Friday, May 1, 2009

Suffer for Fashion, or Whatever

Dear No One in Particular,

I really wanted to write up a couple of happy and upbeat entries (especially given that I vanished for a week, leaving a screechy post raging at society to "leave Susan Boyle alone!") before I slipped into my ranting pants again, but alas, I can not hide my true, rage-filled colours.
Apparently, disposable clothing chain Forever 21 is launching their new "plus-size" line, Faith 21, tomorrow. Normally, I would be all over this like Whitney Houston on a crack pipe, but everything I've been reading about this launch is making my scalp crawl.

CNN recently published an article about Faith 21 and the fashion industry's "stretch" to produce plus-size clothing. First of all, I'm a little weirded out by the fact that CNN is reporting on the goings-on of Forever 21 -- was it an exceptionally slow news day? Totally off topic, but it's a little jarring. Second of all, can we address the fact that F21 felt the need to produce a sister line? What's wrong with simply adding larger sizes to the existing stock? Having a separate line featuring separate clothing that will no doubt be shoved into a corner of the store isn't empowering for bigger girls, it's shaming them. And we all know that what full-figured ladies need is to feel more shame about their size, especially when they're teenagers.

Which brings me to what I think may be the most hateful quote I've read in a while:
"However, when you look at the human cost, what we're doing is we're on the Titanic and rather than forcing our children into the lifeboat, we're telling them to join the band. Worrying about fashion rather than worrying about the food is a horrible message that we're sending these kids," -- MeMe Roth, president of the organization National Action Against Obesity.
First of all -- and I don't say this often, since it's wholly unhelpful and dismissive -- STFU, MeMe. You know not what you speak, although it is painfully obvious you speak out of your ass. Catering to women of a larger size is not "worrying about fashion" it is clothing the masses -- literally, given that the average woman is a "plus-size" 14.

Hatefilled, deeply disturbed people like MeMe* and willfully ignorant high-end designers like Miuccia Prada continue to ignore the fact that the average American woman is considered "plus-size" in hopes of shaming them into a more slender shape. Refusing to clothe them is not a solution, just as holding up a size 00 as the ideal will not inspire them to "put the food away" and hit the gym. It will, however, inspire more disordered eating -- both of the anorexic/bulimic variety and of the overeating+depression variety. Either way, people aren't going to be healthier, nor are they going to have anything to wear.

Plus, newsflash, people: if shame could actually make people thin, there would be no fat people to hate on. Get a fucking hobby that doesn't involve passing vitriolic judgment on others. I hear knitting is very "in".

Moreover, while actually catering to the majority of women is commendable, it does not make you a saint. It makes you a sensible business owner. I know I will catch a lot of flack for this, but just as I despise the pervasive fat hatred (for lack of a better term), I don't understand the suffering stance so many are taking when they actually provide clothing over a size L/size 10. Just as the Roths and Pradas and Lagerfelds of the world need to cry themselves a river, build a bridge and get the fuck over it already, I feel that those who deign to cut a larger swatch of fabric are just as obnoxious. Again, you're drumming up further business, not sacrificing yourself for the good of the fashion industry. Now stand up straight: that martyr pose only further reveals your judgement.

I guess this can be interpreted as though I am damning the fashion industry for both ignoring AND supplying, but I'm really not. There is a difference between saying "We recognise that women come in all shapes and sizes and we're going to do our best to provide them with fashionable clothing options" and "Aren't we sooooo brave and wonderful for daring to venture into the double digits?! PRAISE US." I just don't buy into this "A for Effort" nonsense that's being awarded to designers and companies that actually dress the average woman. Especially when, as in the case of Faith 21, the sizes really aren't that inclusive: Faith 21 carries XL and XXL. This, coupled with parent F21's tendency to size smaller makes the whole exercise feel, like, well, an exercise and not so much a valid foray into offering plus-sized options.

I think there can be a happy, healthy middle ground where women and fashion can meet and discuss the new trends for the summer season. However, that middle ground rests on society's ability to recognise that women run the sizing gamut -- from a slender size 00 to a voluptuous size 30 -- and all deserve to have options. Beautiful, fashionable, flattering options that cater to the beautiful, fashionable, incredible woman wearing the clothes. We're just not there yet.


*Based on this article -- which is HIGHLY inflammatory, and will cause you to headdesk repeatedly -- I think it's safe to say Roth has some serious psychological issues with regards to food. I genuinely hope she gets some help.


Manda said...

Wow. What an amazing, unexpected post. I don't think you should be explaining your ranting - you have great critical analysis. I would be proud.

I wholeheartedly agree that nobody should be congratulated for making available clothing that fits people. It's about supply, demand and profit, not the 'social conscience' of a designer or company.

Oh, by the way, the term a lot of feminist writers use is 'fat-phobic'. I think we can honestly say we live in a fat-phobic world and I think that it is painfully obvious in every TV programme, movie, in the fashion and beauty industry and funnily enough, childrens TV and books. Often the evil villain is fat or large. Way to socialise our children to hate fat people.

Sorry for such a long comment. Keep writing challenging stuff that makes us think!

mighty jo said...

nice rant. thumbs up! very articulate & compassionate. i really don't know what else to say.

celebrate diversity!

Vanessa said...

I agree, and this is a great post. I know I'm a little excited at the idea of Faith 21, but I can understand the simultaneous concerns. First of all, I am not "plus-sized" in the sense that I usually would fit into a large at F21, but the slightly bigger sizes may provide more options if I want a little fast-fashion fix. On the other hand, I do see the sense in the argument that they could have just added the new sizes to the regular clothing instead of making a separate line-- more "us vs them" bullshit. Also, when you mentioned that maybe Faith 21 will just be some racks shoved in a corner... well, I didn't think of that, but that's very possible and, well, sad. I really have a lot of problems with the fashion industry and how they treat women who WOULD buy their clothing if they could fit into it. I subscribe to the belief that "Weightism" is one of the last widely accepted forms of discrimination out there.

I don't want to rant for 5.5 years on your comments, but I really thought this was great, and if I ever encounter MeMe I will deck her in the face.

Diana said...

i had no idea this was going on. who needs the news, when i have you!
i get so riled up reading your posts but in a great-i-want-to-save-the-world-or-attempt-to sort of way. as a plus size girl (woman) i refuse to shop the plus size stores knowing that if i go home, that elastic in those sweat pants i have at home will wear out soon. this is not encouraging what f21 is doing!

amanda said...

@all: You guys are great! I truly love reading your comments -- long, short, something in between -- because they shed new light on the topic. Thanks so much for your wonderful, thoughtful insights.

@Manda: "Fat-phobic" -- yes! That was the word I was reaching for, but couldn't remember.

@Diana: I'm not "plus-size" per se, since I'm smaller than the average 14, but I subscribe to the Stacy and Clinton school of thought: dress for the size you are, not the size you want. Dress size is simply an arbitrary number, not a reflection of the person wearing the garment.

@Vanessa: Your last line made me laugh out loud!

The Clothes Horse said...

That is crazy that they feel the need to add a separate line. Also, MeMe Roth sounds crazy! There's plenty of healthy weights that don't fit into "average" clothes and regardless, fashion shouldn't be size-ist. Are we going to deny cheap clothes to people undersized as well? Those lifestyles are just as bad!
P.S. The rock wall is along a path by our creek--the path tehre is several feet below street level, so it's a barrier sort of thing...if that's hard for me to explain.

ana b. said...

My reaction to "Faith" 21 was exactly like yours. As in - why segregate actual normal sizes into a completely different line when I look around me everyday and people are that size? It seemed laughable. And "Faith"?! Hahahaha. Only Jesus can save "fat" people now.

And Miuccia - god love her and her clothes - but really - it's not as if she's the skinniest stick in the sea of humanity.

Unfortunately these ideals won't change until the social construction of what being beautiful is about changes. And we all know what a quagmire that process is!

Vanessa said...

Long story short, I was trying to see if anyone online had publicly agreed with me yet that the brunette they chose as a Faith 21 model is quite unattractive (I'm a bad person, I know), I found myself reading some comments on another blog post about this line and someone said:

"I was so excited about this when I first heard as well but has anyone looked at there size charts?
The XL is a 11/12 the 1X is a 13/14 and the 2X is 15/16. That is great for the people that will work for, but realistically that is where most clothes go up to everywhere. SOOO disappointed"

So I suppose even if these clothes are big in comparison to tiny Forever 21 stuff, they're not actually that "plus size." Sigh.

(my word verification is "hamincat." I laughed).

amanda said...

@Vanessa: That is what irks me the most about Faith21 -- it's not at all plus-sized! It's simply a more sizes than the parent F21 offers. Plus-sized clothing encompasses not only a much broader range of sizes than what Faith 21 is offering, but the cut of the garment itself is much different. It's like offering size XXS and calling it "petite" sizing -- not the same!
Moreover, it's only available in a handful of stores. All around, F21 dropped the ball.

Oh, and I agree that the brunette is not that pretty. The blonde, however, has wonderful bone structure.

@The Clothes Horse: Exactly, but the difference is that the very unhealthy lifestyle of the dangerously undersized is glamourized and held up as the ideal to which all women should aspire, while women who may be carrying a few extra pounds are spit at and called "cow".
Ohhhh, your explanation of the rock wall make perfect sense now! I was wondering why they would have a huge container of rocks; now I see they don't!

@ana b.: Yes to the name! It's like they're saying "have a little faith, and maybe you, too can fit into our ridiculously undersized clothes!" This whole thing stinks of them sneering at women.
Miuccia's such a hypocrite. She won't design above a size 10, yet I doubt she can fit into her own designs! She's shooting herself in the foot.

Diana said...

i had an ambush giveaway and you won!

Diana said...

i forgot to tell you this and this was actually in my notepad :P

anything above a size 10 here in california is considered plus size. i can do an 11/12, 10 on a good day, but there are no stores here carry above 10 that isn't stamped with "PLUS". grrr.