After a lot of soul-searching and introspection, I’ve come to the conclusion that being welcomed into the fashion industrial complex is not entirely the kind of progress I want to see in the fat acceptance movement.
Now, I love clothes. I mean, I LOVE clothes. But I’m also personally invested in intersectionality and the idea that all liberation movements are entwined. So when I see us desiring to buy into the mindless capitalism and consumption of clothing that’s marketed to thin folks, I get frustrated. Insisting that fat folks’ money is just as good as thin folks’ money, so therefore we should have equal access to the same sweatshop-produced clothing lines offered by multinational corporations who use their profits to subjugate marginalized folks around the world? I don’t want that kind of revolution. We’re fighting to starve the multi-billion dollar diet industry of its ill-gotten profits, but falling all over ourselves to hand cash over to these companies? Naw. I don’t feel like we’ve made any type of substantive advance in the treatment of fat folks when H&M comes out with plus-size dresses for us to conspicuously consume. I haven’t yet heard of Southwest Airlines making a fat person buy two seats but later refunding one because they found out the fat person was wearing a shirt from ASOS on the flight. And surprisingly, when a dude yelled “fatass” out his car window at me the other day, my cute Forever 21+ skirt didn’t cause him to follow that statement up with “nice skirt, though–really validates your existence!”. Or maybe I just didn’t hear that last part, what with the Doppler effect and all.
With most fashion being made by underpaid, abused workers in “developing” countries, it’s not actually that great overall when companies decide to make more of it, just in bigger sizes. Like most people, I don’t always buy sustainable, ethically-produced clothing, so I can’t get too high on my horse about it. And it’s not like I’m going to be able to only buy clothes from Etsy sellers who make custom sizes or start making my own clothes. I just feel like when you’re in a movement fighting for revolution you have to be more discriminating about what you consider progress, what you consider revolutionary. I don’t consider more of the same oppressive business practices revolutionary. I want part of this movement to be us fighting to dismantle the fashion industrial complex. I want “fatshion” to mean fashion we create as a fat community, or fashion based on inclusive, ethical business practices brought about by activists effecting change. Of course I’m excited when there are new clothing options for fat folks, and I’m not faulting anyone else who is too. Everyone likes looking “good”. But we know “good” is entirely subjective. Our society is centered on aesthetics, which is another thing we need to be working to change–because marginalization by lack of “attractiveness” or even “stylishness” is one aspect of many, many types of discrimination against underprivileged groups. If we didn’t have the cultural push to appear normative, we wouldn’t be willing to accept this kind of “progress” with a smile.
I have complained about the lack of fashionable options for plus-sized folks. But at this point, I’m done buying into corporate pacification of the fat acceptance movement via throwing us a size 20 Rachel Pally bone. And I’m not going to spend any more time and energy on “activism” to demand inclusion within an industry that continues to thrive on exclusion. Exclusion based on class, based on location, based on able-bodied-ness–and still based on size, because most “fashionable” plus size lines stop at size 24. There’s a whole lot of people above size 24. High-end designers trade on unobtainability, so I’m not really holding my breath for say, size 22 Chanel, either. It’s kind of another way to divide us, really, especially across class lines. When you can’t afford jack, it can make you feel crappy when you see your fellow activists wearing the cute new dress from ASOS that cost what your weekly food budget is. It’s hard to focus on the prize (like being treated with respect and dignity, or not being discriminated against in hiring) when you see the immediate spoils going to those with class privilege. So you take your eyes off that prize and start spending time fighting to get cheaper fashionable clothes. Meanwhile, society is fighting a war against your existence.
This is a really complicated issue; I’m not going to pretend it’s not. I’m just at a point in my activism where I have to start reconciling all the things I know to be wrong with how the world operates, all the ways I contribute to others’ oppression, and how my actions square with my internal radical politics. I want us to think about these kinds of things as a movement, just as we need to think about intersectionality, and as we need to think about rejecting the politic of desirability. When it comes to consumption, we may not need to eat less, but we definitely need to focus on buying less. At the least, we need to think about why we feel assimilation into the fashion industrial complex is a goal we’re fighting to achieve, and how that goal can end up hurting us in the long run–because by making assimilation our goal, we are implicitly accepting society’s power to enforce normative beauty standards, which is one of the main things we’ve been attempting to subvert.
[This was written in 2012 for my blog Sex and the Fat Girl, but never published for reasons.]