Fashion Alien:

An autoethnographic examination of plus-sized female fashion

By Aimee Harrison

 

Abstract

 As a fat feminist female within the fashion industry, this thesis explores why a non-conventional body type still feels like a fashion alien in 2018. A growing number of women feel marginalised as waistlines of western society increase yet ‘thin’ society continues to pretend that fat people don’t exist. This thesis aims to highlight the growing market for female plus-sized clothing and the wider socio-cultural implications of representations of fat women in a thin-obsessed fashion world. Peters (2014), Entwistle (2000), and Stang (2015) identify how marginalised bodies lack the ability for self-identity formation through fashion, leading to a feeling of alienation within society. As Stang (2015) theorizes, fat has, until now, been considered a negative term; however, it is used throughout this research in a neutral bid to desensitise readers of its negative connotations. In addition to drawing from the fields of social psychology, fat studies, fashion theory, and fashion psychology, an autoethnographic approach is used throughout this thesis alongside a practice-led investigation. Fat studies, a relatively new area of research is used in combination with the unique autoethnographic fat female fashion perspective, to provide a new perspective on the fat female body for future inclusive fashion design practices.

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Preface

I use my own experiences as an ‘alien’ to spring-board my research and discussion towards a future for a more inclusive fashion experience. I would like to acknowledge my own personal context and privilege as a white, able-bodied, cisgender woman, from a heteronormative middle-class family. I am also a ‘small-fat’ woman, I fit into the ‘normal spectrum’ of a plus-size and have thus never experienced the discrimination that ‘super-fat’ women experience daily, I find the more research and stories I hear about marginalised  bodies, it becomes imperative to state that this research is predominantly focused on my experience as a fat woman, and therefore does not speak as a generalization of every fat woman or marginalised  body. Also important to note is the fashion context that this research is based solely in, so reference to design or industry refers to fashion design, the fashion industry, etc.


Introduction

Alien,
1. Belonging to a foreign country. "An alien culture"
2. Unfamiliar and disturbing or distasteful. "Principles
that are alien to them"
(English Oxford dictionary 2018, online)

I am a fashion alien. A plus-sized woman within the fashion industry, researching from a feminist perspective, existing in a ‘thin-obsessed world’. When you are a woman of a non-conventional size you get used to not being able to wear the same high-end designers as colleagues and friends. It’s a relatable experience of many women. This never bothered me, until I questioned why. Why, as a woman of ‘non-conventional size’, do I feel like a fashion outsider? What role does the media and social conditioning in a patriarchal society play into a conventional representation of women? Why is the current conventional representation of women in the media considered the norm? And how does the sizing of garments contribute to non-conventional sized women feeling like fashion outsiders?

I aim to seek answers in my own journey of self-discovery as an alien. This thesis also aims to highlight the growing market of female plus-sized clothing and the effects and wider socio-cultural implications of representations of fat women in a thin-obsessed fashion world. Firstly, I discuss the ‘fat’ female body, followed by sizing issues and finish with a discussion on social expectations when it comes to fat women and fashion.

Throughout this research, I use an autoethnographic approach to discuss topics through the lens of my own experiences. Ideas and reasoning will be discussed through layered accounts from experts such as academics, including Peters, Entwistle, Kennedy, and non-academic sources, including Bellafante, Clements and Mull, from a multi-disciplinary field of social psychology, fat studies, the body, fashion theory and fashion psychology.

Currently, there is a gap within academic literature that has both an authoritative perspective of the fashion industry and a personal understanding of plus-size fashion. Writing this thesis from an autoethnographic approach addresses this gap. In a similar way that we view someone from an outside culture writing about our own, this research provides a new and unique perspective on plus-sized fashion. Similarly, there is much existing literature discussing sizing issues, non-conventional shaped bodies as well as societal issues, separately. However, this particular research discusses all three topics together for a new perspective on the fat female body.

Chapter One: The fat female body

My fashion journey began in 2015. I was a young mature-age student of 23, newly feminist and instantly alienated. Entering the RMIT fashion design course, I was surrounded by female size12 mannequins (RMIT size12 is the equivalent of an AU8/10 or US6). The garments designed on these mannequins were not for me. As a size16/18 woman, I didn’t think of myself as very fashionable, but it didn’t bother me. I wanted to create beautiful garments, and I had the belief that I could do anything. However, studying this course made me feel like the ‘other’, made me feel like an alien. It’s easy to see why I felt so alienated when I look back: in the four years of my degree we were never offered studios or electives about alternative body types, be it fat, petite or non-able bodied. But that was ok because everything looked good on thin tall women. An idea I never questioned, until now.

I began this thesis in the hopes of investigating identity and fashion through imposter syndrome. I felt like I had stumbled into the fashion world, but on a deeper level hoped no one would notice I was fat and thus didn’t really belong. However, my feeling like a fashion alien has nothing to do with imposter syndrome. It’s the deep-rooted hatred of fatness in our society, mixed with a dash of toxic diet culture and a splash of the patriarchal society we live in.

The fat female body.
When I started to critically analyse this culture of fat hatred, it became obvious why myself and so many fat women hate or feel negatively towards our bodies. We live in a society where “being fat means a life of ridicule, rejection, starvation, self-hatred, and guilt” (Gibson 2017, p.3). “Fat, we are told relentlessly, is bad” (Peters 2014, p.50) and for a long while now, fat has been labelled as an epidemic, a ‘disease’ we need to fight. As a result, a new field of academic research has emerged: fat studies. An area of sociology, not health studies, discussing “what it means to be a fat person living in an anti-fat society” (Peters 2014, p.46).

Interestingly, the word ‘fat’ is currently undergoing a reclamation, as suggested by Stang (2015). Where it is being used as a neutral descriptive word, such as short or tall. I have fully embraced this, especially when hearing other fat women use it as a neutral word, such as April and Sophie on their podcast She’s All Fat (Carter-Kahn & Quioh 2017). However, critically important is understanding and stopping the use of ‘fat’ as an insult or derogatory term. There is a fear around the word and that has resulted in pervasive euphemisms like ‘curvy’, ‘large’, ‘full-figured’ and my least favourite euphemism: ‘big’. As Peters (2014) suggests, it just proves society’s discomfort about how to refer to fat women and underscores this suggestion that they are not ‘normal’ bodies. Therefore, throughout this research I will use the word fat as a descriptive, neutral term in an attempt to desensitise the reader's possible distaste for it and create a sense of normalcy around the word fat to dispell the “crushing burden of fat hatred” (Stang 2015, p.7). Fear of using the word fat and consistent use as an insult perpetuates this feeling of distaste of the word and the association of being fat. In the famous words of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series:

“Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself”.

The health argument?
A common opposing argument for inclusive sizing is the claim of not wanting to glorify obesity, creating an excuse for society to ignore and debase fat, nonconforming bodies. Cooke (2010) explores these issues, discussing an opposing opinion, that fat doesn’t always equal unhealthy. Stang (2015), suggests that there are also hereditary factors or other issues that impact size, making blame and judgement on the individual unjustified. Gibson (2017) suggests that the current understandings of fatness and weight loss are “based on problematic research and misunderstanding of how fatness affects the individual”. Important to note is that the most recent scientific research suggests that fat does not always equal bad, that a healthy fat person is less at risk than a thin person with a sedentary, high sugar lifestyle. This can be due to the unseen visceral fat around the organs that create health issues, as was discussed by the ABC’s Catalyst program Beating Diabetes (2018). As scientific research expands, we have more of an understanding that weight has nothing to do with health; in fact, the ‘health at every size’ (Gibson 2017) movement discusses this as part of its fundamentals. Yet society expects thinness as a “moral responsibility” (Gibson 2017, p.8) and there is a dissonance between scientific understanding and the way society views fatness.

 Dressing the fat body.
Dressing the fat body is rife with inequalities, as most of the offerings for plus-sized women are designed to cover, hide or obscure the body, and look “like [they’re] manufactured by tent and awning companies” (Peters 2014, p.52). What tends to happen is an idea of “throwing extra fabric in [to the garment]… instead of changing the shape” (Peters 2014, p.53). The consumer then finds “getting dressed is usually about making do with a bad set of limited options” (Mull 2017, para.7) and only finding clothes that obscure or hide the body (Bellafante 2010). Additionally, due to underrepresentation of plus-size options in stores, magazines, and on runways (Peters 2014), it begins to feel like the “mainstream fashion industry is not interested in serving plus-size customers,” (Mull 2017, para.9) and it becomes clear to see why fashion is such a divisive and alienating issue for fat women.

Four years ago I moved from Perth, where I was an office worker, to Melbourne, to study. Not only did my lifestyle change but so did my fashion choices, which led to me feeling out of place in my new fashion community. I now realise that I was struggling to express my identity through fashion within the limitations available to me as a fat woman. I wanted to fit in with all the other women I was studying with, but couldn’t. Most Australian mid to high-end brands stop their sizing at a 12 or 14, possibly because “the vast majority of fashion brands make no size-inclusive clothing and don’t see people with different bodies as worthy of being their customers” (Mull 2018, para.18). Stang (2015) discusses that this affects women who are fat in their language of self-expression and identity. This limitation removes opportunities for identity-formation through fashion, which slimmer women have, because fat women are expected to wear “fat sacks and tents” (Peters 2014, p.48) and lack fashion-forward options. Further, it becomes imperative to dress conservatively to hide the fat body, because it is not considered “suitable for public display” (Peters 2014, p.48). In particular, I find it impossible to dress in a fashion-forward/challenging way due to lacking available options and expectations of voluminous clothing. Recently, I challenged my own views on hiding my fat body, where I bought and wore a playsuit acknowledging my rounder body. However, on a thinner fashion-student friend, the same outfit wouldn’t be considered fashion-forward or challenging, as for them it’s about ignoring and subverting expectations of fashion in general, whereas for me it’s about my shape/size.

Chapter Two: Sizing

Vanity sizing or a flawed system?
Going shopping as a fat woman in an Australian retail space that mostly doesn’t cater for my body is a little like going on a treasure hunt. Mostly frustrating because of the fictional novelty, but occasionally an odd sizing system will mean I can buy size12 jeans for my usually size18 waist. This sort of sizing and fit discrepancy is the cause of many shopping frustrations and usually blamed on ‘vanity sizing’ and the lack of a universal sizing system. However, the situation is more nuanced and complicated. Standard sizing was designed and collected from “young men and women … who joined the military at the onset of world war II,” (Gribbin 2014, p.6). Additionally, the grading of sizing (translating a size8 into a size14) was designed with a mathematical calculation in the early 1900’s, without the extensive body shape data we have today (Gribbin 2014). No universal standards were originally agreed upon and have thus shifted through time.

When you consider the changes to our society over the last 100 years, you start to realise why the sizing system is so flawed. The need to increase the scale of market sizes offered is an idea Kennedy (2009) questions: whether size “inflation is a deliberate strategy of deceit or simply a technical adjustment by apparel companies to produce garments to fit an expanding market demographic” (Kennedy 2009, p.6). Further, in a 2003 US study, “only about eight percent of American women actually had an hourglass body shape” (Gribbin 2014, p7). A staggering figure when considering it is the hourglass shape that is used as the basis for most pattern-making. Sizing issues in fast-fashion, in particular, are possibly caused because companies buy designs on the open market, placing a higher value on items that are fashionable and cheap, above sizing or fit (Gribbin 2014). Furthermore, body-shape variety in sizing is known within the industry, yet the methodology of creating garments lets the process down as “sizing protocols hinges on two things: the number of sizes a brand is willing to (or able to) produce, based on available retail space, development costs and inventory costs; and grade rules” (Gribbin 2014, p.5). In essence, it all boils down to financial decisions, as I will discuss further below.

Capitalist complexities.
A consistent idea throughout my fashion degree has been that my body is not for fashion. Not only did I not get the opportunities to learn/make plus-size garments, but instead I found myself visiting mid to high-end retail stores for assignments, to analyse brands and make assumptions on fit, whilst feeling alienated as my body was unsuitable for their garments, a concept reinforced by the lack of size diversity in the Australian industry. According to Macquire (2018, para.20), the average Australian women’s waist measurement was 87.5cm, in an Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014-15 survey. Thus, the average Australian woman being a size16/18 cannot shop at most mid-level brands, like Gorman, Bardot, Cue, Glasson etc. (Macquire 2018, para.20). Instead, companies like Gorman choose to “capitalise on the dog wear market” (Macquire 2018, para.19), reinforcing the idea that they would prefer pets wearing their garments than fatter women.

As discussed in chapter one there is currently a lack of plus-size brands in Australia and often the offerings are mostly undesirable. This results in poor sales and creates a negative catch-22 financial situation as “women purchase less than they might because what they see on the racks doesn’t appeal to them; manufacturers and retailers cite poor sales figures as evidence of low demand…[ consequently] failing to provide the supply that might meet changing tastes” (Bellafante 2010, para.11). Further, companies don’t wish to invest in more inclusive spaces for fat women, like larger changing rooms, when they see poor sales (Bellafante 2010, para.9). Gribbin (2014) suggests companies focus on maximising ‘Return-on-Investment’, where the majority are ok to lose potential sales opportunities on sizing that is too big or small, as it’s better to lose that financial potential than have unproductive stock. However, when looking at the industry these issues seem outdated or poorly thought-out. The “US women’s clothing market was worth $128 billion in 2017” (Weinswig 2018, para.3) but only $21.4billion (17.5%) was related to women’s plus-size clothing (Weinswig 2018, para.3). When taking into account the US obesity rates, the plus-size market has “reached less than half of its potential ($46 billion)” (Weinswig 2018, para.3). Additionally, according to Weinswig (2018, para.5), the largest growth rate in the fashion industry in the US was driven by the plus-size market in 2016. These figures are staggering, considering they are US based and the majority of plus-size shopping in Australia is done online from overseas stores like ASOS (Macquire 2018). It really shows just how behind Australia is on potential earnings growth and how the Australian industry is ignoring this potential by remaining trapped by fat-phobia or putting plus-size garments into the too-hard-basket.

Another possible reason for plus-size sizing issues and possible lack of fashionable options is due to the fact that “the business of making plus-sized clothes turns out to be enormously complicated” (Bellafante 2010, para.11). This is both an issue of grading and the complexities of patternmaking as fatter women are more likely to have larger variances in where they carry their weight in comparison to thinner women, a concept I personally explored in my studio work for my graduate collection. This variation in fatter bodies can be best articulated in figure 1&2 below, where two models of the same size, both wore the same size18 dress from my collection. I created this dress as a sized up version of the size10 dress, figure 3. Often I find the most acceptable type of fat body is the ‘Ashley Graham’ body, simply a blown up version of a thin woman. This creates a damaging representation of fatness, as discussed by She’s All Fat podcast (Carter-Kahn & Quioh 2017), as the differences in fatness are varied and underrepresented, which can create complexities in fit and pattern. In garment construction, the idea of “professional fit-models who maintain a perfect shape” (Gribbin 2014, p.6) further creates complexity issues that may work in smaller sizes, but fall short when it comes to the variations in larger sizing. According to Bellefante (2010), Marina Rinaldi, a US high-end plus-size company, overcomes this by employing 3 fit-models on a daily basis and a larger than normal amount of patternmaking technicians. Thus it starts to become clearer why plus-size fashion can be so complex when done right because the issue is more complex than simply translating a “Milan runway look into a larger size” (Bellafante 2010, para.11)

My studio practice.
‘A Flawed Impression’ is my graduate studio collection, half the garments designed for an AU18 and half for an AU10. The entire process of size and fit were the biggest hurdles, as I had to create my own plus-size patterns. I used a mixture of my own measurements, RMIT grading rules and ASOS sizing guides to create a chimaera of a new pattern block as the basis for my collection. The largest issue I had with this collection of work was that for the last three years I have been designing clothes for a size10 woman with a 70cm waist and this course and society has reinforced the idea that anything looks good on a thin figure. This is an extremely problematic statement which reinforces fat-phobia within the industry. It’s a concept I have had to personally challenge myself with this year, photographing larger models with thinner models. Why is it that society values thin women and excludes fatter women? This collection is really about creating a narrative for fatter women and saying that fashion is for all bodies. 

The complexities of patternmaking for fatter women and getting the fit right, as discussed above, was my biggest challenge. I overcame this by creating my own size18 mannequin form, as RMIT only supply size10/12 forms. It was interesting to note the complexities I faced in the construction and design process of my size18 garments. I am uncertain if this was due to inexperience or simply the more complicated nature of larger bodies and fit. I ended up having to remake every garment that was size18, as the fit failed. The patternmaking process for the size18 dress in figure 1&2, in particular, took 3 times longer including 4 toiles. Whereas, the size10 dress in figure 3 involved one toile and one final. These poor fit issues can be articulated in a comparison of the first and second versions of my ‘peplos’ dress, seen in figures 4&5 below.

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Version one, figure 4, had issues where the corset/belt was attached too low on the fabric initially because I overestimated the measurement from shoulder over the bust, so when placed on the body correctly it pulled up the side seams creating an uneven hemline. The PVC-corset/belt had no reinforcements and collapsed inwards. The neckline was too heavy with gathered fabric and accounted for a too-narrow shoulder width collapsing inwards. Whereas version two, figure 5, had a reinforced lining on the corset/belt, placed correctly at the waist, fixing the hemline. The neckline was widened and straps added over the shoulders to account for the larger width of the torso/bust. It was this journey in understanding shape and fit of plus-size garments through trial and error that really helped me visualise the complexities and differences in sizing, fit and grading.

A thin-obsessed world.
We exist in a problematic “thin-obsessed culture”, according to Kirstie Clements (2013), ex-Editor and Chief of Vogue Australia. An issue “too simplistic to blame misogynistic men” (Clements 2013, para.7). It begins with designers and stylists and follows into the sample sizes sent to magazines and sold to the public. The cycle continues in the “quest to fit into Balenciaga samples” (Clements 2013, para.12). It’s become normal to see “bone-thin” (Clements 2013, para.15) models on the runway and the industry is struggling to “see the inherent danger in the message” (Clements 2013, para.7). Additionally, a weird concept I’ve always struggled to understand in fashion is that the models are often considered walking mannequins and the vehicle of presentation for designers’ (art)work, rather than real people. However, this translates across from fashion-art to couture and filters down into the high-end/ mid-market to fast-fashion areas, striving upwards. Why are models on runways never representative of real women? Perhaps this speaks more to the social constructs of our society in what is considered beautiful and acceptable for public consumption. For argument's sake, what would have the impact been if, for example, Rei Kawakubo used fat women in the Comme des Garçons Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body spring/summer 1997 ‘lumps and bumps’ collection? (figure 6-8) Even though this collection was over 20 years ago, Kawakubo was about questioning the status-quo and taking risks, yet used exclusively size4 women. What would the impact have been if Kawakubo’s collection was a mix of various different shaped women?

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Chapter Three: Social expectation and fashion media

Grotesque, abstract and naked.
Beginning this thesis investigation, my entire Instagram feed was full of models, actresses and fashion icons who were almost exclusively thin women. Over the last four years of my degree, I started following large quantities of fashion-related media that in no way related to my shape but were considered icons or important in my research. Now that I have fully immersed myself into the body positivity, self-love, fat-activist world my Instagram feed has transitioned into relatable shaped women. I changed the narrative I consumed daily through social media, where I had alienated myself again through my own media choices. This was a turning point for me personally because I had been lost in a micro-culture of thin women at university and on social media for the last four years. This has also mirrored my own self-acceptance and fat-activist journey.

The lack of representation of female figure-diversity in media is actually surprising when you consider the facts: 63% of Australians are considered overweight or obese, according to a 2014/15 study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and, as mentioned in chapter 2, the average Australian woman is around a size16. Yet almost all fashion related media, especially in Australia, is representative of thin women. Strange that our society continues to uphold this idea of fashion/beauty when it doesn’t exist amongst the majority of the population. Not only is this the case exclusively in media but when you start to look at how fat women are represented across the board, such as in film, usually as the villain (think Ursula from The Little Mermaid) or as the funny quirky friend (every character Rebel Wilson or Melissa McCarthy has ever played). It’s this persistence of problematic representation that contributes to fat women feeling excluded and that reinforces the fat-shaming culture.

Unfortunately, when fat women are included in magazines, more often than not the representation is negative and damaging, masquerading as positive.  These women usually appear as fully or partially naked bodies, showcasing them like beastly bodies, a “freak show” (Bellafante 2010, para.4) of fat rolls and lumps. Peters (2014, p.50) also reiterates this point in reference to Anna Wintour and the industry only “deal[ing] with fatness in the abstract”. This can be seen in figure 9, 10&11 below. These three images are examples of how small to mid-fat bodies are commonly represented in the media. All these models are posed to showcase fat rolls and curves. However, whilst these magazine images have left all the rolls none of the women has any stretch marks, cellulite or ‘flaws’ visible upon their bodies. It’s as if the magazines edited them to say sure, having fat rolls is okay, but we’re still going to adjust your bodies because they are not suitable in their natural form, yet again reiterating the message that fat bodies are not for public display. 

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Bellafante (2010) suggests it’s simply that these magazines have nothing for them to wear. As discussed in chapter two, commonly what happens is designers make small sample sizes for the runway then send these to magazines for advertising and media coverage. Thus, it becomes clear that there simply is nothing suitable for fat women because all the fashionable pieces are size0-4, hence the nude or bather-clad bodies and never anything high-end/couture. You just have to compare the very recent UK Cosmopolitan cover of Tess Holliday and this standard cover of Carey Mulligan on Vogue Australia to see the inequalities. Tess is in one-piece bathers and Carey gets a frilly full-coverage pink dress that also hides her entire shape and body. When you only see fat women represented naked in a fashion context it's hard to feel included. Personally, I would not like to be naked, I would much rather have a pink ruffly dress to wear. I feel further alienated when fashion tells me I can be beautiful in my naked glory, yet simultaneously tells me I have nothing to wear, yet also photoshops my body into the ‘acceptable version’ of fatness. It’s an uncomfortable notion. It’s a constantly repeated message that we are told as women and fat women, that our bodies are never perfect and are never good enough for public consumption.

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Subverting the acceptable.
The fat body is a subversion from the ‘normal’, a theory of both Entwistle (2000) and Peters (2014) and one that I have instinctively known since I was young. It’s important for me to not just blankly accept this, but to ask why the current conventional representation of women in the media is considered the norm? Entwistle (2000) suggests this is the case due to the constraints of the physical body and social body and how perception and social condemnation play a significant factor not just for the clothes we wear, but our physical bodies. According to Entwistle (2000), the physical body is used as a form of expression and identity. However, it’s then mediated by social conventions of the ‘social-body’, by what’s considered appropriate dress contextually, such as the bikini. Entwistle (2000) suggests that “bodies that do not conform… [are] subversive of the most basic social codes and risk social exclusion, scorn or ridicule” (p.324). When we don’t comply, “we are uncomfortable; we feel ourselves open to social condemnation” (Entwistle 2000, p.326). Entwistle discusses that this is not just applied to the clothes we wear but also to our bodies, making comparisons to female, competitive bodybuilders, who are considered ‘monstrous’. This idea can be translated to fat women, they are outside what is considered the norm and thus are met with scorn and seen as ‘monstrous’. This is a theory that Peters (2014) also discusses, suggesting the idea that society reinforces the fat identity as a learned understanding from childhood. As such, “our behaviours are primarily a reflection of how we believe society perceives us” (Peters 2014, p.63). Additionally, fat people are stigmatized because they are different, an idea reinforced and disseminated throughout the fashion industry to such an extent that fat stigma becomes normalized (Peters 2014, p.47). Further, combined with the lack of garments offered as outlined in chapter two and with negative media representation, this leads to the suggestion that the body beneath is “not suitable for public display” (Peters 2014, p.48).

In this global, social media society of 2018 most discussion about what is acceptable pivots “around models, actresses, and other professionally beautiful people reassuring what they seem to believe is a dubious public that they are, in fact, super-hot” (Mull 2018, para.16). So much of the cultural value we place on women in the public eye is about their looks, which are then micro-analysed and it’s easy to feel negatively about my own body in particular, which is subversive, when the media I’m surrounded by is always speculating if Jennifer Anniston is pregnant because she gained a bit of weight, for example. “what brands and individuals alike are less enthusiastic to talk about is how having a noncompliant body… impacts someone’s life, how those external conditions affect someone’s sense of self-worth, and how corporate interests have long benefited from and upheld the structural forces that create inequality” (Mull 2018, para.21). This can be seen clearly in diet culture and how companies like Dove thrive off women hating themselves, so they can swoop in and save us with soap, thus benefiting financially of our own self-hate. “The conditions under which we loathe ourselves are socially constructed, but in practical terms, they’re very real” (Mull 2018, para.23).

Body positivity.
Body Positivity has been around for ages and I see it all the time, all over social media in connection with women preaching love for their bodies. It seems like an everywoman affair that I just don’t relate to. However, the body positive movement was a highly political movement beginning in the 70’s with the “original purpose to destigmatise marginalised bodies” (Gibson 2017, p.5), “challenging societal norms and oppressive structures” (Gibson 2017, p.8) about normative bodies. However, thanks to the current highly critical society of all women’s bodies, many feel and relate to the movement, resulting in today's diluted effect that “privilege[s] and normalize[s] the experience of thin … white … cis-gender… able … healthy bodies” (Gibson 2017, p.2). As Bethany Rutter said:

“‘What we’re left with is slim-but-curvy white women being treated like the Messiah for acknowledging they have one microscopic belly roll’ ” (Gibson 2017, p.7)

Thus, “marginalised bodies disidentify with the movement” (Gibson 2017, p.17), which is my feeling and experience. When every ‘normal’ woman waves their ‘body positive’ flag all over social media to express how they love their flaws (that almost every woman has) it depoliticises and undermines what the entire movement originally stood for. What these women are actually doing is ‘self-love’ and mislabelling it ‘body positivity’. It might be simply because they are uneducated in the origins of the movement, but is more likely due to a lack of critical thought and a certain lack of accountability (Gibson 2017).

It’s then easy to understand how companies like Dove come along selling soap to fix our self-hatred. Yet the difference is that all women feel disenfranchised about their bodies because we are so harshly criticised within the culture. Body positivity is a vaguely useful touchstone for plenty of people “trying not to hate themselves in a world that insists on it” (Mull 2018, para.28). Further, “body positivity as we now know it puts the onus on people living in marginalised bodies to turn their criticism inward” (Mull 2018, para.22). Unfortunately, the entire movement is currently so deeply flawed and harmful as it places the blame of being fat “squarely on the shoulders of the women who had the temerity not to love themselves sufficiently” (Mull 2018, para.8). It has become another catch-22 negative cycle that perpetuates self-fat-hatred. My fat body is not acceptable to society, I experience the shame of existing in a subversive body and then a movement designed with good intentions creates guilt for having those negative feelings to begin with.

Chapter Four: Conclusion

This thesis reflects on my own journey to discover why I feel like an alien. It was an exploration into three main areas including the fat body, sizing and social expectations in the media. In chapter one I discussed my own fat body and began to look into the stigma around fat shame and what it’s like to exist in a fat body, outlining a context for those who have not personally experienced living in a marginalised body. Following this I rebutted the ‘health argument’ of glorifying obesity, exploring recent scientific research suggesting fatness and negative health are not linked. To conclude chapter one, I discussed issues regarding dressing the fat body, highlighting the lack of fashionable/fashion-forward options such as the undesirable ‘tent-like’ offering which restricts self-expression and identity creation for fatter women. In chapter two, I discussed the issues and complexities of our flawed sizing system due to the changing nature of the world in the last 100 years. I also discussed and visually demonstrated the complexities in my own practice of making garments for fatter bodies. Additionally outlining the potential growth of the plus-size industry and expressing my confusion as to why companies are still ignoring this booming sector of the market, especially in Australia. I also briefly discussed our thin-obsessed fashion culture in chapter two, questioning why we keep using thinner and thinner models. Here I expressed further confusion at designers not using size diversity when discussing the body in conceptual design and the influential effects through media and the lower spectrum of the market as a result. Lastly, in chapter three, I discussed the issues of how magazines only ever deal with fatness in abstract and grotesque manners and how they use models that are fat, but still Photoshop all their flaws and have nothing for them to wear, almost always featuring them nude or partially naked, which perpetuates a negative cycle of fat-hatred and continues to alienate fatter women. I also outlined in chapter three how the fat body is a subversion of what is considered a normal representation in media and how a lack of diverse representation perpetuates this negative view of fatter bodies. Finally, I critiqued the current ‘body-positivity’ movement and the relationship companies have to it, identifying how it marginalizes non-conforming bodies and privileges more acceptable bodies. This causes fat bodies to misidentify and feel alienated by a movement designed originally for them, perpetuating guilt for the fat shame and stigma that society causes in a cyclical negative self-fat-hate circle. This research has been really surprising and shocking to me on a personal level as I had never critically analysed my own fat body in relation to fashion. I began thinking fashion was exclusively for thin bodies and wishing my body would conform. Whereas now, I have surrounded myself with other like-minded fat-fashion activists and believe that this area of research and fat-fashion in general is worth exploring and nurturing. It is important to highlight the limitations of this study and research, the short nature of this thesis and research period, but I am confident that this addition to the field will help support and grow interest and support for future research.

I have discovered through this research that the reinforced normalization of fat stigma, combined with the lack of fashionable garments offered, the complexities around sizing and consequential lack of media representation, combined with the pervasive issues around body positivity, leads to the suggestion that the fat body is “not suitable for public display” (Peters 2014, p.48), therefore marginalizing myself and a large percentage of the population and deliberately ignoring us through media. Which is baffling considering the financial growth potential the plus-size industry could generate, yet it is held back by current social stigma of the fat body. Through this research, I have come to believe that I felt like a fashion outsider for two possible reasons. First, as outlined above, social stigma and lack of representation made me feel isolated and that I was not acceptable. Secondly, the micro-culture of my university that I’ve existed in for the past four years: thin women designing for thin figures, surrounded by thin media, promoting thin-fashion. Both, leading me to forget that the average Australian woman is closer to my size.

I believe that feeling less like an alien myself is about creating diversity and representation around myself and on social media. However, for the rest of the fat-fashion world, there is no magic answer to solve these issues faced by fat women who want to exist in fashion and I believe it will take time to educate the world that fat doesn’t equal bad and to change perceptions. I believe that if we look to current media like She’s all Fat Podcast (Carter-Kahn & Quioh 2017) to discuss and critically analyse society’s perceptions of fat bodies we could start to slowly change perception, resulting in a possibly more inclusive industry. I believe this research is really important and new in the fashion studies field. It’s important to continue to discuss and create a narrative discussing inclusivity in fashion and the world. In the future, I would like to continue into a plus-size fashion career, discussing and creating media that is size-inclusive and fat-activist as I have done this year. As it turns out, I do have a marginalised body but am I by no means alone in the fashion world. I see now I am no longer an Alien, but a Person.

Aimee+Harrison+s352962+-+Thesis+Project+-+Fashion+Alien_Page_15.jpg

Image references 

Figure 1:
Harrison, A 2018, A flawed impression, Graduate fashion design collection, original acrylic paint artwork digitally printed on scuba knit fabric with laser cuts, RMIT Bachelor of Fashion (Design) (Honours) course – studio 8, Photography by Luffin Shi.

Figure 2:
Harrison, A 2018, A flawed impression, Graduate fashion design collection, original acrylic paint artwork digitally printed on scuba knit fabric with laser cuts, RMIT Bachelor of Fashion (Design) (Honours) course – studio 8, Photography by Luffin Shi.

Figure 3:
Harrison, A 2018, A flawed impression, Graduate fashion design collection, original acrylic paint artwork digitally printed on scuba knit fabric with laser cuts, RMIT Bachelor of Fashion (Design) (Honours) course – studio 8, Photography by Luffin Shi.

Figure 4:
Harrison, A 2018, A flawed impression, Graduate fashion design collection, original acrylic paint artwork digitally printed on crepe fabric with PVC elements, RMIT Bachelor of Fashion (Design) (Honours) course – studio 8, Photography by Ava Dong.

Figure 5:
Harrison, A 2018, A flawed impression, Graduate fashion design collection, original acrylic paint artwork digitally printed on crepe fabric with PVC elements, RMIT Bachelor of Fashion (Design) (Honours) course – studio 8, Photography by Luffin Shi.

Figure 6:
Comme des Garçons 1997, Body meets dress, dress meets body, Runway Photography via Condé Nast Archive, Designs by Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons spring/summer 1997: look 23, viewed September 2018, <https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-1997-ready-to-wear/comme-des-garcons>

Figure 7:
Comme des Garçons 1997, Body meets dress, dress meets body, Runway Photography via Condé Nast Archive, Designs by Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons spring/summer 1997: look 8, viewed September 2018, <https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-1997-ready-to-wear/comme-des-garcons>

Figure 8:
Comme des Garçons 1997, Body meets dress, dress meets body, Runway Photography via Condé Nast Archive, Designs by Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons spring/summer 1997: look 57, viewed September 2018, <https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-1997-ready-to-wear/comme-des-garcons>

Figure 9:
Magrath, M 2009, The Naked Fat Girl Extravaganza, Glamour Magazine, Viewed 30th July, <https://jezebel.com/5392670/glamours-big-issue-plus-size-models-plus-size-problems/>

Figure 10:
Sundsbø, S 2010, Curves Ahead, V Magazine, Model: Tara Lynn, published in September, Viewed 30th July, <http://www.vmagazine.com/>

Figure 11:
Sundsbø, S 2010, Curves Ahead, V Magazine, Model: Candice Huffine, September, Viewed 30th July, <http://www.vmagazine.com/>

Figure 12:
Summerton, E 2017, Cover Page of Carey Mulligan, Vogue Australia, January 2018 issue, Photographed by Emma Summerton, styled by Christine Centenera.<https://www.vogue.com.au/culture/features/carey-mulligan-on-motherhood-sexism-in-hollywood-and-why-she-deleted-her-instagram/news-story/282cea2f3aa3878de91544327fbc01f8?>

Figure 13:
National Magazine Company Ltd 2018, Cover Page of Tess Holliday, Cosmopolitan UK, October 2018 issue, Viewed September 2018, <https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/fashion/ a22872539/ tess-holliday-cosmopolitan-magazine-cover-uk/>

Figure 14:
Harrison, A 2018, A flawed impression, Graduate fashion design collection, Behind the scenes photography of a plus-size photo shoot, RMIT Bachelor of Fashion (Design) (Honours) course – studio 8, Photography by Aimee Harrison.

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