Fat Talk: Fit-Modeling and Clothes-Shopping while Fat

My dear friend Lisa (who you can find at satsumabug.com) sent me a note about a shop looking for plus-sized fit models. I emailed back and forth with the shop and decided to take myself up there and try on their clothes.

It could be a fun thing to do, but mostly I was incredibly nervous. Did these women know anything about plus sizes? Did they know anything about being fat and what clothes shopping can be like for fat folks? Was their idea of “plus-sized” really not “plus” at all (I see all you, shops that have the audacity to call an 18 a 3X)? How would they address my body?

So many questions. So many things to worry about.

Clothes-shopping-while-fat can be fine. It can also be a nightmare. There are over-perky sales people who talk to you as if you’re painfully dim-witted as they try to tell you all the parts of your body you should be trying to hide, all the ways you shouldn’t show yourself in public. There are the sister-girl salespeople who think you need to be told you’re smoking hot every five seconds if you have any hope of feeling good about yourself. There are the clothes, abundant in sizes 14 to 20 … and then scarce, scarcer, scarcest the farther up the numbers you go. There are the clothes in your size that are always buried behind every other thing like undesirables that must be hidden.

There are the clothes-makers and their inability to understand body differences. There is a universal belief among manufacturers of clothes for us fatties: we all have the exact same shape. Depending on the company, the belief is that we are all shaped like Marilyn Monroe writ large, or we’re all shaped like fireplugs. Fireplugs win out most often.

Meanwhile, what is true is that none of us are shaped like fireplugs. And, even for those of us with hourglass figures, it’s not as simple as just sizing up from a thin hourglass. Also, we fat folk (hint: like all folk) come in more than two basic shapes. It is possible to be both tall and fat. It is possible to be fat and have a flat butt. It is possible to be fat and not need armholes that open to our waists. It is possible to be fat and have small breasts. It is, let me just say as plainly as I can, possible to be fat in MANY different ways. MANY. MANY.

And yet the clothes are made in basically two ways. I have no idea if non-fat people have this problem. It’s likely they do. It’s also likely, however, that it’s less pronounced because there are so many more places where non-fat people can find clothes in their size, so they have a better chance of finding things that will work for their bodies.

And then, of course, there are the prices. There is the obscenity of having to pay more – a lot more in some cases – for the same items non-fat people buy. Having to pay more for what are often poorly made clothes, for clothes that don’t fit us properly because they’re made for some version of a fat body that isn’t ours.

It’s a lot. Trust me that this is only the briefest description of what clothes shopping can be when your body doesn’t conform to society’s beauty standards.

_____

So I set off on my adventure and rode uptown. I walked into the shop and smiled at the beautiful young woman who smiled at and greeted me. And then at the young woman who came out from the back when she heard me say my name. They were both warm, and neither did a spit take at the sight of me, so I figured that might bode well for what the experience would be like. I took off my coat.

Young Woman #1 (YW1) was working with a customer, so she turned back to her. YW2 and I chatted for a moment: what size did I wear, where did I usually shop, do I have any favorite brands … And then she brought out the samples. One was green, the other red. To my great pleasure, she had me try on the red. Both were beautiful colors and patterns, but the red was just a little more stunning and fab, a little more yes-yes-a-thousand-times-yes than the green.

I slipped my arms in. I buttoned up. I turned to look in the full-wall mirror … and I loved it.

Oh, sure, there were little problems here and there. YW2 and I went through them in detail so she could understand how the pattern should be changed. We went through the flaws, but, even as I nit picked about one thing or another, all I could think was how much I loved the dress, how I could already see myself wearing it, how much I didn’t want to take it off and give it back.

We went over more details about the dress, and I kept loving everything about it. Finally we were done, and I slipped it off and handed it back to YW2.

This was definitely not a typical CSWF (clothes-shopping-while-fat) experience. I had talked easily and comfortably about my sizes and what parts of me are hardest to fit. I had let YW2 put her hands on me without tensing up or pulling away. YW2 had talked to me about the look and fit of the dress in a way that didn’t condescend or artificially inflate. No one – YW1, YW2, the other customer – behaved as if my looking good in the dress was shocking or anything other than entirely normal and expected.

That experience definitely ties for first place with the one other truly lovely CSWF experience I’ve had. Yes, that’s right: I am a middle-aged woman who’s been fat since early high school … and I’ve had exactly one great clothes-shopping experience before this fit-modelling moment. That is a true statement. That is how bad it can be out here in these sartorial streets for us fatties.

To be clear. This experience wasn’t great simply because I liked the dress and looked good in it, though that certainly helped. No. I find clothes I like and clothes that mostly fit me quite often. I’ve even had plenty of entirely wonderful clothing finds. (Do not get me started on the day I tried on my first Christian Siriano dress. Do NOT.) This experience was special because of how I was allowed to experience it, because of how I was treated, because of how I was seen and valued, because of how I was treated respectfully and not like someone’s dirty secret.

The experience was special because it was a reminder of how simple CSWF can be, of how easy it is to just treat people like people and provide quality service.

I’ve gotten good at CSWF. I can deflect unwanted sales help quickly and deftly. I am easily able to ask for whatever I need to make my shopping experience work well for me. I also do a fair amount of shopping online … for the convenience of having things I want show up at my door, and to spare myself CSWF foolishness.

While it’s true that designers of large-sized clothes need fat fit models so they can make their designs with actual women’s bodies in mind, they aren’t the only ones who would benefit from this service.

I want store staff to go through a training with a fat fit model, want them to have to work with that mock customer until they can get through a full sales process without fat-shaming, without saying one offensive or irksomely insincere, perky thing.

I would take on that fit-model job. Not because my skin is thick enough to handle the fat-phobic nonsense – although I think it is – but because I would enjoy getting to school people on all the ways they aren’t getting their pitch right.

“Let me stop you right there, Marny,” I can imagine myself saying. “You shouldn’t assume there is any part of my body that I want to hide. I’m fat, and however “slimming” or “camouflaging” you want to think this outfit is, everyone will see that I am fat. You need to talk to me about how well it fits, how comfortable and intelligently made it is, how good I look in it.”

“Hold up, Tiffany, it’s not at all helpful for you to bring me clothes that are a size too large. Wearing things that hand awkwardly off my body because they’re too big isn’t flattering, it’s annoying. You have clothes in sizes that fit me. Your job is to help me find them, not to try covering me in a tent.”

Of course, I am only one size and style of fat woman. I don’t want designers and stores to exchange one fat body idea for another. I want the idea of what is a fat body to diversify, to encompass as many types of bodies as we have. Yes, this sales training would need a whole team of willing fatties to really get the job done.

AS much as I love the idea, I’m pretty sure this program wouldn’t work, however, no matter how many fat shoppers were up for the challenge, no matter how many sales staff were trained. It would be about as successful as the single-day racial bias training Starbucks is gearing up for will be. Well-meaning, but one day of real talk can’t undo a lifetime of programming. Not about race and not about fatphobia.

_____

The almost-end of this story is that I took off the dress, YW1 and YW2 thanked me for helping them, and I left.

The real almost-end of this story is that I couldn’t stop thinking about the dress and emailed to suggest that I should be given said fabulous item, that it would be good for the store because I would get a lot of compliments and would talk up the shop every time that happened. It was a pretty brazen email. I don’t know who I was in that moment!

But it worked! I got a reply right away saying the dress was mine! As a friend said when I told her about it, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Can’t deny the truth there.

So, the actual-end to this story came yesterday, when I wore this lovely dress out in the world. The weather didn’t much cooperate before now, and then I had a big work event on my schedule, so I saved the debut for that. And here I am at the end of the day (photo cropped so you don’t see the stacks of still-unpacked boxes that are the primary décor in my apartment!), a totally happy camper:

Zuri dress

It’s as if I’m wearing a coral reef! And yes, it has pockets! The dress is from Zuri. I don’t think the plus sizes are out yet, but the smaller sizes are there for the having. Plus sizes — up to 3X — should be available late spring/early summer.



One in a series of essays inspired by Roxane Gay’s, Hunger.
If you haven’t read my ground rules, please take a look before commenting. You can find all of the essays in this series under the Fat Talk tab. Thank you.

GriotGrind Next Wave logo

In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

original-slicer-girlgriot

Yes, we have no ageism today.

I stopped at a bodega on my way home tonight. The man behind the counter asked me some silly question, and my answer let him know that women my age don’t get up to such nonsense. He looked stricken.

“Dear lady,” he said, “don’t say that. You are beautiful. Believe me.”*

???

Because you know, in my book, my being middle-aged does not in any way impact the fact of my beauty. I told him as much, said I was well aware that I’m beautiful, that I had simply been pointing out that I am also old.

Again, he had the stricken face, told me not to speak so harshly about myself.

“No,” I said. “This isn’t harsh. I embrace every minute of my age. I am totally fine with being exactly the age I am.”

He just stared at me. He couldn’t process my comfort with myself, so he gave me three bananas for free. Seriously. He insisted I take them.

This is all ridiculous, of course. Both his part in this conversation and mine. I’m sad for him that he equates age with loss of beauty. But it’s also true that a large part of my comfort with my age is the fact that I know I don’t actually look my age. If I were truly comfortable, I’d say goodbye to my henna and let my silver tresses glisten in the sun. I don’t. (I thought I’d do it when I turned 50. Now I’m telling myself I should wait until I’m 60. Yeah, we’ll see what happens.)

___
* Also, no one can really use that “Believe me” anymore, can they? Now that Trump says it to punctuate every bit of bullshit he spews, it no longer has any meaning. I hear that and the first thing that comes to mind is: “Believe you? Are you kidding?”

(And also, I hope you see what I did there with my title and the free fruit …)


original-slicer-girlgriot

It’s Slice of Life Tuesday! Head over to Two Writing Teachers
to see what the other slicers are up to!

Dignity and Equality

Something that seems to be true as I read news articles to find my source texts for these erasure poems is that I am increasingly critical of and disappointed with the writing of the news. Today I was annoyed and angered by what felt lazy, seemed precious and coy. The Times editorial board wrote a piece about the attack on voting rights and how we’re in a perfect moment for the Supreme Court to do something about it.

For real? For real? A Supreme Court that is led by a man whose early career was dedicated to the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act and who had the gall in the Shelby decision to claim that we as a country had changed so dramatically that we no longer needed to hold states accountable for their discriminatory voting rights laws and procedures? That Supreme Court?

The Case for Dignity and Equality
(An erasure of Times editorial on the Supreme Court, racism, and voting rights)

African-Americans
are determined to be people.
A fact, evident
in the fight for voting rights.
The history of the United States
is the history of white people devising ways
to keep Black people from casting a ballot.
Disenfranchisement,
silencing the foundation for political action,
fundamental of all privileges of democracy —
to protect white power.

In the resurgence of overt racism and white nationalism,
Republican lawmakers make voting harder for minorities.
Redistricting and disenfranchisement — justified on race-neutral grounds —
targeted Black voters.
The insidious legacy of the Shelby decision:
free rein to discriminate.
The Supreme Court has willful blindness
and let discrimination flourish.

America was an apartheid state
in living memory.
Fact.
A dangerous notion.

I’m still struggling with this form, in addition to discovering my displeasure at the writing of the news. It’s only day three, and already I am cranky as hell. Sigh. Maybe I need to change the kind of articles I’m using as source text? I don’t know. We’ll see how tomorrow shapes up.


It’s National Poetry Month! Every year, I choose a specific form and try to write a poem a day in that form. This year, I am trying erasure poems and I want to use news articles as my source texts. I’ve practiced a few times, and it’s already feeling difficult! We’ll see how it goes.

Here’s an edited version of the Wiki definition of this form:

Erasure Poetry: a form of found poetry created by erasing words from an existing text in prose or verse and framing the result on the page as a poem. Erasure is a way to give an existing piece of writing a new set of meanings, questions, or suggestions. It lessens the trace of authorship but requires purposeful decision making. What does one want done to the original text? Does a gesture celebrate, denigrate, subvert, or efface the source completely? One can erase intuitively by focusing on musical and thematic elements or systematically by following a specific process regardless of the outcome.

Also, Robert Lee Brewer at Writer’s Digest has some good points to add about ethics and plagiarism:

Quick note on ethics: There is a line to be drawn between erasure poems and plagiarism. If you’re not erasing more than 50% of the text, then I’d argue you’re not making enough critical decisions to create a new piece of art. Further, it’s always good form to credit the original source for your erasures.

Image result for national poetry month
Washington International School

Out like a … ram.

It’s the 31st of March, birthday of my wonderful Aries sister, Fox (Aries, the ram, hence this post’s title). She is my best-beloved, baby sister, my forever best friend, my voice-of-reason sounding board, and my cheering section. I have known her for her whole life and all but a short five and a half years of mine.

We don’t live close, which is still hard for me despite the fact that it’s been true for more than 20 years. She is always a call, email, or text away, but it’s not the same as having her in the next room. Not the same as meeting her early-early on Saturday mornings for a long walk in Prospect Park. Not the same as going with her to parties and concerts. Alas.

But we’re together for this weekend, and that’s all the way fantastic! We have laughed and shared stories and silliness, and we have a whole other day together tomorrow. So happy birthday to one of my most favorite people in the multiverse!!


It’s the final day of the 11th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! As the badge below proclaims, I am an original slicer. This challenge and my blog started the same year. My first blog post was January 28, 2008, and somehow I found Two Writing Teachers in time to sign on for Slice of Life only a few weeks later. And for all the time I don’t spend posting here during the year, I always come back for March. Always. Hope to see the slicing community grow even larger next year!

When all else fails … blue-footed boobies.

Again with the too-tired-to-think. In lieu of thinking, I will string together random, unrelated things, call it a pot pourri post and be done. Given how tired I’ve been this month, it’s a wonder there haven’t been more of these! Here goes:

Today, someone tried to goad me into an argument, and I was a) able to see that fairly quickly, and b) frustrate them by refusing to rise to the bait. I need to remember this — and remember how to do it — in the future.

Because of some silliness a friend posted on FB, I realized that my name — when the letters are alphabetized — is Aceist. For some reason, this pleased me. I like the idea of it, like I’m really into aces. This nonsense is less clever-feeling with my middle name, which turns into AAIICPRT and sounds not at all like a name, or a title, or something with actual meaning.

I am in my mom’s house (because tomorrow is Fox’s birthday, so I’ve come down to celebrate!), and the World Wildlife Fund calendar in front of me has for this month a picture of a Blue-Footed Booby in the midst of the bow-curtsy move they make when trying to attract mates.

And seeing that picture of the Booby inspired me to go look up Blue-Footed Boobies, which meant I went down the rabbit hole of watching video after video of this cuties, which is why I know that the photo is of the mating ritual. I watched a silly video about Boobies and now I’m a bona fide expert.

Tonight, instead of Boobies, I have my mother’s dog and my brother’s dog to keep me company. I miss my cats, but it’s always nice to have some dog time.

I think that’s all I can manage. Enjoy the Boobies. They’ve got a lot more to offer tonight than I do!

Image result for blue-footed booby
aboutgalapagos.nathab.com

It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Totally Predictable

Utterly exhausted … again … still. I’ve started three different slices and can’t focus enough to make it through any of them. Instead, I’ve turned to poetry practice. April is breathing down my neck, and I’m not yet sure-sure about my choice of news-sourced erasure poems for the month. So I tried another one tonight.

Totally Predicatable
(An erasure of an article about Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s latest craptastic nonsense.)

Laura Ingraham apologized for her show,
rejected and whining.
Companies pulled advertising,
boycotts began.
Personal remarks went too far,
these statements cross the line,
are not consistent
with open dialogue and debate,
with our values.
A series of controversies
ignited a firestorm.
There’s going to be consequences,
as someone once said.

I’m not particularly encouraged by the fact that this one was harder to write than the previous two … but I’m going to say that’s because I’m so tired tonight. I was pretty pleased with getting to pull that first line by way of strategic erasures, however, and that kind of makes the whole poem for me.

Despite my trepidation, I think this poem is sealing the deal for me: I’m going to go for a 30/30 that’s all erasure poems taken from news articles. I’ve got two days to sleep and get my brain ready!


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

One for you, nineteen for me …

I’ve been making and postponing appointments with my tax man for six weeks now. I just couldn’t bring myself to sit down and sort through my mess receipts. But I finally bit that unsavory bullet, and headed off to see Bobby, my tax preparer. Just getting home from that adventure now.

Bobby is maybe three to five years older than I am. He’s Bangladeshi and has a small shop in the garment district. Tax preparation is his side hustle, and he likes to think that tax prep for creatives and freelancers is his niche — writers, artists, musicians, models, actors. (This is the first time I’ve ever been lumped into a category with actors and models. I find it funny, but I also like it.)

I was referred to Bobby last year. I suddenly found myself without a tax man, as it seemed the ancient little man who’d done my taxes since 2013 had passed away. A writer friend recommended Bobby, so I went.

He worried me at first, was dismissive of my work as a writer because it wasn’t supporting me even a little. The beginning of our first conversation was almost contentious. And then it became mansplain-y, with Bobby needing to tell me all the things I should do if I had any hope of being a “real” writer.

That theme continued tonight. Clearly, Bobby likes to mansplain my life and career and give me instruction on the choices I should be making. And writing is absolutely his favorite area of faux expertise. My writing doesn’t pay the bills, and he can’t understand why I don’t change that.

“You should really think about getting published,” he said to me tonight after he submitted my taxes. “Just go to talk with a publisher and get a book deal.”

Friends, did you realize that was how to do it? I have been wasting a lot of time, clearly. Should have been marched my no-manuscript-having butt into Houghton Mifflin and scooped up my contract already!

Despite this annoying behavior, I’ve decided that I like Bobby. Most importantly, he does a great job on my taxes. But equally important (kind of?) we have really interesting conversations — earlier tonight we talked about the slave trade, talked about why we like to travel, talked about birth order and our siblings.

Surely I will eventually tire of Bobby’s mansplaining and need to find a new tax preparer, but it’s working for now. And tonight I can go to sleep with visions of a nice return dancing in my head. Thanks, Bobby!


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!