In a world where people are judged by their appearance, and fat people already have one strike against them, where do fat people who are unconcerned with fashion fit in?
I grew up in the 90s, when grunge reigned and unkempt was cool.
In high school my "look" was Weird Girl Who Wrote Poetry And Had Strong Opinions, and my fashion inspo was Death from Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics. (Think dark purple hair and eye makeup that featured ankhs predominantly.) I was poor, so the whole grunge thing was a real lifesaver-- I could buy second hand flannel and ripped jeans and still fit in enough that people didn't talk when I couldn't afford makeup and hair dye. I stopped wanting to stand out as much when my family was homeless, but was grateful that I created a persona that wasn't expected to fit in. And on top of all of that I was fat--of course not as fat as I thought I was, but definitely large enough that I couldn't have found the "cool clothes" in my size even if I could afford them.
Like a lot of fat people, I have spent a large chunk of my life concerned with falling into the "fat slob" category--because we all know that fat people are acceptable only if they are neat, tidy, and well dressed. I mean at least you are making an effort (sarcasm). To be honest, it is definitely easier to be well dressed as a fat femme now. Stores like Torrid, Premme, and Universal Standard are great and I really wish I had those options when I was going out all the time--being a sexy fattie was hard y'all.
At this point in my life I am pretty lo-key in my style and dress. I am a minimalist--clean lines, little to no embellishment, and my color pallet is generally black, gray, navy and olive green with an occasional pop of color. I am five feet tall and super fat--so it is really hard to find anything that looks remotely taylored at a reasonable price. I usually end up buying whatever is cheap and fits, lately that has been Old Navy.
I have been shopping for more new clothes recently. Most of what I brought with me from Hawaii is falling apart and I have nothing suitable for a Toronto fall, let alone winter.
The area of Toronto I live in is fairly fashionable, men wear posh suits and women stomp down the PATH in stilettos like it's NYFW. And it is giving me anxiety. I have experienced more anti-fat microaggressions in my 9 months here than I have had to field in the past 5 years in Hawaii. Assumptions about my education level, relationship status, and profession have left me tired, and I am falling back into my old fears of being a "bad" fattie.
First let's unpack that idea. As marginalized people, we have all dealt with stereotyping-- and in many ways either are defined by it or in opposition to it at some point in our lives. You are not allowed to simply exist and be a multidimensional person, but often are reduced to caricatures, or instead told how "different" you are because you don't fit into one. A lot of us internalize that--which is why true body liberation comes from not from falling into or fighting stereotypes, but instead dismissing them from our decision process. Which is much harder than it seems (discussion on doxa to follow at a later date). [Note: If you are experiencing this as a cisgender or white fat person, please remember this is what most IBPOC and gender non-conforming people deal with constantly--and practice empathy or better yet, activism.]
I definitely still have issues with this particular stereotype at times, and for me it is really rooted at the intersection of fat and poor, two marginalized identities that sit at the core of who I am (in reality they are not really rooted to my weight or income at this point, but are basic parts of my personality). They both fall into the larger meritocracy myth that fatness and poverty are all about bad choices, sloth, and slovenliness.
"My first, unprocessed thoughts usually follow this vain, and it takes mental and physical energy to process them through my critical-intellectual-reflexive filter, so if I am stressed or tired they often fly under the radar and I catch myself thinking shit I know to be untrue."
Intellectually I know that the idea of meritocracy is a lie, and that"personal responsibility" is the phrase the dominant culture uses to justify why they have so much and marginalized people have so little in comparison. BUT, it was what I was taught from a young age, and internalized. My first, unprocessed thoughts usually follow this vain, and it takes mental and physical energy to process them through my critical-intellectual-reflexive filter, so if I am stressed or tired they often fly under the radar AND I catch myself thinking shit I know to be untrue about myself and others. It's easier for me to catch myself thinking shit thoughts about others and correct them than about myself.
So for me this begs the question, do I try to fit in to lower my anxiety? Do I keep trying to do my own thing, despite the judgements and aggressions (micro and otherwise)? Well, luckily I don't have to pick one--none of us do.
It's easy to say, just don't care, but we are literally raised and indoctrinated to care what the larger society thinks about us. It is painful and takes energy to work on shedding our doxa and socialization--more than we can sometimes give. The path to body liberation isn't a straight one. We all have bad, negative, and sensitive days--these do not negate all the hard work we've done to love and accept ourselves.
Today I rebel. I wear my tank top and capris, sans makeup. Tomorrow I do what I can.
What is your experience? How have you dealt with fat beauty standards? Where are you on your journey to body liberation? Comment below.
Besides being an amazing book, Jes goes into a discussion about about fat women hyper-femininity that really spoke to me.
The Fat Best Friend (or #fbf) episode, has a great discussion of the acceptable fattie in popular media.