Fuck “Flattering”: This Whole Body Positivity Thing Is Bullshit

F***FlatteringBigger

By Mariah Stovall

Apparently Beautiful, Fashionable Women Come In All Different Sizes, Not Shapes.

The “Weighty Matters” tag on Jezebel recently sparked my interest in body positivity. But the last time I went on a WM binge—and I’m particularly interested in how fashion ties into all of this (I read all the articles about how the fashion industry needs to stop ignoring the plus-size market), I realized something: As long as the word “flattering” is around, the whole body positivity thing is bullshit. Because doesn’t “unflattering” kind of just mean fat? 

I read all the articles, comments and blog posts about how plus-sized women want to wear cute clothes, sexy clothes, revealing clothes, trendy clothes and flattering clothes. Well if every body is inherently beautiful (or at least acceptable) then how can anything be flattering?

For me, it quickly became clear: the kind of flattering we’re talking about is relatively universal, and the intersection of the body positivity and the impending plus-size fashion revolution isn’t about celebrating bodies outside of the industry/culture’s standard 34-23-23 (or whatever they are) measurements. It’s about taking the ratios of those measurements, the look we’ve all come to call proportional, hourglass, curvy in all the right places, et cetera, and pushing all body types towards it.
Flattering isn’t about a single size, but it is about a single shape. And whether they’re doing it intentionally or not, the bloggers, models and whoever else behind all of this are simply making this ideal attainable for their sizes without really changing the standard of beauty in terms of what shapes of bodies are deemed, stylish, attractive, beautiful, and whatever else.

The shape in question is an hourglass one. I’ll define it for the sake of my argument as: chest and hips roughly equal, but larger than the waist (that’s around 34-23-34 for a model and around 41-35-46 for a plus-size model), and of course long legs to make whatever amount of weight you’re carrying to look evenly distributed.

Flattering should be a highly subjective and individually defined term for clothes that are pleasing or complementary to the person wearing them, but we’ve got a pretty deep-seated cultural norm that tells us exactly what a pleasing body looks like and how to complement it. The hourglass standard leaves women very little wiggle room in terms of what they’re likely consider flattering on themselves and each other, which leaves body positivity in a pretty tricky spot.

One of the articles with which I have a bone to pick is one I was linked to somewhere in the depths of the WM tag. It’s “Listen Up, Fashion Companies: Plus-Size Women Are Literally Just Waiting to Give You Our Money,” by Veronica for xoJane. And the woman writing it is quick to use the f-word:

“We know the drill — curvy girl wants to look cute, curvy girl can’t find anything that fits or is flattering, curvy girl complains on the interwebs, and her curvy superfriends are all, ‘Omg, me too!’ Rinse, repeat a month later.”

I can guess what she means by flattering. And the word is used in a way that makes it synonymous with clothes that are cute and clothes that fit, so that flattering sounds ideal. Which makes sense, because it is so largely tied to an ideal — the hourglass one. But if we’re so unconditionally body positive then why do we need flattering clothes so badly?

Straight from the WM tag on Jezebel, Anna Breslaw’s “Young Women Using Social Media to Normalize And Demand More Plus-Size Options” has this to say:

“For years, adult-skewed women’s magazines had unchanged advice for larger women: steer away from horizontal stripes and fitted clothing in order to achieve the illusion of slimness, et cetera.”

This writer seems to be in conflict with the lady over at xoJane, who is all about flattering clothes. Ms. Breslaw is calling out people who think you shouldn’t put a plus-size woman in vertical stripes rather than horizontal ones (to draw the eye up instead of across), while Veronica is fiending for flattering clothing. But I don’t think these womyn are really in opposition. Breslaw writes:

“Torrid, Hot Topic’s plus-size line, recently introduced skinny jeans to their stock and did away with Mr. Pinkerton, a canine mascot on their website that patronizingly advised customers which fashion choices were advised.”

But she is then excited that “companies are finally recognizing that there are more body types within “plus-size” to cater to. Eloquil [sic], a brand owned by The Limited, features five distinct body types to choose from: diamond, teardrop, heart, infinity and emerald.”

On the now defunct Eloquii’s website, the “Shape My Style” tool was a feature that let you select which shape best reflects your body, and proceeds to give you what to wear tips like “Flatter the hips with a-line skirts, plus knee length maxi dresses,” “Accentuate the bust area with ruffles, pleating or extra details,” “Define the waist with belts, empire lines and wrap dresses” and “Elongate the legs with boot-cut, wide leg or flared pants and jeans.” So should there be advice out there on which clothes are flattering or not?

And then there’s the fatkini. This was a big deal — finally a stylish bikini option for plus-size women. It was such a big deal that it quickly sold out in its trendiest galaxy pattern. Months later, I decided to look at the actual site on which it is sold.

Do you know what was weird? In most of the pictures I’d seen previously and when I looked at the actual product page, the bikinis shown are highwaisted. Yes, I know that’s what’s in right now (I personally don’t understand why you would wear anything that isn’t highwaisted). But I also know that highwaisted clothing makes your legs look longer and your butt look better…and that they confine your midsection to fabric, keeping everything in and producing an effect that I’d call slimming.

The description of one of the fatkinis boasts the following features: “Convertible bikini with 6 styling options: bandeau, halter, high waist, standard brief, banded low waist, and skirt,” plus a sweetheart neckline to enhance, of course, the bust (because it’s one of the most conventionally appealing feature of some plus-size women). High waist is the first option listed for the bikini bottom, and the low waist option is banded (and not all that low), maybe because that’s the designer’s aesthetic or maybe because it gives you a little extra bikini to hide your body behind. This suit sounds tailored to helping you inch closer to that hourglass ideal.

I also read the reviews for the fatkinis. First of all, none of the average ratings that I saw were above three stars. One the one hand, why were people so enamored with an average or less than average product? On the other hand, I understand it really is the best and first of its kind and that you have to start somewhere. But the weirdest thing about it is that almost all of the reviews say to order a size down. I think the fatkinis are vanity sized…Why didn’t anyone discuss this (I know we have a real lack of standardization of clothing sizes but still)? Regardless, the fatkini flatters. And so do most fashion finds celebrated by plus-size women and their advocates.

In another WM article, “Kate Upton Is Now Considered ‘Fat,’” Jenna Saunders thinks some other internet ladies are insane for calling Kate Upton fat. Which is fine. But Sauers says:

“A popular pro-ana — excuse me, “pro-skinny” — site called SkinnyGossip is being roundly criticized for writing a hate-post directed at Kate Upton. Alongside some semi-unflattering pictures of Upton…the anonymous blogger wrote that Upton “lumbered” down the runway ‘like there’s a buffet at the end of it.’…Say what?”

Regardless of the validity of what SkinnyGossip has to say, Sauers clearly contextualizes their comments and her reaction to them with the appearance of “semi-unflattering pictures of Upton.” And we know that semi-unflattering means semi-fat, or unshapely.

So Kate Upton has a great body (and so does everyone else) except for when it’s seen from an angle that makes it look fat…so then bodies that always look fat aren’t so great are they? Even if one were to argue that Sauers meant unflattering for Upton, why does it matter if the model looks her thinnest or thin at all? Because I’d bet that if Upton were to gain weight and semi-unflattering appearance she has in the photos became her normal appearance, Sauers wouldn’t dare shame the model for gaining weight.

Moving on to models who are actually plus-size, if you aren’t familiar with them, do a quick Google image search of April Flores (NSFW), Crystal Renn, Alyona Osmanova (add plus size after her name, she’s gained weight since the beginning of her career), Sabina Karlsson, Robyn Lawley, Ashley Graham, Marquita Pring, Leah Kelley and Tocarra from ANTM (duh). Of course plus-size clothing in the fashion industry doesn’t look the same as plus-size clothing in the mall (or not in the mall since there’s so few non-online shopping options for the average size woman). And models of all sizes look different from average women. Either way, these plus-size models look like hourglasses.

Models will always be prettier (I’m pumped for when we’re face positive and we can’t call anyone uglier or prettier than anyone else) than most people and have “better” bodies. Still, it seems that plus-size women want the same chance to aspire, albeit more realistically for them, to the same culturally constructed ideal of female beauty.

Taking a step closer toward what’s realistic for plus size women who aren’t models, there’s bloggers. There are tons of fashion blogs, and there’s also tons of plus-size fashion blogs like Gabi Fresh, Arched Eyebrow, Nadiaa Aboulhosn, Garner Style, The Stiletto Siren and Fat Shopaholic to name a few. And I’m especially frustrated with them because they are the best intersection of the fashion world and of real life. Yet they have a habit of dressing and posing themselves (we all know girl pose: one hand on your hip, hips pointed away from the camera, forward leg slightly bent, feet slightly apart, head slightly titled—and we all know why it’s so common… because it’s flattering) in ways that adhere to the hourglass ideal.

Plus-size bloggers aren’t immune. Yes, they wear horizontal stripes. And short clothes and tight clothes that some not privy to or in agreement with body positivity might deem ill advised. But they wear highwaisted bottoms too. And crop tops. And heels. And they do girl pose. I’m not saying their singular goal in life is to live up to the hourglass ideal at all costs, I’m just saying that I’m not seeing as much shape (be it natural or aided by choice clothing, styling and photography) diversity as I am size diversity, and that’s not okay.

In my quick search for some of the top plus-size fashion blogs, at least I found this.

I know, her leggings are highwaisted.

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