Musician and designer Beth Ditto was one of the first fat women I ever saw naked besides myself. Her now-legendary covers for NME and LOVE Magazine presented me, and who knows how many others, with images of an unapologetic fat babe who wasn’t ashamed of her rolls or wobbles or cellulite. In 2007 and 2009, respectively, this was a rarity. There were few mainstream voices, if any, telling us that it was OK to be fat. There certainly weren’t many telling us that fat could be beautiful, powerful, desirable, bold, or successful, and doing it all while being visibly and proudly fat and wearing some of the tightest, most metallic lycra jumpsuits you’ve ever seen. Before “body positivity” went mainstream in 2015, before game-changing bloggers like Gabi Gregg or Nicolette Mason or Callie Thorpe, there was Ditto.
In late 2015, Ditto announced that she’d be launching an independent collection the following year. But in the interim, she released this T-shirt dress in collaboration with Jean Paul Gaultier (a design house that is actually one of the most inclusive on its runways). The image is clearly striking: That of an hourglass, feminine, corseted chest and abdomen.
On the opposite side, we can see the back of the corset, with actual laces that can change the fit of the garment depending on how tight or loose you want it to fall. The boobs are pointed, and the whole thing feels like an image of a femme robot living in fearlessness of its sexuality. But more than all that, I think this plus size piece is a metaphor.
A lot of fat babes are taught that inside them lives a skinny woman waiting to come out: She is happy, she is “healthy," she is confident, she is sexy. So many of us live our lives striving to ~help~ her come out. We diet, we binge, we purge, we buckle, we tuck. But we don’t have to. And that’s what I feel this image represents.
Thinking back to my childhood self, my teenage self, my early adult self, I mourn for all the time I lost striving to be different, not to mention the harm I put my body through, all in the effort of helping Skinny Marie crack the surface. The thing is, there isn’t a “thin woman within us all.” Yes, you can lose the weight; you can shed the “excess,” but at the end of the day, unhappy people tend to stay unhappy. And the number on the scale very rarely changes how we actually feel about ourselves.
That’s one of the infinite things diet culture — and our culture at large — doesn’t tell you, though. Everything is promised to us if only we make those “lifestyle” changes. “When I’m thin, I will travel. When I’m thin, I will lose my virginity. When I’m thin, I will be beautiful. When I’m thin, I will love myself. When I’m thin, everything will be better.” That was the running dialogue in my head for years, and I know it’s the same for a lot of fat humans.
The truth? You don’t need to shed any pounds to start feeling good about yourself. You don’t have to shed any pounds to find romance, have brilliant sex, build a great platform or career, or to deserve acceptance. You just have to make a conscious effort to disregard beauty standards and societal sizeism. You have to look at all the mainstream visuals you’re being presented with — all the entertainment, magazines, movies, television shows, advertisements — that only celebrate one primary body type, and confront the absurdity of that. You have to look around you IRL, acknowledge the reality we live in (one where bodies come in all shapes, sizes, skin colors, styles, races), and question why the hell we only see the white, the thin, the cis, the able. There is no justifiable reason for this exclusion, of course. So there’s no reason to cater to it or mold your life around it.
To me, this dress is a direct confrontation to all the so-called rules and social guidelines that tell me and other fat women that we have to transform. I am fat, I love my fat, and that’s the narrative I want to live in. The petite individual's frame depicted on this T-shirt dress symbolizes the fact that I don’t have to look like her. She might be close to the status quo in terms of mainstream aspirational beauty tropes. But she is not me. Me is fat. And me doesn’t have to be anything otherwise.