Dressing up fat

I have not written something as personal as this in a while. In fact, this piece was half-written a few months ago and it will show when I jump between timeless I do not care to edit these jumps and make it more coherent as this will ultimately start nitpicking and never publish. Life being difficult in succession kept me from doing something that I love because getting rest has been a bigger priority, editing is a luxury at this point.

Today though, as I stood in front of a dressing room mirror and held back tears I knew that my day could not end unless I penned my feelings down. Something that I should have done for multiple events that have been occurring, but was placed on hold to more pressing issues. I forget sometimes that writing is how I begin to heal certain parts of my hurt.

So, I have poured myself an enormous glass of wine and the bathwater is running. I will retreat to that little bit of a sanctuary once I have posted this.

I have been an advocate for body positivity for years. Representation and all-around acceptance of humans in whichever way they present has been an important part of the work that I do in social justice.

At some point in my twenties, I ran an annual month-long series focusing on body image where I invited people to sit in front of a mirror and write a “letter” to themselves. It did not have to be of acceptance of their body because for some people they had not reached that point in their journey. A simple, or complex, letter, paragraph, or even essay where they would have a conversation with themselves about their bodies. How they view it and how their view of their body was and continues to be shaped by other people’s ideas, voices, and society/culture as a whole. To attempt to strip some of that away the next question I would ask would be, where is the me in all of these ideas about how I should feel about my body. Each and every person who participated in this series with me felt that it altered something in the way that they spoke to themselves. Some people, after doing the exercise could not publish because the work they had done had become very personal.

A poster of the Body Image Series

Healing, acceptance, and just general thriving in a body that is not palatable to society is never a linear process, but I had hoped that this letter would be a reference point for not only the writers but for others and so I still have an archive of letters that will never be published.

What started as the knowledge that I was a firm advocate for body positivity was then morphed as I discovered language that could explain my experience in more nuanced ways.

An example of this was my introduction to the word fatphobia. There is no one definition of the term and there are many ways to approach beginning to describe it as well as well documented backlash it has received. I use the word all the time but recently have been rethinking it. Although it has its place I think that fat (obesity) stigma works better for me, especially in the line of work that I find myself in. I like the use of the word stigma because of the types of stigma that exist, mainly, internal and external. My thoughts about language use are always changing though and next week I may find a better way to express myself.

This lengthy intro is a setup though for the actual reason that I wrote this post. All this work that I had done, both to encourage others and to heal myself came tumbling down in a matter of weeks recently.

You see, I had been asked to attend an event where there was a specific dress code. Within that, we were required to wear the same outfit. The most obvious response to this, bearing in mind that the group of women invited were all varying sizes would be to customize the outfit and rule out any possibility of making a chore out of the ordeal.

Alternatively, to make use of a store that was not merely size-inclusive in making plus fashion, but catered for smaller sizes too.

This however was not the turn of events that occurred.

Before the trip to have measurements taken and possibly agree on a style to be used for the event there was an idea to possibly buy the outfits from a popular chain store that offered stunning outfits. I immediately raised the point that these types of spaces were often not size-inclusive. This suggestion was sidelined as there was a possibility that bigger sizes were available.

The thing with being fat for most of your life and enjoying fashion is that very quickly you know which stores can cater to you and which shops you should not even step foot into. This particular store was on the “no list”. However, as I had not entered the store in years, I gave it the benefit of the doubt. Something that I should not have done.

Needless to say, I did not even attempt to close the zip.

It was after this that I gently excused myself from the proceedings as I could see that the general consensus was to make use of this and another similar store which was equally not size-inclusive.

My gentle excusal was refused as there were plans to in fact rather make use of a seamstress. This gave me hope that I wish I never had at that moment. My hopes were high and the fitting made me feel included in a process that had unintentionally been excluding me from the first suggestion.

Immediately after this, as we stood in the parking lot of the seamstress, the suggestion of the chain store came up again. A surprise to me, a pain in the heart as I could see where this inevitably would end. I was not going to find an appropriate dress and time was running out. Although I was upset the grouping of people I was with have never been fat. I am certain that their weights have fluctuated over time and they have experienced bouts of unhappiness with their size, but that is vastly different from navigating life over the spectrum of a size 16 for most of your life.

When you want to do anything as a fat body, it is ruled by second-guessing if you can. Sitting in a restaurant and choosing a chair instead of the couch because you know you will not fit between the table and the couch. Being terrified of heights because you are equally as terrified that the structure will not hold your weight. Not wanting to engage in outdoor activities that require you get dressed in any other clothing that is not your own because you fear that you will not find a size. In any situation, I have probably thought of every possible thing that could go wrong because the world is not suited for fat bodies.

Contemplating death as I ziplined in 2018

An outfit was inevitably chosen, one that favored bodies that are acceptable and consumable for society. And although the sizing at the shop was depictive of one that would fit me, the reality is that fashionable clothing that has no stretch will never be the size that they profess to be. I stood in the dressing room wearing an outfit that once again, I would not even dare to attempt to zip.

The multiple times that I had expressed size inclusivity out loud to all members of the party rang in my head as my heart dropped into my stomach and all the work of self-love, expressing myself, and being confident in my body was shattered. An ultimate betrayal of myself that I had let this be the defining moment of the work that I had done for myself and how I viewed my body.

There were no words to fully express how despondent I felt, and going forward would never be the same. I knew that as I took the picture in the dressing room and sent it to the group to show that once again, this was a bad idea.

I am certain my bath water is ready for me now and I will have to refill this alcohol.

Before I rest though and try and forget the day that was, I feel that it is once again important to listen to people who are fat when they finally gather the strength to once again speak up and say that something is not inclusive. The back and forward attempting to squeeze them into an idea of what is possible is harmful. More than that, the conversations that you have out loud, in front of your friends that are fat should probably also be relooked at. It often comes off as anti-fat no matter how unintentional it is. How can you move from a moment of saying, ” I hate all of this fat, it makes me look ugly” to “I wish I had your confidence”. You have equated fatness to ugliness and then asked me about being confident even though I am ugly?

As I said toward the beginning, healing, acceptance, and just general thriving in a body that is not palatable to society is never a linear process. But this bath and writing this post is the kickstart that I needed today.

A quick note to all of this though. After this incident, an alternative place was found, which was one of the initial suggestions, and dresses were found without much fuss that ranged in size from the smallest of small to the largest of large. A happy choice. The feeling of dread to participate was lifted.

3 thoughts on “Dressing up fat

  1. Coach H

    Thank you for sharing this narrative Huli! And thanks for the lesson on being cautious with speech and how it may affect others around us. You’re right, the journey to loving our bodies is never linear, but one that is always worth it! I find myself glowing and walking with my head high the more I accept and love myself just as I am. This is the energy I want for all of us! 😘🤩



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