Why the pictures matter.

By | February 25, 2011

Longtime readers know that for a couple of years I made frequent photo posts about my outfits, some on this blog, but more regularly on the Fatshionista LiveJournal community where I used to be a maintainer. Lately, my long-dormant outfit-picture urge has been rising again watching all the outfits go by on the Fa(t)shion February Tumblr feed.

As Marianne at The Rotund has also observed this week, visibility is primary when it comes to taking these pictures of ourselves and putting them out there. We do not see our bodies (our fat bodies, our otherwise-marginalized bodies) reflected in culture, in culture and media, or if we do we are without heads or identities, without agency, without ownership—a strangely shaped approximation of a person, a pile of vaguely anthropomorphic flesh. People who weigh what I weigh are supposed to be bedridden, or if not bedridden then unable to walk more than fifteen feet without needing to stop and gasp for air, or if not unable to walk more than fifteen feet then only able to do so while suffering pain in the knees that will surely blow out from under me at any moment, or if not with destroyed knees then only with vague discomfort even if it stems not from physical circumstances but from feeling the penetrating gaze of nearly everyone who sees me. The gaze is there because I am fat and I fail to follow the rules, fail to avoid attention, fail to be uncomfortable, fail to be silent and invisible.

Photographs are important to me because they are the second best way I have to communicate my living corporeal paradox. The first best way is to be present in the world in the fullest physical sense, right in front of you. That is difficult to accomplish on a blog. I can tell you, here, in words, about my life, but it’s something else to bring myself to you in the copious flesh. I wear between a women’s size 26 and 28, and there are only a handful of stores that carry clothing to fit me, and most of these only exist online. I stand around five feet eight inches tall, and weigh something in the neighborhood of three hundred pounds. When I say these things without an illustration, every one of you will envision something different—and in some cases the differences would be dramatic. Three hundred pounds is not a monolith, either in imagination or in reality, but we do not often get to see it, illustrated and labeled, like an exhibit in a natural history museum. “This is one possible form of a three hundred pound body.” I say it is one possible form because my body is not the rule. The “three hundred pounds” is but the skeleton around which we may envision what the dinosaur must have looked like. Other bodies will vary; such is the way of nature.

I use these pictures as a demonstration, not an art form. Three years of outfit pictures are now lost to me on Flickr, with the expiration of my Pro account, but this is not troubling: these images are meant to be ephemeral. They do not capture important moments or precious memories — they are tools to be used, illustrations that serve a purpose and are then thrown away. My outfit pictures capture and transmit a simple message about me: I see you looking, and I look back; I see you thinking, and I challenge your thought; I see you judging, and fuck you.

It is okay if you are silent and would rather be invisible; it is okay if your knees hurt or if you other mobility issues; it is okay if you are different that I am. Because you deserve to be allowed to see and recognize bodies both familiar to you and strange, and to be seen and recognized first and foremost as a human being worthy of respect, no matter what you look like or how you feel or whether you’re sick or well. Maybe having seen my picture some folks won’t be so quick to condemn or assume when they see other bodies like mine; I can hope.

My outfit pictures are not about looking pretty or stylish or enviable or impressive—they are a challenge to the monotony of normative bodies in normative contexts that slide over our minds even against our will, every day, every day, every day we live. Look around, instead of trusting that what culture tells you about what is normal must be true: look around. Diversity is normal. It is just not culturally valued. We can change that.


38 Comments

Rebecca on February 25, 2011 at 11:57 am.

Thank you for this post, Leslie. I, too, weigh in “the neighborhood of 300lbs” and my body looks differently than yours. But your body still helps me realize that my body is ok. Even if they are different. Sometimes thin friends don’t understand why I post pictures. “Is it because you need someone to tell you that you’re beautiful?” Well, yes and no, but I think I can take this post to show them why it’s so much more important than just “fishing for compliments”.

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siouxZQ on March 16, 2011 at 11:01 am.

“Sometimes thin friends don’t understand why I post pictures” … really? Do you not deserve the same respect that everyone else does – thin, tall, short, fat, ugly, beautiful, and every colour of the rainbow? We post pictures because we like ourselves – because we want others to see us as we are, not as some disembodied thing. Your fa(t)shion sense is wonderful and I applaud it …
I, too, am in the 300lb range and I hate the (fat) clothing stores in Canada … they cater to only one type of body – large busted and narrow hipped – never mind fat legs. I buy all my clothes online and have only had one or two that didn’t work.
Also – would like to make a suggestion since you seem to like those coloured tights – try http://www.welovecolors.com/ – amazing tights in every colour of the rainbow as well as tie dyed :)

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Awlbiste on February 25, 2011 at 12:14 pm.

Seeing pictures of other fat bodies was my first step on the road to FA. It makes me feel so incredibly … normal, I guess. I still keep an eye out for things like fat upper arms and lower tummy “aprons” because these are still problem areas for me. When I see a fat body rocking a sleeveless outfit I see something I could be doing too.

So thank you, for real.

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Lampdevil on February 25, 2011 at 1:31 pm.

My FA journey was also sped along by all those lovely images on the Fatshionista LJ and elsewhere. I’m not as creative as all that. I need to see something, to hold it in my mind’s eye, and remember it later. I needed those pictures to show me that so much more could be open to me, in how I present myself.

Visibility is powerful. SO powerful. Thank you for being there to be seen, Lesley. :)

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JessiDehl on February 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm.

I belong to the same neighborhood and my body is getting ready to deliver my third child–and yet I am shocking people all over the place with my “agility” and strength. Duh. I’m used to being this size and am already super muscle-y and THAT is serving me well.

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kbryna on February 25, 2011 at 12:27 pm.

love the photo at the top of this post; love the OUTFIT in the photo at the top of this post; love this post.

it is good for me – very, very, very good for me – to see photos of Fat women wearing excellent outfits and looking fierce and fabulous and mundane and studious and busy and bored and fancy. I so often discard clothes in stores that I like – clothes that i LOVE – because of how I think it will look on my non-standard body. But seeing you, Lesley, and other Fat women wearing great clothes really does encourage me to consider doing the same.

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Emma on February 25, 2011 at 12:36 pm.

Thanks for this. It’s going to help me have a good day.

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Kellie on February 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm.

I kind of hate that models on plus size clothing websites are usually size 12′s or 14′s a lot of them not even really overweight just average sized ladies. I’m a barrel bellied size 24 and no clothing site features a model that looks like me and what clothes will really look like on someone who is genuinely fat. And I’m not shaped like you, but I still appreciate your pictures because your real and I like seeing someone closer to my size wearing cute clothes and with confidence. I’m not really all that confident most of the time but your blog really makes me wanna be, and I’m working on it.

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Becca on March 1, 2011 at 1:58 am.

Word girl. Of course, as an “average” sized lady I kinda hate the models who are ever so much smaller than me and on whom the clothes hang ever so much differently than they will on me and on most “average” sized women. When skinny jeans hang straight down from the model’s calf instead of clinging and tapering in like they will on pretty much everyone else, you know something’s gotta be amiss. But then I guess we already knew that, hu?

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Shieldmaiden1196 on February 25, 2011 at 12:42 pm.

If I ever come into money, can I come to where you are so you can take me shopping? I’ll share it in exchange for the help.
I too live in the ‘neighborhood of 300 lbs’, and not one of those cottages close to the gate, either. I’m well on the inside, a few blocks from the pool. I have a nice yard.

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Sabrina on February 25, 2011 at 1:00 pm.

One of the moments that made me realize I needed to decide to stop hating my body was when I was looking online at some pictures of fat ladies looking nice and I thought, “Why are all THOSE fat people all so beautiful and I’M so awful looking?” and then all of a sudden, seriously like a fat fucking lightbulb coming on, I was like, “Wait. It’s very statistically unlikely that I’m some weird outlier, and all other fat ladies look fine in photos, but, unluckily, only I look grotesque. I’M JUST SEEING MYSELF AS I’M NOT. I’M NOT GROTESQUE IF THEY’RE NOT.” And hence I moved to the neighborhood of lovely ladies around 300 lbs.

Also, sidebar: Shieldmaiden1196 your comment made me lol.

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Jodie Kash on February 25, 2011 at 1:35 pm.

I have fallen madly, head-over-heels for your writing and this blog.

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spuffyduds on February 25, 2011 at 2:41 pm.

Are those new-ish glasses? I frakking LOVE them.

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Natalie on February 25, 2011 at 3:36 pm.

AMEN.
I wrote a guest post for Equality Rights Alliance’s body image month for International Women’s Day and it was all about this. Representation and normalisation and diversity! But my post wasn’t so eloquently written. This is beautiful and I will send people here all the time :D

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Margit on February 25, 2011 at 4:01 pm.

I love your outfit pics, and look forward to seeing more of them. They are a gift: simply having pictures in our heads expands our sense of who we can be, who we have *permission* to be. They’re a wonderful way of taking up space and making space for others to walk behind you.

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Rebecca McCormick on February 25, 2011 at 4:29 pm.

Alright you’ve convinced me. I am deathfat! and rarely see a body like mine anywhere. So I’ve just submitted to the fatshionFebruary tumblr. Thank you. It does matter.

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YellowValkyrie on February 25, 2011 at 5:02 pm.

OMG THAT PURPLE COAT. It’s amazing.

Also, the LJ Fatshionista community pretty much taught me FA. I wouldn’t think the way I do now if it wasn’t for Fats. I was there and participating a while ago… 4 – 5 years ago, now. I haven’t had an LJ in some time but I’ve kept my love of the OOTD post.

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madagascar_b on February 25, 2011 at 5:49 pm.

I just want to say

PINK BOOTS. FIRST PHOTO. WIN.

I want to steal them off your feet.

Diversity rules.
(as do pink boots)

Maddie

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thirtiesgirl on February 25, 2011 at 7:41 pm.

Yay!! …Just: yay!!

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AcceptanceWoman on February 25, 2011 at 8:08 pm.

Yes, it was a big step forward for me to outfit blog and I have you (and the Tumblr stream or whatever it’s called and many other bloggers) to thank. It’s not so much what I wear, it’s that I am. Fat. Short. Frizzy-haired. And glorious.
I needed to take that risk of being seen in order to confront the fear of being seen. And, in reality, it’s not that scary.

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Mandy on February 25, 2011 at 8:21 pm.

As a long time reader, I have never really found an opportune place to comment. I just want to say how much I love your posts. I am not plus sized, but I can still relate to your posts. When I see your blog with your rockin’ outfits and your “I could give a crap less about what you think about me” attitude, it makes me realize that I can be myself and not bother with other people’s opinions on my body. I will not let anyone else dictate my fashion choices.

Plus, THOSE PINK BOOTS. Bright colors look fabulous with blue (my current favorite combo is blue and orange).

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Bree on February 25, 2011 at 8:27 pm.

I’m past the neighborhood of 300 lbs (last time I actually weighed myself, I was in the 350 range). I’m the whole backyard. But this backyard isn’t ready for the graveyard anytime soon!

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Ck on February 25, 2011 at 10:30 pm.

I’ve just started blogging about my own struggle with self love/hate. I’ve worked so hard on FA over the past couple years, but I’m still not there. I know what started me down that road, though – it was stumbling upon your pics at the fatshionista site. I went out and bought a whole new wardrobe after that. So thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Kath on February 26, 2011 at 1:01 am.

Thank you Lesley, for sharing your pictures. It is pictures of you, and Marianne, and other women with bodies that have similar shapes, sizes, stories to my own that gives me the courage to share my own body with the world.

Plus, I also get to see clothes on a body like mine, which gives me ideas in how to style my own clothing on my own body. Seeing a garment I am about to buy in a size 26 or 28 (or even more in some brands) modelled on a size 12, or 16, or even a size 20 body gives me no point of reference of how it will behave on my body.

I still say that seeing “deathfat” bodies is what pushed me into Fat Acceptance activism. I understood and agreed with the concept for a long time, but I could never relate it to myself. Then I started seeing women like yourself, Marianne, Kelli Jean Drinkwater, Bea Sweet… and your bodies looked far more like mine than any I had seen before. I started to see that perhaps these concepts could even apply to ME.

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Dawn Davidson on February 26, 2011 at 2:27 am.

Thanks, Lesley, for your pictures. When I was reading the FA feeds more often, a few years ago, I looked at your outfits each day and smiled. Bright and bold are often how I dress as well, and it’s been great to see you there in your million dresses. Thank you for showing me your self, taking up space, unapologetically, boldly and beautifully. I’m really glad you’re still blogging (and ‘casting with Marianne, too! w00t!), even though it’s from a new ‘home.’

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tamiko on February 26, 2011 at 5:45 pm.

Hi Lesley,
I was just thinking of this very topic yesterday! As more of an inbetweenie with something of a baby belly still (one and a half years later and people still ask me if I’m pregnant), I don’t often see people with a body like mine. When I do, it gives me this wonderful feeling of being normal – less unusual. It also helps me to remember that it’s alright for other people to see what MY belly looks like, rather than having to always hide behind loose and flowy shirts. Thanks again and always for your timely and insightful words.

Tamiko

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Sabriel on February 26, 2011 at 6:27 pm.

I’m one of those fat girls that really doesn’t take pictures of myself. I can count on one hand the amount of pictures I have of myself in my teens – hanging out with friends, or being with family, or just exploring the world – all because I was ashamed of my weight. Ashamed of me.

I don’t know that I’ll ever get over that – my struggle with self-acceptance is an everyday thing – but this post really opened my eyes. I have a lot to think about.

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CollieMom01 on February 26, 2011 at 8:50 pm.

I have always enjoyed your particular sense of style because it is SO different from my own, and you just rock all those awesome dresses. So thank you for all these great photos–they really make such a difference in how I view myself; not just in comparison to others, but in how I really”see” myself. And may I add my voice to the pink boots choir??? Oh yeah, I want those B-A-D.

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Erinlala on February 27, 2011 at 2:44 pm.

long live cardigans!
and rockin fat ladies like you! I am a fattie and I love getting my picture taken. Everyone should. We’re all beautiful. You aren’t different, how can you be, you are you!
go on, give us a smile!!

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P G on February 28, 2011 at 1:34 am.

I love the colours you’re embracing in these photos. So bold! Or in other words: OMG THOSE BOOTS!

Also, I’m not sure where I found this, so it very well may have come from your site originally, but The Photographic Height/Weight chart is a place where one can find 5’8 and 300lbs labelled nicely. Or a variety of other measurements. I thought you might be interested.

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Shoshie on February 28, 2011 at 6:01 pm.

Pictures are SO important. I thought I was a freak because of my low-hanging belly that has a fold across the middle. Until I saw that gorgeous nude cover of Beth Ditto, I had never seen another belly that looked like mine. And not only did someone else have that belly, but she was beautiful and successful and the very definition of a rad fatty. The Adipositivity Project and outfit blogging also really helped me in making peace with my body, but seeing that Beth Ditto cover was the real “click” moment.

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clownremover on March 1, 2011 at 12:21 pm.

Hey! I was going to buy that dress! :-P

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Jessdr on March 1, 2011 at 1:07 pm.

Pictures are really important. For me, they are what help me bridge the gap between accepting other people’s fat and accepting my own. No matter how much I read, or how careful I am to bring a critical perspective, the constant stream of images of very thin bodies, of conventional beauty, and of high-maintenance beauty standards still sneaks its messages into my consciousness.

That puts me in a really bad headspace where there are “right” ways to look and “wrong” ways, and all I can see is where I fall under “wrong”. Even though I’m actually fairly pretty, present myself in a normative way, and, as an hourglass inbetweenie, still have substantial thin privilege. But in that headspace, it is NOT okay for me to be non-thin, NOT okay to not be wearing makeup, NOT okay to be wearing comfortable shoes, and so on. Even when I see it as perfectly okay for others.

A really good example of this is how I feel when I watch Joy Nash. If I have been seeing a lot of diverse images lately, her awesomeness makes me feel awesome too. If I haven’t, I see her and feel bad about myself for not being as tall, dressed up and made up as she is.

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Jeanette on March 1, 2011 at 4:35 pm.

I did buy that dress, but they just won’t send it to me. :(

My favorite thing about outfit posts is that they allow me to see what clothing looks like on bodies similar to mine. Most of my shopping is online, and it can be hit or miss. When I see how clothing looks on other people, I have a better idea of what I’ll be getting.

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Staci on March 2, 2011 at 12:00 am.

Excellent post, as usual. :) Imagery has been a very important tool in my self-acceptance. Discovering photo tumblrs celebrating fat bodies and fashion changed the way I thought about myself. I’m still working toward full-on self-acceptance and letting myself be visible, but seeing others celebrate themselves makes me feel brave. Thank you!

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Heather on March 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm.

Your blog has been so helpful for me in becoming more comfortable with who I am. We are taught to hate ourselves if we don’t look like everyone else on TV, in magazines, etc. We are taught that we don’t deserve to look good–hence the shortage of fashionable plus-sized clothes in stores and having to go online to shop for them (do they not want fatties in their stores?) Last weekend, I went to Forever21 to shop their Forever21+ collection. I left the store feeling worse about myself because of how I was treated by the employee I asked for help. She had no interest in their plus-sized clothing and looked at me with disgust. It felt humiliating. So I went to the back corner where they kept their disorganized plus-sized clothing to find what I was looking for. I was visible in a place in which I wasn’t welcomed. And I wanted to say, “Fuck you!”

Thanks for writing. Thanks for posting your pictures. Thanks for being you.

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Soph on March 8, 2011 at 4:08 am.

This, this!

Just to see that yes, we are not all the same. It seems so self-evident, yet in the torrent of plasticized, streamlined body images that pour over us every damned day, we lose that sense of self. Or at least, I know I do. Sometimes I feel like it’s only by desperate effort that I can cling on to a sense of acceptance, and fondness for my body. But it’s worth it, because the alternative terrifies me.

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