Let’s Talk Classism in Plus-Size Clothing

Published February 17, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Wow.  In the past 24 hours I have seen some of the most disgusting displays of classism in discussions about plus-size clothing that I think I’ve EVER seen in the fatosphere.  Wait until you see the doozy I just screen capped.

As most of you probably already know, Beth Ditto dropped her new plus-size clothing line this week.  It’s gorgeous.  I would love to own almost every item in the range.  But a lot of fat women have quite rightfully raised that they are priced out of the range because it aims at the high end market.  This isn’t a criticism of Beth herself, or her new range, but an important message about how one high end fashion range is not a victory for fat women in general, because MOST of us are not able to access the range (let’s acknowledge the cut off of larger sizing too, but that’s a conversation for another post).

My main comment was that for many fat women, the cost of just one of those garments is equivalent to a week’s rent, or filling their car with fuel for the month, or paying their utilities bill.  When it comes down to choosing which gets paid for, the necessities of life have to come first.  Even after necessities, if looking at value for money, for the same cost as one Beth Ditto jumpsuit, I could buy air fares to New Zealand and back.

But the pushback against anyone raising this issue of affordability and access has been swift and it has been pretty disgusting.  Mostly because affluent fat women are assuming that the statement “All fat women deserve access to clothing that they need and want.” as “Take away the rich lady’s Beth Ditto clothes!!”  Which is NOT what is being said at all.

It’s all well and good to tell fat women to shop ethically, to invest in high end fashion and to buy local, but in a world where fat women are openly discriminated against in the workplace and in education, this is a moot point.  Don’t believe me?  Look at this little screen shot @kiddotrue shared on Twitter…

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Now, it would be great if we all had access to the kind of funds required to dress in Beth Ditto’s gorgeous range.  But the reality is, most of us don’t and yet we still need clothing.  And when I say need clothing, I mean we need a range of clothing to suit our lives – which includes clothing that is to our taste as well as meets our practical need.  The ability to express oneself via clothing is as vital to our humanity as it is to cover our bodies.

Unfortunately, so many people have NO IDEA what “budget” actually means.  They say “ditch fast fashion and invest in yo dress” with no regard to whether or not many fat women actually CAN fork out $120 – $400 for one garment.  Others cite the availability of mass produced clothing brands – like Lane Bryant – as evidence that there is “affordable” clothing available to fat women, completely dismissing that at full price, many of those brands are also outside of a lot of fat women’s price range too.  A cursory glance at Lane Bryant’s website shows full price for many garments up over the $100 range.  Admittedly, you’re more likely to get a discount code or pick up sale stock from a mass produced range than a designer one, but even then, when compared with what is available in straight size ranges, plus-size fashion is extremely expensive.

This also assumes that everyone has access to brands from the US and UK – not all fat women are white Western women, let’s not forget that.

Of course, there are also those who cite the deeply problematic nature of mass produced clothing lines, from both how and where it is produced and where the designs come from.  I agree, there needs to be a radical shakeup of the fashion industry in general to ensure that all clothing is ethically produced to a minimum level.  But that is not going to help your average fat woman with a limited budget to clothe herself for her job, her education, and her other day-to-day life.  If there are no ethically produced clothes available at an accessible price point, then fat women have no alternative than to buy the mass produced budget product.  And the problem lies in that there are little to no budget options for fat women.

The problem I see is that there is a deeply entrenched classism that assumes that women who want and need fashionable clothing all have access to the kind of disposable income that is required to afford the clothing that is currently on the market – from mass-produced through to designer ranges like Beth Ditto’s.  And on top of that, there is an assumption that poor fat women are not interested in being “fashion forward” or don’t have or want careers that require a certain look or standard of dressing.  As evidenced by this gobsmacking comment left on a Facebook thread on the topic earlier this morning, I’m feeling generous and won’t name the commenter…

Some of us want to be/are/are on a career track to be creative directors, ad execs, media professionals, or other life choices where we want to look a certain way.

The assumption that poor fat women have no ambition and don’t want or need to look a certain way is frankly, disgusting.  Firstly, many of us who don’t have the money to drop on the currently available clothing are ALREADY in professional careers where we have to find suitable clothing to present ourselves for our work.  I am so myself.  Secondly, both poverty and fat stigma regularly hold women back from achieving those career goals, and partly so because we cannot access the clothing we need to dress like our peers.  When you cannot access the same type of clothing as your peers, it is often a hindrance to progression in your career.  We all know that fat women are often considered “sloppy” and “lazy” – how much of this is because of the dearth of reasonable quality, stylish clothing which prevents us from achieving the same look as our thin colleagues?

I see my straight-sized colleagues turn up to work beautifully turned out in clothes from Target and other budget options, but for me to wear clothes of equivalent quality and style, I have to spend twice as much money.  Just Target alone has a vast chasm between the quality and style of what they offer straight sized customers and plus-sized ones.  They have garments of every type and style in straight sizes, but one look at the plus-sizes shows an ocean of poorly made t-shirts, loose pants and weekend/casual wear – none of which is suitable for my workplace.

Not to mention that fat women have other financial responsibilities as well as clothing themselves – be they funding family needs, education costs, or high living costs in general.  It is well known that the cost of living has skyrocketed in the past decade, particularly for those at the lower income levels.  We are paying double the rent/mortgage as we were in the late 1990’s on almost exactly the same salary.  Fewer and fewer of us have room in our budget to spend on anything outside of absolute necessities.

I also had one woman patronisingly citing “industry terms” about availability of budget clothing as though that somehow dissolved the issue of accessibility to affordable clothing for low income fat women.

Look, I know that the clothing industry is complicated and problematic.  I know that it’s not easy to produce quality garments in plus-sizes at a budget range in the current industry climate and that the whole clothing industry needs to be radically changed.  But that’s not solving the problem that is here and now – accessibility to suitable clothing for ALL fat women.

So, while many of you are squeeing over Beth Ditto’s beautiful range as being a victory for fat women, remember that through no fault of their own, not all fat women are as fortunate as those of you who can afford those clothes and that they have a legitimate reason to feel excluded from the happy buzz that many of you are enjoying, and are rightfully feeling hurt at being excluded yet again.

Interview with Essence Magazine – Full Transcript

Published February 14, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Sometimes I am really honoured by the things that come to me thanks to my writing and activism.  This week, I sent out a tweet (below) that was shared far and wide and ended up bringing me to being interviewed by a writer for Essence magazine, which for me is truly an honour.  I’m still a little stunned that my tweet, which was aimed at speaking to the white women writers in my sphere, could take me places like this.

I have been trying to decide if I was going to publish this interview in full here, as it was a very long interview and only an abridged version appeared, but over the past couple of days having to endure a completely tone-deaf, self-entitled campaign by one butthurt white woman on Facebook in response to the article, I think I need to share it.  Not to speak for any black people but again to speak TO white people who just don’t get it.  Who just don’t get that sometimes, art or media is not produced for us and we need to just sit down and listen to what black people are saying.  Hopefully if I can reach one other white person by sharing this full interview, it will be one less person offering a “hot take” on something that simply isn’t theirs to comment on.

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So, without any further ado, here’s the interview reproduced exactly as I sent it to Aliya S. King of Essence…

What have you seen in the media that made you even think about Formation in this way? Were there other topics you felt white women tackled that perhaps they shouldn’t have? Or should have done so with more nuance or from a different place?



I’ve been a fan of Beyoncé for a long time, and over the years I’ve seen so many think pieces and “hot takes” from white writers, and men for that matter, that just made me cringe with how self absorbed they were.  One thing I’ve always believed is that not all art is made for everyone and music can be far more than something to tap your toes to.  Sometimes a piece of art is made to make a statement, or to speak to and/or for a particular set of people.  What a piece of art makes you feel is subjective and when that art is saying something in particular, if it’s not for you, then it’s best to leave the think pieces to those who it *IS* for.  

Not to mention that I’ve listened to countless women of colour write about how they are sidelined in the rush for white women to publish their hot takes.  One of the best things I ever discovered online was the work of WOC.  Tumblr and Twitter have been fantastic gateways to SO many amazing writers, artists and activists.

I know that your tweet was partially tongue-in-cheek and that you don’t really think white women can’t write about Beyoncé. But your point is plain: there are certain things (like Formation) that are so inherently steeped in a particular culture that it may be best left to those who actually have experienced it. Am I getting your point correct? 



Actually my tweet was 100% genuine.  It’s not that white women can’t write about Beyoncé and Formation, it’s that they shouldn’t.   I really do believe that in the case of this song, what we white feminists think about it isn’t important.  If we like the song, then great.  If not, it’s not for us, so time to shut up and listen to the people it is for.  I honestly believe that it’s time that in situations like these, white women writers do need to step back and shine a spotlight on the work of women of colour.  Being a writer I know lots of writers, and I hoped to reach them with that tweet.

The tweet that immediately followed that one was “Then SUGGEST some.  There are plenty out there.”  I think it’s one thing to say that someone else should write it but it’s also important to pass on names of people who are suitable.  I can suggest loads of great black woman writers who are often overlooked in favour of white women.

Have you ever backed away from writing something because you felt it wasn’t your lane? Example? 



All the time.  My work is about the intersection of feminism and fat politics, and more recently ableism, since I found myself with a chronic illness.  That’s my lane.  I get loads of media and marketing requests (some offering payment, many not) and far more of them are outside of my lane than those that are in.  It’s not my place as a cis, white, straight woman to write about issues that I am not affected by.  My job there is to signal boost the work of those who are affected.   If it’s content for my own platforms I’d rather do a link round up or something where I am sharing other’s work.  If it’s content for someone else’s platform, I know plenty of writers from a wide range of backgrounds I can recommend instead.

That said, I am 100% sure I’ve got it wrong myself in the past too.  I probably will again!  But it’s through listening to what other people have written and said that I learn and grow.

Have you ever read something that made you think: this person wasn’t qualified to write about this. He/She should have stayed in their lane. 

I couldn’t tell you how many I have.   These days they mostly get a frustrated “close browser” before I even finish them.  The number of thin people with hot takes on what it’s like to be a fat person sends me into despair.  My pet hate is thin people who put on fat suits and then write about how hard it was for them.  My body isn’t a suit, it’s me, and I think people need to actually listen to fat women, not fake it for their own take on it.

But I know that happens across all marginalised identities and I am glad I have been able to learn from other writers and activists work, rather than someone outside of that identity.

I also want to acknowledge that at the same time I sent that tweet, there were other people saying the same thing, many of them black women.  It’s no secret that often a white woman’s words will go further than those of a black woman saying the same thing, which sucks.  My intention was never to speak for black women, but to speak TO white women.

Are there references in “Formation” that you don’t necessarily understand? It’s so deeply trenched in Black culture that me, a 42 year old Black woman, had to think a minute about some of the references she was making! 



I don’t doubt some references have gone right over my head.  Not only because I’m a white woman, but also because I’m an Australian woman.  I’m pretty well versed in world politics but there are always references that are going to fly right by me.  Again, that’s where I turn to women of colour to learn from their work.

This video is such a hot-button treasure chest of issues: feminism, activism, Black-ism (I just made that up), sexuality, police brutality, governmental racism. It’s a lot to unpack. Is that part of the reason why you urged writers to allow Black women to handle the commentary and think pieces on this?



No not at all.  I’m not afraid to delve into the tricky issues – as an activist I consider that my calling.  My intention is to urge white women to allow black women to speak about art that belongs to them.   “Allow” is the wrong word though, it’s not white women’s place to give “permission” to black women… I guess I mean make space?  Hand over the stage/spotlight?  Take a seat and let someone more relevant to speak?

 Beyoncé didn’t make this song for me – except maybe to LISTEN and LEARN.

**Because** of your tweet, I feel like you absolutely could write about the video, from your own place of understanding. If someone said, tell us how YOU feel about this video and how it speaks to your experience, what would you say? Would you honestly follow your tweet and say, you know what? This is not my lane. You should speak to someone who’s lived this. 

I’m honoured that you feel that – in fact I’m honoured that the tweet has gone so far with black women in general.  I can’t tell you how chuffed I am at so many of the shares and retweets I’ve seen.  I saw Kat Blaque share it on Facebook yesterday and I was just a pile of mush!

I still feel kind of weird participating in this piece, but I’m deeply honoured as well.

  I would honestly follow my tweet.  Besides all I really have right now for it are superlatives, and that’s not earth shattering news.  It’s a killer song and video that has some incredible imagery and lyrics.  Beyoncé knocked my socks off with this one.  I saw the video of her SuperBowl performance too – also fantastic.

Why do you think so many people, (black, white, male AND female) connected so much with your tweet?

I could only hazard a guess – and probably for the same reason that I appreciate when a man, a thin person or an able bodied person steps back to let me speak – it’s so frustrating being spoken over by people who have privilege over me that when someone does speak up and say “step back folks, it’s not our turn”, it feels really good.  Plus I guess it’s nice not to have to be the one to tell white people to step back for once, you know?

What was your thought process when you tweeted it. Your account is protected so you knew it was likely going to remain in your sphere. Would you have tweeted it if your account was public? 

My account is private only to keep out the sheer avalanche of hate that a fat woman gets online.  I am happy to get new followers, I just need to keep out the randos who spend their lives harassing and abusing women online.  As a visible fat woman I deal with abuse and harassment on a daily basis – death and rape threats, being called horrific slurs, stalking and doxxing.  I simply don’t have the sanity points to deal with it everywhere so I have locked down my Twitter account for a little peace!  

I do have a lot of writers in my sphere as it is, and it was them I was addressing (the white ones at least!) but absolutely I would tweet it publicly!

What was your first thought when asked if it could be shared?

Alysse of @readytostare mentioned that she wished she could share it and I told her she was welcome to either screen cap or do the old style copy + paste share.  I don’t mind people sharing my tweets as long as they ask, as I am on private.  I was happy to extend the message to any white lady writers she might know.  I had no idea it would be shared as far and wide as it has been until another friend tagged me on Facebook and I saw the share numbers there.  I was completely gobsmacked!

How do you feel now, knowing that you literally have a role in the Formation news cycle?

I’m not sure I would go as far as a role, but as I mentioned before I am really honoured that people would share my tweet so far, especially by women of colour.  I learn so much by reading the work of so many awesome women of colour all over the world, to think I’ve said something they think is worth re-tweeting just has me glowing.

Sort of a sidebar question: What are your thoughts on Beyonce, before and after Formation. Are you a fan? Are you a member of her insanely loyal #beyhive. And what ARE your thoughts on Formation?
I’ve been a fan of Beyoncé for a very long time.  Destiny’s Child, her early solo stuff, her movie roles, she’s awesome.  I wouldn’t call myself a member of the #beyhive, because while I think she’s awesome I don’t think she’s perfect!  I’m not into all the tracks on her self-titled album (but love the ones I do like) and don’t expect her to be everything to everyone.  But she is a cultural icon in so many ways and is always pushing at the boundaries to shift the industry.

As for Formation, I’m still in full squee mode over that song.  The personal and political statements in both the lyrics and the video imagery, her brilliant choreography and that iconic wardrobe!  My first thought on watching the video was that someone needs to be awarded for that red outfit, because it doesn’t budge a millimetre on her body despite her intense dancing.  I can’t get a top to sit right on my body while sitting still, let alone a plunging neckline while dancing vigorously!

But most of all, as I said on Twitter last night, I think that anyone who says that music can’t drive serious political and cultural discourse isn’t listening properly.  Just look at how that one song and video has stirred up conversation about so many things – that’s pretty revolutionary stuff to drop as a surprise release.  More power to her for it.


 

Footnote: Here are some pieces on Beyoncé and Formation written by black women.  Read these!

Good Weekend – Corrections and Clarifications

Published January 23, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Well, hello!  There are a LOT of new people popping in to view my blog, and I can only assume that it’s because of the article published today in the Good Weekend magazine, which is a weekend addition to the Sydney Morning Herald.  Welcome to all of those who are newly discovering this little blog.  And to all of those of you returning, it’s good to see you back.

Dog Reads Newspaper?

*Deep breath*  Today has been a little intense and it’s a new kind of intense on top of an already intense week.  I’ve had a lot of people contact me today thanks to the aforementioned article, some of whom with very valid questions and critique.  Quite a few talking out their arse, but I pay no mind to those.  I just wanted to write a little something to go with the article.

Now I don’t think that Tim Elliott has written a bad article, quite the opposite.  But I have been misquoted/misinterpreted a bit, and I don’t know whether that was a communication error, misinformation or just bad copy editing (do newspapers even have copy editors any more – or were those all made redundant too?).  Generally speaking the article is far more fat positive than most pieces we see, and it’s so good to see some actual fat women represented.  I had loads of fun doing the photoshoot for it by amazing photographer Paul Harris, who was really fun to work with and seemed to just “get it”.  My hair and makeup were done by Monique Zalique who was an absolute sweetie and made me look super glam, despite it being a roasting hot day!

So, a few things I would like to set right.

Firstly, for some reason, the amazing Jessica West, at fashion organiser and advocate, as well as my friend, has not been credited at all.  She’s the mega cutie in the video with the black and gold headscarf and babely glasses.  She was interviewed and photographed for the article but it wasn’t used, but footage of her was used in the video and she is the only one whose name isn’t published!  So I want to acknowledge her first and foremost.  She has a killer instagram, go follow her.

Next I’d like to address the way I’ve been described.  The “fat prider” thing – I’ve never called myself that, though I do believe in fat pride and fat liberation.  I identify as a fat activist and my focus is on fat politics.  The article implies some kind of leadership role, but I have never called myself or inded wanted to be a “leader” in any form of fat politic movement.  Personally I believe that activism should have no leaders, because activism is about pushing and growing and evolving, not a direct hierarchy.  In Australia, there are many fat activists, doing their thing in their own way.  All of us are needed.  I’m just one that will put myself in front of a photographer or journalist and do the media thing from time to time.

I also want to correct a couple of statements.  While I have had my workplace contacted by harassers, I’ve not had one show up there thankfully.  Not that that diminishes the actual harassment that has happened.  I also did not actually catch anyone slipping an abusive note in my mailbox, though I did contact the police about it at the time, who suggested I should “just get off the internet” and “not be so confident”.  The young law student from UQ that I caught was creating fake accounts on Facebook to send me harassing messages, and I was able to link those fake accounts to her real one.  Since I named her, she has not been back to my knowledge.

As for the suggestion that fat activists harass and bully people who lose weight, by choice or accident, that is absolute bullshit.  While we may object to those who start (or return to) “fat is bad” attitudes, and we will call out those who use stigmatising and hateful language to describe fatness and weight.  Saying “It’s not acceptable to vilify fatness.” is not bullying, abuse or harassment.  Unfortunately those who promote weight loss and/or dieting refuse to accept that by it’s very nature, eliminationist rhetoric about fat, the idea that fat should be prevented, cured, eradicated, it is harmful to fat people.

What you do to your own body is your business.  When you start promoting that some bodies are better than others, then I’m going to point that out as unacceptable.  That is not bullying or harassment from fat activists, and that does not make us “neo-fascists”.

One of the biggest problems with people who have privilege pointed out (especially if it’s new privilege, through weight loss, popularity or financial gain) is they refer to anyone pointing that out as “hate”.  Hate is sending threats, telling someone they are disgusting or sub-human, or ridiculing someone for who they are.  Pointing out that someone is engaging in behaviour or rhetoric that is harmful to others is not “hate”.

And finally, there is one statement that really, really bothered me.

Indeed, many fat activists regard their battle for acceptance as akin to the civil rights movement, or the struggle for gay and lesbian equality.

I really, really cringe at this.  Yes, I understand there are SOME that still see fat activism that way and conflate it with other movements.  But here’s the thing.  Marginalisation is diverse.  Each kind stands on it’s own as a valid thing to fight.  Many people have intersecting identities that are marginalised.  Some of those identities are in more peril than others, which makes the fight for their rights crucial and urgent.  Black people and trans people are currently extremely vulnerable.  There is no such thing as “another civil rights movement” – they’re all facets of the same fight – the right for ALL people to be treated equally.   The “struggle” for equality belongs to all of us, we just have to realise that some of us have privileges that others don’t.  As a white, cis, heterosexual woman with a regular income, I have privileges that others don’t.  As a very fat woman with disability, I am not afforded the privileges of thinner people, able-bodied people and men.  There is no sliding scale.  All of this is complicated and intertwining and every bit of fighting for human rights of any kind is needed.  None of them are new or taking over.  Can we please let go of that thinking right now!

So, that’s my clarifications/corrections to the article.  Again, while there are some issues with details, I still think this is a very positive article and I’m proud to have been able to participate in this get some light shed on fat liberation in the mainstream media.

Plus 40 Fabulous – The Biggest Influence From My Youth

Published January 14, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

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Happy New Year!  Can you even believe it’s 2016?  It feels like yesterday that it was 1986.  It seems that the older I get, the faster time goes.  I remember spending what felt like forever daydreaming about what it would be like to be a grown up, and now I am one, I barely ever get time to stop and think.

This post isn’t going to have any photos of me, because even though it’s about my fashion taste, it’s about my influences and I want to devote the post to someone who has been the most important style influence in my life.

The latest Plus 40 Fabulous theme is to talk about how our childhood and teen years influenced our fashion style.  For me, this is very timely, with the passing of David Bowie on Monday (Australian time), which frankly has left me bereft.  All week since I heard the news, I’ve just felt the deepest sense of loss.

Even though Bowie had been around my whole life, I didn’t really “discover” him until I was 12.   I had of course heard of him before, how could you not in those years, but I was probably too young yet to connect.  I remember very clearly seeing the video for Let’s Dance for the first time (it was shot in Australia) and just being blown away.  I then began scouring all the pop magazines for more info on him and remember this was pre-internet, so if you didn’t have money to buy albums, you had to wait until songs came on the radio!  He had a new album out by this time and I remember hearing Blue Jean and seeing the music video on TV.  I found his back catalogue and was absolutely in love with the whole idea of him.

For Christmas I begged for cassettes of his music and I desperately wanted a poster for my bedroom wall.  I was given Heroes and Let’s Dance, and a cousin gave me a massive poster of him in a grey suit from his Serious Moonlight tour.  I had that poster on my bedroom wall for nearly a decade until it fell to bits.  I’ve always wanted to replace it with a framed one.

You see, I was a weird kid.  Described often as “off with the fairies”, I was always daydreaming and making up stories in my head, imagining far away places, magical creatures, interesting people and great deeds of bravery and kindness.  I was chubby and loved anything that was colourful and had a fantasy feel to it.  I had already discovered the New Romantic movement a couple of years earlier and loved Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Adam Ant, and so many others, all of which was considered “weird” in the conservative small town I grew up in.  I didn’t have a good family life so music was my escape – all those beautiful people in their amazing exotic looking clothes, dancing and expressing all the things I felt.  I wanted to dress like them, in pirate boots and frilly shirts and with bright makeup and floppy hair, but I just wasn’t allowed to.  My parents and brother regularly ridiculed me for all the things I liked, and when I went to school I was called a freak and a weirdo too.  I never felt I fit in anywhere.

And then I found Bowie.  In finding his back catalogue, I found a chameleon of a man who was willing to try anything in the name of his art.  He changed his look and music style and influences as often as he put out an album.  His lyrics spoke to all the freaks and weirdos and told them they had a place in the world.  Remember, he wasn’t conventionally attractive for the time either.  He was unfashionably (for the time) super thin, often coloured his hair in obnoxious gingers and brassy blondes, had strange mis-matched eyes and crooked teeth.  He was deliciously weird, and I felt like had found a kindred spirit in the world.  Someone who was weird like me.

And then there was Labyrinth.  I can remember being at a relatives house and begging to be allowed to turn the television on so that I could watch a special documentary programme, Inside The Labyrinth (you can watch it here) because I knew that Bowie was going to be in the movie.  I was allowed to watch it, probably to shut me up, and I was transfixed.  I loved Jim Hensen’s work, had been a big fan of The Dark Crystal and The Muppet Show, and to know that Bowie was going to be working with Muppets, it was everything I ever dreamed of.   It was when I first discovered Ron Mueck’s art (still my favourite artist) and was the first instance of CGI I can remember seeing – the owl from the opening credits was revolutionary technology for it’s time.  I remember going to see the movie and loving every second of it.  I could identify with Sarah’s dreaminess, I loved all of the heroic characters, and of course then there was Jareth, the Goblin King, in those tight, tight, tight pants.

It is still to this day one of my favourite films of all time.  I’m listening to that song above and sobbing my eyes out as I write this.  I miss him so much already, and I never met him.  There’s only one other who affected me this way, and it is Freddie Mercury.  I hope they’re together, wherever they are.

As to how it has influenced my style today, who isn’t influenced by David Bowie at some point in his career in modern culture?  Everything after him has been touched by him.  But there are certain style elements that I love now that are still ever so influenced Bowie and his career.  Bold patterned tights and leggings.  Chunky and bold coloured/patterned shoes.  Blue eyeshadow.  Metallics and glitter.  Big hair with flowers and ribbons a la Sarah in the ballroom scene in Labyrinth. Pastel jackets. Bold prints.  Space themed prints.  Colour.  Colour.  Colour.  But most of all, the quirky, the new, the different, the brave, and most of all the strange.

In the words of my favourite Bowie song:

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Where’s your shame
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can’t trace time

Around We Go Again – The Plus-Size Retailer Merry-Go-Round

Published December 19, 2015 by Fat Heffalump

It seems every week we see the same conversation hashed out in social media/articles over plus-size retailers.  It goes like this.

·         Plus-size clothing brand puts out new set of photos of “curvy” women (all too often in their underwear rather than the clothes they are selling) with “Everyone is beautiful” strain of slogan.  (Note: “curvy” models are usually straight sized with breasts and hips, ALWAYS hourglass shaped, usually white and femme.  “Curvy” models are not fat models.)

·         Media sites interview the models.  Models say that they don’t want to be labelled “plus-size”, they want to be just models.  They say “plus-size” is derogatory.  Curvy models collect paycheck for a job they clearly don’t want to be doing.

·         Actual fat women who are forced to shop at these brands because there are little to no other alternatives (particularly in budget price ranges), say to the brand “We need the label plus-size, it saves us from having to wade through 90% of stock that does not include us, and we aren’t ashamed of being plus-sized.  Please use models who look like us.”

·         Plus-size clothing brand completely ignores what their actual customers want.  Actual customers have no option to purchase elsewhere.

·         Trolls turn up and say “Curvy is fine, but ew, not obese!”

·         Rinse and repeat to infinity.

I want off this merry-go-round!

merry-go-round and round and...

The problem really lies with the plus-size clothing brands – a) co-opting fat activism language to try to sell us products and b) refusing to employ models who look like their customers to promote their products.

The big box brands have realised that more and more women are hearing the messages that fat activists have been working tirelessly to get out to them, so they have started to use anything they can sloganise to cash in on that success.  They take all the touchy-feely bits, the easy positive stuff and repackage it as their own and then because they have a wider audience than fat activists do, sit back and enjoy the kudos that they are somehow “revolutionary”.  Yet those of us who have lived in fat bodies and worked to liberate fat women from the hatred, stigma and shame that is heaped on us know, this is in no way new or revolutionary.  It’s a vastly diluted version of the appreciation of fat bodies that really only celebrates bodies that are slightly outside of the margins of mainstream.  They take the work that is about improving the quality of life for fat people, and water it down to an advertising slogan to sell products.

The second part of the problem is that these same brands continually hire models who would not ever buy or wear those brand clothes in their day to day lives, often pinning the too large clothes or padding the models in photo shoots.  Not only does this create an unrealistic expectation of how the clothes fit on their customers bodies, but it also means that the customers of those businesses never see themselves represented in marketing that is FOR THEM.  And, with the way that the media works now, instead of asking the customers how they feel about products and the messages that these businesses send out, the media immediately turn to the models, many of whom do not want to identify as a customer of those businesses (ie, a fat customer).  One thing that is raised repeatedly by so many amazing fat activists, bloggers, tweeters etc is that these models are more than happy to collect the paycheque from these businesses, but they don’t want to be seen as a customer of the same business.  That’s pretty hypocritical attitude to take.

Unfortunately, unlike straight sized clothing customers, most plus-size customers, particularly those of us in the larger size bracket, can’t make the choice to simply no longer shop at these businesses.  Either because there is no alternative in their size bracket, or in their location, or simply because these big box companies are the only ones who are able to offer clothing in a lower price range.  I myself would LOVE to only shop with small, indie brands but the reality is that very few of them offer products in my size, and if they do, I do not have the budget to be able to spend a large amount of money on one or two items.   I have to maintain my entire wardrobe for my entire life (work, leisure, events, underwear and swimwear – everything!) with a budget that would only buy me one party dress or maybe two skirts from many indie designers.  This is not a fault with the indie designers – their products have more overheads and are usually far better quality than a mass produced product – it’s just that many of us just don’t have that kind of budget, particularly in these harsh economic times.

Shopping is serious business when you are a "Trendsetter"

IMPORTANT: That is not and will never be, the fault of the plus-sized customer.  I have no time for any business of any size/type which blames the customer for their business failures.  But it’s only plus-sizes really where you see the customers blamed for a failure of a business.  We are expected to hold up businesses whether they provide us a product or a price range that suits us.  You never hear of a business that sells only straight-sized clothes saying “Well, people won’t pay for quality.”  Because people WILL pay for quality IF they can afford it and if that quality is a product that they want and need.

Straight sizes have the luxury of choice – they can and do pick and choose which businesses they buy from – there are plenty of budget options for straight sized clothes out there.  If they don’t like how a business is marketing to them, they have the option to shop elsewhere.

To be honest, I wonder if the big box plus-size businesses intentionally foster that environment.  They perpetuate the myth that the customer is somehow at fault for there not being range, price and quality, blame us because “Those lines just don’t sell.” knowing full well that we don’t have the luxury of choosing to go elsewhere.  It’s a very effective method – keep the options to a minimum and perpetuate the myth that variety doesn’t work so that other businesses don’t bother to try, and know that they have a captive market that can’t go anywhere else.

So what has to be fixed?

The first thing that needs to happen is that plus-size businesses need to be proud of their product – or start stocking product that they can be proud of.  How often do you see website front pages and storefronts for plus-sized clothes that don’t even  have the clothes front and centre of their marketing!  I mean why are they promoting plus-size clothing with naked or underwear-clad women?  Or why do they use other props in their windows instead of proudly displaying their product front and centre.  I think a lot of them know their product is mediocre at best so they try to distract their customers with gimmicks and cheesy props.  Show us the clothes!  And if people aren’t attracted to the products when they see them, get better products!

The next thing is they need to start marketing their products properly.   They need to stop trying to co-opt body politics and start actually promoting their products in a positive and aspirational way.  And when I say aspirational, I don’t mean thin, white and hourglass shaped.  Aspirational means so much more than that.  By marketing their products as fun, luxury, quality, fashionable, stylish, and positioning themes around friendship, success, professionalism, entertainment/enjoyment etc.  I want to see aspirational marketing campaigns for plus-sizes that have messages that we see all the time in other marketing – simple things like “Spoil yourself – you’ve earned it!”  or “Look great – feel great!”  Give me some happy fat women modelling the clothes front and centre any day over another “All bodies are beautiful” with only white, small, hourglass shaped models in their undies.

And most of all, we need to see the actual women the clothes are made for modelling them.  That means no more “plus-size models” which are anything between a size 8 and 14 and some actual models size 16+.  Preferably a range of sizes between 16 and 32.  I need to be able to see what the clothes look like on a body like mine.

Heil Shopping

What can we do to drive that fix?

This is the toughest one since we ARE so limited in our options.  We need to keep telling these companies we want to see their clothes and we want to see them on bodies like our own.  Where financially possible, we need to support indie businesses who DO market well and provide things we want and need.  We need to stop expecting models to be the spokespeople for body politics and we need to tell the media that they’re not appropriate spokespeople for body politics.  We need to tell the big box companies that we have money that we want to spend, if only they would provide us the clothes that we want and need.  We need to tell them when their product is poor quality, over-priced, or simply just un-fashionable.

But our biggest power lies in word of mouth.  That’s what sells a product, and particularly so in the fat community.  If a company is doing great stuff, tell people about it.  Tell your fat friends.  Post it on your social media.  Blog about it.  Post on the company’s social media telling them that you love what they are doing, please do more of it.  They ARE listening, the fact that they’re co-opting our work is telling us that, so get out there and speak up!

Australian Brands Plus Size Research – Can You Help?

Published November 29, 2015 by Fat Heffalump

I’ve been contacted by a student who would like some assistance with some research she is doing.  Ana Maria Gonzalez is studying a Master of Commerce and is a textiles designer who loves fashion and new ideas.  Currently, she is doing her final project research about the marketing communication strategies of the Australian Plus Size Brands.

If you are in Australia and would like to help Ana Maria, please copy and paste the questionnaire below and reply to her in an email with your answers.  You can email her at this address.

Plus size Australian Brands Questionnaire

  1. Please, let’s start for the basics. Name:___________________________________
  2. For how long have you been engaged with the curvy fashion industry?
  3. What was the motivation to start the blog?
  4. How do you find the Australian Fashion options for the “plus size” customers?
  5. Which are your preferred Australian “plus size” brands? Why?
  6. Regarding brand communication, which kind of models do you find more engaging in the plus size brands, the ones that are at the lower end of the sizes or those than represent a larger size? If so, describe.

    Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 10.52.56 AM

  7. Do you have or you faced any difficulties in finding good fashion items in Australia?
  8. Do you consider that the Australian plus size fashion brands manage an open and empowering communication to their clients?
  9. What is your opinion about the advertisings used in for the plus size fashion vs those used for “the regular sizes”
  10. Is there something that you would like to see different in the instore communication of the plus size Australian brands? Could be photos, staff, disposition of the space, fitting rooms, etc….
  11. Do you like to participate in the Facebook pages of these brands? What is the response that you got?
  12. Do you also engage with the other social media sites of the Australian plus size brands?

Plus 40 Fabulous – An Introduction

Published November 14, 2015 by Fat Heffalump

Headerplus40

I am thrilled to participate in the Plus 40 Fabulous project created by the lovely Leah and Mookie.  Leah and Mookie wanted to claim a space in fatshion/plus-size blogging for people over 40, which considering the way women are relegated to the sidelines as they get older, is a fantastic idea.  There are plenty of perky young lovelies blogging in the fatosphere, and good on them, but there is no reason that women have to stop enjoying dressing and feeling good about themselves as they get older.  I believe strongly in visibility and representation, and if my participating in Plus 40 Fabulous gets one 40+ fatty putting on a fab outfit and feeling good about herself, then it’s more than worth it.

So I know a lot of you already follow my blog and other online presence, but as this is an introduction post for the project and will be linked through the #plus40fabulous tag, there may be new people who have not read my work before.  To those, I say a hearty welcome!  To the rest of you champs who have been around a while, it’s good to see you again!

Introduction

Well, my name is Kath and I recently turned 43 years old.  In my day job I’m an IT librarian in Brisbane, but by night (well, it’s not restricted to just night any more!) I love to put on my rainbow tights and sparkly dress and have been a fat activist for about six years now.  Mostly I concentrate on the rights of fat women, because I am royally fed up with being treated like a second-class citizen because of my size, but I do believe that every day things like the access to attractive clothing and being represented in a positive light as a fat woman are actually radical acts of fat activism.  Not apologising for who I am is one of the most powerful things I have learned to do.

It me!

It me!

My Style

There is a running joke amongst my friends and I that I’m trying to bring in “toddler style” as a thing.  I’ve been walking through a shopping centre and said to my friend Kerri “Why can’t I have HER outfit?” and she has replied “Kath, she’s four.”  But why should little kids get all the fun stuff?  If I could, I would be all about the rainbow tights, sparkly dresses, ladybug shoes and fairy wings.  I’m on a quest to smash the idea that women have to get dull as they mature and that a wardrobe has to be conservative to be professional.  What I wear has no bearing on my intellect and my ability to do my job, but it does show how creative and passionate I am.

I have been fat for most of my life (I prefer the term fat to any other euphemisms, it is in no way derogatory, simply a descriptor like tall or brown-eyed) but only really started developing my own style in my late 30’s.  Prior to that, I really felt that I didn’t deserve nice things, and besides, they were much, much harder to find back then!  But after I found fat activism, built my confidence and self esteem, I realised that I loved playing with style to express who I am.  Where once I tried very hard to be either a brown sparrow who disappeared into the background, or did the whole grungy-goth anti-fashion thing, I realised that the one thing that defines my taste most is my love of colour.  Brown, grey and black have their place in my wardrobe, but mostly I am bored by them when it comes to clothes.  I love colour in all aspects of my life and will always gravitate to either the brights, the bolds or the pretties.  I love quirky prints and fun accessories.

I’m in no way beholden to fashion as an industry – mostly because it has never cared a jot about me or my money – but I do love clothes and style, and I wear what makes me happy.

She's got cooties!

She’s got cooties!

How I Feel About Being Over 40

Personally, I’m loving being over 40.  I hear a lot of people dreading turning 40, or hiding their age, saying they’re 29 again etc.  But life just keeps getting better.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect, and things change physically a bit as you get older, but I’m far more content and definitely more confident now than I have ever been.  I think a lot of people see high school or their 20’s as their peak in life – but to me that’s sad.  If you peak that early, what are you doing with the rest of your life?  The only thing that really bothers me is that my hearing and eyesight are deteriorating a bit more (they’ve never been great anyway), which is frustrating.  But I haven’t had my natural hair colour for over 20 years, preferring to change it to something more fun, so greys don’t bother me and fat doesn’t wrinkle much anyway!  I’m proud of my age, and wish more women would embrace the years they have lived.

Oh, and I wish menopause would hurry up, I’m not using my uterus, it can just retire!!

Inked Up and Fabulous!

Inked Up and Fabulous!

How Society Treats Older Women

This however, is a different matter.  I’ll start by saying I don’t buy into the “We just get invisible.” thing, because fat women are mostly invisible at any age.  As are other marginalised people – we don’t exist unless it’s to be ridiculed or vilified.  However, there is a courtesy paid to young women, even marginalised young women, that older women don’t get.  Once you pass a certain age, you’re seen as either an inconvenience or a drudge.  Even the most talented and passionate woman stops being referred to as “dynamic” the minute she turns about 35.  Add to that the fact that older women are just not visible in the media and entertainment in the same way that older men are.  Look at Maggie Gyllenhaal, being told she’s “too old” at 37 to play the love interest of a man in his 50’s!  With a few notable exceptions, older women are mostly relegated to being mothers or grandmothers or crones.  Which is so unlike the reality of  all the older women I know – who are vibrant, funny, gifted, intelligent, compassionate, talented and just downright interesting, if you bother to take the time to know them.

Always subtle.

Always subtle.

I’ve always been someone with friends of all ages, right from when I was a teenager myself.  I still have friends who range from a 21 through to their 60’s who are all different and interesting in their own way, and they find me interesting.  If we only surround ourselves with people at our own small age group, then we’re missing out on all the different perspectives in life.  I am eternally grateful to the older friends who have imparted wisdom on me over the years, and now I hope I can do the same for my younger friends, in my own way.  My wisdom usually consists of “Fuck it, you only live once!”

Which brings me to…

Fashion Advice and Inspiration

Clash those prints!

Clash those prints!

Fuck it, you only live once!

It’s true though.  You can spend your life worrying about what other people think, or you can just wear stuff that makes you feel happy and confident.  It might not be the same for you as it is for me, but whatever it is for you, just wear it.  As I said before, I don’t care a damn about the fashion industry, and I’m not interested in following trends to the letter.  I pick and choose the bits I like and ignore the rest.

As for inspiration, mostly toddlers.  I’m only half kidding there – I mean I do love other sources, like Advanced Style, Arched Eyebrow, Cupcake’s Clothes and The Curvy and Curly Closet –  but for anyone who has been around toddlers for any length of time, you’ll know that they demand to wear what they want to wear, even if it doesn’t match, isn’t considered “appropriate” for the occasion, or isn’t practical.  They don’t care if it’s their Auntie’s wedding, they’ll wear purple gumboots, shorts with frogs on them and a stripey turtleneck if that’s what pleases them.  We all have that innate desire to just say “Bugger it.” and wear what we like, but it’s wheedled, teased and bullied out of us most from a very young age and perpetuates throughout most of our lives.  Sometimes you just have to put on that sparkly dress and rainbow tights with your shoes with the flowers on them and rock your own sweet style.

Style is all attitude.

Style is all attitude.

If you’d like to see more of Plus 40 Fabulous, you can find the posts and info on the social media accounts:

And if you’re posting about the project, be sure to use the hashtag #plus40fabulous

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