On the Fatshionista community over at Livejournal, I frequently see comments about people’s “shapes”. Most are complimentary – as in “You have a gorgeous shape!” – which I’m sure are meant with the best intentions, though they always sound a little weird to me. The obvious reason being that it sets up a duality in which some “shapes” are pleasing and some are not.
This differs, in my head, with complimenting a person’s clothing. Style and taste are profoundly individual and subjective concepts. Shape, generally speaking, is very much not. Certain shapes are always more pleasing than others; typically, specifically, the more attractive shapes are the ones that meet a cultural standard of femininity, with a defined waist and wide hips. Also, consider that nobody ever tells a dude he’s got a “hot shape”. I mean, the idea itself sounds preposterous. Women have shapes. Nobody else.
Some people have tried to frame this issue under the concept of “shape privilege”, the idea being that people with more traditionally feminine shapes have certain advantages over those with…. not so traditionally feminine shapes. I’m not fond of the idea of “shape privilege” myself; for one, I think using “privilege” to describe even mild advantages takes away some of the oomph of that word even when it’s being used to describe major differences – think of privilege as it relates to class, or gender, or race. These are issues that are far more all-encompassing and institutionalized – and also more uniformly applied – when set beside the comparatively small annoyance of not being able to find jeans that fit both one’s ass AND one’s waist, at the same time.
I don’t have a pleasing shape. I’ve got a very small bust, a big middle, wide hips, broad shoulders, and comparatively slender legs. Like an upside-down light bulb, or a butternut squash. I’ve been told that I “dress my shape well”, which – again, even assuming best intentions – I hear as a sort of code for, “Well, you do a good job with what you’ve got.” Because what I’ve got is not the shape that designers make clothes for. Everything is too big in the bust and too small in the waist (but even this isn’t hugely different than what a lot of more traditionally hourglass-shaped women go through, who deal with things that are too big in the waist and too small everywhere else).
I first discovered the wrap dress via Igigi’s original, ultimately-downright-ubiquitous faux-wrap in matte jersey. It was a pretty revolutionary experience – I almost look like I have a waist! I wore many, many wrap dresses. I still do, now as much for their ability to flexibly fit my disproportionately-small bust and disproportionately-broad hips, as well as for their shape-making effects.
But these days when I look through my outfit pictures and think, “Hey, it kinda looks like I’ve got a waist there!” it looks foreign to me, odd, almost photoshopped. It hits me with a mixture of triumph and melancholy. Triumph because of the sense that ha, I beat you, horribly-limited plus-size clothing selection! I found something that I both like and that is “flattering”. Melancholy because masking my “real” shape doesn’t feel particularly fat-positive to me. This is, no doubt, connected to why I love trapeze dresses so much; these are garments that are, unbelieveably, cut to fit my actual shape. Cue the laughter when I so often see people exclaim that only the impossibly-slender – i.e. those whose shape is the categorical opposite of the trapeze dress itself – can successfully wear them. Fat people must wear things that are neither too big nor too small; they must, like magicians, dress their shape, preferably transforming it into the well-balanced “curvy” form they ought to have.
Sometimes I feel like playing this game. Sometimes I don’t. Am I fooling anyone beside myself? Does it matter?
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