There are three sides to this coin. (It’s a special coin, shut up.)
1) In dealing with my Bipolar Disorder I’ve learned that taking a shower every day and getting dressed vastly improves my mood and productivity. And, the nicer I dress the more likely I am to leave my apartment, which is even more important for my mood.
2) Fashion can be fun. It’s not important to me, I don’t keep up with trends, and I generally don’t like shopping, but I do like how changing my clothes can project different images and reflect how I feel.
3) I’m fat and when fat people don’t “make an effort,” we’re written off as lazy slobs, or people who have given up (and rightly so, I mean, we’re fat /sarcasm/).
#3 is the reason I started caring about my appearance after I gained weight. When I was skinny, I cared about my appearance strictly because it was fun. Then my mental illness started taking over my life, and I actually was a person who had given up. Nothing was fun, and if I brushed my teeth I considered it a good day. Add to this a weight gain of more than 90lbs, and I was not only dealing with mental health issues but a body with which I was unfamiliar. Even if I’d wanted to look nice, I had no idea what size I was or where to shop. Eventually (a long and very painful eventually), I found a great doctor, got the right dose of the right medications, and started taking care of myself. I still didn’t care about how I looked, but I was feeling like myself.
Then one day I went grocery shopping and thought I saw one of my high school teachers. I left the store without buying anything and power walked home. I was embarrassed by how I looked and didn’t want someone who had known skinny, stylish me to see me. I was horrified that I’d left the house in baggy jeans and a filthy hoodie. Being fat just compounded the matter.
Shortly after that incident I went shopping with my friend, Kit. Kit is also fat and she agreed with me that fat people need to put in more of an effort when it comes to getting dressed, because otherwise we get a lot of side-eye. We went to Lane Bryant and each bought a blazer, all the while discussing our new plan of attack when it comes to personal style. For the next few weeks we’d have dinner together, each admiring the other’s cute outfit. (Kit can rock a suit vest like no one else, let me tell you.) I started feeling good about how I looked.
The more clothes I tried on, the more time I spent with my naked body. The more time I spent with my body, the more I liked it. It became a fantastic spiral of loving my body more and having more fun getting dressed. I’m now at a point where I care so much less about my appearance as a fat person, and so much more about how fun it can be putting together an outfit. I no longer put on a blazer and think, “Good, gut covered.” I put on a blazer and think, “Damn, I’m hot.”
I’m lucky, though. I have a certain amount of privilege because I am “only” a size 14 and so it’s relatively easy for me to find clothes. Not necessarily great clothes, but certainly clothes that make me look presentable. Fatter woman have a much harder time with this, especially when it comes to brick and mortar store. And the fatter a woman (or man, for that matter) is, the more of an effort needs to be made to avoid being looked at as a fat, lazy slob. For fat people, being well put together is often a political act and social tool. Melissa McEwan writes in “Here We Go Again,”*
“[F]or fat women, being stylish isn’t a luxury. It’s often a necessity to get hired, to get access to healthcare, to get treated like a human being.
Fat women have all kinds of narratives about sloppiness, laziness, dirtiness to overcome. Sometimes heels are a crucial part of looking “put together” in a way that sufficiently convinces people that we care about ourselves, that manages to counteract pervasive cultural narratives that fat people don’t care about ourselves. That we have ‘let ourselves go.’
Being “put together” is part of the way many of us convey to a judgmental world that we are worth caring about.”
When I get dressed now, I try not to think about how I’ll be perceived. But let’s face it, I’m a fat woman in America and leaving my apartment means people are going to judge my appearance. However, I try to dress for me alone. I also give myself permission to go out looking a hot mess if I so chose. And I won’t hide if I see someone who knew “skinny me.” Fuck that, my body is a whole lot of fantastic.