NYFW’s Wall of Shame

Screenshot 2019 09 10 At 09.18.17

As a fat woman, it’s barely worth my while keeping an eye on what’s happening at various fashion weeks around the world. I won’t feel represented by the models (unless we’re talking about Chromat) and the clothes almost definitely won’t fit me.

But it’s still interesting to chart the changing face of ‘body-positivity’ in the context of these major fashion events, and for me, the wall in the entrance to Spring Studios, a major site of New York Fashion Week, says so much about the current state of body politics. It was spotted by a few NYFW attendees, both plus size and otherwise, and it even managed to rub thin journalists up the wrong way. Obviously the whole wall is a little cringe but it’s the pale blue message in the bottom right-hand corner that really said so much in just five words.

‘You do not look fat’. I could probably expend about 10,000 words on the various ways in which I hate this, but I’ll try to keep it brief.

Firstly, I can’t believe it’s 2019 and we’re still at this level of discourse around bodies. We’re still saying, in pretty explicit terms, that the one thing you absolutely do not want to be is fat. The implication of the rest of that wall is that you are ‘perfection’, you are ‘gorgeous’, but you are not ‘fat’ because that is the antithesis of all the positive words they’re reassuring you with. You can’t be both. You can only be one, and that is gorgeous, that is perfection, and it is not fat.

The fashion industry is fatphobic, sure, we know that. We’ve always known that. What’s weird about our current moment, though, is that brands have learned that they basically have to talk about bodies, ‘body-positivity’, body diversity. But they don’t get why. It’s like they’re scratching the surface of the issue and declaring their work done. Scratch a little deeper and you should feel absolutely compelled to ask yourself why you think ‘fat’ = ‘bad’, you should be forced to confront the fact that fat is the worst thing you can be, you should dig so deep that you start wondering about all the ways in which you, as someone who works in the mainstream fashion industry, are complicit in upholding this system that thrives on aspirational fatphobia. A meaningful statement on bodies and fatness and hierarchies shouldn’t be something that a thin fashion week attendee would feel comfortable posing in front of for a selfie on Instagram. That’s not to say there aren’t thin allies at fashion week doing useful work and making serious observations about the state of the industry (the aforementioned journalist Gabrielle Korn is refusing to documenting shows that feature zero plus size women), but they are few and far between. For most attendees, a wall like this is a self-serving ego massage that reinforces the idea that body politics is an issue du jour that they’re engaging with.

But for me, one of the most glaring problems with this ugly artwork is that it presupposes that not one attendee of New York Fashion Week will be actually fat. Sure, they might worry their thighs are too big or compare themselves to their similarly skinny colleague, but fundamentally it’ll be all in their head. It’s absolutely out of the question that one of the most anticipated moments in the Serious Fashion Calendar will attract real fatties. A few of my cool Fat New York Lady Friends (as I genuinely refer to them, en masse) have been to NYFW shows and events this season, and I wonder just how out of place, how erased they feel while trying to stake a claim to the industry they contribute to every single day.

So let me end by saying, you look fat. It’s gorgeous. It’s perfection.

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