Recently readers have been asking me to talk about Tess Munster getting a modeling contract at a size 22 (and holding it down for us short people at 5’5 as well) on the strength of her instagram, despite being absolutely deluged by abuse from the kind of sad internet trolls we know all too well. The people who contacted me seem to be split – some think that it’s a great thing and that it will empower a lot of fat women and change a lot of people’s minds, and others think it’s problematic because it buys into ideas that fat women still have to be traditionally “beautiful” in order to get respect, and that it reinforces a paradigm in which women are expected to spend time and money on make-up and hair and fashion in order to be treated well.
To me the truth is that both of these perspectives are true to an extent, and that’s ok. We are fighting a very big war on a lot of fronts and so I think a lot of approaches can help. I’m personally a member of the f*ck flattering club, but I recognize that for some fat people fatshion is a path to empowerment, and for others fatshion provides an entry point for some belief changes about fat people that ultimately can help us in our fight against fatphobia.
I’m for a world where everyone sees themselves represented in the media – including modeling – and not just white, cis-gendered, currently able-bodied, typically thin people with stereotypically “beautiful” faces. Where we all have access to the kinds of clothes that we want to wear. Where we all get to make decisions about clothes and make-up based on what we actually want to do and not social pressures, or in the hopes that it might just maybe get people to treat us with a tiny bit of basic human respect. I’m for a world where nobody would try to create pretension around fashion as a way to feel better about themselves by trying to find a way to be superior to others.
Tess Munster is doing what she loves which I think is awesome. Any suggestion that we should all have to do what Tess does is less awesome. The suggestion that we owe the world “flattering” by whatever definition, or that we should all have to buy into the social constructs of wearing the “right” clothes, the “right” hair, make-up, the “right shoes” etc., or we deserve poor treatment, is straight up bullshit. And we can be critical of all those problematic things and still celebrate Tess’s achievements.
Reader Annie Murray recently told me about her short film “Finding Your Beautiful”. Annie is a photographer and she decided to create a short film about four women who, through a photoshoot with her including hair, make-up, and wardrobe, were able to start to change their self-perception.
Beauty is a social construct and can be very complicated and problematic in the same way that fashion can. There are lots of different ways in which people can choose to fight the way that the construct of beauty oppresses us. Some choose to work to destroy the concept of beauty, some minimize its importance, some choose to expand it until it covers them, or until it covers everyone. I want to share this video because it is an example of one way that women have managed to improve their self-concept in a world that makes that very difficult.
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