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. I just want to say, that after a very hard, stressful day, reading this has made me happy. In particular, the picture, and what is said inside of it. Even tho what I was feeling had nothing to do with weight and my issues with it, but the load of confidence it gave felt great, and made me smile today. Even tho the day is over, i still smiled after all that went on today…. Thank you… Thank you for everything you write… Thank you for making a stressful day, one with a smile at the end.


  2. I love this post Nat. Ironic also that this is the same message that the Body Image industry is spruiking too!!

  3. I love what your are saying here – I have one point to share.

    I am a size 16 and 5'10 so I stick out – and I love it – I where heels to excentuate my height – and where bright clothes to show off my fuller figure – that to me is dressing to suit my style and figure.

    Just sharing..

  4. Sorry to clarify – the Body Image Industry is spruiking pretty much the same message as the fashion/health/diet industry!

  5. This is a great post, Natalie! I'm really curious now about your stance on makeup that you mention here, because it's basically the same as flattering outfits (accentuating attributes/hiding flaws).

  6. Amen. As you get older and a whole other set of rules is applied I've found-by others yes-but I also apply them to myself. So liberating to consider where they come from, what's behind it, how it affects me. Right on the money with this post Natalie.

  7. LOVE this post. I am an average height and weight but I am familiar with feeling shame over what I am wearing. Any attempt made by friends, my mother, and inanimate magazines/books to encourage me into that lovely flattering A-line whatever did far more harm to my self-esteem than good to my appearance. I remember reading What Not to Wear and feeling devastated when they said I could not wear a corset top because I have small breasts. Actually, I have the book right here and they say, of skintight/stretchy dresses with spaghetti straps: “skintight on a skinny top half isn't sexy, it's a disappointment.” They also say “a beautiful back is just as desirable as a heaving chest.” Well, I don't have their idea of that either. Guess I am just screwed. Better wear a turtle neck! I've had this book since high school and can't believe I didn't see the hateful language in it for what it was. Might blog about this later.

  8. This is an awesome post, I'd thought about doing one myself but I got too angry to be eloquent! One thing I will say is I had this spelled out to me in a sewing class, when one lesson was on designing for body shapes.

    Basically the only acceptable body shape (actual wording) is the hourglass – if you don't have an hourglass, then the aim of all clothing is to make you look like an hourglass. But the most depressingly funny thing? If you're an oval, or a diamond or an apple (the shapes commonly attributed to anyone thought of as fat because it denotes a large belly) you have no chance of fooling anyone that you're an hourglass. The best you can hope for is an inverted triangle. WHO DECIDED THIS?! Oh yeah, a man probably.

    That said I do, despite having a fashion blog, have a hard time wearing more risque and less flattering outfits. I live with my parents and my mum who is very big and has absolutely internalised 50+ years worth of hatred. It's a constant battle to leave the house and sometimes I have gotten changed into something more acceptable (or not gone out at all) just to have an easy life!

  9. This is an awesome post, I'd thought about doing one myself but I got too angry to be eloquent! One thing I will say is I had this spelled out to me in a sewing class, when one lesson was on designing for body shapes.

    Basically the only acceptable body shape (actual wording) is the hourglass – if you don't have an hourglass, then the aim of all clothing is to make you look like an hourglass. But the most depressingly funny thing? If you're an oval, or a diamond or an apple (the shapes commonly attributed to anyone thought of as fat because it denotes a large belly) you have no chance of fooling anyone that you're an hourglass. The best you can hope for is an inverted triangle. WHO DECIDED THIS?! Oh yeah, a man probably.

    That said I do, despite having a fashion blog, have a hard time wearing more risque and less flattering outfits. I live with my parents and my mum who is very big and has absolutely internalised 50+ years worth of hatred. It's a constant battle to leave the house and sometimes I have gotten changed into something more acceptable (or not gone out at all) just to have an easy life!

  10. Oh yes! You've put your finger on something I've been trying to say for a while but haven't quite found the words. I am fat, particularly my tummy and my arse and my boobs are very big, and I get so sick of the fact that I should – apparently – maximise one big part (can you guess which part?) but minimise the others. Who decided this? (Probably a straight man whose tastes were in line with kyriarchally prescribed stereotypes.)

    Also I have a bit of a thing for women with what is often called “muffin top” (hate that phrase though); for me it's a turn on. So on a purely selfish basis whenever I hear of another fashion article about how to hide or 'get rid of' that “muffin top” I feel a bit sad.

  11. I would love love love if that speech bubble illustration was available in sticker form. I would totally take a bunch of them and stick them on the arse of pants in clothing stores. :D

  12. Love this post. I have it ingrained into me that I must wear things that are “flattering”, so I always try my hardest to do that. I got a comment the other day on one of my outfits that said flared jeans, a tshirt & a patterned cardigan would be most flattering for me, as it would hide my weight. I laughed and thought to myself nothing is going to hide my weight, so whats the point in trying? Then I thought to myself that this is exactly what I do anyway, I just don't wear the clothes that were suggested, but I still try to wear the most flattering thing. I think it might take me a while, but I'm going to try & embrace my body, in clothes that are unflattering/flattering, it shouldn't matter as long as I like them. Maybe next time I wear that flowy dress in my wardrobe I won't feel the need to belt it. :)

  13. This is amazing. We have been having a sort of similar discussion on another site in regards to lingerie and its being sold online in a mainstream venue. People don't like it, some even view it as bondage material. But it is about homogenisation of human beings. All I know is it pissed me off.

  14. Natalie, this is an amazing article. Sadly I predict many men do not deign to care about how important this is for their wives, children, mothers, friends, sisters, etc.

    Secondly, many women will continue to say, “Well I just feel *best* in this or that.”
    Which is fine for them, truly. But are they ready to start dismantling the Beauty Rhetoric and caste system? Go ahead and wear your lipstick while doing so, I ain't gonna police you.

    Thank you for this piece. The “flattering” outfit is so invasive and intrusive (I wrote a bit about it in the lady garment home-sewinz community, my sincere apologies if I've already posted that link). It's the invasiveness and sneakiness of it all that gest to me.

    Thank you, again.

  15. This is such an awesome post. I don't think I have cared about “flattering” outfits in a long time, personally. They day I realised that there is no way of dressing that will change the fact that I am fat and wearing 'flattering' clothing just limits my fashion options to almost zero was the turning point of my life fashion wise. These days I actually feel best when my cellulite-y power thighs which any fashion advice geared towards fat women would exhort me to hide are out in the light of the day. There was a time when anything I would wear had to be waist defining since that is the smallest part of my body – but that makes for very limiting fashion choices. These days I don't care atall whether something I'm wearing shows off my waist or highlights my cleavage or not – as a matter of fact smocks have become one of my favourite things to wear. Now I want to rehabilitate the calf length hemline in my wardrobe – something I had always considered to be 'unflattering' but have been increasingly intrigued by lately.

  16. See, this is the awesome thing about exploring fashion in a very unashamed way – you can experiment with styles and lengths and silhouettes without feeling like your natural body shape takes away from these things. In fact, your natural body shape only ADDS to the experimentation. It's fun!

  17. Thanks Kelly!
    I did read your blog post, but couldn't find out where to comment (though I've figured out now that you don't have comments!) I hope you didn't think I didn't read it because I did, eep. Your post was definitely one of the posts that made me feel like I should make a statement about how loaded the word “flattering” is!

  18. I think it's hard to unpin all the conditioning we've been exposed to, so don't treat yourself too poorly if it takes a while to fully unstick yourself from the notion of flattering clothes. That you're participating in this discussion is fabulous, and a great first step!

  19. I had a similar thought! I might investigate sticker printing when I have the funds. I'm going to be getting a bunch of art prints done soon (when some invoices get paid!) so it shouldn't be too hard to get some sticker quotes too!

  20. I love your daring when it comes to your own personal style! I think you definitely typify the kind of fance that I'm in to. (You mentioned overdressing on your tumblr or your blog and I was like OH I DO THAT TOO!)

  21. I was so tempted to go off on a tangent to discuss make up and beauty but I thought I'd restrain myself for now. I have a pretty complex relationship with make up (and I suspect I'm not alone!) because I have had pretty awful acne since I was around 12/ 13 so I've always used make up to disguise it. It got to a point where I couldn't leave the house without at least foundation! I've definitely relinquished a lot of my reliance on make up as I've gotten older but it's still something I feel like is necessary to mask my blemished and scarred face.

    It's a really emotional issue for me, and while I can say that make up is absolutely used as a tool to erase your unique features (or, imperfections) I find it hard to give it up completely. In many ways it might be more insidious than wearing flattering clothes!

  22. The concept of “flattering” clothes is so ingrained in us. I feel like if we, on a personal level, one-by-one, start to disregard caring about what is flattering for our bodies, then the whole concept of a flattering outfit will start to detangle. So, hopefully, in the end, there will be no thought as to whether something is flattering on a body at all because we will have no concept of what that is. It will be a non-issue, almost. Wishful thinking though!

    I definitely struggle with letting go of notions of what is flattering to my body. I try but often fail. Definitely something I am working on though. Thank you for highlighting an important issue :)

  23. Fantastic article. Takes me back to (many years ago now) having arguments with mum because she wanted me to wear something “flattering”, while I wanted to the cool or cute outfit.

    I've had trouble getting my head around these kind of ideas – I mean, if we don't wear clothes that are flattering, we might as well be all walking around in potato sacks! But the penny's dropped = “flattering” doesn't mean aspiring to single, defined by someone else ideal. What looks good on me and makes me happy often is very different from that.

  24. OK, I will now cement it in my brain that you've read it! I just couldn't remember from before.

    BTW I love the sticker. Sadly I don't have a fat arse. It's just kinda wide and flat. I wish I did have a fat arse JUST for that sticker. I do have a round tummy tho'. Any other big-bellied wimmin' out there got a sticker idea?

  25. Thank you for this! I would love to buy a print for my shop ( Size Queen Clothing, Portland, OR) …this is what I always try and tell people…all curves are good curves, not just the “acceptable” ones.
    I had a t shirt from my friend Kaia that said “Do I look fat in this?” made people in society uncomfortable

  26. I also have acne and scarring, but I find makeup to be freeing. It makes me less self-conscious about my face and lets my beauty shine through without the focus on my imperfections. Yes, they are still there but just not as glaring.

    I also think that makeup can be a form of self expression and can be beautiful without making you look like everyone else.

    I have many feelings about your post – most of which are really positive. Until I joined the FA community, I never wore dresses because I thought they accentuated or really didn't do such a good job at hiding my big belly. It is still not super easy for me to wear dresses, but I do it with much more regularity! I don't know. But I do feel more comfortable when my belly isn't so much on display.

    You have given me much to think about. Thank you.

  27. You're awesome.

    I blogged about this quite a while ago – in Swedish, though – about the whole disguising and tricking the eye shit. The concept that I might want to make my big ass (or big boobs or wide shoulders or chunky thighs or whatever) look good in any other way than hiding or minimizing seems alien to the “dress for your body type” advice-dolers-out.

  28. Actually, I've been thinking about it now. I reckon that perhaps these 'Hairstyles to suit your face' would probably be more on the same level as a flattering outfit than makeup. I've had haircuts that other people hated, but I personally liked.

  29. I totally get what you mean about makeup! (I sent an email to my friend the other day:)

    I was at the drugstore the other day buying makeup – foundation and powder. All this lookist/beauty standard stuff I've been pondering is rubbing off on me because as I stood there I felt sillier and siller about myself while reading/viewing the SCIENCE/MAGIC ad copy and photoshopped pictures of already-almost-preternaturally-beautiful models and celebrities, coupled with the language of self-empowerment and snake-oil-salesman. I felt like, “Shit, I need to buy this and leave because I'm feeling like an ass!”

    I give myself a break regarding makeup but then again, I'm not all that enlightened with clothes either. So while I read an article like this and know you're spot-on, Natalie, there are still plenty of ways I continue to self-police re: appearance!

  30. Ha. Out of my entire body my back is kind of my most hated. I have the dreaded BACK FAT. Glad to know I can continue in life knowing I am *right* to worry that others judge/evaluate it.

    I'd love to see your blog post, come back and link to it if you put it up!

  31. I'd been thinking about the makeup too (which I like to wear sometimes and sometimes don't depending on my activity and mood). “Form of self expression” was what I couldn't quite put into words. Eyeliner especially makes me happy to wear. I doubt anyone else even notices, but when I look in the mirror, I like it.

  32. It really is a shame so many people don't have better things to do than look at other people's bodies and outfits and try to find something wrong. I am moley, and the greatest concentration is on my back. All these years I have gazed longingly at the “buff” backs of celebs and models in dresses cut almost down to their butt cracks, feeling totally excluded from this whole genre of evening gown. Many of them were probably either photoshopped or spent big bucks getting moles removed or spa treatments to have perfect back skin. That stupid book advises women to keep their backs shiny and exfoliated but it wouldn't make any difference for me. I always wanted to wear a mermaid gown too (one of those that tapers to mid-thigh and then flares out in ruffly fanciness, is mermaid the right name?). Never got one because I thought my hips/thighs would look disproportionately large. How dumb. Now I have no occasion to wear one.

    Here's my post:

  33. Yes. Flattering shouldn't have to mean 'making yourself look as much as possible like some imaginary woman'. It should mean 'being fabulous, whatever shape or size that is'. It's such a sneaky word and concept! I've really only realised all this recently because although I am fat, I happen to be an hourglass shape. So I can quite easily fly under the 'flattering' radar (unless you talk to my mother, who wants me to 'hide my bumps'). But, dammit, I shouldn't have to, and neither should anyone else!

    I'm trying to decondition my new boyfriend. Any time I say anything with the word 'fat' in it, he freezes. I keep telling him that it's ok – I AM fat, and I'm fabulous. Big stinking deal. He's still nervous. I guess i've been immersed in the HAES world for a while now because I no longer GET why I should be sad if he thought my arse looked big – my arse IS big, and I like the way it looks when it's stretching out jeans, or the way any of the rest of my fat looks. I realised the other day that I no longer give a flying abotu my back fat or my underarm nuggets. Free! So the idea that someone I know loves me for EVERYTHING I am would be uncomfortable admitting my size makes ME uncomfortable.

    I am definitely interested ina print of that bubble. I am also totally enamoured with those two girls hugging.

  34. Natalie, you have articulated this issue sooo well.

    I have noticed a few people mentioning that this concept of an “ideal” type was probably thought up by men. I completely disagree. I believe men are brought up to like a specific type of woman by what people tell them is the rage at the time, and the consequent saturation of the market of that type. I think these pressures and ridiculous standards are set by women (upon themselves).

    There is a country in Africa (I think) where fat women are the “skinny” women of western culture. In this country a woman needs to make herself as fat as she can becuase the men absolutely go crazy for fat women. Before her wedding, a woman will fatten up because that's what's deemed as the “ideal” there. It just comes to show that A) men can be attracted to any shape, size or look. And B) who is ANYONE to tell another person what an ideal should be.
    Having “ideal” sizes completely ignores a person's individual make up and is ridiculous. And the same goes to dictating to men as to what they should feel attracted to.

    By the way natalie, on a different note, I dont know if its just my computer, but I find the beautiful heading you have at the top flows down into the title of your latest blog, and i cant click on the comments part! Please email me if you want?

  35. Oh crap, and I just read the text in the photo.


    THAT is such a good quote!!!!!!

  36. YES! I agree whole heartedly and am with you ALL the way! I love to dye my hair bright colors it is a fabulous indigo blue, I have been doing this for over 20 years (I once dyed my hair and that of my 9 year old daughter bright pink so we could match) I am now told I am too old (47) to dye my hair bright colors! I DO IT ANYWAY because I love it! I am also very short and have small breasts, I do not wear a padded bra or any bra, for that matter as there is no real need, nothing there to sag or support but I hear about that too lol! Thank you for the Monday morning pep talk I feel individual and proud!

  37. I just stumbled upon your blog a few minutes ago, and I already love it! Judging by your pictures, I have the exact same body as you, and I see you're also 175cm tall, just like me! Also, I think both you and I are friggin beautiful, because although we are fat (I've only just recently learned to use this word without feeling uncomfortable), we have a nice body shape, for example I especially love that I have a well-defined waist. Anyway, I couldn't agree more, I'm just planning on ordering some new leggings and footless tights. Problem is, I live in Central/Eastern Europe, where plus size = tacky fabrics that were probably meant to be sewn into tents. I would love to buy skinny jeans for example, but they simply can not be bought here. I usually don't have a problem buying tops, but when it comes to finding stuff that have to be fitted to my hips and thighs, well, it's almost impossible. I have been wearing the same type of black, flared jeans for years now, because that's the only jeans made in my size here (because that's flattering – riiight). I have to resort to buying online, but I'm afraid to shop jeans online, because obviously I should try them on for a perfect fit. Anyway, I'll be ordering my new tights soon and I hope I can wear them this summer. As for you and your blog, I think what you're doing is awesome. Keep it up!

  38. So awesome to read this as an antidote to the “style tips” I had been reading on how to disguise my shortness from the world (and the collerary to that: being short makes you look “thicker”!!!!omgwtfbbq!elevntyone1). So frustrating to realise my very body (which I love on my good days) was completely wrong in all these stylists eyes. It's bad enough that nearly all fashion/style photography and advertising makes me feel like clothes are for skinny ppl only…

    Rock on Natalie, Rock on your bad self

  39. I always thought wearing flattering clothes meant dressing to highlight one's favorite features. It's about showing off & looking our best. The word “flatter” has nothing to do with hiding; quite the opposite.

  40. I have a flat ass and a big belly too – does my big belly look big in this dress, maybe?

  41. thank you for putting into words what i've been thinking about all these tummy tucking undies and SPANX craze, i could never properly put my feelings into words but you've done it for me!

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