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Learning to be Fat

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to disguise my fatness from the rest of the world. Of course, now I have realized that not only is it pointless (I am fat – it’s a fact and everyone can tell), I have also come to the point where I just don’t care who knows.

I’d like to share some of the things I used to do, for your reading enjoyment.

I used to shop at the same stores that my thin friends did. That meant Artizia (Canadians will know this is a store that goes to a size XXS but only an L and a small one at that), Mountain Equipment Co-op (outdoors store), and Lululemon. Of course, my size means I can’t fit into most of the things in those stores but there were a few styles that worked (ish) for me and so I would buy them, thinking this would make it seem like I could fit straight sizes. I squeezed into the design ease or took advantage of the fabric’s stretch. I spent money on coveted accessories – Frye boots, nice bags. I tried to hid my fatness behind these symbols of thinness.

I would pretend I didn’t shop at plus sized clothing stores. When I absolutely had to go to Additionelle (plus sized clothing store), I would actually park in front of a different store and furtively scuttle into the shop, making sure no one I knew was around. I wouldn’t accept a store bag, give my address (didn’t want mail from them to appear at my house), or buy anything that was their house brand except underwear (i.e. nothing that might make someone ask where it was from).

When my body would do “embarrassing” things, I would feign surprise or lie about what was happening. For example, once I was running shuttle runs with a friend and as I turned, my belly slapped against my thigh, making a fairly loud noise. She was surprised and asked what it was. Because I was mortified that my belly touched the top of my thigh, I lied and told her my hand hit my leg as I ran. I don’t think she bought it.

And so it continued. For years. Me believing that my body was weirdly shaped and that I was fooling people. And I certainly had reinforcement from people that it was imperative that I keep up this pretense. As my friends complained about not fitting the size 2 or XS properly…that a 4 was just “huge”, I would wonder with shame if they even had a comprehension of what size number I was. My own internalized fatphobia was real.

What was really missing in my life was representation of fat folks’ bodies. Real fat bodies. And especially fat bodies wearing clothes that I liked. I found it on sewing Instagram and the Curvy Sewing Collective. I came to the realization that the way extra flesh was deposited on my body was the same as on other people of size. I learned the term “shelf butt”.

I’d never sewn much for myself. When it was my job, I was typically sewing for runway models, actors, or other thin people. I was nervous. I was scared I’d make things too small and it would be depressing. But I jumped in and made it work. I figured out the shapes my patterns needed to be to fit my fat body.

I’m learning what I love to wear. What feels like me. For so long, I bought what fitted – both my body and my fatphobia. Now I’m able to choose exactly what I’d like to wear. I’ve made some garments that I don’t reach for and that’s ok. I’m behind in this regard because I only just began. And I am learning about my own intersectionality – race, size, sexuality. I have recently learned that I can wear yellow-based browns, having always been told they didn’t suit my Asian skin tone. Mustard is next to try.

The other day, a close friend told me she really liked the clothes I’d been wearing lately. She said that I’d always seemed uncomfortable and would be readjusting and pulling at them and now I seemed so much more comfortable and my clothes fit so much better. So, I suppose the only person I had been fooling was myself.


Leila is an Aussie turned Canadian living in Ontario, Canada. She shares her makes on Instagram @leila_sews and is the patternmaker for Muna & Broad

6 replies on “Learning to be Fat”

God I remember doing exactly the same thing and thinking exactly the same thoughts. I only started sewing for me 18 months ago so it was only 2 years ago that I would rush out of a plus size store and quickly go into the shop next door for fear of running into someone I know who would know I shopped at that store, ready with a story that I was just going shop to shop looking for socks that I liked.
Internalised fatphobia is so real. Life has improved so much since I started sewing.

I too have had similar struggles with my own fat body. From the shame of outgrowing children’s clothes before my peers to the embarrassing group shopping trip where I could not shop the same stores – I hated the shame. I still feel uncomfortable in straight size stores. My body was and is monstrous according to our culture.

And yet, sometime ago I decided being a fat babe was alright with me. That to strut in my body confidently was a political act and a huge fuck you to fat phobic culture. Learning to sew has only increased my confidence and sense of deep power to dress the way I want. What a gift!

You, fat.bobbin.girl, prittystitches and all the blog authors have my sincere gratitude. I check back frequently to read and feel seen and feel human. thank you for your vulnerability and strength and good work to help us all.

Great post! I’ve always been the bigger girl, even being “medically overweight” when I played sports for 8 months got the year, and wanted to be swallowed up whole when other girls would talk about how their tiny clothes didn’t fit them anymore. I still struggle with what to wear but that stems more from largely not wanting to ever not wear pajamas and having to be “work appropriate.” Being able to sew (and knit and crochet) my own clothes has really helped me feel empowered.

This is such valuable experience, thanks for sharing Leila! I think internalised fat phobia is a hard nut to crack for many people.

I confess I still occasionally go into straight sized stores – the ones that stop at an AU20/22 – hoping for clothes that will fit. I’ve only in the last 2 years started to fall outside that range (I’ve been above a size 16 for about 10 years though). The eb and flow of my body vs conventional sizing – they increase their range, I also increase in size – means I keep having to reprocess and reaccept myself. Because even when society get ‘more inclusive’ it doesn’t include me. That voice in your head can be hard, and a lier.

I’ve always thought I was fat (looking back, most of that was internalized fatphobia passed through generations). Friends always complained I never bought anything when we went shopping together, but even in college fitting into an XL, I was still sized out of many popular brands due to mighty calves and sturdy thighs. Finding the Curvy Sewing Collective was life-changing. Here were people who looked like me, like my family members, and they were happily sewing clothes that fit. From there, I landed in Facebook groups before leaping into Instagram, and the community has been so fantastic.

I have been dealing with this all my life. From being ashamed as a young teen when my mother dragged me to Lane Bryant’s teen shop so aptly named The Junior Plenty Shoppe. To stuffing myself into clothes that didn’t fit and then just giving up and wearing the jeans and t shirt uniform or settling for an outfit that I didn’t like just because it fit. I have sewn for myself all my life but after I had four pregnancies and as I got older it became harder to make patterns work. I get frustrated with muslin after muslin. I’m tired of not feeling stylish. So I am so happy to have found this group of creative people and I’m determined to find my own fashion voice and to sew for who I am right now not wait to use the good fabric until I lose xx pounds.

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