I’m a fashion plate and a cross-pond superstar.
It doesn’t necessarily translate in the photographs, but I can remember feeling oddly awkward during this photo shoot. It’s because I am sadly industry-savvy, and shortly before I agreed to this project, I realized I am technically ‘a plus-sized model.’
I wear a size 8 or 10 in modern clothing, and fit a size 29 pants. Folks, there is nothing wrong with being ‘fat’ — but either way, that’s not ‘fat.’
I was “a fat kid” growing up. Looking back at pictures, I wasn’t really ‘fat’ then either — at the most, I was ‘childishly chubby’ — but I sure got ostracized, bullied, and harassed (including at my home) for being so.
And, like many (and at least according to surveys, possibly even ‘most’) teenage girls, I decided to deal with this by developing an eating disorder.
It worked. I’m not even sure what I wore in European-numbered pants or dress size, but at my smallest I was ‘less than a 0′ in standard American jean sizes. I weighed about 105 pounds, almost forty pounds less than I do now. My friends wanted to kill me out of envy, which made me sad — especially because privately, I was miserable. Maintaining a level of self-starvation while remaining healthy enough to function without actually killing yourself is hard work, in fact a full-time job. So eventually I decided to ‘let myself go.’ I still eat only healthy food, because I want to feel well and keep from pickling myself with preservatives, but I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full.
Gaining weight back freaked me out for a little while. As in, years, and sometimes still to this day. I can recall having a panic attack when, over the space of eighteen months, I went from a size 25 to a size 27. To this day, I feel a little sad when a favorite garment no longer fits.
It isn’t even from vanity, in vanity’s purest sense. In a culture where women are considered little more than bodies, and the most aesthetically pleasing body for women is that of an emaciated, self-deprived person (recall: models are encouraged to eat Kleenex and/or cotton balls dipped in juice to keep their size, unless they want to be out of a job), deviating from the aesthetic norm can mean the difference in getting (and/or keeping) a job, between garnering ridicule or garnering praise.
And no, before you say that, the recent popularity of ‘curvy girls!’ inspired by shows like Mad Men does not help. Because ‘curvy’ (meaning, average-sized) women are still otherized and ostracized. There are certain things that thin girls can wear, there are certain things that ‘unthin’ girls can wear, and fashion of all types reinforces that.
When I worked at ModCloth, a retailer and showcaser of independent designers, the most common customer-service complaint we received was that none of the clothes we sold would fit ‘fat people.’ Meaning, anyone above an American size 12 (or 14 if you were lucky, 10 if you were unlucky). Another complaint was that the styles we sold might fit a US size 10 or 12, but really didn’t look conventionally flattering on anyone who was larger than a size 6.
That wasn’t a surprise to me, though. I’m a fairly genre-savvy person. I’m into semiotics, I know what things are coded to mean. I know what’s ‘trendy’, I know what’s ‘stylish’, I know what’s ‘avant garde’. And I know the type of body that designers (meaning: everyone who makes clothing) design their clothes for — the thin body. A person who is not thin, wearing clothing that is not designed for people who are thin, is considered an affront to aesthetics.
So I don’t wish to cater to aesthetic norms. I slap onto my body what I slap onto my body. I like to mix prints — the more bold and outlandish the better, although I do have my preferences (currently southwest prints, colorblocking, and florals) and there are lands where I will not tread (animal prints, neon). I like to experiment with textures and color. I love to wear bold and/or unusual cuts. Even things that (gasp!) aren’t considered flattering on my body type.
There is nothing wrong with being a “plus-sized person” (as if there is technically such a thing). There is nothing wrong with being a plus-sized model, other than the fact that the industry’s idea of ‘plus-sized’ is really fucked up. Personally, as I hinted two sentences above), I don’t think there should even be a distinction between standard sizing and ‘plus sizing.’ I think the fashion industry’s, the media’s, the public’s, fixation on starvation as the pinnacle of a woman’s aspiration is ludicrous and should be scrutinized.
(Follow the money. Who profits from a society that is constantly dieting and self-depriving? Follow the politics. Who stands to gain from a populace that is thin, starving, sickly, and weak?)
In the meantime, I’m going to wear what catches my eye. Check out that horse dress — I found it in a thrift store, and it hit a home run: outrageous cut, outrageous print, sized to fit me with a little space to spare, and within my price range ($20). It’s such a ridiculous outfit that it sat on the rack for at least four whole days, which is almost unheard-of in a location that averages a same-day turnover rate. Apparently not a lot of not-thin women want to put on bold cuts and outrageous patterns — and I encourage them to rethink that thought.
Postnote: No, I don’t shave, pluck, or wax anything on my body or wear makeup, either. More than a political decision, it’s an aesthetic decision too (I like the way I look naturally), and it also gives me a lot more time to do other things I’d rather do.