Last week, we focused on how to start building body confidence. This week’s body image post is dedicated to breaking the rules! Fashion rules, that is. How many times have you thought to yourself, “I can’t wear that because I’m too (insert perceived “flaw” here)?” It’s time to stop thinking that way – it’s only holding you back! You deserve to wear ANYTHING that you love without a second thought of how it will make other people react. As long as you’re comfortable and happy, it’s all good! A quick Google search will lead you to tons of articles about how to dress your body in a manner that covers up all the ways your body doesn’t fit our society’s narrow beauty standards. While there’s nothing wrong with dressing to play up your assets and rev up your confidence, there is definitely something wrong with dressing with the intention of “visually correcting” your body – as if there were anything wrong with it in the first place! Seriously, leave your gorgeousness ALONE! A few years ago, I stumbled upon the website of Natalie Perkins, a self-proclaimed fat feminist and amazing artist. She’s also very articulate about fat-shaming and the exclusion of larger people in our society. Here is an absolutely amazing excerpt from Natalie on fashion freedom and body shame from her post “You can’t bully me out of my skinny jeans”:
Firstly, you know how I feel about body shame that is dressed up as fashion advice. It’s bogus. No one should be harassed, mocked or attacked for wearing clothes (or NOT wearing clothes). There is absolutely no weight limit on leggings or skinny jeans. There is, however, an abundance of people who are falling into a trap of being way too invested in what other people do, and wear. Why do they care so much? Probably because it gives them a sense of being better than other people, but that is a terrible foundation to build one’s self esteem upon. It’s a foundation that benefits business, not people, and it suits the beauty, fashion and weight loss industries to have every day people like you and I reinforcing arbitrary beauty standards that help shift units so people can feel better about themselves by putting other people down, therefore reinforcing arbitrary beauty standards. I reject those arbitrary standards. I reject the imaginary line between skinny and fat, the line that’s a size 6 for some people and a size 14 for others. I reject the beauty ideal. I reject the idea of the “flattering outfit”. I reject the gender binary. I reject being ladylike. These standards are not nobel things to uphold – they trap us, and constrict us. They push us into target markets so we can be sold things more easily.
Ok, I have a girl crush on Natalie – but she’s just so genius! Here’s how she breaks the notion of “flattering” down:
The message is usually the same: maximise things that are too small (usually just boobs), minimise bits that are too large, choose fabrics that drape well over lumpy sections and don’t make too much of a spectacle of yourself, girl. I’ve read well-meaning guidance that instructs tall women not to wear heels; encourages all women to be mindful of not aging themselves; decrees those with big bums to avoid skinny jeans (yeah right!); and helpfully suggests that women with all over chunk should avoid large accessories. Restricting and policing women (and men, but women are certainly the overwhelming focus of body and fashion criticism in the western world) and their fashion choices under the guise of helping them look more palatable to other people is harmful and hurtful. That we are indoctrinated into feeling indebted to people for pointing out our “flaws” feeds into the cycle of shame, and the endless pursuit of some kind of really boring and generic idea of beauty. If you’re flat chested, you’re encouraged to dress to give the illusion of curves, and if you’re short you ought to employ vertical stripes to trick people into thinking you’re taller. It’s patently ridiculous to me, because even if I practice flattering dressing techniques – I AM STILL FAT. Other people know I’m fat too, but it’s almost like any steps I make towards apologising for my unacceptable body are deemed as suitable penance. The other key issue I have with the notion of flattering is that it erases human beings and our natural diversity. Women are told to hide shameful lumps, bumps, wrinkles, disabilities and even skin tone. We’re being herded towards an ideal of average height, dress and shoe size (which suits the fashion manufacturing process perfectly), where each woman blends in perfectly. Breaking the cycle of body negativity is hard work but being aware of your participation within it is crucial. If you’ve ever wanted to wear a garment but thought against it because of fears of how people will perceive you, I heartily encourage you to go forth and just wear it. If an outfit makes you feel comfortable and fantastic, but it doesn’t hide your knees or your height or your big boobs, sod it. Just wear it.
Confession: I have many girl crushes when it comes to women who are rocking the body-positive world. I want to share with you one of my all-time favorite body image videos, created by Annie Elainey, founder of Stop Hating Your Body. If you’re unfamiliar with Stop Hating Your Body, you need to visit the popular Tumblr blog RIGHT NOW and educate yourself – pronto! Listen to Annie – what she says in this video is really important! We, especially women, have been told what to/not wear and how to/not wear it forever! We’re at an amazing time right now where people are starting to push against that cultural mindset. One recent and notable “troublemaker” is Jes, a photographer who is also known as the chic behind lifestyle blog The Militant Baker. Jes is a powerhouse of all things amazing, and we showcased her Body Image(s) portfolio, a collection of natural nudes, last year. But that’s not the reason I’m mentioning Jes in this post. Jes is also the mastermind behind the “Attractive and Fat” ads. You may recall a few months back when Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries stated that the brand was only for “cool, good-looking people,” and was not selling plus sizes. This outraged a lot of people, but most just complained about it. Jes actually did something – she wrote a publicized letter to the CEO about his ignorant comments, which included stunning photographs of herself in A&F attire posing alongside a more typical Abercrombie-esque male model. You can read her entire letter here, but here are some great quotes and images from “Attractive and Fat”:
“The only thing you’ve done through your comments (about thin being beautiful and only offering XL and XXL in your stores for men) is reinforce the unoriginal concept that fat women are social failures, valueless, and undesirable. Well, actually, that’s not all you have done. You have also created an incredible opportunity for social change. Never in our culture do we see sexy photo shoots that pair short, fat, unconventional models with not short, not fat, professional models. To put it in your words: ‘unpopular kids’ with ‘cool kids. The juxtaposition of uncommonly paired bodies is visually jarring, and, even though I wish it didn’t, it causes viewers to feel uncomfortable. This is largely attributed to companies like yours that perpetuate the thought that fat women are not beautiful. This is inaccurate, but if someone were to look through your infamous catalog, they wouldn’t believe me. I was inspired by the opportunity to show that I am secure in my skin and to flaunt this by using the controversial platform that you created. Not only do I know that I’m sexy, but I also have the confidence to pose nude in ways you don’t dare.
My hope is that the combination of these contrasting bodies will someday be as ubiquitous as the socially accepted ideal. P.S. If you would like to offer me a ‘substantial amount’ to stop wearing your brand so my association won’t ‘cause significant damage to your image,’ don’t hesitate to email me. P.P.S. You should know your Large t-shirt comfortably fits a size 22. You might want to work on that.”
NAILED IT! In closing, here’s one more “babe who rocks”, who I just had the pleasure of getting a Suit Urself swimsuit submission from this week! Meet Liz, one of the ladies behind P.S. It’s Fashion. Along with her photo submission, she wrote “Want to know how to get a bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. Boom. Done.” Cheeky and light-hearted, but so true! There is no “perfect” body, and there is nothing wrong with you or your body. What is wrong and unfortunate, is that you live in a consumer-based society that thrives off of making you feel inadequate just because it is profitable to do so. Taking control of your body, your style, your self is an empowering way to give the middle finger to the mechanism that is aimed at making you feel bad about yourself. Take back that power and remember who is in charge! Remember to keep being, doing and wearing what you enjoy! You are only obligated to YOU! Join us next week for our next body image-building post: The Beach Body Tutorial. And don’t forget to follow our campaign on Twitter using the #suiturself tag, check out our submission gallery, or send us your own submission to firstname.lastname@example.org! Related posts from the Suit Urself series: Work what you’ve got! Body acceptance tips Why are body image challenges important? Suit Urself! Choose your attitude this summer with our body-positive swimsuit challenge!