you must hide that double chin after all), etc etc etc.

When women break the fashion “rules” it can be seen as revolutionary. It is seen as a “screw you” to the dominant thinking of the fashion industry and the society influenced by that industry. Yeah, it might not change the world, but I think challenging people’s perceptions and preconceived notions of a woman’s body and the way it is clothed is no mean feat.

So, whenever I see a woman or someone who identifies as a woman flouting these rules and openly challenging the status quo, I give a little internal high five. Or a real life high five if I know them in person!

Feminist, Fat and Fabulous: Dare – A Piece by Sonya Krzywoszyja

Published August 19, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

This fat woman has always tried to take up as little space as she could. She has tried not to draw attention to herself, good, bad or indifferent. She dressed in dark colours, she hunched her shoulders, she sucked in her stomach. This might have gone on indefinitely if it wasn’t for this fat woman making fat friends. Who taught her that she had a right to take up the space she inhabited, she had a right to wear whatever the hell she wanted, she had a right to walk tall and straight. She had a right to breathe.

Women in general try and take up as little space as possible. We’re taught we have to be good and meek and ladylike. We have to phrase everything we say as a question, just in case we’re wrong or if people disagree with us. We’re expected to cry if things don’t go our own way, or because the sky is blue. We’re looked at with disdain, but no surprise if we do happen to cry for some reason. If a woman draws attention to herself in some way, people shake their heads, they judge, they stare, they snicker.

I feel like this is doubled when the woman is a fat woman. How dare they be happy? How dare they eat? How dare they exercise? How dare they wear those leggings?

I dare.

Melbourne Fashion Week Plus – News and a Competition

Published August 10, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

I am so excited to be able to announce that I will be attending Melbourne Fashion Week Plus (aka MFW+) in just over a week!

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Let me tell you about MFW+.  This week long fashion festival is both for fat women, and by fat women.  From the MFW+ website:

The Directors of MFWPlus come from a variety of backgrounds and are united by the prospect of delivering a first class fashion festival like nothing the Australian plus size fashion industry has seen before. Inspired by the wealth of plus size fashion available and their participation in previous plus size events, they are committed to creating an event in line with other Spring Fashion Festivals that not only broadens the content to include International designers but provides plus size women with their own festival and puts Melbourne on the map as one of the hubs of plus size fashion and body positivity in Australia.

I believe that fashion, style and clothing are a vital aspect of fat liberation.  Fat people have been denied access to fashion and suitable clothing for so long that for us to participate in the fashion world is radical and revolutionary.  We have been told for so long that we’re not allowed to be fashionable and stylish until we’ve literally reduced ourselves, so the fact that a group of passionate women are building an event such as this is a real “fuck you” to all of those who have policed our bodies through denying us clothing and style.

The thing I love about fatshion is that WE create our own paths.  You don’t have to follow one particular aesthetic, you don’t even have to be into traditional “fashion” so to speak.  Fatshion is about finding your own style, your own voice through the way you dress and present yourself.  Fatshion is about being innovative, about sharing and encouraging each other, and about pushing and shifting the boundaries of clothing options for fat women.

Fatshion is also about being unapologetic about living in a fat body.  It’s about building self esteem and confidence, and representation in a world that has long tried to hide us away.

Don’t get me wrong, there are aspects of plus-size fashion (as opposed to fatshion, which I think is a subset of plus-size fashion) that is still exclusionary to a lot of fat women.  But it’s our job to critique those aspects, and push for change, not opt out of something that has been long denied us.

If you’re in Melbourne, or can be in Melbourne from 22-28th of August, I highly recommend attending some (or all) of the events.  You can buy tickets here.

I’m really proud to have been asked to attend and participate in MFW+.  I’ll be attending all of the runways, and participating in the panel on Tuesday 23rd August – Feminism, Fashion and Fat Bodies with Meagan Kerr and Sarah Harry.

And I’m also really thrilled that I can offer two tickets to the event as a competition here on Fat Heffalump!  So… if you’d like to win a double pass to the MFW+ Panel, Feminism, Fashion and Fat Bodies, which will be held at the Duke of Wellington Hotel in Melbourne, 7pm Tuesday 23rd of August for you and a friend, comment below and tell me what fatshion means to you.

Competition closes this Sunday night at 7pm Brisbane time. Winners will be drawn randomly from valid entries and notified on Sunday night. Please only enter if you can definitely attend the event (or on behalf of someone who can), as I don’t want to see the tickets wasted by someone not showing up on the night!  These tickets are limited and hot property!

And if you’re at any of the MFW+ events, keep an eye out for me and say hello!  Don’t be shy, I don’t bite, I promise.  I’ll be in Melbourne for the whole week and am looking forward to meeting a whole host of new people.  For those of you who can’t be in Melbourne for the event, I’ll be blogging and sharing updates on my social media – Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.  You can also follow MFW+ on Facebook, Instagram and the #MFWPlus hashtag on Twitter.

Now I just have to decide what I’m going to wear all week!!

Update!

We have a winner.  I used a random number picker on random.org to chose the winner, and the winner is…

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 7.00.33 PM

Commenter number 4 – RYOU!  Congratulations, I will send you an email in just a moment.

Thank you all for entering and I do urge the other entrants to grab a ticket or two and go along – it’s going to be a fantastic event and I’d love to meet you all.

As always, I do not run advertising on Fat Heffalump, but if you would like to support me and enable me to expand on my activism work, you can do so by donating here.

You Can’t Ask That!

Published August 7, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Well hello.  What a week it has been.  A TV show I recorded a segment/interview/session – whatever you want to call it – for back in November went to air and what a whirlwind it has been.  I mean, this show was originally meant to go straight to the web and now it’s running on the ABC straight after one of their most highly rated TV shows, so it’s getting a lot more attention than originally thought.  Which is fantastic!

What I really didn’t expect was to open iView, the ABC’s streaming website, to see myself as a header for the programme!

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Damn I’m cute.

So the series is called You Can’t Ask That! and the concept is that a bunch of marginalised people, for various reasons, answer questions submitted anonymously online.  My episode of course is about fat people, but there are also eps about sex workers, Indigenous people, Muslims, terminally ill, wheelchair users, and several other themes.  When the producer/directors originally contacted me with the idea, it was based on a UK segment done with transgender people, which featured Paris Lees, who I have a lot of admiration for.  I loved the idea and was on board really quickly.  I believe they had a little trouble finding other fat people willing to participate, but that’s likely because we’ve been stitched up before by the media.  However Kirk and Aaron were always considerate and open minded and I felt respected by and comfortable with them from the get go.

So far, I’ve watched about half of the series, and it has been fantastic.  I found the one with terminally ill people particularly moving to watch, but have really appreciated watching people who otherwise aren’t represented (or are only represented negatively) speak about their own experiences and highlight just how ridiculous some of the questions we get asked are.  I personally found it so cathartic to answer those bloody annoying questions in a way where I had the floor – I wasn’t being expected to give rebuttal to someone who believes I don’t have a right to exist.

Unfortunately at this stage, the show is only available to stream within Australia (now the rest of the world knows our pain of being geoblocked!), and you can find it here on ABC iView, but I have asked the producers if it is going to be opened up at all to the rest of the world, be it either on iView or via YouTube.  But you can see a little teaser:

I highly recommend you watch the whole series, not just the episode I’m featured in!

As always, I do not run advertising on Fat Heffalump, but if you would like to support me and enable me to expand on my activism work, you can do so by donating here.