Reading List: Fashion as the Enemy of Fatshion

By | January 7, 2009

Jezebel has an excellent post up about fashion writing and the sloppy=fat=poor archetype, which inspired me to run off on a bit of a tangent.

Although the sizism of these kinds of pieces — specifically denied by both writers — is easily parsed from the continual references to “tent-size” shirts, “sloppiness,” and “XXL polo shirts”, what’s also distressing is their classism. While dressing well needn’t be expensive, what these writers seem to be calling for isn’t merely fashion as fun self-expression, it’s fashion as a system of social representation — the idea that one ought to look good, so that one can be recognized by other good-looking people, and feel mutually reassured in one’s tastes. And that kind of dress-as-shibboleth requires the sublimation of most of one’s ideas about clothes into the safe confines of designer labels. Reddy detests chubbiness; I don’t like his clubbiness. Or his condescension.

The concept of the fatty as affront to fashion is not a new one, for sure. High fashion and the arbiters of style have a built-in fat ceiling beyond which no body past a particular size (an 8? a 10? a – gasp – 12?) may pass; fat people, as a group, simply lack any kind of similar access to stylish and well-fitting clothes in any kind of real selection, not simply because those clothes are expensive – although they are – but because they don’t exist. While some heinously overpriced blahwear for up-to-a-size-24 fats can be found at a premium in the darkest dustiest basement-banished corner of the occasional high-end department store (or, at least, on their website) the selection even among the $400 polyester jersey dresses is – to put it delicately – unimpressive.

Thus, I would argue that it is difficult, if not impossible, for even fat people of considerable wealth to ever truly meet the high standards of the fashion elite not because fat people care nothing for what they wear (elastic waists —> cold dead hands, and so forth) but because they are not given the opportunity. Even Beth Ditto – she of the soul-ripping voice, questionable photoshoot politics, and Fat Style Icon to untold numbers of young fats locking horns with The System – even Ditto only gains access to high fashion designers when they specially produce clothing just for her, either for the red carpet, or a magazine spread. I suppose, hypothetically, an extraordinarily wealthy fat nobody-in-particular could commission haute couture from any top-tier designer willing to accept the job – but I have a hard time believing many designers would be interested in doing so for anything less than a Beth Ditto level of personality and exposure.

Thus, I think it’s fair to argue that while the class issue is certainly not something to sneeze at – no debate, more money always means one has more options, in pretty much every scenario – it’s also true that it’s practically impossible even for fat people of means to ever truly meet the standards of said fashion writers. And it’s not, all protestations to the contrary, because fat people are inherently sloppy or unstylish – it’s because they are fat, and fat, no matter how immaculately dressed, is never acceptable within these circles. In the world where fashion writers and editors exist, fat itself is unfashionable, and no garment can overwhelm that. It’s not enough for this automatic antifat Fashion Blockade to exist; fashion writers must also shit upon the people who handily outsize the coveted (and extraordinarily meaningful, in those contexts) fashionable clothes by casting aspersions about their intelligence and their morality and their worth.

The Jezebel piece continues:

What I’d like to see from fashion in ’09 is fewer hectoring “trend” stories about lazy poor fat people and their lazy poor fat people habits. Comfort is not the enemy of style, and fat is not the enemy of fashion. Maybe we could just end the entire idea of fashion as a capital-F top-down regimented enterprise fit only for vetted experts. Then we could get back to wearing what we want, wearing what we think is fun, wearing what makes us feel good, wearing what reminds us of that one really great day when…and not being judged by mean writers for it.

Indeed. Fuck fashion. If you’re fat, it doesn’t speak to you, so why should we speak to it?

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