So, last week necessitated another round of "Fat Bodies: How the Fuck Do They Work?" on Twitter, in response to an article that disappeared some realities about fat bodies for lots of fat women. (I'm not going to link to it, because fuck that and it isn't the point of this post, anyway.) That discussion led to a tangential discussion about plus-size clothing, and the expense and lack of fashionability thereof.
As I noted on Twitter, plus-size clothes that are affordable, fit well, and also cute are so rare for me that I call them the Haley's Comet of fat clothes.
I've been participating on Twitter in Veronica Arreola's very cool #365FeministSelfies project, which I've mentioned a couple of times. Following that discussion, I decided to make yesterday's selfie a pic of (part of) my outfit I'd worn out to a show the night before, accompanied by information on where I'd gotten the individual items, all of which I love:
Comic skirt by Torrid; red rights by We Love Colors; black MaryJanes by Söfft.
The skirt I got on sale (Torrid's online shop regularly has good sales, so it pays to wait if you see something you like), and the shoes I got using a gift certificate Space Cowboy and Space Cowgirl got me for my birthday one year, but 6pm is a good place to find cute sales at discounted prices. Yay!
Lots of fat women struggle to find cute stuff that we like in our sizes. I routinely get emails from other fat women asking where I shop for bras, or where's a good place to buy plus-size coats, or where did I get that sweater or those shoes. I know lots of fat women who want their clothes to be cute as well as functional.
And it's easy to say, "Well, why do you want to conform to fashion trends defined by an industry that is hostile to you, anyway?" but let me just repeat myself:
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.There are, of course, fat women whose lives are structured so that they don't have to concern themselves with looking fashionable, or would sooner risk being discriminated against than play a beauty game that fat women will always lose. And that's okay, and I don't want to invisibilize them.
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.
I get treated completely differently at a $20 hair salon if I'm dressed up or dressed down. Two totally different experiences. I get treated differently at the doctor's office, and at the emergency room. I can't go to the ER in sweatpants, because I'll get shittier treatment. In an emergency, I have to worry if I am dressed up enough to prove that I deserve respect and care.
And there are fat women for whom conforming to that shitty game as closely as possible is a critical survival tool, and I don't want to invisibilize them, either.
Lots of us straddle both worlds—there are spaces in which we can move looking however we want, and spaces in which we can move where having our full humanity recognized necessitates presenting an image of self-care and self-investment to other people.
And, no matter where a fat woman falls on that spectrum, her ability to comply with cultural expectations is contingent on her financial resources, her skills to make or alter clothes, her particular body shape, access to plus-size retailers, and/or whether she sizes out of even most of the "plus-size" lines, among other things.
There's a lot of shit with which to contend, and every fat women's individual context is different.
To that end, I'm starting what will be a semi-regular thread in which fat women can share pix, make recommendations for clothes they love, ask questions of other fat women about where to locate certain plus-size items, share info about sales, talk about what jeans cut at what retailer best fits their body shapes, discuss how to accessorize neutral colored suits, share stories of going bare-armed for the first time, whatever.
Crucially, I want fat women of all sizes, especially women who find themselves regularly sizing out of standard plus-size lines, to feel welcome in this conversation, and I want no judgment to be levied against fat women who feel obliged, for any reason, to conform to beauty standards.
Have at it in comments! Please make sure if you're soliciting advice, you make it clear you want suggestions—and please be considerate not to offer unsolicited advice. Sometimes people just need to complain and want solidarity, not solutions.