Monday, August 1, 2011

The Right to Be Seen

I love this post by guest blogger, Shoshie, over at Feministe. She writes about her propensity to wear attention grabbing colors as a means of standing out as a fat person when society tells us to do the opposite:

There’s a lot of pressure, when you’re fat, to make yourself as small and unnoticeable as possible. Wear black! And grey! And navy blue! I have this habit of leaning off the edge of bus seats so as to prevent any possibility of my belligerent thighs coming into any contact with another person. But the more angry I get about the way fat people are treated, the more unapologetic I insist on being. And it’s been incredible. I used to hate fashion, but now I see it as an amazing avenue for self-expression (not that anyone is required to use that particular avenue, any more than anyone is required to play a musical instrument). Giving myself permission to stand out has been so damn freeing.
Admittedly, my most standing out days are behind me. I have had hair every color of the rainbow. I have worn (literally) pounds of jewelry. I've sported cat ears, devil horns, and princess crowns (not on Halloween.) I have worn...on my person...battery powered Christmas lights. However, this type of behavior was a part of mostly my high school persona. As I went through college and into the working world, I became more and more mellow in my clothing choices.

But I still do make "look at me" choices from time to time (current example is dying my hair back to a shockingly bright red.)

As such, I can totally relate to what Shoshie is talking about. I feel pretty strongly that as women we are socialized to take up as little space as possible. (Yes, even taking up space is a feminist issue!) The most obvious example of this is the pressure to lose weight. More implicit messages are how to sit "ladylike" (while dudes can spread out) and the general tendency to equate smallness with femininity. And while all women are reminded, "Hey! Be smaller!" women who are bigger feel this pressure even more.

I mean, think about it. How many products are aimed at minimizing the size of women? Off the top of my head: Spanx, Shape-Ups, "weight loss supplements", exercise programs, "slimming" jeans, diet meal plans and cookbooks, and tips about "what not to wear".

With all of this at play, when I see a larger woman who is unashamed to wear something that she actually likes and that she's actually comfortable in, I can't help but feel that it's a bit of a revolutionary act. I can't help but hear her saying, "I'm here. I deserve to be seen, too. I'm not gross. I'm not shameful." And it's nice, you know? All too often, the bodies, experiences, and lives of people who aren't a size 0 or 2 are erased. How often are fat characters relegated to positions of mockery, tokenism, or shame? This happens regardless of gender but undoubtedly hits women much harder.

So excuse me if I'll be exercising my right to join Shoshie in dying my hair a bright color and dancing around in whatever the hell I'd like--be it black or neon pink.

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