F*ck Flattering

Photo shoot Out-take. Photo by Richard Sabel

I saw a t-shirt that said “F*ck Flattering” and it got me thinking.  We all know that if beauty was a mountain the summit would be nearly unattainable.  Our stereotype of beauty is incredibly narrow and often involves digital assistance and so the idea of “flattering” generally means dressing so that we look closer to that stereotype.  Fat women are told early and often that beauty is not attainable for us, but we are still encouraged to always try for “flattering” – to look thinner than we are, more of an hourglass – bigger boobs, smaller waist, dark colors that hide our rolls, shot with “Fat Girl Angles” with the camera positioned high and our necks positioned strategically to hide our double chins. Ye Olde Fat Girl Clothing Store sells pants with something called “Tighter Tummy Technology” that promises to smash our stomachs into some different and inexplicably “better” shape.  Photographers guarantee that they will make us look “10 years younger and 10 pounds lighter”.

I’ve heard a fashion commenter criticize a fat actress who wore a beautiful light colored dress saying that she “doesn’t like to see big girls in anything but black or navy” because it’s “just not flattering.”  I’ve heard a fat actress admonish fat women to wear shapewear to “put our curves where they should be”. As a dancer I’ve been encouraged to prioritize a stomach that appears to be roll free over breathing.  I have heard fat women say that they “don’t want to see bare fat [insert body part]” as if the solution to that wasn’t just for them to look away.  When I was photographed for a magazine and said that I didn’t want the pictures to be re-touched the editor said “But don’t you want to look your best?”  When I said that my best does not include digital retouching she said, completely perplexed “I don’t understand.”

They’ll never allow us to reach the summit you see, but they want us to keep climbing anyway.

Look, you get to dress how you want for whatever reason you choose.  You can pick clothes because you like them, because you think they will gain you social approval, because they highlight your shape, because they disguise your shape, because your significant other likes them, because your mom hates them, because you think they are flattering, because you think they are unflattering, or for any other reason.  It’s your body and they are your clothes and you are the boss of your underpants and also the boss of your regular pants.

We do have the option to stand at the base of the mountain of beauty, throw off our jacket, and give flattering the finger with our arm fat waving unrestricted in our tank tops, our breasts comfortable in a bra that neither lifts nor separates, our skirt showing every roll of our stomachs, and our leggings showing every dimple of cellulite on our thighs.  That is a completely and totally valid option and those who do not like it are welcome to practice the ancient art of looking at something else or, you know, getting the hell over themselves.  We get to choose how we dress our bodies and why, and we do not owe the world flattering.

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If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on August 23, 2012 at 8:23 am  Comments (45)  

45 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I find this super interesting for 2 reasons, concerning clothes.
    A while back I used to LIVE in those tank tops that have the built in Bra…I would get them From New York and Company, and every season I would go and buy 3 more in the new colors.
    They are made of spandex or something like that, stretchy, and with that nifty built in Bra? AWESOME!
    I Loved them (and still do but can;t wear them currently for medical reasons But I found a solution…I’ll get to that later)
    It was so odd, because my job at the time was walking dogs..so I wore clothes for comfort, and ya know, having a breast reduction (my choice due to back pain, though they grew back and I am still rather nice up there) And a breast lift at the same time, My nice (large) perky breasts fit nicely in these tops. And they were cool, and GREAT for hot days out in the sun.
    Something that NEVER occurred to me was that they were skin tight..so it showed my ENTIRE arm, flab and all, showed some of my back and the back rolls, showed my stomach that is larger but more like one long strip of fat rather then the fold over that other ladies have. (being that all bodies are different) And now I can;t remember who pointed this out to me, but I think I was walking through a mall, and whomever I was with said something about it. I think it was my mom (most likely seeing as she is the chronic dieter extraordinaire) She was saying I needed to wear a button down shirt over these tank tops. And I had an ex who’s mom hated them because they showed off too much of me. I responded the same way with BOTH these criticisms….I bought more.
    They were comfy, I enjoyed wearing them, I didn’t have to wear a bra, and I Loved the bright colors.
    I think back on it now, and I would TOTALLY wear them again if I could. I STILL wear tank tops pretty much every day, and I go bra-less since again medical issues. My arms still show, my stomach is often exposed if the shirt is shorter, you can see every curve and roll. I Wear shorter shorts now, which took some getting used to…
    My point is that I guess since I NEVER felt in the norm, and specifically a LOT of fashion was out of my reach when I was younger due to my breast size, I wanted to live it up once I could. And I didn’t think about anything else. It wasn’t a concern for me. Still isn’t. I wear what makes me happy and comfortable, and I have yet to have anyone comment.
    I have also worn my dance stuff, like JUST the bra top and skirt down to a local park with pretty trees and water, we go at Sunset so as to get the best pictures. and no one has EVER said anything to me, at all. Yeah I get looks, but I assume it;s due to my attire not my body.
    So I guess the whole fashionable thing never really struck me, but I can see how it could. I just never cared about weather or not I was fashionable…I cared weather or not I was COMFORTABLE. Above all else.
    Here is a pic of me from one of my belly dance shoots, no re-touches, no nothing, it’s all me, no apologies.


    :) For those out there that are struggling…Make your OWN fashion statements! Why follow the fellow lemmings off the cliff, blaze your own trail! Chose clothing that makes you happy and comfortable or sexy or flirty or whatever you want, and make it your own.

    • Lyssa – AWESOME photo! I couldn’t agree more about dressing to suit yourself. I am highly sensitive to some types of non-natural fibers and dyes. Thus I prefer to wear as much cotton clothing as possible. And I love BRIGHT colors, esp lime green and orange – they make me happy. And happiness is a key element to good health.

      Do I look like a large melon? Perhaps. But so what. I dress to make ME happy.

      I love Fresh Produce clothing – their clothes are mostly natural fibers and they have a wide color palette and do have a plus sized section (I constantly send emails to them thanking them for this and encouraging them to add more styles – and they have!) They can be a bit expensive so wait for sales or shop ebay stores. Here are the links:

      Fresh Produce main page (right now they are having their semi-annual sale): http://freshproduceclothes.com/
      Fresh Produce “Extra Fresh” line: http://freshproduceclothes.com/plus-size
      Ebay stores selling Fresh Produce:
      Boulder Bumper Crop: http://stores.ebay.com/Boulder-BUMPER-CROP
      The Pink Palm: http://stores.ebay.com/THE-PINK-PALM

      • Thank you! And I will check out those links, I really appreciate it! I am always looking for different types of clothing and I LOVE unique material.
        Oh yes I ADORE Bright Green, orange and basically all insanely bright colors too, Here are some more pics to show how much LOL
        This performance was NUTS and the costume was more..nuts

        if you want to see it in motion I have a video as well :)

        My Brand New 2012 Hyundai Accent…Not the Hamster car, but close enough and the same color

        This is the most recent tattoo I had done. And I LOVE the Florescent Orange with the blue. The Symbol is from a dance troupe out in Cali, and what it represents is different to each person. I am actually going to be featured in a HUGE book that has pictures of well pretty much everyone who has this symbol tattooed on themselves and why.

        And you just keep getting on with your Bad self! What’s wrong with looking like a melon..melons are nutritious, people make art out of them, and they are associated with summertime and happiness :)
        Also side note, not sure if you knew this or not, but wearing a Yellow shirt tells people that you are very confident about yourself and are not afraid of attention. That you feel strong within yourself and about yourself. Neat little tidbit I learned a while back. Like wearing Blue to Job interviews because it is a calming color and also helps with communication. Colors are fun <3

  2. Thank you Ragen, I needed that reminder. And thanks Lysette for your great comments, your Facebook photo is beautiful!!

  3. Wonderful post and comments.

  4. Hey, I remember that blanket statement in there about how fat girls should only wear black and navy! I grew up reading just that advice in my mother’s magazines and then my own. They were also full of advice on how not to look short, which I found equally unhelpful.

    And you know what? I rock navy. I’ll be happy to wear navy. Why? Because it’s a color that I enjoy, and it’s a color that makes my skin glow and my eyes sparkle. Then again, so do: chocolate brown, most shades of grey outside the charcoal range, oh and bright orange, and cherry red, and turquoise, and certain purples, and lime green, and, oh, a lot of colors.

    Not black. I look okay in black, but it doesn’t make me sparkle in any sense of the word. I don’t like wearing black. It makes me feel like I’m disappearing… just like the magazines helpfully tell me I will.

    What makes me feel good and what gets me the most compliments? Bright color, big chunky jewelry (the same jewelry that did those things for me when I weighed a hundred pounds dripping wet), awesome hats, swirly skirts, and the inner confidence that comes with wearing what makes me feel most like me.

    I’m always aware of what’s going on in fashion. I’ve always found that a fascinating cultural study. But I also know its history, so I can put it in perspective. There has usually been an ideal shape, coloring, height, etc. in fashion… and it has always reflected only a small minority of the actual women living at the time. Everyone who falls outside that ideal is expected to desperately find ways to cinch and tuck and pad and recolor themselves to fit the cultural ideal. And that ideal will change drastically within a few years.

    So I decided a long, long time ago that instead of following fashion myself and trying to make myself fit ideals that have nothing to do with my actual body, I would instead follow my personal sense of style. In short, I decided to wear what I liked, that made me happy, and that fit me well. Sure, it’s affected by what happens to be available to buy as well as my pocketbook. But when I put together an outfit that makes me feel like me, that’s when people see me. And you know what? That’s what I want. I want people to SEE me and to see ME.

    My body. My closet. My priority. Oh, and I haven’t read one of those ‘how to flatter your body shape’ articles in a couple decades. Why? Because they spew the same bad advice they did forty years ago… and eighty years ago… and a hundred and fifty years ago.

    I figure there’s always someone out there telling me what I’m doing wrong when I get dressed in the morning. I’d rather listen to that inner voice that says ‘let’s see how the orange tank looks with the swirly purple and green skirt and the tapestry boots.’

    Short, fat, middle aged, and all, I’ve actually stopped traffic.

  5. Ragen, I love your blog… You have a way of putting into words things I have thought and felt for a long time… I dress the way I want to so I look good to ME! I dress in what feels good to me and that is the only thing that should matter. One of my daughters dresses in a way that I never would, but that is her choice… like you said if I don’t like it I don’t have to look at it and she has been old enough to buy her own clothes for years. She dresses in a way that is comfortable to her, and I am not about to let her style of dressing interfere with the awesome relationship we have.
    Again Love love Love your posts. Thanks for all you do
    Deb

  6. but but but, don’t you know that refusing to look like a magazine person hurts my precious eyes!?!?!

    (jk, of course)

  7. Separate be damned, I for one would like a few bras that squash the bloody things together more– I want them out of the way of my arms so I can swing them freely while I give Flattering a big flamboyant double middle finger salute. XD

    • ^THIS!!!!! So Much Hell Yes!

    • All hail the uniboob!

  8. Again, your posts are so timely! I’ve been having a rough few days. I was house hunting with my mom and my step-dad was taking pics. Later, while looking through the pics I saw one of me. I really am getting better at accepting myself. My husband has commented on my increased confidence. But I slip now and then and this was one of those times. I saw that pic and my stomach did a flip-flop and my heart sank. Who was that fatty?! I sat and analyzed that stupid photo. I’m in jeans (rolled to capri length) a tank top and a rather tight Buffy the Vampire Slayer tee over the thank top. My hair is pulled back because it was hot. I’m in sandals that give me a tad bit of height. I completely got on myself for not wearing something more flattering. Why am I in jeans that show off my hips? Why am I wearing a shirt that tight that shows the line of my tummy which is not flat? Why is my hair pulled back in such an unflattering severe manner? And, as if that wasn’t enough, I focused on my face and how maybe I should get a face lift. But when I think back on that day I remember feeling good while house hunting. I love that shirt. My hair was pulled back because of the heat. I love the sandals I had on. The jeans are comfy. And yet, I’ve spent the past two days admonishing myself for wearing that outfit at all and telling myself that if i just step up my game on exercising and restricting my food, I can lose the weight and never see pics like that again. Yeah, I know…wrong way of thinking. I’m working on it. Like I said, I am doing so much better but I slip back into my old way of thinking and have to dig myself back out. I’m sooo very thankful for blogs such as yours that help me to get myself back out of that negative place.

  9. Ah, what to wear, what to wear-comfort definitely the first priority. No pinching , bunching, tugging into place allowed. Flattering is priority but I get to decide what is flattering, not whatever the latest style magazine says it is. Plus what will make my husband’s eyes light up (the easiest part of the equation-he loves me the way I am, rolls and all, so if I show it off he is happy). My favorite outfit right now? Fitted skirt with floaty top in colors so vivid they should leave a comet trail.

    • Oh… I need more comet trails in my wardrobe! :-)

    • This is exactly what I was thinking; Each person gets to decide how to prioritize flattering, and what flattering means to them. I’m comfort and price are my big concerns, but I’ve never been a fashionista, even when I was thin.

  10. I love your assertiveness and I’m glad you exist and have the energy and gumption to challenge the norm. I think a lot of us fat people have been reluctantly accepting the idea that we were less valuable because of our weight for many years, but you (and increasing numbers of informed others) are providing evidence that it doesn’t have to be that way, and I’m seeing evidence that it’s working. In my own blog (Weight Minding) I wrote a post that is sort of the devil’s advocate version of this one, called “Self-Hatred As a Social Skill.” [http://weightminding.blogspot.com/2012/08/self-hatred-as-social-skill.html] No one should have to feel inadequate or ashamed of themselves because of the way they look, and the more people who agree with this, who work on it for themselves and promote it for others, the faster this prejudice will die.

  11. I have a sudden urge to wear my blue zebra-print miniskirt.

  12. Digital fakery in the photos means it’s NOT YOU any more, is how I see it. If they wanted you in the magazine, why did they then want to edit YOU out of the photos?

  13. haha! My favorite line: “… give flattering the finger with our arm fat waving unrestricted in our tank tops…” Thanks for making my morning great, Ragen!

  14. A-freaking-men!

  15. Excellent post. It’s been years since my mother said I should never wear an elasticized or defined waist or tuck shirts into pants because I would run the risk of looking like a potato sack tied in the middle with a string. She also advised never to wear sleeveless because “we” women of the family have terrible terrible fat arms (talk about projecting!). But you know what? I love potatoes! These days I belt everything, tuck in when I want to and even have a dress with an elasticized waist. I love sleeveless dresses and shirts and I show my “fat” arms as often as possible. It’s taken a lot of mental work to get over the “flattering dress code” but I have so much more fun with my wardrobe now.

  16. I love it! I wear what I want, when I want. There’s only one thing I don’t like – Really, really clingy clothes around my belly because I have a very long torso and the clothes that cling tend to slide up my back and leave me cold and bare where I want to be warm and covered! Now if I could jsut find a swimsuit that was LONG enough for me without being too baggy. :( Screw what other people think is “flattering” – no way my arms are going to look skinny, It’s my body and i’m not goin to hide it to make other people feel comfortable! It’s MINE – and dammit I am going to be comfortable :)
    At least in the summer, when I can wear what I want (my favorite long flowy broomstick skirts and tank tops) … in winter… well, in fall, winter and most of spring I’m stuck with long bike pants under jeans, two pairs of socks and layers of shirts because I can’t get/stay warm :( But at least in summer I can wear what I want.

  17. Also… *perks up* BLUE ZEBRA MINISKIRT? WANT.

    • LOL. I found it last September at a GAP Outlet store east of Dallas. Haven’t gotten to wear it much, but it’s made of win. You might check Ebay. It was in straight sizes, but their straight sizes are pretty generous.

      • “…it’s made of win.” This is my new favorite phrase. :) As someone who has until recently bought into the “only wear dark colours and never wear prints on your bottom half if you have large bottom/hips/thighs…” I’m going to find me one of these skirts. I could use some “win” in my life. And I’ll be shaking my beautiful ass off.

  18. Sharing this on FB. The beauty industry is a racket. Fsck Photoshop and fsck unreasonable inhuman expectations of “what’s beautiful”!

  19. I think the problem with “flattering” is the same as my problem with the word “beauty”: we’ve gotten accustomed to such a narrow definition, that they become a harmful force, rather than a positive one.

    “Flattering” as “hides the flaws that keep you from the dominant beauty standard” is harmful.

    “Flattering” as “enhances or emphasizes what you like about yourself” is a good thing. It’s a tool for engaging with your body and

    I think there are some things that are universally flattering (by my definition):

    - clothes that fit you properly
    - colors that suit your complexion
    - when your outfit/styling draws attention to a feature you like and want to show to the world
    - when your outfit/styling expresses something you want to tell the world (i.e., it’s “you”)

    Reclaiming a word is hard, especially when it’s been used to hurt you so badly. But if we’re going to drop “flattering”, I’d really like to see us find another word for the good kind of flattering.

    (And nobody is obligated to make flattering choices under either definition.)

    • I like your discussion of the connotations of “flattering”… for me the land-mine word that I never use is “attractive”… because that’s the closest my dad ever got to telling me I was pretty. :(

      I dress how I want, I feel comfortable and well-put-together, and lovers tell me I am beautiful, (all 225# of me,) but I will always have an empty space in my heart (and some trouble believing the lovers and friends) because of things my dad said (“thunder-thighs!”) and didn’t say (“sweetie, you look great/lovely/beautiful/ fabulous!”)… sigh

    • I also use the positive connotation for “flattering” when I use the word. (This color is flattering because it makes my eyes turn green, that blouse is flattering because it shows off my nice rack in a classy way, etc) I think “camouflage” when I’m trying to hide my friend Flap, or a line I don’t like on my hips. LOL

    • I’m so with you on your take on “Flattering” and I am intrigued as to how we could reclaim the word.
      For work I generally wear black pants that fit me well (one type of flatter?) with a very colorful/patterned shirt. The shirt is where I look for colors that “flatter” something about me–my eyes, my hair color, my funky nature. :-)
      You may say, “Black pants?” In regard to the pants, I grew up in a farming community as a tomboy, I’m not very comfy in skirts. I fidget like a little girl. Not to mention I CANNOT wear a skirt when driving our little sports car. There is NO way to extract myself from the car whilst wearing a skirt without giving someone an interesting show.
      The color black? Chalk it up to lazy or just wanting to keep it easy. I have my small arsenal of primarily black pants that are guaranteed to go with all but my few shirts that go better with brown or grey.
      What can I say, I’m not a fan of shopping and am often in a rush in the morning.

  20. What a great post again Ragen and it’s reminded me that I’ve been meaning to post and say that I finally read your book that i waited so long for to arrive from the U.S, to me here in the UK. It was wonderful, inspiring, useful, funny and I want to thank you for doing it. You also brought up comments along this “fashion” and “wearing flattering clothes for our size” crap! I was also especially pleased to see you mention about why did women also have to do much of the other so called beauty stuff and endless “messing with hair and colouring it” and I thought it was mostly only me who didn’t “buy into”(they say that on QVC)this nonsense. My hair is getting greyer(at age 51 and lots of trauma)and I don’t intend dyeing/coloring it, partly as I have very sensitive skin and dread things happening, but mostly don’t give a damn and won’t waste my time on it. Some years back my younger brother said “you always have your hair the same style”, which I thought was a little strange, but it’s wavy and you can just wash it and brush it back on top and it’s done, what’s wrong with that and it’s me! I did have phases many years back when I was more insecure, even though I was smaller than I am now and would wear a lot of black and wouldn’t even wear trousers as I thought I was too fat round the middle and backside/hips. Now you can’t get me out of trousers and i wear lots of bright colours and vivid designs, depending on day/mood etc. and in recent years(mid life crisis possibly?!)I wear lots of jewellery, am pretty obsessed with it and the bigger and bolder, the better!

    Marion, UK

  21. A dear friend shared this on her FB page and I am so grateful she did. I have struggled with depression and body issues my entire life and in the last few years I have been trying to say screw it and be me. I have never been a small girl and my parents often reminded me of how awful I looked with all of the normal insults. I find myself now just wearing things for comfort and forget about what I may look like in it. I do have moments and I still cannot stand taking pictures but I am trying hard to get over them. I am always amazed that there are people out there that are being and feeling awesome in their own skin. Thank you!

  22. My least favorite comment (which I receive often): “You have such a pretty face.” And they have no idea what a huge insult that really is. Thanks, I’m glad my face makes up for the rest of my horrific body. Idiots.

  23. “…are welcome to practice the ancient art of looking at something else…”

    HAHAH!! Oh how I love this. The whole article, really, but this in particular. Thank you, Ragen!

  24. Amen! I have decided recently that “flattering” is another “f” word! My mum says it to me and lately it has been making my skin crawl! She tried to branch out from the norm the other day (that is, it’s not flattering because it shows fat rolls) and told me about a thin woman who wore a skirt that made her walk like a crab (not sure how that works) and how that wasn’t flattering to her (my mum’s) artistic sensibilities. And how clashing colours are offensive to others, etc. I call bullsh*t!
    Thank you for showing me that I’m not the only one who hates this attitude to clothes!

  25. Saffi, I have the same problem with swimsuits and recently found a good, comfortable one made by Longitude. I got it on sale at Catherine’s, if that helps.

  26. Oh yes. This post, somewhat related, http://www.dressaday.com/2006/10/20/you-dont-have-to-be-pretty/ is an old favourite of mine.

  27. I agree! But I think it’s a matter of definition. Flattering, in and of itself is a good thing…something flattering makes you look and feel nice. it’s only when people use “flattering” to mean “fat-hiding,” “slimming,” “smoothing,” or some other such meaning that it become negative.

    I dress in clothes that flatter me and that I feel good in. And, by “flatter” I mean look nice. That’s it. I don’t mean they make me look skinny or tall, cover my flab, hide bulges, or anything else. I don’t mean clothing that makes my chubby, round (cute) tummy disappear, or makes me look like Angelina Jolie or some other damned person! Why should I aspire to look like some other thinner, prettier, taller, person? Looking like me and looking like I’ve put some time and care into my outfit is fine.

    I like pretty, comfortable clothes that make me look nice. Funny that that’s some kind of radical point of view these days!

    Jen

  28. In defense of black, I wear it a lot. I feel good in black. I usually don’t wear light colors, not because they “make me look bigger” but because I tend to spill things (food, white out, you name it). My indiscretions show less on prints and dark colors. I like navy too, but it seems everything is a slightly different shade and they don’t all look good together. So I wear black. Most of my pants are black, which means whatever crazy colored top goes with them & I don’t have to think much about it when I’m getting dressed pre-caffiene. Black bottoms with a black top makes me feel powerful–or fun if paired with my fuschia Crocs! Now if I could only wear jeans to work…another goes with everything option but it’s closed to me on work days.

    • But wait, wouldn’t white-out show up on black pants? :P I don’t wear black so much since I took in a stray kitten with long, fine white fur…

  29. I LOVE YOU!

    (Thanks for the self-esteem boost today!)

  30. Thank you.

  31. I’m not usually a fan of your blog. However, I had to say that this was an excellent post. I am a smaller size than yourself but somewhat ‘fashion challenged’ and generally don’t give a fig about my looks beyond brushed hair, clean teeth and face. As long as what you’re wearing is safe for the activity, go with what you like. It isn’t anyone else’s business. Its just that nasty habbit of labelling people as inside or outside our group like children do.

    And, from reading your blog, I may grimace at some of the health and fitness points but I’ve learned a heck of a lot more about the discrimination and bullying that larger women face and I hope that if I ever encounter it happening to someone that I’ll have the guts to stand up for them in the same way I’d expect myself to if it was because of someone’s disability, race or religion. Thank you, Ragen.

    • Thanks for your honest and perspective. I really appreciate that, even if we don’t agree about the research around health and weight, I’m really glad you are willing to stand up against bullying of people of size.

      ~Ragen

  32. I think there’s a difference between clothing being flattering and clothing hiding your fat. For a long time I would only buy clothes that I believed hid my fat. But those clothes weren’t necessarily flattering – they were usually dark colors, and baggy, and hid my shape completely. It takes more confidence to wear clothes that may show the fat around my stomach or butt or legs or arms, but are actually more flattering on my body. They look good, because of the cut or color or whatever, and not because they hide the way my body actually looks. They show my shape, which is much more flattering.

    I worked in a clothing store in college and I remember one very large woman who came in looking for an outfit for her son’s wedding. I was showing her a bright green tanktop with a jacket to go over it wish sheer section that would show the green. She didn’t think it was appropriate for her to wear bright colors because she was fat. I convinced her to try it on and it looked amazing on her. It was incredibly flattering, and didn’t hide her shape or her size at all.


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