So recently I’ve been getting more into clothes. I tend to have a moment, once every few months, where I decide that I’m going to buy more clothes, look into fashion and diversify my wardrobe. This usually lasts about two days. Then I’m back to not giving a shit.
My usual outfits consist of nerdy/band t-shirts and jeans. Occasionally, if I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll wear a plaid button up and a tank top but usually I go with a t-shirt. People who are into fashion will often tell you that your clothes should reflect who you are. For me, what I like is who I am. When I wear my Sunnydale High t-shirt, or my Tegan and Sara shirt or my countless other fandom/music tees, I am telling the world what I like. I’m telling the world who I am. It’s always baffled me why fandom/band tees aren’t considered fashionable. If fashion is about showing your personality through clothes then my t-shirts say far more about me than anything you could find on a catwalk. However, I have been feeling a little bored of just t-shirts and jeans. I want some other options, something a bit different, something that’s still me but a little more unexpected. Fear not – I haven’t abandoned my t-shirts. My Battlestar Galactica replica tank top came today and it is hands down the best thing I own. I will always love my fandom tees but right now I’m looking for something new.
I suppose this is why I’ve never really realised quite how awful the fashion industry is until now. I’ve always surrounded myself in a cocoon of unisex t-shirts which pretty much always have my size, even if I have to go for a men’s size for the right fit. I’ve never really gone looking for anything else before, anything “fashionable”. I’ve always just assumed that clothes shops would be full of stuff I’d hate in unrealistically small sizes. Until now I hadn’t realised quite how true this was.
Because in reality, fashion isn’t about being yourself, it isn’t about showing your personality through what you wear, showing who you are through your clothes. Fashion – The Industry – is about fitting in and fitting in in both senses of the word - looking like everyone else and literally fitting into clothes. Fashion is the most homogenous industry out there and its ideals create a disturbing culture which not only affects the high couture looks on the catwalk and in magazines, but also trickles down to affordable high street clothes.
From my (admittedly limited) experience in clothes shopping, there are basically three kinds of clothes stores: Designer label shops with high end prices, shops which sell cheap mass produced stuff like Primark and New Look, and the stores in the middle who sell more “fashionable” stock at, sometimes high , but more reasonable prices like Zara or River Island. I was looking for something in that middle range, well-made clothes which I wouldn’t necessarily see everywhere and which wouldn’t fall apart after the first wash. I didn’t mind spending a bit more on something I’d be able to wear more often but I wasn’t after anything really expensive either. I wasn’t expecting much, I’ve never had much luck when shopping for clothes, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to walk into a shop and find absolutely nothing in my size.
My main point is this: there is something fundamentally wrong with the world when a size 12- 14 is considered large.
Firstly this pisses me off because I myself am a 16-18 and all too often can’t find clothes I like in my size. But really it’s more than just that. It’s so much more than just being annoyed that I can’t wear clothes from Zara or All Saints. It’s the dangerous and insulting message that this sends. When shops only stock sizes 4-12, when a high street clothes designer classes size 12 as large, not only does this create a completely warped sense of size and a dangerous body image, it also tells anyone larger than that size that they cannot look good. It says that if you are not a size 12 or smaller, if you don’t fit into our idea of what a woman should look like, you are too fat to wear our clothes. We don’t want you wearing anything we have designed because to us you are ugly and we don’t want that kind of advertising. If you are not a size 12 or smaller you cannot look good, you don’t deserve to look good and you can never, ever be fashionable.
That is bullshit.
I cannot emphasise enough how much bullshit that is. I can look damn good if I want to. I would rock some of those clothes whose designers have deemed me too fat to wear them. I would rock the hell out of them. But that’s not really the point – I think we all know that “plus size” (in inverted commas because I really hate that term) women can and do look good. The point is that society’s idea of what beauty is has permeated real life so much so that Zara thinks a size 12 is large. The average British woman’s size is 16. Zara thinks that the average British woman is XXL. Can we all just take a moment to really realise how ridiculous that is? If your clothes are labelled “small”, “medium”, “large”, then “medium” should reflect just that – the medium, the average, not three whole sizes smaller than the average. Even if we ignore the social ramifications of this, it’s really just bad business. Zara is choosing to lose customers, to lose the money of the majority of British women, rather than carry the bulk of their clothes in any sizes larger than a 12.
That, for me, really shows how insidious and pervasive this idea of “beauty” is. I use inverted commas here because “beauty” doesn’t really exist. It can’t be defined, it’s not an actual thing, there isn’t any level or standard which you have to reach to be considered beautiful. We consider certain people to be beautiful because society tells us they are. We see them in magazines and in movies and online and we are told that this is what beauty is and we accept it, because there’s no other way to judge it, no one is telling us otherwise, this is the only definition we have. And they only show beautiful people in magazines, they only put beautiful women in movies.
I’m sure we’ve all heard the whole “beauty changes over time” thing a million times before. It’s true, thin only became “beautiful” in the last century, but it doesn’t exactly help when you’re living in 2012 and you can’t find clothes that fit you. I find it’s better to dismiss the idea of beauty altogether. The only reason we strive to be considered beautiful is because society has ingrained us with the idea that we can never be happy if we’re not. We see people in movies and they’re beautiful, they may be clumsy or neurotic or uptight but they’re beautiful and they get the guy or the girl at the end. They end up happy. And the actors who play the characters are photographed in magazines and we’re told how beautiful they are and they get married and settle down and get paid millions of dollars per movie and they’re happy. And through this we’re sold this myth, this idea that beauty = happiness. That as long as you’re beautiful, as long as you look like these people on screen, as long as you fit this ideal we’ve created, you can be happy and someone will love you.
That too is bullshit.
Taking the (also completely ridiculous) idea that happiness can only be found through love. Can you imagine what the world would be like if only beautiful people fell in love? If only people who look like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt got married and had kids? For one we wouldn’t have anywhere near the overpopulation problems we have in reality, and even then everyone would look the same. We’d be a world made up of a very small amount of eerily similar, tall, skinny people with good cheekbones. You know when they talk to average people on the news, to get a human angle on something or to find out what the community thinks, and they always seem to pick the roughest looking person around. They’re interviewing some woman who’s bright orange, wearing clothes three sizes too small, missing some teeth and has a voice like this is her tenth cigarette of the morning. But she’s happy, she’s got four kids and a husband who loves her and thinks she’s beautiful. You could think you’re the ugliest person in the world and I guarantee there’s someone who thinks you’re beautiful. There’s probably a whole bunch of people who think you’re beautiful.
We are programmed to think we’re ugly. We are programmed to think we’re too fat, our boobs aren’t big enough, our muscles are too small, our faces aren’t symmetrical enough. We’re made to think that so that we’ll spend money to change ourselves, to make ourselves look more like the people in movies and magazines, to make ourselves more beautiful. It’s everywhere – buy make-up to cover up your skin, buy mascara to make your eyelashes longer, buy spanx to make you look thinner, and push-up bras to make your boobs look bigger. It’s ridiculous really, it’s all a lie. You can wear all the make-up in the world, wear all the control pants you like but in the end you’re still you. In the morning you’ll wake up looking like you always did. And you know what, someone will still love you for it. I’d rather be loved for who I am then how I look, especially if how I look isn’t even really how I look.
So basically, what I’m trying to say –in my very roundabout way – is that me, sitting in a lecture wearing a Buffy the Vampire Slayer t-shirt says more about who I am than some mass produced facsimile of some designer fashion. But everyone should be able to find a mass produced facsimile in their size if they want to. Society’s completely invented idea of what classes as beautiful should not influence what kind of clothes I can wear. The idea of beauty was invented to make money yet now it’s so cemented into our consciousness that a clothes store denies the chance of my custom because I don’t fit their warped sense of sizing. So it’s not even doing what it’s meant to anymore – it’s destroying people’s self-esteem and no one’s even making money out of it. And what gets me the most is when I see people believe in it. When people walk out of a shop like Zara really, truly believing that they are too fat because a size 12 is large and that won’t fit them. Because it’s bullshit, it really is. They are the ones who are wrong. They are the ones who should change, not you. Because you are beautiful and you shouldn’t change for anyone.