Fatsronauts 101: Permission to Dress

[Content Note: Fat hatred; weight loss talk.]

Last week, Ana Mardoll tweeted some very nice and humbling things at me, which I am sharing with her permission:

Afterwards, we were talking about the narratives that discourage many fat women from wearing colorful or form-fitting or revealing clothes. Or whatever kind of clothes a fat woman might want, but doesn't, as a result of cultural narratives about fat bodies, feel she deserves.

Like, for example, the narrative that fat bodies are meant to be concealed as much as possible. Covered in fabric, lest we offend other people with the sight of our fat flesh; and in loose fabric, lest we offend other people with the outlines of our fat shapes; and in dark, neutral, solid colors, lest we call attention to our fat selves and offend other people by directing their gazes at our fat bodies.

By email, Ana wrote (also shared with permission):
I had this idea that I couldn't wear colors because, as a fat person, I wasn't supposed to stand out and draw attention to myself. I was wearing drab colors as camouflage. But not because I WANTED to (or even because it WORKED as camo), but because I think I sort of felt like, as a fat person, I should be neither seen nor heard.

And it wasn't working (because people still SEE ME, obviously) and it just made me miserable to always wear these dull things that didn't bring me any joy. But I felt like I HAD TO because if I wore bright pink then people would see me and I'd be VISIBLY FAT. Fat while visible.

And then I wore bright pink and the world didn't end. :)
Now, of course there are fat women who prefer to wear dark, neutral, solid colors because that's their aesthetic preference (I love me the fuck outta some slate grey!), and I don't want to even inadvertently suggest that a fat woman in a black dress (for example) could only be wearing that dress because she doesn't feel like she can wear anything else.

The point is: Fat women can and should wear whatever they damn well please. This post is about and for the fat women (and men, and genderqueer folks) who don't feel like they can wear whatever they damn well please, because they're fat.

I've been that person. For years, I was a fat woman who didn't feel like I could wear bright colors or horizontal stripes or prints, or anything even remotely form-fitting. Everything I owned was at least two sizes too big. I moved through life swimming in a sea of drab fabric and ill-fitting garments, feeling disinclined to even get a sharp haircut or attempt make-up, because what was the point?

The sole nod to self-expression was my shoes, which were always funky and fabulous. I looked down at them instead of looking at the world, this little part of me that held out from complete capitulation to the idea that I didn't deserve more, shouldn't expect more.

Well. Things have changed. I have changed.

I just can't be arsed to give a shit anymore if someone doesn't like the way I look, or the way I dress. I have to care more about ensuring that I like the way I look, and the way I dress. I have to expect more for myself.

* * *

Last May, I wrote a post called "Permission to Live" about the pervasive and pernicious idea that fat people have to keep our lives on hold until we lose weight.
This war on fat people kills people. And when it isn't actively trying to literally eliminate us, it's discouraging us from participating in the world, from being visible, from living.

It's telling us we have to lose weight before we start dating, before we go sleeveless, before we take that dream vacation, before we ask for a promotion, before we buy a bike, before we get tattooed, before we sign up for dancing lessons, before we splurge on a beautiful dress, before we get the haircut we really want, before we go the doctor, before we go to the gym, before we set a wedding date, before we have kids, before we even think about doing anything wonderful that fat people don't deserve.

It's telling us to lose weight before pursuing our dreams. It's telling us to lose weight before wearing a bathing suit. It's telling us to lose weight before "knowing real love and real fear, walking naked in the winter snow and in the summer tide, playing like a child, thinking as a martyr, making love to a stranger, tasting sin and purity at the same moment in time, being as a lamb in a den of wolves." (Whut? I know.) It's telling us to lose weight before living the life we want to live.
This idea underwrites the intensely discouraging narrative that fat women must lose weight before we can buy and wear clothes we love.

(Unless, of course, they're "inspirational" clothes—items purchased in smaller sizes to "motivate" us to lose weight to fit into them. Gross.)

We do not have to wait for permission from some vague arbiter of our bodies to wear the clothes we want to wear, the clothes we've been told we shouldn't wear.

We do not have to wait to lose weight. What if we never lose weight? What if you waited your whole life to wear exactly the kind of clothes you wanted to wear, because you waited your whole life to lose weight that was never going to be lost?

Would that we were all as worried about the lifetimes fat people lose waiting to feel they deserve to dress the way they want, as we are about fat people losing weight.

I don't care if you lose weight. I care very much if you lose time waiting to feel like you deserve to dress in things that bring you joy.

* * *

I want to say that I know this isn't an easy thing to do for everyone. There can be a real risk to being a visible fat person. It's not always just as easy as switching out your shapeless black cardigan for a fitted cerulean shrug.

Making these sorts of changes invites scrutiny, and it can mean fielding unsolicited comments about your appearance, which can be difficult to navigate, even if they're positive comments, for someone who has a deep association with policing or bullying and comments on their appearance.

Sometimes, drab dressing is a survival strategy. And that's okay. If you feel safer wearing clothes you'd rather not wear, all things being equal, that's a legitimate choice that I wish you didn't have to make. No one should feel obliged to try to make themselves invisible to avoid harm.

It's just not for me that I try to be colorfully visible. It's also for you.

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