I got an e-mail from blog reader Mikaela who was in a conversation online about the trend of thin people purchasing plus sized clothes at thrift stores, and then “re-purposing” them into straight sized clothes. She said “People were claiming that the thrift store is for anyone, so we don’t have a right to complain. That doesn’t sit right with me, but I can’t articulate why. When that happens to me I usually search your blog for the topic, but I couldn’t find anything – would you write about this please?”
At your service Mikaela, let’s do this:
First, if you’re not familiar with this idea, the basic premise is that thin people buy plus size clothes, then cut and sew them into straight size clothes. There are even people, like “refashionista” who have made entire blogs out of this concept.
Here are a couple of the type of the “before” pictures that she typically posts.
The first thing I notice is that she takes great care to make sure that we all see how “big” the dress is. It seems, to me, like a subtle(or maybe not-so-subtle) form of fat shaming. It also echoes, for me, the ridiculous before and after weight loss pictures and the idea that smaller is always better. But that might just be me.
Regardless, that’s not my biggest problem. My biggest problem is that, while the thrift store is for everyone and it’s certainly legal for her and other thin people who want to do the same thing to buy clothes that don’t fit them, that choice does not happen in a vacuum.
Plus size clothing is hard to come by. It’s much, much harder to come by in thrift stores. This is significant because fat people also get hired less and paid less than thin people, and thus are more likely to actually NEED the kind of cheap clothing that a thrift store would offer.
After reading through some of refashionista’s summaries, I get the feeling that she thinks what she is doing is totally cool because these are out of style clothes that nobody would want. Setting aside the fact that tastes vary greatly and there are people of all sizes who I’m certain really like the dresses that she finds so “frumpy” and such, even if it’s true there’s still a major issue here.
One of the ways that privilege works is allowing us to be oblivious to the issues of marginalized groups that we aren’t part of – but that doesn’t mean we’re not responsible for the harm we do. This isn’t just thin people – it’s all of us, because we all have privilege of some sort. As a white person, I first have to realize that I don’t know what I don’t know when it comes to the oppression People of Color face, then I have to realize that it’s my responsibility to seek out this information so that I can use my privilege to help dismantle the systems that privilege me and oppress others.
So people who aren’t plus size often fall into the trap of believing that the experience of shopping for plus size clothes is similar to their own experience. They may believe that fat people get to choose clothes that fit well, that are appropriate for the event/occasion to which we will wear them, and that we actually like. That’s just not true.
The fact is that fat people – including and especially poor and/or superfat people – don’t simply to have the freedom to only choose clothes that we like or that are “on trend.” Sadly, often we have to choose the clothing that vaguely covers our body, even if it’s not quite professional enough for the job interview, or dressy enough for the wedding, or a color we like, or exactly the right size. The fact that all of that is phenomenally messed up is the subject for (many!) other posts. For today I’ll point out that the solution is to change the clothing industry, not our bodies.
The bottom line when it comes to “re-purposing” plus size clothes is that they already have a valid purpose, and that purpose is to clothe plus size people. If there were more than enough plus size clothes in thrift shops I would have no problem with thin people (who, by the way, already have a metric ass-ton more options in thrift stores in their size than fat people do that they could “re-purpose”) re-designing these clothes. But the truth is that buying the few clothes that exist to fit fat people, and turning them into even more clothing that fits thin people is an act of privilege that adds to oppression, so while I can’t stop people from doing it, I really wish they wouldn’t.
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