Fat is the new black?

Hortense at Jezebel writes an excellent article about the fashion world’s dubious embrace of singer Beth Ditto as a sign that they’ve acknowledged the existence of large women.

I am a bit torn on this: while I think Ditto’s contribution to the fashion world is important, most notably for her undying confidence, love for her body, and willingness to show the world that yes, larger women can be sexy, stylish, and confident, I often feel a bit strange when I see a picture of Ditto next to Karl Lagerfeld, who insists upon pointing at her in every photograph I’ve seen them in together, which just gives off a weird, “See? I can be friends with non-rail-thin people” signal.

Being that the fashion industry is built entirely on superficial insincerity, I too am disinclined to buy that anyone there really sees Ditto as the future of haute couture.  Karl Lagerfeld, despite once being fat himself, has often made disparaging remarks about large women.  It’s appropriate that he’s the head of a design house that was founded by a woman who believed the ideal female form resembled that of a teenage boy.  So it’s a bit incongruous to see him and his giant head suddenly appearing next to Beth Ditto at public events in a “Guys, she’s totally my new BFF!” pose, as if it just occurred to him that there are people, women in particular, who subsist on more than lettuce leaves and Vitamin Water.  Chanel and other high-end design houses such as Prada and Versace are hopelessly behind the times when it comes to creating clothes for plus-size women, or even average sized women, insisting on using the same dead-eyed human praying mantises for their runway shows and print ads, and that’s highly unlikely to change anytime soon.

I must confess to knowing very little about Beth Ditto other than the fact that she’s a cute fat girl.  She’s a singer with the Gossip, but I suspect at this point she’s more famous for being fat, very fat by media standards (though not at all unusual by normal person standards), and unique for the fact that she doesn’t seem to give much of a shit about being fat.  Her confidence is considered a novelty–“A fat girl with style and personality? Welcome to Mars!” It’s nice that she’s being applauded for it, but the tokenism of such a gesture shows just how out of touch with real people pop culture and the fashion industry is.  Women like Beth Ditto really aren’t that unusual, what is unusual is that, on the surface anyway, she’s not being fat shamed, made to feel as though she’s not allowed to look sexy and self-assured because, well, she’s fat, and we wouldn’t want anyone to think that’s okay or anything.  Think of all the other women over the years who were supposedly harbingers of fat acceptance in the media: Ricki Lake, Carnie Wilson, models Emme and Sophie Dahl.  What do they all have in common? They all eventually lost weight, becoming far smaller than the average sizes 12 to 14 American women.  They got the message: “Well, the fat thing was cute for a few minutes, but it’s time to get over it now, chubs.”  The love affair with extra pounds rarely lasts very long.

Before anyone insists that fashion designers would be doing a disservice to plus-size women by creating stylish, attractive clothing for them, because it would discourage them from losing weight for their health, I kindly request that you cram it, because I’ve heard it before.  Like a lot of women, I’ve seen this situation from both sides of the fence, at both a weight too large and a weight too small, and I probably don’t need to say this, but it bears repeating: women cannot win here.  Even at a relatively average size now, I am inundated with “helpful advice” on what clothes I should wear to flatter my body type, which, as one commenter at Jezebel points out, is a code for “make you look thinner.”  Dove paid lip service to “celebrating beauty at all sizes,” without using a single model that appeared to be bigger than a size 16, and dropped the ad campaign after it was mocked by major doucherags like Richard Roeper.  Affordable clothing chains like H&M rarely carry sizes bigger than 16, while Old Navy banished their plus-size designs to online shopping only.  Claiming “the market isn’t there” for attractive, affordable plus-size clothing is utter bullshit.  It’s simply continuing to make the concept of “fashion” an exclusive club that has no room for large women who love their bodies, or at least, want to look nice and feel good about themselves until if and when the time comes that they decide to lose weight.

Shaming a woman into losing weight by making her believe that she has no other clothing options available but stretch pants and muumuus are probably no more effective than Askmen.com’s suggestion that you “subtly” let a woman know she’s too fat by loosening the screws in her chair so that she breaks it (I’d provide the link to that nugget of fail but I don’t want their website to get a single extra hit from me).  Yet clothing options will continue to be limited, and women of all sizes will continue to worry more about looking thin rather than being comfortable and happy with themselves.  It’s all but ingrained into our nature.  Beth Ditto isn’t edgy because she’s fat, she’s edgy because she doesn’t care that she’s fat, and you can bet that the novelty of that will wear off quicker than you can say “Weight Watchers.”

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