Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fear me.

So I was at Jezebel.com today, as I am usually every day, and this article caught my eye. It’s not a huge revelation that high-end designers aren’t interested in designing clothes for fat women. Something that burned itself onto my brain years ago was Donna Karan proclaiming she’d never make clothes for fat women because she didn’t want to alienate her thinner clientele – she said something along the lines of that if a thin woman saw a fat woman wearing the same outfit as she was, the thin woman would feel horrible because she’d “worked so hard” for her body and how appalling it would be to see a woman who didn’t work hard in that same outfit (after all, us fatties – lazy, lazy, lazy bitches we).



The thing that rang my bell more was this little bit from the L.A. Times article written by Emili Vesliind: "The fear of fat is so ingrained in designers and retailers that even among those who've successfully tapped the market, talking plus size often feels taboo.” The fear of fat. The FEAR of fat. As if fat is this creature stalking through the night, seeking out new victims, a mythical critter hell-bent on wreaking havoc. Simply put, fat is the globe’s chupacabra.

Thing is, though, it’s quite easy to imagine the fear of fat, because most, if not all of us, have had that kind of funky, unsettling experience where you can sense someone physically shrinking away from us because of our fat. I can remember my mom telling me stories about patients at the drug/alcohol/eating disorders clinic she used to work at where some of the anorexic patients were terrified of sitting near the fatter patients because they thought they might “catch” the fat and gain weight. Logical adults would see the illogic in that, of course – but then you have scienterrific knobs claiming fat spreads like a virus amongst friends and family and the world gobbles the illogic up because, after all, a SCIENTIST said it and it MUST be true. It’s not difficult to find articles that are a variation on “Kids Say The Darnedest Things!” where kids proclaim they fear being fat more than they fear the end of the world or fire or war or any number of things that are far more horrible and awful.

And it’s not hard for me to imagine people thinking that if they looked like I do, it would be the most horrible thing to ever happen to them. They’re informed by the media every day that a person that looks like me is a ticking time bomb, a heart attack waiting to happen, a slovenly, lazy, filthy, out of control thing that eats everything in sight, is unloved, is friendless, is pathetic. I’m sure I’ve made reference to this before, but when I was in third or fourth grade, a classmate of mine told me her mother had seen me at some sort of school play or whatever and asked her, “does she have any friends”. Some years later, I was performing in an event at my high school – every other year, they’d throw a madrigal dinner, kind of a Renaissance Faire lite sort of thing where food was served and entertainment was of the “Huzzah!” variety. I was playing Portia from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” in a playlet called “When Shakespeare’s Ladies Meet” by Charles George. My parents and sisters were sitting at a table with strangers (never the Nolans’ idea of a good time) and were stunned into silence listening to the running commentary they were making on me and my size. These were adults mocking a teenage girl, a kid. But in the world we exist in, there are plenty of people who might try to justify such a thing. The same people who raised hell because Torrid exists (making cute clothes for fat teenage girls only “enables” them, you know – let them wear sackcloth and repent for their sins!), the same people who believe that liking yourself if you’re fat – hell, loving yourself if you’re fat – is a terrible thing, the same people that want fat people to stay indoors and out of sight and stop defying society’s rules by being loved, being loud, being visible.

If I’m going to be shunned for my fat, then by God, I want to be feared. I want you to fear that I’m not going to shut up about everyone being allowed to love themselves, appearances be damned. I want you to fear that I’m going to screech it from the rooftops that everyone deserves to be loved. I want you to fear that I’m going to convince more and more people each and every day that being different is okay – not just okay, but goddamned great. I don’t fear being feared – I fucking embrace it.

9 comments:

vesta44 said...

Damned skippy!!! I continue to be fat at people in public. I'm not going to hide and I'm not going to let anyone shame me.

deeleigh said...

Great post!

Did your parents ever say anything to those awful people?

Jane said...

No, they didn't. I think they were simply too boggled by what they were hearing.

Chupacabra said...

Hiya! Actual Chupacabra here, taking a break from terrorizing the populace to stop by and say "Word" to your post.
As a "heavy creature, the size of a small bear" (direct quote from the Wikipedia entry), people feel free to make some pretty rude comments right to my face. Heaven only knows what was said out of my earshot. But right to my face, like a punch, with no accompanying claptrap about "health" or "concern." Just unprovoked sucker punches because I had the gall to be large and female (I say large because I'm 5'10" and about 185, and have been since my teens many moons ago, which puts me in a size 14 or 16...so I'm in an in-betweeny position vis-a-vis public hatred toward TEH FATZ. Sorry, I'm not being very articulate about this; I'm trying to say that I have it relatively easy for a "big" woman, and I *still* get all kinds of BS delivered hot and fresh and apropos of nothing.)
I still think about them years later, concocting the witty ripostes I can never seem to think of in real time. (Chupacabras are infamous for being "les esprits de l'escalier," as the French say.)
On replay in my brain currently:

* The time a friend of my grandmother's--who had met me the summer before, when I was 15--came up to us during the after-church coffee service and asked "do you have a sister?" This took me aback, because I *did* have a sister, and I assumed this friend had heard about her from my grandmother, because my sister had died of a long illness when she was five years old. A very sad story, which I was trying to explain in a halting way, when the friend interrupted me to make her point: "you've gained a lot of weight." She said this with such disgust and disappointment, like she'd found out I'd done hard time for pummeling baby seals with a whiffle ball bat. I just stared, slack-jawed, at this old woman who made a point of delivering this important bulletin from her addled brain to a teenage girl at a *church* social. If there had been LOLCatz at the time, I would have thought, "Christianity: ur doin' it rong." But instead, I was just humiliated. And of course, my grandmother (who had spent most of my young life haranguing me to lose weight, stand up straight, wear makeup and generally stop being such a failure as a female), said NOTHING. If someone did that to a child in my presence, let alone one of my relatives, the wrath of the Chupacabra would have been unleashed at its messiest.

* The homeless man at the soup kitchen where I was volunteering in college, who--again, apropos of nothing--turned to me with a sick grin and said, "you must be a sumo wrestler." Yes, because I bear a *startling* resemblance to a 400(?) pound Japanese man wearing a loincloth. What. The. Fuck? (Hilariously, as I write this, there's a sumo match being shown on television! Paging Carl Jung!)

Anyway, *this* is why I read your blog and a few other sites in the fatosphere--because the pain and humiliation these comments caused are still very real, and shaped my sense of myself at a particularly vulnerable time in my life. Your posts give me a very helpful reality check, and a kind of anti-venom for a the "soul poison" that cruel people can send our way.

By the way, thanks for the heads-up on Donna Karan. I will never buy her stuff again, based on those redonkulous, hateful remarks.

Jessica said...

That Torrid thing reminds me of how the abstinence-only crowd doesn't want the HPV vaccine to be available for young girls because it will "enable" them to have sex. Because, obviously, the fear of cervical cancer is the one thing that has been stopping them thus far. And the lack of plus-sized clothes is the only thing that keeps young women from eating everything in sight. Right.

Do you remember where/when you heard about those Torrid complaints? I'm working on a project that compares religious attitudes toward food and sex and this works quite nicely in that context. Thanks!

Bronwen said...

" I want you to fear that I’m not going to shut up about everyone being allowed to love themselves, appearances be damned. I want you to fear that I’m going to screech it from the rooftops that everyone deserves to be loved. I want you to fear that I’m going to convince more and more people each and every day that being different is okay – not just okay, but goddamned great. I don’t fear being feared – I fucking embrace it."

This!

I love the whole post, but especially this part. Awesome!

Jane said...

Jessica, here's an article on Salon from back in 2005 that might be a good jumping-off point for you:

http://dir.salon.com/story/mwt/feature/2005/04/06/torrid/index.html

Jessica said...

Thanks so much, Jane. The Salon article looks like a great place for me to start.

And thank you, too, for your amazing post. I forgot to give kudos in my first comment.

Meowser said...

if a thin woman saw a fat woman wearing the same outfit as she was, the thin woman would feel horrible because she’d “worked so hard” for her body and how appalling it would be to see a woman who didn’t work hard in that same outfit (after all, us fatties – lazy, lazy, lazy bitches we).

For the purposes of the above: Fat=poor; thin=rich; body=money. Overt class snobbery=bad form; covert class snobbery=de rigeur.

Not a whole lot of difference between making your clothing so expensive only a small percentage of the population can afford it, and making it so tight only a small percentage of the population can fit into it (especially when taking into account those who can "technically" fit into it, but for whom the cut is wrong or unflattering, so for them it doesn't actually fit either).

Either way, it's a caste marker, and that's how they want it. That's how they've always made their money and they're not going to change. Oh, and with the relatively modern phenomenon of credit cards being available to people of lesser socioeconomic status, it's probably a lot easier to scrape the money together for one expensive suit or dress, or even several, than it is to change your body type for good. Hence body size is an even better caste marker than price tag.

Personally I don't want the exact same articles of clothing in a size 20 that a size 4 woman with small boobs would wear; it probably wouldn't look right on me. But I also don't work in an environment where I am expected to wear the uniform of the professional, where if I don't have the "right" brand of suit, I'm not one of "them" and therefore don't deserve that promotion. Kind of sucks if you're fat (even a little fat) and you really feel that type of corporate career is what you need.

Anyway, great post, Jane.