Welcome back to Let’s Get Weird, a judgement-free place to talk about fashion and feelings!
I have always, for whatever reason, been deeply interested in studying and writing about fashion. I phrase it that way because it’s hard not to have a complex about something so intimately tied into capitalism, and more specifically, to industries built on making people feel incomplete or inferior in their own literal skin. My eyes glaze over about 10 pages into a magazine full of thin, white models; I’ve trashed so many PR emails about waist trainers and vaginal rejuvenation techniques and cleanses that both Kendall and Gigi are doing this pre-bikini season that they barely even register anymore.
It’s through these reckonings that I realized my particular interest in writing is about fashion and the bodies that intersect with it. I’ve generally been a behind the camera guy, since my white, cis, relatively thin, and physically abled body generally passes through the world with little consequence; I’d prefer to hand my megaphone to people who don’t have such privileges. But just because I have an easier time than many, systemically speaking, doesn’t mean I’m without my foibles.
That’s why I thought, today, in a colorful, shape-centric outfit showing parts of myself that don’t meet the fashion industry or fashion media’s narrow standards of beauty, I could talk about living in my particular body — not only my color and size, but more granular attributes like my shape, too. And then, if you were comfortable doing so, you could do the same.
In most modern clothing, I’m a size 12. This means I can fit into clothing at some straight-size stores, but not nearly all. I wear a smaller dress size than übermodel Ashley Graham, but unlike her, not all of my curves are in the “right” places. At a 38DD, my bustiness aligns somewhat closely with conventional standards of desirability — but my round tummy, thick limbs, soft jawline, and mostly nonexistent butt? Not as much. My feet are too wide for most shoes, which isn’t important here, but I figured I’d warn you before my sandal close-up. (JK, my sandals are only too small in length, but that’s the reality of shopping at thrift stores.) My arms are squishy the way my partner likes them; my thighs absorb my shorts constantly; I fucking hate my hands. “Hate” is a strong word. My skin is clear, mostly, and my teeth straight, mostly, and my body hair in acceptable places, mostly. But I’ve definitely seen better. “Better.”
Are any of these attributes a big deal in the scheme of things? No. I fit about as comfortably in an airplane seat as airlines will allow; I am not forced to buy multiple tickets and/or endure open contempt from seatmates. Doctors don’t respond to my every ailment with advice to lose weight. I don’t get fat-called or made into memes. Because of my gender and my physical abilities, I can always find a bathroom to use. When someone is attracted to me, it’s not viewed as a disgrace, or as a fetish. I can walk, drive, and even mouth off to cops if I want to, all with comparatively little concern about them killing me sans repercussion. It’s a hell of a life.
And still, I find myself reflecting not infrequently on This American Life‘s “Tell Me I’m Fat”, which features commentary by Lindy West, Roxane Gay, and NPR producer Elna Baker on society’s treatment of larger people. Once 110 pounds heavier than she was at the time of recording, Baker marvels aloud at the tsunami of romantic attention she received after losing weight, and suggests to her husband that he might never have fallen for her at her former size. He concedes that she’s probably right.
I used to be slightly smaller. Looking back, I can see the power that my size eight body had in the world — romantic and otherwise — that even my current one does not. Sometimes I miss it. Mostly, I’m glad to have more perspective than when I was younger, when I conflated my and others’ physical attributes with our morality (or lack thereof), and might have lapped up the details of Kendall and Gigi’s beloved cleanse without any qualms. But, again, I can pretty easily choose not to play the game; self-righteousness is something a person of my privileges can afford.
Anyway, this is (partly) a fashion column. Let me hit you with some cute lookalike pieces below, and let’s talk more about bods: What’s yours like? What privileges does it afford you, or not? Have your feelings about it changed over time?
1. ’80s Print Tee (also available in Curve) 2. Graphic Print Midi Skirt 3. Colored Girls Hustle Ninety Earrings 4. Cork Wedge Sandals
I used to pray for boobs. Like a lot. Now at 21, Im kind of glad I dont have to wear a bra, unless Im worried about my nipples showing.
Same here too
This is surprisingly intimate.
One of the unexpected things that’s happened to me in my 40s is that I’m much more comfortable in my body and at the same time the larger culture is no longer interested in my body – and that is strangely freeing.
I’m also more aware of just how random fashion is. My figure hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years but it keeps going in and out of style. As a teen, in the 80s, my curvy hips and butt were horrible – no jeans were cut for curves, most of the models were pre-teen girls with no hips. And then in the 90s, curvy hips and narrow waists were in. And now big curvy butts are fashionable. (My partner finds it hilarious that I ever thought my hips were too big, but I really did).
I’ve never had a socially acceptable body. I was a chubby kid who became a plus-size teen who became a fat adult. I’m currently a 22/24 and on the cusp of 300 pounds at 5’2. I have small breasts and a smallish butt, but a large belly. I’m kind of a big rectangle with lumps. I do feel some shame about my body, but it’s minimal. In my 30s, I’m learning to enjoy taking up space. My body is a thing of power.
My face is what crushes my self-esteem. I have tiny features and a very round face with a double-chin. Even when I try to femme it up as much as possible, I can’t stand my appearance. There are many beautiful fat people out there, but I will never be one of them. Fashion and makeup can not fix that.
Hey gorgeous! I just wanted to say that even if you feel uncomfortable with an aspect of your physical self, that doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful. Because beauty is not a specific physical thing, but a reaction we have. An emotional or instinctive reaction based on SO many things, our WHOLE environment. Which is why ideas of beauty change so much from culture to culture, and at different times.
That doesn’t mean it’s not hard to overcome our negative reactions about ourselves, on the contrary, we’re trying to overcome an entire lifetime of impressions. I have had psoriasis the last few years, and looking at my scarred skin, I’ve automatically found it ugly; because we’re conditioned to see signs of ill health as ugly. But this body houses me, and allows me to experience this world. And when I have a positive interaction with someone, they see beauty. And that beauty is one based on love, or understanding, or growth, or a simple human awareness of acknowledging each other as being of value.
So yes, you are absolutely unconditionally beautiful in a very real sense, and the more you find and hold that truth within yourself, the more all of us will have the wonderful opportunity to share your beauty with you.
I know, it’s not easy, but it’s possible, and I wish that you ( and me and all of us) can experience the beauty of our own perception, that is so much more than a society’s arbitrary temporary fad.
Much love to you, to the wonderful gorgeous you that you are!
Well said. We all need this kind of talking to from time to time.
I like my body. I’m happy with my weight, size, shape and small chest. I still have a hard time finding clothes, though, because I have no idea what size I am. Does anyone have any insight about the crazy sizing in women’s clothes? I think I’m of a pretty average weight and height (although my mom keeps trying to convince me that I should shop in the petite section because I’m short. Is 5’3ish short?). But when I went to buy shorts a few months ago I had the hardest time. I grabbed a size 6 because that’s usually the size I wear. I know it can vary by brand, but I usually start here and either go up or down one size. Anyway, I tried on the 6, too small. Grab a 8, too small. Finally got a 10 and bought those but could easily have gone up to a 12. I tried on a second pair of shorts and again started with a 6. Too big. Got a 4, too big. Bought a size 2 but I could probably have fit into a size 0! I mean, c’mon!
I remember this confusion, hahah. The “large” sizes were in a junior’s clothing line, probably, and the smaller size numbers were for adult.
I had the same problem shopping for jeans: the 9 was way too small and the 8 was way too big; turns out the odd numbers were for juniors and the even for adult, not that it was marked this way.
Women’s clothing sizing is completely inconsistent and illogical. Men’s clothing using absolute measurements in inches, and independently varying waist and length measurements, is so much better if you can or want to try men’s jeans, for example.
I’ve given up trying to find clothes in the junior’s section! No matter how hard I try, those clothes just don’t fit me anymore. The shorts fiasco was actually in the women’s department at Macy’s. Two different brands of short, two VERY different sizes. I wish they would use actual measurements like men’s clothing. I used to get men’s clothing when I was in college, but the shape was all wrong so I went back to women’s clothes about 10 years ago. Now I dread shopping lol.
Petite sizing is really more about short-waistedness than height (but 5’3″ is technically petite). Are your legs longer for your height? Do shirts tend to be too long for you?
That’s good to know, thanks! Shirts definitely aren’t too long, unless that’s they’re cut that way on purpose. And when I get jeans I like the “regular” length. The short length is usually too short for me, but again it all depends on the brand. Mostly I just want my mom to stop calling me short!
What helped me was reading an article about sizing that said stores look at their intended customers and call their particular average size medium/6. So when I’m looking at Forever 21, I pick larges because I’m larger than their average customer. At Old Navy, I’m a bit smaller, a 4. At Loft, I’m a lot smaller, so a 2. At anthropologie, it’s anyone’s guess because there are so many brands represented and I have to remember how each fits–but it is usually an 8. It’s not perfect, but it cuts down on a lot of questioning.
I’ve definitely noticed that at Old Navy. I can usually get small tops and size 4 jeans there, while everywhere else I will get medium or large tops and size 6 or 8 jeans. Some consistency would be nice!
Hoo, I’ve had a very complicated relationship with my body since I was about 16-17. Prepare for a doozy, I’m sorry.
I was never a skinny beanpole of a kid. There was a softness to my body, but it was never something others drew attention to. I was never called fat or even chunky or chubby, so I was never really conscious of my physicality. Even when in high school, I was friends with very very thin girls, I never saw my body as any different from theirs. I only became aware of my body and its size when my cousins from England came to stay with us. For two weeks, we’d have evening tea and baked goods, and heavy meals and desserts. By the time they left, I found I couldn’t fit into my jeans. I didn’t freak out, but instead decided to work out and eat better. And I did. I cut back on sweets and carbs, upped my fruit/veggie intake, and managed to fit back into my jeans. Happy with what I’d managed to do and how good I felt, I continued to stick to my new fitness/diet regime. And I lost more weight. People started complimenting me, and it made me think, “Oh, did I NOT look good before?” So that’s where the problem started. I began to merely subsist on food until I was eating about 800 calories a day, and still exercising. People took notice of my 90 lb. figure (I’m just under 5’3″), but I insisted that my change only freaked them out because they were used to me being heavier. I believed that this was simply my short body’s “natural weight”.
Well, before I began university, my mom and I went to NYC as a graduation present to me. And I was ready to go to town on food. Before we even got there, Chapter 2 of my food saga began. After having starved myself on the bus we took to get there, I broke into a box of Wheat Thins my mother had brought to snack on. I ate one, then two, then a handful. In about two minutes, I’d polished off the entire box. That was my first binge. I knew it wasn’t normal to do that, and I freaked out. I convinced myself that my thighs were getting wider right there on the bus, but I was confined to a seat and couldn’t burn off the calories. I’d already blown my daily calorie intake on the crackers, and it wasn’t even 7 in the morning!
I continued to binge, during the trip and when we got back. But I wanted so badly to get back to 90 lbs. Being that thin afforded me a certain power. I found security in how androgynous I looked, how “unclassifiable” I felt. I also had a pixie cut at the time which helped. I hated how my body had suddenly begun to take up space. I hated my bigger hips and thighs. I think that a lot of my hatred of my “feminine” attributes came from my sister. She was the girly one, but also the “bad” one. She was wild and reckless and “easy”. I’m sure I felt as though I needed to repress my girliness in order to distance myself from that.
Once uni started, I started experimenting more with fashion. Lots of bright colours and loud, quirky accessories (it was the mid ’00s, and we were still in that ’80s revival trend. I was also in art school, and thought I needed to “look the part”). I think I felt as though my clothing could distract others from my body (which I *felt* was just, like, huge) and allow me to be accepted. If I looked fun and out there, my binging wouldn’t matter and people would either love me, or just be so put off by me that they’d never talk to me and learn that I had an ED. I remember a classmate once telling me, “Nina, your colours make me so happy”. That felt so good, and I worked to maintain my “happy” appearance for others, and to distract myself from how miserable I really was.
This continued for a while, until two things happened. One, a “friend” casually, dismissively referred to my style as “costume-like”, and told me that no one would ever take me seriously on the job front if I wore colourful prints and jewellery. She was always boasting about how “timeless” and “mature” her white button-ups and black trousers were, on the other hand (I thought she looked boring, but because I was a good friend, I let her do her…). That’s when I started to feel (more) uncomfortable about how I looked. She was dismissing how I chose to express myself, basically telling me that I wasn’t acceptable. Secondly, I was sexually assaulted. I was wearing a heavy winter coat, hat, gloves, and boots at the time, but after that, I told myself I’d start using fashion to make myself look more physically imposing rather than draw attention to myself with happy colours. I continued to hate my ever-growing hips because I didn’t want to look sexy and desirable in the wake of the assault. I wanted more than ever to be waif-thin. But in the meantime I gravitated towards drapey, dolman-style tops in shades of grey and black (to “hide”), hats (to “hide”), and started buying lots of silver rings and necklaces (my “armour”, as I continue to call it). The colourful eyeshadow came off in favour of thick gashes of black eyeliner (which I called my “warpaint”).
Eventually, the binges became fewer and far between (though I still do struggle with them, as well as depression and anxiety, but that’s another tangent!) and I lost weight. I’ve more to less comfortably settled into a sense of style that’s not so black and white (figuratively speaking – I still like my black and grey wardrobe!). I’ve made peace with my more “feminine” attributes, kinda. I became more concerned with toning my butt and hips rather than erasing them. I found I can still look edgy even with junk in the trunk! I’m obsessed with lipstick now too, though I own no shade lighter than deep purple. The kids I work with refer to my style as “witchy”, which I’m all for! Though when I’m out and about, I’m usually in some sort of jeans/t-shirt situation, but punctuated with some dark nail polish and/or lipstick and a few silver rings, just to offset the gender neutrality a bit. :)
“Nina, your colours make me so happy”
You just brightened my day, sunshine
I’ve always been insecure about my stomach. I would describe it as “soft,” probably. I’d put a lot of that insecurity behind me until I recently gained ten pounds, most of which went to my stomach, and it came roaring back.
But the way I think about it, I’m in a long-term relationship with my body. This is a low spot, so I’m working on self-love and self-esteem and being kind to myself, and trusting that I’ll lose the weight and/or become more comfortable with my current body. And eventually I’ll get back to a good place again.
Reading this post is like reading my own autobiography- I’m a size 12, formerly size 8. I’ve always been uncomfortable in my body, especially because I also do not conform to the “ideal” big hips/small waist. In theory I’m an hourglass shape, as my mother likes to remind me when she’s trying to justify my body, but as I edge closer to 30 I’m developing more and more of a belly. What I have been “blessed” with, however, is an inconveniently large bust. 32J sounds good in theory, and my SO is certainly a fan, but I hate that clothes never really seem to sit right on my body, and the back problems oh my gosh.
In order to turn this around, I’ve used it as an excuse to learn how to make and modify my own clothes so that they fit right and are of a style that I prefer. I’m even making my own bridesmaid’s dress for my sister’s wedding! Modifying patterns to fit my shape has taught me a lot about my body, as well as made me feel so much better about how badly RTW clothes have fit me in the past.
I really want to get into making my own clothes, too. Any tips/books/websites you recommend to get started?
Honestly, Pinterest is a godsend. You can find tons of free patterns! I’ve found some really great tutorials on Youtube if you’re looking for tutorials on *how* to sew- the “MADE Everyday” is one of my favorites when it comes to simple, straightforward tutorials, and they have a lot of stuff for beginners (I also find it a LOT more helpful than just reading instructions, especially when it’s learning something new!)
One thing that used to make me feel good about my body was sewing with vintage patterns. Not necessarily because I loved the clothes I wore (I have since realised I was performing a very-much-not-me non-threatening femininity because it made strangers nice to me for the first time ever) but because in my preferred period (1935-1945) I had PERFECT proportions.
My whole life I’d been told I couldn’t wear this, I couldn’t wear that, my breasts were too small and my hips were humongous, but in 1940 I was perfectly proportioned. In 2017, I buy tops at least one size smaller than bottoms and if something goes over my hips it’s two sizes too big in the waist.
Hah. I have a similar figure and I also buy different sizes for tops and bottoms. And I’m an expert at taking in the waist.
I didn’t know that about vintage patterns. I’d sort of noticed that 1940s era movies often star women with my general shape but hadn’t made the connection with patterns.
I’m pretty content with my overall shape and size, but two things that have always plagued me are cellulite and acne. The cellulite is what it is, and I’ve more or less made my peace with it (and recently discovered I can kinda hide it with tattoos!).
As for the acne, I’ve finally, FINALLY over multiple decades and much trial and error found a way to manage it, which is a good thing, because… when I didn’t manage it, I’d compulsively pick my skin into a horrible, monstrous, scabby, nasty mess. This is due to an anxiety disorder called dermatillomania (it’s related to OCD), and it was so bad from my mid-teens to mid-20s that I was rarely able to leave the house without long sleeves and a thick caking of makeup on my face. And I wanted to die. So. Hooray for willow bark extract and relatively clear skin!
Oh, forgot to add – my main complaint with clothing stores is that shirts. Are. Never. Ever. Long. Enough. Apparently I have a freakishly long torso or something because even most tank tops advertised as “long” do not reach far enough past my waistline to stay put and cover my midriff.
I have that problem! But just with sleeve length. I’m short-waisted so tops are usually a little long on me but the sleeves are always too short. It’s very odd.
I have a similar problem. Like sometimes the right length is too loose fitting, while one size down it’s not long enough, sleeves are a tad short, but at least it’s not loose fitting. Ugh
ALSO (and then I’m done spamming this article, I promise) I keep scrolling past the cover photo on the main page and thinking it’s Kate Winslet with a new hairdo. You have strikingly similar facial features.
This is sweet, thanks for writing it.
Currently I struggle with wanting to wear a belt to formal events while tucking in a shirt without hips coming thru to say hi.
Pushing down pants to my waste line to make me look more square just makes me feel like Johnny Bravo since my torso is already long and my legs short. So just sacrificing wearing a belt is annoying.
However I found a kind of belt that doesn’t like, hug hips too much so they are not accentuated half as much?
a silver lining for sure
“Once 110 pounds heavier than she was at the time of recording, Baker marvels aloud at the tsunami of romantic attention she received after losing weight, and suggests to her husband that he might never have fallen for her at her former size. He concedes that she’s probably right.” Christ, everything I’ve heard about Elna Baker’s part of that episode is so fucking devestating I am afraid to listen to it. Like, Swinsea’s SUMMARY of it sounds horrifying: https://thenib.com/the-price-of-acceptance
And how do you even come back from YOUR OWN HUSBAND telling you this??? Did she break up with him???
Thanks for linking Swinsea’s piece.
I wondered the same thing about the husband as well. All I can think is that she believes that he has an overwhelming amount of wonderful qualities to balance out this other truth about him.
But why focus on a fat-hater’s wonderful qualities when you can just dump them. -_-
It’s awful and really graphic. Don’t listen to it.
Yeah, that’s been my impression. Self care is not listening to graphic depictions. o.o;
Growing up I was a somewhat lanky, athletic kid. I was active, played sports, climbed trees. Around the time I was 16 I suddenly got a “figure”, boobs and butt, but I was still active, ran 6+ miles a day three seasons and then spent the colder months dancing and singing so I still had a very muscular, fit figure. Once I became an adult my weight has fluctuated but I’ve held pretty steady at about a size 14/16. I used to struggle emotionally a lot with my weight, especially since I used to be a size 2/4. I recently turned 30 and a feeling had been mounting for awhile but it has really took hold that I am okay with my body. My thighs are thick (they’ve always been thick, even when I was athletic, now they’re just softer :)), my butt and boobs are still big(ger), my arms are softer than they used to be (I used to have serious guns), I have a little tummy. I’ve really come to embrace my figure and I feel that it is more important that my body is able to do things, like hike ten miles, than worry about fitting into a smaller size of clothes.
Yes, I really relate to rather feeling strong than fitting a certain size of clothes!
I’m feeling this way too … I would be ok (or at least more ok) with the way my body looks if I was stronger and therefore able to do more things!
Thanks Nora and the others for sharing your perspective. Interesting to hear what you notice about yourselves.
I am mostly okay with the way I look. My legs and butt are pretty toned, my boobs are not as perky as a few years back, but I like the shape and size. I can easily find clothes that fit. I do gain and lose weight quite a bit depending on how much I work out, so I have a wardrobe in two sizes. I feel comfortable in both sizes though.
The only time I feel ugly is when I see myself in pictures. My posture seems awkward, I look short and chubby, my overbite and crooked teeth are on display, I have bags under my eyes. It can ruin a fun day for me when I see a picture of myself. This doesn’t happen in front of a mirror by the way! Maybe I should take a modeling course.
I feel the same way about pictures! It’s good to remember that most of the time people are seeing you how you see yourself in real life and not in a picture.
Thanks for sharing, Nora!
I’m content with my body. I’ve thought at times that it would be nice to be a little taller or bustier or not so freckled or maybe not so fair-skinned, but that’s partly left over from growing with my mom and occasionally my sister making snide comments. Though having gone through that means that when I get snide remarks about my body, they’re pretty much something I’ve heard before, ha ha.
Freckles drive me absolutely WILD. I wish you could see how beautiful and special you are (♥ω♥ ) ~♪
Oh, thank you! I’ve been good with everything for some time. I just wasn’t always good with it, but, hey, I got better, and they’re not more than passing thoughts.
Ooooo this is so great. Thanks Nora for sharing and giving us space to do the same- especially in a queer environment.
I have always been thin and started working out in college after not being athletic my whole life. It made me feel good that I could enjoy something I had been told I wasn’t “made for” growing up, and it gave me agency over my body. I recently got access to a gym again, and I love working on my arms- I want to have strong arms and a strong back and good posture and not look dainty. (If you have dumbbell and kettle bell exercise rec’s lemme know!)
My biggest body problem is my acne. I only recently got my back acne under control and my face ever since moving to the south has been a nightmare. I actually had a dermatologist appointment today (I’m so lucky) and she loaded on more pills and potions. I know self-love is supposed to play a part in getting over this but I honestly feel like acne makes me totally unattractive and juvenile-looking. I hate to go to work looking 13 and it’s beyond hard to feel sexy. Hopefully this new stuff helps and I can also be kinder to myself.
I’m having a heck of a time trying to figure out my personal style as a fat and awkwardly shaped person with not a lot of money. I’ve set up a lot of rules for myself (no sleeveless shirts, V-necks only, flared skirts and dresses only, no sandals, etc.) based on what’s supposed to be flattering for my body, so I end up with very few options if I don’t want to look like a soccer mom (I don’t). I’m also trying to switch to a slightly more masculine style, but that’s even harder to do with all those rules because they’re all based in traditional/feminine ideas about what women’s bodies should look like. It’s just weird trying to go from having no personal style because I was just trying to look as “good” as possible to figuring out what I would really love to wear, but it’s also kind of a fun process. I guess the term “flattering” is just as subjective as anything.
“It’s just weird trying to go from having no personal style because I was just trying to look as “good” as possible to figuring out what I would really love to wear, but it’s also kind of a fun process”
I love this.
I have a lot of privileges, but still don’t feel good about my body. Being white and cis puts me in a pretty good place to start with. Being a size 14 (maybe 12 depending on the store) doesn’t invite harassment the way being a size 24 would. But still. ~~~Lots of negativity below DOn’T LikE dON’t REad LOl~~~
As a kid, I was not quite chubby but soft. I hit puberty and got curvy earlier than just about anyone else in my school, which made me insecure and started me on this worry with being bigger or fatter than other girls (because I was comparing myself with literal prepubescent children). Most of the time I was somehow okay with it, because I figured I would just lose the weight later, or that I wasn’t that bad (and I wasn’t that bad!). I was unathletic and loved carbs.
Cue going to college, gaining a bit more weight, studying abroad and losing weight, gaining it back when I returned, leaving college and gaining 20 pounds (when I was already slightly overweight before). I’m 5’5″ and at my heaviest was 175 lbs. Now I’m at about 165 lbs, weighing myself every day and obsessing about what I eat. I have to admit that I feel frustrated by my progress a lot.
My body shape would probably be described as “pear” by most women’s magazines. My boobs are smallish-medium relative to my body, and I’ve got some hefty haunches. My waist is narrower than my hips. I have a pretty long torso and carry most of my extra weight there, but if I stand up straight there are no rolls and I just look “thick,” as the kids say. I’m a bit squishy. I don’t mind my fundamentally bottom-heavy shape, but want to be skinnier. It’s fucked up, I know.
My whole life has been about dressing to hide myself. I hate feeling seen. My style has always been kind of lazy/frumpy, which I don’t like and have been trying to change, but somehow I rarely get the courage to wear the brighter colors and bolder cuts I pick up at the thrift shop. I think Nora’s style is amazing and I aspire to be more like her (but in my own unique way of course).
So I’m about the same size as you – I’m an Aussie 12/14, which makes me an American 10/12? Bust either 36DD or 34FF depending on who’s measuring. Basically, just as curvy, and yet not curvy in the ways that would get me a modelling gig.
I grew up in Malaysia. In Malaysia I am FATTY MCFATERSON. I am a size XXL – MINIMUM. I HATED clothes shopping as a kid (and honestly even still now) because LITERALLY NOTHING would ever fit me. (Shoes were especially traumatizing because I was a size 9 in the world of size 5s.) The BMI charts our local doctors were working with had me as Morbidly Obese. I was surrounded by ads for slimming services where my body & weight were always the Before pictures.
And then I move to the West and the Fat Activist Brigade are all “well you’re not even ~that fat~, you are an inbetweenie at best, you don’t know what it’s like to be oppressed for your weight~~~” and I’m like, FUCK YOU and your Westerncentric bullshit. It’s not my fault Asian standards for “acceptable” are ridiculously tiny compared to the West.
(Trying out clothes at a bog standard UK department store as a teen was a fuckin’ revelation.)
It’s not that surprising really that the main plus-size fashion icon in Japan has exactly my body shape and size. THAT’S considered plus-size there, and plus-size in this ridiculous continent, even in South Asia where curves are super common. If only there was a way that my brown ass could make a killing in Japan’s plus-size fashion scene, since it’s not likely that Malaysia would ever have one…
And hell. I have acne, I’ve had acne for a long time, and people giving me shit for it was why I never bothered with a skincare regime until fairly recently, just so I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. Problem is, none of the skincare stuff seems to work all that well for me, to the point that I often wonder why I keep doing this. And the medical stuff either doesn’t work or has a high risk of making me much more depressed than I already am. It doesn’t help that by Asian standards (again, ridic narrow) I am “dark-skinned” and therefore “ugly”. It BLEW MY MIND when I went to a MAC counter in SF and the sales person was talking about “well your skin isn’t that dark really”. I had a full-blown identity crisis right there on that chair.
so yes. body standards are already weird as it is but they get even weirder when you cross countries and cultures, and it annoys me to all hell that even the body positivity movement is taken over by the experiences and perspectives of one side of the Earth.
Thank you so much for this article! This logical, nana-giving-you-a-talking-to style of body discussion is so different to how I usually relate to mine, and was really soothing to read.
My body feels to me sometimes like an old, reliable car that I’ve had right from the lot but haven’t taken very good care of, like right now it does the job but it has way more potential. I was lucky enough to be really active in sports right when I first became aware of my body, around 12-13, and so was very muscly and relatively capable/strong. I went through periods of fluctuating weight but it didn’t bother me because I knew as soon as the volleyball/soccer/swimming/climbing season started I’d get back to baseline. But at age 16, I was cut from my volleyball team, had my first depressive episode, broke both my ankles and lost a really good friend to suicide all in the span of two months. That led to four months of almost complete inactivity, and disregarding a very manageable chronic GI disorder that I’ve always had, and I went from my comfortable and capable lil jock self to an underweight, gloomy teen storm cloud. Even after my mood lifted and I discovered music as an outlet for my new angsty gay emotions, the attention I’d received upon losing weight coupled with an intense summer job doing construction labour led to an eating disorder that left me swimming in all my clothes and hurting all the time. Recovery from that has been a three year uphill battle, leaving me where I am now- a suddenly chubby third year uni student who’s more at peace with my body than I’ve been in a long time. I’m still healing and learning to manage my GI symptoms again, and I gotta say I miss being able to run for hours and climb up stuff, but hey. I donno if I’ll ever be back there, but I’m really glad to be where I am now!
I love the way this was written. Thank you for this and all the comments.
I read the story here about Hunger By Roxane Gay and immediately bought it; on my lunch break, in the rain. I started reading it that evening. The book is finished now and it is covered in highlighter and tears. Roxane “told me” that the book isn’t even for me. She wasn’t writing for someone of my size who is a 12/14 max but the book resonated so deeply with me. The conversation about fat and different bodies is so refreshing and yet so sad. Excruciatingly sad.
I work for a bank, in a ‘retail’ position of management. I have customers that I love and that make me smile but also always make my weight a topic of discussion. The way my clothing sits across my breasts, my belly, or over my hips. The color or the stripes or the shape that isn’t right or is so “right” that they exclaim how I must have lost weight. I am polite. I will smile and nod. I will express my plans to lose weight and how I will do it. Or mention that I have been drinking more water to appease them.
At the end of the day, I know deep down that my body is simply a vessel. A mass of water, tissue, blood, and bone that is just a way for me to get through the world. All of my beauty and my lovely sits so much deeper than that. With that said, I won’t lie and say that my smile lines don’t excite me. (I am happy to have wrinkles that speak to my happiness and not my sadness or angry times). Or the big, pulsing wrinkles in my hands that I love so much. Or the tiny freckles on my bottom lip that match my son’s.
I hate that I can’t edit….big veins in my hands. Hehe.
Size 12 is an awkward place to be because you’re big enough to think you’re supposed to be self-conscious, but small enough to be obsessed with attaining thin privilege. I used to buy clothes that were slightly too small, or put off buying nice clothes, because I thought I was so close to having an “androgynous” body and a magically better life. (This was also tied up in gender feelings, I see now.) Now that I’m a size 16 I have some new insecurities, but I’ve grown to accept that I’ll never be thin. Better to find clothes that look and feel good on me now than to yearn for an illusory waifish future.
Also, as in-betweeners we still have some body privilege. Children don’t point and laugh at me, I can often buy pants in straight sizes, etc. I’m glad you acknowledge this.
excellent blog post. continue the great work.