Fat-shaming in disguise

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/08/fashion/plus-size-fashion-bloggers-are-role-models.html?smid=tw-nytimes

I follow the NY Times on twitter and came across this article.  At first I was intrigued.  I do follow a lot of “plus-size” fashion blogs on tumblr, and I was glad to see that these fashion bloggers were getting main stream media attention.  But once I clicked on the link all of that hope disappeared.  First of all, the summary of the article stated “stylish plus-size women, hungry for fashion but ignored by designers…” – HUNGRY?! Is it funny that these women are fat? Is this pun somehow supposed to make the audience feel more at ease? If anything, it should make them take the article less seriously.  What if the article had been about anorexic fashion models?  Would it have been appropriate if the summary stated, “stylish anorexic women, starving for fashion and loved by designers…”?  That statement surely would have created a media outcry.  The New York Times would have been labeled insensitive, inappropriate, etc, etc.  Body-shaming and fat-shaming are so engrained in our culture we cannot escape it even when we try to overcome it.  I am sure the writers at the New York Times intended for this article to be seen as “progressive” and “accepting” of women of all sizes.  But it is not.  Not only does the entire article center around the weight of these female fashion bloggers, it labels them as “plus-size” because they wear double digit dress sizes.  That implies so many things, though.  The NY Times attempts to be “politically correct” and does not blatantly come out and call these women over-weight, fat, or obese – but by drawing attention to their dress sizes, all of those are implied.  So not only are they labeling and categorizing these women by their weight, they are also putting a concrete measurement on abstract terms.  What is fat? What is obese? What is over-weight?  Well according to the NY Times, I am considered “plus-size” (read: fat) because I wear a size 12.  Do/did I think I’m fat or plus-size?  Well no, but this article definitely made me consider it.  They applied a label to these women and since I could identify with them, I applied the label to myself, regardless of whether it was appropriate or not.  So the article’s supposed fat-positive message (remember, the point of the article was to show how these “plus-size” fashion bloggers are seen as role models) only reinforces fat-shaming.  By drawing attention to the fact that these women are fat and praising them for their courage, it indicates that being fat is somehow not okay, not normal, something to be ashamed of.  And the NY Times took it upon themselves to list examples of female celebrities who they thought were “curvy” or “plus-size”, and remarked on how great it is that these women were (surprisingly) accepted in the media! The NY Times is basically saying ‘Now we must praise these brave souls who actually wear bathing suits in public and wear the latest trends.  It seems so unimaginable that this could exist, that women who do not fit the model-media-stereotype could possibly love themselves and their bodies and promote it to the public.’  I’m glad the New York Times did print this article, because the commentary from the fashion bloggers is very body-positive, sincere, and unashamed.  But the way in which these bloggers, their careers, and other “plus-size” women are presented by NY Times is just fat-shaming in disguise.

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2 Responses to Fat-shaming in disguise

  1. marthao16 says:

    I understand where you are coming from when you say that it is inappropriate to label and categorize women based on their weight. People’s opinions of what it means to be “fat” or “overweight” can differ greatly, so it can be harmful to the esteems of women to put a concrete label on something that is so relative. And from one perspective, it can seem seem that the only reason that the NY Times is recognizing these women is because being fat is such a bad thing and it is shocking that these women are okay with being fat.

    However, I think that in our society, it does take a lot of courage to not fit the standard image of beauty that the media tends to perpetuate. I admire the fact that these women are comfortable with themselves and wear whatever they want to wear, regardless of what the media tells them that can and can’t wear. I also appreciate that these women embrace the word “fat”. This can go along way in destigmatizing the word fat and can show many women who may actually consider themselves “plus-sized” or “fat”, that they are not abnormal because of their body type and that they do not have to define themselves based on their body size.

  2. DorcyC says:

    I think this is one of the most interesting responses I’ve read about the issue of “plus-sized” fashion in a really long time. It’s clear that you feel strongly about the article and the way that plus-sized bloggers are presented in the NYTimes.

    One of the most interesting things you brought up was the use of dress-sizes as a proxy for weight. Some women who may have never thought of themselves as out of the ordinary may begin placing themselves into the “plus-sized” subcategory based solely their dress sizes.

    This can have two effects. On the one hand, I completely agree with you that this might be an unnecessary and inaccurate categorization of human beings. On the other, I think this could be a position step in removing the stigma around those who are “overweight”, “plus-sized” or however else you want to refer to it. It can be a step to normalizing being “plus-sized”.

    Multiple bloggers in the article lamented the lack of a “plus-sized” fashion line from high-end designers and mainstream retailers. One blogger, Ragini Nag Rao, attributed this to the fact that “plus-sized” is often considered a “a transient state, a shameful stop before heading back to smaller sizes”.

    I think the recognition and the labeling of a plus-sized market is a signal that society is moving to recognizing “plus-sized” as a relatively permanent state – that being “plus-sized” is simply another facet of our human diversity. Much like Wann suggested in Fat Studies, bloggers feel that they can “embrace the word ‘fat'” and that “fat” doesn’t define them or their character. Because of this, they want to dress just as fashionably as anyone else would. In recognizing a “plus-sized” segment with a permanent demand, the fashion industry will create more and more products and campaigns that feature these women and cater to their tastes. This will not only satisfy the desires of the fashionable, but will also foster the idea that being “plus-sized” is no less normal or transient a state for women than “preppy” is for clothing.

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