Towards a fat aesthetics

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fat and aesthetics.  Actually, I’ve been thinking about it for a really long time – at least since this post at a year and a half ago.  Specifically, this bit:

The freedom and confidence to dress to fit one’s fat body and not hide it is, absolutely, a revolutionary experience, especially for a girl who lived in jeans and baggy t-shirts for most of her life.  But it is equally revolutionary, for me, to choose not to put myself out there as a curvy, slightly more acceptable, fake-voluptuous shape.  I ain’t voluptuous.  And if I don’t feel like faking a shape my body doesn’t fit, I’m not going to do so.

There had been a bit of discussion in the fatshionista livejournal community around that time about the idea of ‘flattering,’ and how it was usually used to mean ‘slimming’ – or sometimes ‘smoothing’ – either way, making the body appear closer in size or shape to the dominant ideal (slim, smooth, curved).  Which, well, is a fine thing to do, but it’s not exactly going to start a revolution, or change much of anything at all (except perhaps how the ‘flattered’ person feels at the time, which is not nothing).

And it got me wondering: what would ‘flattering’ mean in the context of fat fashion if it didn’t mean ‘slightly-more-like-a-thin-body’?

The topic has been on my mind a lot lately thanks to the release of Beth Ditto’s collection for Evans.  There’s been a lot of praise and a lot of criticism about the collection.  I kinda have a foot in each camp myself – there’s some pieces I adore, and some that just sort of make me go o_O.  The collection is incredibly on-trend and in line with what’s coming in with small-size collections, but at the same time, it feels to me like it’s doing something different, something more than just upsizing the current fashions.  It seems to me to be about fat in a way I don’t think I’ve seen before.  I think it’s partly the rhinestone-eyed kitty t-shirt that is so evocative of pretty much the only style of clothing available to me as a young fat girl in the 80s.  I think it’s partly the domino dress that doesn’t try to flatter or slim or smooth.  These are pieces I would never wear because I’m too deeply invested in being ‘acceptable’ fat, but they still say something to me.

One of the things I love most fiercely about Beth Ditto is that she’s not afraid of ugly.  When I saw The Gossip live (please come back to Australia soon!), at one point in the gig, Beth posed for photos by looking down and tucking her chin in, saying ‘Did you get the double chins?  Make sure you get the chins!’  Watching her emphasise rather than try to hide her fatness, I had a Moment.

And so, for a while now, I’ve been thinking that one of the things that is happening in fat acceptance – in the various manifestations of fatshionista, in (some) other fat fashion blogs, in Beth Ditto’s unashamed display of fat flesh both prettified and uglified – is the development of a fat aesthetics.  A recognition that fat bodies are different to thin bodies (and different to other fat bodies, and that thin bodies are different to other thin bodies, and that the line between fat and thin is pretty impossible to locate definitively) and that finding ways to make a fat body look as much like a thin body as possible is not necessarily the ultimate aim of the game.  That there might be a way of fashioning fat bodies, of valuing the visuals that doesn’t have to be about ‘curves’ and cleavage (although it can be), that isn’t about adapting and adopting a certain set of standards, that isn’t about ‘what’s inside’ being the only thing that counts.

I think all this and I get very excited, because I think it means that fat bodies – that a fat aesthetics – could be truly revolutionary.