On rejecting the notion of the flattering outfit.

obesity

If I were a man...

As I was wandering through the fat-o-sphere I came across the Axis of Fat which I had encountered before with much delight and forgotten about for a while. Via Erin-Marie on this site, I wondered over to the ever-splendid Natalie Perkins at Definatalie to read this article on Rejecting the Notion of the Flattering outfit.

It’s an inspiring and thought-provoking post.

As someone who has a take it or leave it approach to fashion at the best of times but loves dressing up, loves clothes but despite her best efforts still feels compelled to disguise her physical flaws on a regular occasion in order to appear ‘attractive’ or at least ‘not a hideous eyesore for the general public’, it definatalie struck a chord with me. Honestly, even if I wear vertical striped, boot cut, well fitting, lycra including, dark blue jeans, you’d still know I was fat.

It’s a constant battle between feeling fine and dressing however I want, feeling like an ugly heffer who is unable to ever fit into the beauty ideal and feeling like ‘why should I have to torture myself and my body to fit any spurious notion of beauty?’ And it’s true that any notion of a ‘flattering outfit’ is an outfit that tries to get us a close to this ‘beauty ideal’ as our hairy, flabby, pear-shaped, blemished bodies will go. I think it’s also true that ‘engaging in flattering dressing’ is not accepting your own body and it perpetuates a cycle of body negativity as it is buying into the idea that your body is not fine the way it is and needs to be changed or at least disguised. As these changes are almost impossible beyond a life of lotions, potions, shaving rash and deprivation, you’re constantly left feeling awful about the shortfall between your body here and that distant ideal all the way over…. there.

But I have a huge problem getting my head round the bigger picture here.

Yes, you should just wear whatever the hell you want want be it a sofa cover  or a tie dye lycra cat suit if that tugs your squirrel. Moreover, if you do chose to wear a sofa cover, it’s all good if you wear it because it’s comfortable, you like it and it makes you feel shit hot. On the other hand, if you wear a sofa cover because society/your mother/your mate makes you feel that it’s what you should wear because you need to cover up that ugly paunch of yours/you can’t carry off hot pants/leggings make you look fat then that’s not ok.

But personally, I tend to find that I want to wear something because it makes me feel good and it makes me feel good because I think it looks good and, honestly, that usually means it looks socially acceptable and makes me look slimmer/attractive in  a conventional sense. Ok, I may favour the ‘Farmer’s Wife Shortly After Farrowing the Pigs Look’ more than Vogue but I tend not to wear all Lycra cat suits because they don’t make me feel shit hot because I think I look terrible in them ie. fat and ugly in a conventional sense.

So I struggle to get my head round this whole subject a bit. I feel I need a step by step guide to thinking about dressing for my own pleasure not being the same as dressing in a ‘flattering’ fashion.

Because I’m not going to proudly wear a lycra cat suit (all thrush-based issues aside) until I feel that it is a good look and that’s never going to happen until a) I suddenly become a size 8 (like, never) or b) society decides that fat looks cool.

But then I feel that maybe I should wear my lycra cat suit in order to encourage the onset of b) by making fatness visible. But then if I were to wear it it would be purely to make a statement and not because I felt I looked amazing. I would swallow my fear of being ridiculed and wear it in order to be seen, braving feeling ugly just to make a point. And I also feel confused as to whether it is better to show that fat people can be beautiful within the remits of the social ideal of beauty (thereby buying into flattering dressing to some degree) or whether we are trying to blow apart the idea all together – the danger there being that we will never truly destroy the ideal and just alienate ourselves further by wearing cat suits and quite firmly planting ourselves in the ugly category.

But then if I look just at myself in the mirror, not through the prism of society’s pressure, my shape and curves are not ugly per se. Perhaps if I were not constrained by a society that says my fat is ugly and that I must disguise it then maybe I would choose to wear a lycra cat suit, just for the joy of it and might even see myself as looking shit hot. It’s so hard to see through the fog of social conditioning. But what’s shit hot to me if it’s not shared by anyone else?

It would be nice to live in a place where people don’t shout ‘Fatty!’ at you in the street and it would be nice to live in a society where your friends didn’t feel compelled to advise you how to disguise your lumpy bits to protect you from abuse. Basically, it would be nice if we lived in a society where each person was appreciated for their own individual beauty and not endlessly compared to an unattainable and exclusive ideal.

But surely the very nature of fashion is that it’s an exclusive ideal. It’s desirability relies on being out of reach to most because things that are available to all are not sought after – in the having of them they lose their value.

To maintain it’s exclusivity fashion can have no place for people with acne scars, women with hairy top lips or anyone with a double chin. It must peddle an unattainable notion of ‘perfection’. How can people feel better than each other if we are all on an equal footing? And capitalism relies on people feeling rubbish about themselves in order for them to feel compelled to buy more thing they don’t need to try to feel whole. Content people don’t buy so much shit.

There will always be a sliding scale of beauty because people, by our very nature, like to compare and contrast, compete and have a hierarchy, be it in how fast we can run, how well we cook or how beautiful we are, physically. And as looks are a factor in choosing a mate, we will never cease to have an opinion about it. But perhaps, ideally, size may become a neutral factor in the beauty pageant of life. Perhaps it will become like hair colour – a matter of preference for individuals, with some associated traits (‘blondes have more fun’) but not an actively bad or good thing such as fat and thin are now.

But I don’t know. The moral undertones of thin and fat are very deeply ingrained in this society – whether they are natural, instinctive preferences (as many would have us believe) linked to health etc or a throw back from religious times that used to serve a purpose we no longer have a need for (such as Christian marriage and the need for a man to protect his chattels and inheritance) they may never be overturned but perpetuated through new social rules as the ‘meaning’ of fat and thin develop and draw in other aspects. (It’s worth noting that fat usually comes with the stigma of blame whereas other ‘flaws’ such as acne and being too tall are considered unfortunate accidents of birth).

But we can at least try. Research on fatness and fitness, on reasons behind obesity and new ways to tackle it continues apace and we may reach a point where we can show that fat is not a death sentence, not an ugly suit that we strive to remove and not an indicator of stupidity, laziness or moral decrepitude. Then it may become a neutral factor in our choice of mate. But until then, if it broadens our concept of that slippery monster ‘beauty’ and enables fatties to see themselves represented and thereby accepted in the public eye then although I might not wear a cat suit, until we force celebrities to look like us or stop ‘attractive’ being a synonym for ‘success’  I just  might wear my skinny jeans and let my rolls hang out.

4 thoughts on “On rejecting the notion of the flattering outfit.

  1. I have always thought of dressing to flatter your body is more about showing off certain assets that you like, rather than hiding the ones you don’t.

  2. Fo sho – I reckon it’s like a combination of the two. But the bits you like and don’t like will be influenced by the ideas peddled by fashion and society – not many people will be actively loving their love handles and dressing to show them off as we are taught to believe that they are ugly. I tend to find that fashion tells us we have a lot more to disguise than we do to celebrate! I heard a programme on Radio Scotland the other day (I love Radio Scotland :)) which was about choosing a suit to flatter you and it turned out to be how to buy a suit to make you look taller/thinner/shorter/younger than you are (i.e. hiding your flaws). But you’re right, if you’ve got it flaunt it and everyone has something worth shouting about! But if it weren’t for the rigours of Cosmo mag we might be flaunting our bingo wings and knobbly knees as much as our shapely ankles and toned bottoms rather than trying to hide them away!

  3. I think we should wear clothes that make us feel good. Since I started dressing to suit my figure, I feel more confident and like how I look more. It’s not about hiding your fat, it’s about dressing in a way that makes your figure look stunning, whatever shape you are. People should embrace clothes they love, and clothes that make them happy.

    Amy – I wouldn’t say you always dress in ‘flattering’ clothes, but you always look stunning and striking, because of who you are and how you wear your clothes. :-)

    I really like this blog of hers too:

    http://www.definatalie.com/2009/06/16/how-to-love-yourself-in-8-really-hard-steps/

  4. Ach, bless you. Currently, I look striking because I am carrying a big mallet :)

    OH GOD this makes my brain hurt – but it’s good for me…

    What I’m trying to say is that the clothes that make you feel good are the ones that make you conform to the beauty ideal (or get closer to it) and they are dictated to us by the social conditioning of fashion and the notion that we should be slimmer/taller/more tanned etc. Right? You feel more confident now you dress to flatter your figure because you look more gorgeous according to society, yes? And so you are more admired, more accepted and possibly conferred with more power and success… Possibly :) You wear fewer things that society tells you make you look ‘less attractive’ be that a bit fatter, or a bit paler a bit too tall or whatever and more that emphasise your good points and improve bits that need attention – showing your hourglass figure, lengthening your legs, smoothing out unsightly lumps and bumps as fashion tells us we should. In other words you’ve adapted the way you dress to make you appear closer to the beauty ideal that you think you did before. When you were dressing less flatteringly. Yes?

    I mean, obviously, you are totally gorgeous, so you have a head start there 😉

    What I’m trying to say (in a really inarticulate way) is that at the moment, for me, feeling good in clothes means I think the clothes look ‘flattering’ which means I think they look good or as good as I can manage i.e. as close as I can manage to the beauty ideal we are routinely peddled. But feeling good in clothes shouldn’t just be about clothes being flattering. Clothes should make us feel good because we like the colour, the feel of the fabric, the associations we have but, at the moment, feeling good in clothes predominantly means feeling like they make us look beautiful in the conventional sense.

    And there is the rub. People think you shouldn’t wear clothes that aren’t flattering and that means that fat people shouldn’t wear skinny jeans, people with bingo wings shouldn’t wear short sleeves and girls (like me) with hairy legs shouldn’t wear hotpants because it makes us look ‘ugly’ – they don’t flatter us. And people feel just fine about telling us that. I would like to feel good in the clothes I wear irrespective of whether they flatter me or not. I don’t want how good I feel in clothes to be based on how much slimmer they make me look, how much more like the beauty ideal. I want to feel good in clothes because they are fabulous, because they feel gorgeous on, because I like the way the sequins catch the light, not because they minimise my thunder thighs. I’m hoping to hit this spot every day.

    Granted, for me, that includes a lot of days :) but not on all of them. However, I have to admit that sometimes, on a fat day, I feel glad to be so far away from the beauty ideal as the impossibility of attaining it frees me from trying to get there and I can just wear whatever the hell I want be it sofa cover, hot pants or that ever elusive lycra cat suit. I used to have one of those…

    Hot damn, it’s good to have a fat talk sparring partner to make me think about what I really think – you awesome lady! Hope you are well and super dooper love love x

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