When Activism Gives Way to Advertising: How Fat Girl Blogging Ate Itself

Assailed by lists of obvious advice, shiny happy content with the nutritional value of bubble gum, and cutesy sign-off graphics, I retreated to the grumpy lady corner of the Internet with cookies and the feeling that this wasn’t how fat activism was meant to be.

Nov 28, 2012 at 9:00am | Leave a comment

If you are a frequent reader of xoJane and other feminist-ish blogs, you might be forgiven for assuming the war on fat bodies is over.

Fat girls are everywhere! Not just in your RSS feeds but on TV, in books, music, magazines and movies. Gabi Gregg and Nicolette Mason have spots in fashion magazines, and Australian model Teer Wayde is a centerfold in Cleo’s December 2012 issue, joining celeb crushes like Beth Ditto, Melissa McCarthy, and Rebel Wilson (if Tumblr is a reliable source).

We have truly waddled out of the URL and into the IRL. Maybe.

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Charlotte Cowles at NY Mag’s The Cut recently asked why, if fat fashion (or fatshion) bloggers are drawing so much attention and acclaim, the fashion industry isn't following this “trend” (accompanied by the flourish of my own finger quotes) and pumping out plus size fashion for the consumption of the common fat person.

One study suggests fat stigma may be the reason and I roll my eyes as I illustrate a bear taking a crap in the undergrowth.

That fat stigma directly influences access to fashion is basic level knowledge, though I admit it may be news to some. The thin woman who kindly gives the smallest muffin to the fattest person in the office, the concerned and gentle general practitioner ignoring a symptom and blaming it on adipose tissue or the car full of jeering men helpfully encouraging a fat woman walking on the street with whistles and threats of violence. I’ve seen the faces of these people as I own my fat body and tell them about how I take photos of my outfits and post them on the Internet; the reactions are quite adorable in their shock.

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I get that clothes are important. They help us fulfill our societal contract to cover up our shameful nakedness, and they also give us a way of styling our identity and pushing visibility for ostracized and demonized bodies; many fat people tell me that finding fatshion blogs has helped them make headway toward healing their sense of self and body image.

Yet it’s foolish to suggest that fat stigma can be solved by the emergence of fatshion bloggers in the mainstream. Even while smaller independent designers are filling gaps that major manufacturers refuse to fill, giving us the hope of more sartorial options, there is a larger picture at play that fatshion blogs seem loath to address.

HOW FATSHION BECAME JUST ANOTHER BRANDING OPPORTUNITY

Fatshion blogs have largely evolved to be in step with large clothing brands, and I fear that the joining of oppressed and oppressor in brand relationships is not furthering fat activism. I don’t begrudge authors of blogs deriving an income from advertising, but I’m concerned with the increasing hand that brands have in blog content.

Seven years ago my world was rocked by the LiveJournal community Fatshionista!, bringing together politics and fashion in a cognitively explosive way. That community was a womb for me and fatshion bloggers like Gabi Gregg. There I was encouraged to blog about my own outfits by the likes of Gabi but also Marianne Kirby and Lesley Kinzel.

After a few years, I started to be wooed by brands, offering me free clothes and other perks, in return for sponsored posts and recommendations; it was all quite seductive to someone who had never had any such attention or adulation, nor the money to buy the things I was offered.

I flip-flopped between breathless enthusing for trends and pushing back at things that bothered me, my politics eventually earning me a series of black marks against my name. On one hand, it was upsetting to be snubbed and excluded from glamorous things, but on the other it was bloody cathartic to have an outlet for my anger at the state of affairs fatshion blogging was in.

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I turned down brand relationships and removed advertising on my blog, still blogging my outfits but avoiding the new blogging plague. I groaned at words like “gifted” (free clothes), “review” (usually free clothes and effusive gushing) and “sponsored” (free stuff, paid content).

Fatshion blogging also started to replicate the formula for mainstream media: white, cis, good looking, middle class, young and able-bodied. Assailed by lists of obvious advice, shiny happy content with the nutritional value of bubble gum, and cutesy sign-off graphics, I retreated to the grumpy lady corner of the Internet with cookies and the feeling that this wasn’t how fat activism was meant to be.

MY ESCAPE FROM FATSHION BLOGGING HELL

With my escape from fatshion blogging hell, where I'd been struggling under the heavy weight of keeping up with trends and sizable debt repayments, I saw the bubble I’d been operating in. Under the guise of inclusivity, fatshion is really just encouraging the divorce between politics and embodiment; it's hamstrung by brands and in the same trap as the “straight sized” world.

We’re stuck in a bubble and fooling ourselves by thinking that the anti-fat world is learning anything from fatshion. Even when I know a chunk of my own blog audience is not fat, I can be absolutely certain big brands are not reading, especially after crucifying them and their stinking sponsored content.

I scribbled this in my notebook under the heading, “Is it just about fatshion?”

Is fatshion about fat embodiment or is it about consuming clothes and making up for lost time in a capitalist system that has told us we are unacceptable? If so, is that activism? Who does it leave behind? How can we care for ourselves and other fat people without paying into the system that has fucked us over for so long?

I’ve seen lots of popular fatshion bloggers refuse to get too into politics because they don’t want to get that serious, or try to “influence” people.

For my part, I will continue to struggle with leading my audience, many of whom are fat people who’ve hated their bodies their whole lives, up to the trough of loving the outside of their bodies clothed and shod in things they never thought they’d wear while never addressing fat issues like medical negligence, race/ability/class/gender/sexuality and fatness, employment discrimination, and other big fat feelings about embodiment.