Why Bustle's Fashion Editors Don't Talk About "Flattering" Outfits

Ad failed to load

The way we talk about clothing is changing. Consumers are leading the trend conversation more than brands. The market is slowly (slowwwwwly) becoming more size inclusive. And many people are starting to reject the idea that there are a certain set of rules about what you can wear depending on what your body looks like. But even with all that progress, one longtime, subtly fatphobic trope seems to remain, especially in mainstream media and advertising: The idea that the ultimate compliment you could give someone's outfit is that it "is so flattering" on the wearer.

Members of the fat positivity movement have been suggesting we all f*ck flattering for a while now; after all, the seemingly innocent phrase is generally just a euphemism for "that makes you look skinnier" or "that makes your body look like an hourglass shape, a.k.a the 'ideal' shape of a woman." At Bustle, we've always aimed to find more creative ways to talk about clothing, focusing instead on how an outfit is crafted or how it makes the wearer feel — in fact, this guideline has been a part of our fashion and beauty coverage since 2014.

But the word "flattering" is just one example of the harmful ways society has shamed our bodies under the guise of giving a compliment or advice. The six editors on Bustle's Fashion Team all grew up in different parts of the country, under different circumstances, in different bodies — and yet, we've found common ground in our experiences with the way we were taught to interact with clothing, and how we do so now

Ad failed to load

Here's why we're officially taking a stance against the word flattering and all those other ways society has tried to shame us out of wearing whatever the hell we want.

Amanda Richards, Fashion & Beauty Editor

Ashley Batz/Bustle
Ad failed to load

It feels like the word flattering has been following me around since I was a kid, an obnoxious presence whose judgmental whispers dictated what I should and shouldn't wear. I was chubby and quite tall when I was young, which meant that I was all but excluded from shopping in "normal" kid stores. Instead, I was forced to go to the young women's section in department stores from the age of seven or eight, beholden to the instructions of well-meaning department store employees.

"You don't want to wear horizontal stripes, honey," they'd say as they helped my desperate mother locate an outfit for school picture day. "You'll end up looking too thick around the middle."

As I got older, flattering was something I saw in fashion magazines, on television, and heard from friends. Group shopping trips would have made a great drinking game if I had been legally allowed to drink: Drink every time you hear the word flattering in any of its forms.

Ad failed to load

"Oh my god, that is so flattering on you," one friend would say. "Do you think this flatters my ass?" said another. "Ugh I am taking this off, it is way too unflattering."

And until recent adult years, the word remained. It wasn't long ago that literally every women's fashion publication was telling you how to flatter your figure, and it felt like every clothing advertisement did, too. For much of my 32-year-old life, flattering wasn't just a word, it was a directive: A requirement for dressing, and a non-negotiable outcome.

Luckily, things have changed. I hear the word less and less now, as many publications and clothing brands are making concerted efforts to make women feel less like sh*t than they ever have before. Dressing for yourself and only for yourself is an outcome of modern feminism, one unburdened by rigid ideas of what a body should look like or how a woman should dress.

Ad failed to load

And, unlike any of those other periods of life, I feel right at home in this new flattering-free environment, like it's where I (and we) were supposed to be all along. I wear what I want, styled how I want, despite the fact that yes, I am still thick in the middle. Before, I begrudgingly accepted that my entire wardrobe should center around the word: Now, I don't allow flattering into my brain, or within A 50-mile radius of my closet.

Gabrielle Prescod, Senior Fashion Market Editor

Ashley Batz/Bustle
Ad failed to load

Flattering is never a word that comes to mind when I’m putting together an outfit, nor has it ever really been a consideration of mine. I feel like building a sense of personal style is a trial-and-error thing. And there's no set time frame for it, either. With trends developing and evolving each season, I am constantly adding and getting rid of things in my wardrobe based on preference to my personal style.

I buy and wear things that I like and am drawn to, rather than things I “should buy” because they are “flattering." And yes, there are definitely pieces I have and outfits I put together that are traditionally considered to be “unflattering.” But dressing for anyone other than yourself is an unnecessary burden. It’s not realistic to dress in a way that everyone accepts. What you choose to wear should be your choice whether someone else thinks it looks good or not.

Olivia Muenter, Fashion & Beauty Editor

Ashley Batz/Bustle
Ad failed to load

I grew up believing that my body looked a way that it didn't. I can only say that (and truly believe it) now thanks to the kind of post-adolescence clarity that getting older brings. I flatly, completely believed that there were certain things I simply couldn't wear because I was too tall, or my hips were too wide in comparison to my chest. This was perpetuated by hours and hours of watching makeover shows, and the never-ending message that learning how to "work with your body shape" was paramount to dressing well.

The idea of wearing things I love and disregarding what the proportions of my body looked like in them was completely foreign to me, maybe even laughable. Buying things that were flattering was my only option as I saw it; it was my mission. Realizing that I could simply buy clothes that made me feel good (and therefore, look good to me regardless of what society says that means) was a revelation that took many, many years to sink in. Some days, I still find myself thinking about the proportions of my body and clothes as a puzzle — that one part has to fit the other, or it doesn't make sense. But for the most part, the freedom of simply wearing what makes me feel happy has been freeing, and what makes me feel my best.

Sara Tan, West Coast Fashion & Beauty Editor

Ashley Batz/Bustle
Ad failed to load

If I'm being completely honest, I never realized the word flattering was so problematic until I started working at Bustle.

Growing up, I was always the shortest and the roundest, and while my body would change a bit over the years, I ultimately only made it a couple inches over five feet with short legs, an even shorter torso, and a small chest. As a result, I would avoid wearing countless types of clothes and shoes because they "weren't meant for someone with my body type" — they were "unflattering," as magazines would call it. Magazines would also teach me that I should only wear hip-hugging, low-rise jeans, because high-waisted denim would shrink my already non-existent torso. I also remember reading that I should avoid baggy, oversized tops or sweaters like the plague as they would make me look like a child, just like wearing ballet flats or heels under three inches would.

As I grew older, I would eventually figure out that I could and should wear whatever the f*ck I wanted, Leandra Medine-style, so long as it made me feel good. It wasn't until a few years later, though, that I'd finally shake the word flattering from my vocabulary, thanks to my Bustle family.

Ad failed to load

At first, it was difficult — the word is actually everywhere — but the more I thought about it and the way flattering was and continues to be used, the angrier it made me. So many years wasted not wearing things I had always wanted to, because of one little word!

I know my experience isn't unique, but for those who are still bounded by made-up fashion flattery rules, listen up — life is too short to not wear those jeans or that dress or those boots. Forget what you were taught or what you read: Wear whatever you want because it empowers you and makes you feel confident. That's the only fashion "rule" you need to be following.

Katie Dupere, Associate Fashion & Beauty Editor

Ashley Batz/Bustle
Ad failed to load

I can’t talk about my style evolution without talking about what I wear underneath my clothing. That may sound strange, but stick with me. In my mid-teens, which is when I became sexually active, I started wearing lacy underwear and thongs that made me constantly uncomfortable. Truthfully, I was giving in to this idea that to be sexually appealing to partners, I had to wear Victoria’s Secret-esque undies. But about eight years later, as I moved into my mid-20s, I decided to completely overhaul my underwear wardrobe to only include garments with comfy fabrics, full coverage, and high waistlines.

My new undies collection is more pin-up girl than VS Angel, and I wouldn’t go back. When I contemplated changing my undergarment game, I did wrestle with the idea that future partners may not find my new undies sexy. But I ultimately decided that fear was a bullsh*t reason for not doing what I wanted to do. I deserve comfort, and I deserve to make my own decisions without “sexy standards” getting in the way. My new undies make me feel comfortable in my skin, which is what I believe sexiness is built on.

Plus, if anyone ever underwear-shames you, they probably don’t deserve to be seeing your underwear in the first place.

Ad failed to load

Kara McGrath, Deputy Fashion & Beauty Editor

Ashley Batz/Bustle

I have very specific memories of thinking that if I wasn't cinching my waist, I was doing clothes wrong. A lot of that definitely stemmed from a show that helped women realize what they should not wear, in which the host would frequently declare that the subject had "such a cute little waist!" they were apparently "hiding" from the world in all their so-called frumpy clothes. It instilled this bizarre idea in me that, because I had naturally developed to have an hourglass body shape, I owed it to everyone around me to belt my dresses or wear tight tank tops. Draping myself in oversized shirts would have been a public disservice, apparently.

Ad failed to load

It wasn't until well after college that I felt comfortable enough to completely abandon these ideas. I discovered I preferred dressing in outfits that fit less into the traditional idea of femininity, trading in my vintage-style dresses and low rise jeans for loose trousers and baggy button-downs.

Of course, the fact that this was my dilemma shows the immense amounts of privilege I had — and continue to have. My struggle with people who teased me for being naturally thin is nothing compared to the fatphobia many other people face on a daily basis. We should all have the same opportunity to discover the types of outfits that actually make us happy, rather than trying to follow arbitrary rules made by someone else. If everyone felt they had permission to think outside the flattering box, our OOTDs would become a lot more interesting.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Everything Leaving & Coming To Netflix In March, So You Can Plan Your Next Marathon Now

Even though the groundhog saw his shadow — forecasting six more weeks of winter — a nice spring thaw is already on everyone's minds. Fortunately, Netflix has things squared away for March. Whether you're ready to cozy up in front of a fire or get you…
By Sophy Ziss

11 Thoughts That Mean You’re Not As Happy With Your Partner As You Might Think

Even if your current dating situation seems to be going well — you're hanging out, having fun, having sex, etc. — it's still possible that you might not be happy with your partner, and thus not truly happy in your relationship. This can be a gut feel…
By Carolyn Steber

25 Book Recommendations From Your Favorite TV Characters

Although the two may seem like natural enemies, the truth is, television and reading are a match made in bibliophile heaven. Not only are some of the best shows based on or inspired by literature, but whenever you turn on the tube you can be sure to …
By Sadie Trombetta

It Took Heather Graham YEARS To Make A Movie About Women Ditching Toxic Men. The Reason? Men.

They say you should write what you know. But in Hollywood, that age-old advice apparently needs an addendum: Write what you know — as long as men are into it. And for actor and newly minted director/screenwriter Heather Graham — a woman who swam thro…
By Kelsea Stahler

Bustle Editors On CPAC + 'Making A Murderer'

Adulthood is, essentially, just waiting until the weekend hits — which is why I know we're all glad it's finally Friday. Whether your plans are to catch up on all the Netflix content that'll be leaving the platform at the end of February, a weekend g…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

7 Signs Your Energy Is Closed Off To Love, According To A Psychic

Finding love requires more than just the actions of going on dates or setting up an online dating profile. It also requires opening yourself up to love and giving off the vibe that you're open. You may not even realize it if you're energetically bloc…
By Suzannah Weiss

Target Just Launched A Gorgeous New Home Brand — And Most Pieces Are Under $30

Design lovers rejoice! Everyone's favorite store for pretty much everything is about to make all your daring decorating dreams come true. Today, Target's corporate blog issued a press release that provides a peek into Target's new homeware line, Opal…
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

17 Brilliant Ways To Support Parkland Survivors Wherever You Are

Following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, survivors are demanding Congress take action. A large group of students who survived the shooting are opposing politicians' "thoughts and prayers," arguing that inst…
By Sarah Beauchamp

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

How This Quadriplegic Beauty Lover Beat Cancer & Became A Professional Makeup Artist

In 2010, one day before she was supposed to start cosmetology school, Steph Aiello was involved in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down with limited ability to move her hands and one of her closest friends dead. She would spend the…
By Sara Tan

7 Common Marriage Rules That Aren't Good For Relationships

When it comes to marriage, everyone loves to give their two cents, and with all the warnings and advice floating around out there, no wonder people find marriage intimidating. Luckily, you don't always have to play by the rules, and there's some bad …
By Carina Wolff

The Infuriating Way Hollywood Movie Sets Are Designed To Make Life Harder For Women

Whitney Cummings is fed up — with the way Hollywood treats women, and in particular, the way the it treats female directors who have children. While the entertainment industry may be working hard to get more women behind the camera, Cummings wants to…
By Casey Cipriani

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale