The Fat Dollar, Beth Ditto and hipsters: oh my

Around 10 years ago, the first hipsters (as we now know them) dragged themselves out of the post-grunge ooze. As a borderline Gen X/Yer I saw it happen – on the internet. Being interested in identity and styling, I observed the unfolding and blossoming of the iPod clutching, skinny jeans wearing individuals who were far more rooted in Gen Y entitlement than I. I remember not having a CD player, and how we’d go without music for months at a time because Dad refused to buy a new needle for our record player because we were “too rough” with it when we played his albums. I still don’t have an iPod, however Nick purchased his first just last month. I was an observer of hipster culture because I was fat, and I was not considered part of the demographic, because I was just this much <—> too fat to fit into straight sizing. My styling was heavily influenced by riot grrl bands and tough girls, so I sourced clothing from op shops and made a lot myself.

At about the same time (2001) I started getting involved in Fat Acceptance (FA) – also online. In Australia the movement would be non-existent until years later (does it exist yet? I know of a few bloggers and one academic – is that it?!) I used message boards with an ex-boyfriend, but the attitude towards fat was mostly to fetishise it, something I wasn’t entirely comfortable with. I am probably what people call a prude. Nevertheless, the idea that a group existed that didn’t completely reject fat people or negate their feelings or rights as human beings; well, it made me want to be a part of it. Time ticked on, Torrid broke up with its slender goth best friend Hot Topic, and I found more online communities that dealt with fat in revolutionary, even controversial, ways.

One was an ironic take on ratings communities (which I won’t name here) that was as shrill and biting as the communities it sought to mock – in fact many applicants even to this day consider the application process to be completely serious. Despite whatever reputation it developed, I found many friends there who I have kept to this day; we’ve actually bonded on lots of different levels – humour, fashion, creativity, etc. The next community I found was Fatshionista – which was challenging, frustrating and eye-opening; I’m still adjusting my consciousness due to its influence on me even though I’ve been wading around in it for about four years. I knew fashion was political, but I didn’t know just how political. I learnt about my own white privilege, as well as my own looks privilege and all the other privileges I have access to. In the beginning, I just wanted to talk about fashion; I had no idea just how deep the issues ran.

[img_assist|nid=16|title=What I wore today - 02/07/09|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=267|height=360]As a result, I style myself with incredible awareness these days. I mostly source my clothing from overseas because Australia’s plus size clothing is ridiculously awful. I refuse to believe that my Fat Dollar is only good for buying weight loss snake oil so instead I send my Fat Australian Dollars to the UK and the US where I can find clothing to style myself in the manner that I like. Sure, it sucks not being able to go into a brick and mortar store and buy up anything I like, but I appreciate how much extra consideration I give to styling my identity when I have to consider currency exchange, international sizing and shipping.

When one of the FA movement’s poster girls, Beth Ditto, announced that she’d be collaborating with Evans (a UK plus size clothing store) it sent many fatties into a tizzy. Yeah, I was one of them. Ditto gets a lot of shit; I think it’s due to hipster backlash, just quietly, but I respect her Spanx-exposing hijinx because I am that prudish fat girl. A woman does not have to be ladylike, nor does she have to be well behaved – and that assumption of ladylikeness seems to not only to extend to fat women, but to smother them. I struggle with my femininity and what’s expected of me but when I observe explicit directions for fat women to dress or behave a certain way – it makes me even more uncomfortable. I am not a woman who likes to be told what she can or cannot look like.

[img_assist|nid=17|title=Beth Ditto for Evans|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=376|height=240]I don’t know what makes me classify Beth Ditto as a hipster – I feel a lot of irony in her waters. The collection reclaims some of the awful body hiding plus size fashions of the 80s but everything is just drawn a lot… tighter. Via Twitter and Fatshionista, I’ve heard that many with Fat Dollars to spend aren’t impressed with the collection, and maybe it’s because there is too much painful irony for them. This post-modern irony has all the hallmarks of the vanguard of hipster styling, and now fat people have access to it (well, fat people who like femme clothes). What I think Ditto and Evans are doing for plus sized fashion is interesting – they’re bringing it out of the doldrums, and creating styling options that may not make fat people as ashamed to duck off into a store where they can find clothes to fit them. I don’t know about you, but I certainly know that a younger me used to endure shopping excursions with friends, putting up with shop after shop of straight sizing and hanger-flicking because I wasn’t bold enough to say “LET’S GO SHOP WHERE I CAN DRESS MY FAT SELF”. In a few years, marketers and retailers might just have that lightbulb moment when they realise they might make more money manufacturing consumable clothes for fat people rather than bombarding them with unhealthy weight loss methods. After all, our prudish standards of decency dictate that we need to be clothed. All of us.

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  • Tiffany

    This was lovely, Natalie. Looking forward to reading more1

  • definatalie

    Thanks Tiffany!

  • Frances

    (does it exist yet? I know of a few bloggers and one academic – is that it?!)

    We have an academic…?

    I too was introduced to FA by my boyfriend (who's still around!) through the fat fetish websites. I really liked them – I still occasionally visit them – and they were a part of my eventual acceptance of my weight. I spent my childhood and my adolescence convinced that I was unattractive. As taboo as this is to admit in the fatosphere, it was a huuuuuuge revelation to find that people not only thought I was sexy, but preferred my fat self.

    But then, no part of me is prudish. What's the opposite of prude? Dirty…? Because I'm pretty much the opposite. :)

  • definatalie

    Lily O'Hara is up on the Sunshine Coast at the university there! She met with my personal trainer and they had a great discussion about how new HAES is to Australia :D

    I think that it's silly to deny that people find out about FA through the fetish communities!

  • Frances

    Oh, I read her piece on ABC Unleashed! But then I got frustrated by all the comments and didn't look into where she was from.

  • MargB

    I was so, so excited when I read Beth Ditto describing her leggings as being designed with extra fabric at the top, enough to actually cover our stomachs and hips. So I ordered a couple of pairs from the UK. They arrived last night and I sent them back this morning.

    Yes, there IS extra fabric height at the top but the leggings are decidedly narrow around the thighs and hips making them totally unsuitable for the more pear-shaped amongst us. If you are tempted to buy them, I recommend going up an extra size or two – they may work or more top-heavy girls.

    The other thing is that I found the fabric to be of rather average quality.

    So while I was rather excited initially to read about Ditto's range, for me it was a disappointing experience. I didn't expect her leggings to be more skimpy than those sold at Target.

  • Margo

    I related to so much of this; as a fatso teen in New Zealand I had to shop at Farmers and the Warehouse, and I remember many a hangar-flicking trip with my girl crew into cool stores where I didn't get to exist.

  • KateJ

    The Unleashed commenters can get pretty nasty – my partner just published a piece about fat issues there (…) and there was some serious vitriol, which he's been responding to in a pretty feisty way. I missed Lily's article last year, good to read it now.
    And congrats on the site, Natalie, it's great. I came over from fatshionista (posting as gobitrio there).

  • ErinAree

    I know this is an old blog, but can I just tell you how much I empathised with your story of hangar flicking in stores because friends were JUST NEVER AWARE of the fact that I couldn't fit into their teeny tiny clothes. *sigh* I'll be looking at a lot more overseas online stores now, after seeing you rocking chikas!

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