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trope-ical thunderstorm



I can identify my aesthetic with a few phrases: “sexy party clown”, “precocious uncomfortable baby”, and perhaps “aggressive whimsy machine”.

 

 

Fat female-identified people have only a select number of roles people feel comfortable with them filling: “curvy” vamp, matronly mother-type, non-sexual best friend, and whimsical quirky girl.

Christina Hendricks is allowed to be fat on TV because her curves are anachronistically celebrated on “Mad Men”. Melissa McCarthy is allowed to be fat in movies because she often performs a caregiver or best friend role.  Adele is allowed to be fat in music because she follows the great tradition of soul singers draped in mourning clothes, for whom we can’t really imagine sex or heartbreak happening, but whose voices we use to channel and embody our own heartbreak. We particularly use the matronly trope for fat women of color in white-dominated media. As far as quirky girls go, do you know how many times I have been told I look like Garcia from Criminal Minds?

The fat quirky girl is different from the Zooey Deschanel or Natalie Portman quirky girl because she is completely removed from the ideals of sexual appeal. A fat girl can never be a girl next door because her fatness is indicative of excess or lack of self-control, which can not coexist with the wholesomeness  and invigorating liveliness of a girl next door.

 

So how does this manifest in fashion? CONSTANTLY AND UBIQUITOUSLY. When we think of the main distributors of clothing for fat wearers of female-marketed clothing, Lane Bryant might be the first to come to mind. Their catalog is aimed at two fat markets: conservative/work-appropriate and conservatively sexy. “Cute” or “interesting” are never facets of design for them, only “appropriate”. Lane Bryant wants to help you let the world know that you are appropriately ashamed of your body and would not dare call attention to it by wearing prints or any cuts other than classic wrap-dresses. This is your store for fat type matronly.

For a younger market, Torrid is the primary retailer, but having tried to shop there when it used to be the only option for me, the only aesthetic it caters to is youth by way of sex appeal. This only works well if you happen to think sex appeal can be carried out by wearing poorly made and designed polyester club wear. This is part of fat type “curvy”.

Of course there is nothing wrong with embracing your sexuality, and any word that you’d like to use to identify yourself or your body, even if euphemistic, is valid. I think, though, there is a constant perpetuation of the idea that if your curves are in the wrong kinds of places, then you are the wrong kind of fat. You are not Joan, you are Peggy Olson when she didn’t know she was pregnant (SPOILERS).

 

Once, a boy I was dating informed me that I could never be sexy. “Only cute”, he clarified to me. I have very small breasts, no hips, and no ass, and because of that I can’t demonstrate the kind of body . bravery that is celebrated commonly in fat circles. I cannot demonstrate sexiness. I cannot wear a bikini or a crop top because I have a body that does not lend itself to sexualization, even by other fat people. I am frequently asked if I am pregnant because there is no place for a body that is fat but non-sexual, that has an ample belly and arms but no “curves”.

 

 

So do I carve out a space for myself in the trope of infantilization, where I feel comfortable but commonly make other people uncomfortable? I think discomfort in many ways is virtuous. I am attracted to disruption but on a very base level I like things that are cute. I do not want to be anyone’s mom, aesthetically or otherwise.

What is the difference between an Alison Brie type and me? What makes her a dewy-eyed Disney bride and myself a weird baby lady? I think that it is that fatness and a childish sense of wonder in combination recall associated stereotypes of fatness like laziness, dependence on others, and stupidity. It takes fatness to an unsettling place for people.

I am 24 now. I have no desire to drastically change my aesthetic, as I will always like cute things, weird things, goth things, and retro things because they appeal to me without the baggage of seeming “childlike”, though that baggage seems to exist for many other people. I am only now beginning to wonder if I always have to be an Adele or a Garcia to everyone, regardless of how carefully I cultivate my own fashion choices.

 

The octopus dress is a vintage dress upcycled by aorta on etsy and I can recommend them highly. The cardigan is by Design History, size L, bought at work, and the belt is J Crew and also from work.

26 thoughts on “trope-ical thunderstorm

  1. I would like to point out that Melissa McCarthy is not a best friend or caregiver in Mike and Molly. She's someone's girlfriend, who has a loving relationship and is found sexy by someone.

    1. oh ok. thank you glor! i haven't seen it because i've heard it's mostly a bunch of unfunny fat jokes. but that is interesting!

  2. Also, Torrid is not just polyester club clothes. Maybe since it was a while ago when you visited there, they changed their offerings since then. They have normal-looking pants and many different types of jeans, and that's pretty much the only place for me to buy pants, besides Fashion Bug. And Fashion Bug is not near me, and their non-elastic-waist pants are limited. I'm not saying that their clothing would be appealing to you, since you have a unique style and like dresses and skirts a lot more than I do. But for people looking for plain old jeans, Torrid is not a bad place. Not a cheap place, but not bad.

    1. i have stayed the same size and shape since puberty, pretty much, and i find that with torrid it has always been impossible to find clothes that fit me in any way. there's always an expectation that i should be able to fill out the butt in pants (can't) or that i should be able to fill out the bust in tops (can't), and i think the sizing there is really uniform in a way that only fits a couple of shapes of plus size people. i'm looking at their catalog and they haven't introduced any on-trend or current styles. they're still doing like… brocade strapless dresses. and the prices for what they have, considering the quality, are INSANE.

      they don't look different from when i used to shop there, and i really wish i could offer up an alternative as far as pants go, but i don't wear them, haha. but i'm glad it works for you!

      1. I have to say that I really feel your pain Mary. While I have the large butt and shape of Torrid's idea of what a fat girl is, I just don't have tits. My breasts are FAR too small and according to Torrid, a fat girl must have huge knockers right? The blouses sag terribly on me. And while I actually really only like less than 15% of the clothes Torrid carries, I recall how when they opened their first store in my state. I was pumped! They would now be the answer to my prayers and I could stop shopping at LB. As a teen, that was a big deal. But yeah… really big let down when I couldn't fill out those blouses. Lame Torrid, lame.

        1. I have had that problem with every plus size store except Forever21+, perhaps because they are juniors plus sizes and don't have as much of the expectation of uniformly large busts. I understand it's hard to design clothes that will fit a variety of fat people, but it really seems like small-busted fat people face a disproportionate amount of bad luck

  3. once I was at work (wearing a boring uniform, mind you) and just because I have bangs and wear black glasses and happen to be fat this guy felt it appropriate to have a 10 minute, very uncomfortable conversation about how I look SO MUCH like Garcia from Criminal Minds and has anyone ever told me that before and I really should watch the show because I look SO MUCH LIKE HER. I have no idea why the comparison bothers me so much but it does.

    1. i'm actually more frequently adele than garcia, maybe because i do a cat eye with my makeup. but it is striking to me the type of fat person i am compared to, regardless of what my face actually looks like, because facially i don't think i look like adele or garcia.

      i mean can you imagine going up to someone and being like "you know who you look like? you look like steve buscemi. yeah you are both kinda thinset. you don't see it? but you're both thin!" except not articulating the thin part, because i don't think they're cognizant of the connection they're making, even though it's clearly happening.

      obviously fat is a big part of my appearance but i guess what bothers me about it is that clearly my fatness has an effect of making me generic, which i do not like, haha

  4. yes! everything about this! countless times i've been told that i'm cute (and specifically not EVER sexy). Cute is what i aim for (ha!), so im not concerned with having to fill the fat but curvy title, but when it comes to opinions, why is it that 'sexy' is so important? I mean, i know we live in a very oversexualized world, but why must a fatty be categorized as fat and dowdy or curvy & sexy. why is there no categories in between? Fuck that. I'm going to go put on a fluffy petticoat and strut.

    1. yeah there are tons of things to unpack with it associated with the usual problems of objectification. i mean the most fundamental question is "why is my appearance only valid when it makes someone want to fuck me?"

      another problem for me is why are certain aspects of femininity associated with being childlike? why does femininity have to be sexual to be age-appropriate?

      yes to petticoats! i was wearing one yesterday! haha

  5. Oh, I like you! Brilliant post and you're beautiful. Thank you for buying that dress from me. It seems to suit you quite perfectly.Oh, I like you! Brilliant post and you're beautiful. Thank you for buying that dress from me. It seems to suit you quite perfectly.

  6. I think you are beautiful.
    I am 60 and fat and that is hard too. I don't want to look like an old lady. You should see the clothes in Catherine's plus size store. There are prints but they are awful! Who would want to wear ugly prints? I want pretty prints, the same as every one else.
    I loved this post, absolutely loved it.

    1. I have seen Catherine's! Definitely not my favorite. My favorite aunt is nearing 60 and thin as a rail and always wears some combination of little black dress, leggings, fabulous heels, and a statement piece of jewelry. I think that's how I'll want to dress as I age. I think having the right accessories makes all the difference, if you can find your favorite little dress. That seems to be the tough part, though, and I'm sorry. Have you seen EShakti (http://www.eshakti.com/default.aspx)? They make dresses to order with a lot of cute Anthropologie-like styles.

  7. Hi! I came here from Sal's link at Already Pretty and I love what you have to say here. I've been thinking a lot about what I've been calling "body tyranny" and how there is only one way for a woman's body to be acceptably "normal". You can be any dress size you want, as long as it's less than a 6 on TV or a 10 in real life. If you go above that, your body is in some way outsized.

    Even well-meaning people feel free to comment on my body in ways that they wouldn't if I were thinner. I've been called "voluptuous" more times than I can count, always in a way that was intended to convey the idea that it was okay that I was fat because it's attractive on me. (I'm just about the least sexy person ever, so I fall somewhere between curvy and quirky best friend.) And whenever this happens, I always think, "That's, um, nice and all, but what made you think it was okay for YOU to bring up the subject of MY body? I don't comment on yours, especially not unbidden." I also wonder why other people put so much effort into justifying my body size to me, as if they were somehow personally invested in my fatness. I don't talk like I hate my body – mainly because I don't – so what gives?

    I think that people are just really thrown by those who are at peace with their bodies, because most people aren't. Body tyranny has taught us all that there's only one acceptable body and no one actually meets that. I was commenting today about how my Jamba Juice addiction is bad news, and had to clarify to two thin people who shuddered at the 300 calories in a Jamba Juice that I meant for my wallet, not my waistline.

    I do wonder, though, whether I have the luxury of being at peace with my body because I do carry my weight in the "right" places. Is my desirable hip-waist ratio the reason I get all those comments about my body? I'm sure it has something to do with it. Would I struggle more with body acceptance if I carried it differently? Maybe. I don't know. It's all such B.S. and I'd hope I could see that even in a different body, but it's hard for me to say.

    Well, in sum, I like your style and don't think you look like a weird baby lady. 🙂 More importantly, I like your brain and I wish that more people got this. I want to dress like a slightly more grown-up quirky girl next door and achieve it mainly through thrifting and altering. But wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to? If we could walk into a store that catered to that demographic and things actually fit us? If our parent's friends didn't feel free to talk about our bodies as if they were community property?

    P.S. "Dewy-eyed Disney bride" is exactly how I think of Alison Brie. Every time I hear that song I imagine it as the twisted love song of Jeff Winger and Annie Edison.

    1. "I also wonder why other people put so much effort into justifying my body size to me, as if they were somehow personally invested in my fatness. I don't talk like I hate my body – mainly because I don't – so what gives? "

      I get this a lot, as well as a lot of winks and nods in comparison to my very thin coworker. Like customers saying to me, "Oh, we wish we looked like her, DON'T WE?" No! I don't! Even though she is very beautiful. Just leave both of our looks out of it!

      "I think that people are just really thrown by those who are at peace with their bodies, because most people aren't. Body tyranny has taught us all that there's only one acceptable body and no one actually meets that. "

      I definitely think that's astute. Diet talk is part of creating sisterhood with other women and by not participating in it you alienate yourself from a lot of women.

      Thank you so much for your comment! It would be awesome if I could just buy everything from Forever21 or Modcloth, I agree, but I also like the challenge of it. It's taught me a lot.

      "P.S. "Dewy-eyed Disney bride" is exactly how I think of Alison Brie. Every time I hear that song I imagine it as the twisted love song of Jeff Winger and Annie Edison."

      HAHA YES.

  8. ha! nice analysis of the media/cultural stereotypes out there. It's a pain in the@ss, and plenty of 'normal' sized people have troubles too. You can't find clothes because your torso is longer than 'normal', your waist smaller, you can't wear poly in the heat, the available colors make you look like you're a terminal hepatits patient, and so on.

    And there's a lot of media-brainwashed, thoughtless, lazy or harried people out there who do not think before they speak. Like when it comes out that i've had severe asthma requiring periodic hospitalization for decades and people ask if i've tried blue green algae. Persistently. My husband is quite thin but around 5'4" and people (usually staff at mobbed events) sometimes mistake him for a woman. Instead of just apologizing, you'd be amazed at the people who twist themselves in knots trying to justify themselves.

    Happily media-concocted stereotypes aren't true, and many people realize this. Just because 'the media' doesn't want to present Adele as sexy doesn't mean she isn't, or that there aren't millions of people who think that she is. The same with anyone else, including you.

    I find that these things vary incredibly according to different subcultures and geography. Here in Berkeley plenty of boys and even more girls would be banging down your door to crown you 'Miss Thang". Have you read "Truth and Beauty" by Ann Patchett? It's about her relationship with fellow writer Lucy Grealy, who's face was pretty non-standard due to treatment for cancer as a child. In New York she could get laid every single day, and was constantly bombarded with all type of fascinating proposals for how she could spend her time. However, during a stay in Scotland, she was ostracized and harassed for her looks.

    In my experience, as you get older people get less stupid about this topic (i'm 50). And turning off the tube does wonders 🙂 Thank you so much for introducing me to the Aorta line and your fabulous octopus!!!! steph

    1. "'it's a pain in the@ss, and plenty of 'normal' sized people have troubles too. You can't find clothes because your torso is longer than 'normal', your waist smaller, you can't wear poly in the heat, the available colors make you look like you're a terminal hepatits patient, and so on. "

      This is definitely true, but I think these are all individual things and not part of an enforcement of an ideal the way plus size clothing marketing is– i.e., cover up as much of the body as possible if it's not a boob.

      "Have you read "Truth and Beauty" by Ann Patchett? It's about her relationship with fellow writer Lucy Grealy, who's face was pretty non-standard due to treatment for cancer as a child. In New York she could get laid every single day, and was constantly bombarded with all type of fascinating proposals for how she could spend her time. However, during a stay in Scotland, she was ostracized and harassed for her looks. "

      I haven't read it! I got some street harassment that I actually could not understand in Scotland. It was troubling to be yelled at but have no idea what the words were.

      "And turning off the tube does wonders"

      I think I have worse experiences with people in real life than media in general, actually, but one is a result of the other.

      "Thank you so much for introducing me to the Aorta line and your fabulous octopus!!!! "

      Thank you for stopping by!

  9. I really liked your article and exposing of fat girl stereotypes, but you are not fat. You look like a beautiful, average size girl. I guess i'm confused here because you are not fat at all.

    1. I understand where this comment is coming from, and I know it can be frustrating to see someone you wouldn't ID as fat co-opting the word, but i am definitely fat. i am a size 16/18. my BMI is 31. i get street harassed for my size and i get doctors trying to treat my fatness instead of my illness. in a sense i am "average" because 14 is the average here in the US. thank you for saying i am beautiful but that's not mutually exclusive of being fat.

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