True Colours (Cross-posted to The Rotund)
Some months ago someone from the fatshionista community said she’d always thought of yellow as a thin person’s colour, and that perplexed me. Did yellow simply not flatter her, I wondered? Had it been the absolute must-have colour one season and none of the plus-sized stores picked up on it? Or had the slenderising properties of navy and black been so thoroughly drummed into her by well-meaning relatives and fat phobic fashion mavens that the thought of draping her curves in any other hue gave her the screaming abdabs? To me, yellow conjures up adjectives like sunny and radiant. It’s cute fuzzy Easter chicks, Wordsworth’s daffodils and the yummy citrus tang of a freshly squeezed lemon. All in all it’s a pretty uplifting colour. Maybe she just couldn’t picture being fat and happy? Well, she’d hardly be the first, least of all where fashion’s concerned.
I think a lot about clothes and the myriad insidious, confidence-eroding messages we chubsters suck up daily in our quest for them.There are three dedicated plus-size clothing chains in the UK, but for decades there was only one: Evans The Outsize Shop, as it proudly proclaimed on its awnings and carrier bags. Not quite as snappy as Torrid, is it? Frankly, it’s no wonder women of my mum’s generation turned to amphetamines, inflatable rubber exercise pants and freaky fad diets to avoid the ignominy of having to shop there. Even now there are few UK department stores or high street chains offering much in the way of plus-sizes. Sure things have improved a tad for the inbetweenie lately, and you can buy attractive FF and G-cup bras pretty much anywhere now – but woe betide the bodacious of behind because those pretty matching knickers stop at size 16.
Traversing the mall in the knowledge you’re as welcome as the proverbial turd in the sangria in almost every store further compounds the sense of worthlessness that comes with a lifetime of being blanked by fashion magazines. Patently unworthy of beautification, our very absence imbues us with hitherto unimaginable power. In the land of the glossy where Scarlet Johansen is OMG!fat we, the actual fat, have achieved bogeyman status – seldom glimpsed and all the scarier for it. (I mean please, we don’t even have heads). That token fat-girl makeover feature they run every 18 months is fooling no one, least of all us. We’re the handcart everyone’s going to hell in if they don’t renew their gym membership/ embrace the latest diet/get that icky lard siphoned out of their arses pronto. Never mind our potential as consumers, as long as we keep the flames of self-hate roaring and the other suckers spending, who the hell cares what we want?
But the spirit bludgeoning doesn’t end there. Even those who do cater to our needs can still make us feel like crap. There’s the cost for a start. The handful of exclusive fat ladies boutiques peppered across the British Isles charge through the earhole for designer clothes they import from Germany, Scandinavia and the US. In these stores you can seriously look forward to paying three times as much for anything, no matter how basic, as our slender sisters would expect to pay in the high street. Then there’s the fact that, even if you’re willing and able to pay top dollar, the styles on offer may not necessarily fit or flatter your body-type, thus narrowing down a choice that was narrow enough to begin with. And no matter how steep the price tag it will still be polyester-a-go-go because, as everyone knows, all fat people have a pathological terror of ironing. But, by far the most injurious to the human spirit is the inability to truly express one’s personality through our dress.
Want to strut your stuff as a disco diva, corporate ball breaker or boobalicious Russ Meyer-style ultra-vixen? Dream on. Your choice will be limited by the eminently limited horizons of designers and buyers who, not being fat themselves, don’t have a clue what you want and don’t seem in much of a hurry to find out. And don’t look to the vintage market to help you out, at least not on these shores. The fatshionistas of yore held onto their clothes for grim death for fear of never finding anything that would fit them ever again. I know; as a desperate teen I completely worked my way through both my grandmothers’ wardrobes wearing styles that spanned four decades.
The sad fact is that even if you’re wise to your deliberate exclusion from the wild fashion-party everyone else seems to be having – even if you’re as righteously fuming about it as I’ve been for most of my adult life – the cumulative effect of that exclusion still gets to you. Back when Marianne first started The Rotund, she questioned whether she so often wore black out of deference to her Goth roots, or because she’d been conditioned to believe wearing bright colours would draw attention to her fatness – despite accepting her fatness. For years I was unable to buy anything that wasn’t black or some god-awful drab shade of blue. Deprived of the rich, vibrant jewel tones that make my heart sing, I started to use them on the walls of my flat instead. By the time I had access to brightly coloured clothes again I found, to my horror, I’d lost the confidence to wear them in the interim. Likewise I wore long, loose, body skimming layers for years; it’s a look that suits me but one nonetheless born out of a dearth of choice. Eventually, if we let them, these forced choices come to define us; become our choices over time. We lose heart, channel our creativity elsewhere and start thinking of yellow as a thin person’s colour.
Like women who have to work twice as hard as men in the workplace just to prove themselves equal; fat women have to work twice as hard as those with all the choice in the world to prove they can look just as good. (But, hey, at least there’s twice as much of us to look good when we do). Fortunately I got over my fleeting fear of colour, reclaimed my spirit and lived to fight another day sartorially speaking. I found alternative, fashion-forward, fat-positive websites, zines and communities to replace those that encourage us to bitch about celebrity zits and cellulite as some kind of twisted compensation for making us hate ourselves. It’s amazing how truly fucked-up the rest of the world starts to look by comparison after a while.