An important perspective on fatshion

While poking around Tumblr (which I am getting more and more tempted to join, although the last thing I need is another way to waste time online!), I found this critique of fatshion:

Fashion is a (too) large part of fat activism and I can understand its allure but basically as I see it fatshion doesn’t mean shit against the actual issue of CLOTHING for larger/deathfats, medical access, spacing access, race, class and other intersecting oppressions.

I mean who is buying all that expensive ASOS poorly made clothing? Not anyone over an AUS size limit of 26. Maybe poor women like me drive themselves broke to have what we’re taught acceptably pretty acceptably fat women should have. Maybe middle class or wealth privileged smaller fats.

And also we talk about fatshion at the expense of talking about the complex ways clothing is used as social markers and about the way clothing can be used to visually construct identity.

The Sugar Monster added her perspective as another fat woman who feels alienated from fatshion.

I feel….well, pretty much the same way as Lisa Monster:

This is really important, and I really would like to be able to add to it. I definitely feel that finding the “fatshion” community was so important to me in my self acceptance, and I think right now I’m stuck between that place and being able to join the dialogue about the real issues for fat people, and I hope that it doesn’t seem hypocritical of me to be agreeing with all of this and still posting and reblogging all of the pretty clothes. I’m still trying to find my voice right now, but I really want to thank everyone who has spoken out in the past and who is speaking out now about the issues that exist within this community. 

Fatshion has been a huge (no pun intended) part of fat liberation for me. And I’ve been into playing dress-up–ahem, I mean fashion–ever since I was a little kid. It’s a form of creative expression for me, and it’s not something I can or want to give up. But I also think it’s important to recognize that fatshion doesn’t do it for a lot of fat people, for a lot of reasons. That there are many other paths to liberation. That fatshion, perhaps unfairly, takes up a lot of space in the fat acceptance movement–especially online.

Maybe this is because it’s easier to take outfit pictures than to write in-depth analyses of fat politics. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I know I wouldn’t have started this blog if I’d thought I had to write all serious posts, all the time. For me, focusing on fatshion took off the internal pressure about writing, and ended up making it easier for me to write about all sorts of things.

But I want to recognize that fatshion leaves people out. And that their voices matter too.

I did some Googling, and found two other posts expressing similar concerns: Fat Acceptance (Wherein I Fail at “Fatshion”) and Fatshion–Or Not?

I think this is a big part of what Natalie Perkins was talking about in her infamous critique of fatshion blogging:

I’ve seen lots of popular fatshion bloggers refuse to get too into politics because they don’t want to get that serious, or try to “influence” people.

For my part, I will continue to struggle with leading my audience, many of whom are fat people who’ve hated their bodies their whole lives, up to the trough of loving the outside of their bodies clothed and shod in things they never thought they’d wear while addressing fat issues like medical negligence, race/ability/class/gender/sexuality and fatness, employment discrimination, and other big fat feelings about embodiment.

It’s a tricky balance.

I’m not going to stop blogging about fatshion, but I will keep doing my best to 1.) promote other fatshion bloggers who fall outside of the “mainstream,” whether by their size, disability, race, or gender presentation and 2.) link to bloggers who write about various other aspects of fat politics and experiences.

To start with, here are few non-fatshion-focused blogs that write about fat acceptance/activism:

Dances With Fat
Love Live Grow
The Fat Nutritionist
Lesley Kinzel and Marianne Kirby on XOJane
This is Thin Privilege
Living ~400 lbs.
Anytime Yoga
Redefining Body Image (includes some fatshion, but also a lot of other good stuff)
Fat Body Politics
Health At Every Size Blog
Unapologetically Fat
Fat and Not Afraid
Not Blue At All
Big Fat Delicious
Axis of Fat
Sex and the Fat Girl

Feel free to link to other FA blogs (including your own!) in the comments.

8 thoughts on “An important perspective on fatshion

  1. I am 47 years old and I have spent the majority of my life absolutely HATING my fat body. During my teenage years I was constantly criticized and abused because of my weight – and it was only a few months ago that I FINALLY decided to stop worrying about it. Fatshion blogs were/are my gateway drug to fat activism. As RuPaul says “If you don’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love anybody else?”

    Fatshion blogs taught me that being fat does not equal being ugly or unworthy of love. When I see girls like you looking adorable it makes me happy. It inspires me to dress better, and when I am dressed up I feel powerful and awesome.

    Women who feel powerful and awesome can change the world – no matter what size we are.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences! I’m glad that my blog, among others, has inspired you. Fatshion can definitely be a gateway to fat activism, and it makes an amazing difference for a lot of people (including myself). I just want to make sure that people who find fatshion inaccessible, for whatever reason, aren’t excluded from FA spaces.

  2. I have been part of the fat activism world since 1983 and it just works for me to focus on where and what clothing fat people can buy and how it will fit. That is a form of expression for me so to not do it would be limiting. I am not very political by nature but I want to support my fellow fatties in anyway I can.
    I was raised poor and now I do a lot of volunteering for art, because I can. So I think we all need to do what works for us. YAY for tutus and YAY for HAES and YAY for Marilyn Wann and YAY for NAAFA…YAY

    • YAY for all of those things indeed! I definitely don’t think anyone should stop focusing on clothing–I just want to make sure we don’t inadvertently exclude people whose main focus is other aspects of FA.

  3. I think this is a really important issue within the fat positive blogosphere and I’m really keen for all of us to discuss it more. Like a lot of others, it seems, fatshion was my introduction to fat acceptance and what helped me turn ideas about fat people deserving respect into a *feeling* that *I* deserved respect in my fat body. And just seeing fat bodies around the place, I think, gives us extra visual vocabulary to think about different bodies in a variety of different ways. That includes thinking of fat bodies as beautiful, stylish, sexy and all those things that are usually denied us in mainstream understandings of fat. I think the visual is a really important, not to mention radical, part of fat liberation for that reason – it’s why my blog is called Radically Visible! – but I think something we need to remember is that fat acceptance and the plus size fashion industry aren’t the same thing. The plus size fashion industry – “all that expensive ASOS poorly made clothing”, Lane Bryant’s barely-even-plus-sized models, and the companies wooing fatshion bloggers with gifts of clothing as “payment” for their work that Natalie Perkins talks about in her article – aren’t all there is to fatshion.

    There are fatshion bloggers and more general fat positive bloggers who talk about fatshion – and Natalie Perkins is one of them – who are trying to unpack the acceptably pretty=acceptably fat problem, and the centralisation of middle class and wealthy and smaller fats (and white fats and able-bodied fats and fatties who have various types of unexamined privilege despite being oppressed for their fatness). This is important and we need to keep talking about it.

    It’s like feminism, you know? The advances of the past become mainstream, and some people who are benefited by those advances appear to think that’s enough, but then there’s still more work to do. I think the fact that fat women are being recognised as a viable fashion market is a (bit of a) win for fat women, because we can use that increased visibility to demand more, and to fight the broader and far more dangerous injustices that fat people face in the world.

    • This is a super old entry (that I’m only reading just now because it was linked to in a recent entry), but I just have to say that I love everything you say here Sarah (and Laura!). I admit I am biased toward the visibility aspects of fat acceptance and liberation myself, mostly because a.) I love creativity and art in general and I see clothing as an extension of that, and b.) more in-depth and complex political analysis on this particular issue is just not something I’ve found myself able to wrap my brain around very well. Which I think is ok, we all have our strengths and areas that don’t particularly interest us or that maybe confuse or frustrate us, and there’s room in any activism movement for all sorts of contributions. We do what we love and what we do best, yaknow? For me, abstract theory has to be anchored to something concrete and personal (including the personal development stories of fatties I admire and follow), such as fatshion and also things like hearing how rad fatties learned to love themselves or exercise and have fun while maintaining that self-love and self-care etc. I eat that stuff up and find it revolutionary in its own way.

      All that said, I couldn’t agree with you more that there is so much more to fat acceptance and liberation than that sort of thing. The theoretical aspects, the more political aspects, are so important too and no they don’t get enough room in the blogosphere as is. Wearing pretty clothes may help an individual fat person feel awesome, but without political action feeling awesome is not necessarily going to change the oppression of fat people as a whole. Like fat people being defined by their bodies in media (one of my personal pet peeves). And the horrible abuse many fatties have to endure on a daily basis. And the very valid feelings of fat activists who feel left out by clothing as liberation or even personal development as liberation. What if you don’t have the time or energy or money to focus on any of that, or even if you did the plus sized clothing available doesn’t reflect your cultural or subcultural or gender or whatever identity, or you just don’t *care* about it? Like I said, there is room in activism for all sorts of contributions, so fatties shouldn’t feel pressured to limit themselves to this one approach that maybe doesn’t work for them for whatever reason, just because it’s perhaps more entertaining or popular for a lot of others. This is the same sort of “in group/out group” bs that fatties face in the rest of the world; they don’t need it leaking into FA circles that are supposed to be safe havens.

  4. Pingback: Making Fatshion Accessible for All, Required for None | GLORIFY

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