There’s an amazing new dress making the rounds on social media right now. Smack dab in the middle of a summer when getting dressed is virtually meaningless and our closets feel more like museums of wardrobes past, people on TikTok and Instagram are losing their shit over a $490 sparkly Lirika Matoshi dress adorned with strawberries.
Except it’s not new. Plus-size model Tess Holliday wore it to the Grammys in January.
“I like how this dress had me on worst dressed lists when I wore it in January to the Grammys, but now bc a bunch of skinny ppl wore it on TikTok everyone cares,” she captioned a photo of herself in the dress on Instagram Sunday. “To sum it up: our society hates fat people, especially when we are winning.”
In truth, Holliday joined a shortlist of celebs who actually make fashion statements on the red carpet when she donned the fruity frock. But on the carpet, as in real life, thin bodies in clothing of just about any kind are celebrated for far, far less. This absurd difference in how we, as a culture, approach fat and thin bodies was made more clear recently when an image of two women in high-waisted shorts and T-shirts went viral last month. Their looks weren’t heralded as high fashion ― they were, instead, mocked.
It’s that attitude toward bodies and their worth that inspired Twitter user and writer Rayne Fisher-Quann to point out something glaringly obvious about the image.
“A tweet making fun of these women has 100k likes but i swear to god if bella hadid wore this exact outfit it would be on a million ‘80s casual inspo’ pinterest boards bc, as always, fashion is judged exclusively by the bodies that wear it,” she wrote.
And in fact, a quick Google search for Bella’s sister ― “Gigi Hadid vintage shorts” ― produces a near replica of the outfit, celebrating her “polarizing” but ultimately trendsetting prowess because if she wears it, it has to be right.
These are not isolated incidents. As Fisher-Quann points out, when you celebrate this outfit on thin bodies and chastise it on fat ones, you’re furthering a classist belief system in which “beauty and thinness are increasingly only available to the rich” and in which the “right” type of body has to be wearing the outfit or else it’s in bad taste, or sloppy at best.
Images presented to us on television, social media and best-dressed lists by and large value size over style. Too often, this seems to go largely unnoticed. That’s for a variety of reasons, including a lack of clothing options and styles available to fat people, fat celebrities and tastemakers being unable to find a designer to dress them for a red carpet event, and those people being given less press in general for no reason other than their size.
Think about it: Bloggers who have built empires tucking their oversized sweaters into high-waisted jeans are not particularly innovative or interesting. So when they’re lauded for those looks, I’d argue we’re not celebrating fashion as art or self-expression. Instead, we’re celebrating low BMI ― and the privilege of being seen (and not ridiculed) that comes along with it.
This isn’t a knock on thin people. Lots of thin people have great style. But you must know by now they aren’t the only ones. Bloggers like Katie Sturino’s “supersize the look” segments dispel the notion that style has a size. Holliday has also worked to push that messaging forward since she’s had a platform.
It’s sadly unlikely our culture will question whether the fashion value of a pair of shorts and a T-shirt is being determined based solely on the body of the person wearing it. But we should be. The more we point out this kind of thinking ― and the reactions it causes ― perhaps the less frequently it will happen.
When I was a kid I would have killed for a pink Juicy Couture velour tracksuit ― the ultimate fashion statement, natch. Even if my mom could have afforded it, it wouldn’t have mattered. It wouldn’t have fit me. I didn’t fit into fashion. It rattled me for years until I realized maybe Juicy Couture tracksuits were not the pinnacle of style and a brand that doesn’t include all bodies actually isn’t that cool in the first place.
I’m not saying we should give up on admiring fashion. It’s one of my great joys. I’ve spent more than six years writing about it and talking about it — and many more than that thinking about it and loving it. What I’m saying is we should be thinking about why a look on one body tends to garner one kind of reaction, while the same look on another body garners a different one. Is it really about the look? Or is it about all the cultural baggage we’ve brought along with us when we see it? And, for the love of God, how can we separate the two?
Ultimately, Fashion isn’t fashion because a thin person is wearing it, and great style isn’t dictated by a body type. It’s about damn time we pulled up our high-waisted denim shorts and acknowledged that.
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