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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Monday, 6 November 2017

In My Skin: Fashion and Fat (a guest post by Katie de Long)

Today I have a guest blog from Katie de Long!

In My Skin: Fashion and Fat

One of my favorite things about fashion is its capacity to highlight the individual in a way few other kinds of self-expression can. The industry has its problems, but for many, fashion can be something that helps them stay afloat in a hostile world, be they a gay cis man, or a fat trans woman.

But with increased eyes on the fashion industry thanks to the body positivity movement come additional pressures. As a fat woman, your desireability and sexuality is in question constantly: you’re desperate, you have no self-restraint, you’re lazy, a host of other judgments. Because of this, for fat women to assert their sexuality through fashion is something that may be needed to reclaim professional stature, or simply to feel that they can look at themselves in a mirror. But this presents a problem, since the most common way of “proving” their worth in a thin-centered world is to hype up their figure and sexuality in a way that thin women do not necessarily have to. We’re on board for fat women- so long as they still have a waist that appears nipped-in compared to their hips, and so long as their weight is carried in an evenly distributed manner, rather than in rolls or cellulite.

This is a problem. It saddles fat women with extra time spent on grooming, extra money spent on clothes that are priced proportionally higher- particularly vintage-inspired clothes that highlight the beauty in curves but that are considered “specialty”, or are priced up due to the additional detail and tailoring of the patterns, compared to drapey, minimalist clothes, simply in order to prove that they aren’t “sloppy” or tasteless. And this exacerbates classist problems that tend to affect marginalized people more strongly. That hourglass wiggle dress might make you seem more ladylike to your boss... but for a black person, would their boss have thought they were unladylike in the first place?

It causes a host of other problems, too, in that it may force people to perform femininity in a way that is toxic to them. Many survivors of childhood sexual assault grow up to content with eating disorders- including compulsive overeating- and many even see the additional weight as a way of rendering themselves invisible to the male gaze that has treated them so violently. By forcing these people to wear tight clothes for their professional or personal advancement, society may be forcing them deeper into dysphoria, or unhealthy mental triggers.

I don’t say that to say it’s always the case. I often joke that my style is “fuck-you femme”, because for me, exaggerated sexuality and performative femininity is liberating. It says that I don’t have to change myself to please people- who cares if my clothes are “frivolous” or “high maintenance?” It says that I deserve to experience my womanhood without gendered violence- something that’s crucial to me as a rape survivor- and without the pressure to hide my womanhood to obtain the benefits we afford those with “masculine” traits. I’ll bowl you over with a list of my achievements if you dare imply that my taste speaks ill of me as a person. My fuck-you femme clothes are a shorthand for the unbelievable pain and soaring pleasure of being a woman.

Many trans or nonbinary people, too, are haunted by these ideals- by sexualized clothes that are not intended to highlight their body shape, by ideas that say that a butch trans woman must not “really” be trans, to present so “masculinely”. Put simply, the idea that fat is okay, so long as you still prize your desireability in the right ways still amounts to a subtle tax on fat people who exist in public spaces. Women already spend more time and money on grooming and presentation, and the growing percentage of fat or obese women who nevertheless must gather goodwill and authority through their fashion choices only weights that balance further.

We’re all individuals, completely unique in how we relate to the world, each other, and the fashion we adorn our bodies with. And in that light, body positivity has quite a ways to go before it’s truly expanded fashion’s inclusivity.

Katie around the internet:
Katie's Facebook Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/696177510494600/
Katie's Twitter: @delongkatie

Friday, 3 November 2017

In and Out of the Closet: A Fat Girl's Personal Style Journey

Content warning: this article deals with body image issues that may be triggering for some readers. Discretion is advised.

I am a member of the Disney Generation. This is hardly a revolutionary claim or point to make, but for a fat femme girl, who's also bisexual, it comes with invisible baggage and fears.

 Full skirts, improbably round breasts, delicate waists, paneled gowns, shimmering fabric, vibrant colours, and jewels shaped my idea of not only desire, but also royalty. Studying history from a young age, I saw rich fabrics, precious treasures, embroidered and lined gowns, and I admired it. Drawing endless pictures of dresses and gowns, often with surprise cut-aways and deep decolletage, I both desired them and wanted to be them. Formal garb was both my ambition and my most secret hope, but it was also something I believe impossible for myself. 

Fat girl life

My mother's body image issues left a deep impact on me, and readily transferred over to my own. I had always been sort of tall, but wished I was taller. Hating my muscles and fat, seeing the curves as proof of a lack of fitness - I didn't grow up within a corset, or with bound feet, but the cage and constant pressure of the BMI chart was just as strangling and hobbling.

In the 90s and 2000s, flatness and muscle and bones were the beauty ideal. I used to daydream about surgery and liposuction and waking up with a body that moved, looked, and felt different. For years, I tried to get by on 1000, 1200, or whatever number of calories per day would work - inevitably failing when encountering food, of course, or when sabotaged by my mother, who'd encourage me to 'live a little' and eat a salty or sweet treat, caving in to her own cravings. But soon, it'd be back on the wheel of nagging to exercise, not for the joy of movement, but to deal with the shame of my flawed body. 

  In this way, I spent my teens and a good portion of my twenties - trying different techniques to shed stubborn pounds that were as good as nailed to my flesh - due, unbeknownst to me to hormonal imbalances. I learned to like certain things, and aspired to climb buildings and corners and walls and roofs, assuming that only by losing weight could I attain those literal high hopes. 

At the same time, in the back of my mind, fashion and clothes I liked were often weighty. Elegant layers, oversized cuts, voluminous skirts, corsets swooping in to hug a waist I didn't think I had - these were things I associated not with femininity alone, but with being regal, imperious, and respected. Later, I became intrigued by swooping, voluminous clothes - Jedi robes, Amidala's gowns, even oversized boxy cuts in music videos. Finding ways to mingle these elements with layers has led to an unexpected but perfect style intersection for me.

#outfit #selfie #clinic #spoonielife

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I stopped confining myself to things I 'could wear', and started experimenting with revealing my skin, taking inspiration from slimmer models as necessary and trying out a variety of looks. Overly modest circle skirts, sarongs with jeans underneath, a million skin-tight black turtlenecks, black and white tiered skirts, fishnets and lacy patterned tights, steampunk leather corsets, knitted sweaters and business-like skirts. Eventually, I achieved a more defined and coherent look, featuring cocoon sweaters, leggy wrap dresses, layered corset-cut vests, flowing circle skirts, and oversized scarves - where I'm at these days. Older style elements make their way into clothes, but I dress with more deliberation, strategy, and joy these days, not seeking to hide my shameful corpse under oversized tie-dye t-shirts and baggy jeans or in ill-fitting and suiting button-up shirts. 

The personal is political - pencil skirts included

I've hit a point where I can not only incorporate a variety of influences, but I receive social praise for my skills in doing so. I've begin to feel like I inhabit my own body, that it is not broken, ugly, or in need of repair. The vibrant body-positivity movement has helped this immensely. Then I saw this

At first, I simply ignored it, because I didn't understand it and couldn't relate to it. But after talking about it with a friend, a sort of Pod People-like realisation snapped over me, and I considered that yes, most fat women ARE dressing according to this code. Pretend it's 1950 or face a return to the same old standards and shames. In my retail days, I had to wear carefully coiffed and chosen outfits and makeup, while my very tall, slim manager wore pilling sweaters and got not a word of criticism about it.

Chatting with my friend Katie de Long, who is also both a ferocious feminist and enthusiastic fashionista, I was dismayed and alarmed by the through-line of this pattern. In her words [edited slightly to remove my part of the conversation],

"...There are societal biases that make it MORE needed for fat women to prove their femininity.
No one ever thinks of the "hot curvy girl" as being draped in loose, structural clothes.
They see her va-va-vooming in a waist-training corset and full face of makeup. Anything that "erases" the figure or the curves is seen as undesireable, even if it fits properly and is well-tailored.
I think another thing is that plus sized women are trained to hide their size. We see Christina Hendricks or Amy Schumer's curves as being desireable.... so long as they're in a close-fitting pencil dress. 

But I do admit I'm pretty prey to that shit too. I avoid wearing loose clothes, wear things too tight rather than too lose.... and get really sexual, lots of cleavage, short skirts, slit-up-to-there, etc. I love exaggerated shapes. So I've always hated really drapey clothes, or close-fitting clothes that don't highlight the figure (fuck you, leggings).

Plus, and I know this is victim-blamey, my first semester of college featured a police officer advising the girls in the freshman class to NOT wear loose clothes because it's easier for a rapist to get them off, even without scissors.
So for me, when I wear loose clothes, I have really nasty panic attacks about the idea of someone peeling them off me without my consent. When I wear tight clothes, I feel confident, that they'll have to use scissors, which is more likely to give me an opportunity to either get away, or seize the scissors and take out an eye. As well, my style's fuckyou femme, so for me [as a rape survivor], I feel like my gender and the violence I've suffered because of it is erased when I put on loose, minimalist designs."

What to wear?

At the end of the day, even though clothing choices are fraught with danger and hidden signalling that can be hard to understand, finding a way to express oneself through attire can be very important. From talking to my nonbinary "enby" friends, I've gotten even more insight into this. What strikes me as funny and maybe even uplifting is that my experiences with feminism and trauma have taken me in a circle. Instead of pretending to be a man, or having no identity at all, or seeing my childhood dreams as unattainable, I've been able to make my innermost desires come true.
There's an old saw idea that feminists are ugly, hairy, unconventionally feminine, fat, and basically undesireable. But taking back a sense of inner worth has given me the tools to fight my inner ugliness, wear makeup without feeling as though I'm faking something, and stop hiding my inner exuberance. There is freedom in ugliness and invisibility, and a merit to reclaiming or defying constraints - but at least for me, there is more joy in this new, permissive ground.

Ultimately, I hope that my experiences can make people feel a little better about their own secret desires and hopes. A lot of hay has been made about how 'style has no size', but there's still fierce debate about 'who can wear what'. But simply wearing what one wants isn't as easy as it sounds, and takes time. If you need it, take this as official permission to try out that thing, regardless of your gender. You are not 'too old' or 'too fat' or 'too thin'. 

You are enough. 

And it's okay if it doesn't look right at first. What matters is that your clothing expresses who you want to be. 

Additional reading:

A Nigerian designer using fashion and style to explore feminism and self-expression

Information about the cost of existing in a female body and/or having periods and breasts

The ways we judge women and how it affects their careers 


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