Monday, October 26, 2009

Fat Fashion is a Feminist Issue

Rendering populations invisible is a powerful silencing tool. It is a very handy way to make voices illegitimate, an easy way to discount the powerful truths being uttered by mouths you don’t even have to acknowledge are speaking.

The inestimable Melissa McEwan at Shakesville has written a post about shopping while fat and it resonated deeply with me. Not being able to find clothes that fit is a frustrating and energy consuming and demoralizing experience. Just recently I was trying to find a bridesmaids dress (the only criteria was that it had to be purple) in a shopping centre three-blocks-big that has been hailed since its grand opening as the fashion capital of Victoria. At 95kg and 167cm (I think that’s about right, I don’t make a habit of weighing myself) I can usually fit into the largest sizes stocked by straight-sized stores and the smallest sizes stocked by plus-sized stores. You know what though? Through the whole mall there was only one plus-sized store and it was stocked with only 2 items: strapless empire-waisted colour block dresses (to create an optical illusion, y’know) and shapeless over-large tunics (to hide your awful body, y’know). All the other stores from emergent designers to the names that draw celebrities to front-row seats at New York/Paris/Milan fashion week didn’t have clothes I could even try on. As in the garments were so small there was no chance of it making it past my substantial chest, or over my generous hips – even fully unzipped.

I’m not even that fat.

The bigger department stores embedded in the mall did carry formal wear in larger sizes (16-24) but you know what? They were so sombre and boring and tent-like that even my 72 year-old grandmother would eschew those styles for something that “wasn’t so old”. The message was clear – if you have to wear something you fatty-fat-fat-fat at least have the decency to wear something that hides your fat. It will make you look larger overall, but at least we won’t have to see any offensive jiggle-flesh or whatever it is you actually look like, because we designers actually don’t like to look all that closely. I’m not even inferring this from the styles available in the meagre selection us “bigger folk” get to paw through on our shopping trips. For reference, a quick Google of Karl Lagerfeld’s opinions of fat people (which I will neither quote nor link to, thank you very much) or Anna Wintour’s fabled disdain of fat (ditto).

Hiding us fat people away in sloppy garments is a way to make us invisible. Denying us vibrant colours (black is so slimming, y’know) is removing our visibility. Withholding from us the near-universal experience of a shopping day with friends by turning it into a day fraught with mental-health-minefields limits our social activities.

If you’ve ever sat next to a fat person on a plane or on public transport you would have seen them try desperately to make themselves narrower by folding their arms and pressing their legs together in an effort to not take up too much room – the psychological fallout from the constant messages that we need to hide, be hidden away, that we are taking up more space than we should really be allowed to. Maybe you haven’t noticed. Maybe you’re one of those people that look at the fat person on the chair and think “oh god ewww, I hope I won’t have to touch that if I sit down next to it” and not realise at all that we don’t much want to have our thighs touch yours either, thanks very much. (As an aside, I find the biggest offenders in the you-take-up-more-public-space-than-you-should are the men who sit with legs spread far apart. I’ve always wondered if it makes them feel like they have big penises. If any of you are reading this now, let me just say that it’s not fooling anyone.)

Sure the oppressions fat people face in their daily lives cannot solely be attributed to the dearth of flattering clothing in appropriate sizes. But it’s just one more thing we have to deal with and it’s one more way we’re made to feel invisible, less-than, not worthy of public space.

For more discussion of fat, fashion and being fat at the public, head on over and read the (highly recommended) folks at Fatshionista.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please avoid (1) victim-blaming, (2) justifying any particular instance of oppression/exploitation, (3) explaining that we live in a post-feminist/racist/ablist/enter-oppression-here world, or (4) Mansplaining at all. Barn writers are free to moderate their own posts how ever they deem fit, and not obligated to entertain any comment. If you suspect it might seem offensive, don't comment.

(See our note on comments.)