This Times article on plus-sized clothing lines isn’t nearly as bad as it could be — it even features Beth Ditto! — but it of course includes the tired old trope about how fat girls are really unhealthy and the body acceptance they display may just be a cover for self-hatred. Because if you don’t love your body, obviously it’s because you’re fat, but if you do love your body, then you must be lying. Because, you know, you’re fat:
More than tokenism, such fashion and media tactics seem born of a conviction that larger young women have become more self-accepting. “They are inclined to show off the parts of their bodies they love,” said Ms. Sack, the Chicago retailer. Pushing the trend is a broad movement of fat acceptance among academics, anti-bias activists and some psychologists. “It’s important to reclaim ‘fat’ as a descriptive, as even something positive,” argued Ms. Maribona of Fat Fancy.
But others point to serious health consequences of being overweight. Andrea Marks, a specialist in adolescent medicine in Manhattan, suspects that “the vast majority of overweight girls are not so happy.” Apparent self-acceptance, she added, may be a cover for defiance or resignation.
It wouldn’t surprise me if there was a study supporting Ms. Marks’ contention that “the vast majority of overweight girls are not happy.” I’ve never been “overweight,” and I certainly wasn’t happy as an adolescent; a lot of that unhappiness came from anxiety about my body not being thin enough. I’m still not happy with my body and I’m an adult woman. But maybe adolescent girls — especially girls who don’t fit into our thin cultural ideal — are unhappy not because they’re fundamentally flawed people for being fat, but because they’ve been told their entire lives that being not-skinny makes them less attractive, less worthy and less valuable than other young women. That sounds like a pretty good recipe for unhappiness if there ever was one. A Sarah has more on that.
And yet despite all the negative cultural messages about fat and size, many young women (and older women) do love their bodies, and have the nerve to not even apologize for it. Many women want to wear clothes that are stylish, pretty or even — wait for it — sexy. Or they just want to be able to walk into clothing stores like everyone else and find clothes that fit. That doesn’t seem all that unreasonable to me.
I’m sure someone will comment on this post arguing that stores are businesses, and this is purely about capitalism — that is, if there’s actually such a huge demand for larger sizes, then stores will carry larger sizes. But I’m not sure that’s the whole story. Size, in the United States, is strongly associated with class and attractiveness; a lot of designers refuse to make larger sizes because (1) they argue that their clothes don’t look as good on larger women, and (2) marketing a plus-sized line is still perceived as signalling a down-scale brand. Designers don’t want their clothes and their brand associated with larger women because it might challenge their brand’s cache. That’s why it’s particularly important for women like Beth Ditto to stand up and demand that if they’re being used to market clothing, it had damned well better fit them.
In the comment section to the Times article, there are the predictable arguments that we shouldn’t cater to an “unhealthy” fat lifestyle, and that maybe if we don’t sell plus-sized clothes, people will just stop being fat. If you’ve been around these parts long enough, you’re probably familiar with the argument that fat and health do not necessarily correlate, and that it’s silly to assume that someone’s weight is an indicator of how healthy they are. I’ll just add, though, that people who feel good about themselves are more likely to want to take care of themselves and make healthier choices, no matter what their weight. Telling fat people that they’re so unworthy of participating in society that they don’t even deserve clothes that fit is pretty fucked up, and certainly not intended to promote physical or mental well-being.
All that said: We know that people come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. So why are designers making whole new lines for women above a size 12? Why not just make the same styles in a wider variety of sizes?