Fats in a magazine

Last Sunday, News Ltd’s Sunday Magazine ran an article on fat stigma and fat acceptance, with interviews with Frances and Sam and Bri and…me!  (Hello and welcome to all the new people who found me via the article.)

It’s a great, positive article, and I think the writer, Jane Hutchinson, really ‘gets it’ with regard to fat stigmatisation.  It’s so encouraging to see these ideas being aired in mainstream media in Australia.

Click through for higher res files (look at that picture of Frances! Isn’t she incredible?! Also: So much yellow dress envy!)

It’s been really interesting for me being involved in this story (which is the first bit of media I’ve done).

One of the things I’ve been teaching my students at the moment is the idea of ‘framing’ – that is, what gets selected for show, what gets left out of view, what gets put around it.  We’ve been talking about it in regards to images, but it’s even more relevant to the construction of stories (and blog posts, for that matter).  I’m fascinated, both intellectually and, in this case, personally, by the way an hour and a half of conversation gets condensed to three or four quotes, and also by what kinds of quotes get selected.  I’m pretty sure I said some Deep and Fascinating and Profoundly Insightful things about fat stigma, but it’s the personal – and especially the emotional – bits which made it in.

Also, I think it’s hilarious that I’ve been quoted saying why I prefer the word ‘fat’ to ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’ and the very next paragraph talks about how many overweight and obese people there are in Australia.  It seems terribly apt that we’ve been talking about irony in class today.

This isn’t a criticism of the story or the process or anyone involved – I think it’s a really great and positive piece, and the quotes were selected because they serve the story and the angle.  But deconstructing media is kinda what I do, and it’s completely irresistible given something I was actually there for.

ETA:  I also meant to address the whole “last acceptable prejudice” thing.  I talked to Jane during the interview about how I think it’s a bogus claim – there’s all sorts of prejudice which is enshrined in legislation, used for political gain, and casually bandied about.

I’m also amused that the headline on the cover reads “Proud to be fat: The women who say bigger is better”.   Pretty sure the message wasn’t about being ‘better’ so much as not being worse.

I do, however, think Jane’s analysis of the photos used to illustrate the Christine Nixon stories is very astute, particulary when she says:

…the implied message behind the photo was clear: this woman is obviously unable to manage her appetite and body weight.  how can she be trusted to manage anything else?

Now that’s the kind of analysis of framing I hope my students will make!

Dear fatshion retailers

I have a request.  It’s quite simple, straightforward even.  But it’s so important.  Are you listening? Are you ready?  Okay. Here we go.

Please make clothes that people would actually want to wear. Please.

See, I told you it was simple.  At least, I think it’s simple.  But apparently you – all very few of you – don’t seem to think so.

What I want is not so hard.  Clothes that are age-appropriate (for someone in their very early 30s), vaguely stylish, reasonably comfortable, and made from fabrics that don’t disintegrate on the second wash.  Options other than black would be wonderful, but I’m not actually that fussy.  Options other than black that aren’t aggressively loud would also be nice.  I know some people dig them, but they make me look like a clown.  And since I want to be an academic and not a clown, avoiding clownishness seems like a fairly high sartorial priority.

I don’t mind showing a little cleavage, but there are occasions when a neckline that plunges all the way to my belly-button is just not appropriate.  You know, like work days.  Or in a classroom.  Or catching the last tram home on a Friday night.  Sometimes strapless isn’t the best option either.  Come to that, there’s only so many occasions where a girl can wear satin (and fewer where some of us would actually choose to).

Is it too much to ask for natural fabrics? Even natural blends? A nice cotton/lycra jersey would be great.  Even better if it didn’t pill the moment you look at it.  Just a thought.  Chances are I’ll put up with the pilling because I don’t have any choice.  But you know that already.  That’s why all my clothes are sad and pilly.  I refuse to wear polyester, though.  I refuse to pay ninety bucks (on sale!) for a printed polyester sack.  I won’t do it.  I certainly won’t pay a $130 for a more-shapely version.  I did, however, layby this dress today, which has most of what I want – it’s cute, and natural, and scrapes in under $100, which is something of a miracle for a fat girl dress.  It’s not even black. But it’s still a bit…meh. The fabric feels like it should be used for curtains.  Or maybe upholstery.  Something that doesn’t require drape.  That doesn’t matter if it clings.  Something that no one will mind when all the stray bits of cotton in the room stick to it.  But it was the only thing going. The ONLY thing.

I’d also like work-out gear.  And sports bras.  Actually, just any comfortable bra that fits would be great.  Preferably one that doesn’t show under that plunge-to-the-belly-button neckline.  I’d also like some cardis.  Just plain cardis with full-length sleeves.  My wrists get cold in winter, too.  I used to have a magnificent cardi, actually.  It was blue with sparkly gold thread through it.  I don’t even usually like sparkly, but I loved that cardi.  But I loaned it to someone one night, and now it’s gone and I’ll never get it back.  Sometimes this literally makes me so sad I could cry, because magnificent cardis in my size are truly rare and special things.  If I find another in my lifetime, I won’t be so careless.  I won’t lend it to anyone.  I won’t even let anyone touch it, unless it is safely and firmly buttoned around my ample body.

Am I being unreasonable, dear retailers? I’m not even asking for things I really want.  Things in ‘my style’ – or rather, the style I wish I could have.  Things with a little vintage, a little whimsy, a little edge.  I know that’s far too much to expect.

I’d be willing to pay for what I’m describing.  I mean, I can’t really manage what seems to be the going rate, but really, $550 for a shirt dress is a *tad* out of most people’s range, don’t you think?  But surely we can find a middle ground? I know I’m not the only one who wants this.  And yes, I have heard of the internet.  But dear fatshion retailers, is it really so strange to want to try things on before handing over my cash?  Is it really so unreasonable to not want to spend around $50 on round trip shipping when most of the order turns out to be too big or too small or just plain wrong for my shape?

Dear retailers, I have wanted to give you my money for so long now, and you seem totally uninterested.  I’m starting to despair.  I fear you will never let me love you the way I want to love you.  I’m almost at the point of giving up.  I do have a sewing machine, you see, but I have so little time to sew, what with all that time spent at work and in classrooms and actually studying.  Maybe if I spent less time scouring your ultimately barren racks, I could change that.  Maybe it’s time I started to think of myself.

This is not some frivolous complaint, dear retailers, not at all.  It matters.  Access to clothing matters, in a way you can’t possibly imagine until you don’t have it.  Access to clothing can enable or deny access to professional opportunities, to social spaces, to activities, to romantic situations, to certain possibilities of identity, in short, to the whole of life.  It matters.  It matters a lot.

All I really want is some clothes to wear.  Nothing special.  Clothes for work, and for working out.  For going to uni and to brunch and hanging out drinking.  For this work dinner that’s coming up.  For this conference I’m going to.  Just ordinary clothes for living a life.

Is that really so unreasonable?