I have been told many times by my “friends” that I look like a slut. Most of them dress conservatively, and they get very judgmental when I wear short shorts or a crop top. So do I strut my stuff in a denim mini or do I put some pants on?? —A Conflicted Fashionista
I have been wanting to dress in a more interesting, eye-catching way, but at my school if you do that you could lose all your friends and become the target of a lot of judgy, mean looks from your classmates. Any advice? —T.
I love being unique and wearing vintage and strange clothes. I always feel like people are judging me, though, so I rarely wear my super awesome thrift-store finds. I’m especially scared to wear that stuff around my boyfriend, because I feel like he might not be able to handle it. —Allison
I’m 16, and I’m kinda fat. I’ve been trying to lose weight, but I’m still bigger than I should be. So whenever I see a dress or a top or a pair of jeans that I like, I think, I’ll buy it when I’m skinny, it’ll look so much better. But what kinds of clothes should I wear in the meantime, as a larger lady? —Sukie
I’ve always loved fashion, but I dress down most of the time for the sake of my family. They habitually scoff at other people’s “weird” outfits and say that those people are “clearly looking for attention.” How can I dress for myself if it makes me feel guilty for being “embarrassing” and “wanting attenion”? —I.
Those are all real emails that we’ve gotten here at Rookie. And they’re just a fraction of the messages we get on the regular expressing some form of the dilemma “I want to dress in X or Y manner, but I’m scared people will think I’m desperate for attention.” Well, I have a question for you letter writers: what’s wrong with wanting attention?
I think wanting to be seen, heard, and acknowledged is pretty universal among human beings, and I don’t see how that’s a bad thing. Obviously there are people out there who are so self-absorbed that it’s a turn-off, but more often than not people are too quick to judge someone (usually a girl) who dares to show some skin or wear heavy makeup or post lots of mirror selfies on the internet as desperate or even immoral. “She tries too hard,” you hear people say, or “She’s just trying to get a reaction.”
These accusations are flung at girls of all sizes, but they seem to fly more freely when it comes to fat girls. The possibility that someone above a size 14 could be comfortable enough with her body to wear, say, a crop top simply does not exist for many people—so when they encounter it, their default reaction is to be grossed out and to condemn the woman in question for daring to call attention to her physical self. I have two responses to comments like those: (1) Most girls I know (of any size) dress for themselves, not anyone else. I give zero fucks what people think of my outfits. Sorry I’m not sorry you don’t like looking at my cellulite—that sounds like your problem, not mine! Suggestion: look at something else. And (2) I’m sure some women (again, of any and all body types) are dressing to get attention. And guess what? That’s OK too! It may not even be for the reasons you think.
Since fat bodies are so politicized, dressing them becomes a political act; I’ve talked to a lot of fat girls who choose to wear loud outfits precisely because they want to be visible in a world that tells them they should hide. Most people in this world would prefer that we fat women feel bad about our bodies—ideally we’ll be shamed into losing weight so other people won’t have to look at our bodies and turn into pillars of salt or puddles of tears or whatever it is they’re afraid of; but if we refuse to do total strangers the common courtesy of changing the shape of our bodies so that the one time they ever have to look at us we do not offend their eyeballs, the second-best thing we can do is hide our hideous bodies as much as possible, to cover them with whatever others are comfortable seeing us in (dark colors, “flattering cuts,” and sweatpants all fall into this category). So for us, choosing to wear neon leggings and a patterned top may be more than just a way to avoid leaving the house naked—it might be someone’s way of reclaiming ownership of their body, asserting their right to be visible, and refusing to be ignored. They’re challenging our culture’s ideas about what’s acceptable, and that’s the opposite of desperate. That’s brave. It’s not a cry for attention; it’s a shout: “I am here. I exist. And you will acknowledge my existence.”
Now, mainstream media and culture are not that interested in helping fat people be more visible (name the last blockbuster you saw with two fat romantic leads, or the last YA novel you read where the protagonist just happened to be big and wasn’t trying to change that). So it’s up to us to show up. Clothing is one of the things that can help us in this effort.
Increasing our visibility can mean showing skin in crop tops and denim cutoffs:
It can also mean wearing bright colors and fun prints:
It doesn’t have to be about having the craziest outfit in the room; simply cultivating a unique personal style and rocking it confidently is enough to make people look twice and to challenge their preconceived ideas about how fatness relates to fashion:
If you want to stand out this summer, no matter what size you wear, I say go for it! Here are a few of my favorite attention-grabbing pieces:
Go forth, turn heads, and take shameless selfies! And remember these words from the activist Lesley Kinzel, who said it better than I ever could:
The people who get angriest about fat girls looking good and feeling hot are the people who are the most strongly invested in the idea that a person has to be skinny in order to be happy, healthy, and loved. Very often it’s people just projecting their own body-loathing onto someone else; if you’re truly comfortable and confident in your own skin, it shouldn’t make a difference to you what anyone else is wearing, or how they look. It only affects you if it’s making you question your assumptions, about both other people and about yourself. ♦