Stop Calling People "Brave" for Wearing Clothes That Make Them Happy
Approximately 68% of women in America are considered plus size, but there’s a clear lack of industry representation and shopping options for this majority. In Plus-Size Diaries, columnist Olivia Muenter dives into all things plus-size, from sharing her personal experiences to speaking out about plus-size culture at large.
The other day, I received a message from a very nice Instagram follower who wanted to tell me that the photos I had posted in a bathing suit had inspired her to be brave enough to wear one, too. At first, I was flattered. But then I thought about it—why is the concept of me, as a size 14 woman, wearing a bathing suit considered brave? Why is me existing in the same clothing that a million other straight size women wear, too, groundbreaking at all? Suddenly, the comment didn’t feel so good anymore. Not because I thought this person’s intention was even remotely negative, but still, the idea frustrated me.
At a size 14/16, I’m on the smaller size of plus-size. These days, I can sometimes fit into straight sizes if they’re cut generously, and I can typically find at least one item at most stores that will fit me. So for the most part, fatphobia doesn’t touch me in the way it does for people who live in larger bodies. Still, the idea of certain clothing being reserved for only certain types of bodies is something that everyone, regardless of size, can probably relate to. It’s the narrative that we were all served for years (think early ‘00s fashion makeover shows like What Not To Wear). The outdated set of fashion “rules” said you could only wear an empire waist if you didn't have a stomach, that you could only wear bodycon dresses if you didn't have cellulite, and that you couldn’t wear horizontal stripes ever, no matter what body type you had. Sadly, the list goes on and on.
And think about it: How often have you been shopping with a friend or family member only for them to say something along the lines of, “I just can’t pull that off,” or “My body isn’t built that way,” or even “I wish I had the figure for that?” For years, I too accepted and said these types of comments. I told myself that I didn’t have a stomach flat enough for bikinis, and that I had to highlight the smallest point of my waist at all times. And then I started to ask myself why I didn’t think I was allowed to wear certain items—why I thought those were reserved for other people, even if I liked how the clothing looked, even if I dreamt of wearing it myself.
The answer didn’t occur to me right away. Instead, it only popped up after years of unlearning diet culture and dismantling the beauty standards that society had sold us all. What I realized then, though, is that I didn’t think I could wear clothing unless it would make me look smaller. Even if I loved a particular dress or top or skirt, I thought that it wasn’t for me if it wasn’t going to make me look thinner. But when I started the process of disconnecting from diet culture in my mid-20s, I felt the world open to me—and this included fashion. Suddenly, the question wasn’t whether I could “pull off” a certain item of clothing or whether it would “flatter” me, but whether I liked it or not. So I wore the sweatpants and the bodycon skirts and the bathing suits—all the things that I had believed for so long were not for me.
It felt refreshing to finally know I could wear whatever I wanted—like rediscovering my personal style. What it didn’t feel like, though, is being brave. Because despite what we’ve all been taught over the years, there shouldn’t be anything groundbreaking about a person in a larger body wearing clothing. It shouldn’t require the precursor of an extraordinary, superhuman amount of confidence to just exist in clothing that you love—no matter what that clothing item is.