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Flattering
prettydark wrote in fatshionista
So today, I'd like to talk about how I find the word 'flattering' as it is used in popular culture to be code for 'skinnifying' or 'idealizing', and how it is used in this community to police fat bodies with shame.

Anyone else have something to say on this issue? This is a bare-bones post, and we really need to flesh it out a little.

I'm of two minds here. I do think that it is frequently used to mean "skinnifying" or "you look less ugly than before", but I also think that it frequently means "highlights a really nice part of your body". I call my jeans flattering because they make my butt look cute and don't make my stomach fat ooze out over the waistband. When I use flattering, I mean "X looks good on you and highlights your best features", not "That tent-like top hides your ugly fat stomach".

I also don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to downplay a part of your body that makes you uncomfortable. There really aren't that many people in the world who can say that they are 100% happy with every inch of their bodies. I think there's a difference between not wanting to wear a certain style of sleeve because you think it makes your arms look bad and wearing long sleeves in the dead of winter because you hate your fat arms.

Honestly, I don't think that it's frequently used here to "police fat bodies with shame". I'm sure it happens sometimes, but there are many people here who are just coming around to accepting their bodies. Sometimes they don't even realize the implications of their comments.

And I'm rambling, so I'll stop.

Not realizing the implications doesn't make it NOT policing, though. In fact, then it's even more insidious because it's policing disguised as Fatshion Advice or Critique or whatever.

I don't think that's true. If I tell someone a color is flattering on them, it doesn't mean it makes them look "skinny", it means that the color makes their skin or eyes or hair pop. If I tell someone a dress is flattering, it's because it's accentuating their assets and makes them look confident and happy. A fat body is a fat body, no matter how good the garment, and letting them know it's a good choice for them has nothing to do with how skinny it may make them appear.

I completely agree with you!

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I was totally going to post about this today! You completely beat me to it. *grin*

I've been thinking about this a lot and I am wondering if it maybe goes beyond "skinnifying" (though I think it's very much used to mean that all of the damn time).

Like, I'm not sure how similar it is in Canada, but in the US we have this culture where too much skin showing and/or tight clothes = slut in a bad way. So, flattering, in contrast, also has this "not slutty" connotation to it. The stuff that I see on Fats being described as not flattering - with commenters who insist it's just that the clothes don't fit even though the poster is very clear that the clothes fit exactly how they want them to fit - is almost always stuff that reveals a body part typically not highlighted in, for lack of a better phrase, good girl clothes. It's always boobs or belly, which are really sexual areas in our society.

This is badly put together because I'm just now trying to articulate it outside of my own head. But hopefully I'm getting the basic gist across.

Basically, the stuff that gets IDed as not flattering here is all stuff that, if thin people were wearing it, would get them called slutty. But the people, often times, wearing it here are people who don't particularly care about that label or who embrace it in a positive fashion (oh, a pun!). So the emphasis on breast and/or belly is totally deliberate both as a celebration of a sexual body and as a fat body and people don't know how to respond to that because they are caught up in both ingrained fat hate AND slut-shaming.

So the emphasis on breast and/or belly is totally deliberate both as a celebration of a sexual body and as a fat body and people don't know how to respond to that because they are caught up in both ingrained fat hate AND slut-shaming.

How about the fact that, for me, a fat person who wears clothes that IMO do not fit reads to me as someone who hates her size? When someone squeezes into a size 16 or 18 when their body would more comfortably fit a size 20 or 22 reads to me as someone who desperately wants to believe they are smaller than they are, who hates how fat they are. "Fits" to me means that the dress you are wearing is misshapen or stretched out when you take it off, or that has seams that are pushed to bursting when you sit down.

Also, I'm curious as to how someone who shows off their fat as a political statement can, at the same time, buy into every other culturally dictated stereotype of what a woman should look like with no problem. Women should wear make up! Women should wear heels! Women should decorate their bodies with baubles! Women should style their hair!

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I think that "flattering" can mean that, but it doesn't always, and it's worth finding out a commenter's intent before delivering a treatise.

and this is why people ask challenging questions of such potentially-loaded language in this community.

the thing is, there is more to "flattering" than just the fit. there is the fabric (how it flows), the color (how well it works with your skin/eyes/hair), the style (does it reflect your own personal style), etc.

don't get me wrong, fit is very important in the way a garment looks on someone, but to me fit =/= "makes you look thinner." fit is: how well the shoulders sit on your natural shoulders, how well the rise fits your body, how long are the sleeves and pant legs (are they too long or too short for you), where the lines in the garment fall in relationship to the lines in your body (bustline, waistline, etc). too tight is not a good fit, in my opinion, but this holds true (for me) on any body -- fat or thin.

I very much agree with this in every way. Cut and fit is not about making oneself look thinner, whether you're showing a lot of flesh or not very much.

e.g. there is one poster who has awesome style, but a lot of commentators will tell her that the dresses she wears are much too short for their taste. However they don't make a comment on something being too small, because otherwise the dresses look smashing on her, and don't pull or bulge or whatever. It still totally flatters her because it shows off her legs to maximum effect.



I can see myself wanting to say "flattering" instead of "that really highlights -insert X attractive body part-" or "your -insert name of body part- looks really great in that -insert name of garment-" because it has also been argued on fatshionista that when we compliment body parts we are objectifying and sexifying the OP. So um, what are we supposed to say? I myself do not know what to say sometimes and find myself just saying "I like this"...which to me doesn't seem all that helpful or descriptive, but I'm afraid of offending someone here.

I agree with this. I certainly agree that "flattering" can mean "Wow, you could pass for almost-thin in that sweater, nicely done," but sometimes it means "Wow, that sweater makes your breasts look amazing and really brings out the color of your eyes." It's hard to discern what the connotations are when you're reading it online and not hearing it spoken.

Conversely, burnedoutstar brings up a good point: If we remove flattering from our lexicon, what SHOULD we be saying if we like someone's outfit?

This is an interesting question. I don't want to single out specific examples where I find this to not be true, but I will use some of my own posts as examples. I have never posted anything revealing, or that could be interpreted as slutty in any universe, but I have had constructive criticism that said some things I wear are not as flattering as others. Sometimes itwas an awkward scarf, or too many things in one place (like a cardigan that buttons+underboob belt+neckwear of some kind), but never could it be interpreted as "too fat looking" or "too slutty."
I have also seen OOTDs by fatties who were much larger than myself whose outfits were tight/formfitting AND revealing, and seen them praised for it. It often seems to have to do with attitude. If someone looks confident and happy, people tend to see the look as a good one. If someone looks awkward, that often leads to criticism. Dunno why.
I do think this post evokes an important issue, though. Fat bodies are so often depicted as either grotesque or as things to be used sexually but not respected. It may be hard for people to separate their internalized messages from the culture about expectations for their bodies when they are critiquing others. We all bring our biases to the table when we comment on one another's outfits. I think one thing that happens over time is that you start to mentally filter out the comments from people you have figured out don't really seem to "get" what you were going for.
To respond to what you specifically pointed to in your post, though: Some things really do look better on people than other things. Otherwise there would be no reason for posting and welcoming critique. I mean, it is true that if you wear a baggy sweat suit that one of the things it will do is make you look fatter, but that isn't why it's unflattering. It's unflattering because it's not designed to highlight *anything* attractive about you. I know that is an extreme example, but it still works with less extreme versions, I think.

Fat bodies are so often depicted as either grotesque or as things to be used sexually but not respected.

I have never personally seen a situation where a fat body was depicted as a thing to be used sexually.

I must live in a different world because I've only seen situations where fat = bad.

When I say something is flattering, I generally mean it fits well and highlights the wearer's features. If it's unflattering, usually it's either too tight or too loose - which neither flatters a size 0 nor a size 30 - or the color or shape (e.g., v-neck v. crewneck) is not a good one for the wearer. I've never seen it used here to mean slimming, or at least I've never taken it that way. Something flattering will generally create a smooth line, which I suppose has a slimming effect, but again, non-smooth lines tend to be unflattering on small people as well as larger people (e.g., bras that create a bulge on the top of the breast or jeans that create a muffin top). Also, one person's flattering can be another person's unflattering - I'm sure there are people here who find muffin tops hot or like tighter clothing, even though both make me cringe. I think that if one posts photos soliciting opinions on an outfit, one needs to be prepared for both positive and negative comments without feeling policed. After all, the poster volunteered the photos and asked for comments; they aren't being imposed without the subject's consent as they are in pop culture tabloids.

I think this is a good summary, personally, especially the points about un-smooth lines.

Just because something highlights a feature, it doesn't necessarily follow that it does it in a good way for that particular person.

thanks for this post!

i think there is DEFINITELY something to be said about how this sort of language might, in some ways, be even more insidious than what theoryofgravity has identified as active fat-hating language--as heard in say, many workout videos/weight loss show.

not to drop the F-bomb, but whenever i think of words like "flattering" and "figure-conscious" and "body-conscious" and more overt expressions like "weight problem" and "overweight" i can't help but think of Foucault and his arguments about surveillance.

all these words are used keep people and bodies in line. they characterize the body as something that is inflicted on culture, something defined in relation to a certain ideal. (e.g. overweight implies that there is an ideal weight that that person has exceeded) something that needs to be managed and contained.

of course foucault's panopticon argument is related to prisons--if prisoners feel watched all the time, they are less likely to revolt--but it definitely applies to bodies in culture. the more we check our reflections in mirrors, and worry about visible fat, the less we're likely to take apart the implications of why we're worried. the less we're likely to confront social injustice on a more global scale.

(there is more to say about how fat bodies are characterized as monstrous and threatening, but i'll hold off on a theorysplosion for now, as it's early.)

*notices theoryofgravity's name crossed out*

Wha?

That is the one of the parts that bug me about "How to Look Good Naked". Carson gives all this fashion and body acceptance advice and then follows it up with thinks like "See, you're not as fat as you thought you were" and "If you dress this way you'll look thinner". Not "better" mind you, it's always "thinner". (With the caveat that I've only seen about 5 episodes of the show.)

I don't think "flattering" is always code for "slimming" but it is used that way in some high profile stuff.

this is my precise beef with "How to Look Good Naked." that's not to say that i don't like aspects of it--it need not be a swoon, after all, i can still enjoy something at the same time i find it problematic--but there is something gross to me about having a bunch of women stand in a line in their underwear and having a presenter point to a woman in line and basically exclaim "you're nowhere near as fat as her!"

to me that encourages a rhetoric where we other or dislike certain bodies in order to feel better about our own. i think we can like our bodies without hating another's. kind of like in order to enjoy muffins, we don't think of donuts as evil.


Hmm...maybe instead of saying "flattering" if we don't want to be misinterpreted as saying "skinnier" we could say, "That outfit is really fattering on you!" :D

In all seriousness I think that non-FA society uses "flattering" to mean "hides all your bumpy parts because fat is ebil" but I personally mean it to mean "looks nice on you" for a myriad of reasons, whether it be cut, color, fit, fabric, whatever.

Hahahaha Fattering!! I love it!

It seems to me that a lot of posters so far fall in two camps, and will probably continue to do so.

1) "I use it as a term for a garment looking good on people, no reference to 'looking thinner' at all"

2) "But out in the big wide world people use it to mean 'makes you look thinner' without realising!"


People in camp one should probably try to articulate what it is about a garment that makes it flattering/unflattering. People in camp two seem to be assuming the worst about intentions in general, and maybe should give the benefit of the doubt until someone has taken the time to articulate further.

Regarding camp 2, in my experience, people just flat out say things make me look thinner (I guess they mean it as a compliment). I've never really gotten a sense that flattering = slimming.

I'm not a fan of the word "flattering" in a lot of situations because it has a lot of unwanted connotations. Its relative, "unflattering" is definitely used to mean clothes that are inappropriate for someone's body type and/or size. "Unflattering" is used to police womens' bodies in a big way. There is an entire genre of television shows that help people to dress in an ideally more-flattering way. This does mean wearing clothing that does not reveal a lot of fat.

From a listening viewpoint, it may seem to imply thinness because you're hearing the word "flat" every time you hear "flattering." It also sounds a lot like "flattening." It's not the only cause, but it surely doesn't help.

On the other hand, I agree with the posters above who said that a color or haircut can be flattering, which isn't a weight issue at all. It's an interesting word.

I'm curious to learn what word would you prefer? I volunteered to stop using the word flattering IF a better word was suggested. If you have one, I would really like to hear it!

One of the things I like about the word flattering (at least liked til now) is that it seems somewhat nonspecific. Maybe this is indeed a cop-out... preventing me from first of all having to say very specific things like "I like the second outfit better because it conceals your fat rolls better". And second of all having to examine my idea that visible fat rolls are a bad thing!

I still just don't know what to do or think, but this thread has been thought-provoking.

I really don't think, when I use the word flattering on the odd occasion, that it means "thinner" or "Wow you've covered up your fat well".

Maybe thinking of it in the opposite way is an easier way to explain it. If someone wears something that is "unflattering", I think it just means it doesn't look "good"- by whatever subjective measure we use to decide wether and outfit looks good on a person or not. If I think something is unflattering, I could mean that the color of it washes a person out, that its too big/too small for them and either hides their shape or shows bits of them I don't think anyone needs to see- size 0 or size 20. I could mean that it cuts them off at the wrong point and makes their proportion look odd, or that is just doesn't seem to work. There's a lot of different interpretations and while some people do use it to mean it accentuates part of your body, or hides the negatives, I don't think it always means that.

This community, among other things, is about clothing and style for fat individuals- most welcome comment and constructive criticism. In this enviroment everyone is being judged by a subjective physical element. In this context, I think flattering is a totally reasonable word, not a negative one.

When I say something is flattering, I mean to say, "That top fits you nicely" or "Those pants make your ass look amazing".

Flattering to me is defined by several categories:

1. Does the garment fit? Does it cling in the wrong places, does it accentuate the problem areas, does it make certain things look bigger than they really are, is it too short, is it too long, etc.

2. Does the color compliment your skin tone and hair color? Everyone knows that red heads shouldn't wear pink. Blonds should shy away from brassy colors. And I don't get that whole warm/cool shit, but you know what I mean there.

3. Does the person wearing the garment look comfortable? If a shirt, pair of pants, skirt, dress or whatever doesn't fit or there's something off about the garment, you can usually see it in some one's eyes.

4. The age of the person wearing the garment. Oh yes, I'm went there. My 58 year old mother does not need to be wearing the same shit that I do at 28. She shouldn't be relegated to muu muu's and knit pants like so many seniors I see in my home town, but she doesn't need to be walking around in mini skirts and tube tops either.

Personally, I don't think tight fitting, revealing clothing is appropriate or flattering on a lot of people, fat or skinny. I don't see a problem showing a bit of cleavage when it's appropriate. I don't see a problem showing off some skin...I think it's really sexy, in point of fact...but there is such a thing as too much...fat or skinny.

Flattering is in the eye of the beholder, honestly, and what I think flatters my body may not jive with some one else. That's why this community exists. To help each other out. It's HARD being a fat woman (or man) and trying to dress yourself fashionably and appropriately for your age. Because 90% of the designers think that shapeless bags are what we want/need. I joined this community to find people who look like me who have found ways to overcome the shapeless bag and dress more like the rest of society -- fun, cute, sexy and appropriate.

You're right about the eye of the beholder--

person #1 may love the way the article of clothing makes their butt look, but person #2 thinks it "clings in the wrong places".

If it clings where #1 wants it to, how does #2 get to tell them it's "wrong"?

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