Tag 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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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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Fat and the “Unhealthy Role Model”

I enjoy using Pinterest to find new plus size items, labels and stores and to share my favourites with other fatties. I have a Pinterest wardrobe a hundred times bigger than my real clothing collection, but I have actually bought things I first saw on someone else’s clothing board, been inspired by outfits, makeup and creative accessorising I’ve seen on Pinterest, and pinned things I liked which I later went back and bought (and reviewed on my board).

But you can’t go a day trawling through the plus size pins without seeing something like this:

“Kaitlyn Jenkins: I love this, but I hate heart disease and diabetes. It’s a shame girls are growing up in America thinking they can live healthy lives although they ultimately can’t.”

“Gelynne Smallwood: Hmmm… I don’t hear a bashing going on, but a reality check. Eventually the extra weight takes its toll on the body leading to disease. I agree she is a beautiful girl, in a beautiful outfit! But the reality of carrying extra weight catches up with you eventually. But until that woman can figure out how to shed some of her excess, kudos to her for workin’ it and looking gorgeous!”

Notice how Gelynne manages to turn a compliment for “a beautiful girl in a beautiful outfit” into a concern troll about how the “extra weight” will “catch up eventually”? She doesn’t hate fat people! She’s just worried about this poor model (whom she has never met and probably will never meet) getting sick!

Forgetting for a moment that the science about fat is not a simple matter of a specific fatness threshold tipping us into inevitable disease and premature death, why is this sort of discussion relevant to a picture of a plus size model on a pinboard dedicated to “Beautiful Plus Size Fashion”? Why do people feel like it is necessary to remind fat people that they believe (rightly or wrongly) we are at risk of disease, in the context of admiring fashion designed for fat women? Remember, we’re not talking about a post exhorting readers to spend all day on the couch eating nothing but deep-fried cheeseburgers for a year, this is an image of a fat model in a plus size dress. There is no indication of her habits or medical stats (except that she’s a bit fat, of course). As another commenter pointed out:

“Bex Loudmouth: Kaitlyn, this whole supposed ‘role model’ thing is making me mad. No matter you’re health, size, height, skin color, you need clothes. Not to mention, none of those things effect whether my currency is any good.”

Even if you believe that every fat person is minutes from death at any given time, surely you must agree that they need clothes to wear – and are fair game for companies who want their money – in the brief window of life they still have left?

I think the issue that is really behind these comments is hinted at when Bex mentions “role models”. The idea that a women is obliged to act as a suitable “role model” for other women from the moment she is photographed and her image is displayed publicly is a bit ridiculous. But fat haters are afraid that if fat people have attractive, well-dressed, confident and happy looking role models to identify with, we will start to believe that it is possible to be attractive, well-dressed, confident and happy while still remaining fat! If fat people have stylish, nice looking clothes to wear that give them an opportunity to take up and participate in fashion trends, they might start to actually like the way they look! As plus size fashion (as opposed to simply plus sized clothing) becomes more and more available and plus size models and celebrities become (however slowly) more visible, fashion’s power as an incentive to make us diet is beginning to wane. And we can’t have that.

So in the face of fat women starting to like the way they look, and starting to dress unapologetically and joyfully in bright colours, prints, tight stretchy fabrics and fashion forward styles, the attack must shift to a focus on health.

Ah, health. It’s such a curiously vague concept when you really look at it closely. What does “healthy” really mean? Free from disease? Free from physical or psychological impairment? Those definitions are a bit of a problem for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, and besides, many clinically “overweight” or “obese” people are currently free from disease or impairment and we are told unequivocally that fat is unhealthy. Free from the risk of disease or impairment, then. But then nobody can ever be truly healthy, since anyone can fall victim to an illness or injury, anyone may have the potential for illness or premature death hidden in their genetic code, or may be unlucky regardless of the steps they take to maintain a supposedly healthy lifestyle. Elite athletes, people we often praise as role models for good health, are at risk of injury all the time and are frequently impaired for long stretches by sports-related hurts.

The reality is that “health” is a socially constructed concept that changes across historical periods, cultures and individual beliefs. That doesn’t make it meaningless, but it does make it rather problematic to use it as a measuring stick against which to test the worth of individuals.

A friend of mine once suggested to me that health – whatever we may define it as – is useful only in so far as it allows us to live the lives we want. The things we want to do (or not do) and the way we want to feel determines the extent to which the pursuit of healthiness is important to us. Some want to run marathons, play wheelchair basketball, hit home runs. Some want to bake the perfect sponge cake, paint landscapes, go for leisurely walks. For one person, wearing a size six might be more important to them than eating cake, whereas for me eating cake whenever I feel like it is more important than being a certain size. Neither is wrong, but our desires for our own lives are relevant here.

Personally, I know from experience that being a supposedly more healthy weight than my current weight involves a lot of work. Previously I considered that work worth doing. I thought about food and how much or what I was eating constantly, I spent hours at the gym and I endured physical and emotional pain, and at the time I enjoyed the results and believed they were worth the sacrifices I was making (and they did feel like sacrifices to me, although they don’t to everyone). Whether or not those results included a reduced risk of heart disease or cancer (both of which are in my family history anyway) is impossible to know. But my priorities, and what I desired from life, changed. I found that I did not want to do the things I had to do to attain and maintain that lower weight for the rest of my life. I found that there were other things I wanted to do more, and I found that the “sacrifice” of being fat no longer felt like a sacrifice to me.

I will not know if my decision to stop dieting forever has doomed me to heart disease until I either get heart disease or die of old age. And if I ever am diagnosed with heart disease, it will be hard to say whether my fatness or the eating disorder of my early twenties or simple genetic predisposition was “responsible”. I’m okay with that. I would like to contend that, on an individual basis, health statistics don’t really matter unless they are actually important to you individually.

You may argue that fatties who get heart disease will go on to use your! taxpayer! dollars! to access treatment, and so their healthiness (meaning their willingness to undertake behaviours that may or may not change their individual likelihood of developing a disease) is your concern. My response would be that – my personal belief in a right to free healthcare aside – the majority of fat people are themselves taxpayers, and are surely just as entitled as any thin person to access the fruits of their taxpayer dollars.  I have private health insurance, myself, and don’t tend to use public healthcare much anyway.

What about fat people who diet stringently, successfully reduce their weight and get heart disease anyway? Or born-thin people with heart disease? Perhaps you would only bar those who live “risky lifestyles” from getting medicare-funded treatment for heart disease. In that case, should people who use mobile phones be turned away from brain cancer treatments? Drivers barred from the emergency room when they are involved in car accidents? We won’t need sports medicine any more, since athletes are well aware of the risks involved when they strap on a pair of running shoes. Surely you agree that these people, just like wilful fatties, are taking up valuable medical resources that should go to the blameless sick people who bear no responsibility for their illnesses!

Well, heck, maybe you do. I don’t, though. I think the health imperative in Australian society, and its increasing use as a weapon against fat people (not to mention other marginalised groups, which often overlap), is a problem. And health – whether it’s current lack of illness or statistically lower risk of illness in the future – certainly shouldn’t be a determiner of whether or not people deserve nice clothes.

But in the interest of fairly documenting the risks of fatness, I’ll leave you with this particular gem from the Pinterest comment stream:

“Rachel Jones: For every extra pound of fat, your body has to produce 400 miles of extra veins. This DOES tax the cardiovascular system. Is she beautiful for who she is? Sure! Everyone is. Is she overweight? Maybe so. Is obesity a problem? YES. I’m on a weight loss journey myself, so I don’t say these things lightly.”

Gosh. That would tax the cardiovascular system, wouldn’t it? It’s a wonder my heart is still beating at all.

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OOTD: Hello Spring!

The last couple of days have made it clear that spring has well and truly sprung in Melbourne.  It’s the kind of weather for breezy maxi dresses, picnics in the park and walks along the beach.  It seemed like a good day to try out a new spring jacket and some neon!

Me (a fat, blonde white woman) doing a selfie with a big smile on my face. I’m wearing neon yellow eyeshadow and a necklace of neon yellow and gold skulls. A little of my white short-sleeved jacket and black scoop neck dress can also be seen. There is a camellia bush in the background.

I am enjoying the current neon and metallics trend SO MUCH.  I wish more plus size designers would pick up on it.  For now, makeup and delightfully silly accessories are doing the work for me, alongside simple neutrals.

Full body shot! Me striking a slightly awkward pose (outfit photography is hard!) wearing a black maxi dress and a white cropped jacket with short puffed sleeves.

How cute is this jacket?  I often find City Chic is hit and miss when you are a size 26/28, as officially they only go up to 24 in stores, but this fits me like it was made for me in the XL.  Plus I just love the puffy sleeves.  This is going to get a lot of use this spring and summer, I can tell.

A close up shot of my necklace, a gold-coloured chain with five skulls strung on it, alternating neon yellow and gold.

Dress: Kmart, last summer
Jacket: City Chic, current season
Necklace: Diva, current season
Eyeshadow: The yellow from this BYS compact
Shoes: Ziera X-ray

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