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.

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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.

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“Smile! You look tired!”

My friend Lisa had a great opinion piece in the Times over the weekend that I just discovered this morning. How could I not try to find today’s poem in her words?

Today I was told not to look judgmental. Told this by a complete stranger on the subway platform. This, of course, is part and parcel of the “Smile!” nonsense that gets thrown at women. Feh.

“Smile! You look tired!”
(An erasure of Lisa Ko’s Times piece about quitting smiling.)

Women are often expected to smile,
make others comfortable.
Unnecessarily cheerful bluster,
Americans smile –
larger, toothier, intense –
a universal sign of the 20th century.
Smiling about a desire
for appeasement and artifice.
Nonverbal communication
is unpredictable, uncertain, suspicious.
The appearance of happiness
takes away our right to our feelings.
Appear happy,
compensate,
smile.


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.

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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 …)


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

3½ hours …

That’s how long until I’ll be hitting the street — off to midtown Manhattan to meet my friend and compatriot crazy person, Raivenne, and get started on the 2018 edition of the 24 Hour Project! I’ve got a cold and should be staying home, but I am incapable of resisting this challenge. I put myself to bed at 1:30 this afternoon so I could sleep a nice eight hours and be bright eyed and bushy-tailed for the midnight-to-six run. As if.

What I discovered is that sleeping the afternoon away in this apartment is a challenge of another kind. Just the way the moon woke me up with it’s bright-bright-brightness through my bedroom window the first night I slept in this place, the 4:30 sun was having none of my sleep-the-day-away foolishness. It made me laugh, but it also means I’m going into this night with only 3 hours of sleep. Not ideal.

But … going in I am. Me and a legion of other folks. There are nearly 4,000 people across  more than 1,200 cities and almost 160 countries signed up to participate this year! I’ll be doing my usual thing of writing tiny stories to go with each of my photos. You can follow my progress from midnight to midnight by checking me out on instagram (or in the sidebar of this page), or on FB if we’re friends there.

I’m off!

A Place to Write

I spent a chunk of time over the weekend sorting my receipts and getting everything in order for my upcoming sit-down with my tax guy. One of the things that stood out for me was the number of receipts from a particular coffee shop.

I wouldn’t say the place is my favorite coffee shop of all time, but it’s a good spot, and I have always been able to get work done there. A writer friend introduced me 5 years ago, and I’ve had scores of writing dates there as well as plenty of solo writing time.

I’ll surely find my way back to that place every now and then, but I realized that it can’t be my place anymore, not my go-to coffee spot. It’s much too far from my new apartment for that.

So I need to find another place. I’ve checked out a couple of the spots between my house and the subway, but neither works. Both are very clearly designed for a grab-and-go crowd rather than a sit-for-hours-staring-at-the-blank-page group.

Exploring my new neighborhood is tops on my to-do list for spring, and finding my new go-to coffee shop is definitely part of the reason for that. Curious to see what I’ll find …


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!

Elaborating on the Dating

Yesterday I posted about having a virtual writing date Thursday night, and Ashley asked for more info about writing dates, so …

I suppose a writing date can be whatever you’d like it to be, whatever is going to work best to get you writing. Mine tend to have similar formats:

  • Get together and hang out for a little while checking in and hearing what’s up with each other.
  • Talk about what’s going on with our writing — what are we working on, what do we hope to get into that day, are we applying for anything, have we sent any pieces out, do we have any deadlines looming?
  • WRITE

Variations on this format can include doing some writing prompts together, getting something to eat during the check-in or while we’re writing, moving from coffee shop to bar as the day wears on, finishing for the day and going out to dinner, whatever.

On Thursday, the check in and writing talk time was super short, and we got down to work. My groceries were delivered mid-session, but other than that, there were no interruptions. We had a few minutes of chat mixed in with the writing, but mostly what we did was write.

What I love about these dates is the creative company. Being able to look up and see a writer hard at work keeps me working. It’s as if writing with others changes the air quality, so I’m breathing in creativity and productivity. It inspires me to push myself for another line, another paragraph, another page.

(And there are extended versions of this date business. In January, two friends and I took off for a beautiful house upstate to spend a long weekend writing. We stocked the kitchen, hung out on arrival night, and then we got to work. We each had our own room and writing space. We saw each other when we happened to be in the kitchen or living room at the same time. We shared a few meals. Otherwise, we were writing on our own … but together. I couldn’t look up and see either friend working, but knowing they were each plugging away in their studios kept me plugging away in mine. The whole house felt as if it was humming with writing energy, and it was intoxicating. I wrote two essays that weekend and began work on a third.)

There is a strong, popular stereotype of being A WRITER, which involves working alone, usually while starving to death in a drafty garret somewhere. I’ve never lived in a drafty garret but it’s absolutely true that most of my writing is done when I’m alone. I could never make enough dates for all the time I spend writing. But the dates are necessary. I am half hermit, half social butterfly, and I need to honor both sides of myself.

I’m curious to know what other people’s writing dates look like. I’d love it if you’d share in the comments!


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!

Counting down to April 7th!

Give me a man who is handsome and strong,
Someone who’s stalwart and steady.
Give me a night that’s romantic and long —
Then give a month to get ready.

That was too long to use as a title, clearly, but it’s the first thing that came into my head when I realized that in a month it’ll be the 2018 edition of the 24 Hour Project! Last year, there were almost 4,000 participants, repping 112 countries!

I’ve been part of this project about two and a half times, and it’s been good each time. I wonder if my shoulder and arm will be up to it this year. I hope so, but healing is more important that wacky creative challenges, so I’ll have to make a decision in a few weeks about what as I can and can’t do.

My plan, as it’s been each year I’ve done this, is to write a tiny story for each photo. That was much harder to do last year than it was the two previous years. I don’t know why, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the difficulty was a one-time thing and I’ll go back to having the stories just materialize with almost no work from me.

Here — complete with typos (it was late! I was tired!) — are some of my faves from last year’s run:

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Things I hope for this go-round:

  • May the weather be warmer!!
  • May I get enough sleep the day before so the midnight to 6am shift doesn’t halfway end me.
  • May I have excellent companionship through the wee hours and for the close-out just as I did last year. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Ms. Raivenne!)
  • May I remember to take more breaks so that I’m able to walk and talk on Sunday.
  • May I get some excellent pictures and have a great time!

(It’s not too late to sign up!)


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!