I have been a visibly fat person on the internet for nearly two years, a fashion designer for six and an online journalist for eight so I know a thing or two about what goes down in the comments section. I still remember the first time I experienced it. I wrote an article about shopping at thrift stores for AOL and someone in the comments called me a communist which was a pretty big leap. I learned then that people in the comments can sometimes feel both an inflated sense of self importance and also a unique kind of bravery that gives them a sense of entitlement to say things that they would probably never say to my face especially when I never asked for their opinion. I'm not a human being to them: I'm a byline on the story they didn't like; the butt of their fat jokes and the designer who dared to break their cherished fashion rules.
As a person who is subject to comments from three different roles, I totally get it. And for the most part, I avoid reading the comments. Not reading the comments is my form of self care. But when I released the Ready to Stare Holiday collection on Monday and particularly the Convertible Cupcake Dress, something different happened in the comments and I couldn't help but read them
In my corner of the internet, this dress was a big fucking deal. It was viewed by millions of people and commented on by thousands. It caused some extremely strong reactions and trust me, they weren't all easy for me to read. But the reactions, good and bad, were important so this is a breakdown of some of what went down.
1. "I need that red dress"
Plus Model Magazine did an exclusive preview of the collection on Friday, November 13 before it was released and they shared the above image on their Instagram. The reactions were so favorable. Multiple people said they wanted to buy the dress. My family and friends had reservations about the cupcake dress from the moment they saw my initial sketch for it (which was in March). I told them that they questioned me for months for nothing and that people liked it. The fact that I said that now is hilariously funny.
2. "My Fuck You To Flattering Dress"
Let's be clear that the design of this dress was intentional. It was designed to be both a dress that I personally really wanted to wear and also as a dress that makes a statement against the idea that plus size women can only wear things that are deemed 'flattering' by society's standards. Fashion is not a privilege. Fashion is for everyone. I tweeted this when I released the collection because I wanted to make it clear that I'm here to break those rules.
3. "The Designer Should Be Fired"
When the collection was released around midnight on November 16, I shared this image on my own Instagram before going to sleep. I woke up to see that Plus Model Magazine had re-shared it on their page that morning. I was excited to see the collection get in front of more faces. But then I read the comments.
Welp! Ready to Stare is my brand. My baby. Whatever you want to call it. I can't quite fire myself as I am its only employee. But jokes aside, the fact that the dress offended this person so much that they decided to call for the firing of myself and the team at PMM is significant. People were this offended by a dress on a plus size woman that isn't form-fitting.
4. So What Is The Truth?
Both of these photos were posted on my Instagram within days of each other and while one got more hate than the other, neither was acceptable. You want me to "compliment my curves" until I do so in a way that shows my curves come with a visible belly outline. So what is truth? Am I supposed to wear clothes that hug my body or cover it up. OH WAIT. I am supposed to actually just not be fat or at least not have any of the traits of an unacceptable fat person: rolls, stretch marks, VBO, small boobs, non hourglass shape, etc.
5. Model Dream Crushing
This one was pretty LOL to me as both the designer and the model in this image. I can assure you that my dreams of being a model were not crushed and I am definitely not mad at myself. I am by no means a professional model so much as a model of convenience to myself as an indie designer so I won't pretend to speak for professional models but I'm pretty sure they are supposed to wear whatever the client wants. And as the client and the model, this was really my dream scenario so my response was pretty simple.
6. What My Body Love Looks Like
I love my body and what that looks like for me is that sometimes I wear a crop top, sometimes I wear an baggy sweater, sometimes I wear a bikini, and sometimes I wear nothing at all. And all of those things are acceptable because there's nothing I can't wear. If I want to wear it, I wear it. The only limitation is that the garment is made in plus size which is a problem I get the pleasure of sometimes solving. But trust that my love of fashion is the ONLY thing that determines what I put on my body.
7. This Mindset Sounds Familiar
I definitely stop reading the comments because they really were brutal. But this person happened to tag me and I caught it. I liked what this person had to say because they didn't like it (which I am totally cool with) but they realized that taking this design as a personal attack against plus size fashion was pretty ridiculous. I wasn't and am still not ever forcing anyone to like my designs but if you don't like a simple, "it's not for me" is more productive than replicating this mindset that my only value as a fat woman is to be pretty by society's terms only. My looks are only pleasing IF I also play by the rules of fashion which tell me to cinch my waist and hide anything that would make me look **GASP** fat. Over the past few days, I have been called some vile things but I have also been called some form of beautiful more thing anything else; however, this beauty is not without its conditions. It is as if my beauty, and by society's terms, my worth ,was dependent on the clothes that I wore and because of this dress I was somehow less beautiful. This is obviously untrue. My beauty and certainly not my worth actually doesn't change with what I choose to put on my body because I am the one who defines those things for myself.
8. Flattering = Hide Your Fat
This is the tweet that summed up why we need to remove the word flattering from the way we talk about this dress and the way we talk about fashion in general. There was a lot of great comments like this one which is totally awesome that some people really get it! Flattering implies that someone is actively looking less fat than they actually are because being fat is bad. But as an activist who works to dismantle the idea being fat equates to being bad, flattering is one way that we continue to de-value fat bodies.
9. Rihanna Can Wear It So Can I
I started to get frustrated by the implication that this was a dress that wouldn't even be acceptable in straight size fashion because as much as every designer wants to be original, we have our inspirations. And my inspiration for this cupcake dress was Rihanna's Grammy dress. I remember her getting mixed reactions when she wore it too but overall it was positive and I certainly don't remember anyone trying to fire the designer or say that she was setting fashion back. If this dress is viewed simply as a bold choice in straight size fashion then plus size fashion shouldn't be subject to a different set of standards.
10. A Painful History
I was initially struggling with why people were so mad about this other than buying into the patriarchal concept of flattering. But this comment actually made a lot of sense to me even though I do disagree with it. Plus size fashion is just now getting visibility in mainstream fashion and there seems to be a sense that we need to prove we belong there. The idea is more of "look how sexy we can be too" and less of "look how fashion forward this is." The Lane Bryant #PlusIsEqual campaign is a great example of that. It's pretty clear that the brand wants plus size fashion to be considered equal with straight size fashion and if that means they have to leave some of us fatties behind to be seen as acceptable, they are willing to do that.
Our place in mainstream fashion is limited and while visibility in the mainstream is important, it only really matters if we are showing the full picture. People cannot identify with images they are not being shown. I get that people were mad because they felt like this dress was one more person telling them they had to wear a sack because they want to be pretty too but what about the people who wanted to wear something like this but needed to see someone in it first? Do we just leave them out of the conversation completely?
I think what bothers people about this dress is what bothers them about the word fat (which I've written about here). There's a feeling of hurt and trauma tied to it. But much like reclaiming the word fat, we can and should take back the power the feelings surrounding this dress may hold on us. This dress has the power to hurt us because we given it that power. One person commented to me, "Mean people think we should wear tents, and we're supposed to be telling them to fuck off," to which I replied, "wearing a tent IS TELLING THEM FUCK OFF. It removes the power that we have given them to control what we wear." Words and fashion rules only have the power we give them.
11. "Style is about self expression, not looking as thin as possible"
The first blogger to directly call out what was going on in the PMM comments was Sarah Chiwaya of Curvily. She posted this image (and also posted it on her blog) with the caption which speaks for itself:
"Indie designer babe Alysse of Ready to Stare dropped her first holiday collection today, specifically calling out how she was excited that the collection confronted ideas about what plus size fashion can and cannot be. The picture on the left was shared on Plus Model Magazine’s Instagram and there was SO much vitriol by people who didn’t like it, because it was “unflattering” and hence “setting plus size fashion back” (seriously). Then the pic on the right was shared later and literally every comment was positive.
I have to ask: WHY? Why do so many plus women feel like we have to cinch our waists at all costs? Why can’t we experiment with fun cuts, oversized pieces, and exaggerated silhouettes in the name of fashion just like straight size women? Moreover, why do some of us feel the need to police plus women who do? If someone makes or wears something you don’t like, why can’t you simply say “that’s not my style” (or maybe not even comment)? When straight size designers send some wild ish down the runways, no one bemoans the end of fashion. I’m happy there is more and more variety in plus fashion, with designers making pieces that appeal to different aesthetics. Not every designer is for everyone, AND THAT IS OKAY. Style is about self expression, not looking as thin as possible."
12. When I Could No Longer Keep It Cute
I kind of thought that after what Sarah had said that would be end of discussion. How can people argue with self expression I naively thought. But the comments kept coming and now they were really coming onto my page to leave them. And as much as I try to operate under a reply as professionally as possible or not at all, I couldn't resist this one.
13. Fat Shamed By A 15-Year-Old
Now this is the kind of comments I'm used to. I get these every day, all day. But surprisingly through #DressGate, I experienced very little fat shaming. No one made any comments about my visibly fat arms. So to all of those brands scared to use models who are short and size 22/24, my size or distribution of fat did not seem to bother people at all compared to the actual garment on my body.
This one 15-year-old troll tried to tell me about my genetics but hey, that's just a Tuesday.
14. The Garner Style Co-Sign
Plus size fashion blogger Garner Style posted the RiRi side-by-side photo with this caption to her nearly 580K Facebook fans. The caption is simple. It doesn't flatter and that's okay.
15. "Fashion Should Be Fun"
Another amazing response to the dress was this illustration by MurderOfGoths. Down to the details, she captured everything I really love about this dress and made a strong statement at the same time.
16. "Liberate Your Mind"
Volup2 wrote this message on their facebook page and I also woke up to a personal message from the magazine's founder, plus size fashion pioneer Velvet D'Amour who again showed her support and called me a pioneer. ***insert literal tears here***
17. "If you're fat, you'll look fat in whatever you wear, and the sooner you and yours accept that, the better."
One person that was instantly supportive to me like from the very first fuck flattering tweet was Bethany Rutter of the blog Arched Eyebrow. She not helped me spread the word about what was happening via Twitter but she also penned this BRILLIANT piece for Dazed. If you haven't read it yet, PLEASE DO IT NOW. The point that really resonated with me is this idea that we are supposed to pretend we aren't fat but I can't hide my fatness and I don't have to in order to have worth or wear a damn dress. Inspired by Rutter's words, I said this:
18. "The Beauty of Expression"
Plus Model Magazine responded to all of the comments on their page under the original photo on Wednesday morning and the statement was pretty clear. They aren't gonna fire themselves or remove the photo either. Fashion is about self expression and they totally got it.
19. Pure Confusion
Blogger Shainna of A Thick Girl's Closet wrote this on Facebook. And I couldn't but scream "PREACH" when I read it. I was one of the most outspoken critics of Lane Bryant's #PlusIsEqual campaign and even created the counter, #IfPlusWasEqual tag to discuss all the ways in which we need to push for more inclusive representation in plus size fashion. I never rant about something without actively making changes myself. I was in the process of making this dress while this was all happening and all of my lookbooks this year have featured a majority of models size 22+. It's important to me to walk the walk. But I have to wonder as Shainna did why were all those people willing to calling out LB but not defending me when I dared to do what LB wouldn't?
20. "When you hate yourself, you hate everyone else, it's that simple."
This full message is really one worth reading in its entirety but in case you don't, I will borrow a line from Jes Baker's new book, "Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls:"
HAPPY PEOPLE DON'T TRY TO PURPOSELY HURT OTHER PEOPLE."
My designs are for everyone who wants to wear them but I also recognize that I am designing for someone who is more of a risk-taker. A lot of folks used the term "alternative" to describe my work which I am down with. I have absolutely no problem with people who said this dress wasn't for them and left it at that.
Unfortunately a lot of people used this dress and the personal feelings that it stirred up and take them out on me. They had a target for all of those years of being told to wear mumus. People said I had to listen to them because I was losing customers. But their anger was misdirected. I wasn't part of the problem it's just that my solution was something a little more radical that they were ready for.
Listening to my customers is extremely important to me. It's the reason I have black leather booty shorts now, why I carry more crop tops, and why as a trained metalsmith (and not designer), I figured out how to also make clothing. And the thing is, the majority of comments on my actual pages was extremely positive which means that the people who follow me and are more likely to be customers actually got it. The people who didn't like it for their own personal issues about their body aren't my customers anyways and that's okay. There's plenty of designers and brands who are doing the kind of clothes they want but there's no one else making the cupcake dress and I like that spot much better.