Friday, 23 June 2017

Rejecting The Roles Of The Fat Friend And Comedy Side Kick

We've known for a long time that images of females on screen overwhelmingly promote thin white bodies.
Fat women in film or television are still a rarity, and when they are included,  its a case of always the bridesmaid never the bride (quite literally, when was the last time you saw an overweight  woman as the romantic lead in anything other than My Mad Fat Diary?)
Walt Disney once said "Movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal adulthood" if we think King Disney has a point, how then do movies and TV shape how fat women view themselves? particularly when we consider what we are watching as we transition from teens to womanhood
The limited fat archetypes presented in the moving image, have I believe, affected how many plus size women feel they must behave to take their place in society. 
If it seems like a stretch consider this. Growing up we copy what we see, both in our real environment and in the universes offered to us via screens. Films and TV are the campfire tales of our generation. Thoughts around how women should behave and interact are deeply ingrained in our psyches via the medium of entertainment.
Even if we are able to distance ourselves from the presented ideals, some of those stereotypes have a tendency to stick. As plus size women try to find their place in a society which is overwhelmingly negative toward them, inhabiting personality traits that are universally accepted can seem like the only way forward.
I don't for one second suggest that fat women make this decision consciously, but as we strive to fit in, wearing some of the approved persona's from the world of film and TV can be as easy as slipping into a pair of slippers.
The adoption (however unwittingly) of some of the characteristics and behaviours presented on screen (scripts usually written by white men it should be noted) can I believe really effect how fat women thrive and take their space as individuals. Its another example of our body shape dictating how we experience the world and how the world experiences us. Here are some of the fat character tropes I feel we are offered on repeat.

The Waterproof Shoulder
To compensate for their perceived lack of physical currency, fat women in film are often represented as being pragmatic, down to earth, carers. Tending to the needs of others (usually thinner, blonder, women) A willingness to take a backseat or be a support act is taken as a given. Fatness we are told, precludes us from being the object of love or the main protagonist. Instead we wait patiently with tubs of ice-cream and a homely hug, just grateful to share in some of the thin, white radiance. Newsflash, your size does not mean you have to always play second fiddle to someone else drama. You are queen of your own kingdom. Be a good friend, yes, but expect some of it back to. To steal from Alanis Morrisette "you are not the doctor"

The Reformed Fatty
Probably best exemplified, by the "Fat Monica" character in Friends. Being a former fatty is usually written into dramas as a dirty secret, a lapse in judgement that has been rectified. To have been fat is presented as far worse than having been a bad friend, a cheat or a murderer. The message is clear-do not slide back, fatness will not win you Chandler Bing. Thinness did that. This message is of course devastating to anyone who struggles to stay within societal norms of an "ideal" weight. To live your life as a "Before' picture, to have even gone from Thin Monica to Fat Monica rather than the reverse is a story we never get to see. We need to stop equating thinness with success and fatness as a temporary problem waiting to be solved.

The Yoyo Dieter With Low Self Esteem

Possibly one of the most disturbing ways Hollywood deals with fatness is when they write a character who looks perfectly normal, but who is constantly referred to as overweight or fat. Bridget Jones Diary is a classic example of this (another is the character of Benny played by Minnie Driver in Circle of friends, who spoke often of how her weight gain for the part really damaged her early career, she looks to be around a size 12 in that production)
From comedy shots of Bridget's big bottom sliding down a fireman's pole, to her need to wear "big knickers" to hold in her tummy, Bridget's character is written as flaky, undisciplined and quintessentially "the girl next door"
The fact that she is viewed as overweight and that she discusses the numbers on the bathroom scales endlessly is humorous, until you realise its really a comedy about disordered eating and how to maintain relationships with slightly disinterested men.
When the "rakish" Daniel dumps Bridget for a slim American, her response is to start an exercise regime (resulting in her hilariously falling off an exercise bike because you know, fat girls in gyms)  Bridget's endless understanding as she chases after the emotionally unavailable Mark Darcy plays perfectly into the idea that "fat women work harder at relationships" there is a subtext of gratitude and of putting up with shit.

The Loud Funny One

I sometimes wonder if studio execs once sat around a table and having figured out that fat women were keen to see representations of themselves on the screen decided this "Fat women will be permitted but (and this is important) only if they are loud and funny" For me this is one of the most toxic stereotypes that is applied to plus size females on screen. That to earn our seat at the table (which we will probably break, to the mirth of our slimmer co-stars) we will all have to become "Fat Amy" Madcap, without vanity, telling the fat joke before anyone else can. 
I think many, many plus size women have at some point played the "fat Amy" card. cracking pre-emptive jokes about their size, being "jolly" as if a dress label over a 14 means you are a natural comic. Sure lots of fat women are naturally very funny and witty, but often these skills have been honed as a reaction to endless taunts and cruelty. The other side of the coin is that as fat women are simply humans like everyone else (yes really) many don't feel jolly, or want to wise crack. they may be sensitive, keen to merge into the background, careful with words. Characters like Fat Amy may seem progressive, after all they show a fat woman in control, giving zero effs about what anyone thinks about her, but in truth everything about her, even the name she introduces herself with, is a reaction to fatphobia. 

The Emotionally Desperate

Fat women having relationships is either totally ignored in the majority of films and TV or presented as being slightly desperate and sexually aggressive. As much as I love the film Muriel's Wedding the premise is simply that a fat unattractive girl is so desperate to land a handsome husband she agrees to a fake wedding. At times she almost gurns at her soon to be fake husband. The film Bridesmaids also illustrates this beautifully. When main character Annie (who despite being written as being a bit of a mess is still slim and blonde ) is seem to be settling for second best in the relationship department her hook up is with Don Draper in a luxury condo, Megan the fat bridesmaid played by Melissa Macarthy propositions a stranger on a plane and despite all but stripping for him is rejected. Her feelings appear to be unhurt and this is a characterisation you see again and again. The idea that plus size women have thicker skins, that rejections hurt less, that they don't require the emotional depth or connections their thinner counterparts take for granted. Why fat women are never really wooed on screen? We deserve all the wooing.

Being Fat Makes Us Work Harder On Our Personalities

How often have you heard a fat woman described as being a "really nice person" it seems that to forgive the crime of not being slim, plus size women must work twice as hard at being "good and kind" Summed up brilliantly in the film Shallow Hal  (Gweneth Paltrow "hilariously" wearing a fat suit) we see Jack Black unable to see anything but the beauty inside people and (just for shits and giggles) he "accidentally" dates a fat chick. Its all OK we are told because she is a really "nice person" The problem with this perspective is that it yet again enforces an idea that to be tolerated by the world, we as fat people, must be extra nice. But what if that isn't our temperament? what if you are a bossy, sassy, free thinker? What if you don't particularly want to have to wear your "good nature" as a sort of wristband to allow you entry into the festival of thinness? I'm all for being good to each other but I'm more for women being allowed the freedom to be whoever they want to be and the tired old idea that only with a "pretty face" and  "nice personality" are we acceptable needs to be retired from the silver screen and from life.

So that's my take on the fat stereotypes in TV and film. I would love to hear yours. More importantly what types of characters do you want to see? What’s missing? For me I want plus size superheros, fat women playing roles that never once reference size and yes, a romcom where the fat leading lady can't decide between two lovers and is counselled by her thin friend ( its Sleepless in Seattle the reboot)


New 'Colour Me' Tshirt boxes - For Kids, and adults up to 5XL. Each item comes boxed with fabric pens,practice sheets & instructions. 
Available  only  at  Nicky Rockets

All content (text, photos and other) are the property of Perelandra Beedles unless otherwise stated. Please refrain from copying any material without recognition of the author and a link to the source on this blog

Monday, 12 June 2017

Clothes As Social Identity

Do you ever watch or read something which is so smart and yet so obvious it really makes you pause for thought? 
This happened to me only the other day. I was flicking through a book called  The Fashioned Body: Fashion, Dress and Modern Social Theory  written by a sociologist called  Joanne Entwistle and one line jumped out at me:

 "The social world is a world of dressed bodies,”

Talk about a lightbulb moment. I suddenly felt all kinds of thoughts fall into place. 
If clothing is one of the main ways in which “bodies are made social and given meaning and identity.” plus size women have been at a terrible disadvantage.  Forced to present a version of ourselves which is unimaginative and restricted, simply by virtue of the poor quality and lack of choice in plus size clothing. Boy have we been screwed over.

If we as westerners, solidify our place within communities (work, home, social)  not just by our actions, and behaviours but also by the clothes we wear on our backs, our very place in the world has until recently, been pre-ordained through a simple lack of fashion options.

We've known for years that the clothes we wear can drastically affect how we feel. Its why we don a smart suit for a job interview. And its not just how clothes make us feel, but how they make others feel about us. Being poorly dressed is often viewed as being slightly out of touch or less in control. We call things "old hat" or "old fashioned" to describe the obsolete, the unimportant. 
The problem is when it takes you all your time and energy to find something that will actually fit, you are less likely to be able to follow fashion or tell a fashion "story"
 Its semiotics 101, what we put on in the morning is a fabric sign post for how we want to be interpreted. Oversize tunics, tops featuring cold shoulders  and poor quality leggings say nothing to me about my life (to borrow from The Smiths) and yet they still make up so much of the clothing offer over a size 18.
 This is why its never been more important for us to continue to push for more clothing choices in more sizes every time we get an opportunity. To relentlessly support brands who are doing it well ( navabi, Yours, Plus equals and dare I say my own Nicky Rockets all spring to mind) and gently but firmly encourage brands whose plus size offer either ends at a 22 or is just woeful past a size 18 to do better.

Fat women deserve to represent themselves in an authentic, meaningful way, and only when clothing is widely available that works in every social setting (and that fits their bodies) can this happen. 

Outfit deets
 stripe badge top by Very 
Skirt-Past Season
Lipstick-Shade Envy By Chloe Ferry (vegan and allows you to layer without going bobbly, love it)


Brand New "'Lighting My Way With The Bridges I Burn " Design  available  only  at  Nicky Rockets

All content (text, photos and other) are the property of Perelandra Beedles unless otherwise stated. Please refrain from copying any material without recognition of the author and a link to the source on this blog

Friday, 9 June 2017

Body Positivity And The Male Gaze

Whatcha Looking At?

When I started riding the boat of third wave feminism back in the riot grrl days my activism revolved around the simple notion of equality for women. 
In the various zines I wrote for (yes pre-live journal and blogs we antiquated types wrote and illustrated punky zines, which we sold at gigs and CND rallies) I raged against pay gaps, lack of reproductive rights and being told girls couldn't play guitar.
Patriarchy created in me a white hot fury (and boy was it was white, KimberlĂ© Williams Crenshaw might have coined the phrase intersectionality in 89 but it took a little while for that penny to drop) but then (as now) I continually challenged notions of a woman's "place" or "role in the world.

Having fallen in love with Naomi Wolfs The Beauty Myth (for a list of some of my favourite fat positive books see here) my feminism took on a new dimension.
 I  realised that a woman of size, embracing fashion and beauty, documenting it with pride, was in many ways revolutionary. Fashion as activism is an ancient pursuit and one that I have been proud to be part of.
Plus size fashion blogging gave a voice to a small but vocal group of women who refused to be silenced by fat shaming. Parading our finery on blogger and Wordpress, every fierce outfit that accentuated our visual belly outlines or flaunted our upper arms, smashed accepted ideas about which types of body should be visible in the media.

Fuck Flattering

For a short time, the clothes I chose to share on my blog felt like a radical act. When scores of people left hateful comments under a picture of me wearing metallic leggings showing off my cellulite, I knew plus size blogging was hitting a nerve. And its felt important.
Important because for every person hating on my thigh jiggle, so many more were hi-fiving me, telling me that they too were going to stop taking on board sexist controlling messages about what it is to be beautiful.
And thats where it gets complicated. That word "beautiful" 

Having been told for so many years that to be fat was to be ugly, redefining ideas of beauty felt both healing and culturally important. But why do we need to be told we are beautiful?
Increasingly as the term Body positivity is co-opted by brands to sell products, I worry that the body positive message is only about definitions of beauty. Its like a donut missing the custard. It looks good but it has no substance.
By allowing the focus of body positivity to be the insistence that "all bodies are beautiful" are we are not allowing the ideals we rejected, dictate how we feel about ourselves? Doesn't it smack of the male gaze?
The term Male Gaze” is from a ground breaking essay by Laura Mulvey called Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema  Written in 1975  I haven't looked at it since my own university days but somehow it still chimes. 
Written in relation to film, Mulvey claimed that the male gaze occurs when the audience is put into the perspective of a heterosexual man. Mulvey proposes that the male gaze denies women human identity, relegating them to the status of objects to be admired for physical appearance. Sound familiar?
Now I understand that plus size representation is a multi faceted issue. Access to fashion continues to play an important  role in empowering fat women. 
To dismiss it as only functioning on a kind of vanity platform is to ignore the marginalisation still suffered today by women, who simply can't find clothes to fit. 
I understand how enriching seeing images of fat women is. When you still struggle to find any photos of plus women in the media, its still so important that we as plus size bloggers continue to flood our own small corners of the internet with an alternative view. I also absolutely love fashion, its creative, expressive and makes me incredibly happy.  
What I'm keen to move away from though, is the idea that our outer appearance is the beginning  middle and end to the issue of body acceptance. 
This is where I see a small but healthy shift from some of my favourite bloggers. Discarding the term "Body positive"  and replacing it with "fat positive" Creating a distance from a term that has been subverted by companies to make money from woman insecurities.

Fat activism (unlike body positivity)  tells us that to be fat is acceptable, normal, requiring no caveats. The lily requires no guilding. Acceptable fat does not mean smaller fats, white fats, able bodied fats. That to me should be the underlying vision. 
Rejecting the word Body positive and changing it to Fat positive is not to throw shade on slimmer women, its to protect those who have worked hard to feel ok with being fat and don't want that work to be diluted to sell diet drinks.
The rush to insist that fat is beautiful is to my mind, still women chasing approval for their appearance. Im excited to see ideas  of feminism attempting to create even more resistance to patriarchal ideas of beauty. 
I'm starting to see bloggers moving into a new space where they no longer compliment each other on looking beautiful but instead compliment the fierceness of an outfit. They call each other queens and are using powerful language to give feedback which is less about the optics and more about the attitude of an outfit. Its all about style, vision, not  being the pettiest girl in class.
In the book Manifesta, authors Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards suggest that feminism can change with every generation and individual "We're not doing feminism the same way that the seventies feminists did it; being liberated doesn't mean copying what came before but finding one's own way – a way that is genuine to one's own generation"
Its definitely time for those of us who have always treated plus size fashion blogging as a type of activism to start questioning what movements we allow ourselves to be absorbed into. Blogging is the most punk rock form of idea sharing. No editors, no advertisers to offend, we can create the world we want with no compromises. We don't have to allow our movement to be turned into white bread to be sold back to us with the promise of nourishment. Every day is a "fat day" (I see you Ashley) and thats acceptable. 


Brand New "'Lighting My Way With The Bridges I Burn " Design  available  only  at  Nicky Rockets

All content (text, photos and other) are the property of Perelandra Beedles unless otherwise stated. Please refrain from copying any material without recognition of the author and a link to the source on this blog

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