RK makes really good points, but I have some thoughts that complicate the matter–especially when it comes to fatshion.
1.) Fatshion is radical. It’s about taking up space, showing the world that fat women (and men) can have fun with fashion too. That we don’t have to wear muumuus, unless we want to. That we won’t put up with shitty clothing options from major retailers like Lane Bryant. That we don’t believe the right to self-expression should end at a size 14.
Fatshion is about inspiring people never thought they could dress themselves in a fun and creative way. It’s about inspiring people who used to think they were only allowed to wear black, or vertical stripes, or small prints. It’s a way of building community, both in the blog-o-sphere and in physical spaces like plus size boutiques, pop up stores, and clothing swaps.
Fatshion, for many people, contributes to the process of loving their bodies–although there are many other ways to do so, and neither fatshion nor loving your body should be mandatory.
2.) Enjoying compliments on your style is not an inherently bad thing, especially if you’re also complimenting others. Sure, it can get out of hand if it becomes your sole motivation, and then it’s a good idea to step back a bit.
But for fat people, compliments aren’t just good selfish fun. They’re an antidote to the ridiculous amount of negative messages we receive every day.
I’m lucky in that I’ve never gotten fat-related insults from strangers. I’ve never been mooed at, or called a fat ugly bitch from a moving car, or judged on my shopping cart contents. But these are all things that have happened to other women in the fat-o-sphere. And despite my luck at dodging such explicit insults–and in fact getting regular compliments from strangers on everything from my glitter bows to my dark purple skinny corduroys–I still have to deal with something like 386,170 fat-negative messages a year from the media.
3.) Fatshion bloggers show companies that there is a demand for plus-size clothes. This has been leading, slowly but surely, to a greater range of clothing options for fat people. I’ve seen it in my own life: I have a much easier time finding clothing now, at about 235 pounds, than I did in high school, when I weighed between 175 and 200.
This expansion of options is good not just for fatshionistas, but for any fat people who wear clothing. Even if you’re not particularly into style, being able to access appropriate clothing for different occasions–job interviews, work, swimming, athletics, religious services, weddings, etc–is important.
And although plus size clothing is still more expensive than straight sizes (especially when you factor in the shipping costs), over time, it’ll trickle down to thrift stores and eBay.
4.) Seeing pictures of regular people wearing clothes that are currently for sale can be really helpful in determining how the items fit, and therefore whether you want to buy them. Or for getting ideas of styles and color combinations that appeal to you.
5.) Not all clothing comes from “fast fashion” purveyors like Forever 21 and H&M. Fatshion shopping can support indie designers like Domino Dollhouse, Gisela Ramirez (of the infamous “Fuck Flattering ” shirt), Wole’ Designs, Queen Grace, Sisters of the Moon, Jessica Louise, Ureshii, Holy Clothing, Smarmy Clothes, KMK Designs, Lovely Ms Leveck Designs, HissyFit, Plussy, Rose Mortem, and Platipuses.
They, along with jewelry/accessory-makers like BeauXOXO and Crown & Glory, are real people making things for a living. Buying from them, if you’re interested and financially able, helps pay their bills.
That doesn’t cancel out the potential for getting stuck in a consumerist loop of constant wanting, and it doesn’t justify spending beyond your means. But it is worth keeping in mind that shopping can support other people’s livelihoods.
6.) Even genuine “fast fashion,” while definitely problematic, isn’t ethically simple.
The working conditions in clothing factories in the developing world (and sometimes in the developed world!) are often truly terrible. I can’t debate that, nor would I want to.
But, on a society-wide level, is boycotting them necessarily the best solution? On the individual level, sure, buy or don’t buy however you want. But if everyone suddenly stopped buying, the workers would lose their jobs, and end up even worse off than before. Good had an interesting essay on this conundrum a while back, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to find it.
That’s not an excuse for ignoring their treatment–but it is true. The ethics of shopping are complicated, and I’m not sure there’s any choice that’s 100% free from causing harm.
Personally, I think the best middleground is to thrift or buy from independent designers when possible, donate old clothes to thrift stores or sell them on sites like fatshionxchange, buy from major companies in moderation, and also lobby for better working conditions in their factories. If you’re boycotting a specific company for their working conditions, let them know.
In addition, lending to entrepreneurs in the developing world through sites like Kiva can help provide alternatives to people who might otherwise have to work in sweatshops. I also recommend Heifer International and the Grameen Foundation, which have helped millions of people throughout the world.
This is what I think is the least bad set of choices, but I could be wrong. What do you think? How do you try to reconcile style and ethics?