Welcome back to The Fat Femme Fashion series! A 4-part series of roundtables, where four Autostraddle writers talk about how being fat affects the clothes we wore in the past, and the clothes we wear today.
Dani Janae: Let’s talk about connecting to your queerness through fashion. It has definitely shifted but for a long time, queer fashion was considered to be androgynous stuff which was often only made for very straight-sized, thin people.
Shelli Nicole: I do agree with the shift but for a long time it def felt like queer girl fashion meant whatever Shane was wearing.
Dani Janae: Shane was the blueprint for the girls!
Shelli Nicole: Mama was their icon you hear me?!
Dani Janae: I often wonder how other femmes connect with — or project — queerness through their fashion choices. How do you connect to your femme identity through clothes that are for fat people?
Also, this is our last chat! So I thought we could use this time to dish on all the fun, flirty things we wear that help us feel our most gay and powerful, so you have to drop photos of when you felt your dykiest!
Vanessa: Firstly, I have to thank fat femmes who paved the way. Like, when I think about my relationship to my body, my fatness, my queerness, my femmeness… it’s the other fat femmes I saw around me who made me able to even see myself at all, let alone see myself as hot and fashionable.
Dani Janae: Yes!!
Valerie: It took me a long time to realize that my discomfort in dresses wasn’t because of my body image issues. Honestly, it wasn’t until I saw other fat femmes looking amazing and happy in dresses that I started to look at myself and realize that my discomfort was internal, not physical. But I also didn’t feel particularly butch? So I’ve learned to feel comfortable with being in between. I do sometimes still struggle with being worried I don’t “look queer” when I wear dress pants and slightly feminine button-downs but also…I need to let that go and trust that anyone who talks to me for more than three seconds will figure it out.
Vanessa: I like that now I feel my clothing expresses my queerness, even though 10 years ago I may have worried that my clothing was “straight girl” adjacent. Now I so clearly see my femme identity reflected in my fashion choices and I KNOW that is because of the other fat femmes who created this space if that makes sense?
Valerie: I do still feel most comfortable in a t-shirt and jeans on the day-to-day and most of my t-shirts are gay. In fact, right now I’m wearing my Autostraddle “who all’s gay here” shirt, so. That gives it away — and the fact that I wear exclusively chucks, most of them from the Converse Custom Pride collection.
Vanessa: I’m wearing a bright floral print caftan that I got at my friend’s vintage shop, LOL.
Dani Janae: I definitely tried to force myself to wear more masculine clothing in hopes I would present gayer, but it definitely did not work for me! I love being a femme and I agree with Vanessa, seeing other fat femmes helped me feel hot and fashionable! People often mistake femme with straight and it’s like NO we are so different!
There was this really funny TikTok trend a while ago where queer femmes were like “Turning myself into a Republican conservative” and they would strip away queer identifiers and dress like Republican Christian girls and it was so funny, but so clearly defined the difference between being a straight feminine woman and being a queer femme.
Shelli Nicole: I don’t know if I connect with my queerness through style ‘cos I’m just a silly and hot little femme you know? But I do feel like when I am in queer settings — like a bar that is usually mostly cis gay men (‘cos lesbian bar where?) — that is when my femme fashion is often read as straight. Does that make sense? It’s like, those are the moments when I feel aware of what I’m wearing in relation to my queerness. I feel like oftentimes when gay men see a femme, especially in a gay bar, they automatically assume they are straight.
Dani Janae: No, I totally get that!
Valerie: Honestly, I think most straight people assume most other people are straight unless they have short hair or are dressed extremely butch? That is what I’ve gathered. I have a shirt that literally says “How dare you assume I’m straight” and people are always gasping about it.
Dani Janae: Lol Valerie I think I’ve seen that shirt in the wild before and it always makes me smile.
Valerie: Queer people know how to spot queer people, and that’s all I care about. We know those identifiers even if we don’t know we know them haha!
Vanessa: It’s hard for me to gauge at this point because I’m like…only ever in queer spaces? But I know that I recently moved in with my girlfriend in the suburbs, and WHENEVER I go to the grocery store with primarily straight somewhat conservative Oregonians, I am complimented heavily on my outfits.
Which are like…jumpsuits with my leather collar and a leopard print coat — so it’s not like I’m putting in a major effort but everyone is like WOW WOW WOW lol
Shelli Nicole: I just think so many gay men think lesbians only dress very butch or androgynous. It doesn’t help that I have nails, wear makeup, and blah blah blah. So in those settings is maybe when I wish my fashion somehow read as more queer? I am so sick of gay men thinking I am some straight girl who came to their bar to get compliments. It’s like, no babe — I am a dyke.
Vanessa: Shelli that is really so wild to me because when I see you I think DYKE. Again, I think my brain is a little broken because of my queer bubble, but when I see nails or a really sexy cat eye, I think “dyke”.
Shelli Nicole: SO DO I! When I look in the mirror with my tiny tops, fishnet stockings, and high slit mini skirt I think, “HELLO LESBIAN”
Dani Janae: YES!
Vanessa: YES DUH. Literally what else would you see?!
Shelli Nicole: But many of the gays, and lots of the straights — even in grocery stores lol — see “Straight Girl Going To The Gay Safari”.
Dani Janae: My workplace is the only straight space I go to and it’s been that way for a while! I agree that I’m only ever in queer spaces. It’s hard going out because — at least in my city — so much of that scene is very cis white gay centered and it’s like where are my brown femmes I wanna kiss!
Shelli Nicole: On that note of going out, in the Black queer spaces/parties/events here in Chicago, I def feel as though my fashion is read as dyke, which I really do love!
Vanessa: I feel SO grateful for femmes like Nicolette and so many others in my Portland community, who made me really unpack internalized feelings of shame/femmephobia. They made me see that fat femme is its own gender identity and like, it is mine, and it is queer as fuck.
I know 10 years ago I looked in the mirror and was scared I looked straight. Now I can’t see anything besides a very slutty dyke, LOL.
Dani Janae: Yes totally, I’ve found that so many femmes I follow that are fat also are queer, and I didn’t know that at first but came to find it out. It’s like we know each other and find each other wherever we are.
Valerie: Yeah, I think the truth is that queer fashion is whatever a queer person is wearing and that’s something I’m still learning.
Dani Janae: So true Valerie.
Shelli Nicole: I will say tho too….queer people can be some of the most fatphobic ass people I’ve ever met and in a lot of my experience it has started with them being judgemental on what a non-thin person is wearing.
Valerie: Oh for sure.
Vanessa: Oh absolutely.
Dani Janae: Yes!
Shelli Nicole: Like, dykes be out here acting like they don’t exclude certain people to be friends with or fuck because of their size and how they will look next to them. Those are the same dykes who are yes-ing you down at the party or in your IG comments with copious fire emojis. And it’s like, that’s fine I guess but I dunno, pick a lane?
Dani Janae: When I wrote a piece for Refinery29 about dating and being fat, a gay man commented and was like, “I was once fat too, I lost weight and it helped me find love so you need to do that too.” and I was like —”ummmm NO”.
Valerie: Dani NO!! Yeah sometimes thin queer people’s compliments feel performative to me and I hate it.
Shelli Nicole: YES VALERIE YES!
Vanessa: Oh my fucking god Dani. Valerie thin people DEFINITELY performatively compliment and it is gross. Someone at A-Camp once told me how brave I was for wearing a crop top.
Shelli Nicole: NO VANESSA NO!
Dani Janae: YES, they definitely do! It’s like you will not be getting a cookie for “yasss queen-ing” me!
Shelli Nicole: EXACTLY DANI EXACTLY LOL!!
Valerie: What I hate the most is when my friends who are thinner than me complain about weight loss and dieting — or weight they gained — in front of me, and I’m like “…?”. I know it’s possible for them to not like how they look and still like how I look, but it still feels bad! I don’t want to invalidate their feelings and journeys but when your size 6 ass is like “Ugh I’m so gross” — how do you think that makes me feel!??
Dani Janae: !!!!
Vanessa: Valerie that is so generous of you — I have removed anyone who is like that out of my life tbh. It’s possible I still have friends who complain about their weight, but certainly not TO ME or NEAR ME or IN MY PRESENCE.
Valerie: I mean these aren’t my CLOSEST friends. We have better things to talk about, but some peripherals are still lurking and saying shit!
Vanessa: I went on a crusade a few years ago when I was VERY vocal on social media about how much I didn’t think it was appropriate to subject people to that shit. I do think anyone who still does it at this point has removed themselves from my life, has hidden their stuff from me, or simply doesn’t do it.
Dani Janae: I think queers like to think we are so progressive about who we date and fuck, but when you bring up fat people it’s like no one wants to broach the topic.
Vanessa: Oh for sure Dani — queer people are obsessed with thinking we are above enacting all forms of oppression and we simply… are not.
Dani Janae: Yeah, I routinely mute people who talk diet and weight loss stuff. I don’t want a friend who sees me as the before pic in their weight loss journey. Like that’s your life, do what you want, but keep it away from me.
Shelli Nicole: OOH, that’s such a word Dani. “I don’t want a friend who sees me as the before pic”….DAMN!!
Vanessa: But fat people know. Like every fat person I know side-eyes the same skinny people who flirt with us or slide into our DMs, and then have never actually fucked a fat person. It’s not a secret, it’s very obvious, and it’s embarrassing for them! But also feels bad and shitty, obviously.
Dani Janae: Yes!! I once dated a thin person that would only post about their thin partner and not me. I was like, you can tell me I’m so hot in private but publically want to hide?
Valerie: Yeah absolutely not.
Vanessa: Oh my god Dani FUCK that person, I have to say dating other fat people changed my life. Sorry, but we are SO hot?
Dani Janae: That’s why I like dating other fat femmes, I definitely find us hotter tbh. LOL, me and Vanessa on the same page.
Shelli Nicole: I would love a podcast where y’all just talk for 10 minutes about how hot you are and your looks for the day. A perfect companion to my morning coffee.
Dani Janae: I would love that too!
Vanessa: My current partner is not fat but we talk really openly about the size difference in our relationship. I do feel like dating other fat people has made it very clear to me what I deserve from a partner in terms of desirability and openness, and if my girlfriend wasn’t able to meet me there then I wouldn’t be dating her, you know?
Not that fat people can’t also engage in fatphobia — but I’ve been lucky that my fat partners, dates, and hookups have all been very very not like that!
Shelli Nicole: I feel that. My girlfriend is really fit and works out a lot. We’ve talked about body stuff as well and I have def dug those intimate conversations. They tell me how pretty I look in all my outfits and also enjoy my body :) I also like, really need that attention from them. Yeah, I’m a confident woman, but feeling hella wanted is something I need from a partner, and that’s not always easy to admit but I also don’t think that it’s bad?
Dani Janae: Absolutely. Fat and thin people can totally have healthy loving relationships, but there’s just something about loving other fat women that makes me happy.
Vanessa: YES Shelli. Honestly, my current girlfriend affirms my body in ways I didn’t even know I needed?
Like she loves my thighs? And I had so much shame around my thigh rolls from CHILDHOOD! And I never told her that, and she doesn’t make me feel weird or fetishized, she’s just like “Your thighs are fucking hot babe, your thighs are my favorite part of your body!” and it like… is healing and helpful. Maybe that means I still have internal work to do, but it’s fucking cool that she is inadvertently helping my brain just by loving me and complimenting me!
Dani Janae: Truly love that for you!
Valerie: Communication is beautiful! That’s amazing.
Yeah, I feel like I’m unpacking my own internalized fatphobia all day every day; I even hesitated to join this conversation because I am still getting comfortable with being associated with the word (as if people don’t have eyes?) but I’m here! growth! haha
Dani Janae: Valerie, I’m so happy you joined us!
Valerie: You all are just so awesome and I wanted some of your awesomeness to rub off on me! And now I’m gonna research JUMPSUITS and become my best fat self!!
Shelli Nicole: Valerie, I am so fucking happy that you rolled with us on this! You know we adore you!!
Vanessa: Valerie, I am soooooo glad you’re here, and also TRULY if you ever want to talk jumpsuits, I AM HERE. Also, thank you SO MUCH Dani for leading this convo!
Shelli Nicole: I am just digging talking to people about fashion and fatness in a way that wasn’t like — Sad?
Valerie: Thank you for putting this together, Dani! And all three of you please keep up the fire thirst traps, I’m a big fan!
Vanessa: Fuck yeah. I don’t feel sad, I feel like we’re hot.
Thank you for joining us on this ride!
I hope you found some new places to shop, some fun fat femmes to interact with on social media, and some love for yourself as a fat person if you are one reading this. I found all those things during our discussions. It can be so overwhelming and demoralizing to be a fat person moving through the world, but in this roundtable series, I felt so affirmed and confident in my body. I had felt that before, but this series really heightened that feeling for me.
Fashion is expressive and fun! I hope you got that from our talks. We all got very vulnerable and candid but there was also so much joy and self-love within our conversations.
I feel so much love for the fat femmes in my life, and I wanted to have these chats for those that need to see more fat femmes living and thriving — and I’ve linked everyone’s Instagram below so you can see our fire fits.