Outside the Margins – Fatshion and Fashion

Published December 2, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

Hasn’t this week been a big one for the discussion of what has happened to fatshion?  This discussion is a very good thing, and mostly it has actually been discussion, rather than drama.

That said, there are two assumptions/perceptions that I really want to address today in this post:

1) That fatshion has been consumed by the corporate, that it has been branded and marketed out of all power.

2) That fatshion is inaccessible to people who do not have things like a fancy camera, access to designer brands, high profile status, the ability to travel, or influential contacts.

Before I address these two things, I want to acknowledge that high profile plus-size fashion visibility is most definitely white, smaller fat (14-18), young, cis-gender, heterosexual, able bodied and affluent.  Hell yes, the freebies, the plum gigs in the industry, the advertising money, and the popularity go to those with privilege.  We need more diversity in plus-size fashion.  We need more women of colour, we need more variety in size and shape of fat women in plus-size fashion, we need older women, we need variance of gender and sexuality, we need visibility of people with disabilities and indeed, most plus-size fashion is expensive and inaccessible to those without ready disposable income.  Absolutely.

But answer me this… isn’t ALL fashion guilty of these things?  Isn’t the entire fashion industry, regardless of size, guilty of these things at a base level?  Plus-size fashion companies are mirroring the EXACT thing that happens in straight-size fashion.  The entire industry needs revolutionising, for no other reason that like all of society, it favours the privileged.  A young, white size 16 woman in fashion may not be radical anymore, but it is radical that we have shifted the boundaries to the point that they are no longer considered radical.

What I believe, is that fatshion is not the same thing as the plus-size fashion industry.  They intersect of course, but the reality is that the plus-size fashion industry is not fully serving the fatshion community (or just the general fat community) to meet it’s need.  That brings me to my first point above:

1) That fatshion has been consumed by the corporate, that it has been branded and marketed out of all power.

We are seeing a slight shift in the world of plus-size fashion.  It’s not a radical one at all, but it is a shift.  Young, attractive women bloggers over a size 14 are starting to get noticed by the plus-size fashion industry.  In fact they’re starting to get noticed by the fashion industry in general.  Names like Gabi Gregg and Nicolette Mason are turning up in mainstream fashion arenas.  Models like Teer Wayde, Fulvia Lacerda and Lizzie Miller are being featured in mainstream magazines.  We are seeing an interest in women with bodies outside of the traditional modelling and fashion size range (which is obscenely narrow – pun not intended) across the board.

But that’s not the reality of fatshion for the vast majority.  Gabi, Nicolette, Teer, Fulvia, Lizzie and others like them are making amazing careers for themselves in an industry that until now has otherwise excluded them.  They are doing something that very few people get to do, and I believe should be celebrated for doing so.  But they are working in the fashion industry.  Fatshion is not about working in the fashion industry, it is about every day fat women engaging in dressing themselves with care and pride, despite a world that tells them they are not entitled to do so.  Yes, these women definitely do that, it is possible to engage in fatshion while working in the fashion industry.  But we should not be holding them as a standard that all fat women should aim for by engaging in fatshion.  Realistically, there is only ever going to be a tiny, elite few who get to do that.

Fatshion is not the same thing as the fashion industry.

What is amazing about these women is that they are pushing the boundaries of what the fashion industry means.  A mere two years ago, these women were struggling to be seen, to progress in their careers.  They’ve worked hard to get where they are and they have been propelled by fatshion, both directly and indirectly.  By engaging in fatshion themselves, they have become visible in an industry that almost always renders women over a very small size range invisible.  It has made them stand out in an industry that is pretty bland really.  However, fatshion in general has also had it’s role in propelling these women into an industry.  The snowball effect of more and more people engaging in fatshion and visibly interested in style, clothes, accessories and expressing ourselves through those things has meant that it empowers others to do so as well.  This then rolls on to the money spent in the fashion industry.  The fashion industry notices this change, and then responds by trying to make more money by cashing in on this expanding marketing.  It’s the nature of the beast.  The more visible those of us on the fringes are the more the boundaries are pushed.  The more we make it clear that we care about where we spend our money, and that we will spread word of mouth, both positive and negative, the more the fashion industry tries to cash in on us.

Fatshion has not been consumed, nor is it powerless.  The boundaries of the fashion industry have simply shifted slightly to include a tiny few more.  Fatshion’s job is not over, nor will it ever be.  Someone is always going to be marginalised, and it’s our power to use fatshion to constantly push, stretch and pull those margins to include more and more people.  Fatshion is powerful and valuable.  I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for fatshion, and my engaging in fatshion is often what opens the doors for people to come and investigate my activism.

This brings me nicely to the second point above:

2) That fatshion is inaccessible to people who do not have things like a fancy camera, access to designer brands, high profile status, the ability to travel, or influential contacts.

There seems to be this perception that the only people engaging in fatshion are those like the aforementioned high-profile women.  That fatshion is somehow closed to everyday people.  If you think that’s what fatshion is about, I say you’re not looking hard enough.  The vast majority of fatshion bloggers are people with everyday lives.  Jobs, families, commitments and restrictions are all present in most fatshion blogger’s lives.  Again, fatshion is not about being directly involved in the fashion industry.  Fatshion is about participating in something otherwise denied to fat women. It is about visibility, celebration and creativity.

The assumption that engaging in fatshion requires the best of everything, or the most privileged of people, is erroneous.  Otherwise I wouldn’t engage in it myself, at 40 years old and size 26AU and beyond, using my phone to take photos in the bathroom mirror at work, and shopping on a $25 per week clothing budget (sometimes less).  I’m not even a fatshion blogger, one doesn’t have to be to engage in fatshion.  I use my fatshion as one of the aspects of my activism, to change how people think about how fat women present themselves and how we should look.

When I look through my Fatshion folder in Google Reader, I see so much more than just a few high profile plus-size women in the fashion industry.  I see canny thrift shoppers, skillful re-stylers, talented crafters, and most practice a make-it-work philosophy.  I see a smattering small-time designers creating amazing things for women with bodies like their own.  I see photographs taken on smart phones, budget digital cameras, webcams and borrowed cameras.  I see single Mums, carers, women who work from home.  I see bloggers who work long hours in regular jobs, some who have several jobs.  I see some who have continued through illness, injury, unemployment and tragedy.  I see etsy hunters and eBay stalkers. I see swappers, sharers and sellers.  I see those who take fatshion to an artform, living their lives as works of art.  I see women of colour, women with disability, a rainbow of gender variations and sexualities.  I see women of all ages, from those fresh out of high school through to those with “advanced style”.  I see every size from 16 through to beyond what is available commercially in plus-sizes.  I see high fashion, high art and popular culture interspersed with alternative style, radical looks and vintage kitsch.  I seldom see high end designer pieces, but I see vintage, budget mass produced and hand-made all used with personal flair and creativity.

This is what fatshion means to me.  While I admire the few who have made it into the mainstream fashion industry and continue to push it’s boundaries, they’re not what I take my inspiration from.  They’re not why I take pleasure in fatshion myself, and not how I use fatshion as activism.

Fatshion is so much  more than mainstream fashion up-sized to fit a size 16 or 18.  Fatshion belongs to us, not to the fashion industry.  Fatshion will always be outside the margins, and will always be radical.  Fatshion belongs to here and now, not the past.  Fatshion is about finding your own style and rocking the hell out of it, flying in the face of a world that tells us we should never be seen.


19 comments on “Outside the Margins – Fatshion and Fashion

  • Love this post and so true…. I have just started a blog about being proud no matter what size we are, or what disabilities we have, we all deserve to feel good about ourselves etc…. both inside and out 🙂

  • Fantastic article Kath! I hadn’t really thought before about fatshion and the fashion industry being different- you are so right! I love the last line there, makes a good motto! 🙂

    • Thanks Bek. I think it’s all too easy to throw one’s hands up and say “Oh it’s been taken over by big business!” but when we take the time to look there are a whole lot of amazing people out there doing incredible stuff with fashion on their fat bodies.

  • I’d have thought that part of the purpose of fatshion is to convince manufacturers to produce good clothes for fat people so that good clothes are more available. No?

  • I have to admit I feel quite alienated by the fatshion blogs I see. I wear a larger size (on the bottom and therefore overall for things like dresses) than 30 (OZ/NZ sizing… I’m not quite sure what size I actually am, because we don’t tend to go up that far) and it kills me to see bloggers praise local retailers that top out at a 22 NZ while the only place I can buy a basic pair of jeans is online from the USA. To a large extent I *am* excluded from fatshion, because the clothing just isn’t there at all. I’m sort of OK with that – change takes time – but it does sometimes leave a bad taste in my mouth to read praise for shops that have decided I am just ‘too big’ for them to bother with… especially as some places seem to be reducing the amount of larger clothes they used to have (Ezibuy and Farmers, I’m looking at you).

    But that said it’s getting better and better out there. When I was in 7th form (oh so long ago! I’m mid 30’s now) I could not find a single ball dress in a size 18 and had to have one made so I could attend the school ball. Nowadays I doubt I would have trouble finding a dress up to about a size 26, and even that would be disable if you knew where to look. I remember about 10 years ago there were very, very fee plus-size shops in NZ and department stores had a much smaller size range than they typically do now.

    That all said, though, I do agree that the more we agitate, and the more we are visible, the more we push those boundaries outward. I just get really frustrated sometimes.

    • Tanz I feel the same way when fatshion bloggers under a size 22 do the same for clothes ranges that cut the rest of us out. But that doesn’t mean you and I are excluded from FATSHION, it means we’re excluded from those brands and those blogs. There are bloggers out there who are doing amazing things despite being excluded from many brands and other blogs… which tells me that fatshion is far beyond just the fashion industry.

      My tumblr is always a good place to start (sleepydumpling.tumblr.com) because I reblog a lot of them, and you can go from there.

      But that said, I do wish that those with the privilege of being catered to nowdays (ie, size 22 and under) would acknowledge that privilege and help agitate companies more.

      But then, put it this way – if suddenly up to your size was catered to by all of those companies and you had all the same choices, but they stopped after your size… would you continue to agitate for change or would you celebrate that clothes are available to you and jump on board?

  • I agree Tanz, there are far more options now for larger sized clothes. While this is a continuing fight, there are other fashion items which I still have issues with.

    I have major, major problems finding shoes. I wear an 11 E fitting. Trying finding pretty shoes in that size! They just don’t exist. I rarely can get a pair of shoes under $200. Which is exorbitant to say the least.

    Finding a ring to fit on my fat fingers or a bangle that will fit over my hand is almost impossible. I wear mens chain bracelets and buy separate charms to decorate them with. I was a massage therapist for a long time, so my hands are quite big. 🙂

    My head is big too! I own precisely 2 hats that I have ever found that actually fit on my head and don’t give me a headache after 2 hours because they are too “snug”.

    I also wear a 22FF bra. I’ve had much more success on this front. I have found a fabulous store right here in Brisbane that has both an online and bricks and mortar store. Their service is fantastic, they have fabulous sales and reward returning customers. You can find them here: http://www.brastogo.com.au/

    I talk to shop owners and retail assistants. I show them what the issues are and am continually pushing against those boundaries which limit what is available to those not considered “normal” sized. We’ve made substantial ground but still have a ways to go. 🙂 My fight isn’t over yet.

    • AussieQLDer – I believe that someone out there will ALWAYS be marginalised for their size, there will always be someone labelled “too big” …so our fight will never be over!

    • Just a clarification, this post isn’t a response to Natalie’s piece, though some of it intersects with what she wrote. This post was inspired by the conversations that occurred as a result of that piece, which took them off on to the tangents I mentioned above. Just wanted to make sure that was clear.

      • Sorry, I did realise that. For me the piece and all the conversations that sprang up around it coalesced into one big complex entity. My mind went off in so many different directions when I tried to blog about the whole thing myself that I threw in the towel in the end. You’ve said an awful lot of the things I was trying to articulate myself which is why I’m so grateful for this post.

  • Love your blog by the way…
    Anyways even though it’s not fair, I think society (and especially the fashion industry) needs time to catch up and adjust. I’m sure we’ve all experienced it, that being overweight makes you the new lepers of society where people are given free rein to discriminate and verbally bash you for it with no repercussions. The fashion industry especially is still on the whole stuck in the “oh well, we might start making a few plus sizes but it’s going to be limited and there’s no way we’re going to actually show anyone larger than a size 14 wearing them! I mean people might not like our clothes anymore !!111!!” (Stupid I know but I’m guessing that’s how the size 0 orientated industry thinks).

    I’m an AU 18 and don’t feel like my size is very well catered for however it’s leaps and bounds better than what it was 10 years ago (even just a few years ago everything was huge, shapeless and either designed for someone 3 times my age or decked out in butterflies and flowers- what is with that anyway, do they think that being overweight means we have an unhealthy fixation with flowers and butterflies? Anyway I’m getting off track here). I still have to buy some things on line, not massive amounts of choice in stores.

    I also agree it’s not just about upsizing the clothes. For some reason, being size 18 means that I must also be 6ft tall in most brands since all they’ve done is increased the measurements- really annoying for buying trousers. In fact in the rare brands/styles that do size well, they always seem to be out of size 16 and 18. When I questioned the company about it in despiration (I really need another pair) the answer was “Well those sizes always sell out so quickly when we get them in”. Even they know the demand for well fitting plus sizing is there, its annoying to say the least that it’s not being largely acted on. I know it’s probably annoying for them to have to adjust the design a bit, but it sells and would pay off for them!

    I ordered not one but a few dresses from ASOS and city chic through the online sales they were having (sorry but I refuse to pay $100 dollars+ for a dress that is avaliable in a similar (albeit, size 12 and under size) for about $30 from Kmart. (Back to your comments on costs of plus size “fashion”. I hadn’t bought any dresses for years before now because nothing nice was in my size. I think with continued awareness the amount of retailers will increase that stock 14+ clothing and with that the prices should hopefully drop also and the range of sizes being made increase. They just need people like you to continue putting pressure on them so it doesn’t just blow over as a phase. I know it seems “outside the margins” at the moment, but wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could walk into a range of clothing stores and have great looking clothes on the rack in your size (I know I’d love it!).

    Just a final thought, I’ve seen a few comments around from people that wish the ASOS curve range came in “normal” sizes. I suspect the reason why people like it, is because the models look like normal people and fill out the clothes rather than being sticks draped in clothes (Some of their main range models are painfully thin). If people can actually admit that they like seeing clothes on normal sized people (their “curve” models are not exactly plus size which I find quite insulting but they have to start somewhere I guess) hopefully the body image roll models can be shifted across to be larger in the mainstream media. And that has to be good news for all of us.

    Sorry, post has gotten a bit rambly and off topic, hope it all still makes sense 🙂

  • Greetings from one of your newest fans! I’d like to jump right into your comments forum (if I may) to raise a squawk about the bullshit factor in women’s clothing sizes. We’ll use pants as the primary example. Notice how men’s jeans (in the US, at least) according to a simple, scientific and universal formula. Waist size by inseam measure and there ya go! Every brand of 34/36 can safely be counted upon to be stack up neatly, being of the same dimensions.

    Women, on the other hand, enjoy no such rhyme or reason in knowing what size we’ve been declared by the fashion industry to actually BE. Instead, we’re usually assigned some needlessly complex determination that is boiled down to what seems to me more of a fuckability score than any kind of dimensional guidance. It pisses me off and I like to think I’m not alone.

    You say that you’re a 26AU, and I believe that women of ALL sizes should follow your lead and decide for themselves what size their clothing is, thereafter only buying from companies who don’t pander to vanity and insecurities by ever-so-subtly assuring you that you’re ACTUALLY a size 22AU and as such not quite the alarming scale fat-ass you thought you were, eh? Don’t reward this smarmy bullshit with your money.

    Frankly, I don’t even KNOW my own damn size, since I can march to the mall right this minute and try on seven different (perfectly fitting) dresses in ranging in sizes from 18-24. Since I have to try everything on to know if it fits, this plays HELL in any attempt to buy clothes online. I say we stop letting clothing manufacturers “grade” us on the size of our bodies and demand a more universal system of garment dimensions.

    In the meantime, hooray for everything you think about, you fat and resplendent bitch-queen! Here’s hoping we both just made a new friend today!

  • Will you please take the liberty of correcting my obvious grammar slips, assuming I won’t be able to edit my comments when they’re posted? Typos make me feel all itchy and OCD. Thanks, hun!

  • Just loving your intelligent thoughtful response. Thank you. IT is helpful to see a difference between plus size fashion and fatshion.
    To the woman in Brisbane with plus sized feet, have you tried Evans shoes? UK sizes are 2 sizes bigger than aus so Aus 11 is UK 9 and they make al their shoes in extra wide fittings. I have been very happy with the one pair I bought

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