Fatshion: Posing a Threat

Published August 22, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Clothing is one of the most visible ways we get to express ourselves.  Through the things we wear, and how we wear them, we tell the world something about ourselves.  Everything from our beliefs and personal standards, our taste in music, film and television, our sense of humour, our favourite colours, how confident we are (or aren’t) with our bodies, what kind of work we do, how we spend our leisure time, and indeed our personalities can be shown through the way we present ourselves with clothing.

For fat people, taking pride in dressing, developing style and dabbling in fashion are all radical acts.  We are constantly told we’re not allowed to enjoy dressing, fashion, style, shopping and expressing ourselves.  By being visible, we’re giving ourselves a presence and a voice in the world.  This is why fat people are regularly ridiculed for the way we dress, because we pose a threat to the status quo.

Which makes me think of this  hilarious video from Flight of the Conchords:

For fat people, our clothing options are severely limited.  We don’t have the vast choices that are available in straight sizes, nor do we have as many affordable options.  Thanks to the availability of online shopping and a lot of campaigning on behalf of fatshionistas in the US, UK and Australia (and many other places too), those options are starting to open up a little more, but they are nowhere near the level that are around for straight sizes.  You only have to look in department stores and compare the floor space given to straight sizes as opposed to those given to plus-sizes to see evidence of that.

Not to mention that fat people are expected to “flatter” their bodies in the way they dress.  These limits are placed upon us by people who are offended by seeing fat bodies, so we’re expected to minimise, disguise and cover our bodies with dark, shapeless clothing.  Baring skin, wearing bold or busy prints or bright or light colours and choosing form-fitting or “body-con” clothing is seen as “innapropriate” on a fat person when it’s found perfectly acceptable on a not-fat person.  Even our own clothing brands and providers constantly sell us ways to “flatter your figure” or “dress for your body type” – which I feel is shaming their own customers.  When are plus-size clothing companies going to realise that WE are their customers and WE don’t need to be shamed by them to buy their products?

So, how do we get around these factors to be able to dress ourselves in the way we want and need to?

The first way I think is to let go of what other people think of the way we look.  We are under no obligation to make our appearance pleasing to others.  Besides, we all know, you can’t make everyone happy all of the time.  Instead, we need to be focusing on making ourselves happy and wearing the things that make us feel good.  If you are happiest in the kind of clothes you can just throw on and ignore for the rest of the day, then go for it.  If you prefer to dress in high fashion style, then go for it, no matter what anyone says you should or shouldn’t be wearing.  I’m personally somewhere in between – I don’t feel the need to be a slave to fashion, but I love developing my own personal style and love taking time to dress and present myself to the world.  I like being able to express myself through my clothing.

Because we have so few options, the next thing I think we get really good at doing is “making it work”.  I know myself, I love clothes that have colour and vibrancy, but so much of plus-sized clothing is black and plain.  I’ve had to build a collection of colour and work out ways to accessorise to bring colour and vibrancy into my wardrobe.  And you know what they say, nobody accessorises like a fat gal!

Part of making things work is being able to doctor your wardrobe as well.  Adding embellishments, shaping things to fit your body, letting them out, a little tweak here, and a little tweak there.

But finally, the most important thing is to work on loving your body.  When you start to love your body, you begin to look at dressing differently.  You don’t see that red stop sign of “shouldn’t” when you go shopping and look at garments.  When you start to be unapologetic about your body, the range of clothing you can wear greatly expands.  You give up the whole list of “I can’t…” clothes.  No more “I can’t wear sleeveless.” or “I can’t wear skirts/dresses.” or “I can’t wear form fitted clothing.” and that opens up your options so much wider than when you had those restrictions.  Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight.  Maybe you start with a dress when you’ve always worn pants.  Or you whip that shrug or cardie off when you get too warm.  But slowly, when you immerse yourself in body positivity and work on learning to love your body, you find yourself taking more and more risks… and things that seemed risky once, no longer seem so.

I think I will hand over to the amazing Virgie Tovar, with her video on how to FatDazzle your wardrobe:

So, tell me how you work your own personal style?  What kind of clothes and accessories do you love?  How do you “make things work”?  And what about your changing view of your body – have you seen your clothing style change with it?  And how?  Let’s have a discussion!


20 comments on “Fatshion: Posing a Threat

  • Like you, I seek out bright colors and hang on tight when I find them in my size. Orange, purple, lime green, turquoise, sunshine yellow, cherry red… when I find these colors in my size on a sale rack (I don’t have a lot of money to spend, either), I snatch them up. In fact, I refuse to wear black next to my face. I don’t find the effect that attractive, and it makes me sad. I do own black pants, but I pair them with bright colors, and I’m not afraid to put the same bright colors I love on top down below, too. I’m also wild about sumptuous fabrics like velvet, and big jewelry shaped like animals.

    Hats are my signature. In fact, there are people who have known me for years who have never seen me without a hat on. I love hats, and the more extravagant the better.

    All in all, I’m an upscale Boho girl on a really tight budget. It’s a challenge to dress the way I like between what’s available for women who wear my size and what little is in my wallet… but I find ways. Thrift and consignment stores, garage sales, bargain basement racks, buying off season (I once got a fabulous purple suede coat with a huge self ruffle down the front for thirty-five bucks by buying it in may! It started off at a hundred and fifty dollars!), and not being too proud to accept friends’ cast off goodies that I like; these are my methods of making it work. Oh, and checking every bargain for quality before I take it is an important part of the equation. If it’s coming apart at the seams or the fit is way off, it doesn’t matter how inexpensive it is, I’m not getting it. I’m not taking it for free. I don’t have room in my life for something I’m never going to get around to repairing or that just doesn’t fit.

    Most of all, I keep in mind my personal fashion mantra: it is not my job to fit the clothes; it is the job of the clothes to fit me.

    • That is fast becoming my mantra Twistie. The fault is not with my body fitting the clothes, the clothes need to fit my body!

      I also refuse to pay full price, and rummage through sale bins and racks, keep my eye on website sales and look in second hand stores when I can. You pick up some amazing pieces that way.

      The only time I pay full price is when I find something that fits a really particular description of something I REALLY want (like my white denim jacket, or the leopard print cardie) that a) fits me perfectly, b) is good quality and c) with a business that I am happy to support.

      Another tip I can suggest is to sign up to retailers newsletters online. You get all kinds of discount vouchers and coupons and codes you can use.

      I’m not really a hat wearer but when I shaved my head I found a really funky one to give me sun protection, and I’ve just discovered I can rock a beret!

  • I find myself actually LIKING pink/coral and wearing it a lot. It makes me happy to eschew the formerly black/all dark clothing combos of plain t-shirts and jeans. Granted, I’m still a jeans/polo (though: pink and coral y’all!) wearing woman. But one thing I’ve really had to work hard to let go is watching the size of my pants. It took a LONG time to finally break down and say “No! April, stop worrying about squeezing painfully into a pant/jean/skirt with a LOWER NUMBER. Pick the larger size, be comfortable, and rock it like the beautifully confident woman you can be”. Amazing how much better my day goes when I’m not focused entirely on how my pant button is cutting into my belly button! And honestly, I really think I enjoy my developed fashion style; as simple as it may be 🙂

    • That’s a really big lesson to learn isn’t it – to actually wear clothes that fit you, regardless of the number on the tag. Suddenly you don’t spend all day being self conscious, or adjusting your clothes so that they sit, or are comfortable, or don’t ride up. And you look SO much more stylish for it!

  • As a supersized woman, quality is another issue I have to contend with. Clothes in my size cost a fortune but the workmanship and the quality of the fabrics are nearly always sub par. I pay as much as thinner folks do for a pair of pants but my pants won’t be lined or tailored or made of wool. Mine will be thin cotton/polyester with an elastic waist. This low quality screams that I don’t care about my appearance even though I’ve had to spend hours combing every possible online venue to find just this one pair of crappy, over-priced pants.

    • I keep thinking maybe I came off as being too whiney in my post above. I don’t mean to be. I know that things are getting better. It is just frustrating that the better clothing hasn’t really trickled down to people my size yet.. For example, I had to go to a wedding earlier this year and I couldn’t find ANYTHING appropriate after checking everywhere. I ended up patching an old pair of pants. When I got my copy of the wedding pictures, I looked like a bag lady staning amid all the nicely dressed people.. It really was hurtful to me.

    • You’re absolutely right Eselle, quality is a vast problem with plus-size clothing. We get so much less bang for our buck. The areas I’m seeing change are variety – but price and quality still aren’t catching up. It’s so hard to keep these cheaply made, but expensive garments looking nice and well cared for.

  • My ideas about dressing up and my wardrobe have definitely changed after getting immersed in fatshion and fat acceptance. But it has also quite unexpectedly presented a whole new problem to me, regarding the so-called “fatty uniform”. I don’t know if anyone understands what I’m getting at, but: fatshion bloggers (and myself) tend to be vehemently against the normative ideas of what fat people “should wear”, so much that those ideas actually sort of become the new “shouldn’t wear” or “fashion don’t”‘s. For example I have a bunch of clothes (mostly empire lined tunics) that I have loved before but now I don’t know if I can wear them anymore because I don’t want to be seen as the disguising and conforming fatty. This is problematic to me, because I don’t want to be binded by ANY rules. I love black and wearing black but I don’t want people to think I’m wearing it because it’s supposedly slimming. This is all very confusing to me 😀

    • I know what you mean, Beep! I love wearing black because I love how dramatic it can be (exactly the opposite of the usual association of looking smaller/more unobtrusive), and I love empire waists because often they sit closer to where my (very high) natural waist is – but sometimes it seems like admitting it in the Fatosphere is a faux pas.


      • I’m the same with empire waists because I have a big belly and regular waists feel too constricting/uncomfortable most of the time. No true FA advocate will ever shame you for your choice no matter what the reason!

    • Ahh yes, fat lady tropes! Empire line tops, ruffles, leopard print, wide-legged pants, surplice necklines, shrugs, embellished bustlines (I call that the “look at my big tits, don’t look at my fat arse!” style), embellished jeans… there are so many styles and features that have been done to death on plus-sizes so much that they have become, as you say, a “fatty uniform”.

      Some of them I cannot wear ever again. Embellished bustlines for sure. Others, I have embraced and loved like never before (I often say I love leopard print like only a fat lady can!)

      I say rock the stuff you love, reject the stuff you don’t, and most of all – play with it and mix it up. If you love empire-line tops, rock them with a pair of bright coloured leggings, or cut off jeans, or something else you love. Same goes with black pieces – I love the simplicity of black a lot of the time because it means I can jazz it up with all my fab accessories and other pieces. I have a little black dress that I wear a lot because it means I can show off my tights, or my shoes, or a giant flower, or a cute coloured jacket etc.

  • I guess the main thing is wear what you damn well want. If you want to wear black, go for it! (Personally i love monochrome looks, especially if you have something in a particuarly beautiful fabric.) I guess the whole thing is a reaction against being told you have to wear something, no matter what it is. I still wont wear maroon, much as its perfectly nice, because it reminds me of school after school with maroon uniforms. I wish there was more variety in shapes and styles of clothing availiable-I love v-neck dresses, preferably with sleeves as it is frankly cold in northern Ireland most of the year. Nicely cut jackets, anything with a fifties-type shape will have love from me. But nice stuff is horribly expensive or just nonexistent.
    I went shopping with my mother, a size 10 (UK) late-fifties and looking for smart nice church and occasion clothes. We searched for hours and got nothing. And she fits in everything, everywhere. Why is it so difficult to make nice things for people to wear?!

  • Hi. I just started reading your blog, although I’ve been involved in the size activist community for several years. I’m a little slow on the uptake when it comes to some things, heh.

    But I completely agree that clothing is a tangible, visible way of expressing who we are and letting the world see a bit of how we see ourselves on the inside. It’s something I’ve long striven to do, but, as we all well know, it can be damn hard to find the things that express your inner self if you’re a fat person. My inner self loves the style and decor of the 1920s and ’30s (hence, my username, thirtiesgirl), as well as the ladylike and fun styles of the mod ’60s, boho-chic ’50s, post-punk ’70s and new wave ’80s. …But damn, it can be hard to find all that when shopping plus size retail. Unless, of course, I want to go for something a little more costume-y and dramatic. Which can be fun for playing dress up when going out dancing at certain more costume-y type clubs. But doesn’t really work in the business casual environment of public education, which is the environment I work in.

    So, because I’m such a music geek, a few years ago, I started taking cues from some of my favorite bands, particularly the (sadly now defunct) indie band Sleater-Kinney, and (possibly on hiatus) Le Tigre. The women of Sleater-Kinney tend to combine vintage inspired tops (’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’80s) with jeans and menswear-styled trousers, which is a look that I thought could lend itself well to my work environment, as well as express my love for vintage style. So I started seeking out vintage inspired tops and menswear styled trousers (mostly cotton twill chinos from Old Navy, Target, Lands End and other mid-priced retailers). Combine this with a pair of cute, comfy flats and a vintage inspired handbag, add a cardi, blazer or pea coat for the colder weather, and I’ve got my work wardrobe.

    The women of Le Tigre helped inspire my “fun” going out wardrobe with their bright colors, asymmetrical ’80s throwback tops, pencil skirts, capris and white flats. I can also sometimes work this look at work, with straight or skinny leg trousers, a striped tunic, and little flats.

    I’m glad some of my musician heroes helped me figure out how to define my style and make it work and every-day appropriate. Using their style guidelines has enabled me to create a wardrobe that I’m pretty happy with, and helps me express who I am, how I see myself inside.

    • Welcome thirtiesgirl! Always lovely to meet a new face.

      You’re absolutely spot on about vintage style pieces. There seems to be a lot of denial that fat bodies existed before 1990 anyway (I know I certainly did), but the reality is that because of the fewer options for plus-sizes, most fat people wore their clothes until they were absolutely done in, or those clothes that did last were snapped up from op shops and other second hand sources to be re-purposed into smaller clothes, because they had plenty of fabric to work with.

      I’m glad you’ve found ways to work your own style and find inspiration!

  • Hi! I too am new to fat activism and size acceptance. First I would like to say a big THANK YOU to blogs such as yours who have turned my life around. In my early 40s I have finally broken free of living in shame of my size and have started loving life, but most importantly, loving me for ME.

    Since my teen years I have always worn black clothes, usually long ankle-length skirts and oversized tops to cover every inch of myself. The black was a protective barrier for me. People left me alone. Every now and then I would throw on a colour (usually in summer when wearing black was not such a good idea with its sunlight absorbancy!) but whenever I went shopping it was black black black all the way.

    Now that I have started accepting myself more vibrant colours are sneaking their way into my wardrobe – mauves, lime green, bright reds. I will always wear flowy clothes because I’m one for comfort and not one for letting ‘the girls’ burst out over a low cut neckline, but that’s just me 🙂

    Another fabulous thing that’s happening is when I wear something bright and cheery people are commenting on me in a positive way, telling me how pretty I look, complete strangers coming up to me at the bus stop and complimenting me rather than hurling abuse. And when I look into the mirror before leaving the house, I see what they see.

    • Irisa, you are most welcome and you are just the kind of person I want to talk to here on this blog. The people who need to know that they are not alone and that they have support, and there are others out there that know just how they feel.

      You have made my night with your comment, I’m thrilled for you and I hope you find a plethora of fabulous clothes and accessories to adorn your beautiful body with!

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