Sometimes people say things and I sit there with my head tilted like a confused dog who is trying to make sense of the noises their owner is making. The owner seems really earnest and like they want something from the dog and they seem to believe they're making tons of logical sense. And the dog's face is all, "Excuse me? I'm a dog. What are you even?"
That's how I felt at first when I read this Elle interview with Tara Lynn, a plus size model who has been feeling a lot of success lately, including the cover of Elle Spain.
There are a lot of people mad now, based on Tara Lynn's statement that it's hard to make clothes look great on big women -- that's the pull quote and, hell, I certainly used it in my article title! It makes for great clicks if you care about body politics at all or are just prone to outrage in general. (There's nothing wrong with being prone to outrage, by the way. It gets a lot of shit done.)
It takes a certain something to be a hugely (heh, pun) successful plus size model and say there's no need for body diversity in fashion modeling. But I'm also not surprised that Tara Lynn would come out and say something like that.
Tara Lynn is soaking in fashion industry shit. And, like, I love clothes and fashion and plenty of people who work in fashion, but I don't think that's always a healthy environment, especially for fat folks. (Also, I get that she doesn't read as fat to a lot of people, especially very fat people but in model world, she is totally fat. I'm not going to police that.)
What actually troubles me more about her statement is what follows that up:
The more fat there is on a body, the more variation there is in the shape of that body. And so it makes perfect sense that people are using a standard, clothes-hanger skinny body for it.
She's right that fat bodies are incredibly individual. No one body will carry fat identically to any other body -- and the more fat you have, the more obvious that is. Also, and I'm not sure we have talked about this before, the more fat you have, the more your body changes when you're in different positions (sitting versus standing, for example) -- and all of that is going to have an impact on how clothes fit you. And thus on how clothes look.
This is why I don't wear belts. When I sit down, they immediately squish me no matter how comfy they are on my hips when I'm standing.
But what she's saying actually illustrates a lot of WHY I think modeling can be toxic -- that sense that women who model are nothing more than walking clothes hangers and that clothes should only ever look one way, displayed on clothes hanger bodies.
I've got some clothes (not many) that look good on a hanger. But I don't really know anyone -- of any size or shape -- who doesn't transform a garment through the act of wearing it. Because our bodies occupy three-dimensional space and we move and bend and live in our clothes in a way that clothes hangers or even mannequins never will.
If the goal of fashion is to create clothes that only look good in static images, on clothes hangers or women we have dehumanized to the point that they are mere stand ins for clothes hangers, well. It's no wonder fashion is kind of a toxic industry for a lot of people to be involved in. Because on the one hand there is art -- and on the other there is no shirt, no shoes, no service. We've mostly got to get dressed to move around in the world.
It's not hard to make clothes look good on bodies -- it's hard to make clothes that look good on a variety of bodies because bodies are all individual. Clothes that look great on the hanger often look like crap on my body because I have volume and I don't sit still well. In addition, I occupy my clothing in a way that, I am starting to think, is counter to the goals of the fashion industry -- I'm not really interested in the one way they think a given item of clothing is going to look good; I'm interested in how that given item of clothing is going to work for me and my aesthetic and my purposes when I'm getting dressed. My clothes don't create my image -- I create my image and all of my clothes, no matter how outlandish some of them are, are tools that I use to do that.
Mostly, I think my clothes look awesome when I wear them. Because I know my body. And even when I have to make compromises because of accessibility or just not giving a good god damn (because sometimes I don't), I think I have a pretty good sense of what will and won't work for me and the look I'm going for.
(There are plenty of folks who think I look a hot mess -- that's fine by me because not everything is for everyone. I'm just saying, I dress this way on purpose.)
I've learned this through a lot of trial and error and experimentation -- and I'm still experimenting with stuff. I'm trying out this weird shirt made of teggings right now, in fact. (Preliminary verdict: it's sooooooo comfortable and it's staying put where I've tucked it in.) And while I've been inspired to try certain combinations of things by fashion editorials, how clothes hang on a thin model has never much helped me with how clothes are going to look on me.
I'd like to see variety in modeling because what we see around us every day is what defines our "normal" -- and I want "normal" to reflect the actual reality that bodies come in lots of sizes and shapes and colors and ability levels. I'm more interested in that than I am in seeing clothes that are designed for clothes hangers being worn by women who, apparently, are meant to approximate clothes hangers.
I'm not mad at Tara Lynn. But she does make me sad. Because if she has a hard time making clothes look good, what the hell is wrong with her clothes?