Subscribe to Bitch on Sale and help us reach our goal by Sept 30! Subscribe Renew Become a member Image Map

The New York Times "Reaches Out to Heavier Young Women"

Wednesday's New York Times Fashion & Style section featured an article on the recent "outpouring of fashions aimed at trend-driven, round-figured teenagers and young women." Round-figured? Outpouring? Is that model in the frozen food section of a grocery store?

Courtney at Feministing posted an excellent dissection of Ruth La Ferla's article here, but there were a few points I needed to "expand" on (bad pun? Get used to it! NYT provided us with many more verbally-disappointing gems). As a starting point, let's look at the list of descriptions for "plus-sized" women used in the article:

Outsize, rotund, round-figured, large-sized, woman of size, big-girls, girth, full figured, curvy, larger young women, overweight...

What is up with this lingo? Admittedly, I understand the fear of mislabeling and, thus, being misunderstood as an writer. However, in an article partially about fat acceptance, the f-word is only used in a passing quote. Was this an attempt to avoid a negative or condemning bias? Think again! The article not only ended with the ever popular health angle, but it also dismissed the legitimacy of any body-acceptance from these marginalized "women of size"

"It's important to reclaim 'fat' as a descriptive, as even something positive," argued [Annie] Maribona of Fat Fancy. 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.

This attitude, along with the totally whack list of used descriptives, contributed to an overall tone of body bias. Women larger than a size-12 are discussed as the "diseased them." It is clear that the author does not consider herself part of this demographic, otherwise she may have reconsidered her assertion that there has been a recent "outpouring of [plus-size] fashions." With full disclosure, I consider myself as being on the smaller end of the plus-size spectrum, and I know that I sure as hell am more frequently forcing my body into clothing rather than seeing clothing made to fit my body. It is because of stores like Portland's own Fat Fancy (which i have supported for more than a year now) that I can have a shopping experience where I don't feel like there is something fundamentally wrong with my shape. However, stores like these are few and SO far between.

And who is comprising La Ferla's category of big girls? Is there a shared "plus-size" experience, or are size-12 girls treated differently from size-24? The article constructs a slightly varied community of larger well-known women (Beth Ditto, Adele, Jennifer Hudson, Jordan Sparks) as a reference point for readers, but still falls back on the familiar cop-out of valuing selective curve (read: tits and ass). In the course of the article, La Ferla conveniently exposes her own size hierarchy, inspiring my friend to wonder "Why does Beth Ditto have girth but Jordan Sparks is glamorously curvy?" The media appears to frequently holds up "curvy," conventionally good looking women like Scarlett Johansson and Salma Hayek as a way to cleanly avoid accusations of fat discrimination. But while Andrea Marks may mistake my body confidence as resignation, I think that many girls have long been aware of the media's own resignation to rarely attempt to construct and discuss the female body in realistic and encompassing terms.

At the end of the day, is visibility still visibility, regardless of the values of the messenger? Does it matter that plus-size clothing (and plus-size clothing providers) is receiving attention in the fashion section of the New York Times? What do you all think? And, as a slight side topic, are there Fat Fancy-esque stores in your hometown?

Guess what? Subscriptions to Bitch—our award-winning, 80+ page print quarterly—are 20% off to help us reach our $25,000 funding goal by September 30. Pitch in to support feminist media: Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

13 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Degrees of Fat

"Is there a shared "plus-size" experience, or are size-12 girls treated differently from size-24?"

The difference is that by being size 12 you get to hear the fat slurs being made about the size 24s. They think they are being kind, encouraging you to lose weight while there is still hope, letting you know you are still included in the people that matter.

"I consider myself as being on the smaller end of the plus-size spectrum" Haven't you ever taken a fashion magazine quiz? It doesn't matter if you are five or 105 pounds overweight. Fat is out of the running. By being fat you have marginalized yourself. which isn't all bad. At least people leave you alone. Go Beth Ditto!

and coffee-loaded anorexics can shut up about the health end of it. If you get regular exercise you can carry a few more pounds.

These are affluent times. You aren't depriving someone else by eating.

"and coffee-loaded anorexics

"and coffee-loaded anorexics can shut up about the health end of it"

Seriously? Where did you get the idea that it is okay to call people anorexic as an insult? This is what bothers me about aspects the "fat-acceptance" movement. There is an incredible disdain for those with eating disorders (See: One contributor to Marilyn Wann's Fat!SO? suggesting that eating disorders are just an aspect of "survival of the fittest" to weed out the fat-negative).

Anorexia is a deadly disease, not something you can lob around as an insult against every fat-phobe. Close-minded bigotry against anorectics and bulimics is no different than the same close-mindedness and bigotry faced by fat people. Fat-positivity does not have to mean spiteful attitudes toward those with eating disorders and this sort of bullshit shouldn't be tolerated in feminist circles.

Coffee-loaded anorexics

I am not anorexic, nor do I exercise excessively, or anything like that. I don't have a metabolic disorder/thyroid problems or anything.

I understand that in this aspect of my life, I've got it pretty good. I'm glad that I don't have to put up with the media's portrayal of my weight as negative, I'm glad I don't have to be inundated by fat jokes. But being boney-thin is not always a walk in the park, and everyone assumes it means that no one will make fun of you for your weight, clothes will be easy to find, and so on.

It's not. My whole life, people made fun of me. They called me "boney-butts", "toothpick", "skeleton", and yes, "anorexic". Clothes are hard to find to fit me, they all hang funny. For riding breeches, I had to buy children's size, which means they were a bit too short. It hurts sometimes to sit down because my buttbones stick out. Sometimes waistbands hit me right on my protruding hipbones and bruise me, because I don't have any padding there. I understand that other weight categories come with their own discomforts. Even finding a wedding ring was extremely difficult because of my thin fingers.

I never talk about this. But I have to speak out because of your comment. It can hurt someone to call them anorexic just because they're thin, or to use anorexic as an insult.

I totally second your experiences.

I've always been right on the cusp of "plus" as about a size 12, even ranging up to a size 14 and even a 16 (oh no!) in some of the more poorly constructed garments I've purchased. When I go to my friends for reassurance, they always say that I curve in the right places, that I have a very nice body but I've never been able to get that compliment without a tone of anxiety about being *almost* fat or almost being somehow unpleasant looking because of my size. I will say for the record, despite the backwards compliments about my size, I've learned to adore my body. But it is very disheartening to hear any fat slurs, because when they are said I feel as though everyone's looking at me like (as you put so well) "there's still hope for you if you lose some weight." Sometimes I feel so frustrated with having this particular in between feeling pushed onto me, my heart jumps whenever I think that the standard of beauty might expand (just a teensy weeny itsy bit) to include me so that I don't have to deal with this headache anymore! Other times I feel proud, being an example of a beautiful woman that isn't thin. Right afterwards, feeling very ashamed that I would represent some standard other "plus-sized" women would have to live up to in order to be considered to have acceptable bodies. I am not trying to belittle the struggles of other women who don't qualify in this strange category who have to endure many more taunts, but the roller coaster ride of being "not skinny, but not fat" is an exhausting experience that I have to endure almost every day. I wish there were a place for people like me so I would have someone else to relate to.

But my biggest wish, BY FAR, would be that everyone would just stop valuing women based on what their body looks like. Not to sound like a fluffy clishe, but everyone's beautiful as they are. Having "girth" or being "a woman of size" or being "robust" are just disguised slurs made to make women feel ostracized. I dream of the day any woman of any size could walk into a designer boutique and could find clothes that fit her. Like another commenter said, this is really a genderized issue, big guys buy bigger pants and no one humiliates them like they would a female. Besides, I love a little weight on a man, its really very attractive to me, and a man saying the reverse about any woman of a larger size has to fear embarrassment for having such opinions. Fat people aren't disgusting, the people who torture and humiliate them based on their weight are.

I am fat, I am on ther

I am fat, I am on ther larger end of the spectrum ( a, gasps, size 26, which makes too fat to even be mentioned in this article!) and I am going to say that there *are* health risks involved with being fat. It's not a cup out, it's a reality. There is no such thing as a "healthy" 300 pounds, and wishful thinking isn't going to make it so. With heart diasease being such a big killer for women, and the effects being overweight has on your heart, it's downright reckless to ignore this because it's more convinient for the movement to swept it under the rug.

I am thankful for most aspects of the fat acceptance movement.I've suffered discrimination because of my size all of my life. Recently I lost out an internship that I am 99% sure I would've gotten if I hadnt been fat (lost it out to a girl with a low gpa, no work or leadership experience and less English skills, ouch) so I recognize the need for it and it brings me comfort that it exists. It just bugs me that one point.

I completely agree ...

I stop short of being a "fat activist" because there are too many fat activists I know of that flat-out refuse to recognize that there are very real dangers with being morbidly obese. If someone like me has a bonafide family health history of heart disease and diabetes, then there are very real reasons for focusing on taking care of myself in a healthful manner - even if it means losing weight (via lifestyle changes, not Nutrisystem or Jenny Craig). I am taking care of myself by focusing on losing weight to get healthy, period.

Judging someone a size 12 at about 5'4" tall being "fat" is not acceptable. But insisting that being 300+ pounds at most any height is healthy, is concerning.

Chiming in on her language....

I wrote about this article here, yesterday morning. In my discussion, I talked about this passage from the article:

The woman of size, as she is euphemistically known, “still wants to wear the same clothes as her slimmer counterparts,” he added.

Why is "woman of size" a euphemism, and what is she implying it's a euphemism for? "Disgusting fatass"? It's especially noticeable given your observation above that La Ferla does everything she can to avoid the words "fat" and "large".

Are you effing kidding me?

"Outsize, rotund, round-figured, large-sized, woman of size, big-girls, girth, full figured, curvy, larger young women, overweight..."

Rotund?

I haven't read the NYT article yet but seriously? Rotund? Seriously? Are you effing kidding me?

My gut reaction, straight from my overweight, rotund muffin top fat tummy.

Sheesh.

NYT terminology and fitting into clothes

IMHO the most ridiculous part of the NYT article are terms like "overweight" and "plus size". A medical opinion isn't being shared: neither is a demographic one, it's an aesthetic observation based on an absurd cultural precedent. For some reason women have to be smaller to be "normal" or non "plus".

As a male, I'm still shocked and confused by all this. I don't know of any men who have trouble finding or fitting into clothes: if you're a bigger guy, you wear bigger clothes, and they're in any store.

Meanwhile girlfriends of mine have had to make their own clothes from scratch or modify clothes they've found at thrift stores. It's sad that they'd have to go to specialty stores with names like "Fat Fancy", rather than just the appropriate sized clothing rack in any store, as men do. And I wouldn't call any of them "fat" or "overweight" or "plus sized", apparently they're just women of a currently unpopular body type.

The fact that there is a governing cultural norm rather than the sheer practicality of size and dimensions when it comes to people's clothes is tragic and horrible and one can only hope this changes with time: the language of that NYT magazine, however, doesn't offer much hope.

Apparent self-acceptance,

Apparent self-acceptance, she added, may be a cover for defiance or resignation.

This is ridiculous. If you like being bigger, you're really just faking the like to hide how you truly feel about your fat? Are you kidding me?

Goodness.

Indeed

That line struck me too. It reminds me of penis envy.

an angry fat girl

The first thing that pissed me off about this article was the idea that designers were going to start designing clothes for us fat ladies that were outside the "ubiquitous track suit". Excuse me? I had no idea that once you hit a size 14 you were relegated to sweatsuits as your only clothing option (big gulp optional?)

"The glamorously curvy Jordin Sparks captivated viewers on “American Idol,” then moved on to a recording career. On Stylista, a reality show on the CW network last fall, a curvy contestant named Danielle competed for a job as a junior editor at Elle." Am I the only one who read this as; OH MY GOD THE FATTIES ARE EVERYWHERE. ONE CAN SING AND ONE IS ON REALITY TV. I mean really, am to believe that there is some sudden realization and acceptance of the fat women among us due to an american idol contestant?

I have said time and time again, it's not my size that I mine (i wear an 16-18 in most clothes) is that there is NOTHING stylish in my size, and if I have to shop at Lane Bryant one more time i'm going to lose my mind. Even many stores that DO carry larger sizes, it's very obvious that designers just don't give much thought to designing clothes for women with bodies like mine--I have no interest in wearing a floral caftan. I would DIE for a store like Fat Fancy near me.

I second that!

I'm so happy that a fat-positive movement even exists, but I'll never be able to feel comfortable to be a part of it simply because I regularly comment about how much I hate my body (and I really don't even know my size since I don't shop at anything but thrift stores, where clothes come in strange sizes--I hover between sizes 12-16, I think) and can't bring myself to be fat-positive. I'm petite-boned and I have a tummy, so I'm regularly asked if I'm "expecting," which (and I love a pregnant belly on any woman, so I mean no offense) just plain sucks. I'm waiting for clothes that fit me to show up on stores. If it fits on top, it doesn't on bottom, etc. Cheers to shopping in the thrift maternity section so that my size small or medium button-up tops don't pop buttons when I try and fit them over my round belly and then trying to convince random strangers that I'm not, in fact, preggers.

Bring FAT FANCY to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, I say!