Seven Scenes, for a Reason

Scene One: I am 17 years old, and a girlfriend and I are shopping for bathing suits. Then a size 18, I know I will have to buy one at a plus-size store; we first go to a "regular" size store for her. We are greeted at the door by a perky saleswoman who asks us what we're looking for, to which my friend replies, "A bikini!" The saleswoman smiles at her then looks at me; the smile drops from her face and is replaced with a look of revulsion. "We don't sell any bikinis, or anything, in your size," she says to me. "I—I wasn't going to shop here," I stammer, my cheeks flushing hot. I can feel tears burning my eyes, and I'm trying not to cry; please, Maude, please don't let me cry in front of this nasty, hateful woman. The saleswoman and my friend are looking at me. One tear slips down my cheek and I quickly brush it off with my fingertips. They both look away.

Scenes Two, Three, and Four: I have my senior prom dress, wedding dress (for my first wedding/marriage), and bridesmaid dress for a friend's wedding made, because, respectively, I couldn't find anything cool enough in my size off the rack, I couldn't find anything sophisticated enough in my size off the rack, and I couldn't find anything period in my size off the rack that matched the other (thin) girls' dresses.

Scene Five: A generic scene, pre-internet, of shopping for new jeans, or a new suit, or a dress for a special occasion, or a bra, or any type of clothing that must fit somewhere on my body other than my head, hands, or feet. I am frustrated by the limited number of stores at which I have to shop. Never able to really find or define or express my personal style with clothes, as I'm limited to whatever's on offer at the precious few chains servicing fatties (most of which I don't like), I purchase "blank slate" clothes—solid separates in mostly blacks, browns, and grays—and learn to work an accessory like whoa. I am all about the OMGShoez and I am unafraid to wear a hat. It is around my neck and slipped on my fingers and gracing my feet that my style shines. Clothes become things that merely cover my body.

Scene Six: Iain surprises me on my birthday by telling me he's booked a holiday for us. There will be swimming on this holiday, which I love. The thing is, I can't find my bathing suit. He says, "No problem—we can just run to [local department store] and get one." I tell him they won't have a bathing suit in my size (28). He tells me of course they will and don't be silly and this is no big deal. We go to the store. They do not have a plus-size bathing suit section. After searching the store, and searching again while Iain expresses disbelief, I am upset—and angry at myself for being upset, since I knew what we'd (not) find (so why am I upset about it?!). Iain suggests I should ask one of the sales staff if they have plus-size suits. I am at a breaking point. I reply, "We've looked everywhere. They clearly don't sell them. If you want to go ask a salesperson only to be told with disdain and disgust that they don't sell suits in my size, you go right ahead. I've had enough." I burst into tears.

Scene Seven: The mall, last weekend. I need a few new things for winter. My old sweaters are getting threadbare. We go to a plus-size store. Immediately upon entering, I feel overwhelmed and anxious. I hate shopping. I hate clothes. The entire process of shopping for clothes brings me perilously close to hating myself. So many of the clothes are cut in ways that don't flatter my body, because they are designed to conceal it. I am reminded at every turn that I am meant to be ashamed of my fat body. We leave. We go to another plus-size store. Everything is too old for me. Iain says, "This is stuff for women twice your age." He's right. My anxiety increases. We leave. We go to another plus-size store. Everything is too young for me. Weirdly, it somehow still all feels the same—and I realize the three stores are all owned by the same company.

They're the only plus-size stores in the area, and I've not bought a single thing. I feel increasingly anxious, because there's a weird, horrible part of my brain telling me that I wouldn't have this problem if I weren't so fucking fat, and another weird, horrible part of my brain telling me that I am a failure as a woman, because women know how to shop. I'm swiping at the fat-hating patriarchal worms in my psyche, telling them to get lost and take their shitty stereotypes with them, and I'm thinking on one hand, "Holy Maude, how much worse is this for fat women who don't have the tools I have to know this is bullshit?" and, on the other hand, "Waaaaaaaahhhhhh!!! It might be bullshit but it still hurts! Get me out of here!" and, on some mutant third hand, "Fuck this store for wanting me to buy fat-masking shapeless sacks and having the temerity to call that fashion, when by all rights it should be called self-loathing on a goddamned hanger!"

Iain watches me bounce around the store like a coked-up pinball. I complain about the cuts of the clothes; I point out how the biggest sizes are the first gone; I grouse that the prints aren't flattering to large bodies; I note the preponderance of empire waists and the lack of diversity in lengths and shapes of clothes, as if fat female bodies are all shaped the same, as if fat women shouldn't even try to make their bodies look good. I'm trying to be analytical, to intellectualize what, precisely, about this experience is anxiety-provoking.

When we get to the car, despite my best efforts, I cry.

Iain says, "The whole thing seems designed to make you feel bad about yourself. I never realized how bad it was." He holds my hand and just lets me quietly feel shitty, until I'm ready to talk.

* * *

These were the scenes that came immediately to mind when I read earlier today stylist Robert Verdi say, when asked what he thought of Ralph Lauren firing Filippa Hamilton for being too fat: "I love fat people because they're jolly."

He went on to say: "I think people of all sizes should be wearing clothes. I don't know if they necessarily need to be photographed in clothes." And "thin is in—who cares?"

The irony that he would talk about fat people being "jolly" in the same breath that he'd talk about fat being unfashionable just struck me so deeply. There are few times in my life that I am less jolly—or more keenly aware of being a fat person—than when I am shopping for clothes.

And I daresay I am not alone.

Nearly every season of Project Runway, there has been a challenge in which the designers have to design for a fat person. Or, worse, where they have to design for "regular people" and one designer gets stuck with one Very Fat Lady, and the entire episode becomes about what a terrible disadvantage it is. I dread that episode. I hate listening to the designers talk about how they don't design for fat people, spitting out the words like poison.

Fat bodies aren't meant to be fashionable, or cute, and they certainly aren't meant to be sexy. They aren't meant to see the sun; every summer I have to listen to someone, somewhere, say with contempt upon spotting a woman who looks like me, or even smaller, wearing something that shows fat arms or fat legs or—worst of all—exposes part or all of a fat belly: "She really shouldn't be wearing that."

Shouldn't. Because being fat is a moral issue.

And if being fat is bad, wanting to be fashionably fat is even worse. How dare you. How dare you look like that and be confident. How dare you look like that and think you're sexy. How dare you refuse to be ashamed of yourself. The indictment is clear, even in many stores that exist ostensibly to deliver stylish clothes to fatties like me.

Except fatties like me don't want those clothes. I am not a box. And I am not going to dress as though I am in order to project the appropriate amount of expected shame for having the unmitigated temerity to be fat.

* * *

Scene Seven ends like this: Later that afternoon, I order what I need from several online retailers. It's always a bit of a gamble, in terms of finding a perfect fit. But the clothes are things I want to wear. They are cut to flatter my shape, not to pretend it's something else. They are the right mix of sophisticated and quirky. They're my style. Neat-o.


[It is a privilege that I was able to afford to buy a couple of new items. I know not all fat women are as privileged. Twice a year, I go through my closet and anything I haven't worn goes directly to Goodwill. No saving for special occasions, no nostalgia, no "I might fit into that again someday." If I haven't worn it, out it goes. I am ruthless, because the selection for fat women at second-hand stores is terrible, probably because so many of us hate shopping so thoroughly that we'll hang onto things until they're falling apart. Charity shops are always especially in need of professional clothes for fat women, if you have anything to give.]

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus