As the hashtag #FatAtFashionWeek garners attention at New York Fashion Week, Billie Bhatia makes a case for it to be reconsidered.
Last week when I came across an article entitled, What It Means To Be Fat At Fashion Week, I smacked my lips in delight and celebration emojis erupted in my head. I couldn’t wait to read it, I anticipated its words would feel something akin to a warm hug from an old friend. Someone else was sick and tired of being physically labelled at fashion week, and they wrote for Teen Vogue no less.
But my hopes of an all-familiar embrace were soon dashed, and I was instead left feeling like I had just bitten into something sour. Why? The article is about fashion week (nothing new there) but, instead of the usual street style round ups or quips of news, it focused on a hashtag being adopted by plus-size women at fashion week to celebrate diversity in the industry. Said hashtag reads #FatAtFashionWeek. The author of the article is Kellie Brown is a fashion writer, influencer (I have followed and admired her for years) and creator of the hashtag. And, being one of the women that #FatAtFashionWeek refers to, I have beef with it.
It’s not the cause that grates on me like nails on a chalkboard: I actually couldn’t applaud (or want to be a part of) something more. A platform whereby I see representations of myself in the industry? Praise be. A call to arms of women to show that yes, you don’t have to be sample size to be stylish? PRAISE BE.
No, it’s not the cause I find fault with. It’s the words. Why label us?
Having been fat my whole life, I am acutely aware of my physicality. I imagine most people are, actually, whether they’re fat or not. If you’re tall I am certain you are aware of your height, just as if you are petite you, too, are aware of your stature. If you are black, white, brown, or any other beautiful colour in the spectrum of human race, I am also certain you are most decidedly aware of your appearance.
In fact, I am more than certain that those around me – my work colleagues, my friends, strangers on the street and every person at fashion week – are aware of my appearance. But why do I need to label it? Why do I need to be defined by being #FatAtFashionWeek? Can’t I just be at fashion week and celebrate that? Celebrate the fact that me, Billie Bhatia, Fashion News Editor of Stylist Magazine, is doing my job and reporting on the fashion week shows?
Sure, I am seeing fashion week under the lens of the fat person hugely under-represented in this industry, but I am also looking at them under the lens of a fashion editor. Naturally, when I notice a wafting dress potentially roomy enough to fit all of me, I pay a little more attention. But most of the time I am looking at the clothes to decipher the trends, and looking to see whether the designer has chosen to be tokensistic with their casting because society has pressured them to be so, or they have been inclusive because they truly want their brand to accessible to everyone - all bodies, all ages, all races, all abilities and all sexual orientations.
But that is the crux isn’t it? This hashtag, despite its admirable intentions – a spotlight an incredible bevy of plus-size stylish women at fashion week, feels tokenistic rather than inclusive. I don’t want to be just be defined by one thing. I want to be fat at fashion week, Indian at fashion week, big footed at fashion week, curly-haired at fashion week, nervous at fashion week, excited at fashion week and the rest of the physical and non-physical components that make up me. We need only look at Jameela Jamil’s ‘I Weigh’ campaign to see that what defines us isn’t metric or aesthetic.
I am tired of being fat at fashion week, to be stared at with utter flabbergastery (if such a word should exist) that, yes, me and my size whatever-because-it-doesn’t-damn-matter ass is attending a show. I am not encouraging plus-size women, or any other minority represented in the fashion industry to stand aside and do nothing. Instead I am encouraging us all to highlight our qualities as opposed to our appearances. Be stylish at fashion week, be bold at fashion week, be brave at fashion week, be mind-blowingly cool at fashion week, be you at fashion week (and in life). I sure intend to be.
Images: Moeez Ali / Instagram