Artificial scarcity in clothing is the worst.

Have you ever fallen in love with a dress, waited to buy it for one reason or another, and then found that it was no longer available? Have you ever bought something when you would have preferred to wait, because you knew if you didn’t snatch it up right away you might not get another chance?

This is artificially-created scarcity at work, and it’s a marketing technique that I find really manipulative and gross. All sorts of companies do it–large corporations, indie designers, straight size stores, plus size stores–but I find it both most frustrating and most understandable when small plus size companies do it.

Frustrating, because I expect large corporations to do pretty much anything in the name of profits, whereas small businesses actually seem to care about their customers as well as their bottom line. Especially plus size small businesses, who are aware of how few options their customers have. If a straight size item sells out, it’s easy enough to find something similar–but with plus sizes, once it’s gone, you might not see anything like it for a long time, if ever. Continue reading

Ethical shopping isn’t always easy–or even possible–for everyone.

I keep reading articles about how ethical clothes-shopping is so easy, and I’m getting pretty sick of them. They’re well-intentioned, but erase the amount of privilege it takes to be able to find ethically-made clothes in your size and price range. Sure, shopping ethically can be easy–if you have a lot of money, a normatively-sized body, and the time/energy to research manufacturers’ practices, which are often not particularly transparent. Even thrifting, which is often held up an option that has a low impact on both workers and the environment, is fraught with ethical dilemmas, from the Salvation Army’s anti-gay policies to Goodwill’s exploitation of disabled workers to the surplus donations that are exported to developing countries, where they put small local producers out of business and destroy the markets for indigenous, hand-crafted textiles.

It’s pretty painfully ironic that if you’re already marginalized, say by being fat and/or poor, that makes it harder to make consumer choices that don’t harm others. Being able to vote with your wallet for a better world takes a lot of privilege–which is why, even though I support ethical shopping, I consider it neither a requirement for activists nor particularly likely to lead to systemic change, as it doesn’t truly challenge existing power structures. If taken to extremes, it can even become a distraction from the kinds of collective action that can actually lead to change.

This all reminds of me a post Sal wrote a while back in which she explained the market realities behind why it’s so hard to find clothes that fit more than one or two of the following consumer expectations: low price, quality construction, available in a variety of sizes, ethical manufacturing processes, and made locally. I appreciate her explanations, but personally, I’m more interested in changing the system. If, under capitalism, clothing made without brutal treatment of workers is a niche market? Then maybe capitalism is the problem. If, under capitalism, clothing that fits the majority of people is a niche market? Again, maybe capitalism is the problem.

We deserve better.

I keep coming across disheartening reminders that having a successful career rarely translates into financial stability.

s.e. smith, a writer whose work I’ve followed for years on XOJane and elsewhere on the social justice internets, recently posted a list of tips for freelancers. In the introduction, ou* admitted:

Alas, the fact of the matter is that while I have been freelancing for seven years now, I still don’t have what I would call a wildly stable or successful career, and it’s highly likely that will never realistically happen. The same is true of many freelancers, especially in an economy where intellectual labour is valued less and less, which translates into lower fees for your work or dreaded offers of ‘exposure’ in offer for your free work.

The same day, I came across Susie Cagle’s post Eight years of solitude: on freelance labor, journalism, and survival. And it’s just depressing:

More newspapers and magazines want to profile me and the strange work I do than hire me to actually do it. Other writers and illustrators chastise, how can you complain about getting that kind of promotion? The year I got the most TV and radio spots and magazine write-ups, I made about $17,000.

Even though freelance writing doesn’t appeal to me for a number of reasons–I do best with external structure and routine, I need to be around people, and I just enjoy writing more when my rent doesn’t depend on it–it hurts to see how little our economy values people with skills and interests similar to mine. It’s incredibly frustrating to see so many people doing such good work but barely making enough to live on.

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Quote of the day: on unemployment and work

“If you’re unemployed, it’s not because there isn’t any work.

Just look around: A housing shortage, crime, pollution; we need better schools and parks. Whatever our needs, they all require work. And as long as we have unsatisfied needs, there’s work to be done.

So ask yourself, what kind of world has work but no jobs? It’s a world where work is not related to satisfying our needs, a world where work is only related to satisfying the profit needs of business.

This country was not built by the huge corporations or government bureaucracies. It was built by people who work. And, it is working people who should control the work to be done. Yet, as long as employment is tied to somebody else’s profits, the work won’t get done.”

This poster from the New American Movement (which existed from 1971-1982, so that gives you a sense of how old this quote is…and how very relevant it still is today!)

Reading while fat, part 3: why don’t progressives think critically about fat?

Right now, I’m reading Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, which is a pretty awesome book. Leonard looks at the entire production chain of the stuff we buy, and the many ways that it harms both people and the environment. She ties together seemingly disparate economic and environmental issues, exposes the structuresbehind them, and highlights the work that people are doing around the world to move toward a more sustainable, just, and healthy way of living.

But. There’s always a but, isn’t there?

In describing how things have gotten worse for USians despite continued economic growth, she lists a string of negative things from credit card debt to teen suicide rates. The very first thing she mentioned? Yup, you’ve guessed it. It’s the terrible existence of fat bodies.

“Almost every indicator we can find to measure our progress as a society shows that despite continued economic growth over the past several decades, things have gotten worse for us. In the United States, obesity is at record levels, with fully a third of adults over the age of twenty and nearly 20 percent of children between the ages of six and eleven considered obese.” (Leonard, 150).

It’s one brief mention in a good and important book, and it definitely wouldn’t stop me from recommending it. But I hate, hate, hate how Leonard, like so many other progressives, buys into the conventional wisdom on fatness.

Why do people who think critically about so many things and the connections between them–from climate change to income inequality to environmental racism–fail to think critically about the way society pathologizes fat bodies?

Why do people who question capitalism, consumerism, and the paradigm of endless economic growth fail to realize the connection between the “obesity epidemic” and the $60 billion weight-cycling industry?

On the personal level, it brings out my Rageasaurus (not to mention my giant squid of anger and my feminist Hulk) every time I read that my body is a symptom of everything that’s wrong with society–and it hurts a lot more coming from a fellow progressive than from a right-winger whom I could easily dismiss.

At the same time, it reminds me why fat activism is so important. It reminds me why even just posting pictures of myself online can be a radical act.

It reminds me why I keep doing all of this.

I learn so much from Twitter: why marriage matters

My new favorite Twitter-er is madgastronomer, who writes about all sorts of interesting things (and in the last few days, has made references to both the Muppets and Dr. Who! Huzzah!). A few days ago, she did an amazing job taking down some privileged, more-radical-than-thou bullshit from Jenn Levya of Fat, Smart, and Pretty.

The conversation started with this tweet from Jenn:

If you’re getting married, I want to know why you aren’t searching for radical alternatives that subvert capitalism and misogyny.

Madgastronomer responded that, for her, marrying another woman is radical–and there’s no alternative that would convey the same protections. She summed up her thoughts in this series of tweets:

I used to be all for abolishing all legal marriage and using contracts instead. And then I did some actual research into the rights and protections granted by legal marriage, and the fact that a huge number of them cannot be granted through any other means, and honestly some of them, like the right to not be forced to testify against a spouse, SHOULD [not] be grantable by contract. And many of these protections serve to protect marginalized people — or can, invoked at the right time. 

And as I became more informed, I realized that we would always need something analogous to marriage, something that could be used to put most or all of these protections in place all at once. And then I realized that no matter what you call it on paper, such a thing will continue to be called marriage by most people.

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More thinking about the commercialization of fatshion

(Earlier posts here, here, here, and here.)

I read another interesting response to Natalie’s piece, from Kath of Fat Heffalump. She argues that:

Fatshion is so much  more than mainstream fashion up-sized to fit a size 16 or 18.  Fatshion belongs to us, not to the fashion industry.  Fatshion will always be outside the margins, and will always be radical.  Fatshion belongs to here and now, not the past.  Fatshion is about finding your own style and rocking the hell out of it, flying in the face of a world that tells us we should never be seen.

I don’t agree with the premise that fatshion is always radical–I think that it, like almost anything else, can be co-opted. When fatshion becomes all about following trends, having the latest popular pieces, stoking an endless cycle of consumerist desires…then yeah. Not so radical. It’s a fine line, but I’ve seen a lot of fatshion going on that direction, and I’ve experienced that consumerist pull myself. It’s really tricky, and I don’t think that fatshion should be inherently immune from criticism.

But I do agree that there’s an amazing diversity of fatshion blogs, beyond the big names and the more commercially-oriented smaller names (some of who do have awesome style). And I agree that those bloggers shouldn’t be conflated with the small elite world of professional fatshionistas.

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And the ethics of fatshion get even more complicated…

Natalie Perkins—fatshionista, writer, and creator of the iconic fat necklace–has a very interesting piece up on XoJane.

Titled “When activism gave way to advertising: how fat girl blogging ate itself,” it argues…well, exactly what the title says.

Fatshion blogs have largely evolved to be in step with large clothing brands, and I fear that the joining of oppressed and oppressor in brand relationships is not furthering fat activism. I don’t begrudge authors of blogs deriving an income from advertising, but I’m concerned with the increasing hand that brands have in blog content.

My feelings about all of this are complicated, but first of all, I admire Natalie for speaking up. She’s an amazing writer, and it takes guts to criticize a such a popular model of blogging.

When I have many conflicted thoughts about something (as I often do–ever heard the saying that between two Jews, there are three opinions?), I find it helps to number them. So, here goes.

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