As a person who is visibly fat on the Internet, I experience fat shaming, harassment, and bullying on a near daily basis, and it's this fact that has encouraged me to wear fat positive T-shirts for a week. Fat shaming comments can range from the downright hilarious to the darkest forms of hate, but these days, they're often more prominent online than IRL.
While I can brush off the majority of these comments or allow them to be the inspiration for my designs and writing, online bullying and harassment are serious problems. People who are unhappy with their own bodies often seem to feel this need to attack those of others who have decided to be happy with theirs. When we break the rules of self-loathing that our society prescribes to us, we become targets. The concept is called "body currency," which you can learn more about via the ever-so-brilliant Jes Baker in Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls .
Inspired by my daily experiences with online fat shaming, I wanted to try to challenge these rules in person. As a fat positive designer, I understand fashion as a means to personal empowerment and a way to challenge social norms. So I gathered up some of the best and boldest fat positive tees around and I set out to see if people would be as bold in person as they are when sitting behind their computer screens.
Day 1: Fattitude
Fattitude V-Neck Tee, $28, redressnyc.com
I started out my week of fat positive tees with the ever-so-adorable Fattitude top from Re/Dress. I love that it's a V-neck and was made up to a size 5X. Trust me, that's difficult to find. The design is beyond clever and totally unapologetic.
I wore this tee all day around my town with my hair down and no makeup on. I ventured to the post office, out to eat, and ran a bunch of errands. Although people stared at me, no one said a damn word. And I felt comfortable.
Day 2: I'm Morbidly Obsessed With Myself
I'm Morbidly Obsessed With Myself Plus Size Tee, $25, readytostare.com
I designed this top as a direct response to health concern trolls who love to tell me that I'm morbidly obese, and therefore unhealthy. The simple truth? You can't tell someone's health by looking at them. There are healthy fat people out there as well as unhealthy skinny people.
Wearing this tee lent itself to the most stares I would receive all week. But again, no comments from strangers. I did run into someone who recognized me from Instagram. She complimented the tee, which was pretty cool. My mom also told me that she liked it, but that she wished the illustration featured a woman with "less lumpy and bumpy." I explained to my mom that this illustration was intentional. By only showcasing plus size women with hourglass figures, flat stomachs, and zero rolls, we are continuing to perpetuate the idea of "acceptable fatness." This tee was a challenge to that, and I felt like a bad bitch all day.
Day 3: I Love My Rolls
I Love My Rolls V-Neck, $24, femininefunk.com
I love how darn sweet-looking this tee is with the message of self-love and body acceptance is. Two sushi rolls holding hands in a heart? It doesn't get much cuter than that. But what I loved most about this tee was that when I put it on, it showed my rolls.
I spent the afternoon visiting my aunt. I then wore this tee out to dinner, to the movies, and all around her small suburban town. Once again, I did not hear a peep from anyone about this shirt or my rolls. I can only hope that people got the message: I love my rolls because my rolls are a part of my body, and I love my body.
Day 4: Thick Chick
Thick Chick Crop Top, $28.50, etsy.com/shop/candystrike
The cut of the Thick Chick crop top from Candy Strike is so good. It's scooped and oversized. I am not someone who often refers to myself as "thick," but I always like to experiment with things that might be outside my own terminology comfort zones. I think it's important to take ownership of all the words that others may use to describe our bodies, so that we have the power over what those words mean to us.
This shirt got a ton of compliments from my family members. Even though it was a crop top, stares were somewhat minimal. I felt adorable all day.
Day 5: Diet Industry Dropout
Diet Industry Dropout Tee, $25, chubbycartwheels.com
This tee and the Chubby Cartwheels model who wore it were subjected to the awful fat shaming group Project Harpoon that Photoshopped images of confident fat women to look thinner. This tee caused someone to do something so hateful online that I wanted to see if the response in person would be the same.
I styled myself on this day as though I was straight out of a Chubby Cartwheels lookbook (a reality I certainly wouldn't mind). This tee makes a bold statement about diet culture, which I adore. I went to my studio, the post office, and even ate fast food in this tee. No one said a word except for my best friend, who made fun of my furry buns. I felt like a badass.
Day 6: No, Honey. You're Thinner Than Me, Not Prettier
No, Honey. Tee, $30+, focapparel.storenvy.com
I remember when I first saw this phrase on a meme. I was like "YESSSSSSS" with a million exclamation marks. Flaws Of Couture is known for designs that challenge the idea that we can't be both fat and pretty, and that it is only thinness that equates to beauty. This tee is a social media clap-back on a T-shirt, and I am into it.
When I got this tee, I was surprised to learn that the design was printed on an almost sports jersey-like material. I felt like I had to style myself all the way up for this one, so I added a few bold accessories. I then went about my day. Surprise, surprise: No one said anything to me, and I felt sexy.
Day 7: Thick Thighs Save Lives
Thick Thighs Save Lives, $30, teesinthetrap.com
This shirt from pop culture tee shop Tees In The Trap is all about that thick thigh pride. As the holes in my leggings will tell you, my thighs are oh-so-thick.
As you may have already guessed, no one said anything to me all day. My mom did, however, ask me how thick thighs save lives. I proceeded to tell her that loving yourself and your thick thighs can be live-saving, and she seemed pretty content with that response. I felt truly strong all day.
Fat & Thriving, $25, readytostare.com
My best friend knew I was doing this experiment. In a show of solidarity (and without even asking or telling me), she wore this Fat & Thriving tee all day. The best part is the comment that her dad gave when he saw it: "I think I need one that says 'Old And Surviving.'" LOL is my only response.
So How Do People React To Fat Positivity IRL?
I'm not surprised at all that humans are more emboldened when behind their computer screens. If there's anything this experiment solidified for me, it's that it's clearly much harder to deny someone's humanity when they are standing in front of your face.
Considering that every once in a while, people feel the need to yell mean things at me from their car windows, I expected to receive some form of that harassment during the week. But what I found out is that I am far more likely to get fat shamed in public for wearing a crop top or short shorts than a T-shirt with a fat positive saying on it.
I ended my week feeling that T-shirts such as these are incredibly important. The people who stared, well, I hopefully also made them think. By wearing my politics on my sleeve all week, I feel like I was forcing those who caught a glimpse to question their own ideas of beauty and acceptable bodies. For now, continuing to try to change people's minds through fashion is definitely going to be on my priority list.
Images: Alysse Dalessandro