Category Archives: Fashion

Behind the Scenes

An old and slightly overexposed photo of me with short black hair.  I'm standing outside in a leafy environment, wearing an orange and green floral dress and a mint green leather jacket, smiling down at the skirt I am holding out to either side.  I'm wearing glasses and orange lipstick too.

A slightly overexposed photo of me with short black hair. I’m standing outside in a leafy environment, wearing an orange and green floral dress and a mint green leather jacket, smiling down at the skirt I am holding out to either side. I’m wearing glasses and orange lipstick too.

It’s Fatshion February! A month where the fat blogosphere focuses on clothes, not just pretty photos (although there are lots of those and they are delightful) but thoughtful discussions about beauty culture, clothing access and other social justice issues that relate to fat people clothing ourselves. I freaking love it.

A quote from Melissa McEwan’s recent Shakesville post on fat fashion has been making the rounds of tumblr and it’s had me nodding my head every time I see it go past. I recommend you go read the whole post (and the one about high heels linked therein that the quote actually comes from!) but here’s a teaser:

For fat women, being stylish isn’t a luxury. It’s often a necessity to get hired, to get access to healthcare, to get treated like a human being.

Fat women have all kinds of narratives about sloppiness, laziness, dirtiness to overcome. Sometimes heels are a crucial part of looking “put together” in a way that sufficiently convinces people that we care about ourselves, that manages to counteract pervasive cultural narratives that fat people don’t care about ourselves. That we have “let ourselves go.”

Being “put together” is part of the way many of us convey to a judgmental world that we are worth caring about.

It’s undoubtedly true that all women are expected to put more effort into their appearance than men in order to be taken seriously (and that submitting to these cultural requirements is ALSO used against us as evidence that we are superficial and obsessed with appearances). But I feel the pressure to look “put together” very keenly as a fat woman, and it’s different as a very fat woman than it was when I was smaller. I don’t always feel compelled to dress up, but I do have a far less casual everyday wardrobe than some of my friends. And when I do feel compelled to go the full fatshionista – makeup, styled hair, accessories and so on – it’s usually because I feel vulnerable in the situation I’m going into and I need the additional defence of looking well-dressed.

Reading Melissa’s post, I was reminded of an experience I had several years ago when I was complaining about the trouble I had buying clothes in my size.  A friend told me I must be either lying or exaggerating because I always looked well-dressed to them. This was a weird kind of backwards compliment and I didn’t really know how to respond. It was a long time ago and I was thinner than I am now, but I was still firmly within the plus size range and besides, plus sizes were – forgive me – slimmer pickings than they are now. It is still true, though, that I like pretty much everything in my wardrobe. I don’t tend to settle for clothes that I personally think are ugly (unless I have to for uniform or costume purposes), and I did and do always look well put together when I go out in public. That isn’t an accident.

I do it on purpose, but not because I think that’s the way things should be done, or that I have some kind of belief that women owe it to the world to look pretty at all times, although it has taken me many years to unlearn the Rules of Dressing While Fat that my well-meaning mother instilled in me as a chubby child. I do it because not only is it almost impossible to find comfortable jeans and cute t-shirts in my size, but also I have those “narratives about sloppiness, laziness, dirtiness to overcome” that Melissa mentions. I dress up in part because I’m scared of how I’ll be treated if I dress down.

The other side of my friend’s comment that I was “lying or exaggerating” is that they underestimated how much time, effort and money I put into always looking well-dressed to them. It can be true that there are few decent and affordable plus size options AND true that I dress well, because I track down and buy all the decent and affordable options that fit me, as well as some that are not so affordable. I spend a lot of my free time looking at and shopping for clothes, and a large percentage of my available funds go towards clothing. And any time I see a clothing sale at a major store (online or off) where I know they stock my size and ship to Australia, I look at everything in the sale, even if I haven’t got much money, even though a lot of it will be ugly, on the off-chance there is something there I like and can afford.

Every time. Do you look at every item in every sale of every major store that stocks your size and ships to your country? If you do it’s probably either because you are a hardcore fashion blogger or because you have as few stores that fit this bill as I do.

Evans, Autograph, ASOS, Yours, Target, Kmart, Old Navy. That’s it. And I buy almost nothing from Old Navy because their plus size stuff turns baggy or falls to bits after the first wash.

Part of the reason I do this is because it’s fun for me. I find clothes shopping enjoyable, especially online, although I know a lot of women my size hate it. I collect pictures of cool plus size clothes on Pinterest and Polyvore. I even like looking at clothes I can’t wear because they don’t come in my size; I sized out of City Chic years ago but I still follow them on facebook because I enjoy looking at the regular drops of new stuff. Of course, this would be more fun if I had a hope of wearing any of it, but it’s still something I enjoy.

But part of it – a large part – is because if I want to have nice clothes on my budget and with my body, this is what it takes. So yeah, decent plus size clothes do exist. But they are few, inconsistent, expensive and difficult to find in my size. And the ones that do come in my size don’t always fit.

For every couple of items I buy online that I love, there’s a few that are not quite right and require adjustments, and one that outright does not fit. Shipping returns to the US – where most of the larger plus size clothing industry is based – costs a bundle for a return of nothing, so I tend to just keep the things that don’t fit and pass them on to other fatties who are smaller, a different shape or just like a different fit than I do. This is a pretty expensive kind of altruism, but it balances out when they do the same, though it’s rare that you find the labelled size is too big instead of too small, and I don’t personally know many women bigger than me.

Thin ladies scrimp and scour sales for basics they need (for work and so on) and for fancy stuff that makes them feel good, I know this. But it’s worse when you’re fat. Just ask any size 26+ woman who’s just been invited to a wedding with a formal dress code. Panic stations! It’s difficult even when the items in question are so bog standard you’d think they’d be everywhere. For example, a few years ago I got a job that required me to wear black suit pants as part of my uniform and I spent over a month looking for any that would fit me, no matter how daggy, no matter how expensive, from anywhere at all. I found one pair of pants, and they were too short, but I had to wear them anyway. My choir performs Christmas carols every year with a dress code that involves a white shirt, and every year I panic that my one white shirt (which doesn’t quite fit the code anyway because it has no collar) won’t fit or will be missing, because you cannot get a plain white shirt in my size for love nor money.

Thin people and smaller fats just flat out don’t believe me when I say it is impossible for me to find a white shirt or a pair of black pants that fits me. They must either think I’m lying or that I’m too lazy or stupid to have checked out the super obvious thing they always suggest when I complain about this (“Have you tried Target? I got a white shirt there yesterday!”). But it’s true. I have lost many hours and shed many frustrated tears over these things. I’ve scoured websites you’ve never even heard of. If I sound bitter it’s because I really, really am.

I’m lucky I’m femme, because if I were seeking masculine style clothes in my size and shape I’d be doomed.

On that note, as well as shopping relentlessly, another way I ensure I always look put together is that almost every item of clothing I own is a dress. The handy thing about a dress is you put it on and you have an instant outfit! No need to match anything, and they’re usually fitted, a shape that typically reads to others as more tidy or dressed up than loose clothing (though there is a fine line for fat women to walk between “that’s loose, you look sloppy” and “I can see your rolls, quelle horreur!”). The dresses I buy are usually stretchy, because stretchy fabrics are comfortable and forgiving, not in the sense that they cover up “flaws” but that a stretchy dress that isn’t quite the right size or shape can still look good, whereas a fitted dress with no stretch is far more likely to just not fit, or to look “sloppy”.

When I talk about all the work I put into dressing myself, I don’t mean to say I am forced to do this or that it isn’t pleasurable for me (well, apart from the uniform stuff, that sucks). I like clothes and I enjoy shopping for them, thinking and talking and writing about them, looking at them and looking a certain way in them. But it’s not an unweighted choice, either. I could wear black skirts and loose t-shirts every day, like I did when I was in high school and internet shopping wasn’t a thing (and the only plus size stores in Australia were My Size, Maggie T and the BIB – “Big Is Beautiful” – section at Myer) but I would be treated differently if I did.

And while you ponder that, bear in mind that I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to do this at all. Fat women who are poor frequently struggle to be taken seriously as job seekers, as parents, as healthcare consumers, as human beings because they can’t afford to wear the defence of “dressing well” that makes others think you care enough about yourself to be worth caring about. Fat women who are bigger than me struggle to find any clothing at all, let alone anything that others will read as stylish, professional or even neat. Fashion is great fun for many of us, but the extent to which participating – or not participating – in it can determine what kind of treatment, jobs and care you receive is seriously fucked up, especially when you are a fat woman.

Looking well-dressed is a whole lot of work for a fat woman, even if she makes it seem effortless. Just like a swan swimming on the surface of a lake, there’s a whole lot of paddling going on beneath the stylish exterior. Remember that before you presume we must be “lying or exaggerating” about how few clothing options there are for us.

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On Fat Mandi And Being In On The Joke

A pale pink unfitted tshirt with a cartoon chocolate donut over the place where each breast or nipple would be.

A pale pink unfitted tshirt with a cartoon chocolate donut over the place where each breast or nipple would be.

So, Rebel Wilson released a “clothing line” (two printed tshirts) in January called Fat Mandi. I saw info about it recently on WTF Plus, a tumblr I follow about the horrors of plus size clothing, and was linked to this article on Jezebel from back when it first came out.  Says Madeleine Davies:

Cool news! Rebel Wilson, beloved star of Pitch Perfect and everything she touches, has created her own plus-sized t-shirt line called Fat Mandi. Less cool news, you’ll only want to wear the t-shirt if you’re a bigger girl who’s really into food motiffs, which — hey! — of course you are! You’re fat therefore your eyes are only drawn to things you can put in your mouth.

Similar things have been said about the tshirts elsewhere as well, as I discovered when looking around for more information. Like this commentary on the WTF Plus post from Filmme Fatales:

Another example of the singing, dancing, inoffensive fat girl whose movie roles (and now clothes) don’t let you forget that “she’s Fat first, Amy second”.

Every time I see this commentary I think: do people not get it? And then I stop and wonder: do I not get it?

What’s the matter with not letting people forget you are fat? What’s the matter with taking the inevitable mockery that being fat is likely to attract in the sizeist entertainment industry and shoving it in your detractors’ faces?

I’ve written about Rebel Wilson here before, right after seeing Pitch Perfect. The strategy Wilson’s character Amy uses in Pitch Perfect – of calling herself Fat Amy so “twig bitches” can’t call her fat behind her back – is the same strategy Wilson appears to use herself to get by as a fat woman in the entertainment industry. By making fat jokes before anyone else can, she limits the ability of other people to make fat jokes at her expense; she’s already in on the joke. Filmme Fatales describes her as an “inoffensive fat girl” but honestly I don’t think Wilson is trying to be inoffensive or make the status quo feel good about her. She’s trying to embarrass fat haters by demonstrating just how few fucks she gives about their opinion of her body.

But even if she is trying to be a funny fat girl just so she can get work in Hollywood, who am I to judge her for that? Magda Szubanski made fat jokes at her own expense on Fast Forward. Melissa McCarthy seems to be doing the same thing now with films like Identity Thief. It makes me sad to see McCarthy having to take shitty fat joke riddled roles after first seeing her as Sookie StJames on Gilmore Girls, where her weight was never ever ever not once mentioned in all seven seasons, but if they are the only major roles made available to her I understand why she takes them. The people at fault here are the writers and producers and casting directors who only offer “Fat Girl” roles to fat actresses, not the actresses themselves who are just trying to make a living.

The author of the Jezebel article doesn’t seem to be aware of the origins of Fat Mandi and is assuming the clothes are merchandise based on Fat Amy from Pitch Perfect. In fact, Fat Mandi was one of Wilson’s stage comedy characters, and can be seen in episodes of The Wedge, a now defunct Australian comedy show that I admit I don’t know much about except that the ads all seemed to be about how funny “bogans” are. I never watched The Wedge because classist comedy is really not my cup of tea, but I have now watched the 12 original segments about Fat Mandi on YouTube, out of curiosity. Mandi is a fat british teenager who is (unwillingly, and originally unwittingly) on a fat camp reality show called “Fat Crackers”. She is unapologetic and proud about being fat, originally thinks fat camp is a place to celebrate fatness, and eventually leads the other campers in rebellion against the trainers. Her mother is shown as cloying and coddling, and her father is an abusive jerk who seems to hate her.

I’m really not sure how to feel about the Fat Crackers sketches. On the one hand, they features things I find genuinely funny and subversive, like the trainer’s absurd suggestions of how people can “easily” add movement into their everyday lives (0.30 in part 6). Mandi occasionally reminds me of Will from the delightful but short-lived Huge in that she’s a fat positive rebel in a fat-hating system. In the last episode, everyone at fat camp has actually gained weight and it causes “the demise of fat camp”, which they celebrate as a victory. The celebrity weight loss expert who runs fat camp complains that he hates fat people, and the fatties cheer.  I love that bit. It shows EXACTLY what is lurking behind the caring helpfulness facade of weight loss reality shows. For all the “experts” and trainers talk about wanting to help poor fat people live better lives, I really see nothing but contempt for the participants in the way these shows are produced and marketed. If they really believed extreme weight loss was the only way to save these people’s lives, rather than the way to make money via their exploitation, then competition and elimination would not be part of the process.

But on the other hand other characters in Fat Crackers (especially Mandi’s father, the voice-over narrator, and the head trainer of the camp) are constantly cracking jokes about Mandi eating everything (usually animals, for some reason?) and her father’s constantly hateful comments are definitely played for laughs at Mandi’s expense. In the first episode the father makes what seems like a joke about her eating the family cat, and then in the last episode it’s shown that she actually really did eat the cat, and then ate the new cat as well. I mean, WTF. Is this a hipster sizeism thing about how hilarious it is that people would make such wildly offensive assumptions about fat people?

Ultimately it’s hard to work out what, if anything, these sketches are trying to say. They’re mocking weight loss reality shows like The Biggest Loser in a way that demonstrates a pretty critical view of received ideas about weight(loss) and health. But they’re most certainly – regardless of intent – mocking fat people as well. And that does colour my perception of the Fat Mandi tshirts. The sketches from The Wedge were on (Australian) TV six years ago, and the promotion of the tshirt line this year has been on the coattails of Pitch Perfect rather than The Wedge, including references to Fat Amy jokes like “horizontal running”, but the tshirts are clearly a spinoff from Fat Mandi and not Fat Amy. The donut shirt is actually one of Wilson’s costumes from The Wedge (she’s wearing it as a nightie in part 9 of the Fat Crackers sketches) and she also wears another shirt with a single cupcake in the same style as the cupcake shirt while playing Fat Mandi.

Having said that, it can be a powerful strategy for an individual person to put a barrier between themself and fat jokes by highlighting their own fatness and embracing fat stereotypes, and there are lots of fat activists I know who do this sort of thing as well, famous or not. Check out But What About Your Health and the #obeselifestyle tags on Twitter and Tumblr. But is it potentially damaging for fat women in general when one of the few figures who “represent” us (ugh, ugh, ugh) in the public eye appears to be playing up to stereotypes about fatness rather than defying them?

Perhaps. I’m really not sure what the answer to that is, because I, like Rebel Wilson, am in on the joke. But yes, these sorts of jokes can make non-fat people think it’s okay to laugh at fat people, when the jokes aren’t really for them (it makes me think of a great tumblr post by agnesgalore I recently read, about white people and race-based comedy. It’s not the same thing, but you should read that post anyway). But I’m inclined to resent the suggestion that individual fat women have a responsibility to be fat in the right way if they’re famous, to be “role models” of fatness. And I also resent the way the Fat Acceptance community’s sometimes frantic desire to distance itself from fat stereotypes throws those of us who embody some (or many) fat stereotypes under the bus. While I would love to see more fat characters in TV and movies (in general, but also) who are like Sookie StJames – fat incidentally, and not as a key part of their character – I am concerned about the implication in demanding ALL of the fat characters be like that. The implication that fat people only deserve civil rights and freedom from abuse if they don’t make fatness look bad, if they are not too lazy, or too uneducated, or too interested in eating. Only if they’re inoffensively, prettily, quietly fat and eat all their vegetables. A fat woman who hates exercise, didn’t graduate from high school and lives on welfare in a trailer park eating nothing but fast food deserves civil rights just as much as a fat career woman who grows her own vegetables and runs marathons for fun on the weekends, because she’s a human being and shaming her for any of those things is wrong.

Of course, there’s another reason not to like the Fat Mandi tshirts. That reason is the size range, 12-18, and the thin models wearing the shirts on the photos page. What’s the point of a fat clothing label that most actual fat people can’t wear?

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Thin People Problems

A straight-sized friend of mine who has an interest in fashion and always looks fabulous recently posted the following link on Facebook. The article advocates a curated or “capsule” wardrobe as an antidote to the problem (caused by so-called “fast fashion”) of having a huge collection of average, mismatched clothing items and never knowing what to wear, which seems like a cool idea. The thing is, I’ve never had that problem. The article states:

The ability to access fast fashion has grown at a rate faster than Zara have been able to open their 1,700 stores. Comprehend that figure and add to it the an imaginary figure of just how many stores there are for other fast, fashion-foward brands such as H&M and you realise that fast fashion, and the dream of the massive wardrobe that it enabled with an affordable price tag, is now commonplace. It’s not just available to everyone, it is everyone. – Fashionising.com

But Zara doesn’t make clothes in my size. Neither does H&M, not even in their plus size and “Inclusive” collections. The line between “fast fashion” and “high fashion” is blurry and indistinct in the plus size world, because the plus size clothing industry is so much smaller and the options for fat shoppers so much more limited, so even items that have the quality and lasting value of fast fashion (i.e. not much) are often priced like high fashion.

I find this whole concept of the overflowing wardrobe fascinating. I’m a size 26-28. My wardrobe is “curated” in the sense that there is nothing in it I don’t regularly wear, but that’s because it has to be, because shopping at my size is an exercise in frustration and careful planning. Because plus size clothing is expensive in general and hard to find in my size, I can’t afford to ever buy something that I don’t know I can wear straight away. I don’t have drawers overflowing with skirts and t-shirts and random bits and pieces that don’t go together because I simply never buy them; not because I’m a particularly clever or stylish shopper but because I have about fifty dollars a month to spend on clothes and accessories (including underwear and shoes) and if the item is not something I can either wear on its own or immediately mentally slot into an outfit with pieces I already have, I do not buy it even if I adore it. I just can’t guarantee that I will ever be able to find anything else affordable and in my size that I can pair it with. There simply isn’t the same variety, even of perfectly ordinary basics or disposable knockoffs, in size 26/28 that there is in, say, size 12.

Do straight sized women really have this problem of trying on multiple outfits of a morning and not being able to find one that “works”? I always thought that was just in the movies, not the lives of real people. For the most part, me deciding what to wear for the day or to a particular event involves picking a dress and then accessorising it or, more often than not, putting on one of my three pairs of shoes – two black, one white – and just going with it.

I’ve got about ten day dresses now, far more clothing than I have had at any other point in my life, thanks to internet shopping and staying the same size for several years (this is the first time in my life I’ve been a consistent size for more than a year at a time, thanks to previously either being young and still growing, or being on or off various weight loss diets). My dresses are all variations on a theme – high waisted, stretchy, knee-length and usually A-line, although a few have straighter pencil-style skirts. This is because that style suits my shape, and it’s pretty much the only option in plus size clothes other than sleeveless empire-line maxi dresses, swing dresses and bodycon. I’ve got three cocktail dresses (two of them are the aforementioned swing dresses) and one ball gown, so if it’s a formal style event it’s fairly easy to choose. I imagine most women my size – actually, most women in general – probably don’t own a ball gown, but I do actually go to a formal ball once every couple of years. Plus my mum bought it for me.

I’ve also got three or four jackets and cardigans, which keep me warm or extend the wear of some of my dresses to a more corporate type context, graphic t-shirts, mostly bought from clubs I am in, a black three-quarter-sleeve stretchy top I wear exclusively for choir performances, and two skirts, one black and one leopard print, both long and stretchy. The black one has a hole in it and needs repairing. Then there’s a lot of leggings, some tights and socks, two bras and a bunch of underpants. I have quite a bit of cheap costume jewellery too, because it’s an easy way to spice up an outfit without spending much money or having to find the right size.

It is a capsule wardrobe. There’s nothing I don’t wear regularly (apart from the ball gown) and no pieces that don’t currently fit into an outfit of sorts. I don’t think of it as a luxury, except in as much as being able to buy new clothes at all is a mark of privilege. To me, being able to buy something without working out where it would fit in the collection would be a luxury. My “curatorship” of my wardrobe is the resourcefulness and care that comes from caring about clothes at all when you are fat. It’s a necessary response to the dearth of options out there for people like me, not the result of me being more stylish than other people or having the resources to make more of an effort in planning my wardrobe. Like plenty of other fat women, especially those of us who are 26+ and sized out of even many plus size collections, I simply have no option but to make an effort. And I’m lucky enough, though it seems hilarious and horrible (horrilarious) to say it, to have more options than just “baggy black” – if I were any bigger than I am now, my “capsule wardrobe” would probably be entirely long black skirts and baggy black tunics unless I made the clothes myself.

So no, a massive wardrobe full of fast fashion isn’t “available to everyone”, even if you are only looking at the financially comfortable middle-class. And a smallish, carefully selected collection of clothes that has no redundancy or frivolous items isn’t luxurious and special for everyone, even those of us who do care about fashion. For some, it’s just how clothing works.

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Hogwarts for the Fat Chick

One of my relaxation techniques is listening to audiobooks.  At the moment I’ve been (re)listening to Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter books.  They’re delightful!  His reading voice is both soothing to listen to and engaging at the same time, and he does all the voices 🙂  Another thing I like to do to relax is put together imaginary outfits, not just coveting individual items of clothing or jewellery but composing looks I might put them together in if I had an infinite wardrobe.  Polyvore is fun for that.  To bring the two things together, this afternoon I’ve been listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and composing outfits out of plus sized women’s clothing based on the four houses of Hogwarts.  I thought they might be fun to share!

For the most part, they should be possible to replicate in the real world if you want to track down and buy all the individual items (Polyvore gives links direct to the items where possible, and I think everything but the snake necklace has a link).  Feel free to share your own fantasy outfits, Harry Potter inspired or otherwise, if the whim takes you!

Hufflepuff

Top
46 AUD – evans.co.uk

Boots
125 AUD – evans.co.uk

Charlotte taylor
270 AUD – coggles.com

Badger of Honor
49 AUD – etsy.com
Slytherin

Sequin top
63 AUD – evans.co.uk

Biker jacket
100 AUD – evans.co.uk

Jeans
46 AUD – evans.co.uk

Ankle booties
62 AUD – evans.co.uk

Earrings
12 AUD – evans.co.uk
Gryffindor

Top
42 AUD – evans.co.uk

Legging
22 AUD – evans.co.uk

Ankle booties
87 AUD – evans.co.uk

Ravenclaw
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Childhood Memories, Fashion and Play

A grainy photo of me at five years old, a round faced, pink-cheeked white girl with brown hair standing in front of a classroom blackboard. I am dressed as an angel in a voluminous white tunic-style robe with gold tinsel tied around my waist and a wreath of gold tinsel on my head.

When I was little, my mother used to find things in op shops that I could play dress ups with. Costume jewellery, hats, a frothy lace wedding dress with a long veil, and once a truly thrilling find: old dance costumes that had been discarded by a calisthenics troupe. There were three, white, pink and yellow shiny lycra leotards encrusted with rhinestones and adorned with floaty chiffon skirts. The yellow didn’t fit me, but was donated to my best friend and we got hours of play out of them. I loved jumping and twirling and dancing in them, feeling the skirts drift around my bare legs and watching the rhinestones sparkle.

I’ve always been drawn to the sparkly and frilly and lace-covered things in life. If an outfit is covered in ruffles and encrusted with glitter, well so much the better. When I was a five years old and begged to be allowed to take ballet lessons, there was nothing that filled me with more delight than trying on costumes for the clumsy concerts we performed to adoring parents and sitting to have thick stage makeup applied by the mothers who volunteered to chaperone us back stage. When we had been in the class for long enough, we were allowed to graduate from the little sheer skirts that went over our leotards to big frothy blue tutus with fabric roses sewn to the waist. I would take any excuse to put on my tutu and bounce around the house, loving the drama and theatre of it, feeling for all the world like a real ballerina.

There are many treasured clothes and accessories remembered from my childhood. The pink and white party dress I got for Christmas one year, that I insisted on wearing at every opportunity. The plush koala handbag that was lost at a shopping centre and replaced with an almost identical bag that was, nonetheless, never the same. The rustling plastic grass skirts brought home by my parents from a holiday to Dunk Island. The Minnie Mouse ears on a headband from our trip to Disneyland when I was seven and the I Love Lucy t-shirt (with its enormous red glitter heart) picked up at Universal Studios on the same holiday. And when remembering America, one mustn’t forget the 1950s rock-and-roll outfit from the hot rod show; a frilly white top and pink skirt with a poodle appliquéd onto it, complete with a matching pink scarf, puffy petticoat and and elastic belt with a big gold buckle in the shape of a poodle. There’s still a photo of me on the desk in my parents’ lounge room standing on a paddle steamer in Louisville wearing the poodle outfit and grinning fit to burst.

As a chubby, somewhat awkward and occasionally weird kid, having clothes that made me feel fabulous was thrilling, because I felt dumpy and a bit embarrassed a lot of the time. Slightly too tight bottle green uniform bloomers under a netball skirt that cut into my belly made PE even more uncomfortable than it usually is for a not terribly coordinated fat kid. Our school dresses were short and I just could not get the hang of sitting with my knees together, constantly flashing my floral undies to all and sundry. During a period of bullying during grade three, I have a vivid memory of launching into a panic attack at the prospect of having to find something suitably cool to wear to a free dress day at school. My poor mother carted me around the shops for hours until we found the perfect outfit and I felt devastatingly grown up in my cream coloured leggings, brown oversized t-shirt with SPORTSGIRL emblazoned across the chest and cream scrunch socks…until I got to school, saw all the other girls were wearing floral sundresses, and realised I’d hopelessly misjudged the fashion of the day.

These aren’t universal experiences, but I think a lot of women – and other people too – can probably recall vivid emotionally charged memories to do with clothes they loved or hated or longed for when they were kids. I’ve been reading a book called “It’s So You: 35 women write about personal expression through fashion and style” (you can find it here on The Book Depository) and it’s full of stories just like mine. The essays within touch on fat, feminism, wrangling with one’s own gender identity and politics and the painful, awkward experience of growing up girl in a world where everyone has an opinion on what you should wear and how you should look. They tell stories about the authors using clothing as children and teenagers to explore their identities, to try on new ones, to try fitting in and standing out, to test out being grown up and what it might mean to be a woman. It really brings home to me the power of clothing and bodily adornment in our lives as a signifier of so many different things, and as a vehicle with which to not only express but explore, play with and try on identity and gender.

Today, more and more, I find myself injecting that sense of play into my fashion choices. Dying my hair outlandish colours, switching between – or co-mingling – the elegant and the crass or tacky, finding new parts of my body I can adorn with nail polish or makeup or jewellery. I enjoy making merry havoc with the “rules” of fashion for fat women, and while I am still usually presenting a high femme version of myself – with my cat’s eye eyeliner, squeaky giggle and flippy blonde hair if not with the clothes I’m wearing at the time – it is fun to mess around with how I feel and how others see me depending on what I’m wearing. Putting on makeup and picking which necklace to pair with which dress almost always feels like putting on my Girl costume, and I like it that way.

Do you remember any treasured – or loathed – pieces of clothing from your childhood? Are your memories of clothes and accessories as vivid and charged as mine? I am curious to hear how different this experience is for people who are less femme than I am. Perhaps fashion has been particularly salient for me because it is one of the ways in which it is “acceptable” to explore and flaunt a high femme identity, but I suspect clothing and adornment are significant (perhaps in different ways) to those who aren’t femme and/or aren’t women as well.

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Hey Fatty and Friends Plus Size Vintage and Recycled Fashion Fair!

I spent Sunday at Hey Fatty’s Plus Size Vintage and Recycled Fashion Fair, a part-market-part-festival body positive afternoon featuring stalls of second hand, vintage and vintage-inspired clothes and accessories for sizes 16+  I’ve got to say, I’ve only had access to fat-positive shopping and clothes swapping events for a couple of years now, and I absolutely LOVE them.  The sense of camaraderie and community from being in a room full of fatties who love fashion as much as I do, people feeling safe and comfortable enough that even among total strangers they can shimmy down a catwalk or strip off in the middle of the hall to try on a shirt, or waltz out of the change rooms to show off how smoking hot they look in this dress/bathing suit/bondage skirt…it’s fucking amazing.  It makes me feel all glowy.  Melbourne’s fat positive community is growing all the time and I’m so excited to be part of it.

Anyway, I took some photos at the fair, met some awesome people, and got a sneak peek at Gisela Ramirez’s upcoming collection, which I want to share with you!

The Chub Republic stall at the Hey Fatty Fair, two racks of colourful clothes and rad Chub Republic fatties Kate and Jackie striking a pose in the middle.

I was on duty at the Fair with Chub Republic, helping to staff our stall to raise funds, as the sign says, for rad fatty events in Melbourne.  Chub Republic is a collective of fierce, unapologetically fat folks working to build awesome fat community through events and general awesomeness.   So far, the Melbourne chapter has run clothing swaps, began fat burlesque troupe Va Va Boombah, and brought Aquaporko – fat femme synchronised swimming team extraordinaire! – to Melbourne.  When we heard about Hey Fatty’s fantastic fashion extravaganza, how could we not get involved?

A brightly lit church hall with polished wood floors, a vaulted wooden ceiling and windows along both side walls. The room is full of tables and racks of clothing, and people milling about.

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