One writer’s journey to stop hiding her body – and herself
On a night out in the Lower East Side of Manhattan circa 2013, I found myself wearing a sequined purple mini dress. I had paired it with the chunky white sneakers that were very on-trend that year and a frayed denim shirt to accentuate my waist. The look wasn’t likely what most would call “sexy” per se. In retrospect, the shoes were not unlike those an 80s mum might wear, and the dress wasn’t so form-fitting that I couldn’t breathe, like most bodycon clubwear. Still, I’d never felt hotter.
Sometime around 4am, after a long night of dancing – feeling my fat body sparkle and twirl underneath club lights, in a dress that I truly loved – my partner and I went home. When we got there, we ripped each other’s clothes off and had really wonderful sex. It was raw, passionate, and uncensored, and we weren’t concerned about the neighbours upstairs, downstairs, or next door. We just were. I remember it because, at the time, that kind of intimacy wasn’t a usual occurence for me.
In my teens and early-twenties, sex was often scary. Sometimes just the thought of it (the sheer possibility that it could happen) was enough to fill me with anxiety. I spent most of my time actively avoiding my body, so allowing anyone else access to it tended to be tense, if not entirely impossible.
As a fat woman, I’d long been made to feel unattractive and unworthy of basic human decency. I’d also been conditioned to believe that the style options available to me back then (the smocked dresses, tunic tops, and ill-fitting boot-cut jeans) were the only things I deserved.
I felt hideous in those looks, but I wore them regardless. There just wasn’t a whole lot else out there for women with love handles as pronounced as mine. Plus, at least in these kinds of ensembles – the rolls and nooks of my fatness wouldn’t be immediately obvious to those around me.
I hated those clothes, though. I hated the way they made me look and feel. I hated that everything about them seemed to reiterate what I already knew (or at least what I thought I knew): I wasn’t sexy. I wasn’t chic. I wasn’t cool, or fuckable, or even very interesting, and if I had actually wanted to take off my clothes, the plus size underwear and lingerie of the time would’ve only reinforced that concept. Period pants, grandma knickers, and beige bras like my Nana wore reigned supreme, whilst the romantic laces and silks I associated with getting-it-on remained designated for the thin.
"As a fat woman, I’d been conditioned to believe that the style options available to me back then (the smocked dresses, tunic tops, and ill-fitting boot-cut jeans) were the only things I deserved”
In mid-2012, I began noticing the early days of what is now sometimes called the plus size ‘revolution.’ Fat people, like me, were dedicating entire websites and social media platforms to self-expression. They were pushing brands to take risks and give fat babes the trendy, or alternative, or glam, or OTT options so easily found in smaller sizes. They were encouraging us to create a new narrative IRL: to claim our right to media representation, to fair treatment at the doctor’s office, to an end to fat-shaming at work, to dating whoever they wanted to date, and to dressing however we wanted to dress.
I’ve since worked towards treating myself with kindness and I’ve surrounded myself with people who do the same. I’ve started doing all the things I previously didn’t believe I could do unless I lost weight – things like travelling, eating without fear, and wearing bold, eye-catching clothes. Clothes that did make me feel sexy, cool, fuckable, and interesting, unlike the old crap I used to sport.
For some, the connection between fashion and sex may not be immediately obvious unless we’re specifically talking about clothing made for the boudoir: Things like crotchless panties, bondage gear, or lingerie crafted of delicate lace that one might buy for a steamy evening in. For me, however, the connection isn’t really about what I wear inside the bedroom. Rather, it’s about what I wear outside of it.
Whether it’s a sequined purple mini dress, a lime green faux fur coat, a bodycon tuxedo dress, a sweatsuit that I actually like, or a red chemise made of lace and cut-outs, my outfits can shape the way I feel about myself on any given day. The plus size fashion industry now is far from perfect, but few would deny that more varieties of looks exist in 2018 than they did ten years ago – whether we’re talking outerwear or underwear. With the help of online retailers, and especially indie brands, I can essentially dress myself how I want to dress myself; and more often than not, I can dress myself to be seen.
At least in part because clothing used to serve the sole purpose of hiding my body, I once fell deeper and deeper into an existence that revolved around doing the same: hiding, even in intimate situations. Upon realising that there was never any reason to hide, however, I could choose outfits that really drove the message home.
“For a while now, most of my style selections have revolved around reminding myself that I deserve to take up space”
For a while now, most of my style selections have revolved around reminding myself that I deserve to take up space; that I deserve to be adored; that I deserve to love my body, and to allow others to love it with me; that I deserve to feel free.
The funny thing about sartorial freedom, at least for me, is that it has seeped into sexual freedom as well. Sex is no longer scary, anxiety-inducing, or tense. It’s loud, it’s fun, it’s experimental and weird and amusing and brings me great pleasure. In other words, it’s a lot like my clothes.