Thursday, June 18, 2009

New York Times acknowledges, devalues fat fashion

Apparently the New York Times has just gotten the memo that women larger than a size eight also enjoy wearing stylish clothing in a new article by Ruth la Ferla, called "Fashion Reaches Out to Heavier Young Women". This degrading article comes despite widespread reporting that the plus-size industry is retracting (they allude to this fact in the article, which makes for confusing reading in a piece about how plus-sizes are the Hot New Thing).

Their main evidence for this discovery is that nationwide retailers like Target, Old Navy (which caters to teens, not older women) and Hot Topic are now offering clothes for fat women? Which has been going on for...some time?

The entire article by Ruth la Ferla is filled with snobbish condescension like this:
The woman of size, as she is euphemistically known, “still wants to wear the same clothes as her slimmer counterparts,” he added.
Euphemistically for what? "Disgusting fatass"? This comment is odd considering that la Ferla does everything she can to avoid calling women "large" or "fat" : "glamorously curvy", "round-bodied"

Also bizarre is the emphasis on K-Mart as the face of fat fashion:

“I’ve noticed lately that they are trying to make big sizes more into style,” said Kathy Salinas, as she considered a zebra-striped Piper & Blue tunic at a Kmart in downtown Manhattan this week. “You see that at regular stores, not just the plus-size stores, and that’s a good thing.”

Nothing against K-Mart - I occasionally shop there and even bought a $5 scarf there last week - but it has never been a hot spot for fashion. K-Mart clothes are by definition discount and downmarket, and it is the only retailer in the article mentioned multiple times. La Ferla could have focused on Target, or Torrid, or another retailer with a reputation for putting out stylish clothes for all - but chose to focus on a store known not at all for its stylish clothing. This subtle framing reinforces the idea that fat women are undiscriminating, sloppy, and at the low end of the fashion spectrum - even in an article that's specifically about fat style.

Still, it's only obtuse and mildly insulting until the very end. There's a curt nod to fat acceptance:

More than tokenism, such fashion and media tactics seem born of a conviction that larger young women have become more self-accepting. “They are inclined to show off the parts of their bodies they love,” said Ms. Sack, the Chicago retailer. Pushing the trend is a broad movement of fat acceptance among academics, anti-bias activists and some psychologists. “It’s important to reclaim ‘fat’ as a descriptive, as even something positive,” argued Ms. Maribona of Fat Fancy.
But such forward thinking is immediately regulated with a healthy serving of guilt and shame:
But others point to serious health consequences of being overweight. Andrea Marks, a specialist in adolescent medicine in Manhattan, suspects that “the vast majority of overweight girls are not so happy.” Apparent self-acceptance, she added, may be a cover for defiance or resignation.
So, fat girls who dare to like themselves are faking it - and if their outrageous self-love is genuine, they should wake up and realize how unhealthy they are. How is this kind of health moralizing acceptable in an article about fashion? Is there no space in the mainstream media where fat women can be discussed without being pathologized and degraded?

Even in article that's purportedly fat-positive, about how large young women (like myself) are fashionable and beautiful (as if we ever weren't), the mainstream media feels a need to reinforce shame and police our bodies.

ETA: Courtney of Feministing just posted on this article (linking my community cross-post - thanks!). Jill of Feministe also wrote about it.


  1. Ugh! K-mart? Really?

    This article made me so sad. It's like a grandmother's backhanded comment about your weight.


  2. I find it so objectionable that designers/fashion wankers feel the need to differentiate between 'fat' and 'not fat' women... Where the hell does that arbitrary line of demarcation begin? And KMart as a paragon of plus-size fashion? I think we can all agree that it's shitty at any point along the size continuum.

    Awesome post.


  3. Carmen: Haha, my grandmother's never been nasty about my weight. Apparently she was nasty to my mom though, giving her a lot of food issues.

    this girl: That's basically the way it should be. I don't see why it's so damn hard to just keep going up in sizes. It's not like it would actually cost them money - there are a lot of fat people who would love to buy their stylish clothes. I think a reasonable increase in price over sizes would even be reasonable - since there is an increase in the amount spent on materials, the overhead would rise.

    I went shopping for a bikini/swimsuit, and I could not find any extra-large bottoms almost at all. I'm thinking they were picked through and not adequately staffed in the first place.

  4. An excellent critique-- I really enjoyed reading this. So many women's body issues come from media induced crazy-talk. I read an article on the same woman in The Irish Times, and it was a lot kinder than its American counter-part. I'd be interested to see what you make of it.

  5. this article reminded me of when my mother looks at my jeans (and thinks i look fat in them) and says, "i just got a 30% card for kohl's. why don't you use it to buy some new jeans?"


  6. love this post/topic! it's refreshing that other ladies are voicing their opinions on this w/ a positive edge! thank you!


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