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Dear NY Times: Fat People Need Clothes Too! August 12, 2009

Posted by Jae in Uncategorized.
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Dear Mr. Hoyt*,

I am writing you today in response to an article written by Cintra Wilson entitled “Playing to the Middle,” which seems to be a review of sorts of the new J.C. Penney in Manhattan.

I do not know quite where to begin with this piece.  In short, it was stunningly classist and bloated with thin priviledge and written with such a snide, holier-than-thou tone that it was practically unreadable.  Ms. Wilson’s contempt for anyone above a size eight is clear.  While Manhattan is a city of “sleek” fashions, J.C. Penney is “dowdy” and “waddling” around Manhattan.  She mocks what she perceive to be the “obese mannaquins” and remarks that she is glad her size two self isn’t really that interested in shopping there, because J.C. Penney’s dare’s to provide rack space to mid-sizes like a ten and even the very smallest of the plus sizes: a sixteen.

As a woman who wears a size 18/20, a size by the way that Ms. Wilson suggests should be happy to spend $80 on a shapeless polyster sack, I am sadly used to this sort of attitude.  I am used to hearing it in the halls of high schools out of the mouths of sixteen-year-old smart alecs and in the comments of internet postings; I am highly disappointed to find it in the Times.  Everyone deserves to have something to wear that makes them feel good about themselves, no matter if they are a size zero or a size 32.

And what I disappoints me even further, is the fact that, aside from all the fat-bashing in this article, there is a lot of class bashing too.   Even as Ms. Wilson lauds what a great development this is for those who are not, as she puts it, “stress-thin, morbidly workaholic, Pilates-tortured Manhattan ectomorphs,” she insults the clothes there are being not only fashionlesss, but implies that wearing anything from there only signals that one is, to be plain, a loser, and probably an idiot as well; her ancedote about J.C. Penny’s apparently vast discrepency with sizes in other stores ends with a dig about someone being able to wear a size medium shirt with “enough room in front for eight months of unborn twins” thinking how thin they must be to wear a medium.  Those whose budget only allows for them to shop at stores like J.C. Penny are not any dumber or any less aware of their body size than those who can spend on a blouse what most New Yorkers spend on rent.

On her personal website, Ms. Wilson posted a response where she apologized to those she had offended by claiming that she loves fat people, really, and that she really meant for this to be a positive review and she was sorry that we were too offended to see that.   I propose that someone there perhaps send her back to journalism 101.

*  If you would like to send a letter to Clark Hoyt, the Public Editor for the New York Times, you may do so here: Contact Mr. Hoyt.


Skinny Jeans (or What I am Allowed to Wear) August 12, 2009

Posted by Jae in Uncategorized.
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My wardrobe consists pretty much exclusively of jeans.  I’ve never cared for khakis or slacks.  I don’t often wear skirts or dresses.  Even in the summer, I mostly wear jeans or, if it’s warm or I’m in the mood, a pair of capris –which also will probably be made of denim.  It just seems easy to me.  I’ve never thought of myself as being able to assemble a cute outfit, so I feel like if I stick to jeans and a nice top, I’ll end up looking presentable, even if I’m not on the cutting edge of fashion.

When I was growing up, I never felt I could wear jeans.  Even though I realize now that I wasn’t fat (at least, not for most of my non-jeans wearing life), I always felt like I was too big to wear jeans.   The first time I can remember getting a pair of jeans for myself was in the fourth grade.  My pediatrician, without considering that I was starting puberty and beginning to reach my full adult height (I was a tall kid, who hit 5’4″ quickly and then stopped and became a shortish adult), told my parents that I needed to lose weight and so I went on some sort of diet that summer.  By the time school started, I must have lost enough weight because my Nanny took me out shopping; she told me I could pick out a new outfit as a reward.  I bought a pair of blue, yellow, and red striped jeans and a black top.  I remember wearing them the first day of school, so that I could be sure to impress everyone.

My jeans wearing life didn’t last long.  I’d be lying if I said I had any other clothes memories from fourth or fifth grade, but I do remember going back to school shopping the summer before sixth grade.  This time, I snubbed jeans in favor of palazzo pants; I thought they were more sophisticated and adult, and that was exactly what I wanted to be in the sixth grade.  When those pants didn’t turn me into a sophisticated adult, I decided I would spend my Christmas money on some new jeans.  Over the break we went to the mall and I tried on the biggest size in the juniors section, a 13, and they didn’t fit.  I came home and wrote in my diary that I was a fat pig and a a failure, and I vowed to go on a diet.

I don’t think I seriously attempted to wear jeans again until college, when my obssesive dieting/eating disorder started to make me thinner, and I’ve been wearing them ever since.   Yesterday’s post on Shapeley Prose about a woman who took a special exercise class just to fit into her skinny jeans and the ensuing discussion really made me think though, even though now I happily buy Lane Bryant’s Right Fit jeans, do I wear them as much as I do just to prove I can?  I like jeans, don’t get me wrong, they are comfortable and go with pretty much anything, but where they used to be the clothing I lusted after, now they have just become an easy outfit choice.  And I think this is one more way of telling myself that I am not worth the time/money/thought/etc it would take to put together something that would be both comfortable and pretty.

I spent a good chunk of yesterday online window shopping for clothes and creating wish lists of things I would normally be drawn to, but would never attempt to buy because I feel like I have permission to wear them.  While I don’t see myself giving up jeans completely (because I do still like them), I think it is time to expand my range of outfits beyond what I feel I am allowed to wear.