Friday, 18 November 2016

Fashion for Good and Evil

Biscuit doesn't care about flatteringAlysse Dalessandro is the designer, entrepreneur, and general badass behind Ready To Starea body positive clothing company that sells clothes from small to 5xl all at the same price, using diverse models.  In short Alysse uses fashion for good – for empowerment and size diversity activism, and encouraging people to find and rock their own personal style, which is awesome.  She posted the following picture to Facebook, highlighting some wide-calf thigh high boots she found that her readers had been requesting.

Alysse 1.png

Because she looks so damn fierce, this post got shared around Facebook.  And that’s when it ran into people who use fashion for evil. When I say evil, I mean people who use fashion to put other people down,  judge other people, and try to enforce body-negative, anti-fat stereotypes of beauty, including and especially using the coded concept of “flattering.”

We tend to see these comments, well, basically anytime a fat person posts a picture of themselves wearing an outfit that isn’t all black and designed to be “slimming.” There are lots of ways that people make this mistake – and it’s a mistake that’s encouraged by a fatphobic culture – so I thought I would take some time today and dissect one of the comments that managed to commit all of the mistakes at once.

I’m a big girl myself and I think those boots are horrible and way too tight, I understand embracing plus size etc but them boots and the whole style makes me feel uncomfortable. It looks so unattractive. But I suppose as long as she’s comfortable and happy that is all that matters.

Let’s break this down:

I’m a big girl myself

Internalized fatphobia is real.  It happens when fat people live in a fatphobic society and accept the opinions and messages of their stigmatizers, bullies, and oppressors as valid. They take this to the next level when they choose to become a stigmatizer, bully, and oppressor by engaging in anti-fat sentiment, like this comment. Often they aren’t even fully aware of what they are doing or how it hurts people because fatphobia is modeled so ubiquitously in our culture as normal.

Consequently,there may be plenty of fat people who are willing to participate in fatphobia, but that doesn’t make fatphobia any more valid, or any less oppressive and wrong.

I think those boots are horrible and way too tight, I understand embracing plus size etc but them boots and the whole style makes me feel uncomfortable.

At this point I want to remind you that Alysse captioned her picture “Since everyone always asks where I got these boots – I found some similar ones!”  and did not caption it “Please take this opportunity to direct your fatphobia (internalized or otherwise) at me.”

Sounds like maybe this person doesn’t “understand embracing plus size etc.” It’s ok to choose to wear clothes based on whatever your reasons might be.  It’s ok to dislike someone’s outfit, but there’s really no need to say (or write) it out loud, unless you feel that it’s important for you to vocally police other fat people who refuse to bow to the strictures of diet culture and/or choose to dress differently than you.

If someone’s outfit makes us feel uncomfortable, that might be a good indicator that it’s time for some self-work, not a Facebook comment. Either way, if someone doesn’t ask for our negative opinion about their outfit, there is literally no good reason in the world for us to give it.

It looks so unattractive.

Again, if we don’t like it, we should feel free not to wear it, but let’s not pretend that we are the arbiters of what is and is not attractive.  And let’s not forget that “attractive” is another coded word that, when used about fat people, all-too-often means  “slimming” or “making one look as tall and thin as possible.”  What is and is not attractive is subjective, so unless there is a ceremony appointing us the judge of attractiveness (and if there is, I would hold out for a glittery gavel) our opinion of what is attractive is a great way for us to decide what to wear, and has nothing to do with what other people wear.

But I suppose as long as she’s comfortable and happy that is all that matters.

Note that the person feels free to criticize the outfit and call it “unattractive” as if that is fact,  but couches this – the only factual statement in the bunch – with “I suppose…”

If the commenter understands this – and I sincerely hope they do –  then they should also understand that there was no point to voicing the rest of the comment, other than to put another fat person down in the service of fatphobia, which is the last thing that we need.

It’s difficult to be live in a fatphobic society, and it’s easy to get caught in the trap of fatphobia (including internalized fatphobia.) So here’s one concrete action we can take: that if we see a fat person wearing an outfit we don’t like, it’s perfectly fine to decide that it’s not to our taste, it’s perfectly fine to take a pass on wearing it, but we can also choose to keep our negative thoughts to ourselves, thereby making sure that we don’t add to the epic load of fatphobic BS that we have to deal with already.

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