I was trying to figure out a way to introduce this topic because its technically so left field for me. You would think fashion is just that, I mean how hard can wearing clothes be? its one of the basic tasks hat you learn as a toddler. Except its not that easy, especially to a young, plus size woman in a heavily cultural and religious setting. If you though people have opinions on what you chose to wear, now imagine being a fat, Christian, African woman, you really have to multiply that by a factor which in my estimation has to be greater than 5.
That’s what makes it more complex than just wearing clothes. Clothing forms an integral part of our identity and you need to have some level of ability to control that to express yourself and your style. For the longest time I had two major setbacks to being able to be stylish. the first and probably the biggest one was my size. There is a gospel that is preached to seemingly fat people that there are certain things that they can or cannot wear because of their size.(never mind the fact that size is not equal to shape). I remember my mother constantly telling me how us big girls couldn’t show our legs and I ate it up. For the longest time I did not have an outfit that was not maxi length because allegedly it was an abomination to show my legs. In fact the first time I bought this midi skirt (when I was in high school) and wore it, and I remember someone commenting on how I had nice legs and that I should show them off more often. That was the first time that I experienced cognitive dissonance about my style. It was like, I fed myself this narrative that my style had to exclude any level of leg showing.
In addition to that though, was the fact that I got sexualized pretty early in my life for being curvier. I remember a long male friend of mine asking me such invasive and inappropriate questions about my body when I experienced my first puberty growth spurt. Questions and statements pertaining to how womanly I was becoming, whether I was always this curvy etc. made me really uncomfortable. I was 15 at the time and experienced a lot of older male attention. So my immediate reaction was to hide and try to be as unattractive as I could. Of course this and purity culture/religious teachings that made me think that I was at fault that my hips were never less than 45 inches. I got constantly berated by my female relatives about this actually.
The second thing was my parents. it just has to be a category on its own because whatever the ideology was cant be single handedly pinned to just religion or just culture, though I do have very bad to non existing relationships with those two aspects. In our house we had some rules like things you couldn’t wear and pants were on the top of that list. Now while I get the fact that you can have a list of what you can or cant do, it was the stiffness of the rules that still doesn’t make sense. So you couldn’t wear pants under any circumstances. Not when lounging at home, or working out or even going to site (I studied Architecture). I remember this day when we were visiting the All saints church bell tower for school and being so stressed about what I would wear because we were doing a lot of climbing. I ended up wearing stockings and a dress and the lecturer (bless his heart) upon noticing that I was in a dress, decided that I would be the last to go up the ladder and the first to come down the ladder so that the whole situation wouldn’t be uncomfortable for me.
The difficulty of these situations did make me feel trapped. Wearing clothes and finding joy in shopping was not a thing that I experienced. There were so many amazing finds that I bought when I was shopping with girl friends that I couldn’t wear, so I kept them until I gave up and gave them away. Because of this, I kind of let go. I cannot with certainty say that I cared about my appearance. I actually struggled so much I look to some pictured from that era of my life and my tummy tightens.
I have been trying to care about my appearance a lot more now, and find excitement in dressing up and discovering my style. Looking put together and feeling great in my choices is the goal. We will define my style a little more in the next blog post, but I am curious to know your journey with fashion.
You can catch up with the rest of the blogposts here.