The only way I can describe the feeling I have had this week after publishing this post in response to Leslie Cannold’s piece suggesting that Fat Acceptance activists (or “fativists”, as Ms Cannold decided to label us) were being too harsh on Mia Freedman for her repeated offenses of fat stigmatisation, is overwhelmed. Overwhelmed at just how many of you the post touched a chord with. Overwhelmed at just how widely that post was linked and tweeted and shared. And overwhelmed at the amount of frustration I felt, pouring out of me when I not only wrote that piece, but also on reading so many of your comments and feedback. Thank you.
But I’m not done with that article. I want to address something else Ms Cannold said. Let’s repeat it here:
It is good that those objecting to our culture’s equation of thin and beautiful also question why older, non-white, gay and disabled folk are excluded from the beauty standard. But the sincerity of such interrogation is undercut by fat acceptance articles illustrated with photos of heavily made-up obese women posing like models. Such illustrations don’t seem to say ”no way”, but express the less radical sentiment of ”me too”.
Hmm, this really sits unpleasantly with me, no matter how long I try to digest it. Firstly, because I have a problem with the phrase “heavily made-up obese women posing like models”. To me it smacks of slut-shaming, and in particular fat slut-shaming. It has undertones of “how dare obese women gussy themselves up like tarts”. Ms Cannold may not have intended for it to sound like that, but alas, to me, that’s just how it sounds. It also rings a little of “look at those pathetic fatties, trying to make themselves beautiful”.
But what I really want to address as a follow up post to my last, is the notion that by engaging in fashion, make-up and modelling, fat activists are somehow negating our challenge of the beauty ideal.
Au contraire Ms Cannold. In fact, we are turning the beauty ideal on it’s head. The beauty ideal says that you must be thin, young, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered and usually affluent, among other things, to be beautiful. That should you wish to engage in dressing up, fashion and make-up, to represent your look in a particular way, you need to fit this ideal. Yet here we are, fat and accepting of that fact, still engaging in these activities. With no attempt at hiding our fatness with clothing, accessories and make-up that flatters, disguises or distracts, the statement is “I am here, I wish to be seen, and I am proud of who I am.”
Being visible as a fat woman is one of the most radical acts of fat acceptance I can think of. It is accepting myself as a fat woman, and it forces others to accept me as I am. Suddenly I am visible, like it or lump it. And I have experienced that first hand, after 20-odd years of trying to make myself invisible, or blend into one group or another, to be just rocking whatever makes me happy, particularly if it involves make-up, costumery or anything that others would consider outlandish, as well as allowing myself to be photographed at all, let alone posing is possibly the most radical thing I have ever done. It draws me the most accolades and the most criticism, far more than anything else I do. Indeed, how I look seems to be far more important to many people than anything else about me.
Ms Cannold seems to imply that women in particular, only engage in fashion, make-up and being photographed in the quest to become the beauty ideal. But what we really are on a quest to do is change the beauty ideal. That doesn’t mean we have to all give up shaving our legs, wearing-make up and don bland, practical clothing. What it does mean is that we create our own beauty, in all the diversity that we are.
But you don’t need to just take my word for it. I decided to throw out a request to fatshionistas to define what participating in fatshion (which is fashion – clothing, make-up and accessories, as well as posing for photographs as fat women) means to them.
First we have Nicola, from 2 Many Cupcakes:
Nicola says: I am proud of the way I look and the things that I wear. I am not blogging to make myself thin and beautiful. I don’t need too. I don’t want to be thin and I already am beautiful. I enjoy clothing. I enjoy accessories. I enjoy chronicling my outfits because I think I have a good sense of fashion.
What is wrong with ‘obese women posing like models?’ The Oxford dictionary defines model as “a person employed to pose for an artist, photographer, or sculptor.” Nowhere in that definition does it refer to a model needing to be a certain age, figure, race or sexuality. I am a fat woman modelling for my blog because it’s my hobby and I enjoy it. I will wear what I want and pose how I want for my blog.
And then we have Anna from Bargain Fatshionista:
Anna says: For me, as a fat woman, fashion means rebellion. It’s telling every person who has ever told me that I should lose some weight to screw off. It means being happy where I am now and not caring what others think. It means acceptance.
Next up is Frances from Corpulent:
Frances says: I’m not a fashionable person. I don’t know much about designers, I don’t follow trends and I will never ever wear stilettos. That said, I do think fashion is important and can be quite political. The way we present ourselves through our clothes/accessories/hairstyles tells the world a story about us before we even open our mouths. The limited options available to fat people mean that the messages we are able to send with our fashion are, in a way, censored. By refusing to cater to us, fashion labels are controlling the way we can present ourselves. (The idea that all fat women are sexless and sloppy is that much easier to perpetuate when the clothes available are sexless and sloppy.) To send an accurate message of ourselves, fat people must try harder; we have to be adventurous, resourceful and inventive.
Though I am not a fashionable person, I do have style that’s all my own. Posting photos of my outfits, and looking at the outfits posted by others, has not only solidified my sense of style but my sense of self. My clothes make me feel more me than I ever have. Through fatshion, I am not proving my style credentials to others, but building up my own sense of value.
And from Bloomie, who blogs at 30 Dresses in 30 Days:
Bloomie says: Sometimes I get on the subway in the morning, look around at everyone on the train and think about how in a sea of black, I am the fat woman wearing multiple fluorescent colors and a faux fur jacket. And then I laugh to myself and think about how far I’ve come from the days when I didn’t even know where to buy jeans that fit me.
To me fatshion is about loving my body and dressing it up and showing it off to the world. It’s about expressing who I am through my clothing and it’s about taking risks and being unashamed and unembarrassed in my body. It’s about challenging stereotypes of how I’m expected to dress or look or behave because of my size. It’s about upending stereotypes. It’s about strutting myself, highlighting my beautifully enormous ass and making people stop, turn and stare when I pass them on the street.
On to Sonya from Australian Fatshion:
Sonya says: Before discovering fatshion, there is no way I would have worn white or allowed a side-on photograph of my body to exist. I think increasing visibility of the fat body by taking outfit pictures will help to normalise those bodies and maybe make people question their prejudices and beliefs.
Next up is Georgina from Cupcake’s Clothes:
Georgina says: Fatshion for me means being able to embrace fashion without worrying about size.
As well as Jessica from Tangled Up In Lace:
Jessica says: Blogging about fatshion is one of my many tools in the fight for body acceptance because beyond the visibility aspects, it gives me a chance to help other fat bodies get inspired to decorate and proudly present themselves to a society that tells them otherwise.
Nor is fatshion restricted to women. For example, Bruce from Chubstr:
Bruce says: I feel like fatshion and fashion are the same thing. The goal of Chubstr is to show big guys that they can wear the things they love and that they aren’t any different from their thinner counterparts. We spend a lot of time thinking that we don’t have options when that’s not really the case, and I want to do my best to show men of all sizes that it’s okay to be stylish no matter what your size.
These are just some of the examples of fatshion bloggers, a handful of fabulous fatshion folk who volunteered to share their definitions and pictures here to illustrate what engaging in fashion as a fat person embodies. Over and over the message is repeated that engaging in fashion as a fat person means challenging the status quo, being both accepting and proud of oneself as a fat person, and being visible as a fat person, rather than conforming to the beauty ideal.
Fat fashion, fat visibility, fat acceptance smashes the beauty ideal doors down and invites everyone to participate, no matter who they are, even if they are not fat. It is the veritable open house of fashion, appearance and style. As the great Cole Porter once wrote:
In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,