Size Matters: You Better Work

Tasha Fierce
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Tasha Fierce is a Black feminist writer from Los Angeles. You can follow her on Twitter at @MissTashaFierce and read more of her work on her blog, Tastefully Ratchet.

Fat fashion, while still leaving much to be desired, has definitely come a long way. I can remember going to Lane Bryant with my mom as a little girl and being horrified by the beaded, sequined, baggy travesties they called clothes. Now the travesties are poly-cotton blend! I joke; Lane Bryant is not my favorite plus size store, but they have improved 110% over the years.

While fast fashion chains like Forever 21 (their sub-brand Faith 21), Torrid and the UK-based Evans have heeded the call of the fat by offering more fashionable clothing in large sizes, the high-end designers have remained steadfast in their refusal to go above a size 8 in most cases. In fact, the mainstream fashion industry as a whole has been slow to catch on to the "fatshion" movement; only now are more so-called straight size magazines and labels showing plus sized models on their pages and in their runway shows. Even then, the acceptance has been limited to the smaller plus sizes, 12-14. You would think since (as the oft-repeated statistic goes) the average woman in the U.S. is a size 14, designers and fashion magazines would be more excited about tapping into this vast market. But the reality is, their business model is based on keeping women in the hamster wheel of constant dieting. Self-acceptance is bad for business.

The mainstream fashion industry includes the "women's magazines" feminists know and loathe. These magazines promote the fashion culture, package and market it to women, and are intimately connected with every other part of the fashion industry. If you've seen The September Issue, you know how much power a big fashion magazine can wield. Marketing fashion is about desire and lack of attainability. You're made to want these clothes, to feel like you need them, and they must be hard to obtain so you'll be frantic to get your hands on them. In order to wear the clothes, you must be a certain size—so the magazines work in tandem with the weight loss industry to beat you over the head with articles on how to maintain/achieve the required slim figure. There's also the barrage of images of thin, airbrushed models (wearing the clothes that you're told to desire) to remind you of what you're trying to obtain—the unobtainable. If you're fat and you decide to accept your body as it is, you must be penalized by being denied access to the rewards promised to those running in the hamster wheel.

With the growing number of fat women stepping out of the wheel while demanding equal access to fashionable clothing, this business model is becoming unsustainable. Chinks are appearing in the armor of the fashion-industrial complex. This is in no small part due to the groundswell of "fatshion" bloggers (led by blogs such as Fatshionista, Definatalie, Musings of a Fatshionista and Fatshionable), the success of the fat acceptance movement and the reality that at least in the U.S., women aren't getting any smaller. As I mentioned above, mainstream fashion magazines are starting to regularly feature average-sized models on their pages, and some have even started regular columns directed at fat women, such as Marie Claire's Big Girl in a Skinny World. Saks Fifth Avenue recently announced that they would begin a pilot program selling up to size 18 of some high end designer labels like Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Yves Saint Laurent. Of course, cutting the plus sizes off at size 18 leaves a lot of fat women in the cold, so it is a limited victory. Considering the fierceness of the fight to get to even this point, however, it's kind of amazing.

Clearly, the fashion industry can ignore this market for only so long. As fashion seeps into every part of our collective consciousness—from Project Runway to What Not to Wear—fat women want to be able to participate as consumers. It's time to make the unobtainable nature of high fashion a thing of the past. Every woman deserves to be able to exercise her right to buy clothes that will be "so over" this time next year.

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8 Comments Have Been Posted

Size AND Height

In the real fashion world, not only are you expected to be of a certain size, but a certain HEIGHT as well (5'7 to 5'8). Short movie stars aside, the fashion world expects you to be on the tall side (though not necessarily as tall as a runway model). Body image issues when it comes to height is a virtually ignored subject. In fact, whenever anyone brings it up (especially if said individual is "Hollywood sized" - i.e. size 0 or size 2 and SHORT), she is often labelled as some sort of idiot. Petite fashion designers like Allison Izu and Henrietta Pertuz also don't get much press as other up-and-coming designers who also produce clothing for taller women. Petite women under 5'4", regardless of size (yes, you are still petite if you are 5'3" and weigh 200 lb) make up a good percentage of the population (at least 40%). Just a thought.

Height issues

Height issues definitely don't get talked about much. Thanks for adding some input about a different kind of size discrimination in Hollywood.

Height Issues

Well, while I was considered tall at 5'8" when I was growing up on the 70's, this is no longer so with girls in their teens now being 5'10" - 5'11" and considered tall but still a "normal" height.

I do have to chip in, I'm

I do have to chip in, I'm 5'10 and my height is/was very very frequently commented upon.

Also, while my height is considered desirable by designer, it's very hard to find pants that fit well - particularly at a size 16.

I was wondering: Tasha, how

I was wondering: Tasha, how do feel about the development of "special" lines or stores, like LB or "Faith 21"? I know acceptance is not about erasing the differences, but sometimes I feel that it reinforces discrimination in some way. In my country (Argentina) there's a law called "Ley de Talles" (something like "Sizes law") that states every store has to carry all sizes, from the smallest to the biggest. Regardless of how every store does it (some do better than others, most do poorly), don't you think that's a better policy than "special lines"? Everyone gets to wear what they like, and not just what some random guy decided looked good (or bad?) enough for fat girls.

Oh, and if you are outraged by the US' definition of plus size, you should come to visit: my sister, a fairly thin girl (132 pounds, 5'3) wears a "LARGE" in most of the teenage-adressed store she shops in. Sometimes, if the L doesn't fit, she has to leave the store feeling bad or ashamed of her body. It's so awful. Lately I've been joining her to shop, to prevent her from going through that situation alone. In the name of female solidarity, I advice everyone who has a teenage sister, friend, niece, or daughter to do the same.

(Excuse my English, non-native speaker here)

That's a good topic

I call those kind of outfits "separate but equal" although they are hardly equal in terms of choice, quality and style. I like the idea of all stores carrying every size. It's not fair to have one set of clothing for fat women and one set for thin women.

Wow, 5'3" and 132 lbs being considered large is a new one for me. Does that jibe with every store being required to carry all sizes? Is the biggest size in every store large? That's great that you're going with her to help out.

It's actually preety

It's actually preety interesting. Most teenage-targeted stores here are refusing to cummply (is that the spelling?) with the sizing law: they claim it's unfair to force them to spend money making clothes that doesn't sell, and that anything over a L doesn't sell, specially if it's "sexy" clothing. "After all, who would wear a miniskirt with XL hips?" It's really infuriating.

Oh, yes, and my sister wears a L or XL: the thing here is that even if they would carry everything from XS to XXXL, really big women wouldn't be able to dress, 'cause sizing here is ridiculously small. I wear an S or M very comfortably here, but last time I tried to shop in the US and the UK, the smaller sizes were too big for me and I was adviced (not so gently, though...some skinny-shorty bashing there) to visit petite stores. There is a reason, though: Latin American women are definetely smaller in average than european women (at 5'3, I had never in my life been called short until I left South America). But as always, that doesn't mean we all are, and short doesn't equal "short and skinny".

I know you're North American, and probably that's your "field", but I would apreciate a post about the differences in fat portrayals of diverse cultures. In your last post you talk about Sara Ramirez: I don't think the fact that she is a Latin American woman is a coincidence. There are many Latin women featured as "beautiful plus sizes" in the mainstream media: America Ferrera, Salma Hayek, Jeniffer Lopez (I wouldn't call them plus size, but they're often referred to as "curvy") and many more, I guess (Shakira's ode to hips comes to mind).

Hi Tasha. Interesting read.

Hi Tasha. Interesting read. A few comments:

From what I understand (and please correct me if I'm wrong!), haven't sizes have been getting larger in the U.S. for the past 50 years or so? In the early 60s, a size 6 or 8 was equivalent to a 2. It seems that "vanity" sizing has, in a sense, addressed some of the needs for some larger-than-average women to dress fashionably. (Of course, fashion always excludes the very large, no matter what era). I think it's interesting that the average woman is a size 14-- but whose size 14? I generally wear a medium-sized shirt, and a large if I want it loose-fitting. But at the Gap, for example, a small is a large on me, and an xtra small a medium. I wear a 6 at some stores and 10 in others. I have always considered myself average, but it seems like the definition of average (and the size of the average woman) is fundamentally unstable at its core...

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