I was chatting with a coworker about rainbows today. (It’s a long story.) The end of the conversation was, essentially, me saying that sometimes I like to dress to piss people off – I like to use color and texture and certain pieces of clothing really aggressively to provoke reactions.
That falls into line with something I’ve been thinking about lately – the way that fat women are expected to dress in ways that are ostensibly minimizing but that, in reality, are really about us occupying less visual real estate. No bold colors, no stripes, nothing that would ever make us look bigger. It’s not that some of those rules are genuinely about looking slimmer – it’s that we draw less attention to ourselves when we comply with fashion rules. We occupy less space, metaphorically if not physically. We minimize ourselves for the comfort of other people.
It reinforces the sense of shame we’re supposed to feel because of our bodies, until we police ourselves.
People get angry when we deviate from these rules, not just because we AREN’T FOLLOWING THE RULES, but because it makes them take notice of us. When we refuse to fade quietly into the background, people have to register not only our presence but the space we take up as valid – there’s no imagining that we aren’t there, that we aren’t taking up more than one seat on the train, that we aren’t noncomforming and unashamed of it.
As I’ve discussed here before, I’ve always dressed funny – but when I got really into fat acceptance, I started dressing really aggressively. Not necessarily in a sexy way (though I definitely had my fair share of outfits that played into that). Rather, I dressed in a way that was a deliberate attempt to provoke response. I do that with color a lot – both by wearing bright colors and by wearing colors that don’t “match”.
I wear ugly clothes, with great deliberation. I’ll also wear stuff that is considered “tacky” with great delight – at some point I’ll finish putting together a roller skating outfit that incorporates high-waisted shorts, bright tights, and some kind of top (I’m not sure what I want this to be yet – maybe something with a bow). And when I wear it, people will be horrified.
People will be horrified by clothes.
How ridiculous is that, y’all?
I’m a nonsexy-dressing femme for the most part. Heteronormative goals of “sexy” aren’t usually part of my repetoire even when I’m wearing something low cut (which doesn’t happen all that often anymore, for some reason). But clothes that draw attention, outfits that aren’t designed to disguise my bulk? HELL YES. I have no interest in blending in. I have even less interest in catering to those who wish my body didn’t exist.
Every now and then it will hit me with a hardness just how much some people hate fat bodies. Sometimes I’ll step back and be a bit more quiet while I take care of myself. But generally, I pull out the red lipstick and the largest hair possible to wear with a tight dress. Because, while I often put the comfort of other people before my own, fuck that.
I wonder if this is why so many radical fatties dress in ways that could be described as ostentatious. My fat friends who are more conservative, not through body shame but just because they really like khakis and the like, don’t see as much representation – maybe it’s because their preferences, which are totally valid, can sometimes align with the clothes the rest of us are rejecting as a strange sort of costume.
There’s also a double standard, I suspect. Because people often comment on my outfits like they are outrageous when they’re really quite tame. The only thing remarkable about my habit of little grey dresses is that I FOUND so many little grey dresses in my size. The bar is just set a lot lower. “Oh,” people say, “that plus-sized woman is a snappy dresser” – because my clothing coordinates.
Visibility is, of course, one powerful way toward normalization – though more and more I hate the word normal these days. I just don’t think it exists for most people. And so I reassert that clothing and style can be radical acts of political rebellion. When we make people SEE US and acknowledge not only our presence but our requirement for space, we are refusing to conform in significant ways, the effects of which ripple out into the rest of society.
Being visible can be dangerous. And so I don’t think it is an obligation for anyone to become actively visible in their community or, you know, at the mall. I don’t think anyone needs to deny their own personal preferences (though it is always worth considering what motivates those preferences). But I want to say this: I NOTICE YOU. I SEE YOU. I SUPPORT YOU.
And I dress to be seen as well. Not only because I am not ashamed of my body but because I will not be ignored for the comfort of people who aren’t used to seeing fat bodies in a positive light. I don’t often directly challenge people – I think that’s kind of coercive and what works for me might not work for you. But I want to challenge y’all this time: just think about it. Think about the ways we blend, the way we accommodate those who hate us. Think about your own comfort zone and ways of making yourself safe. I think we just need to think.
And, you know, maybe wear brightly colored horizontal stripes. But that might just be me.
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