Lose the bullshit. Love your body. That's the tagline for Jes Baker's body activism website, The Militant Baker. It's also a fairly accurate summary of her new book, Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living.
Baker has been kicking ass for a while now. She got national attention in 2013 for calling out Abercrombie & Fitch after their CEO said the company didn't sell plus-sized women's clothing because their clothes were for "cool, good-looking" (so, not fat) people.
She founded the Body Love Conference in 2014, offering up a space for people of all sizes, gender identities, abilities, sexual orientations and whatever else to come and celebrate the idea of being comfortable with themselves.
Baker speaks at colleges and events about mental health, peer support, fat oppression and Body Love as a 21st century civil rights movement.
And now Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls is topping the Self-Esteem bestsellers charts with discussion on fatshion, health (yes, it's possible to be fat and healthy, calm down), media and mental health.
We've all heard someone groan about things fat people shouldn't do: fly. Eat in Public. Wear a bikini. Well, Baker and her book are here to tell those naysayers to back off. #Fatgirlscan do whatever the hell they want. Search that hashtag on Twitter and you'll be see the impact people like Baker have on women's lives.
The book may be titled Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls, but Baker's legion of body acceptance warriors know it doesn't matter what they're told. They don't need permission to thrive.
"Fat" is still such a divisive word. How did you move from seeing it as an insult to seeing it as simply an adjective?
It's just a descriptor of size. I love pushing people's buttons and so this was a really empowering way for me to take back my own narrative—and it made people uncomfortable. It was everything I ever wanted in a word. Very simply, if you reclaim the worst thing someone can call you, the power from their negative comment is gone. It's an incredibly powerful feeling.
"Happiness is not a size." That statement from your book really focuses the problem for me. How did you realize that was an idea that needed fighting?
I was looking at old photos. I thought I was extra beautiful in them and then I realized I was thinner in them. I thought, "Oh, I should be thinner." And then I spiraled out of control thinking I would be a happier, healthier, more in love, successful person if I were thinner. Then I realized when I was thinner, I was really fucking miserable. Even in college, when I was working out every day—because that's what college girls do—I was still so ashamed of my body that I would go into the bathroom stalls to change. It was just the contrast. By that logic, I should hate myself more now and I don't.
There are challenges scattered throughout the book—The Fat People: Do all the things! Challenge—where you encourage people to do things like cannonball into pools and wear horizontal stripes. Tell me about that.
In my early blogging days I came across these lists of things fat people shouldn't do. It was just one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard, but at the same time I identified with them. I mean, I lived in Arizona and wore long sleeved, black shirts in the summer. And so I was like, "fuck this. I'm going to make a list of 25 of these and I'm going to do them all."
There's a lot of discussion in the book about the differences between pretty and beautiful and the idea that what's considered "flattering" isn't important but presenting yourself in a way that makes you happy is. That seems like a challenging balance.
I think the balance is probably different for everyone. There's no one right or wrong way to love your body and it depends on the person but for me there's that discussion of "What if I like lipstick." What I have just broken down in my head is that we're going to be affected by cultural standards no matter what. It's not necessarily a bad thing. We need to be aware that we're being affected and that it's not the "one golden rule." We just need to find where we fit comfortably—and that space we feel comfortable in will probably change over time. I guess the point is, your worth isn't determined by how much you match or do not match our cultural standards.
It's a tricky topic to put into sentences.
I know! It's complicated. It's really important to feel attractive. That is a central part of our identity as humans in society and forming relationships and so we need it. I'm just going to tell you, I don't know the answer for everyone. Ultimately it comes down to body autonomy. What do you want to do? You're in charge.
“Fatshion” is a form of political resistance: wear what scares you
Did you know that wearing a dress with horizontal stripes is the same as holding a sign that says Fuck the Man?
Well, it kinda is.
When I started out as a body love and advocacy blogger, I purposefully stayed far away from "fatshion" (fat + fashion) posts for years. I felt like my talking about potent political subjects instead of peplum skirts would be a far better use of readers' time. But I was kinda wrong.
As I explored the world of body advocacy and started to embrace my unconventional shape, this eventually (years later, mind you) led to me to an outright refusal to follow societal rules of what I could and could not do.
And with this rebellion and interspersed fashion defiance, I realized something. Fashion rules are for people who don't know that they're breakable . . . and I wasn't going to be that person any longer.
You know the fashion rules I'm talking about. We've all heard the plus-size rule about avoiding horizontal stripes. About wearing black because it's slimming. About wearing flared pants instead of tapered so we look "proportional." About avoiding small patterns so we don't look like furniture. Don't wear giant print because you'll overwhelm the viewer. Don't wear halters. Don't wear sleeveless. Don't wear chunky jewelry. Don't wear texture. Don't wear shiny fabric. Don't wear spandex. Don't wear baggy clothes. Don't. Don't. Don't. Don't.
But "LOVE yourself," the world still somehow tries to say, "by playing to your strengths and hiding your flaws!"
Two years ago, I finally said no fucking more, y'all. I had been bending over backwards to follow these ubiquitous guidelines, and because of this the list of things I wore but hated was miles long. And the list of things I didn't wear but loved was even longer still.
It was only by ignoring the rules and wearing what I wanted that I started to realize fashion was political. That the concept of not trying to minimize or hide your body was controversial. That the act of publicly loving your body, allowing it to take up space, and dressing it up in whatever you liked . . . is revolutionary. And this applies to all bodies, no matter their size, shape, shade, or age. When you love yourself, it blows people's minds.
I discovered the power behind choosing things I longed to wear but in the past hadn't allowed myself to. Because it would accentuate my underarms. Because it would show too much thigh. Because someone would be able to see my scandalous cleavage. Because it's too loud. Because it's too masculine. Because it's a drop waist. Because it's ugly. Because it's tight. Because it's loose. Because it's metallic. Because of all the wrong reasons.
And that's why I started a series of posts called "I Wear What I Want."
"I Wear What I Want" became my monthly outfit proclamations. Visual proof that any body could rock any look. I started documenting the smashing of personal style rules: strappy sandals, crop tops, sleeveless dresses, vinyl miniskirts, swimsuits, not-exactly business casual, maxi-skirts, AND short hair. It's been beyond liberating.
They may seem silly to some, but each was a huge deal for me. The short hair especially.
Ever seen something like this on the web when talking about short hairstyles?
When choosing a hairstyle that suits you, be sure to keep your weight in mind. If you have feminine features, you can choose a short haircut like a pixie cut that will bring your beauty to the viewers attention and will distract them from your weight. Otherwise, a longer cut may be more flattering.
Of course you have. The idea that "overweight" ladies probably shouldn't have a short crop is ubiquitous and the words "conceal," "hide," and "distract from" are just as common. I bought into this for the majority of my life, and I never cut it shorter than an inch below my jawline. Fuck body shame, man. That stuff is poison.
When I was a teenager I was obsessed with the TV talk show Regis and Kelly. I would watch it religiously every morning, in love with the fake window and fake view of New York City and terribly awkward banter. God, I loved them. I will never forget the episode when Kelly was pregnant and talked about how she would never cut her hair super short because she felt like bigger hair distracted from her growing body.
Yep. Been there. Only not pregnant. YaknowwhatImean?
Here is the thing: The whole concept is kind of ridiculous. If you're fat, you're going to be fat no matter the length of your hair. People didn't think I was thin on Tuesday and then see me on Thursday and realize I was fat; no one fainted out of shock. It doesn't work that way. Hair is not a magic cloak. Clothing is not a magic cloak. It's an expression of what you love, and I love short hair and tight clothing. AND I'LL WEAR WHAT I WANT, GODDAMNIT.
To say "Wear whatever you want" is empowering, but it hasn't always been easy to achieve. Any Generation X fat girl knows what it's like to have to shop in the men's section, chop off sleeves, get rid of the choking neckline, and try to make something you like out of . . . well, not much.
And while we have more options than a few decades ago, we've still got a long way to go.
* * * * *
Case in point: I am notorious for complaining every summer as I search for sexy swimsuits for bigger gals, and I almost always end up banging my head against the wall at the inequality. There simply aren't as many options as there are for straight sizes, and much of the clothing that is available (especially in brick and mortar stores) is limited in style. And the swimsuits usually come with skirts. So what the fuck am I supposed to do if I don't like skirts?
Of course, this always prompts an even larger question for me: Why don't we see more plus clothes? We see some, but not enough. Why isn't the market for larger ladies who want to look amazing being recognized the same way the straight-sized market is? The answer is complex, but one large contributor is stigma, and the direct consequence is that there simply are not enough vendors to make and sell plus clothing. This is something I learned at a clothing company's launch event and something I've heard from other designers as well.
But here's the interesting thing: Plus-size women have A LOT of buying power. In fact, there are more size-16 women in the U.S. than there are size 0 and size 2 combined, and lots of those women have dollars they wanna spend real bad. Manufacturers are starting to realize this, so we are seeing a little bit of an increase in fashionable clothing, though not enough (and certainly not enough in the swimwear department—TARGET, I'M LOOKING AT YOU). But I'm pretty sure we can change this. I am convinced that a contributing factor (however small or large) to the lack of options is the fact that we're still not comfortable in our bodies. The demand for slimming-tucking-trimming-hiding-camouflaging clothing still outweighs the wear-whatever-we-want clothing, and this won't change until we use our buying power to show otherwise.
We need to show that WE LOVE OUR BODIES AND WE WANT ALL THE OPTIONS. We can do this by supporting companies that stylishly dress larger women (large brands, sure, but remember those kick-ass indie companies too!) by purchasing exactly what we want (the way we want), and by being vocal about what we'd like to see. Never underestimate the power of consumer demands; we have the ability to shift the fashion industry in a big way.
Oh god, fatshion is SO political.
Excerpted from Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker. Available from Seal Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2015.