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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9 thoughts on “Many Paths to Body Love”
As usual, I agree with everything you’re saying. For me, seeing the abundance of fatshion bloggers, has helped to change my perspective quite a bit. All my life I felt like I had to swath myself head to toe in a big black sheet, because that was all that was available for fat people and we needed to hide how ugly we looked. But seeing so many big beautiful women feeling comfortable wearing what they want to wear, whether that conforms to a stereotypical view of pretty or fashion, or whether it’s just what they feel beautiful wearing, has really opened my eyes.
I’ve started adding much more colorful, form fitting clothing to my wardrobe as a result. And I have to say I haven’t had so many compliments about how I look in my entire life. So even though I’m definitely no fashionista, it has help me to feel beautiful in wearing clothing that I like, and that fits my personality, as opposed to just what I thought I needed to wear to blend in as a fat woman with the nerve to be walking around in public.
I actually like the video very much, thank you for sharing it. I agree that this kind of approach may not be for everyone, and that’s totally fine. But I think it can help to really see your beauty when you’ve been told you have none. Maybe it’s a bit of a compromise, because you use common beauty ideals and apply them to you, so it gets easier to accept your own beauty, and that could be a first step to truly love yourself, which is hard for so many people of every size. For me it is also something else. I like to dress up sometimes, to use make-up, to do my hair in my unique way, because I like to show the world outside: I am here, I am gorgeous and I don’t need to hide. Wearing fancy clothes and red lipstick makes people look at you, and I like feeling the confidence to do so.
It’s really very simple: Wear whatever you like, if it makes you feel good, it’s probably right 🙂 I would never judge others because they like to dress up or because they like to do not. I think if you feel comfortable, it shows, and maybe that’s what makes you beautiful. How to feel comfortable is an individual thing, and you are allowed to try everything.
I get the criticism, and I too often think, gosh, why does it always have to be about beauty? I am more than just beautiful, but smart, kind, caring, witty and all kinds of things. But maybe feeling beautiful is the hardest part, because society’s ideals about beauty are so screwed up…
5’5″ is short? I suppose I’ll need to take your word for it, but I’m 4’11”, which I think is a whole nother thing. I suppose it’s like my being somewhat fat (180 pounds), but i’m not living in the same world as someone who weighs one or two hundred pounds more.
That video is *amazing*. Even if it’s just one sort of glamour-based beauty, it’s still inspiring. And who’d have thought that a wide white collar would do so much for a light-skinned brunette? Well, maybe everyone who knows about such things, but I had no idea. I want to know how that photographer thinks about what specific things she does to make people look good.
5’5″ is an above average height in reality, yes, but for a model it’s like being 4’9″ in real life.
You know, sort of like being a size six is fat in model terms.
That’s the thing. Models only come in the sizes that designers say they do, and they have collectively decided over the decades on a size that bears little resemblance to the average woman. In fact. over time the resemblance has become further and further removed from something attainable by most women.
So think of model height sort of like dog years. It’s a dramatically different scale that is interesting to know but ultimately ought to have little to do with how you see yourself.
Agreed- 5’5″ is above average height. As someone who is 5’5.'” (yes, that’ half inch is important!) this is a distinction I take very seriously:)
Like you, Ragen, I see both sides of this coin. I wish there was not so much emphasis placed on women being ‘acceptably’ pretty… but I know what an ego boost it can be to play dress up, too. In fact it was a session of dress up that was the first step to pulling me out of a serious depressive cycle that had lasted for about three years. As I swathed myself in delicious clothes, I started to see myself again, and I started to heal emotionally. And when the designer of those clothes told me I was starting to remind him of Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter, well, THAT is a moment I will never forget!
I think the key is to recognize that like personal choices regarding health, personal choices about fashion and grooming are highly individual and ought to be so. Just as nobody owes the world a perfectly healthy body (assuming it were even possible to guarantee one!), nobody owes the world boners, either. Everybody should get the choice and the chance to play at creating a look for themselves should they wish to.
And just as I have a right to explore alternative treatments to life’s ills, I have every right to decide for myself whether to conform or to rebel when it comes to fashion. I get to choose whether I opt out, too.
My personal vision is of a world where the beauty in most people is seen and valued in its proper place… as a single aspect of being a person, not as an accomplishment or an obligation. I would love a world where Colleen McCullough’s obituary would have emphasized her astonishing accomplishments over her physical presence, but would have noted her warm smile as something her friends and family would miss.
Let me say thank you, especially for the last paragraph, that’s beautifully said!
That video was wonderful. So touching to see those women see themselves in a whole new way. Thanks for sharing it.
i have to say that the first thing i thought, if for one tiny moment, was: she’s 5’5″? that means i can work!
forgetting, of course, that i’d long passed the age barrier of, approximately, twenty five— & that i’m so very conditioned that i still wouldnt be willing to put on a bathing suit—i havent worn anything that seriously skimpy in public since i was nine years old.
i feel really awful today &, while i had more than a few things to say, i’ve already lost this post once so i’m gonna close it fairly quicklike w/ an idea we had while i was a starving twelve year old before the cusp of the 70s turned into the hell of the 80s & changed the world forever.
YOU PICK what you mean by BEAUTIFUL. fxck the media & their insistence on selling product, specifically product based on THEIR MAINSTREAM DEFINITION of what creates wonder, hope, love, glory— in this case the physical definition of the above. for once we can answer a question like: who made them the arbiters of the representations of our dreams?
we did, you see, by giving them all they care about: our money. dont do it. the less we do it, the less control they’ll have. & a world emptying of scarcely differentiated stereotypy will always, by definition, be the more beautiful one.
[apologies for not sounding my best; it’s cos i dont feel my best either.
if i did, i could treat you to some really funnyish stories about starvation & reduction among the old modeling/acting world— not to mention how it’s possible a person might often & repeatedly be stopped on the street & told how much she looks like extremely famous old sex symbol/moviestar x, yet still go home to be told by how ghastly she really looks by her ghastly, nevermind horrible, husband no. 2.
who believed, just so’s you know, that if you have sex & you dont take a shower, & you go to a bus stop, & another guy sniffs you, you have to fight him.
anyway, i mention this so anyone who needs to hear it can once again know that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, & he who beholds too much crap on television, nevermind embarrassedly hidden porn, really has no sense at all. of beauty, of anything.]