I just finished the book my Mom gave my for my birthday, a book I’ve really been looking forward to reading, Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girl on Life, Love, & Fashion edited by Virgi Tovar. I became aware of Fat Activism in a class I took my last semester of college called Women Filmmakers. My friend Dot made a video about her journey to self-acceptance, not an easy feat in a society obsessed with an ideal of beauty, and the ideal beauty (unfortunately) very, very, rarely takes the shape of a fat girl. Dot posted her video on youtube so you can see it here:
A few months later I somehow found Virgie Tovar through her youtube channel which features Virgie’s Girl to Fat Girl Living. I promptly fell in love with her (I mean have you seen the series? How could you not?!?!) and realized I need to confront a lot of my own body negativity and some of my own fat phobia. Fast forward months later and Virgie finally came out with this wonderful collection of essays which I just had the pleasure to read. She divided it into three sections, as the title suggests. I of course skipped right to the back to the fashion section (you know me). There I found a lot that resonated. These fabulous fat girls also saw fashion as not just a way to appeal to some idealized image of femininity, but as a way to play, to perform, to resist. Here’s Kristy Fife:
“To me, my clothes feel like armour…They help me leave the house on mornings
when the outside word seems unbearable. They’re my best self care mechanism
….The way I dress is an expression of both who I am an who I want to be.
Dressing offers me as pace to explore identities and play with facets of myself.”
If you’ve read any of my earlier posts you can definitely see me echoing these same sentiments. It’s such an important part of my identity and to regard personal style as only frivolous, or excessive, I think misses the point. It is a performance that I am manipulating (or trying to…). And it’s not just about the immediate experience of whatever I’m wearing. Instead it is about this long history of coming to my feminine self, of feeling comfortable in my own skin. Of learning a language of expression through bodies, and realizing that it is one of the first ways that people come to experience me, by looking at my body, and my clothes. All of this is part of that image. For better or for worse, bodily appearance and the way it signifies holds a lot of importance, especially for those regarded as female.
While I am not a fat girl, and I never have been, a lot of the stories in the book deeply resonated with me (that is to say, I also do recognize the differences in my embodied experience as a skinny white girl). For example Margitte Kristjansson explains in her essay how she wouldn’t wear shorts years after a bully said “Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to wear shorts? Damn you look soooooo ugly in those shorts, fatty. Your thighs are so full of cellulite. You are so gross, fatty.” Which reminded me of a time that a boy said to me “Your arms are so hairy! You look like a monkey!” From that day on I never felt good about my arms, I began to wear only long sleeved things. Me, 12 years old in Florida with my family in 90 degree weather in a sweatshirt. The only long sleeved thing I had with me at the time for some reason, and I kept it on, sweating, because my arms were disgusting. I would like to say I got over it, but I never did and to this day I shave the hair off my arms, I don’ t know if I’ll ever be able to get over being self conscious about that. My sister used to make fun of me for doing it, but then later in life she decided to wax them regularly. She said she feels so much better about herself. I’ve always had a strange relationship with my body hair. (Actually Dot, the friend mentioned above did her Div III about body hair, I know I’m not alone in this.)
Margaret Howie at the end of her essay wrote “My first move was to resolve not to wear things that hurt….the perpetual red line of fury that looped under my boobs…” I was so ashamed when I first asked my Mom to by me a bra. I remember my newly developing breasts poking out awkwardly out of my favorite green shirt in a way that I could tell made the adults around me uncomfortable. I began walking with a slouch to hide them, hurting my back. But my embarrassment hurt more than my back. I would hear “stand up straight!” from people around me, but despite the pain I wouldn’t. I couldn’t.
I finally summed up all of my courage to ask my Mom to buy me a bra. We went to the coolest store in the mall, the one that all the girls in my class bought their clothes at, the Limited Too. I was so embarrassed. I wasn’t big enough for a real bra, but I still needed one. So we found a “training” bra, my face red as a tomato. I don’t remember where or how I learned such body shame, but it was definitely, palpably, there, and it stayed with me all throughout high school.
I felt so much better after wearing the training bra. No one looked at me funny. For a month.
Until I grew more.
I was still so self conscious that I wore this bra for months after I out grew it. The elastic digging away at me, constricting my movements, my breathing, pressing hard into my skin as I was trying to concentrate in school. I would come home and there would be, exactly as Margaret said, a deep red angry line under my breasts. I was so ashamed of my body . I didn’t grow up in an environment that encouraged exploration or body love. To this day I wonder if my ribs are crooked, the left slumped down and the right shooting up, because I wore that horrible ill fitting thing in a crucial time of development. I can only imagine adding in taunting and teasing that fat kids experience on top of an already delicate sense of bodily self. I am lucky I did not face these taunts, and on top of that, that my mother had enough money to take me to the coolest store in the mall.
There are many more issues that I won’t go into detail about that I have with my body. Making me painfully aware of what I looked like. Sometimes it was so bad I would cry after getting home from school for hours because I felt so ugly. I wanted to be so small that no one would ever see me. I skipped school once because I was so self conscious about a zit on my chin. (Literally though, this fucker was actually the size of Texas).
Now, years out of public school (thank GOD) in my post-college, feminist enlighted, body loving self, fashion to me is about feeling good, and often not caring what anyone else thinks of it. If they think I’m trampy, fine. If they think I’m ostentatious, whatever. If they think I’m fabulous, I already know it. I’m celebrating my body now. Or at least trying to. Of course I sometimes wear makeup to hide things instead of flaunt them, and maybe sometimes I’ll wear that tight black shirt for the wrong reason. But, it’s a process. I’m constantly negotiating all of my old battle scars, and sometimes I find my movements constricted because some of the self conscious habits that were beaten into muscle memory still haven’t faded. I’m not there yet, and may never be. Yet, I hope you understand my interest in fashion as part of my healing, I know the fabulous fat girls of Virgie’s book do. As Howie said, fashion is a self-love and self-care regime, a performance, something that I have a little bit of control over. I am also working on not just accepting my own body, but everyone else’s.
In all of their forms.
SO! Fabulous fierce fatties, you have inspired me to continue to love myself and everyone else as you have come to love yourselves! And to quote Kristy Fife again:
“To you, it might just be an outfit, but to me it’s performance,
play, care support, resistance, survival, and fighting.”
Thank you fabulous fierce fat girls!
Love as always,