The complex ethics of fa(t)shion blogging

Fatshion: the intersection of revolution and glitter.

Through another one of Sal’s link round-ups, I found this thoughtful post on the ethics of fashion blogging.

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.

Lifting off the burden of oppression

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?

7 thoughts on “The complex ethics of fa(t)shion blogging

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with the points you make about the radical/political aspects of fatshion blogging. We live in an appearance fixated society where people are judged according to how they present themselves. It can be highly problematic if you don’t have access to appropriate clothing for certain occasions, (work, job interviews, funerals, formals, date, etc), especially in a culture where the vast majority are already predisposed to discriminate against fat people. And the fatter you are the more inaccessible that clothing is likely to be.

    The more visible fatshion bloggers become; the more likely mainstream manufacturers are to wake up to the potential fortune to be made from the fat consumer and start catering to them. Particularly if the fat consumer starts becoming more vocal, which I believe is starting to happen – as is the visibility. The more manufacturers that make the effort to get it right, (and they have no excuse as they have all the market research they could want courtesy of the fashion blogs), the more likely the fat consumer is to buy them. The more sales the manufacturers make, the less likely fat consumers are to hang onto their clothes for grim death for years on end for fear of never finding any more, (which is exactly what we do in the UK), – and the more likely they are to be recycled through charity shops and fatshion exchanges, thus benefiting those on restricted budgets or who feel ethically compromised by their shopping sources and/or habits.

    This probably makes me sound morally bankrupt but I have very little time for the ethical shopping guilt-trip. Particularly when it’s laid upon me by someone with a single-digit dress size who enjoys a luxury of choice I can only dream about. It’s like rich people droning on about how everyone should eat organic and then nobody would ever get sick (or, even more spuriously, fat). Fashion isn’t a level playing field. Small-to-average-sized folk tend to think about that in terms of budget, whereas my size, shape and age also play a part in the picture. When Evans, as the main purveyor of plus-sized clothes to the nation has to accomodate a wide variety of ages, budgets and body types, that narrows down my choices even further. In fact one of the reasons I started posting OOTDs on fatshionista and wardrobe–remix is because I felt invisible as an older woman, never mind a fat one. (Though, to be honest, I had over time become invisible because of the dreadful clothing choices I’d had forced upon me for years on end). Similarly shybiker’s input from a trans perspective on RK’s thread also gave me pause for thought.

    I’ve been extremely fortunate over the past five years that there’s been significantly more available to me in terms of choice and personal self-expression than the entirety of my adult life as a fat person. But I’m also keenly aware that the well could run dry at any time, not least because I mainly rely on two stores and only one is a dedicated plus-size manufacturer. If they started struggling to stay afloat, which they could in the current financial climate, you can be sure that the larger sizes would be the first thing to go. I’ve been an avid frequenter of jumble and car boot sales, flea markets and charity shops since I my mid-teens but thrifting in the UK is absolutely dire for anyone over a UK size 16.

    Sorry, laura, I seem to have written you an essay!

    • No problem, I don’t mind the essay-length! I still get excited every time I get a comment. 😉

      I agree with all of this! I do think it’s possible to get sucked into a vortex of consumerism with fatshion, especially for bloggers who are younger, relatively smaller, and have enough money to buy a lot of clothing online. But that risk is minor compared to the benefits of visibility and getting manufacturers to actually start making plus size clothing. Which is really, really important.

      So much progress has already been made–as is reflected in the increased clothing options that we’ve both noticed in the last few years–but there is definitely so much more work to be done. Especially when it comes to brick-and-mortar stores.

      I feel like I have a lot of choices on the internet (Domino Dollhouse, Yours, ASOS Curve, Deb, Torrid, Simply Be, New Look’s Inspire Collection, Pyramid Collection, Fashion to Figure, Sealed Wth a Kiss, Evans, Chic Star, Jessica Louise, Style 369, Igigi, Kiyonna, eShakti if their customer service didn’t suck, fatshionxchange…), but in real life I’m limited to the small plus size sections of a few stores like Target and Marshall’s. There isn’t even a Lane Bryant that’s easy for me to get to anymore, and I don’t want to take a bus out to the suburbs just for one crappy clothing store.

      I really hope that over time, manufacturers keep seeing our demands and make more clothing in plus sizes, especially in brick and mortar stores.

  2. Pingback: Are fatshionistas pioneering a deep economy of fashion? « Tutus And Tiny Hats

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful piece! It’s been a couple of years (!) since I wrote that piece on fashion blogging, and my thoughts on this matter have shifted somewhat, though I’m not sure if I’ll ever participate in it again. I think you make valid points, especially about making bodies that are not conventionally “seen” in society (whether it’s about fatshion, racialized ones, etc). I appreciated your engagement with my piece, and will continue to read.

    • You’re welcome! I understand about the shifting thoughts–I have a feeling my thoughts will shift over time too, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I burn out on fatshion blogging someday. Thanks for reading!

  4. Pingback: 2012: Blog year in review « Tutus And Tiny Hats

  5. Pingback: Are Fatshionistas Pioneering a Deep Economy of Fashion? | GLORIFY

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