Hey Fatty!

Have you heard about the Hey Fatty & Friends Fair?

Hey Fatty & Friends Fair

Sunday 16th September, 12-5pm
St Brigid’s Parish Hall
378 Nicholson St, North Fitzroy
$5 entry

That’s right – it’s going to be a giant fat fashion fair in Melbourne! With vintage, recycled, and independent fashion and accessories! Chub Republic will have a stall, and all proceeds from that will go toward rad fatty projects in Melbourne. There will also be stalls from Hey Fatty themselves, the excellent Bombshell Vintage, and – I am *dying* of anticipation for this one - Gisela Ramirez will be debuting her new collection!!!

The day will be hosted by the incredible Kelli Jean Drinkwater! There will be catwalk shows with the chance for everyone at the fair to strut their stuff! And cupcakes! And Logicbunny Photography (who is the absolute best and most fun!) will have a pop-up studio!

All the deets at Hey Fatty and on Facebook!

See you there, fatties!

A Fabulous Fatshion Extravaganza!

Have you hear about Chub Republic? It’s this little group I’m involved with, and we’re hosting a plus-size clothes swap in a few weeks!

It’s on Sunday 11 September at Loophole Community Centre, 670 High Street, Thornbury.  You can drop off clothes between 11am-1pm, and then the real fun goes from 2pm-5pm!

Chub Republic Presents a Fabulous Fatshion Extravaganza!
Chub Republic Presents a Fabulous Fatshion Extravaganza!
 Are you size 16 or more, and have nothing to wear?  Do you own clothes you’ll never wear again and they’re just taking up precious space?

Well here’s a clothes swap just for you!  Drop off your pre-loved plus-sized garments between 11am and 1pm, then enjoy the Thornbury shops and cafes until 2pm, when doors open and a whole new world of sartorial brilliance will be yours.

Entry is $5, after which the clothes are FREE! All genders are welcome, and drinks and baked goods will be available.

Follow us on Twitter: @ChubRepublicMel
Join us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/groups/175134172549558/
Check out our website: http://www.chubrepublic.au.com/blog/
And reblog us on Tumblr: http://chubrepublicmelb.tumblr.com/

Big Fat US Adventure

So, I’m in the USA.  I’ve been here for 6 weeks now.  I meant to write about it sooner.  MUCH sooner.  I meant to write before I even left, but, as usual, study/planning/life/tv watching got in the way.  And then actual travel got in the way.  But it’s been amazing.  AMAZING.

I started in New York, where I met (and posed for) the incredible Substantia Jones of Adipositivity.  I went to the Breaking Boundaries: Body Politics and the Dynamics of Difference at Sarah Lawrence University, where I met the famous Marilyn Wann, the fabulous Zoe and Arun, and one of my all-time academic heroes, the fantastically brilliant Katie LeBesco, and too many others to mention.  I went to Re/Dress and found incredible vintage dresses (the amazing vintage Lane Bryant in this video).  I got to meet the ferocious Tauret, who is incredibly sweet and wonderful and took me shopping at Forever 21 (I have a whole other post I want to write about fat girl retail in the US).  I met Polianarchy and went to Rebel Cupcake and explored New York City and it was amazing.

I went to the University of Connecticuit in Storrs to look at the Mayer Collection of Fat Liberation in their archives.  It’s an incredible collection of letters and materials from the early fat liberation movement.  I also went to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard in Boston, where they have some more collections of early fat lib materials.  At both archives I met other researchers who were looking at the same collections – fat grad students are taking over the world!

I also got to meet my long-time blogging hero, Lesley Kinzel, and hang out with some other Boston Fats, who were some of the most generous and welcoming people in the world.  I went to Lafayette, Indianapolis and met Mychii, who is brilliant and driven and we had wonderful conversations about fat and fat studies and teaching and activism.

I went to Portland and got to meet Stacey Bias, who took me to a big fat queer cabaret.  I’m currently in San Francisco, where I’ve spent time looking through Judy Freespirit‘s papers at the GLBT Historical Society, and hanging out with Marilyn Wann.  I’m about to get ready to head over to Oakland to see the spectacular Ladymonster perform tonight, and tomorrow I’m off to Fatshion!…Turn to the left! before The Socialist arrives to spend my birthday week with me.

After that, I’m off to the PCA/ACA Conference, which has an awesome Fat Studies area.  I get to meet Abby Lentz who does amazing fat girl yoga. And I get to meet Hanne Blank, whose book Big Big Love changed my life (keep an eye out for the new edition, which I think is coming out later this year. I also highly recommend her erotic!). And finally, I head back to NYC for the Fat Girl Flea.

In short: This is truly the Fatty Dream Tour (TM).

I’m not writing this just to name-drop (although I am completely thrilled to have met so many amazing people!).

I’m writing this because I’ve always been scared of travelling as a fat person – of the physical inconveniences, yes, (and there have been some), but mostly the social isolation.  I didn’t do the youthful travel-as-right-of-passage for that reason (well, that and having no means to afford it).  I’ve always had the fear – the expectation – of social rejection, of not fitting in, because of my fatness (and it’s not an unfounded expectation; there’s a long history and plenty of evidence).  And while I’ve been friendly enough with my hostel roommates, I haven’t made any real connections that would be socially sustaining (which I’ve no doubt is partly a function of age and interest, as much as size and socialisation).

What has happened, though, is that I’ve found fat community on the other side of the world and felt  immediately welcome, understood, and connected.  I’ve had the audacity to ask people to spend time with me, and they have all, every single one of them, not only said yes, but gone out of their way to welcome and accomodate me.

What I find most remarkable is that this trip is happening – is motivated, enabled, and made so incredibly wonderful – not inspite of my being a fatty, but emphatically because of it.

To have grown up my whole life being bullied for my size, feeling isolated, unloveable, and unworthy because of my fat, to have never been able to fit in, it is truly remarkable to me that it’s the thing that has opened up whole new worlds of friendship, intellectual inquiry, love, and awesome adventure to me.  It’s especially remarkable given the efforts of an increasingly fat-phobic society to convince everyone that fat people can’t have love or joy or mobility or excitement.  This whole trip has been a big fuck you to that idea.

 

 

cultural capital, fitting in, and standing out

So, um, hello again.  It’s been a while.  A long while, actually.  Sorry about that.  I’ve been super-busy.  It’s been (mostly) amazing, but also exhausting.  A lot of things have happened.  My first time teaching (amazing! terrifying! fun!).  The fat studies conference (completely incredible!).  Stuff and nonsense of all sorts.  I’ve had lots of thinky thoughts but no time to write them down, which means they get all kind of bottle-necked and jammed up and then when I finally do get a moment, it takes a while to untangle the ideas and lay them out in ways that make sense.  This post will be long and probably not very neat or coherent as I try to fit all these ideas together.

Something that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few months is cultural capital.  Partly because it got a fair bit of play in the subject I was teaching, but also because it’s highly relevant to both my research and to certain events in my personal life.

The idea of cultural capital comes from French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who wrote a lot about class, taste, and social distinction.  Cultural capital is closely related to the idea of habitus – roughly, the idea that not only tastes, but also behaviours, comportment, and bodily styles are a product of social and economic class.  One of Bourdieu’s most oft-quoted lines is:

“taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier”

In other words, what you like says something about who you are.  By declaring a fondness for, say, vintage sundresses, I’m not only affirming said frocks as beautiful and valuable objects, but identifying myself as a particular type or person – alternative, but probably not too threatening; quirky in a whimsical way; indie but not rebellious.  I’m not saying that every girl in a vintage sundress fits the same mould, but that dressing in a particular style will identify me as a particular kind of person and associate me with particular attributes and ideals.  That is, if I can even find a vintage sundress that fits.

Which brings me to one way that cultural capital relates to fat.  Fat bodies lack cultural capital.  We’re devalued, othered, and outcast.  We’re desexualised, unfashionable, and made to bear the burden of failed citizenship. We’re excluded from participation in clothing cultures through sheer lack of options which accommodate our bodies (although this is, fortunately, changing).  Being excluded from being able to dress in a particular way has significant implications for participation in the rest of the world – in work, in leisure, in exercise, in social activities.  If I can’t find an appropriate outfit to wear to a job interview, I appear unprofessional and don’t get the job.  If I can’t find comfortable clothes to exercise in, it makes it harder to go to the gym.  If I can’t find bathers that fit, how can I join in with the fabulousness that is Aquaporko‘s fat femme (and femme-friendly) synchronised swimming? (But find a way because it is AWESOME!).  If I can’t find a cute vintage sundress, then what the fuck am I going to wear to hang out with my friends at whichever laneway bar we’re frequenting this week?  Even if I do manage to find a cute vintage sundress that fits (which is getting easier, thanks to uppity fats demanding fatshions, the internet and the relentless need of capitalism to always expand its markets), my body already classifies me as different.  I’m too big and too awkward and too solid for the whimsical femininity such a frock might attempt to reference.  Not only are fat bodies largely excluded from particular styles of dress, the presence of “too much” fat changes the meaning of those styles which are available.  Because no matter what I’m wearing, I am still a visual interloper.  The visible, visceral difference between me and them remains an obstacle to participation in this particular bit of life.

For some people the answer might be not to care what anyone else thinks, that it’s what’s inside, etc, etc.  Personally, I think that particular argument is so loaded down with neoliberal individualism that it exhausts me beyond words.

Being able to fit matters not only because I do care what people think, but because dressing in a particular style and going to particular places and participating in a particular form of cultural life of my city (ILU, Melbourne!) is important to my identity, is a part of who I am, is how I make myself in the world.

My concern with cultural capital isn’t only about fat.  Growing up, I was one of the least popular kids in school.  I was picked on for being different – for being fat, yes, but also for being poor, for dressing differently, for eating strange food, for having a dark-skinned father, for being excruciatingly shy to the point where sometimes I literally could not speak.  At one point in early high school, my best friend decided to stop speaking to me and the rest of the group followed her lead.  I had no friends for several months until we reconciled.  Traumatic times.

So when I say that I’ve had a background obsession with fitting in, with understanding and cultivating cultural capital for most of my life, I’m not exaggerating.  Not that I’ve been particularly successful in cultivating this capital, more that I’ve been acutely aware of my lack of success.  I’ve always known that my body (and my economic status, and my social inelegance) excludes me from not only certain fashions, but certain identities – hipster, for example, was never an option despite my “obsessive, often self-deluded, pursuit of inner-city cool” and aforementioned penchant for laneway bars.

Given my history, one of the things that never ceases to amaze me about my adult life is that I have a surprisingly large number of excellent friends.  From long-term, intimate friendships to drinking buddies, I’ve somehow become…popular?  I have a pretty full social calendar, anyway, and a sense that I’m incredibly lucky to be so well loved.  Which is not to say that my adult social life has been without challenges.  I’ve lost friends who’ve drifted away or fallen out or gotten involved and never been heard from again (where are you, S?).  Being chronically single for most of my life was also challenging.  There’s a huge amount of social (not to mention economic) capital which goes with being partnered, especially for women.  Knowing how little sexual capital fat people generally have didn’t help, despite my sound disdain for compulsory heteronormative coupling and a biting analysis of the damage done by the dominance of romantic mythology.  (I have a whole other post brewing on why sexual desire and desirability matters and is a valid grounds for fat activism.)

When I started dating The Socialist a year-and-a-half ago, I was painfully aware of his lack of cultural capital.  On our second date we went out for brunch, and was astonished to see avocado on toast on the menu as a breakfast food, thus demonstrating to me beyond all doubt an unforgivable lack of sophistication.  Fortunately, he’s an open-minded and adventurous type who ordered the damn avocado (and enjoyed it).  A year and a half later, he’s still not very sophisticated.  He doesn’t wear trackies to parties anymore, but he still says the wrong thing at the wrong time.  He can be painfully awkward in group situations and he doesn’t always pick up on social cues.  He doesn’t get irony and sarcasm.  But he is undeniably good-hearted and loving and generous, and still willing to go on just about any adventure I can concoct, and makes me happy in the most ridiculous ways.

When we first started dating, I wasn’t sure what to do.  For the longest time I was conflicted.  I would warn people of his awkwardness, his lack of cool, in advance of introducing him.  Trying to manage the potential impact. An old friend once described this sort of thing as “trying to cover your ass while saving face”.  It’s a tricky manoeuvre.   I was afraid that by associating so intimately with someone who not only didn’t have, but didn’t care about the cultural capital I had worked so hard to cultivate, I’d loose what little I had.  I was afraid that my friends would reject him and in doing so, reject me.  After the trauma of highschool, it was the worst thing I could imagine.

Well, the worst thing I could imagine is actually what happened.  We’ve been effectively ostracised by one group of friends; him directly, me by association.  And it turns out, it’s not that bad.

It’s hard to say why without reducing it to the same individualist narrative that I find and misleading and useless.  It’s not because I suddenly stopped caring about cultural capital (I certainly didn’t), or because romantic love is the most important thing (it’s definitely not, and if the rest of my friends weren’t saying how lovely they think The Socialist is, I’d be writing a very different post).  I think partly it’s ok because I was always on the edges of that particular group anyway.  I didn’t have the history (one of the things about having moved cities several times is that other people will always have been around longer than me), or the indie music credentials, or access to quite the right kinds of clothes, or the ironic sense of disregard for the impact my words might have on others.  And while I still care about those things (well, not that last one), there’s some small pressure that’s dissipated.

Mostly, though, I think it’s about you.  Fat community.  The blogs and the twitters, and the fat studies conference and aquaporko and hanging out at hipster bars with other rad fatties.  With changing the context and the meaning of fat, even if only in little corners of the world (at a time).  With the ways that we’re making spaces both on and offline where fat bodies are normalised and valued.  It’s what we do when we write and talk and swim and dress up and dress down and move and sit and eat and hang out and offer support and make theory and tell our stories.

And what we do is fucking amazing.

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?