Tag Archives: body politics

my ruminations on fa(t)shion february

art by liz landsman: portraits of tangled up in lace, fiery holocaust and yours truly! (click to view larger)

here’s something i never thought i’d say: i’m kind of sad february is over.

as a canadian who lives in a city where the average temperature these days is -12 C and averages 14 snowy days (in a month with 28 days) to say that, that’s really something. i know, i know, march 1st is always this hopeful day where we hope spring is only around the corner.

the reason i was kind of sad one of my least favourite months is over is because it means fa(t)shion february is over. i did it. i participated in fa(t)shion february and i took a picture of every outfit i wore all month long. i didn’t think i would do it either, but i’m an all-or-nothing kinda person. i already i miss the habit of bringing my little camera with me everywhere and sharing my photos with the great community of other participants online. how great it would be to see who reblogged a photo of my outfit, and to have them say kind things about me, and to meet new people through the project. i must say that’s always something i’ve found a bit lacking in tumblr, as contrasted with the long gone days of livejournal communities.

my feb 4th fatshion february outfit

my feb 4th fatshion february outfit

another great thing about the project was that it started conversations i feel we rarely have the opportunity to have. it seems that when someone says “fat” and “fashion” in the same sentence, it has to be a conversation about capital F Fashion in the very capitalist sense. which stores carry which sizes, how it is hard to find clothes that fit a variety of bodies, etc. and then, of course, there’s the beating of a dead horse “we should have women of ALL sizes on the runway/in fashion editorials/on magazine covers” followed by the wonderful comments from high-end fashion designers saying models should be size zero and “clothes hangers.” talk about objectification. those are valid conversations to have, but i feel like we’ve been having them and not gotten anywhere. fa(t)shion february, the encouragement to document our own outfits on a daily basis, put the cameras in our hands and called out to anyone with an internet connection, a digital camera, and a desire to share their outfits with anyone who wanted to look. given that “do it yourself” spirit, the project often helped foster discussions we wanted to have, sharing stories about not only where we bought the things in our outfits, but about the people who gave them to us, what we did when we wore them. it was also a reminder about how empowering fashion can be. for a lot of fat people, simply leaving the house can be a political act in a culture that constantly bombards them with vitriol, where clothing stores tell us we do not deserve to be clothed. that is something that j. bee and natalie both wrote about with great passion (see the links at the end of this article).

of course, the project hasn’t been without its failings. there have been some shitty comments made on more than one occassion from outside voices on tumblr and other websites where news of fa(t)shion february was shared. namely, someone on tumblr reblogging a photo of a participant and engaging in some real messed up body hate, saying “reblogging this as a reminder of why i eat healthy and exercise,” propagating the myth that fat = unhealthy. fortunately, fat acceptance tumblr people took charge and called that person out on her mean-spirited comments and turned into something funny rather than depressing. (the link to those conversations is here)

personally, i only got a handful of curious and borderline “mean” comments. definitely deleted a lot of creepy comments on flickr, but i’m talking about more of the ones that were purportedly about my outfits but ended up being about my body. some were obviously intentionally compliments, from a former livejournal friend and still internet friend: “You are one of those lucky betches that has a long enough torso that you can wear high-waisted stuff.” even though it was meant to be a compliment, i ended up feeling wierd about it… i might be overthinking it, of course, but it ends up feeling like body hate. i hate the idea that only certain body types can wear certain garments and styles. a more common example of this is when “skinny jeans” came into style, and there were far too many body-policing conversations masquerading as fashion commentary, saying that people over a certain size “are not allowed” to wear them. natalie wrote about this better than i ever could, in her great article “you can’t bully me out of my skinny jeans.

even though i only received a few comments like that specifically in regards to my fa(t)shion february posts, it was a reminder of what i disliked back in the days where i would share online outfit photos on a more regular basis. it’s an easy habit to fall into, and one i’ve called a lot of friends and relatives out on when i can have those conversations (online, i feel they often tend to fall flat). saying “that looks nice on you, but i would look TERRIBLE in it,” isn’t a compliment. it’s a compliment and a negative judgement of yourself at the same time. as someone who has a sense of style, i am pretty disappointed when people think telling me “well you could pull of ANYTHING, you could wear a garbage bag and look beautiful” because it negates that i DO have taste and do make active choices in how i want to present myself. buuuut that’s a whole other conversation…

kyla the great's tattoo on her inner arm, that reads FAT

kyla the great's fat tattoo - typography by natalie perkins

now, to answer the more unnerving and delicate questions of “where’s the fat?” and “what size are you?” and of course “why are YOU participating in something called FATshion?” okay, so fine: i don’t identify as fat. i’ve definitely been called fat (but i doubt there are very many young women who haven’t) not to mention been mistaken for pregnant more times than i can count, and have definitely said “i feel fat” or “i look fat” before i developped any sort of critical notions around body politics and/or fatness. to put it simply, i wanted to participate in this project because i liked the sound of it, because i identify as femme, and because jessie dress encouraged people of a variety of styles and sizes to participate if there were a size 4 or 24.

but, for the record, here are the numbers: i am 5 feet, 10 inches and 3/4, or 182 centimetres. according to a doctor’s scale as of feb 1st, i weigh 176 pounds. i’m telling you these numbers, because as a woman i have been told forever that it is shameful to do so (not so different from the culture that insists women over a certain age should never divulge such a thing!) i’m giving you those numbers not for you to better understand my body and the place it occupies in the world, because only i can wrap my head around that. i’m giving you those numbers because i’m not supposed to.

as for the “size” question? fuck that. i hate sizes. always have, most likely always will. if you look in my closet, i have tags that read everything from small to extra extra large, size 6 to size 20. i don’t like to buy new and shop in new stores for a whole host of reasons, but a big contributing factor is that feeling of alienation of trying to find A Size TM. things i know about my body: i’m tall. yes, there are “specialty stores” for tall women, but i never felt particularly “special” while trying to find a pair of pants that weren’t floodpants. 2rejecting what clothing tags purport to say about my body and its worth is one of the necessary steps i had to take in order to feel better about, and IN my own body. so, for the record: i’m not a size. i’m a large-hipped, tall, cute bellied julia.

…I use the word fat. I used that word because that’s what fat people are. They’re fat. They’re not large; they’re not stout, chunky, hefty or plump. And they’re not big-boned. Dinosaurs are big-boned. These people are not necessarily obese. Obese is a medical term. And they’re not overweight. Overweight implies there is some correct weight. There is no correct weight. Heavy is also a misleading term. An aircraft carrier is heavy; it’s not fat. Only people are fat, and that’s what fat people are. They’re fat. I offer no apology for this. It is not intended as criticism or insult. It is simply descriptive language. I don’t like euphemisms. Euphemisms are a form of lying. Fat people are not gravitationally challenged. They’re fat. I prefer seeing things the way they are, not the way some people wish they were. – George Carlin, Brain Droppings

and for those few people saying “but you’re not fat!” as though it’s a dirty word… i have two things to say to you. firstly, as george carlin puts it, fat is a descriptive word. it’s not an insult. unlearn the fat hate propaganda that thin = healthy. secondly, who defines what “fat” is? according to the Body Mass Index (BMI), which has been debunked time and time again by doctors and activists as highly fucked up, yet it still continues to somehow define people’s ideas of who is normal, overweight, or morbidly obese, my body is defined as “overweight.” this makes me laugh. it seems so absurd that a calculation of my height to weight ratio can give anyone an idea of whether or not i am “normal” or “average” or “healthy” weight. when i think about how absurd that feels to me, i imagine it must feel absurd to most every person who is slightly critical about these labels we are constantly trying to impose on bodies. and i’m really happy to have found a lot of people in real life and on the internet who want to deconstruct these things.

I’m fat positive because no matter what size you are, you shouldn’t be ashamed. You shouldn’t have to turn on the TV to see therapists making anorexic women cry, or see trainers shout at and shame fat people. I’m fat positive because I don’t think that anyone else should decide what’s okay for you to wear or eat or do or look like. I’m fat positive because even though no one should be subjected to that, millions of us are every day—and we’re shamed into silence and compliance. – from “why i’m fat positive” at yr welcome

but! let’s not end with the bummer side of things. i have to say my favourite thing about fa(t)shion february was getting to know some of the people who participated. seeing people who are fat and femme and live their lives in all different kinds of places and all different kinds of ways. moms, academics, punks, office dwellers, writers. i felt really lucky to have this tiny window into their lives, via pictures they took of themselves and chose to share with me. i don’t think it was an explicit goal of the project, highlighting the multiplicity of experiences fat people and femmes experience, but i think it’s my favourite aspect of it, personally.

i totally developped crushes on people not only based on what they wore, but what they had to say about what they wore. in one month, i seriously can’t even count how many badass people i was introduced to. but since the whole project was about images, and sharing photos we took of ourselves, it’s only fitting that i share some of my personal favourites. clicking the photo should link you back to the original fa(t)shion february post with all the information about their outfits:

memily's amazing collection of brooches blew my mind. this is her feb 16th outfit.

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