“Hey fat girl, stop trying to look skinny,” he shouted out of his car across a busy three lane Chicago street. People stared and turned around in a fury — I’m sure they were relieved to find his comments were directed at me. The comment jolted me from the half slumber I was still in as I crossed the street in a short orange sweater dress and blue suede platform wedges. At first, my head raced with what to think about this comment. I knew I was supposed to be offended, but I couldn’t get myself to give this stranger that much power.
The whole situation reminded me of the last time I wore an orange sweater. It was sleeveless and neon. My mom bought it for me from Nordstrom. I paired it with olive green pants. I couldn’t wait to “premiere” it at school. The hallways of my middle school were my runway. I was ready to show the seventh grade my take on fashion.
“Caitlin told me, ‘I wouldn’t wear that if I looked like her.’ I’m just telling you because I’m a friend.”
I stared at my “friend” dumfounded and repeated the comment over and over in my head. Was she saying that I couldn’t wear that outfit because I wasn’t as skinny as she was? This was my new favorite outfit. I loved that orange sweater. I couldn’t understand why someone else would tell me what I should and shouldn’t wear.
At 180 lbs, I was one of the biggest girls at my school. On top of my weight, I matured extremely early so while my classmates were still shopping in the girls department, I was already too big to shop in the juniors section. I didn’t look like anyone else at my school because of my size. I already didn’t look like them so I decided I didn’t want to dress like them either. I didn’t want to dress like the people at my school who bullied me for my weight. They all looked the same. They dressed in clothes from the same stores and their cool factor was determined on how much they fit in; my individuality was born from how much I stood out.
I always loved fashion but it wasn’t until I started to get bullied that I began to find power in my individuality and my ability to put together an outfit that made my classmates scratch their heads. They wore Abercrombie jeans while I wore red pleather rattleskin pants. If they stared or talked about me, I was accomplishing my goal. I was challenging their idea of what was considered an acceptable way of dressing. I wasn’t going to follow their rules. I was going to make my own.
A little over ten years since my middle school bullies helped me find my true calling, a stranger on the street was challenging me again for wearing an orange sweater. It was in that moment that my brand, Ready-to-Stare was born. I decided that as a designer, I wanted to empower people through fashion. I wanted to create jewelry and clothing for the people just like me who knew what it felt like to be stared at, taunted by strangers and laughed at by friends. I wanted to create a brand for the people who are so confident, it scares people.
Fashion is not a privilege reserved only for those of a certain size. No one should to limit what he or she wears because it makes someone else uncomfortable. The discomfort stems from that person’s own insecurity. The more people who use fashion to challenge societal norms, the more minds are opened.
So find the clothing that makes you feel like Beyonce and strut around town. People will stare. And you’ll know exactly why.
This was originally published on May 23,2014 on the Broadening Horizons blog, Tha Outlet.