Vector illustration of a speech bubble filled with a large white polka dot pattern on light blue. Inside the speech bubble are hand lettered words, "Does my fat arse look fat in this?"

Rejecting the notion of the flattering outfit

A photo of Beth Ditto wearing a metalic pink skin tight body suit with these words superimposed over the top: "Leggings are not pants. (Neither are skirts, for the record. Or lemmings. Or, depending on the local vernacular, trousers.) O! Ye of the cottage cheese thighs, of the saggy and misshapen arse. How dare you? Really, you should know better. - We are under the thumb of shame. We are doing everything in our power to ensure everyone else is, too. There is the defence for the LANP (my note: believe that stands for leggings are not pants) movement: You can’t pull it off. How dare you, love handles? Go to the gym or get thyself to a mumu.  Fuck that. Our reaction to leggings is a manifestation of fear: how could she? When we have to run past mirrors because we can’t convince ourselves that sack of fat hanging off our abs doesn’t make us worthless - when we starve ourselves for days because our friends look better in skinny jeans - when we do sit up after sit up because no matter how many times we say “It’s just airbrushing” looking in a magazine makes us feel like nothing  (or much too much) - how could she? Fuck that. Fuck living in fear. Put on the leggings. Wear a bellyshirt. Eat the chocolate. Shake your cellulite for all the world to see. I refuse to live in fear. Shame is not a part of my wardrobe. If it makes you happy, do it. Leggings are not pants.   Conformity is not beauty. "

I have wanted to talk about the notion of the flattering outfit for a while now, because my Skinny Jeans post seemed to bring up a lot of discussion on the topic. For a lot of people, rejecting the haters and wearing what you want is a great message up to a point, but wearing anything that draws attention to perceived flaws goes a bit too far for comfort. I’d like to elaborate on my reasons for not being very invested in wearing flattering outfits, and how I’m pretty sure rejecting that practice benefits self esteem and body positivity.

When we talk about wearing clothes that flatter our personal body shapes, it’s a conversation that’s usually had between women. Most of the time it takes the guise of kindly advice, whether it be the advice of a person close to you or from some nameless fashion writer working for any glossy magazine. The message is usually the same: maximise things that are too small (usually just boobs), minimise bits that are too large, choose fabrics that drape well over lumpy sections and don’t make too much of a spectacle of yourself, girl. I’ve read well-meaning guidance that instructs tall women not to wear heels; encourages all women to be mindful of not aging themselves; decrees those with big bums to avoid skinny jeans (yeah right!); and helpfully suggests that women with all over chunk should avoid large accessories. I really enjoy having parts of my body reduced to “chunk”. No really. The sick thing is most of us talk to each other and ourselves like this; if your enemy called you chunky, shit would be on, but when your best friend does it you know she’s just concerned about how you look.

Restricting and policing women (and men, but women are certainly the overwhelming focus of body and fashion criticism in the western world) and their fashion choices under the guise of helping them look more palatable to other people is harmful and hurtful. That we are indoctrinated into feeling indebted to people for pointing out our “flaws” feeds into the cycle of shame, and the endless pursuit of some kind of really boring and generic idea of beauty. If you’re flat chested, you’re encouraged to dress to give the illusion of curves, and if you’re short you ought to employ vertical stripes to trick people into thinking you’re taller. Just two examples of ways to flatter your body into some kind of societal acceptance. It’s patently ridiculous to me, because even if I practice flattering dressing techniques – I AM STILL FAT. Other people know I’m fat too, but it’s almost like any steps I make towards apologising for my unacceptable body are deemed as suitable penance.

The other key issue I have with the notion of flattering is that it erases human beings and our natural diversity. Women are told to hide shameful lumps, bumps, wrinkles, disabilities and even skin tone. We’re being herded towards an ideal of average height, dress and shoe size (which suits the fashion manufacturing process perfectly), where each woman blends in perfectly. When every day I feel like I’m under attack for not fitting in, I have to be realistic about my odds of ever obtaining this manufactured mystical beauty. And I’m ok with that, you know, because beauty is pain (how often did I tell myself that as a teenager?) and beauty must be applied several hours before leaving the house, in lotions and creams and razors and aerosol cans and odd looking eyelash curler implements that never seem to work for me. We apply all this stuff to our person in the hopes of getting closer to the median beauty but in the process remove a lot of our natural attributes, replacing them with lofty aspirations and huge wads of shame.

This erasure on a personal scale is even more so evident in the way we dress ourselves. If I dress to trick people into thinking I don’t have a large tummy, and that I’m not indeed 175cm tall, I am nullifying parts of my body. My self. These parts belong to me and even if I flatter them away as much as possible, they still exist and I still see them when I stand naked in front of a mirror. Deluding others into thinking I have an acceptable body is one thing, but deluding myself is a terrible fraud with an immediate penalty. If I ignore it, it doesn’t go away and thus becomes a source of unhappiness. I don’t want to participate in this cycle of body negativity and I don’t want to propagate messages that hurt my own sense of esteem. If I engage in flattering dressing, I’m not just accepting that my own body is bad and terrible – I’m passing on the message to others. It disturbs me that dissatisfaction and unhappiness within our bodies isn’t just accepted, it’s encouraged.

Breaking the cycle of body negativity is hard work but being aware of your participation within it is crucial. I’m not just saying you should be conscious for other people’s sake – foremost in your mind should be your concern about yourself! If you’ve ever wanted to wear a garment but thought against it because of fears of how people will perceive you, I heartily encourage you to go forth and just wear it. If an outfit makes you feel comfortable and fantastic, but it doesn’t hide your knees or your height or your big boobs, sod it. Just wear it.

Vector illustration of a speech bubble filled with a large white polka dot pattern on light blue. Inside the speech bubble are hand lettered words, "Does my fat arse look fat in this?"

This war is personal and this war is being waged on you, from within your consciousness, and it seeks to inhibit your self expression and nullify your body. This war also works to nullify whole groups of apparently odd-looking people too: fat, old, tall, short, brown, and disabled (and more!) If you’re not white, able bodied and young, the overriding message being spruiked by the beauty, health and fashion industries is that you’re not good enough and that in order to be as beautiful as you can be you have to buy clothes and make up and diet pills and encourage all your friends to consume what you’re consuming. It’s a nasty yet profitable business. I think such frightening homogenisation of human beings is unjust, and if by wearing skinny jeans and showing off my fat arse I can undermine such policing with my visibility, I will do it. I’ve got no delusions of my fat bum saving the world but it makes me feel better not to comply with such a hurtful system, and I feel pretty damn good about myself while doing it.


  1. This is a seriously powerful post. Sometimes it is hard to consider myself as someone who advocates for fat acceptance but also someone who wants to hide my tummy.

  2. another great post. thank you for your beautiful art and powerful, important words. i am shocked to realise that i have been buying into this craziness, and appreciate the wake up call.

  3. Awesome article Natalie! I was referred to your site by another body acceptance blog, and I couldn't agree with you more. If people don't like how we look, then tough :-)

  4. I find this all empowering. I am just now trying to filter out of my thought processes the phrase “I can't wear that” because the next line is always “because I'm too fat” and whenever I tell that voice inside to stuff it, and try on the garments in question despite my trepidation, I find that I am Not too fat, I am beautiful and following my bliss.

  5. Hi. I feel like I should let you know that I used the “fat arse” image on a poster I did to present a paper on the FA Movement/Fat rights. I did credit you. I just thought you should know that you inspired me a lot!

  6. i love you for this.

    i just found this post through another blogger's facebook post and could not believe how awesomely moved i was by what you said.

    thank you. you really have no idea how much your words impacted me. i'm tired of feeling ugly because i'm bigger than what stores deem as “beautiful.” Saks considers anything above a size 10 “plus size” as if that's a bad thing. you rock… I will continue to follow your blog.


  7. After 40 years of hating myself for the way I looked & doing some pretty stupid & hurtful things to change my body, I had a moment of clarity. My husband & I were in a posh department store in big metropolitan city and all the women around me were bone thin and had the same pained look on their faces. My husband asked my why these women all looked so angry and it came to me like a thunderclap. I literally shouted out loud “Because they're HUNGRY!” It made us both laugh but all of a sudden I felt really good about looking different. I do exercise & eat healthy because those things make me feel good but I will never again feel like I'm commiting a crime by walking outside without a perfect body.

    ps. Hell, yeah, my fat ass looks fat in this- that's the way (uh-huh, uh-huh) I like it (uh-huh, uh-huh).

  8. Honestly I do not understand why someone would want to wear something that showed negatives about their body. Don't we dress to show off the positives, dress to look amazing and feel good.

    If i have rolls sticking out over a garment it does not make me feel good about myself at all. I proudly show off my figure in clothing that compliments my shape, shows off what I'm proud of and sorry to say that flatters my figure.

    I agree with an earlier poster that I believe the term flatter has to do with positives not negatives. Just because something is flattering does not mean its hiding anything about you. Its making you look good.

    Sorry but I'm one of these horrible people that does not thing any woman thin or fat should wear leggings without a skirt – sorry but its my opinion.

  9. i want a tshirt that says that but about my fat tummy, on account of my ass being tiny.

  10. I very agree with you. Having a baby changed me to this. I started off with the usual shame and worry and finally went “Screw it I had a kid and my husband still finds me attractive. I don't CARE what other people think” I bought and wore shorts for the first time since I was like 11. I bought leggings and while I have some over sized shirt (because I like them! They are comfy and make me happy!)

    I've worn my leggings out, and I wear what I like and what I feel comfortable and happy in. What makes ME feel snazzy not what I should wear. In short I stopped covering up. It feels good.

  11. word. I find it supersilly when people think that they can change their style of dress and confuse people about how they look. Your clothes don't hide you, and all the traditional things people do to “flatter” the parts they're ashamed of don't actually conceal those things – often they draw attention to them. It's just silly. People should wear what makes them comfortable and happy. The fact that clothing manufacturers make it hard for people who don't fit the ideal to find clothes they like is a real shame.

    Of course, I also am a big fan of “if you got it, flaunt it,” because I appreciate looking at the types of bodies I've been socialized to find desirable; still, I don't have a problem with people whose bodies don't fit that prototype wearing whatever they want as well.

  12. at the risk of sounding like a gushing fangirl, I want to say I <3 you!

    This was well thought out and I really enjoyed it.

  13. looks like we're in the minority here, Teer. but yes: when it comes to hating leggings worn as pants without a long shirt to cover up the crotch, I don't discriminate by body type.

  14. This is sort of like if you Google the phrase “10 wardrobe essentials” you'll get the same list of the same ten things, without regard to whether you're 20 or 50, or whether you like rock'n'roll or country, or whether you love jeans and hate dresses or vise versa. It's like every woman over the age of 20 is supposed to have the same things in her closet, and dress just like the woman next to her at work.

    Honestly, my biggest complaint isn't how insulting it all is, but just how BORING it makes everything seem

  15. The notion that being short or tall, thin or fat are flaws that need to be corrected or disguised is frustrating – people have different bodies and no amount of vertical stripes or ruching is going to change that. You are totally right about how harmful it is that certain body shapes/features are considered unacceptable until they are 'fixed'.

    However, I have to disagree with the idea that nullifying parts of my body through what I wear is necessarily a bad thing. Universal rules breed a culture of 'ideal vs everyone else', but having a personal 'ideal' based on what I like most about myself has only ever felt like a positive thing for me, even if it does involve hiding certain bits and emphasizing others. I know what I look like under my clothes, but I would rather share what I consider to be the best bits. Wearing clothes that I think I look pretty in makes me feel good – clothes that emphasize my least favourite features are not going to do that for me. I don't think there is any shame in dressing flatteringly as long as your choices are based on how you think you look, not how some arbitrary list of dos and don'ts thinks you should look.

  16. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! So many great points you raise.

    I admit that I engage in “flattering” dressing behavior and it's crazy that every time I do it, while I'm supposed to feel better about myself, I feel worse because I realize I'm hiding the parts that I'm supposed to be ashamed of. I think it's only increased since I had my first child.

  17. This is a fantastic, beautiful, courageous post. It was an honor to read it. Thank you for writing. I write a blog pushing freedom and self-acceptance, and you have challenged me to go farther, love more.

  18. I am following your blog because of this. Because of this “you, too, can be beautiful” mindset. It makes me think, and it makes me feel good about myself. Because if someone else can feel good about themselves despite perceived flaws, there’s no reason that I shouldn’t, too.

  19. I’m really late to this party (just stumbled across this post recently), but I wanted to say…

    You just blew. my. mind.

    I’m serious. For a long time, I’ve been very gung-ho about every seeing every size body as beautiful, not being ashamed of one’s body, etc. – but I still was in favor of doing one’s best to make that body of whatever size look as good as possible. I never even questioned or realized the paradigm I was working in when I pictured “as good as possible.”

    This is a beautiful, eye-opening post. My world was just rocked and it’s awesome.

  20. Things my mother told me that I should NEVER WEAR:
    – Horizontal stripes
    – Skirts
    – Boots
    – Light colours on my bottom half
    – Red
    – Green
    – Yellow
    – Jeans

    Fuck that.

Comments are closed.