International Women’s Day

Natalie Perkins, definatalie.com

Representation and normalisation for love

Natalie Perkins, definatalie.com writes on

Why I blog about my outfits

Hello, I’m Natalie and I blog about my art, my body and my activism. It’s hard to describe what I do and what I talk about for a new audience because I’ve realised I have taken my own audience for granted up until now. So, to introduce here my activism for fat bodies and body image it feels quite overwhelming and scary. I’ll start at the beginning though – I am fat. When I say this to strangers they usually tell me, “oh but you’re not fat!” when in actuality I am fat. I have reclaimed the “f word” in a culture that has demonised it and the bodies it lives within. Western culture rewards bodies that fall into the norm, and so if you’re not the norm (most of us!) or if you’re not working towards the norm (by NOT dieting, NOT wearing “flattering clothes” or NOT being ashamed of our body) you fall into a category of person that is often ignored, insulted and patronised. It’s not just the media that does this, the practice of demonising bodies that aren’t typical follows us into our daily lives; when we go to the doctor for a cold and are admonished for being fat, when we go to lunch and feel ashamed about eating too much in public, or when we are with friends and talking about the ways in which we hate our bodies.

New media and fat activism.

In my part of the Internet, my blog operates within a space called the “fat-o-sphere”. Over the last 10 years as fat activism and size representation adapted to new media a whole new sphere was created by people demanding that their bodies be seen and their voices heard. We started by creating discussion forums and then branched out to blogs, first testifying to our experiences living in fat bodies and then realising that we could participate in fashion, an industry where fatness isn’t just made invisible but made vulgar, by demanding that designers and retailers cater to us too. On blogs we posted outfit photos, in one blow to normative body ideals we were styling ourselves in the garments we could find (that are so limited!) and in a second blow representing ourselves. Craving validation, representation and normalisation hundreds of new “fatshion” blogs have been created over the past few years and testify to the sheer number of people who are rejecting normative beauty and bodily ideals.

Bodies of all types exist in the world but we rarely see them represented in the media, and if they are they are used as caricatures. Two examples come to my mind readily: fat bodies are shorthand for greed and laziness, and disabled bodies are pitied and used as “inspiration” for able-bodied people. Very rarely do we see neutral representation bodies that fall outside the normative ideal; instead mostly white, able bodied, thin and cisgendered bodies have been normalised. This hurts us in so many ways, manipulating us into spending a lot of time and money in the pursuit of being a totally narrow version of “beautiful”. I propose that we are not flawed. Instead this definition is flawed. We should replace that narrow definition of beautiful with “normalised”. Thin, white, able-bodied and cisgendered bodies are normalised through mainstream media and thus our culture, alienating a whole population of people.

I’m a fatshionista.

So part of what I do on the Internet is take advantage of the fact that we, the people, can create and publish content. This content can be completely personalised and free of commercial constraints because blogs and social media can be developed at a relatively low cost. I’m not a TV network and I don’t need to care about appeasing advertisers or manipulating people into buying into what I’m selling by spending money on products that won’t necessarily work anyway. So what I do is post photos of myself to the Internet and I write about my body as a way of seeking representation, and maybe even normalisation.

A collage of four photographs of me in different outfits. Left to right: wearing a black dress with white dots using a cane; in a white lace dress with boots holding up a necklace that says “fat”; wearing a black t-shirt with a pink patterned calf length skirt; in a black and white striped t-shirt with black jeans.

Reclaiming fashion.

I write about body image and fashion because I want people to know that there are other alternatives to self hate and feeling ostracised. For years I had no idea I could buy clothes on the Internet, and I was stuck with the frankly awful offerings in Australian brick and mortar stories; it was by coming into contact with fat activism online that I found other avenues to fashion, self love and a supportive community. Bodies like mine usually don’t get to dress up in designer clothes. Instead of “supporting local designers” or collecting pieces from super designers, most of us buy our clothes off the internet from the “high street” stores. The funny thing is, bodies like mine would absolutely consume designer fare if it were made in our size. But it’s not so fat people remain in a position where they’re portrayed as unfashionable and unattractive, when being fashionable and attractive is rewarded! It’s so frustrating and circular; I’m baffled when people fail to see this cycle.

Personal style can be a way to illustrate your moods and your politics. The two can’t really be separated for me, and because I am fat I don’t get to pick and choose exactly what I want so my clothes and my style can sometimes be shocking to some people, especially if they’ve got a concrete idea of what fat women are supposed to look like. The clothes available to me in Australia aren’t terribly fashionable, nor are they couture-like in quality. This excludes a whole bunch of people from participating in feeling fashionable, and for lots it’s a point of shame and drives them to body minimising behaviours. For me though? It makes me feel political. I am angry that our capitalist society doesn’t want me to love my body or feel fashionable and I am angry that people are hurt and excluded by this mechanism.

It’s transformative!

Blogging, while more accessible than traditional mainstream media, isn’t perfect. There are still barriers to access for lots of people because literacy, technical proficiency, access to the Internet and a camera are required. Even then, setting up a blog can be a daunting prospect because it requires social networking with other bloggers to gain readers and although we are taught that success equals a large audience, I’d like to think that overcoming the multiple hurdles to even start blogging is success in itself. Having the guts to represent yourself and your body, publish your writing or post your photos publicly is pretty significant.

Poking your tongue out at normative ideals is a major thing and comes highly recommended by me. I’ve met hundreds of new people, learnt about so many things and come to a new place in peace with myself. In fact I feel so passionately about blogging, fatshion/ fashion and self representation that my husband and I provide at-cost hosting for new fat activism and fatshion blogs because we are fortunate enough to have the skills to be able to help people. (If you want to start a fatshion or fat activism blog and need help, please get in touch!) It’s a powerful thing to be a part of; I want more and more people to access this form of activism and investigate the hurtful ways in which our culture disenfranchises people who literally don’t fit in.

Here are some links to things I’m involved in:
definatalie.com
 My personal blog.
@definatalie 
My Twitter account.
Axis of Fat 
A group blog about (mostly) Australian fat activism, writing and fashion.
Deathfatties
 A user submitted Tumblr dedicated to showcasing fatshion.


About the Author

Natalie Perkins, definatalie.com

Natalie Perkins writes for her personal blog, definatalie.com, about being fat, wearing clothes, making art and being human in Brisbane, Australia. Natalie is passionate about activism through blogging and has helped a number of fat activists establish blogs. In 2009 she created Axis of Fat and Deathfatties as web spaces for fat activism and fatshion powered by the community.

Refusing to play well with the Australian fashion industry and bloggerati’s erasure of bodies that don’t conform to the accepted ideal, she turns up visibly fat to events and doesn’t read fashion magazines. Her personal style leans towards the sublimely overdressed while maintaining nostalgia for ’90s riot grrrl sensibilities.

Find her tweeting as @definatalie.

Comments

Kate Marsh
Kate Marsh — 04 March, 2011 at 10:40 am

GO NATALIE!

“Poking your tongue out at normative ideals is a major thing and comes highly recommended by me.”

Couldn’t have said it better :) Thanks for doing what you do.

Amanda
Amanda — 07 March, 2011 at 10:39 am

THANKS NATALIE!
Your story is truely amazing and its great that you haev shared it with us all!!
I feel truely inspired by what you said.

Joanna
Joanna — 08 March, 2011 at 12:16 pm

being happy with yourself seems to be the hardest thing for people(women?) of all ages. It sounds like you’ve got self-love under control—that’s fabulous!

I struggle with the idea that representation and normalization of “me” is the key to positive body image and that external validation is somehow the cornerstone of acceptance of a particular shape or size as beautiful. What i hear in Natalie’s post is an honest and real recognition of the ways in which internal validation is one aspect of the beating the “body blues” but that that empowerment then leads to a desire for the external validation or at least an expression externally of that triumph.

I love the honesty here and the courage to acknowledge that external representation and validation by others is an important part of the triumph and is in some way the tipping point in changing societal views of “the norm” .

Anon
Anon — 03 March, 2011 at 09:20 am

I understand your right to be who you want to be and not feel ashamed. I am new to being overweight. I find it jar to find energy, hard to buy clothes and struggle to have a positive self image. While I respect and understand your cause, I can not openly support it as it is not something I want for myself. I also struggle with the aggressive nature some tweeters take defending your cause. I am too fearful of repercussions to speak openly – I apologise for the fake email.

I think you are lovely and admire your fashion photos, i will continue to read your blog and follow your fashion, but I can not support your cause. I