Can You Believe She’s Wearing That?

Ragen Chastain 5’4 284lbs Photograph by Richard Sabel

Completing the “If you’re looking for your beeswax it’s not over here” trifecta, I bring you today’s blog.

My blog was mentioned in a woman’s forum where they were talking positively about my work, which was nice.  But then these apparently rational, seemingly kind-hearted, at least open to the idea of Health at Every Size women, went on a rampage about how other women dress.

This has happened to me.  I’ve told the story before of Cindi, the dance judge who told me that she “couldn’t stand to look at me” because I was wearing the dress pictured above and she could see my bare arms.

I see this all the time in any number of guises, from the blatant “can you believe that she’s wearing that” to the “it’s for her own good that’s just not flattering on her”:

If you’re not blueberry or chocolate chip then I don’t want to see your muffin top.

Great, I’m not blueberry or chocolate chip so go ahead and look somewhere else. (And no points for the play on’s just weak all around.)

You’ve just got to find clothes that hide your flaws.

I don’t just got to do anything and my body doesn’t have any flaws, it’s perfect the way it is (and if next week it’s 10 pounds heavier or lighter, it will be perfect then too).

I don’t even want to see thin women wearing tight clothing.

Just. Don’t. Look.

I always wear very modest, figure flattering clothes.

Awesome, rock that shit.  How does this affect anyone else’s clothing choices?

I just think that big girls should wear dark clothing.

I just think you should bite me.

I’m not hating on fat people but I don’t want to see fat bodies.

You are totally hating on fat people and a disclaimer doesn’t change that.  In the South we use “bless her heart” for this purpose and it doesn’t hold water either.

In short, if you’re looking for your beeswax, you won’t find it in someone else’s wardrobe choices.

I’m not saying that you need to put on a bikini to prove that you love your body. You don’t have to be naked to prove your body love. What I am saying is that Spandex are in fact a right and not a privilege, regardless of what you may have heard.  What I am also saying is that if you think I’m obligated to wear Spanx you can think again.

I’m not much of a fatshionista and so my clothing is typically about comfort and what I like.  But at the most recent More Cabaret performance I wore fishnets, a red lace bra, and tiny mini skirt and I rocked that outfit.  Still, plenty of  people would say that at my size I should hang up my fishnets and go mumu shopping. Lucky for me, it’s not their business.

It works figuratively and literally – we are the boss of our own underpants (and the rest of our wardrobe) and nobody else’s.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, or what your intentions are, I would ask you to consider that this type of discussion is nothing more than thinly veiled body hate and that you are better than body snarking. So maybe people should dress in whatever way makes them happy and if you don’t like it there are a lot of other things to look at…what do you say?

43 thoughts on “Can You Believe She’s Wearing That?

  1. “I am the boss of my own underpants!”

    I love that phrase and hope you will allow me to injectit as needed. I recently found the quote, “There are 24 hours in a day – 12 for you to mind your business and 12 for you to allow others to mind theirs.” It has been helpful on both sides.

    I bashfully confess that there are times I am conscious of my bare arms. I love to be sleeveless and have beautiful tattoos on my chest and shoulders, but once at a belly dance workshop the instructor taught how to hold your arms so no one had to see your fat wave. Sadly, sometimes I still remember. Hasn’t stopped me living sleeveless because its no ones business but mine.

    Thank you for sharing your joy, insight, humor, and journey with all of us.

    1. Feel free to use it liberally. I love that phrase, mind if I borrow it? I’m sorry about your dance teacher. I also think it’s fine to decide what you want to bare and what you don’t and I think it’s awesome that you’re not letting things stop you from doing what you want to do!


    2. Bleh. I’m a belly dancer too, and I get more upset by body negativity in a dance context than in the rest of my life. I think it’s because I run into it less often, and the belly dance world pays a lot of lip service to body positivity, so my standards are higher. But we all still bring our hang-ups with us into the studio.

  2. Oh my god yes. I used to be like this, but now I have ONE criteria when choosing what to wear. It has to make ME feel f’ing fabulous. If someone else doesn’t like it, then can go take a hike – my body, my clothes, my choice.

    Excellent post, ragen – love it! xxx

  3. Yes. Yesyesyesyesyesyesyesyes.

    For the absolute longest time, I refused to wear anything sleeveless because of my arms. All my life, my mother has warned me about showing my jiggly arms.

    Let me assure everyone out there, it’s much easier to stand the heat in the South when you wear a tank top and shorts. Which is what I totally rocked all over my town yesterday. Even with my arms that are still jiggly. LOL I was comfortable (for once!) and felt cute & sexy.

    Ragen, thanks for your blog and for putting yourself out there like this. You’ve opened my eyes so much and I appreciate it! =)

    1. I am exactly the same way!! My mom would always tell me as a child and teenager that if I lost x pounds I’d be able to wear a sleeveless shirt. When I began taking yoga classes a year and a half ago I started wearing sleeveless exercise shirts and tank tops and I can move so much better, and it’s so much cooler!! I’m so glad I really don’t care what other people think about it anymore. Also, Ragen that dress is awesome.

      1. Agreed on the moving better. My shoulder-to-ribcage ratio is such that the sleeves on any fitted top are invariably too tight. This restricts the range of motion in my arms, shoulders, and upper back. At best, this makes my asana practice less comfortable. At worst, it can be limiting or unsafe — If, for example, I’m upside down in wheel or handstand, it’s pretty much essential to be able to base my upper body where it’s balanced and supported.

        I’m not willing to risk the safety of my neck and/or brain in order to subscribe to someone else’s standard of “cover it up, already!”

    2. Pange,

      Thanks for the comment – you are so right. I moved to the South from the very much North and I spent the whole first summer just thinking “What the hell is this weather? I am melting!” Now I’ve learned the joy of shorts, skirts and tank tops. It is the way to go for me!


  4. I say ROCK ON, and also that I am really really glad that I generally receive and read your posts as one of the very first things I do in the morning. THANK YOU.

  5. If we fatties dressed exactly the way the body police want us to (whatever that means!), they would just move on to their next objection/criticism of us. I don’t think it’s really the clothes that some people find objectionable.
    I’m pretty sure that people can still tell that my legs are fat regardless of if I’m wearing long pants or shorts or a skirt.

  6. I am finally okay with silly remarks from people, and have the courage to wear what I want. I remember the first time I went to work in a dress without sleeves, it was soooooooo hot. Nobody commented, and now I am used to it. I have lots of little bolero cardigan thingys for occasions or weather when my shoulder and upper arms need to be covered.

    1. I always feel like I’m breaking a law when I wear anything that exposes my bony upper chest. There have been a few times that I have worn a V-neck to work (something that I used to feel were only for curvy women), and I’m shocked that nobody points at my bones and yells, ‘WHAT IN THE HELL MAKES YOU THINK YOU SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO WEAR THAT???”

  7. I was just thinking about this issue earlier this week. Fortunately, I’ve gotten to the point where I wear what is comfortable to me and what I like and I try not to even consider what I’m “supposed to” wear or what others will think.

    I’ve also gotten to the point when someone says, “She should NOT be wearing that!” I always ask, “Why?” (No one’s come up with a good response to that yet.) And I’m *almost* to the point where I stop even noticing what others are wearing and thinking negative thoughts. It’s pretty engrained in us as women to judge other women’s bodies/clothes (even if they DO have the so called “perfect” body.) I’m still working on un-doing years of socialization in that direction. It’s a daily work in progress!

    1. Alynn,

      You are right, this is definitely something that get ingrained from an early age, I think it’s totally worth the work to un-ingrain (ungrain?) it and I think it’s awesome that you are consciously doing that work. Rock on!


  8. I agree so much. The irony for me is that about the only time I get that is when I’m wearing workout clothes, like people cannot believe anyone over a size (hell, I don’t even know what size is considered “fat” now) can wear bike shorts or a sports bra or technical top while running or biking.

    I discovered my love for tank tops a couple years ago, arm flab and all, and would hate to feel like I had to give them up just because someone else didn’t like it. It makes me sad that my mom likes the look of sleeveless tops & dresses but is totally self-conscious and won’t wear them out of the house because she has “arm flab” (really, more lose skin than anything else in her case) following weight-loss surgery.

  9. As if your point was trying to shout at me, “Hey, goobersmooch! Let’s change our way of looking at things. This Ragen chick has some good thoughts, and even though we’ve been working hard to change our perspective it doesn’t hurt to be reminded!” (my mind makes points very chatty apparently) I have my morning routine of sort of half paying attention to the Today Show and they are talking about “Age and Body appropriate shorts.” Uhhhhh…Age appropriate would be somewhere between birth and death. I’m thinking body appropriate would be that you have a body to wear them on. I guess you could try to wear shorts as a ghost, but I don’t know how difficult that would be. Oh wait, I know! If you have 3 legs and you choose a pair of shorts that only have 2 leg openings. I guess technically those wouldn’t be body appropriate.

    Aaaaaaaaand they just said that in order to wear shorts you have to have great legs. Yeah, I haven’t had enough coffee yet to go there.

    1. Karen,

      Wow, my point was really chatty this morning! The Today Show can kiss my age and body appropriate ass. Seriously? Luckily, all legs are great legs so everyone can rock some shorts. Your comment about three legs almost made me spit milk and cereal out my nose so thanks for that as well.


  10. Ragen, once again an inspiration. I look thru my closet of “clothes I shouldn’t have bought” and analyze that I’ll wear it one of these days. Screw it! I’m wearing that tank top OUT IN PUBLIC! Oh the horror! {{hugs!!}}

  11. Not to downplay the seriousness of your message, but this post had me giggling with it’s sassiness, and this comment had my actually laughing out loud:

    “In the South we use “bless her heart” for this purpose and it doesn’t hold water either.”

  12. I have to admit that I am sometimes surprised by people’s choice in clothing – but my question is usually what look were you going for, and do you think you achieved it. It’s more of wanting a discussion with the person. I think everyone has the right to wear what they like; and certainly nobody has to dress to make me happy (I only have to dress to make me happy). I’m just interested in how people think and how they view themselves.

    1. At the moment I am thinking “what made you think that hat was a good idea” a lot. But we have had Royal Wedding and various horse racing events where ladies compete with each other over hats. I generally dont notice the clothes unless they have some feature which I might want to copy. Just some very strange hats.

  13. Oh, I had my mother always telling me to wear something that covered my arms, too. (Rather oddly, she didn’t like me wearing long sleeves, either; she insisted that little cap sleeves, which I hate, were the only possible length I could wear. But then, she had an awful lot of opinions on how I should dress, not all of them fat-related.) I now have armfuls of tattoos and don’t give a damn, and I need to go sleeveless in some of the weather we’ve been having in the UK lately.

    I’m asking myself now why I don’t wear shorts, and I’m thinking back to a time years ago, when my ass was about three sizes smaller and some stupid kid on a bike explained, at volume, in passing, that I shouldn’t be wearing shorts. (I was out with my now ex-husband, and he just turned and gave me a sort of smiley shrug that I think was meant to convey ‘well, I can’t really defend you when he’s right, can I?’ Just one of many reasons he became my ex-husband.) And I’m sort of thinking that if this weather goes on, what the heck, the world is going to see these legs, and the world can think what it bloody well likes of them.

    As for dance, body hatred was the reason I quit ballet, and the reason I don’t go back to it now. People tell me that other forms of dance are more forgiving (notably belly dancing, although as Zaftig Diva’s comment proves, that’s not always the case either). But I don’t want to do those other forms of dance, I want to do ballet. I liked ballet.

    Oh, and? You, and your arms, and incidentally that dress, are awesome. Just sayin’.

  14. I have to admit, I can’t get the reasoning behind wearing pajamas as daywear when you’re not at home. I know it’s super-comfortable to wear a pair of pajama bottoms as opposed to jeans or regular pants, and I know there are times when you just don’t have the time to rummage in a closet to put on clothing, but that’s one fashion choice I can’t get behind. But, I’m not that person that decides to do that and that person isn’t me, so life goes on.

    1. I can’t get the reasoning behind wearing pajamas as daywear when you’re not at home.

      I have chronic pain and mobility issues. Some days, soft, stretchy, non-restrictive clothing — PJ pants included — are the only way I can leave home. At times like that, it’s about necessity (must get X accomplished out in public today; public necessitates clothes) much more than it’s about too much thought toward fashion.

      1. I am in UK, and when I visit Liverpool it is common to see people out shopping in PJs. I wear a lot of leggings, which are pretty much as comfy as PJ bottoms – like you I have chronic pain and poor mobility – the poor mobility is worst in my arms, and clothing needs to be stretchy and easy to get on. My legs move but it causes pain in neck, shoulders and arms when they do.

  15. I too am the boss of my own underpants. I am 48 and a Nia instructor with a penchant for wearing wild yoga pants that women her age shouldn’t wear and jewelry while dancing which few fitness people do . The up side is ….so do all my Nia peeps. We are divas on the hoof of all shapes and sizes celebrating life in a body and all the sensations. It think the photo of you dancing and jumping in your gown is the best thing ever. Joy of movement? Yup! Self-expression? Got it! It’s about moving your body’s way which you do and being who you authentically are.

  16. I’m going to have to try “Bless her heart, she can just bite me!” in conversation sometime. Great post!!

  17. Love yourself and always try to be as healthy as you can be. While others judge only you can know if your outside is a symptom of your inside being unhealthy -though that’s never a reason not to love yourself, only a reason to better yourself.

  18. I’m a school teacher in South Korea and I’m about ready to SCREAM because my wardrobe is so boring and mostly dark colors – “flattering” for a “fatty” like me…no color except on the days my purple shirt is clean, and it is really really bringing me down. Only one more month as a teacher to go and then I can wear what *I* want to wear!!! Colors, here I come! (If I can find any that fit me in Korea!!)

    Also, I wanted to say that nudity has been a powerful tool in my body acceptance. In the USA these days, girls don’t really get to see a lot of other women naked. Maybe in the showers at the gym, but even then we’re not supposed to look. But in Korea when I go to the public baths, women stare at me and I can stare at them. You see these women who came in strapped into “fashionable” clothing, high heels, very thin and considered conventionally beautiful, and you can see the scar on her back, or the slight pooch of her stomach. You can see someone who came in looking like the homeliest woman imaginable, but under her clothes her body is gorgeous, even if it wouldn’t fit into society’s narrow and prescriptive silhouette. Seeing the variety of female bodies, their manifold flaws and beauties, has opened my eyes to what a “normal” body actually looks like – which is nothing like we see in magazines or movies. It has done the most to help me realize that my body – cellulite, chickenskin, pooch, moles, stretchmarks and all – is a totally normal body – and a totally beautiful body too.

  19. Hi, Startledoctopus! I’m teaching in South Korea too (Iksan). Thank you for writing about the public baths. I’ve never had the courage to try them. A month ago, however, I finally did something I’d wanted to do for quite some time: had some Korean hanbok (jacket and pants- unisex style) made in my size. The shop owner/tailor at the little shop in Seoul was chubby and approachable, so even though my Korean is not anywhere close to fluent, I felt brave enough to discuss colors, fabrics and designs with her. I LOVE the outfits and can even wear them to work.

    1. Ooo! Where was the shop in Seoul? I’ve been too nervous to get anything tailored! If you ever want another white person to bravely go unto the hot baths with, let me know. I love them, and I know they can be a little intimidating at first!

  20. talking about belly dancin, on Britains Got Talent a couple of years ago there was a dance group called Urban Gypsies. One of the dancers is a very curvy plus size lady with a very full bust. I know her personally, she is a sort of ex-colleague, and I still occasionally bump into her.

    The dancing was amazing, and all the dancers looked fabulous. Simon Cowell was really very rude to my friend though, making pointed remarks about her curves and her boobs.

  21. I never understood people who thought it was appropriate to actually dictate what others wore. There’s a difference between simply observing a seemingly bizarre fashion choice and genuinely believing that it is somehow wrong. The first might sometimes be a little mean-spirited, but it doesn’t try to restrict the other person’s freedom, which is all the latter is really about.

    I absorb rules very readily, and for the longest time I regarded it as a “rule” that I couldn’t wear certain clothing. The worst instances were those when I was informed about something that was “wrong” with my body that I hadn’t previously been aware of. So suddenly it was my fault for not checking myself at every angle in every outfit in every kind of lighting to make sure that there was nothing that could potentially disgust someone. I still have difficulty overcoming those rules sometimes, but now my general response is, “If I were here for you, I would have investigated your tastes before I arrived.” Only there’s usually some profanity. And really just two words.

    (And to add to what startledoctopus was saying about the different bodies, I’m very petite with scoliosis, so lots of jutting bones. Most people I know don’t actually seem to be aware of it, but there are always a few who are invasively observant and can’t resist an opportunity to shame. Most people, if they happen to notice your “flaws,” probably don’t even think about them. If someone is “repulsed” by you, that’s their fault, not yours. They’re going out looking for you because they /want/ to hate someone. It annoys me to no end when I hear swim suit advice to the tune of, “Stop being so self-centered; no one’s looking at you.” Chances are there is someone looking at you, because that’s the way our culture is. You just have to recognize that their judgment has no value. You wouldn’t want their lives to be dictated by your thoughts. So what makes their thoughts so deserving of control over you?)

  22. LOVE this post! Grew up with a mother who had very set, and frequently vocalized, ideas about who should wear what. Finally, at age 54, I’ve stopped following the “shoulds” and switched to the “likes.” When she says things like this now (never about me, interestingly), I say, “Maybe she likes the way she looks.” That usually ends THAT conversation.
    Keep up the amazing messages, Ragen. You’re inspiring!

  23. Thing is, it’s actually about confidence and not about size. I hated myself and thought I was ugly when I weighed 112 pounds. I had body issues from the time I hit puberty. I started sticking my finger down my throat when I was 13. None of that helped. I can’t say I like myself or think I’m attractive now but at least I understand the crazy-making messages a little better.

  24. My darling friend introduced me to your blog and I’m so glad she did!

    My husband today commented on something a prostitute was wearing-she was a curvy girl too,just like me- and I gave him a bloody earful. My own husband! grrrrrr!

    I’m tired of all these freaking “rules” about appearance. I, personally am going to revolt.

  25. You look like a great dancer! That’s no easy pose you’re doing in that picture! 🙂 I dance too, but based on that picture, I think you’re much better than I am.

    The underpants comment was great. I am underweight but wear size extra large underpants. They are mine, and nobody is allowed to say anything about them. I would not speak out about that everywhere (actually, I’ve never mentioned it anywhere else), but here…I feel comfortable 🙂

    thank you for your blog.

  26. I wore spandex bike shorts to bike to work yesterday and, when I caught my reflection in the mirror, I was like “day-um my thighs look good in these.” We’re fighting the negative body thoughts, one positive thought at a time!

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