Fat and In Fashion
Throughout history, humans have deemed various shapes and sizes trendy. We assign hotness levels based on whatever vibe we’re going for that century. Of course, year in and year out we play into this silly little game of cat and mouse. We dress it up as anything other than fatphobia and call it a day. Like Miley said: “There’s always gonna be another mountain and we’re always gonna wanna make it move”. In this case the mountain is fat, disabled, queer people of colour. Maybe that isn’t the intended meaning for her song ‘The Climb’ but it’s a good analogy. When we think of fatness, it’s probably not some glorious person draped in hand-beaded crystals lounging on a velvet sofa being hand fed grapes. Fatness and fashion (although increasingly more visible than before) is still relegated to the losers table. Those further across the fat spectrum are historically shunned from society and when it comes to clothing, must opt for custom pieces that are often extremely inaccessible. Colonialism affects us in many different ways; it is so ingrained into society that we often don’t realise its true breadth. Although prominent in fashion, fatphobia can be seen everywhere. It stems from colonial violence and we need to treat it as such.
Last year, I was cleaning out my room and as all twenty-somethings do, we fiddle with the random shit we find while sitting on the floor because our beds have become junk piles. Whilst in this state, I found an old journal from when I was eight years old - I know this because I always date my journal entries, even now. Inside were a few shit scribbles, a couple of poorly scrapbooked collages, some handwriting exercises, and right smack bang in the middle was a detailed plan to lose weight for the upcoming summer. I think I actually did a dramatic slam close of the book and threw it across the room. I then soon found a picture from 2008, funnily enough during the summer when my friends and I would go for swims in each other's Warehouse inflatable pools. It was a strange silence that I sat in, scanning my eyes back and forth between the photo and my wanna-be-skinny oath.
That same week, I was on my way to university and had thrown on a podcast by Australian influencer Flex Mami. In the episode, she recalls similar childhood memories - writing out ‘fitness plans’ and even fantasising about taking a sword to her tummy fat and cutting it all off. Although it sounds ridiculous, slicing off body fat is a dream lots of little girls have. Even Lizzo talks about it, which when you think about it, is absolutely insane. The idea that children would rather hack away at their bodies than be fat is incredibly despairing.
To dig a little deeper into what being a fat child was like, I can’t escape the abhorrent sexualisation that happens to fat children of colour, specifically little black and brown girls. I went to a predominantly Māori and Pākehā school in rural New Zealand. My circle of mates were mostly little white girls, which in itself caused a LOT of emotional damage. From a young age I was a lot more lumpy than them in all the ways you can imagine. I pretty much had the same body as their older sisters who were in high school at the time. I was wearing bras way before any of them and was acutely aware of how my body would look when I ran, jumped or did anything at all. My uniform fit weirdly because it was made for children, not teens going through early-onset puberty. I ended up having to dress like a middle-aged woman named Leonie, because the only clothes I could fit were from the pinnacle of small town fashion - Posite Plus.
The way clothes fit fat people is a mere afterthought for most brands and fashion houses. In 2018, execs from Victoria's Secret were questioned about the exclusion of trans and plus-size people in their campaigns. In response, they said fat bodies did not feed into the brand’s fantasy - which has historically been skinny, white, cis women. Try as they might, the fashion industry still can’t shake the inherent fatphobia and prejudice against the majority of the world’s bodies.
Infamy Apparel is a South-Auckland-based Pasifika, queer, and fat fashion house. Amy Lautogo is the designer and creative director behind the brand. Using her passion for fashion (a wee Bratz reference for the baddies), Amy weaves together the minority communities she exists in to form insane exhibitions of fatness, pride and couture. Infamy Apparel gives a gown and a stage to those overlooked by fashion, both figuratively and physically. In an interview upon her arrival to the Pacific Fusion Fashion stage in 2019, Amy said “Fat people have been so used to living in the ‘other’ space or the fringes of this industry. I wasn’t always able to articulate these concepts, but it’s always been my goal to elevate my community who are in the margins.”
What sets Infamy Apparel apart is the extra extra extra extravaganza of it all. The brand never does anything half-assed and that is apparent in all the work that has been produced and celebrated. Where else in this country can you find hand-sequined bodices or metre-long trains all customised especially for fat, queer bodies? What Infamy does well to remind us is that sexiness and fatness can coincide - contrary to popular belief. In an interview with Ensemble, Amy explores the ways being fat and crafting beautiful things for fat bodies influenced how she viewed fatness: “Doing my work with Infamy Apparel, I started looking at myself as an intersectional being." She said, "Once I started to focus on making custom garments for fat bodies, constantly looking at fat bodies and figuring out how to adapt the beauty of fabric to fat bodies, I realised I couldn’t do it unless I found fat bodies beautiful.”
In the era of TikTok, much work has been done online to normalise the fat body, but as we see fat fashion become more mainstream, we must continue to prioritise the voices and perspectives of the minorities within this community. Already I feel there is an oversaturation of white cis women occupying the conversation and we musn’t diminish what was started and driven primarily by queer, disabled people of colour. There is a lot of work to be done and we’ve only just started. If you’re wondering how you can join the conversation - begin with how you talk to yourself. Truly understand what makes your body yours and others theirs. Like Amy says, we are intersectional beings; we need to let go of harmful ideas about beauty that no longer serve us at all.
To be fat and in fashion is to be fabulous.