Recently, I had the opportunity for a rare but beautiful full-circle moment, when I was asked to cover a Bay Area fat clothing swap event called Fattyland, put on by Natasha Harden of Halmoni Vintage. Although this particular occasion was in Oakland, Fat Clothing Swaps are becoming more and more of a thing across the country. One year prior to this event, was Fatty Winter Wonderland, which marked my immersion into body-positive culture.
(photo credit: Sada Reed for WYV)
Many of the womyn I met on this particular day expressed their excitement, appreciation, and utter joy over coming to a fat-friendly and fashion-forward space where they could simply be themselves while lavishing the rare opportunity to be surrounded by resonant bodies and clothing that was actually made to fit and celebrate their bodies. In fact, this seemed to be the cohesive feeling in the room, and as I made my way from table to bountiful table, proudly serving one plus sized item after another, it struck me that myself and many others would be taking away much more than the treasure troves of cute skirts, pants, and sweaters we had scored that day. The gifts we received far exceeded the walls of the dressing room around us that day – in fact, they are gems to be shared with all of our readers, whom we hope can be inspired to join or create a local swap of their own.
(Photo credit: Ana Salomonis Photography)
Please take a moment to relish in lessons learned while having a creative and corrective “shopping” experience:
Importance of Safe Spaces
I know that most people may think that safety goes without saying. However, I believe that once a body’s oppression has become not only normalized but celebrated by society as a whole, it is easy to forget that truly safe spaces still exist. Not even the hallowed dressing rooms of what little and still not all-inclusive plus size stores are safe from fat phobia spilling out from the deepest of internalized places – it’s as easy as hearing; “I think this would look better on you if you lost a few pounds,” from the mother of the chubby 12-year-old in the stall next to yours. It’s as complicated as hearing, “Fuck you, fat bitch,” screamed at you on the street after turning away a cat-callers intrusive advances or; “If you weren’t fat you wouldn’t have x/y/z health problem,” from your new doctor when presenting them with a legitimate medical need. The question then becomes, where does a safe space for fat bodies exist? The only answer I have as of now, are radical and safe spaces created by intersectional fat bodies for intersectional fat bodies, such as with a fat clothing swap – it is, of course, important to stress that these spaces must also focus on their accessibility, centering of womyn of color, queerness, etc… Fat activism has been built on the backs of communities even further marginalized and it is important to honor and acknowledge that truth so that the whitewashing of fat activism isn’t replicated in these spaces (which is what makes them truly safe) as we have seen with the exclusionary example “White Feminism” makes of itself.
Healing Power of Resonant Bodies
No matter how truly revolutionary having an online community of fat friends is, there is something truly healing, not to mention radical, about the sharing of physical space with bodies who physically resonate with yours. All at once, the body has come to life and is daring to take up space alongside other bodies who, without words, know that they have shared some common experiences based solely on the appearance of their bodies and the relationship of society to them. What is resonance, really, but the deeper meaning of truly being seen by someone. To say to someone with one look, one smile, one crash of hip against booty; “I see you,” is one of the most powerfully healing experiences humans have to offer one another.
Cultivating Supportive Community
Often, we may think of a community as something we are born into, and often we may be correct about this. However, taking time to seek out and cultivate a supportive community for oneself during adolescence and into adulthood is not only a courageous act, but a continuing commitment. Cultivating community is work, but finding support is a true act of self-care and sustenance. While you may find yourself heading to or creating a fat swap in your area for some new fashions, I can guarantee that you will walk away with a web of connections even more intricate than before. Although everyone may only be able to come together on rare occasions in person, you can still continue the community connection on the many social media outlets you will have undoubtedly shared with at least a handful of new friends!
Using Fashion For Body Positivity Rather Than Body Negativity
When we live in such a body negative, constantly fat-shaming culture – it permeates clear through to the very clothes that are available to our bodies both in and out of stores…to be more accurate in my phrasing I may note: the clothes that are not made available to our bodies. We have become so used to fashion being used to shame us rather than celebrate us, that it has become almost novel to have that experience. However, when that experience is had, it feels like the most affirming and positive towards one’s own body. Consciously knowing that certain clothing companies do exist and are expanding every day to celebrate all aspects of a womyn’s body, and specifically a fat womyn’s body (i.e. ChubbyCartwheels, Read To Stare, MonifC to name a few) lends itself to a variant experience before the garment is ever tried on! By now we know that capitalism thrives off of fear and societally-created self-loathing, but I believe that fat swaps are a testament to what 2016 and the future has in store for us – we can dare to choose how we participate consciously in a system that supports us rather than oppresses us.
Being The Change We Wish to See in The World
Although this point practically speaks for itself, it bears repeating: although the task may feel much bigger than yourself, you can begin enacting the greater societal change you wish to see, in your everyday actions. One major benefit of having created community is that you can all come together to create amazing realities found in many forms including fat swaps!
Creating Authentic Spaces to Wear Your Voice!
Before leaving the Fattyland swap, I had the chance to ask my fellow attendees what they would be taking away from the day. While most of their answers touched upon a lot of the themes addressed in this article, what became clearer to me with each person I briefly interviewed, was that the essence of the clothing swap allowed us all to wear our voices that day – in many styles and colors might I add! I felt it only appropriate to close with sentiments shared that day because these are not only the truths of the people present, but the overarching truths that big bodied people want and need to be present in their daily lives:
- “It feels supportive to be in a space with beautiful larger bodies – it’s not an everyday experience.” -Janine Morris
- “These events are important to me – spaces like these are hard to find. Being around bodies like mine is good for the soul – it’s healing.” -Amy Farrow
- “Having the ability to build community with people.” -Karen Medina
- “The dressing room was an awesome, femme-loving community. It was like an anti-shopping experience where everything fit and everyone was encouraging!” – Sarah Gray
- “The Bay Area has a close-knit plus size community. I haven’t found that coming from Southern California – it makes me feel like this is where I belong and this is home.” -Jannet Torres
- “A reminder that creating space for non-normative folks is really important and empowering. I expanded my community today.” -Brittany Billenger
- “Bumping into everyone and feeling that. To slouch, let your gut out, eat what you want and not think twice about it. Affirming beauty, fierceness, and being real!” – Dana Garza
- “Best Friends! We just met today, and we are officially BFFs!” – Melissa Medina and Katja von Huene
And after everything is said and done, most days all any of us can really hope for is a BFF, an upcycled body con dress, and a changing room where only positive body affirmations are spoken – with a side of sauvignon blanc and cheese no less!
*Fattyland is happening again on April 10th at the blueprint from 1-4pm. Check out the event page HERE!!! We hope to see you there.*