In a previous post about beauty standards/ideals, I suggested that fat women loving their bodies and viewing themselves as beautiful subverts the dominant beauty paradigm. One method of expressing your love for your body is through the action of dressing it according to your own personal style—whether you’re a full-blown fatshionista or a jeans and t-shirts kind of girl. I specifically want to discuss the mindset of the former, those who embrace fat fashion as a way to resist cultural beauty standards. At its core, this can be seen as political resistance via capitalism—using the increasing options available for fashion-minded fat consumers to defy the mainstream fashion industry’s continued insistence on shutting fat women out of the realm of the fashionable. Because more retail representation does not translate to representation on the runway or in mainstream glossies, these fatshionistas must create their own fashion icons, in fact turning themselves into said icons by their building of online communities whose members share pictures of themselves in outfits they’ve cobbled together from the growing but still limited options available.
These women are unafraid to experiment with styles of clothing once considered off-limits for fat girls. Society may not view pillowy, fleshy arms as attractive, but they rock sleeveless tops and strapless dresses. Fat rolls may not be conventionally desirable, but they work with tight, body-conscious tops expertly. The refusal to hide fat behind layers of black clothing (not that there’s anything wrong with All Black Everything) or under drapey tent dresses utilizes fashion to subvert the dominant beauty paradigm. The mainstream concept of “flattering” is relative, where the industry says women with bellies should wear flowy skirts to camoflauge them, fatshionistas pull on tight pencil skirts just the same. At the same time, fat fashion retailers are now taking note of what these women are wearing and presenting options that mirror the outfits they may have had to assemble from straight-size shops. The action of the market presents a challenge to the desire to subvert cultural beauty standards. Capitalism is driven by consumer demand, so since many fatshionistas are revolution-minded, they shun traditional consuming and utilize their DIY skills to create looks that are wholly their own.
The resourcefulness of many fatshionistas ranges from developing their own line of clothing to altering straight-sized clothing found in thrift stores to fit a fat body. In creating their own market for clothing made for fat chicks by fat chicks, independent designers present an alternative to the more traditional model of capitalist consumption offered by fat fashion stores. On Etsy, for example, which is a marketplace for handmade/vintage items including clothing, designers often offer custom sizing. Often, the price of a custom-made garment is no more than the prices charged by mainstream retailers for clothing that is not made to fit. Supporting this kind of capitalism keeps the money “in the community,” so to speak, and offers another path to subversion. Refusing to accept that a piece of clothing was not intended to be worn on a fat body by altering it to fit is also an act of subversion. In building communities where fat women can support each others’ creative ventures, whether they be selling altered clothing or selling custom-designed clothing, we create avenues for consumer revolution.
To expand and eventually eliminate beauty standards takes an assault from all fronts. Utilizing personal style as political resistance is just one of those fronts, but it’s a significant one, for fat women especially. Because the oppression of fat women is so entwined with bodily aesthetics, any treatment of fat bodies as more than something to be hidden is automatically a form of subversion. The capitalist system simultaneously presents us with two forms of consumption in regards to our weight—supporting the diet industry or “celebrating” our bodies by buying the clothing mainstream retailers have deigned to provide us with. Taking fashion and the presentation of your body into your own hands, with creativity and subversion in mind, can offer a way to throw a monkey wrench in the gears of the beauty industrial complex.