Meditations on a Word: Flattering

Wherein I ruminate and ramble and share a brief moment of "ding!"...

I had this thought the other night.  I've gained weight, you see, from my high school size of a 10/12ish (US) up to around a 16/18 these days.  And I'll be honest, I'm kind of struggling with my self-image and how to feel beautiful in a body my culture emphatically and repeatedly tells me is UGLY and DISGUSTING and THE SOURCE OF ALL EVIL IN THE VERSE. (The irony, of course, is that were it not for such messages that made me feel unacceptably big even at my smallest adult size, I wouldn't have dieted my metabolism into the ground and gained 100lbs over the past 7 years.  Diet culture is what *made* me fat.)

Anyway, I was talking to myself about fashion, and clothes, and fit, and how to look good and more importantly, feel like I look good in my clothes at this size.  And I tried on for size (pun fully intended) the cop-out line of "it doesn't have to make me look skinny, so long as it's flattering."

But then it occurred to me: what else is "flattering" code for, in this context, but "skinny"?  We say clothes flatter us when they smooth our lumps and rolls, when they create visual illusions of height and a curve from waist-to-hip and fuller, higher, rounder breasts.  Hmm.  Smooth lines, height, hourglass figure.  What does that sound like? 

Why, our culture's oppressively narrow standard for female beauty, of course!  What we really mean when we say clothing "flatters" us, is "it helps us to inch closer to The Beautiful Body by camouflaging the body that is actually ours, veiling our real flesh in illusion."

Wow.  That's...not an improvement at all, is it?  "It doesn't have to make me look skinny, so long as it flatters me hides my body and makes me seem closer to the idealized standard."

As they say, it's hard to fight the enemy when the enemy has outposts in your own head.

I still don't know, after years of jeans-and-tshirts, what I want my fashion and style to look like.  But I do know, now, that flattering is not a concept I want anywhere near it.


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