I am 25 and I have only been fat for around 4 years. It’s funny to think that the experience I have in shopping as a plus size person is much better than it would have been in the past since it is so bad! I presume that the new advances in sizing are mostly to do with the fact that the majority of women in both the UK and US are what would be considered plus size, but it’s hard to stomach just how ill-equipped the fashion world is for the needs of this majority. It often feels like these advances have been just incredibly unwillingly made and it consistently shocks me how little businesses seem to care for the huge amount of profit they are missing out on but many businesses truly do not see fat people as their audience. I think social media has given us power to connect and act and attempt to fight for change, it also gives people regular access to contact businesses directly and repeatedly. Any advances we are having in this area are down to the tireless work of fat activists who have had to constantly educate and push and risk their own mental wellbeing for progress. Apart from being such a small proportion of businesses providing for any extended sizes, the ones that do, have a hard limit on how big they are willing to go. A lot of this is because willingness to listen is only extended to fat people that are considered ‘palatable’, ie: those with hourglass figures, thin faces, and, of course, less fat- essentially leaving fatter people out in the cold. People are remarkably good at forgetting the people who are less privileged than themselves, even those who think of themselves as radical. We need to not just be listening to fat people, but the fattest people, and within that group we need to prioritise those who sit at other intersections, i.e. race, disability, and gender and sexuality. Disabled activist group Sins Invalid say that disability justice cannot be enacted without ‘leadership of the most impacted’ and I truly believe that applies to all areas when trying to create a more equal world. While we are seeing fashion make progress, we are not yet seeing what I would call visions of true ‘fashion justice’ that include fat people and the fattest people.
I think the biggest direct impact my work has had is in helping individuals break out of the cycle of self hatred, people who are fat are taught to be their own bully, to push themselves into unhealthy mindsets and lifestyles, to think that they are undeserving of kind thoughts towards themselves. Over the years I have had many messages from people saying that the way I speak, learn openly, and present myself has given them more patience for themselves and their bodies and for that I am incredibly grateful and proud. When you spend a lot of your time exhausted and advocating for change with very little visible change it is wonderful to remember that to make even one person feel safer in themselves is an incredible impact. I don’t like to claim that my work has been the direct cause of bigger things like businesses extending their sizing but I do know a lot of fashion business owners follow me and I’d like to think that I’ve been a part of influencing some of these more widespread changes as well. I think seeing a fat girl be hot and stylish and confident without playing into the tropes of what fat women are expected to be in order to earn social desirability is an undervalued thing that truly does have a huge amount of power alongside other forms of activism.
In my opinion the two biggest drivers of modern anti-fat bias are racism and ableist classism. As I learned more about intersectional struggles and their history it became extremely clear that anti blackness plays a significant part in fatphobia, after this realisation I went on to read Sabrina Strings’ excellent book on exactly this theme called ‘Fearing the Black Body’ which is an incredibly useful, clear outline of how historical white ‘race science’ and the white religious and medical communities throughout colonial history have colluded to make fatness synonymous with both blackness and moral and physical inferiority, I think a difficult pill to swallow for the modern person is how much of our thinking is still based heavily around the made up, unresearched, and unproven ideas that evil rich, white, colonialist men had about who they deemed desirable. In a capitalist society we cannot get away from classism and the idea that those who are unable to make lots of money have no value, so many assumptions are made about the ‘health’ of fat people and implicitly, their ability to work and generate capital which of course produces a system in which fat people find it harder to obtain employment and earn lower on average. While many fat people are actually ‘healthy’, the problem doesn’t actually lie in whether or not they are, it’s in valuing people based on their potential for profit. In a society that sees fat people as worthless, moral failures, emphasis is placed on changing fat people into thin people rather than providing for them to have full and beautiful lives living in whatever bodies they have at the time. I believe this is a large part of the root of not making plus size fashion readily available. A lot of fat activists talk about the idea that a fat body is always considered temporary, so why provide nice things to someone who surely won’t look like this much longer? These are the attitudes we are up against. And the lack of investment in fat people having careers in fashion spaces is absolutely shocking. I have almost never come across fat people working in mainstream fashion and when they do it is often working on clothes that will never fit them. In fashion courses there is a distinct lack of fat students and absolutely no teaching in that area in the majority of schools. The lack of fat people in any part of the design process is so apparent in the way things are graded, fitted, styled, and fabricated and as a fat consumer I found that the only way I started getting clothes that properly fit me was by becoming an expert myself. I have had to learn a wild amount of information on construction and fit, knowing which measurements to look out for, learning to avoid any brand without a comprehensive sizing chart, learning to spot tell tale drag lines on models’ clothing in shoots that shows that the fit is not as good in real life, learning how to make my own adjustments to ill fitting clothes, and learning which types of pieces are not worth investing in without getting a chance to try them on. In shopping for my own needs and learning to make my own where shopping has failed me, I have learned enough to become a professional fit consultant and that should absolutely not have to be the case to be a consumer. In terms of shopping in person, I do not have options. There are 3 shops on my local high street that stock my size, all of which I would not want to visit due to style and ethical concerns. Because of this I only shop online and usually only with small businesses who I can give sizing feedback to which is often unpaid labour. I have seen a lot of smaller brands around me increase their sizing to my size and no bigger, which is disheartening because it lets me know that as soon as life throws body changes at me again I will be back where I started.