Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fierce Fat Feminism: The Language About Weight

With the American Apparel XL Campaign I wrote earlier this week and the piece I wrote just yesterday: What Came First, the Ad or the Attitude?,  it wasn't so looking so good (pun intended) for women or young girls in terms of feminism or fashion.  I'm happy to report the JCPenney sweatshirt has already been pulled with the company making this statement:

"J.C. Penney is committed to being America's destination for great style and great value for the whole family. We agree that the "Too pretty" t-shirt does not deliver an appropriate message, and we have immediately discontinued its sale. Our merchandise is intended to appeal to a broad customer base, not to offend them. We would like to apologize to our customers and are taking action to ensure that we continue to uphold the integrity of our merchandise that they have come to expect."

There is more good news!  I was directed toward an article via Golda Poretsky, in TeenVogue: Body Language: Blogger Rachel Adams on the Label "Plus-Size."

"People and publications are both finally starting to get the idea that you can be fashionable no matter what size you wear. But, while larger bodies are getting featured more often in the world of fashion, the words we use to describe bigger bodies are complicated. Old associations we all make with some words can be the cause for hurt feelings, and the euphemisms we use in their place—even the ones we think are complimentary—often aren't accurate descriptors and can come off as condescending.  I, personally, cannot stand it when someone calls me "curvy." For starters, it doesn't describe any one body type uniquely. Humans are not made of 90-degree angles, every body has curves! Curviness is a quality inherent to being a three-dimensional person. More importantly, making up "less offensive" nicknames to describe my body only implies that the way my body is isn't okay. My body happens to be fat. Fat doesn't mean unhealthy (as studies like this one show) and it certainly doesn't mean unfashionable or unattractive or any of the other insults we've confused with the real meaning of the word. Since it is okay for me to be fat, and since that word is not an insult, why not just call me fat and cut out the middle man?

Of course, nothing is ever that simple. The word "fat," just like the word "curvy," is loaded. Without an explanation, it's easy to make assumptions about what we mean by the words we use and it's even easier to mistakenly believe that the way we describe a body, whether it's thin, fat, short, or tall, also describe that person's character. Those misunderstandings can make it hard to talk about the different experiences we have living in different bodies and those conversations are absolutely critical. Until we acknowledge the differences, they can work as disadvantages.
It is different to dress my body than it is to dress someone who's thin. It's not because you can ever be big to "pull off" certain styles or because there are arbitrary rules for camouflaging "problem areas" that must be followed. People who have bigger bodies can wear any style that those with smaller bodies can wear because fashion is about confidence; I spent my summer in mini skirts, crop tops, and I even had a few bikinis in heavy (pun intended) rotation because I liked the clothes and I, personally, loved how I looked in them. Dressing my body is different for the very simple reason that I am limited by what stores sell clothing that I can physically put onto my size 18 body. Many clothing stores do not make available clothing that fits me and I have to either figure out a way make it work or utilize clothing lines and stores that the industry calls "plus-size." Why they chose that terrible name is lost on me but, until the name changes or clothing lines start carrying my size, plus-size is an accurate descriptor of the clothes that I wear and the extra work I have to do when I adapt fashion to fit my body. Pointing out that someone wears plus-size clothing is never an insult, because having a body that requires larger sizes is not insulting. Ignoring the fact that a person wears these larger sizes also ignores the extra work they've had to do to find pieces that fit them the way they like and makes it harder for other people struggling to find cute clothes that fit use that experience as a resource."

Andy one of my best friends & myself at our 8th grade graduation. 13 yrs old
I have highlighted the pieces of what Rachel Adams wrote that really stood out to me.  I am not in a place where I accept and like the word "fat" and my own personal struggle with body acceptance and distorted body image continue; I grew up in a world where I didn't have these communities or conversations or acceptance.  At the young age of 13, the assumptions that having hips meant I was fat, thus meaning I was unhealthy and unattractive, which then directly correlated to inherent character flaws, really shaped the way I have viewed and thought about myself and my body.  I used to wear boys clothing because it wasn't so form fitting.  The language surrounding health, weight, and the wide arrange of expectations started to become more and more confusing.  I was also in a strange place of still being a tomboy, but being very aware that the world viewed me differently than my male counterparts, and also viewed me differently than my skinny single-digit wearing friends.
Summer 2001, Freshman Orientation at I.C. 18 yrs. old
Those assumptions paved a bumpy path that only now, in my late twenties, am I starting to wrap my head around and dissect; how does one accept their body for as it is, nurture their body, not obsess over the size their body is or wears, not obsess over calories or the opposite of completely ignoring what goes into their body, and ultimately how do you love your body, love yourself, accept where you are, but at the same time make changes or still work toward becoming more fit, ie, wearing a smaller size?  Even while I write this I struggle to find the appropriate language to accurately address what I mean, without using language that is so warped with negative connotations, that the message is lost.  These are genuine questions I have on a pretty regular basis; the 13 year old girl inside of me still has a difficult time believing, "you're ok, right where you are."

But I am my own worst critic and lately it has been difficult not to beat myself up, not to feel less-than because I have more-than...more than I should, more than the media says is acceptable, more than...enough.

Has the language surrounding weight and/or the images influenced how you view yourself and others?  Do you think it's possible to make "fat" an acceptable word to use without all of the misconceived negative connotations?  Should the free-market been left as the deciding factor for the clothing available through JCPenney?  If no one bought it, then it would have been pulled eventually, right?  What have you done today to live in a body-positive world?  Have you treated yourself kindly today?  What language do you use to describe yourself?  Can you write a list of 10 things you like about your body?  Comment below or email me:

1 comment:

  1. Great, honest post Laura! I think the path forward, through this often hurtful mess to a healthy, well-rounded (no pun intended!) and accepting future world is with posts like this, that open a dialogue, that interrogate our word choices and commonly-accepted judgments and challenge us to move beyond them. Thanks for being willing to share your story!