On “flattering” clothes

Based on numerous conversations with my mother about my weight, please find below a list of clothes that she considers flattering for my (UK) size 14/16, pear-shaped, 5 ft 7 body:


This morning she commented that a pair of smart trousers I wear at least once a week had a hole in and would have to be thrown out. She then added, just for good measure, “They’re not flattering on you anyway.”

What I wanted to do was run up to my room, slam the door a few times, shout “I hate you” and play Rage Against the Machine whilst defiantly lighting a joss stick, which was pretty much the height of my teenage rebellion.

What I actually did was calmly, albeit slightly passive aggressively, reply, “But you’re missing the point. I am fat. You don’t think anything flatters my body because you want something that makes me look like a supermodel. Which is nothing. Because I’m fat.”

At that point my mum was literally floored by my wit, insight and quick thinking and lay on the ground as though she had been struck by lightning.

The end. 

No, what actually happened was my dad thoughtfully piped up ”you used to look like a supermodel. You were lovely and thin.”

We have variations on this discussion a lot. The mere mention of my hi-tops is enough for my mother to recoil in horror because they make my legs look fat. Again, the shoes don’t make my legs look fat. The cheese, wine and bread make my legs look fat. The shoes are just a useful appendage so I don’t cut my feet when I leave the house.

I know I’m being facetious. I know exactly what my mum means because she’s right on one level: I have the legs of a lapsed rugby player and the best way to make myself look like I have thinner legs would be to wear a stiletto, with no ankle strap, perhaps in a Duchess of Cambridgey nude colour rather than multi-coloured Marty McFly’s. Yes, skinny jeans highlight the exact shape of my legs. There is no getting away from the fact I have big shapely thighs and frankly there are nation states smaller than my ass. My issue is the presumption that I, and everyone else, should be dressing to make our bodies look a certain way that’s considered most attractive. That I shouldn’t go into a shop, pick up whatever I damn well like and wear it. Instead I should pick something that makes my bum look shapely but not big, my arms look toned, my stomach flat and my breasts perky. That I can’t wear figure hugging clothes because I don’t have a shape that should be flaunted. When someone says an outfit isn’t flattering, what they’re actually saying, subconsciously, is that they don’t like the body in question. and that its owner should pick clothes to disguise it, contain it, and make it look different because it’s just not pleasing as it is. To which I would like to say: ”kiss my enormous pencil-skirted ass.”

I have a few options in my war against body fascism. My favourite is simply to perfect my Paddington Bear hard stare and use it whenever someone suggests my clothes aren’t really doing it for them. However, in the interests of turning fat-shaming into something more palatable, I have devised a drinking game. Please feel free to adapt this for your own well-meaning relatives; this one’s for you, mum.

The ”What the hell do you look like in that crop top” drinking game:

Turn up to a family gathering wearing something that doesn’t make you look your thinnest.

Drink a shot every time someone says ”your breasts look like two bald men having a fight.”

Drink a shot every time someone says ”I wouldn’t have worn a minidress/hot pants/shell suit with those hips.”

Drink two shots every time someone says ”don’t you think that’s a bit short/tight/brave/repulsive for someone a bit bigger?”

Drink a whole pint of spirits if your unfettered bingo wings cause an apocalypse.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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