Style

Big Girl in a Pretty Dress

I had to be thin to wear the clothes that made me happy—but getting thin made me miserable. A fat femme’s catch-22.

Illustration by Esme

Illustration by Esme

For as long as I can remember, I have been a girly girl. As a child all I wanted to wear were foofy, frilly dresses made of lace and tulle—concoctions that were more confection than clothing. But my mother believed in hard-wearing apparel and saw my aspirations to prettiness as a vice. She dressed me in boys’ clothes—drab trousers, shorts, and T-shirts. Her only concession to my femme tastes was that once a year, on my birthday, I got to wear a dress. I always asked for one in my favorite color combo: pale pink and ivory. My mother somehow always found the plainest, least feminine pink-and-ivory cotton dress available each year—nothing with even the barest hint of lace—but it was something.

Me at six, wearing a friend's sister's dress because my mum wouldn't get me my own.

Me at age six, wearing a friend’s sister’s dress because my mum wouldn’t get me my own.

I do have one childhood memory of total, glorious sartorial fulfillment. When I was nine, my mother went to another city to work for a while. I don’t know what happened there, but it prompted a change of heart—she returned home with a buttload of clothes for me. I remember a zebra-print skater dress, a hot-pink top with cutouts around the neckline, a denim skirt, a brown mini. They were lovely clothes that I absolutely delighted in wearing—they made me feel pretty, like a genuine, bona-fide girl instead of an overlarge creature who took up too much space and accidentally hurt others if she played too rough. I wore those clothes everywhere—I played in them, slept in them, and would have gone to school in them had my school not required an uniform.

This golden age of personal-style bliss was cut short six months later when puberty added five inches and several pounds to my body, sizing myself out of my new wardrobe, all of the children’s clothing available in India at the time, and much of the women’s clothing as well. I was 5'7" and probably a little smaller than an American size eight. The year was 1996, and stores that sold Western-style dresses and skirts and tops for adult women were few in India; the ones that did exist only stocked tiny sizes. There were no “plus-size” clothes either; any female-identifying person above a size six was probably expected to wear a sari, an exceptionally forgiving garment that fits people of any size. Saris weren’t worn by children, though. A 10-year-old my size was considered a freak.

I still remember the Last Dress—the one right before I became too big for dresses altogether. It was plain cotton, but with a sweet pastel pink, blue, and green ditsy print. It represented to me everything I had been denied by the world—it gave me “legitimate girl” status and made me feel like I was as attractive (and as good) as the skinny girls around me, the ones whose long hair, birdlike limbs, and pretty dresses usually provoked envy and loathing in me. In the Last Dress, I could stand proudly next to them, my clothing a shield deflecting any snarky comments.

Then I was suddenly too big for dresses, too young for saris. So I reverted to my tomboy wardrobe of men’s cargos, men’s T-shirts, and clunky sneakers and stuck to it for the next five years. Somewhere in that time I found ONE women’s top that fit me at one of the big chain retailers that had started popping up by then. It was a maroon knit, and its boat neck allowed me to show a slight suggestion of chest, which was enough to make me feel like a girl again. I rarely got to wear it, though. Once I started growing boobs, my mother decided I should give up racy zebra prints and miniskirts and learn how to dress modestly. I remember wearing that shirt one day when I was 14, sitting on the edge of my bed, crying while my mother ranted about how I was obviously a slut who was going to sleep with any guy who paid attention to me and then come home pregnant—all because I had wanted to wear a top that exposed an inch or two of skin below my collarbones. I don’t think it dawned on her that I was a fat, shy, awkward nerd whom boys looked at only to laugh at and talked to only to get closer to her pretty best friend.

Sometimes, on Saturday mornings when my mum was at work, and I would get a few hours to myself, unmonitored. I’d open my wardrobe and dig out my old girly clothes, which by then were several sizes too small. I would squeeze myself into them and look in the mirror, admiring what I saw. There was a skirt, a tight black one that barely covered my bum and had a slit up the back to boot, that I loved. I still felt sexy in it. But only by myself, and never in public. I may have liked what I saw, but I was sure that anyone else would take one look at my thighs and recoil in disgust.

Then two things happened: First, Indian stores started stocking a few Western designs for women in my size; second, my parents divorced and my mother married my stepdad, who drew her attention away from me a little. I still remember the femme clothes I bought then—my first girly-wear in more than five years: a pair of flared jeans with flowers discreetly embroidered around the pockets, a navy top with a single pocket in the front, and white Spice Girls-esque platforms (it was 2001, and India has always been slightly behind fashion-wise). Still self-conscious about my body, I always made sure I was covered from head to toe, especially my arms and legs.

Then came one final up, down, and up on my lifelong personal-style roller coaster. The first up was more of a down, really: My mother died when I was 17 and I developed an eating disorder. I lost a lot of weight, which dramatically increased the range of readymade clothing available for me to buy. And did I ever buy them! I got lace tops, crop tops, short skirts, short short skirts, trousers that sat on my hipbones, see-through tops I wore with pretty bras, tights, legwarmers, and DRESSES. The first dress I bought was a plain denim shift; from there I moved on to velvet goth dresses, ’90s-style plaid dresses, and girly vintage dresses. Don’t get me wrong—I still didn’t love the way I looked. I still kept my arms and thighs under wraps so as not to offend any unsuspecting stranger’s eyeballs. But man, I loved my clothes.

And the low point that followed was more of a high point: I stopped feeling depressed, which made me start eating again, and naturally I gained weight. I went to college and started learning about stuff I was actually interested in and good at; I was so busy thinking about medieval studies and postcolonialism that I didn’t have time to think about my looks. I gained more weight. I spent a whole season wearing the exact same thing every day: a shabby kurta with a pair of elastic-waistband trousers and flip-flops.

Me in uni, hiding behind baggy clothes and a too-long fringe.

Me in uni, hiding behind baggy clothes and a too-long fringe.

Then, BOOM, one more drop: My depression meds stopped working, with the predictable consequences. By that point I thought I’d be cursed forever to ride these biannual ups and downs in my weight, my body image, my wardrobe, and my happiness. When I was fat I dressed like a boy and was depressed; I would only allow myself to express my inner high femme when I was thin. But I could only stay thin by staying miserable—the minute I started feeling good about my body, the weight would come back on, and then we were back to square one.

I finally got off that roller coaster in 2007. That was the year I discovered Fatshionista, a LiveJournal community where fat people of all sizes gathered together to post their outfits and talk about pretty much anything related to navigating the world as a fatty. That group had the same effect on me that it did on Gabi: For the first time ever, I was seeing all these amazing women my size and bigger who were not afraid of their bodies. They wore anything they wanted to, showed off arm fat and fleshy thighs and belly rolls and looked great doing it. Fatshionista inspired me to stop buying clothes several sizes too small for me as “motivation” to lose weight and instead get a wardrobe that I loved in my own size. I started conservatively: blue jeans, salmon trousers, and two red tops. But the fact that they fit and flattered and felt good on my CURRENT body, not the one I aspired to, changed everything. I could feel and look great at the size I was now. I didn’t have to change to be worthy of pretty clothes, or of attention, admiration, or love.

By 2009 I had given up pants entirely and wore dresses all day, every day. In 2010 I got my first pair of hotpants. I was wearing, with pride, the kinds of clothes I had previously thought only skinny girls could get away with. I still had body issues, because those never go away, but I promised myself never to let them stop me from wearing what I want.

It’s 2013 now, and I am back in India after three years of uni in the UK. My prettiest clothes are still packed in crates in England, waiting to be shipped to me. I’ve been improvising cute outfits with the old clothes I’ve got here, but it’s hard, to be honest. I think India is bad for my body image. I get laughed at a lot when I wear my hotpants and short skirts, and I find myself hiding in baggy jeans and plain T-shirts when I get tired of the unwanted attention. But I try to remember the pledge I made to myself five years ago—that I would never again let my body insecurities stop me from wearing what makes me happy—and I resolve to hold myself to that. Every time I force myself to love myself the way I am, I feel a surge of power. Sticking to your guns can be pretty intoxicating.

The other day I dug out an old summer dress and wore it with makeup and heels. I went outside and took a series of selfies. I think I looked pretty cute.

Me today.

Me today.

I faced the camera, my pretty dress flapping in the breeze, and shifted my body this way and that. I pouted for the camera. The sound of the shutter clicking is music to my ears. It sounds like all the fucks I do not give to the people in this world who ever made me want to hide. ♦

53 Comments

  • alienbabe June 13th, 2013 11:42 PM

    It’s crazy how much your style has evolved. I love it.

    http://sweetandsourstyle.blogspot.com/

  • Unicorn Heels June 13th, 2013 11:42 PM

    Ahhhh you are so beautiful & I love that outfit.

  • QueenofWeird June 13th, 2013 11:48 PM

    This is so inspirational! I’m so grateful that I found this site because it’s full of people who have gone through the same things I have. Thank you for this. Seriously! :)

  • LikeDreamersDo June 13th, 2013 11:48 PM

    First of all: Thank you sooo much for this! This is really empowering; I feel inspired. Second of all: In that last picture you look adorable! Your yellow nails are fab.

  • hydrangea June 14th, 2013 12:01 AM

    I’m really confused about your calling size 6 “plus size.” Are you talking about a different measurement system than the American one or are women in India much smaller than Americans? I worry that some readers could get the wrong idea from this and think that they are fat because they are a size 6 or 8. In the US, plus size is officially at least 14W (not even just 14) and up. And plus isn’t fat — it’s just plus.

    • Blythe June 14th, 2013 3:59 AM

      Judging from some of the other things she said, I think she just means that’s plus-size in India.

    • Pashupati June 16th, 2013 7:06 PM

      Being “fat” is not bad. She has the right to identify as fat if she wants, it’s not a bad word.
      Unless you mean you’re only fat after a certain size that’s over plus sizes, but then it also depends on countries systems of measurement, and I think what’s most important is how the other person experiences their body rather than the size they wear, precisely because it’s not the same from country to country and often not even the same depending on the store.

  • surelybananas June 14th, 2013 12:04 AM

    First, I must say I love your blog and have followed it for some time. I really love reading your more in-depth posts lately, as they make me think. You always bring a certain attitude to your outfits that inspires me, and after reading this article I know why. I admire you, your attitude, and your courage. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • freckledwallflower June 14th, 2013 12:43 AM

    you are absolutely gorgeous! when i scrolled down to the last photo, my breath was immediately taken away. i swear i’m not exaggerating one bit! keep being fabulous, love

  • AnoHana June 14th, 2013 3:32 AM

    This whole article was so saddening, but then I got to the end and saw that photo and I’m just amazed at that lovely outfit and combination because I mean LOOK at those sunglasses and those shoes and that bag and your hair looks so pretty and I guess I just really want to say that you look stunning and hope you will keep being awesome and wear whatever pretty clothes you feel like wearing~

  • Blythe June 14th, 2013 4:05 AM

    I’ve actually had my style fluctuate in a very similar manner, although it’s never had much to do with weight.
    I started out life as a pretty girly girl, with a distinct interest in dressing like a princess. But by the time I was about five, I became a tomboy, both because my mum discouraged my girliness and because I hung out with a lot of guys and played in a very rough-and-tumble manner that required boyish clothes. Then when I was about eight or nine, I got REALLY REALLY girly again as a reaction to that phase, and also because I was growing up–there were three deaths in the family that year, and the kids had stopped playing the fun fighting and chasing games at recess. But then when I was twelve, I went back to the tomboy thing, except this time it was because I was goth and I had to express the deep anguish of my soul (to be fair, I was genuinely depressed and suicidal). Finally, at age fourteen, I started to come out of that a little, and now at age seventeen, I’ve found a balance between the two that works pretty well. I’ve especially gotten more into dressing really prettily as a kind of “fuck you” to my chronic illness.
    So yeah. Basically what I’m saying is that my sense of fashion changes radically as a reaction to the environment I’m in, and the stuff I’m going through at that time.

  • TinaBallerina June 14th, 2013 4:20 AM

    Ah, you look so good in that last photo! Love your shoes and bag. I’m really happy you feel better about yourself today!!

  • alicehyooz June 14th, 2013 4:29 AM

    I absolutely LOVED reading this, it just rang so true with me. And you look amazing in the picture at the end – the whole outfit is simply gorgeous!

  • Sophie ❤ June 14th, 2013 5:33 AM

    I can’t believe it! This really describes me!

    http://plainlysophie.com

  • zweezle June 14th, 2013 7:32 AM

    Something I have learnt about body image: you will always be judged by others, and you will always judge yourself, you just have to find a place where you’re comfortable and accepting of yourself.
    I’m naturally really thin, but I can completely relate to this whole hiding behind your clothes so as not to draw attention to yourself. It sucks.

  • AidaA June 14th, 2013 7:57 AM

    This is amazing. I used to feel this way. I felt like I couldn’t by nice clothes until I lost weight. I’ve loved reading this article and you look stunning!

    -Aida

    http://sunshinesuperwoman.blogspot.co.uk

  • kittybrown June 14th, 2013 8:13 AM

    such a lovely outfit in the last photo, really gorgeous! i’m still in the throes of coming to grips with my body; i grew up living in beijing and bangkok where the average girl is skinnier than the average girl in my native country in england so that always played on my mind, even from a young age too. but body acceptance and happiness is the way to go, i’m really happy for you :)

  • Abby June 14th, 2013 8:17 AM

    I LOVE the last sentence :)

  • Mary the freak June 14th, 2013 8:21 AM

    this was so amazing and perfect. <33

    and you look so awesome! you are incredibly pretty. actually, YOU ARE A QUEEN.

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • theballoonfish June 14th, 2013 8:24 AM

    You are so beautiful! Don’t let anybody make you think anything else!:)

  • soviet_kitsch June 14th, 2013 9:25 AM

    you have a gorgeous body and excellent style ;__;

  • HollinsCollins June 14th, 2013 9:39 AM

    I love this!!! You are so crazy-beautiful <33333

  • darksideoftherainbow June 14th, 2013 9:57 AM

    “The other day I dug out an old summer dress and wore it with makeup and heels. I went outside and took a series of selfies. I think I looked pretty cute.”

    pretty cute?! that picture took my breath away of how beautiful you look in it! i love the dress and the way it fits you, the red shoes, the lipstick, and omg, your hair and bangs! you look gorgeous! i’m glad that you’re wearing what you want to wear, what feels right to you. i’m still working on it but i’m on the road there!! i enjoyed reading this very much. thank you!!

  • KatGirl June 14th, 2013 10:03 AM

    Oh my god, you are so pretty in both those pictures! And so cute as a little girl! :)

  • Willow G. June 14th, 2013 10:34 AM

    all i can say is, YOU GO GURRL!

  • Princess Mononoke June 14th, 2013 10:39 AM

    Omg, I’m so happy for you! You really have a wonderful personal style and you look fabulous. :)

  • wallflower152 June 14th, 2013 10:50 AM

    You look fab, stay awesome. Love the dress in the last photo. : )

  • soretudaaa June 14th, 2013 11:04 AM

    omgggg my nails are painted the exact same color as yours in the last pic <3

  • Madam S. June 14th, 2013 11:43 AM

    Daaaaaaamn grrrrrl. You in that last pick. You are one smoking hot mama! I would love to see a future where all girls, regardless of their size, age, sex, sxual orientation, race, ect. have the confidence to dress as hot as you. For themselves and in their own way. Let’s do it Rookies!

  • KatGirl June 14th, 2013 11:46 AM

    Ragini is such a beautiful name, too…. <3

  • Marian June 14th, 2013 12:13 PM

    Yay!! I’m so glad you’re sticking to your guns, and by the way that outfit is spectacular.

  • Dylan June 14th, 2013 1:18 PM

    I love this article. I feel like I walked out my door today thinking and feeling weird about all these things/myself, then looked on ROOKIE and found exactly what I was looking for. :’)

  • eggshell73 June 14th, 2013 1:26 PM

    I’m now a mother, and articles like this make me want to be more aware of what of my own issues I’m putting on my kids. I grew up hearing a lot of judgment about what “slutty girls were like” and as a result have never really felt at home with my own family. I love that you endured some of the same “good girls don’t” tirades and grew into a strong and independant woman. That’s what I want my girls to be – strong and independent – and I don’t want them to feel judgment from me about how they decide to dress or the company they keep.

  • Gidge June 14th, 2013 1:32 PM

    YOU LOOK AMAZING, WOMAN!!!!

  • Sharon June 14th, 2013 2:44 PM

    dang i don’t think i can tell you how much it means to me to see indian girls talk about weight, fashion, and slut shaming

    im a first generation kid of indian parents and i feel so out of place when i get dressed up (but you already know my outfit game is always stronger than everyone elses), like i’m abandoning the idea of indian culture for westernization? idk its hard, living is hard

  • Emmie June 14th, 2013 2:58 PM

    gahh your blog! I am so bored, too, so quality reading awaits!
    This article is lovely.

  • Runaway June 14th, 2013 3:53 PM

    As many people said above me, you look absolutely stunning in the last picture. But I want to add that you look as beautiful to me in the uni picture. Even if you were hiding!
    I’ve gone through something similar: when I was in high school I was so insecure about my looks. Now, when I look at pics from that time I can see that I was actually pretty cute! I just wasn’t taking care of myself properly.

  • elliecp June 14th, 2013 4:12 PM

    Personally, I think you look absolutely amazing in the last image. Something about your confidence shines through and makes you look fierce and fantastic…something just being skinny won’t give you. Eating disorders are hard because they never really go away, I mean it’s a clear year since I developed mine and I’m nowhere near feeling any better about food. However, like you, I’ve started to just not care…we can all look fabulous at any size, so long as we all put on our favourite clothes and smile :)

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • xcelina June 14th, 2013 5:04 PM

    gorgeous!

  • Sora June 14th, 2013 6:51 PM

    And I freaking love your blog because of this post ♥. I love your style, and totally support what you wrote here.

  • Isil June 14th, 2013 7:17 PM

    Oh my god you look fabulous. I’m a little bit overweight when I considered the people’s opinions on “weight” or “woman body” in my country (which is Turkey). My parents does that to me, too. I still can wear shorts and dresses etc. but my sister who has a body like a model gets less judged by my parents when they saw us in that clothes.

    And I like dresses, too. I love them. I’d like to wear a dress like you wore in the picture above. But I just feel like wearing them feels like I’m a grown up. I don’t know. I’m 19 years old and I’m still trying not to look like a grown up. Anybody who has a advice on something like that, I’d love to listen because I’m sick of my attitude about wearing heels, make up and dresses just because I’m afraid of growing up.

    http://isilnoir.wordpress.com

  • sierrakeylin June 14th, 2013 9:06 PM

    A-FREAKIN-MEN!!!! Wonderful story, and great inspiration to quiet the ever jugdy voice inside my head and wear whatever the fuck I want!

  • Tyknos93 June 15th, 2013 6:39 AM

    “I faced the camera, my pretty dress flapping in the breeze, and shifted my body this way and that. I pouted for the camera. The sound of the shutter clicking is music to my ears. It sounds like all the fucks I do not give to the people in this world who ever made me want to hide.”

    Damn good article. This really hit home. I dressed super masculine during my early puberty – late teens. Mostly because I hated any negative attention given to my body, but I really did like all the cute things others were wearing. This year I got a new job and as a result of stress/ constant activity/not having a car, I’ve lost a significant amount of weight. Initially I was happy and I too brought heaps of clothing for my new body. Then I found myself craving my butt, my meaty thighs, my supple happy looking face. I don’t know, but for the moment I am working on being healthy and wearing whatever the HELL I want with whatever body I have at the moment. Be it my men’s pants, slouchy t shirt and Vans or my flowy bright ass red dress. So go you girl and anybody else finding their own piece with their body. Go forth, conquer and give none of the fucks.
    http://blazoningpens.blogspot.com/

  • Demmy June 15th, 2013 7:06 AM

    So inspiring. Sorry about your mom though. Your mom probably had your best interest at heart.Love the outfit, so pretty. x

    demmydaily.blogspot.com

  • Rhiannon June 17th, 2013 10:30 AM

    you are wooorking it guurl! damn right you looked pretty cute. I now feel better about going out wearing crazy colourful things which make me look like a rainbow explosion in the middle of a grey cloud of town people

  • danielleybean June 17th, 2013 2:52 PM

    This made me cry, you look SO beautiful and fierce and wonderful. I’m incredibly inspired by you and your journey toward self-love. I had an eating disorder a couple of years back (bulimia), and I never really recovered from it until I found Rookie. People like you remind me that all shapes and sizes are gorgeous and lovely and that advertisements and movies and magazines and fart heads that say otherwise are dead wrong. AND GAT DAMN, you look so good, I love your outfit. :,)
    xx

  • Elkie June 17th, 2013 5:46 PM

    Ragini, I was reading your story with great interest and was positively surprised hen I saw your picture: I’ve been following your blog for a while now and I greatly admire the way you dress. You always look incredibly stylish and composed. I love that you dress the way you want to and I think you’re marvellous, and a great example for body-conscious women, no matter what size. Thanks for the article and thank you for the inspiration. May you continue to feel good about yourself for many years to come!

  • kathryn-s June 17th, 2013 6:33 PM

    I love this article and you look so ridiculously gorgeous and your outfit is so adorable!! and your hair gahh so pretty

  • hollysh June 18th, 2013 7:35 AM

    “It sounds like all the fucks I do not give to the people in this world who ever made me want to hide.” This is basically my life motto: give no fucks. You look amazing, and are a brilliant and emotive writer. Thank you.

  • Almostreal June 18th, 2013 12:29 PM

    You’re lovely

  • Wisteria June 19th, 2013 10:44 AM

    What about those who have the opposite problem?
    I am very small, and I have never been feminine. I hated the frilly floral dresses I was forced to wear as a child, and prefer band tees, flannel shirts and ripped jeans.
    It honestly makes me want to cry when I think about how puny I am. As a kid I always pictured myself being tall, striking and powerful.
    It was only when I turned 18 a couple months ago that I fully realized I wasn’t ever going to be.

  • jamontoastt June 21st, 2013 8:33 PM

    I never get why people think fat is bad. No one is fat, people just have fat on their bodies! and that fat keeps you alive and beautiful. The only point at which “fat” is bad is when you’re morbidly obese and can’t get around, then you should be concerned about your wellbeing. But always be proud of your body, I love this story. You’ve only got one body so flaunt it!

  • Jasmine September 24th, 2013 10:47 PM

    Inspiring, empowering. I loved it. Thank you.