This blog will take the average adult about four minutes to read.
As you probably know by now, I’m an overweight woman.
I first became self-conscious of my body around seven years old when a friend told me to suck in my gut if I wanted the boys to like me. Photographic evidence suggests I started actually getting chubby around the fourth grade. Once I became aware of how terrible my body was as a child, I started dressing like a boy—because even at that young age, boys’ fashion was more forgiving (and comfortable!) than girls’. It was all baggy pants and baggy shirts for years. With the advent of fleece vests in middle school, I spent much of my life in one of my vests—to hide the midsection, I suppose. In high school it was more of the same—baggy pants, baggy shirts, baggy hoodies—baggy pirate clothes (<- truth).
In college, when I started wearing women’s clothes again, I learned one thing: They didn’t make any that fit me. Not only did they not make any that really fit me—but I wasn’t allowed to shop for the clothes that didn’t fit me with the other women. No, to find anything remotely close to fitting, I was relegated to the back corner of the store where the overweight women were hidden while they shop. In the bigger stores, I’d have to go shop on a different floor—from the five or so racks surrounded by what felt like acres of XS-M clearance racks.
Over the years, I’ve learned over and over again that I’m not just a “woman”, I’m a “plus size woman”. I’m not a woman. If I were that, I’d surely be allowed to shop with the other women. I’d be allowed wear the same clothes if I was an actual woman.
I’m not even a normal fucking plus sized woman, though—because I’ve got no hips and no ass and plus size women’s clothing is made for women with wide hips and large asses. (And by no means is that an indictment. It’d be nice to have to unbutton my pants to take them off—nay, I all I have to do is loose my belt and wiggle a little.) Plus size pants don’t fit me—because I don’t have an ass to fill them. I look like an empty penguin. Plus size shirts don’t fit because they’re made for woman who have an ass to pull their pants up over—so the plus sized shirts are really short. They get wider and wider, but never any longer. I digress.
Shopping as a plus-size woman, in my opinion, is disheartening and dehumanizing—or at the very least de-womanizing. It says I am something other. I fucking hate shopping.
On countless occasions, I’ve been informed how large women should dress. Sometimes this comes in the form of people letting me know how I look in items—shockingly frequently uninvited and by strangers. More often, however, it comes in the form of friends and loved ones letting me know what they think of another overweight woman’s outfit choices. Here are some real-life quotes that still echo in my head:
“She should NOT be wearing that.”
“That is not flattering.”
“That is not a good look on her.”
“Ohmygod. Big girls should not wear yoga pants.”
“That is disgusting.”
“Oooohhhhh giiiiiirrrrlllll… *shakes head in disgust*”
“She should not have that much skin exposed.”
For years—decades—every time I heard those things I wondered if I was wearing something that I shouldn’t be wearing. I wondered if others whispered those things about me behind my back—and honestly—I still wonder that.
Many people have said it directly to me in one particular way. It comes in the form of the “dressing for your body type” conversation. That conversation has always left me bewildered, because, as I mentioned early, they don’t make clothes for my body type. And even if they did, I’d probably hate them (the clothes, that is—have you seen plus-size women’s fashion?). Being told to “dress my body type” is like acetone on the gaping wound left by the society’s opinion of overweight people.
I’ve gathered over years of these that when people tell an overweight woman to dress her body type, they mean two primary things:
- Cover as much of your flesh as possible.
- Do not show the shape of your body as much as possible.
Or, distilled, “Cover thy shame, fatty.”
In Christendom, this is sometimes branded as “modesty”—and I’ll likely write my thoughts on modesty later, but for now, they can be summarized for this: If something is modest for a fit/thin person, it is also modest (in the adjusted size) for an overweight person. I won’t get into what I think is/isn’t modest—or why I value modesty. It seems to me, however, that plus-sized women are expected to be much more “modest” than fit women, or at least immodesty is tolerated much more for thin/fit women—and it just adds to the feelings of being inadequate, unworthy, unwanted—unwoman.
And no human or industry actually has the right or the power to strip me of my divinely given value—although I sure as hell act like they do.
A few years ago, after a bit of a row over whether plus-sized woman should be allowed to wear tank tops because they have “back fat and no one wants to see that”, I realized fuck it. There is no humanly possible way for me to make others comfortable with what I put on my body. And after rolling that around in my head for a while, and getting thoroughly depressed, and feeling utterly hopeless, with the help of the Holy Spirit and John Piper (and John Edwards) I realized one critical thing that changed the way I dress:
I should be dressing for God’s glory and my joy. No one else’s glory. No one else’s joy.
When I dress for his glory, my joy will follow. When dressing myself becomes an act of worship (you know—that whole “do all you do” thing), my comfort, joy, and a wee skosh of shall-I-call-it holy confidence is restored within myself—because my focus is no longer on how I’m a failure, but on who has redeemed my failures.
Additionally, somehow it has become the burden of the overweight woman to ensure that others are comfortable with her wardrobe choices. To that, I raise both my middle fingers and make a giant fart sound. (*That’s not very ladylike!* I’m a Shitty Woman, remember?) A woman’s wardrobe, no matter how modest or immodest, should not determine whether she’s treated as an image bearer of God. It is not my job to ensure that you’re comfortable with my body. And you do not get to declare me disgusting or repulsive because I’m not adhering to your extraordinarily fucked up sociocultural guidelines. After roughly 20 years of being an overweight female (and 23 thinking I was one), I’ve learned that there is no wardrobe that will make people comfortable with my body. There is nothing I can wear to make others see me as valued and loved—because the shape of my body says otherwise.
I am certainly still affected by the commentary, both directed at me and indirect by way of comments about other overweight women. Shopping still utterly depresses me while simultaneously enraging me. Those things aren’t going away anytime soon. So long as society still actively hates overweight woman (and I wholeheartedly believe that as a whole, they do), I, an overweight woman, will still need to daily confront the lies and shite that that surrounds me.
I don’t need tips on how to dress for my body type. I need the Gospel. It is the only thing that has ever corrected and helped me endure the constant barrage of lies that I’ve been drowning in since I was seven.
For the time being, and all foreseeable future, I do not give two shits about what others think of my wardrobe unless their opinion is motivated by Gospel-centric love. I am dressing for my comfort, not yours. I will dress myself to the glory of God, and my joy.
No one else’s glory. No one else’s joy.
(Unless someday I get married. Then I would totally dress for someone else’s joy.)