Nyoka looking at her phone during Toronto Men's Fashion Week.
I am worthy of love. I am worthy of respect. I am worthy of my humanity. These are the words I repeat back to myself as I step out of the shower and put on a fresh pair of underwear. The elastic band gives way to my protruding stomach and lays ever so neatly underneath my roll. I then put on my brassiere, gently tucking in the rolls of fat at the sides of my breasts.
I am worthy of love. I am worthy of respect. I am worthy of my humanity. I repeat once more as I pull up my favourite pair of jean short overalls. My stomach bulge creates a creasing outline. I grab my makeup bag and begin taking out products. In the midst of applying foundation, I pause and lower my brush. I hear my mother’s voice coming from down the hallway. She’s reminding me before I head out that I need to “fix myself up,” with the insinuation that I look better dolled up. I’ve learned to internalize the hatred she’s vocalized towards my imperfections. I realize now that this is my breaking point of her rejection of me in my natural state. I take a moment to analyze my reflection in my bathrooms’ mirror. These eyes that peer back at me are the same that remain steadily straight when walking through the corridors of my college to avoid eye contact in hopes of not witnessing an ambush of perplexed glares.
I don’t see many fat and fashionable individuals like myself roaming the halls of the fashion school at LaSalle College. That could be due to a lack of interest in supporting an industry that is passive towards our concerns. This is part of the reason why I chose to delve into field of fashion marketing. I wanted to be able to one day fairly supply and support those who are left without the platform or voice to proclaim their injustices.
Not once, in my schoolwork, have I had an assignment dedicated to understanding how to design and market clothes to bodies of larger proportions. I view this as subconscious fat shaming. The industry only feels the need to include us when we get riled up at the obvious exclusion.
What am I afraid of? Or better yet, who is afraid of me? Is my fat body not allowed to wear fitted dresses or anything above my knees? Being fat, femme and outspoken constantly leaves me feeling that it is necessary to declare the reason behind my happiness to validate my worth. Fat femmes are always scrutinized for wanting to achieve anything but the stereotypical standard of beauty. I have been told by family members before leaving the house to change due to what I have on not being seen as flattering. I am always being told to lose weight and that I would look more appealing to men if I wasn’t as heavy. I am incapable of roaming the earth without being subjected into believing that my greatest pursuit is to be thin and finding a partner who sympathizes over my appearance. I already get enough of this pressure between the four walls of my institution. From seeing thin, able-bodied people in all my textbooks to overhearing discussions on getting in shape for the summer, being on the defensive is so tiring.
The capitalist system of the fashion industry is hell bent on seeking out larger women as consumers and acknowledging our presence only when it benefits their own. Most marketing targets those who are thin, privileged and most likely white. In a survey conducted by ModCloth, sixty-five percent of all women agreed with the statement "the retail industry ignores the needs of plus-size women" and “21% of plus-size women spend at minimum $150 a month on clothes and accessories, whereas only 15% of women in standard sizes do the same.” In a 2015 diversity report by TheFashionSpot.com, “out of 143 fashion shows and more than 3,700 models cast during New York Fashion Week’s September shows that year, more than 70 percent of them were white.” So why are other potential demographics being untapped?
Not only is the industry lacking in representation, we are being taught in my program that the sizes we choose to accommodate are to be a size 10 or below which implies that it’s a burden to cater to fat bodies.
For this exact reason, I choose to worship the body that I am in versus shaming it for what it is not. I enjoy putting on makeup, doing my nails and embracing other outward expressions of femininity.
There’s a misconception of what it means to be femme and feminist. Femmes are still seen as inferior and are less likely to be taken as seriously as women with more masculine attributes. To this day, we still have feminists who deviate from what is seen as the norm as a woman in a subconscious attempt to throw femininity under the bus.
Reclaiming being feminine is radical in itself. It is based on rebelling against systematic oppressions catering to the privilege of being masculine. I am proud of being a femme not only because I feel liberated enough to live in my truth, but because society has tried to break down my spirit countless of times for being carefree, fat and black. I have fought back each and every time to maintain my piece of mind. When I spoil myself with the latest fashions I show my stance against an industry that rejects my body and its imperfections.
I am worthy of love. I am worthy of respect. I am worthy of my humanity. This statement, my personal mantra, rings in my head as I raise my brush back up towards my round face. I smile as I begin to apply blush to my plump cheeks. Now, eyes still fixated on myself, the uncertainty I felt earlier diminishes. I see no need to compromise my identity for palatability. I will continue to exist and blossom in a world that is built to destroy me.
by Nyoka Hunter
Nyoka Hunter is a Jamaican-Canadian 20-something year old fashion marketing student with a knack for causing you to jump in the air and high five the person closest to you or cause the protruding vein in your forehead to burst. In all seriousness, she's one rad babe. She can be found on instagram @nyokahunter.