representation

All posts tagged representation

Melbourne Fashion Week Plus – The Political

Published September 11, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published September 2, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

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

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

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

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

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

 

Melbourne Fashion Week Plus – News and a Competition

Published August 10, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update!

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

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

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

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

Is Radical Fat Activism Dead?

Published June 9, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

I was just reading this post over at Fatty Unbound, about why she no longer blogs about fatshion, and I was just hit with such a wave of sadness.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why she, and so many others have decided to give up blogging – I have a lot of the same feelings myself and it makes it really hard to keep blogging the way I used to.  But understanding why doesn’t mean I’m any less sad that so many amazing, bold, innovative fat activists and/or bloggers are deciding to pack it in.

The reality is, body politics have been branded and corporatised.  Companies are taking the work that we did, for generations – remember fat activism has been around since the 60’s, and they sanitise it, sand back the rough edges, take out all the radical messages and sell it back to us, as this awful, bland, homogeneous pap called “body positivity”.  And so many people just lap it up.  Many through no fault of their own – they simply haven’t seen any alternative.  The brands and those who are keen to represent them simply have volume and a bigger platform than your average radical fat activist.

And look, I get it.  It’s bloody hard work to keep up as a radical fat activist.  This shit grinds you down.  It takes a lot of emotional energy to step up and put your life out there as a fat person.  There aren’t a lot of rewards for the average fat woman to put herself on the internet and speak up for fat women’s rights – unless you’re young, white, cisgender, able-bodied, a smaller fat, have an hourglass or pear shape, have a pretty face and have access to a lot of new clothes, makeup and photography, and are willing to smile and play along with the expectations of the brands who will fund you if you’re a nice, good fatty.

There are also a lot of negatives that come with being a visible fat woman.  The constant stream of concern trolling, ignorance and sheer bigotry you have to face is so corrosive, it eats away at your energy levels and is so frustrating dealing with people who refuse to listen or think about the ignorance they’ve swallowed and regurgitated for so long.  On top of that there is the abuse and harassment.  The constant barrage of shitty little people who have nothing better to do than either wank over you or spend every minute of their time trying to find some way to hurt you.  Or in many cases – both.  The same people who profess they hate you and find you repulsive are the ones wanking furiously over pictures of you.

These things are so bloody hard to deal with.  So I fully understand why so many fat women just decide “Fuck it, I don’t want to deal with this any more.”

But… I still feel sad that this is happening.  I feel so sad that brands and haters have pushed us out of OUR space.  It is ours.  It doesn’t belong to them.  They haven’t worked and fought so hard to carve out this space in the world, despite so many telling us we’re unworthy of it.

I feel sad that there are so many fat women who are missing out on what I found all those years ago – radical fat activism that blew apart my world and shook me to the core.  That helped me give up the endless cycle of self hate and suspension of actually living that was my life.  That inspired me to take up fat activism myself, and tell my story and start showing people like me that we do not have to be classed as inferior to people who have smaller bodies than we do.

I don’t really believe radical fat activism is dead – there are still some amazing people out there doing some incredible work.  I think I’ll do a post over the weekend with some links to the ones I really love.  But the numbers are dwindling.

What I really want is for those of us who feel like we’re being pushed out of our spaces and shouted down by brands and haters that we’re not going away.  We’re not letting them shove us out of our spaces, and that all of us that don’t fit their little plastic boxes are still here, we still have voices and we’re still going to celebrate who we are.  I want all the unruly fat women, the ones that are ignored by the brands and told they’re not good enough by the haters to put on an outfit that makes them feel good (regardless of what anyone else thinks about it), hold their head up high and stick their middle fingers in the air and declare “I have the right to exist and be seen in this world too.

Here, I’ll go first.

Photo by Paul Harris

Photo by Paul Harris

Help Get This Fatty to New Zealand!

Published March 29, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Well, I’m tickled pink to announce that I have been accepted to present a paper at the 2016 New Zealand Fat Studies: Identity, Agency and Embodiment Conference in Palmerston North in June.  My paper, with the tongue-in-cheek working title “Hey! Fat Bitch!” will be on the long term abuse and harassment that fat people (particularly women and girls) face, be it from family, peers or strangers and how that affects our quality of life.

But… I need some help.  I have been working as a fat activist now for over 7 years without ever seeking any funds from anywhere.  I’ve been able to go to conferences in Sydney in 2010 and Wellington in 2012 (you can read my papers for those conferences at the links provided), done countless events and projects at my own cost and have been engaging with the media all over the world for free to fight to make the world a better place for fat people.  Unfortunately, what with the growing cost of living… it’s getting harder and harder to participate in these things when they are costing me my limited funds to do so.  I do not have advertising on this blog (except for the WordPress one that only people without a WordPress account can see, which I get no revenue from) and don’t even do reviews for product any more.

So I’m asking if folk can help me get to New Zealand with a GoFundMe campaign.  I am seeking to raise the cost of flights, accommodation and the corresponding insurance, plus registration for the conference.  Or at least put a significant dent in those costs!

As well as attending the conference, delivering my paper and reaping the networking rewards that I hope to be able then plough back into my activism, I hope to be able to write complimentary articles about the conference and the people involved that I can publish here for all of you.  I am also hoping to be able to engage the media in both Australia and New Zealand in some fat positive articles, because every little bit of positive  media helps shift the narrative from “the war on obesity” to “fat people have rights too”.  I hope to be able to blog both on the road (I’m already thinking of some pieces about flying while fat, and the cultural differences between New Zealand and Australia when it comes to fatness) and around the actual date.

The other good news is that there will be an online registration available for those who wish to either live stream or view on demand the presentations from the conference, which will include mine!  For more information on the conference, go to the conference page here.

So, all it leaves me to ask here is that if you can donate, any amount at all, it would be most appreciated.  And if you could share the link to either this post or my GoFundMe page around your social media, you’d be doing me a huge favour.

Let’s Get This Fatty to New Zealand!

A Tribute to Nurse Kellye

Published March 27, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Do you ever watch an old TV show that you thought you knew really well, and find a whole bunch of new things about it that you missed when you first watched it?  Especially watching something as an adult that you watched as a kid – you notice characters that you didn’t before, story threads that weren’t easy to pick up on unless the series was seen in order, brief roles by people who later became famous, or just understanding jokes and references that went over the head when you were a kid.

Like most people of my generation, I grew up on a solid diet of M*A*S*H – it started the year I was born and I can’t ever remember it not being on television.  It was a firm favourite of everyone in my household – which now surprises me as it’s very progressive for it’s time and I would not have expected it to be popular with my conservative parents.  If it was showing somewhere on TV, then the channel got switched over so we could all watch it.

Recently my library service added the entire collection of M*A*S*H to the catalogue, and as it had been some years since I’d even seen an episode, I decided to wade in and watch the entire 11 seasons.  It’s been MONTHS since I started and I’m only up to Season 10 right now, but I’m on the home run and while I’m sure I’d seen every episode already, I have learnt so much about the series and characters while I’ve been watching.  Like what?  Well, let’s see…

  1. It’s highly likely that my first love as a child was Major Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers) and even now, my heart still flutters at the mere thought of him.
  2. Loretta Swit never got near enough credit for where she took the character of Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan over the life of the show – from a goofy comedy foil to a nuanced, complex woman character whose storylines really pushed the boundaries of women’s roles even in the 70’s, let alone the 50’s in which the series is set.
  3. Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) can be a colossal jerk at times.
  4. The most consistently good acting (both comedic and serious) in the entire series was Gary Burghoff, who plays Walter “Radar” O’Reilly.
  5. As an adult, I like Colonel Potter (Harry Morgan) more than I liked Colonel Blake (McLean Stevenson) as a kid.
  6. BJ Hunnicut (Mike Farrell) was probably the most decent character amongst the core cast.  All of the characters were flawed, but BJ seemed to always be a good guy.
  7. Klinger (Jamie Farr) was hilarious in his dress up days, but a much more nuanced character once he got out of the frocks.

But there’s one thing I’ve really discovered as I’ve watched the series.  My favourite character isn’t any of the above central characters.  My favourite character is lucky to have one or two lines per episode and her story isn’t always consistent.  In fact her name isn’t always consistent.  She is a short, chubby woman of colour.  She is Nurse Kellye, played by Kellye Nakahara.

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Nurse Kellye is probably in more episodes than anyone else, except Hawkeye, who was in every episode.  She’s always there – in the background in the mess tent, working diligently in the OR or Post-Op.  She dances with almost every major male character in the Officer’s Club at some point over the series.  In the later series, she has a line or two in almost every episode, and in the final series she has a whole episode to herself.  Her surname changes repeatedly throughout the show (sometimes they even use the actress’ real surname Nakahara for the character – it’s never really outlined what her full name is) as does her heritage.  At one point she mentions that she’s part Chinese, part Hawaiian, but later on she’s referred to as Japanese-Hawaiian.  We do know that her rank is Lieutenant at least.

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But she’s always there.  How many other women that look like Kellye Nakahara can you name in ANY television series, let alone one from the 70’s and 80’s who is always there, and is always shown as smart, competent, compassionate and professional?  How many chubby women of colour characters can you name that aren’t the butt of a joke, or portrayed as klutzy, or incompetent, or over-sexed, or silly?

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But there Nurse Kellye is, with her cute pigtails and sweet face, pretty much every episode, working beside the doctors and even respected by all of them – which is saying something when you remember Hawkeye’s attitude to the nurses.  She’s multi-lingual, a dedicated and more-than-competent nurse whom the doctors look to for information and advice on more than one occasion.  I particularly like that she was repeatedly shown socialising with Major Winchester – from being his dinner date when Klinger had set up a fancy restaurant in the mess tent, to asking him to dance (and he accepts graciously) in the Officer’s Club when a visiting USO performer strikes up a polka.  She wasn’t the butt of a joke in those scenes, she was just a woman socialising with her male colleague.

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When she does get to participate in a joke, she gets to be part of the gag, rather than be the butt of it.  Her flirting with Hawkeye when he is working in Rosie’s bar is not a joke at her expense, it’s her being cheeky to her colleague, an officer who outranks her, who has ended up serving behind the bar in the local den of iniquity, subverting the joke that has her as the GI chasing the bar-staff, rather than it being his usual role.

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In an era when women of colour were scarce on our TV screens and women who were not slim and “pretty” by conventional standards were almost always the objects of ridicule, seeing a consistently positively portrayed Asian-American woman with a short and chubby frame is SO refreshing.  We know that Nichelle Nicholls is a trailblazer in television with her role as Uhura in Star Trek, but has anyone ever acknowledged Kellye Nakahara for her 165 episodes of pure badass awesomeness in M*A*S*H?  We almost never see women like her in roles today, so there is no doubt at all that she too, was a trailblazer for her time.

Dear Ashley Graham

Published March 16, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Dear Ashley Graham,

Please stop.  Just… stop.  Look, I know you’re the hot name of the moment in plus-size models and you’re getting a lot of media and marketing attention.  Congratulations, enjoy it.  But you seriously need to knock it off with the whole thing about not wanting the term “plus-size” to be used.  What am I talking about?  Well, there’s this…

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I get that you don’t want to be called a “plus-size” model because let’s face it, you’re not a plus-size woman.  Unlike myself and so many other women who shop at the stores you collect cheques from for modelling their clothes, your body is not fat.  To anyone walking past you on the street, you’re just a woman, and a very beautiful one at that.  But when I walk down the street, I’m a fat woman.  Nobody is going to dispute that fact.  That’s where the vast chasm lies between the models who are chosen and paid to showcase clothes for fat women, and the actual women who are buying them.

AG

A plus-size model.

 

An actual plus-size customer. (Photo by Paul Harris)

An actual plus-size customer. (Photo by Paul Harris)

The thing is, women like me need the label “plus-size”.  We know that the label doesn’t refer to us or our actual bodies, but refers to the section in the store that we need to find – almost always a dingy corner in the back with no signage, poor housekeeping and terrible lighting – if we are lucky.  You wouldn’t know what it’s like to need that section because your body is catered to in most standard “straight” sized clothing ranges.  When you want to buy a swimsuit, you need to know where in the store to go to buy one right?  So you go to the swimsuit section.  Well, we need and want to buy clothes that fit our body, so we need to be able to find the section that has those clothes, and for the last century, almost anyway, there has been a conveniently named section called “plus-size” that we can seek out.  This saves us from wading through the other 90% of clothing that doesn’t include us.

When you, who have far more access to the media and marketing than we do, by the blessing of your pretty face, hourglass figure and relatively small size (compared to actual plus-size clothing customers) start trumpeting that the clothing industry needs to get rid of the term plus-size, two things happen.

Firstly, you stigmatise fatness further than it already is.  You might not be actually saying that, but that’s what many not-fat people, including the businesses who are supposed to be serving us, actually hear.  The corollary of that is that not-fat people and businesses stop listening to us.  They don’t listen to us much anyway, but your efforts are causing them to shut us out even further.

Secondly, businesses start thinking that they can “drop the plus” which means they start literally dropping plus-size product.  They downsize their collections.  They trim the size range, removing the larger sizes, which are already as rare as hens teeth.  So you are actively making it harder for many of us to find the clothing that we want and need.

While we’re at it, let’s touch on the “curvy sexylicious” thing.  I personally find it cheesy and childish, but you get to decide how you identify and you’re perfectly entitled to decide on that label for yourself.  But the reality is, the vast majority of women who actually buy plus-size clothing will never get to or want to be referred to as “curvy sexylicious”.  To start with, many of us a “boxy fat fabulous” or “roly-poly arse-kicking” or “shaped-like-the-magic-pudding awesome”.  We’re fat.  We don’t have neat little hourglass figures with a tiny tummy bump or a pair of thick thighs.  We have big, fat bodies.  Bodies that are still awesome, but they’re not being given the opportunity to model for Lane Bryant anytime soon.  Also, I can’t go to work in a lacy bra and tight skirt and call myself “curvy sexylicious” like you do when you go to work.  I need to wear something suitable for my job and call it “creative professional woman”.  Sexing up is all well and good, but we need more than lacy bras and sparkly evening wear (don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of lace and sparkle).  We need suits for the office, dresses for daytime, skirts and blouses to go to church in, smart casual gear to go to the school event in, all those sorts of thing.  When I go through my work day, I don’t make kissy faces and toss my hair – I have to answer phones and go to meetings and do a whole lot of innovative thinking, plus a lot of networking with people of all types – from management to politicians, from librarians to electricians.  That’s not exactly “curvy sexylicious” appropriate, you know?

Besides, not everything in plus-size has to be “sexy”.  In fact, not everything about womanhood has to be “sexy”.  Sexy is fun sure, and has it’s place, but women are worth far more than their worth to the male gaze.  We are more than valuable for our fuckability.  When I see models promoting plus-size clothing brands, they’re almost always naked, in lingerie or in some state of “sexyfication”.  I know why this is done – mostly for the shock value of seeing a body that has some small rolls or curves in a world where most models are ultra-thin.  We often don’t get to see the products actually showcased in the same way that straight-sized clothes are.  Which makes it so hard to shop for the clothes we want and need.  Particularly when our clothes are relegated to online shopping or badly maintained racks in the back of the store.  We need to see what an outfit will look like when we wear the whole outfit – very hard when we’re forced to shop online.  The lacy bra and tight skirt is cute on you in a promo shot, sure… but how do I know what it looks like with a jacket or blouse in the same range?   How do I know what it will look like on a body shaped like mine, rather than tall, hourglass and slim like you are?

What it really boils down to is that we need more clothing options than there currently are in our sizes, and we need to be able to see them in a way that reflects how we live, feel and look.  We need to see ourselves.  Your constant calls to lose the term “plus-size” don’t help that.  Perhaps if you don’t want to be called a “plus-size model”, it’s time for you to step back, stop collecting the cheques for jobs that are supposed to serve fat women and let some larger, more realistic to the customer, models take the jobs.

Yours sincerely
Kath
aka Fat Heffalump