[Guestblog] When constructive criticism… isn’t: a long-ass meditation involving extremely short shorts

By | January 7, 2010

The longer i’m a part of FA the less I’m willing to ignore negative body talk from clueless family, uninitiated friends, and total strangers. I feel like all the work I’ve put in on size acceptance amount to some sort of Fat Powers–and with great powers comes great responsibility– and that I should be harnessing said powers to make the world a better, more size-positive place. I think about what a difference hearing anything fat positive would have made to a self-loathing teenage me and it seems wrong–if socially advisable–to hold my tongue.

I believe there is something significant in receiving overt/covert approval from a confident-seeming stranger when you feel like an unloveable beast. I am continually humbled and surprised by the messages I receive about my fatshion photos. It’s both scary and encouraging to me that my unapologetically posting pictures of my fat ass on the internet encourages people to hate themselves a little less. Without cracking the particular low self-esteem chestnut of whether a person ought to place value in what other people think of them, I think that a little “permission” (for lack of a better way term), can go a long way to making someone stare a little less hatefully at their reflection. Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely unlikely for a person to go from “I shouldn’t be seen in public!” to “pass the holographic hot pants!” on account of some unexpected cheerleading from someone they’ve never met. On the other hand, words are never without weight, and a few kind–or even just neutral–words can make a world of difference when you’re walking around in a dark cloud of self-loathing, expecting people to say the worst, almost daring them not to.

Around the time I started hanging out with the person who was to become my significant significant other, I thrifted a pair of (then heinous to me) dayglo lime green nylon athletic short shorts. It was the late 90s, the tale-end of grunge, and these were the sort of shorts–the sort that Jack Tripper might have worn jogging in 1978–were calculated instruments of social suicide.

Green shorts!
artist’s rendering courtesy of friendlymilk

I’d just been through the sort of cliched boyfriend-cheating-on-you-with-your-best-friend break up that so often occurs in a high school setting and I felt like a damn fool. And since I was a fat teenager–aka expert wallower and inspired in the art of self-deprecation–I concluded that the only way to deal with this was by publicly donning Shorts of Shame & Negative-Attention Seeking Angst. They were awkwardly high-waisted. They cut into my thighs. They made unpleasant creaking sounds when I moved. I singled myself out because i felt unworthy of anything but scorn– they were everything a fat girl who ever hoped of being pretty, accepted or popular should avoid, and so I wanted every part of them.

Since high school is a hell mouth and most people feel like they are the benevolent advisors of all fat people (for their own good, dontcha know?) my efforts at self-sabotage were all too successful. Everyone remarked on the shorts in horror. Friends threatened to break into my room in the night and burn them. One especially “concerned” friend went so far as to tell me that if I continued to parade my fat ass around in those shorts I couldn’t really expect anyone to ever want me again now, could i?

So, when one of my co-workers at the grocery store asked me if I wanted to hang out with him there was no question what I would wear.

We went roller blading. I was sure he’d take one look at my wobbly dayglo ass and a) tell me I looked like shit b) tell everyone at work how I looked like shit, and making me the laughing stock I obviously deserved to be because I was fat and some jerk broke my heart (ah, teen logic.)

What actually happened was rather anti-climatic, and (therefore) totally jarring: 1) he never said a damn thing about them or how I looked at all 2) he wanted to see me again. it’s a bit sad to think that someone i hardly knew choosing not to be critical about my appearance/fashion choices was enough to distract me from feeling like shit at that point in my life, but honestly, it was.

Now I could really give two shits if people dig on my fatshion, but if I’m going to be dead honest, a big part of getting to a place where i could be all “eff this I am effing stunning in these metallic hot pants”– was having people around me refrain from telling me what i, as a fat person, did or did not deserve to wear (or do, or say, or eat, or think….)

it’s ridiculous to admit, but those lime greens shorts and the reactions–both expected, and not–that they provoked, haunt me. they’ve become this complex signifier that informs my fat politics online and in the physical world. They remind me just how serious a seemingly “throwaway” topic like fatshion can be to someone who’s just making their first strides towards body acceptance. That sometimes just letting something slide, is like the equivalent of saying “you’re good, you’re alright, you don’t have to change.”

There are definitely times when I don’t adore what someone is wearing, but if it’s clear they love it, and more importantly, if they are putting themselves out there for the first time, sometimes the most important feedback you can give someone is to pull your punches and tell them to keep posting/trying shit out. It is not a tragedy for someone to never learn that, to your eye, their pants on a particular day ought to have been an inch longer. It is, however, a tragedy for that person’s first experience with FA to be a million tiny nitpicks that, in their vulnerable state, seem to confirm all the things they are already thinking: I don’t deserve style, I can’t look good anyway, no matter where I go, people will treat me like shit, and I deserve it.

There are a lot of so-called “well-meaning” people in our lives lining up to tell us fat people how our very existence proves we’re doing it wrong. Family members, friends, teachers, sales people, health professionals, makeover presenters, all do their best to make sure us fatties feel like shit, like we should hide, that we are unworthy of having fun in any circumstance; let alone something as meritocratically-structured as fashion. A lot of people new to FA are going in with shaky egos, and expecting the worst. And you might disagree, but I am of the opinion that fatshion is an FA gateway drug. If a person feels like they’re maybe doing one tiny thing right, it might be enough to put a dent in that wall of self-doubt/loathing that most of us start building from the first moment somebody derides us for our size. Don’t do people any favours by cutting them down before they’ve even found their legs.

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