So I am moving to Spain in August, to start business school. Those of you who have googled me will have seen that I am what they politely call a plus sized lady, and, having never worked really corporate ever, all my clothes are… hippie. I mean publishing is the worst industry if you want to collect nice work clothes because [a] you can’t afford anything nice and [b] everyone looks at you in shock when you turn up formally dressed. Heavens I often went to work in clothes I literally wear on the beach. So basically, when I was summoned to my first interview for Bschool, I kinda panicked. Because it said very clearly, dress code: business formal. Normally I’d just put on a sari, but these weren’t Indians so I was worried it would look…well…hippie. So I ran off in a mad scramble to find some clothes.
Only, I’d forgotten, I can’t buy clothes in shops in India!
There are a lot of things I have found hard about being a fat woman in India, but the most insidious and painful of them is the simple fact that I can’t buy clothes in regular shops. Nobody keeps XL, and anyway XL today is basically a loose M. The idea is, I guess, all the fat girls are aunty-types who can just live in salwar kameez and horrible shapeless floppy things they pay double for in plus size stores, if they’re lucky enough to live in a city with one in the first place. It’s a total mindfuck you guys. Because clothes are a pretty basic thing, and nobody ever having your size is basically the whole industry telling you to fuck off, you’re not good enough to wear anything stylish.
All this meant that, when I first moved to the US, I was so thrilled that I could buy clothes in stores! Like just walk in, try on all the styles and fits and colours and buy some clothes! It became a mini ritual: my sister would send me stuff whenever someone visited; I’d have a nearly annual pilgrimage to my beloved Old Navy flagship store and the local Target and return with clothes that fit my body and my sense of self. (And everywhere I go, I’m stared at in India, not in lust or anger (well not at first), but in bewilderment. People just cannot able to process fat girl in stylish clothes.)
When I was desperately trying to find a pair of pants and a jacket in October, I ended up at the only place large women I know can buy bras and pants: Marks and Spencer. Which, as we all know, is the lamest, dowdiest firangi clothes store in India. Shapeless, floppy and boring are the three words that pop in my head the most when I’m there, and even they had only one pair of pants that fit me, and they were tapered, which is a cut I hate. Still, I bought the clothes and had the interview and now they languish in my cupboard.
A friend of mine was excited about a dress she got–she’s chubby–and I felt so bad when I saw it because it was a classic fat girl dress: floor length, long sleeves, solid colour. And, instead of highlighting her several assets, it just screamed like a neon sign: there’s a fat girl in this dress. But if someone were to suggest a different style, she probably wouldn’t want to try it because she’s been told something about thighs or tummy or knees or something.
I guess this rant is about how we tell women how to dress all the time. This is not an Indian thing or a new thing. (We also tell men how to dress, but of course for men it’s about showing their value as manly men or having money etc, while for women it’s about being attractive.) We might not even do it explicitly as in wear this or don’t wear that; it can be as ninja as there just not being clothes you can wear. And it makes me angry. Because whoever you are, whatever you are, you should wear what you want, (even if I, or your mother, or some person on the street thinks its ugly/too much/too little/whatever) and you should be able to access all kinds of options and play around till you find clothes that make you happy about yourself. Because it’s true: when you dress nicely it gives you quite a kick of happiness. And we can all use all the extra happies we can get!