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.


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