To The Fat Women Dressing Boldly IRL

Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina

Beth Ditto was the first fat woman I ever saw in lycra. The year was 2007, and she was on tour as lead singer of The Gossip. She took to the stage in a skintight purple catsuit and totally punk rock jet black hair. I came across a photo of this momentous occasion while purchasing some popcorn at the local grocery store. There was Ditto — each one of her rolls unconcealed beneath the garment — in a tabloid magazine chastising her for such an "unflattering" sartorial choice. Personally, I was mesmerized.

I had never known a fat woman to dress so loudly. So unapologetically. The silhouette and rolls of my own fat figure were consistently covered beneath tarp-y dresses, flowing tunics, and baggy denim. The same was true of my fellow fats in school, of the fat moms I knew, of the fat grandmas and teachers and nurses and bank tellers who'd all come into my life, however briefly.

Pre-2012 or so, the lack of plus size clothing options available to us was undeniable. Cultural messaging that conditioned people of size to believe they must hide or shrink or otherwise change was, too. For whatever the reason, though, I just never came across fat babes in jaw-dropping, rad outfits. Online, plus size women I've since discovered have been taking risks and dressing boldly for years. But IRL? Not so much.

Until recently, that is.

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A quick trip to the grocery store last month presented me with a fat girl in a vintage-like, babydoll-neck bodycon: It was leopard print and subsequently in-your-face. It was incredible.

At the club a few weeks back, a friend of mine sported one of the shortest dresses I've ever come across. Her thigh gap-less legs were decorated in red fishnet tights. Her jacket was made of silk; its collar feathery. Her boots had fiery lightning bolts on them, metaphorical for the fiery vibe she was radiating.

Just the other day, I met a fat queen in some of the most handsome plus size garments my eyes have had the pleasure of gazing in my 25 years. She looked fearlessly butch. Like she was feeling herself, because why the hell shouldn't she be?

When I took my baby to the doctor last week, I met an older fat in — I kid not — a green sequined skirt and zebra-print jumper. Wow. Just wow.

And as I walked down the main road of my town last night wearing a gold metallic dress, pink faux fur coat, and lace-up knee-highs all the while pushing a baby stroller, I locked eyes with a fellow fat mama. Both she and her kid were in sparkly rainbow jackets. It was magic.

Every time I see a fat woman dressed in an ensemble that demands to be seen, I wonder how a younger version of myself would have reacted had I seen them then. What lessons would that fat babe giving zero shits about sociocultural body shaming have instilled in me? Would the budding fashion enthusiast — the one I insisted on ignoring — have felt freer to be herself?

It can sometimes be easy to trivialize fashion and beauty: To claim that there are more important things to be worrying about in this world than how those floral trousers look with that cropped coat. Maybe that's true. But maybe fashion and beauty can be game-changers. Maybe the refusal to eschew pretty clothes simply because of one's size can alter the way someone else feels about their body's relationship to pretty clothes. Maybe seeing these fat women in day-to-day life will cheer up the chubby little girl who's being teased in school. Or the aspiring designer who doesn't think the industry has a place for her because of her weight. Or people like me, who grew up never seeing fat women in amazing clothes but wishing they did; wishing they were dressed in amazing clothes, too.

I do not doubt that the fat women of the internet are greatly responsible for the tangible shift observable in "real" life. Plus size women are the reason plus size fashion is better than ever. Thanks to the bloggers and activists wearing all manner of OTT ensembles, photographing themselves in those ensembles, cultivating massive fan bases, urging brands to expand their size ranges, fighting for more clothing options at every price point and in every style aesthetic, and refusing to airbrush their cellulite or muffin tops or bingo wings, the industry has taken notice. Designers have taken notice. And day-to-day plus size women have clearly taken notice.

I'm definitely one of these women. I spend much of my time blogging and Instagramming and otherwise frequenting fat positive spaces on the web, but the courage to take my bold ensembles from social media to the streets has come largely from fatshion bloggers. To them, I say thank you.

But it's also come from the everyday gals. From the ones who aren't wearing the neon leggings or dalmatian-print cape predominantly for the internet — but quietly for themselves. And maybe for those who see them; who stop in their tracks because, "Look at that fat girl!" Look at that fat girl living her life so authentically. Look at that fat girl who has no time for your antiquated plus size fashion "rules." Look at that fat girl who isn't paying any mind to the bullies. Look at that fat girl turning every "you can't do/wear/be this" into a solid, irrevocable "yes I can."

So to the everyday gals — the ones who won't be getting any likes or re-tweets or follows — I give my deepest, most genuine gratitude. It is not easy to dress in such a way that you know will likely lead to shaming. It is not easy to exist in a body that will automatically make you the target of harassment. It is not easy to have green hair or wear a floor-length velvet gown just for the hell of it when you are already so simultaneously visible and invisible. But y'all are doing it anyway. And every time I see you, I want to run up to you, take you into my arms, and kiss your round cheeks.

A younger version of myself would have definitely been floored at the sight of you. Perhaps she would've felt brave enough to design her own rad outfits because of you. Perhaps things would've been different for her.

But better late than never, right? I know that, because of you, many lives have the potential to be better. Much self-love has the potential to be found. You certainly remind me to check in with myself: To love the body I'm in, to wear what I want to wear, and to be the fat girl everyone looks at in the cereal box aisle because of it.