Dressing for Attention, Talking Fatshion With Strangers, and Other Evolutionary Efforts

By | May 29, 2008

I don’t generally get to take it for granted that I can talk to other women about clothes. Because I very often can’t. When a non-plus-size woman asks me about something I’m wearing, the conversation is generally very brief. Oh, I got it at Dowdy Plus-size Retailer, which was quite a surprise, as their stuff is usually… well, dowdy. No, I doubt they’d have it in your size. Thank you, I like it very much. There’s generally a lot of agreement and little actual discussion. Even if the conversation turns toward the whole wow-it’s-difficult-to-find-cute-clothes-in-plus-sizes observation; the Non-Plus aren’t going to debate that. It ultimately becomes a wordy version of a more slender woman saying, “I like your dress,” and me saying “Thank you.”

I tend to think that thinner women get to engage in these conversations with each other more often, and with less hesitation. Oh, this? I bought it at Mammoth Cheapass House of Crap! You can go get one too! Oh yes, I was there last weekend! Did you see that top with the print on it? It was great/awful!

And so on.

When I do get to have these conversations – as I did earlier this month, shopping at Lee Lee’s Valise with some other amazing fat bloggers – their effect on me is impressive and formidable. Though I’m not much one for building relationships solely on shared consumerism, this is still a cultural rite in which I rarely get to participate, in the first person, in a three-dimensional space. And for all of my general contentedness with living outside these norms, it is a beautiful thing to occasionally get to experience them, to reshape them to fit my desires and expectations.

Such as being able to discuss a piece of clothing without lapsing into discusssion of how it “hides” or “masks” or “draws the eye away from” (what does that MEAN, anyway?) certain fatty bits. Look at THIS fatty bit, I imagine a dress saying. Not THAT fatty bit over there, which is obscene! It’s really just a choice among fatty bits, since it’s not as if I have any non-fatty bits I might distract people with. In the simplest sense, it’s incredible to be able to talk clothing with other similarly-sized women and be able to share how great our clothes are, how fabulous we feel in them, how excellent our options are. It’s like imagining a world in which such things are normal and universal.

The building in which I work also houses a small coffee shop. The coffee shop has a little section set aside where folks can get real sugar, numerous types of chemical faux-sweeteners, plastic utensils, straws, lids, and so on – as coffee shops are wont to do. It’s a smallish space and can really only bear two people busying themselves with sweetener-options at a time.

I go here to take sugar in the morning, to add to the tea I bring from home (is this stealing? I can’t decide). This morning, there were two women already there, so I had to wait. I often hesitate to call other people fat if said people haven’t identified themselves as such – “fat”, for all our attempts at reclamation, is still a profoundly loaded word – so I will say simply that both of these women were plus sized. Ultimately I had room to squeeze in between them, to fetch my sugar.

Almost immediately, the woman to my left complimented me on my dress. Without looking up, I thanked her, and said it was from Lane Bryant, which surprisingly enough had a few non-frumpy dress options this season. From this evolved a conversation about where we shop, our limited options, my commitment to buying things online. I said, I don’t really wear pants, because I don’t like how they fit or how they feel, and so I am essentially forced to shop online if I want dresses.

One of the women observed that she is not much of a dress person, and thus is takes a pretty spectacular dress to get her consideration. The woman to my left said that she “missed” dresses, with a wistfulness that was almost heartbreaking, considering my extreme devotion to dress-wearing. I felt sympathy, that any plus-size person should have to “miss” a whole category of clothing; and rage, that so many plus sized clothing lines are so limited and not meant to fit, not meant to be flattering, not meant to draw attention, or to wear well, or to last; and rage also that fat women are actively culturally discouraged from wearing clothing meeting any of the above standards. Don’t show your arms, nobody wants to see that. Don’t show your legs, they’re offensive to basic standards of decency.

There are lots of reasons why I wear dresses all the time. The fact that I am most physically comfortable in non-pants-based clothing is just one of them. I also wear them to make a broader point. Fat women can and should wear dresses. Fat women can bare their arms, their legs, their shapes, and be confident doing so. Your round and dimpled knees cause no one any harm. My soft and jiggling underarms do no damage to the people who may see them. Fat bodies are not dangerous, except when they post a threat to the culture that requires they remain hidden, a source of shame, a compulsion toward invisibility. I am not invisible, in my dresses and my cardigans, and neither are you, no matter what you wear. So why not wear something you love?

These ladies may very well be on diets. They may very well be unhappy with their bodies. The conversation did not go that way, so I can’t say for sure, and ultimately it doesn’t matter.

What matters to me is being able to have that moment – to chat, informally, impromptu-like, with two strangers, about clothes. It’s so novel, so unique, it reminds me of how rare and precious it is to be able to share in-person experiences with people who know, people who’ve had experiences like yours, who also bemoan the state of things. People who get it.

And, of course, people who also understand the deeply satisfying pleasure that comes from wearing fabulous dresses.

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