From Chanel’s feminist rally runway set in 2014, to Beyonce placing the word center stage, the feminist movement has gained momentum in today’s popular culture. Countless of articles have sprung in the wake of this surge in popularity, questioning whether both worlds could truly co-exist.
I identified as a feminist long before taking on the reigns of plus size fashion blogging. In fact, I found myself in the arena of fashion blogging thanks to feminism. Growing up, it seemed to me that my choices were not mine alone. It has been commonplace for society to invade my privacy; forcing judgments upon personal matters such as my appearance. From as early as I can remember, my physical appearance was compared to those of my peers and siblings because I did not fit into the ‘sweet Indian lass’ mold sculpted for me. As a child, this stirred up self-doubt, and as a teenager I was beset with perpetuating self-loathing ideals others had formulated about myself.
I recall putting my foot down for the first time with the choice of clothing when I was 13. My mother used to dress me identically to my sister, who is four years my junior. We could not be any more different physically – while she was waif-like with delicate features, I was broad-shouldered, chubby and had imposing facial features. Being dressed in the exact manner was embarrassing. Like any other preteen, I was in that big hurry to graduate to more stylish clothing.
That didn’t quite happen as gracefully as I imagined. When I was finally given some leeway with clothing choices, I discovered an underlying discomfort with dressing myself. My body did not resemble that of my peers or the girls in the magazines. Bear in mind that I am an ethnic minority in Singapore, where the majority population comprises of Chinese-Singaporeans. I will never be a part of the ‘ideal beauty’ here so often described as having a porcelain-skinned with glossy straight black hair on a petite frame. Let’s also not forget that my not-too-traditional-but-still-conservative minded Indian parents still had plenty of say with how I could dress.
So what was I supposed to do?
I was not considered attractive by Singaporean standards, and I was unable to figure out how to dress myself. It took over a decade and a half to settle on a style aesthetic, which ironically is extremely eclectic. In the meantime, I buried myself in the comfort of literature, academia and other pursuits. In between yo-yo weight cycles, my clothing basically comprised of bootcut jeans with t-shirts, oversized plaid blouses, shabby menswear-inspired clothing for work, bermuda shorts, a whole lot of awkwardly-fitted racerback tees, and turtleneck tops draped beneath shawls or cardigans to prevent being chastised by my folks.
I was the geeky kid who did not know how to address her curvature and overall appearance, as if it was something to be ashamed of thanks to societal/cultural limitations placed upon me as a South Asian and Singaporean ethnic minority. Burying myself in books was one of the best things I did, and it was a worthy escape from the confinements of a patriarchal society. Feminist literature and studies were one of the many bright sparks in which I found solace. I identified with studies of postcolonial feminism, feminist voices in Psychology, as well as feminism’s impact on pop culture. It burned me up with a desire to create change and awareness. I wanted to work with women, for women, but I did not have a clue in what capacity I would find myself doing so.
While I fought fervently for personal autonomy and challenged my predetermined role as an Indian woman, my inner critic berated my existence with echoes of the self-diminishing statements I grew up hearing and continued to hear. There is a point when you get sick and tired of being sick and tired. The diet culture I was surrounded by sickened me, and I was tired of the constant body fascism. It led me down the rabbit hole, and on my 30th birthday, I decided I was not having any of it anymore. After spending the first year of my 30’s educating myself on body positivity and plus size visibility, I took a major leap of faith and began writing as Curves Become Her. That was when it began to dawn on me that taking this stand to assert my right as a plus size woman of colour was one of the most pivotal feminist stances I was looking to champion. I was creating the plus size representation that was missing from my existence.
From then on, dressing up was no longer a source of embarrassment. I stopped hiding from myself and the society that constantly reminded me that I was not worthy. It has been an illuminating journey. I have moved out of the shadows.
Fashion blogging has broadened my vision and challenged older beliefs of what femininity, personal autonomy and defining what being a feminist means to me. When I step out to wear a fatkini, a top that bares my soft flappy arms, a dress that wraps around my visible belly outline, a bodysuit that displays my cleavage, a skirt that does justice to my bodacious behind. I let my feminist voice roar. So many bloggers and activists that I admire and shero-worship do the same.
I am a feminist who happens to be a fashion blogger.
In the world that we live in today, it is possible to create this intersection. It is, however, going to take a lot more initiative within the fashion community to do so. While some companies imbibe the body positive movement (which is inherently a feminist standpoint), others are merely scratching the surface. If more fashion designers and insiders of the fashion industry address the problems that arise with unrealistic beauty standards, then we can say with more certainty that they care for empowerment and equality.
All Images courtesy of the author. Used with permission.
Check out Aarti’s fashion blog over at Curves Become Her. Keep in touch with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.