25 February 2016

I Don't Know What We're Afraid Of Now

For most of 2015, I neglected this blog; my little corner of the Internet, but I'm hoping to jump back in, if that's cool.

Late in 2015, I sat in a body positive panel with Ushshi of Dress Carcass. There, she urged the audience to remember that their dollars matter. I know it's incredibly easy to swipe your credit card at all those fast fashion brands selling five items for the price of one, but only using size 12/14 models in their supposedly inclusive photo shoots, but it's perhaps far more helpful to issues of body positivism to support the independent brands doing things right. The brands that care about listening and giving visibility to plus size women. The brands that aren't just co-opting "body positivity" because it's a buzzword, but that live and breathe all the industry changes we're supposedly fighting for.

I see small brands like Smart Glamour (a one woman show founded and run by Mallorie Dunn), that manage to make sizes XXS through 6XL (not to mention custom sizing), and it baffles me that multi million dollar corporations claim it's just too expensive to extend their ranges. So I made a decision this year when it came to fashion, which was to only purchase from the brands that give a shit about me, and my fellow fat fashion lovers of all sizes, shapes, and styles. When my budget allows, this might mean buying one rad skirt instead of three striped tees and a knit cardigan at H&M. But if I'm supporting folks who believe in equal representation — without exceptions, disclaimers, or subjective plus inclusion — then I'm all for it. I wanted to start with Ready To Stare.

I've had the pleasure of working with writer and designer Alysse Dalessandro at Bustle for about a year now, and she's a constant source of inspiration to me. She wears whatever the hell she wants, she designs whatever the hell she wants, and her fat activism never feels feigned or altered to fit into any mainstream, cookie cutter idea of body positivity. And in November 2015, she broke the Plus Size Internet.

It wasn't a nude selfie or fatkini photo that did it. It was a dress — the Convertible Cupcake Dress/Maxi Skirt. If you want to read a fascinating account about the polarizing reactions this dress caused online, I highly recommend reading her blog post on the subject.  My take is sorta this. 

For decades, plus size women had very little in the way of available, stylish fat fashion. What we did have usually consisted of baggy, boring silhouettes designed to hide our every curve — but possibly decked out in some oversized flowers or rhinestones seemingly meant to distract from the fact that we had no real options. See below.



The principal sartorial "rule" for plus size women was simply to hide their bodies at all costs, because who in their right mind would want to see those rolls or know there was a fat human in their presence?

But there's always been this other "guideline" of sorts that proves just how contradictory beauty standards are. Fat women should do their damnedest to "flatter" their figures. They must cinch in at the waist, push up the boobs, show off the booties, and look as hourglass-perfect as possible. If we're going to insist on being fat, then we must at least all be fat versions of Marilyn Monroe. 

I love that so many fat women, myself included sometimes, show our bodies love through form-fitting, rule-breaking outfits. I love that we rock two-piece bikinis, bodycon dresses, mini skirts, and crop tops in constant acts of subversion. I'm thankful for that, and the bravery I see in so many women who show off their fat despite the fact that we're still living in a time when fat people face biases in the medical community, increased likelihood of conviction, minimal representation in any media, impacted earning potential, and ongoing trolling simply because they don't exist in a body deemed conventionally acceptable and attractive. But sometimes I wonder whether our desire to present unapologetically has meant we've forgotten the importance of variety and choice.

To me, the liberation of plus size fashion has always been about options. In the world of "straight size" style, women between sizes 0 and 12 have what feels like almost unlimited access to clothes. If you want an oversized, minimalist, athleisure-esque silhouette, you can probably find it. If you want a form-fitting mini in a bold print, you can likely find that, too. The same isn't unfortunately true for plus size women.

When Alysse released this dress/skirt hybrid, some people were pretty mad. They accused her of "setting plus size fashion back." And of designing something highly "unflattering." Little did they know that designing an eff you to "flattering" was precisely her intention.

This dress was a symbol. If it had been worn on any runway or red carpet by a thin woman, it likely wouldn't have received the deluge of criticism Alysse got (á la Rihanna's cupcake dress). She created an option — an option for any fat woman who loves baggy silhouettes but doesn't feel like she's entitled to them because they won't shrink or hourglass-ify her body. This was an option for those who love unconventional cuts, but who have never had those kind of runway-weird selections available in their size. She created an option that bridged the gap between straight and plus just a little bit more.

I'll admit that I sometimes have an internal struggle with garments that aren't body-hugging in some way. Maybe it's partially because I'm Colombian, and was taught that highlighting one's curves is life-important. But also, I genuinely care about breaking all those other supposed rules that say fat women should hide their bodies. Subsequently, I feel kind of weird when I wear things that could be associated with the "dark days of plus size fashion" (like, pre-2011) and the very crummy selection we once had — mainly, really baggy cuts. But today's baggy cuts can also be some of the comfiest cuts, and very cute in their own right. It's a weird cycle.

Even after delving into the worlds of body positivism and political fat fashion, I sometimes forget that we're allowed to wear whatever the hell we want, no matter our size. 

This dress/maxi skirt (which I'm first wearing as a skirt, obviously, but plan on styling in dress form soon) helped me confront any lingering plus size fashion "rules" I was harboring, and it felt lovely to wear (also, it had pockets!). I've always been someone who loves to experiment with playing dress up in different ways, and it was just the piece to remind me of that.

I paired it with Alysse's "I'm Morbidly Obsessed With Myself" tee. Clinically, I fall somewhere in the middle of regular old obesity and morbid obesity, leaning more towards morbid obesity on a good day, so I know it's not 100 percent factually accurate (not that it would mean anything if it was. BMI isn't the "thing" we're so often taught it is). But the message is one so bold and close to home that I couldn't help but fall in love (plus, it was designed as a direct confrontation to health trolling on the Internet, which I can obviously get behind).

I love the image of the selfie-taking fatshionista who's totally feeling herself. I think women are often scolded for being "vain," but that's always translated to "loving yourself too much" in my mind. We're not often taught to love ourselves. We just aren't. And I think that's even truer for people who are further marginalized for things like size, race, abilities, or identity. To me, being publicly "vain" when you're plus size and showing love for your body isn't about trying to convince the whole world that you're attractive. It's about lifting yourself and other plus size women up. It's about elevating the levels of self-respect that social norms condition us to believe we deserve (because, you know, we're conditioned to believe we deserve none).

Fat women aren't really supposed to love themselves. Not until we lose weight. Not until we're prettier. Not until we're "healthier" and just... "better." In actuality, we're allowed to love ourselves at any weight. We're allowed to love ourselves regardless of beauty standards. We're allowed to define our own standards. 

Openly showing yourself some self-love in whatever way feels right seems important to me. Women and girls should know that the "norm" shouldn't be to hate our bodies. The norm should be to love ourselves so much that we decorate those bodies however we want, take as many selfies as we see fit, and treat ourselves to whatever "indulgences" bring us the most joy. There's no shame in being "vain." It doesn't mean you're arrogant, or secretly look down upon those around you. It just means that you've decided to live in peace with your body.

Finally, I paired this look with the Lucy Layered Chain Belt in Gold. I've never worn a chain belt before, but I'm smitten. It's the definition of a statement accessory.

The statements are what I love about all of these pieces by Alysse, and her entire collection TBH. Maybe this cupcake dress isn't "flattering" if we're talking about conventional-beauty-standards-flattering. But why should plus fashion be only that? 

I love that this dress wasn't designed to "help" make the wearer look smaller. It doesn't care about "slimming" properties. It doesn't pretend not to have a kitschy, gaudy side. It just wants to break some rules. 




7 comments:

  1. "Fat women aren't really supposed to love themselves. Not until we lose weight. Not until we're prettier." This is it right here; this line is exactly right. Thank you!

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm glad it resonated with you <3

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  2. Glad to read your blog again and I am loving your out fit. The skirt is so cute. But yeah this whole fat shamming thing is annoying. I just mind my own and let that stuff go over my head. You will never be right for Society and. I one is trying to be. I love the cupcake dress. I have something similar and I love how free I feel and that's what matters how I feel. People should learn how to stay in their own yards I say. Again it's always something.

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    1. Thanks so much for commenting. Definitely agree that folks should learn "how to stay in their own yards," but I think that with the evolution of social media, many people feel like they can intervene and comment on the lives of others with no real consequences. That's why I always think of things like Twitter as equal parts blessing and equal parts a curse.

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  3. I 100% agree with you on everything in this post, but I feel like there is something important that repeatedly goes without acknowledgement in discussions about fat fashion. That's the simple fact that as much as many women would dearly love to drop a hundred bucks (or more) on a gorgeous garment from an indie label... many of us can't. For many fat women, their only options are budget mass-produced brands, because they have to clothe themselves on a mere fraction of the budget that it would require to shop at indie brands.

    When you say "I know it's incredibly easy to swipe your credit card at all those fast fashion brands selling five items for the price of one", you need to understand that for many women, it's not easy at all. We don't want to, but that's the only option we have.

    I do hear a lot of people saying "But one quality item is going to last you so much longer!" The thing is, using myself as an example, I need more than one quality item. I need clothing for seven days a week, five of those days for my workplace. I can't wear one gorgeous dress five days per week. The reality is that I have to have at least five outfits, more when you factor in the changing seasonal climate of where I live, for work, every week. Even the best quality garment is not going to stand up for very long to being worn and laundered once a week (if not more).

    We also need to acknowledge that statistically speaking, fat women are underpaid and under-employed in comparison to thin women - so it's a double whammy, we're often paid less but our clothes cost more.

    So, while I would dearly love to stock my wardrobe with indie labels (I swoon at Ready to Stare and Chubby Cartwheels) it's just not possible. There need to be more options everywhere!

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment, I really appreciate you taking the time.

      As with women of all sizes, I understand that there are many fat women who can't afford a $100+ splurge at an indie brand. This post was definitely operating under a certain level of privilege, which I could've certainly inserted more disclaimers about.

      Truth be told, I can't really afford certain indie brands either, unless I make cut-backs elsewhere. But for me, it's something I'm willing and (sometimes) able to do. And I feel thankful for that, because fashion isn't just pretty clothes for me. It's also a means by which I can talk about my politics.

      It's not that I hold any judgment for folks shopping mass produced fast fashion, of course. I certainly still do myself when I need something and don't have the budget to get it anywhere that isn't F21 or H&M. But that's why I mentioned that "when my budget allows," I want to try my best to support the indies because they support me. They support fat activism, and that's something I care about deeply. And I hope that those who do have the certain level of economic privilege it would take to support the indies from time to time can be more mindful of the importance of that. I suppose that's something I was trying to get across in those graphs.

      I definitely can't afford to make enough indie purchases to last me for every single day of the work week, which is why my wardrobe consists of a variety of price points much like most humans. But in terms of what I want to celebrate on my personal platform, that's mostly going to be the indie brands if and when I can. Big brands like Lane Bryant and H&M don't really need my support. They have money, they have huge platforms, they have millions of customers. But SmartGlamour, Ready To Stare, Chubby Cartwheels, they need customer support.

      Just in case, some more inexpensive indie brands I reccomend for plus are Rebdolls and the sale sections of pretty much any others, like Chubby Cartwheels, Re/Dress, ASOS (granted, not an indie anymore), and Zelie For She (awesome sales about every 4 months or so).

      In terms of the institutionalized discrimination of fat people, I 100 percent am aware that size discrimination affects everything from healthcare to rates of conviction to wage. It's something I write about frequently in my journalistic work. But I do hope that as the liberation of plus fashion continues to be discussed in intersection with all of these issues, more options across the board will start happening. We need fast fashion price points, we need mid price points, hell, we need plus couture for people interested in high fashion who are also fat (I am sure they exist). We need everything, and I agree that we don't have it yet. But I have to hope that'll change in time. And hopefully I'll be around to see it.

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