Fashion

This dress and its associated struggles.

3 December, 2011

I bought this dress on sale about a year ago from Myer, it was reasonably priced and comfortable and at that stage I was desperate to get some casual dresses into my wardrobe. The problem with this dress is that while it’s comfortable, it’s also incredibly hard to wear without making me feel really frumpy. It has a lot of gathered stitching in odd places, from the front shoulder to the bust line and across the back, and below the bust line it just falls away. Not under the bust, the bust line, and while I try VERY HARD to practice anti-flattering dressing, it’s just not as easy to carry it out when your body is not a conventional hour glass shape.

An outfit photo of me, fat and pale skinned, wearing a dress with a mauve/ purple/ cream/ olive dot pattern, a lot of brown bead necklaces, and a thin belt with black sandals. I'm standing with Miffy, who wants her outfit photo taken too.

This morning we decided to go out for lunch and I had a dressing dilemma. Summer is a terrible sartorial period in my life because it’s so damn hot and for some reason I don’t have a very cohesive summer wardrobe. I have made a few patterned skirts but none of them go with the tops that I have! I pulled out the dreaded dress and decided to give it another go. Without anything to around my waist/ under boob area (the two are basically the same place when you have a short waist) it just made me feel very frumpy and un-finished. I pulled a studded belt out of the top of the wardrobe and put on as many beaded necklaces as I could find, and found it infinitely more wearable and less frumpy in my head. I hate wearing belts that just float around, and I really resent the designer for making this dress loose fitting from the bust line, but this is basically the best way I feel I can wear this dress.

My dress struggles reminded me that even though I (or you or anyone) can fully reject something (like the principle of flattering clothes) in theory, in practice it’s a far harder thing to carry out especially when we’ve had acceptable body shapes and sizes drilled into our heads. In some ways I feel like a hypocrite, but being gentler and more tender with myself is probably a more productive and workable approach. No fat or body acceptance activist is perfect, we all make mistakes, and sometimes we practice things that fall outside what we preach. How can I expect myself to be a perfectly radical activist in every way when I’ve grown up in the very culture I am questioning? I am not objective, I am subjective; we shouldn’t give the objective viewpoints more weight in most circumstances, we should be giving voice to the lived experience of hardship, struggle and oppression. I am feeling these shitty feelings we’ve been taught to feel. The most powerful thing is stopping for a second to listen to my self talk, then questioning why I feel the need to comply. Talking about it with other people helps a great deal, and it’s one of the reasons why I write about being fat and wearing clothes on this blog.

An outfit photo of me picking up my necklaces with one hand and the skirt of my dress with another, in a very carefree sort of "I'm a blogger lalalala" kind of way.

So I chose the option that made me feel less shit about myself in this case. It’s not perfect, but it’s one of the things I have to do in order to wear clothes as per my societal contract as a human being living in a city in Australia. I chose the option that made me feel like I’d be less of a target. As a fat person who is deathfat and can not hide it, my body is hyper-visible; I felt like I’d be less of a target for people to stare at and yell things at. I also chose the option that made me feel much better about a purchase I made, because I don’t have access to a diverse range of options in a size 24-26.

A photo of Miffy reaching up to give me a high five (with both paws because her front legs are adorably tiny).

A photo of my face, smiling in a kind of very forced way.

A photo of my legs and feet standing on grass sprinkled with red poinciana flowers. I'm wearing black studded sandals.

I get lots of feedback and questions about being fat and trying to be a “good activist” all the time, and honestly, I have no idea what a “good activist” is. The best human being I can be is a transparent, tender, forgiving, accountable being; and when it comes to an area of activism like body image that is so personal and emotional, the best activist thing is kind of a false aspiration. Seek to question, critique and be accountable but also be super loving and forgiving and remember that nuance is incredibly important. If you struggle with hating your body or participating in hurtful practices but love the idea of fat and body acceptance, you are not alone. There’s lots of us standing in front of mirrors every day battling this stuff, wondering if a belt will compromise everything. But it doesn’t.

Dress: Piper Woman
Shoes: Annie (via Shoebuy.com)
Belt: From a Yours Clothing dress
Necklaces: from a variety of forgotten places
Bangles: City Chic

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  • eclectic gina

    I get what you are saying but think you are being hard on yourself. you are trying to make the best of a crappy constructed dress not conforming to society’s ideals. Someone who wasn’t a fab fat activist would wear it unbelted and hide under the fabric. You instead are making it your own and letting it show your body. fab x

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think it’s conformist if you refuse to put on a dress that makes you look more shapeless than you are. Lots of plus size dresses have this “tent-like” appearance in order to hide one’s big belly, but these days, I refuse adhere to the “hide any curves below your boobs” rule. I’d rather get the odd “Are you pregnant?” question, because I don’t mind answering with a “No, I’m just fat!”, and I sometimes do rather enjoy watching the other person squirm in embarassment after that line. So basically, what I’m trying to say is this: If you don’t buy into hiding your shape as a fat person, which is what this dress asks you to do the way it is cut, then it’s still a “Fuck you” to what is supposedly flattering on us fatties.

  • thirties girl

    I think the dress looks great on you, but that’s because I love the belt around it.  I love the print and ruffles, too, but I think the belt is what (literally and figuratively) pulls the outfit together.  Personally, I don’t find it meaningful for me to think about whether I’m wearing something “flattering” or “not flattering.”  I don’t strive to wear “non-flattering” outfits, but nor am I overly concerned with what other people find “flattering” on me either.  When I put an outfit together, I want to make sure *I* like it on me, that I’m happy with how it looks.  I could really care less with what other people think. If I like a horizontal striped top with the pants or skirt I have on, that’s what I’ll wear, regardless that other people may think “fat people shouldn’t wear horizontal stripes.”  If the striped top isn’t the right shape (for example, too oversized, too short) or doesn’t strike the right stylistic note with the skirt or pants I’m wearing (for example, maybe the skirt is more vintage inspired and has an ‘old timey’ feel, and the top is too modern to work with it), I won’t wear it, or I’ll switch the pants or skirt for something that I feel works better with the top. 

    Point being, I take my stylistic cues from me, not from anyone else.  Sure, my stylistic cues may be influenced by my constant exposure (all my life) to how women’s bodies are “supposed to” look and how women are “supposed to” dress, but I can’t bring more anxiety into my life by trying to overthink it.  If *I* like the outfit I’m wearing and feel comfortable in it (literally and emotionally), that’s all that matters to me.  I don’t care what anyone else thinks – including hating it because they think it looks horrible on me, or hating it because they think I’m trying to meet the societal standards of how fat women are “supposed to” dress.

  • I really, really struggle with the line between “fuck flattering” and “I don’t like the way this looks”.  Thank you for giving voice to a lot of what I think about as I get dressed every morning.

  • I think if you have an outfit you love but it’s unflattering in the conventional sense but you wear it anyway you are being true to the idea of Fuck Flattering. You’re not going to love every piece. I think questioning why you feel this dress has to be flattering vs. not is a good thing. However, I personally think as long as you don’t balk at pieces that aren’t flattering then there’s nothing wrong with occasionally fancing up a piece that doesn’t make you feel fancy.

  • Being fat, outspoken, fashionable, and into what you’re wearing is revolutionary. It doesn’t matter how anyone else views you- its how YOU feel in it. And by definition, if you feel good in everything you wear, its ALL flattering.

    The “fuck flattering” ideal isn’t about always being confrontational about the way your clothing fits, its about allowing yourself freedom to be whatever you want. You’re doing it! You’re a brilliant activist and beautiful person.

  • beep

    I struggle a lot with this, too. I bought a dress this summer that was really not “flattering” in the sense of creating (the hourglass) shape, but after a while I started thinking that oh god, this dress is a very typical piece of “fatty” clothing that hides the body away and I don’t want people to think that I’m wearing it because I’m some conformist who’s ashamed of her body. Then I REALLY didn’t know what to think. A lot of my old clothes have become suspicious after getting myself involved with fatshion and fat acceptance. This fucks with my mind a lot.

  • I understand it is easy for me to say this but please don’t be so hard on yourself. That dress is a pretty colour and makes you look happy. So what if you put on a belt and jewellery to make yourself feel good! I agree with Thirtiesgirl – the belt helps it to look like an outfit and it looks nice on! Classifying yourself as a fat activist should not mean being so hyper critical of yourself because then, to me, it just seems like any other girl making an unnecessary comment about your weight/shape. The belt compromises nothing – it is just doing its job!

  • I really like what you’ve said here. I feel these same kind of things too- I love fashion, I love shapeless dresses and I love fitted dresses. I also occasionally feel like I look humongous in those ‘tent’ like dresses! Other days I love that I’m rocking the hippie chic, relaxed, floaty look. I think how I feel I look in my outfit all depends on how I feel that day. I’m all for Fuck Flattering, but in the way that I’ll wear whatever the hell I like- not what ‘they’ think I should be wearing on my fat body. Sometimes I can put a dress on and not feel it at all, other times I put it on and it bloody rocks!

    I love what you’ve done with this dress- the belt and the necklaces make it yours- which is so much cooler than what it looked like before and what fashion is all about anyway! I guess the important thing is that you are looking at it more from the ‘it makes me feel good about myself wearing it this way’ than the ‘this will make me less of a target’ way.

    And for goodness sake woman, you are fabulous anyway! :-D

  • Moe

    It is impossible for you to be “frumpy”.

  • Kristine

    Not frumpy in the least! Very pretty on you, but maybe you were just craving something with a bit more funk, or an edge to it. Hence the sandals! Great necklaces, too.

  • Totally agree with what Rachel said. YES, YES, YES!

    It is a failure of the clothing and the designer – not you. Making something work for YOUR body and purposes, however that may be (“flattering” or not), is what personal style and fashion are all about.

    The belt is another accessory, just like your shoes and necklace – things that you’ve chosen to make the outfit fantastic. Without you (quite literally too, because you’re in it), it would just be a shapeless dress!

  • Kimmy

    I interpret the fuck flattering idea as taking a stand against what is conventionally believed to be flattering on different body types. I know it’s a big part of the fat acceptance movement but I think it could be applied to human that has to wear clothes. We’re told all these rules to follow… No white after labor day, no mini skirts after 40, no form fitting clothes on fat bodies, no ruffles on big chested persons, no short shorts on men… They’re all ridiculous. I think everyone should wear what they want for the purpose they want… If that’s purpose is to make a politically charged statement, more power to them. If that purpose is just because you like huge floral prints the rock on with ya bad self!

  • PixieSkull

    I find you totally adorable in the cheesy pic. I think the shape suits you, really. You won’t look like an hourglass in it, and you don’t have to. I think it looks flattering and shows you have a nice, yet higher, waistline.