Growing up I was known for my bold accessorising. Big statement neck-pieces, chunky earrings, quirky eye-catching bracelets and bangles, shoes and scarves, nails pierced and painted in multiple colours, bold drawn on bindi’s - the works! I always heard one of two compliments thrown my way:
“You dress so well for your size!”
“You’re so confident, only you could carry those off!”
Both backhanded compliments, yes, but compliments nonetheless. Compliments welcome in a sea of scrutiny and censure.
However, if they’d really looked they’d have noticed that I was rather well-accessorised and not so much well dressed. Maybe they really didn’t look close enough. Maybe they did and chose to tactfully refrain from comment. Maybe the ruse worked! You see, it’s not diamonds but accessories that are a cis fat girl’s/woman’s best friend.
You see, it’s not diamonds but accessories that are a cis fat girl’s/woman’s best friend.
Growing up I was a young cis girl living in less than cosmopolitan towns in India thanks to my father being in the army.This was a time when our mothers still yelled at us to disconnect the internet because she must make a call, online shopping was as credible as science fiction and plus size clothing was a term not yet popularised. Not that things are much different now! Though plus size clothing has recently become a buzzword, in India particularly (but not exclusively) plus size fashion remains for the most part offensively conservative and unfairly limiting, given notions of what “flatters” a “plus size figure”. Add to that the fact that most of these outlets are online and we haven’t yet internet access available everywhere in the country, the outrageously hiked prices that aren’t affordable to most of the general populace, the lingering mistrust of online transactions and the difficulty as well as cost involved in ordering and reordering till you find something that fits – people of size still need to look for creative ways to look their best. Accessories here make the difference between looking like a clown with mismatched clothing that lookslike a wardrobe spat on you, and looking somewhat well put together.
As I and most other fat cis women with a flair for dressing up will tell you - accessories distract from the details. They distract from the fact that you wear the same pair of pants on most days, that your dress is uncomfortable being a shade too tight, and that the only thing pulling together your wildly mismatched skirt and top are your eclectic and charming accessories. That used to be me for the longest time. That still is me sometimes; times when I am too broke to buy new clothes that are too expensive to begin with. Times when plus size brands have a size range that does not accommodate my fat body. Times when I need a style of clothing that is deemed inappropriate for fat bodies and hence never produced! The occasions for fatsion disasters are plentiful, yet through all these trials our bits and baubles are comrades in arms.
The occasions for fatsion disasters are plentiful, yet through all these trials our bits and baubles are comrades in arms.
Quite apart from distracting from the inadequacies of our wardrobes, they are also the ones we call upon like a fairy god mother – sprinkling us with magic dustwhen we want to make an impression! We might be stuck with a drab dress for an important job interview, ill-fitting jeans for a movie with friends, or outmoded clothes while heading to a party where we might run into a certain special someone. With our usual resourcefulness, we dress these up with a stylish pair of shoes, an on-trend handbag, a strand of gorgeous pearls, sparkly stoles, and voilà! Magic! Magic that makes us look and feel beautiful. Magic that helps us walk into that interview with our heads held high. Magic that translates into the alluring sway of our ample hips as we head for that party. Magic that every cis fat woman knows how to summon! Of course, it is likely that accessories are relevant in the same way to fashion conscious feminine, masculine and androgynous presenting people of size of no/all genders, but I limit myself here to speaking of cis women.
When I was in college, my mother once asked me,
“Aren’t you ashamed of walking down the street with your pretty friends? When you go shopping, aren’t you ashamed of there being nothing for you to try on?”
“Pretty” obviously being code for “thin”. The answer was, “No”.
Firstly, because it never occurred to me that I had reason to be ashamed. Secondly, because despite the limitations of my wardrobe I always managed to dress well and feel good about myself – I had magic, you see. And lastly, because when we went shopping I could be found browsing the accessories section – one where I could feel like I wasn’t trespassing, one where I could fit…feel normal.
Today, when I’m sick to death of shopping online, scrolling through page after page in mind numbing solitude – magic still beckons. I escape to the outside world pushed by the desire to window shop, to venture into physical spaces that are sites for culturally scripted interactions that envelop the participants in an exclusive club – to trespass with aplomb.
It isn’t roses all the way though, for the vast majority of companies selling accessories seem to be completely ignorant or dismissive of their fat clientele. A fact painfully obvious if one pays half a mind to how they market. Despite this they can’t keep us fatties from their wares!Our bond is strong, we’re best friends after all! Together we brave the big bad fatphobic world. That, and who can resist magic?
Words: Gurleen Khandpur is a fat-positive feminist philosopher, a wordsmith, a proud liberal snowflake and social justice warrior. Approach with caution, but don't be scared.