Nike, the brand that needs no introduction, unveiled plus-sized and para-sport mannequins at its flagship London store in a first-of-its-kind move. While lots of people have appreciated the company for this, there are just as many that have criticised it for ‘glamourising obesity’ — which is hardly the case. The rampant ‘fatphobia’ that is currently running the Internet makes it a better time than any other to lay down the facts about fatness, fitness, and fashion. Here are things that you should know, in all honestly from fat people:
Shopping can be a fat person’s nightmare.
Until a few years ago when plus-sized model Ashley Graham made it big and companies and shops started catering specifically to bigger people, clothes for the larger sizes were impossible to find. The drab, formless ones would of course be available in some places. It was self-deprecating to the point that one first stops asking if that ‘cute top’ is available in a bigger size till one gives up on shopping altogether. Finding the right tailor, one who wouldn’t turn out every suggestion because ‘seri varaadhu madam’ was harder to source than the ‘enough material’ he demanded. That a sports brand, usually associated with a certain athletic built, has taken note of real and big bodies, and is creating clothes for them is a definite plus (pun intended).
Have you watched a fat person eat? Laughed at a poorly orchestrated comedy about a fat person with food perhaps? Looked at someone’s plate and raised an eyebrow? Constant policing makes bigger people uncomfortable to eat in public, and this concern about someone’s weight and deciding that how a person looks is indicative of their health is just fatphobia sashaying in sweet talk. All the speculation that the mannequin would have been diabetic or developed osteoarthritis had she been a real person suggests a poor understanding of health and fitness — a person’s health cannot be deduced by their size, fitness is possible at all sizes (have you ever been on the Internet?) and the BMI must not be blindly believed. Nike’s move is in no way a reason to tell fat people that don’t have an ‘excuse’ anymore.
Exercise is not just for thin people or those that are thin-in-the-making. As much as the world would like to see the ‘Good Fatty’ stereotype more — that of a fat person wanting more than anything to be thin, or hold those success stories in high regard for others to follow (which in itself is fatphobia) — all people don’t exercise only to become thin, all fat people don’t want to lose weight, all plus-sized persons cannot lose weight even if they tried. Genes, metabolism, medication, disability could all be contributing factors to one’s size. All those who exercise deserve good gear.
Fat is not a laziness issue. It is one of exclusion. Nike is including people of all shapes and sizes in thinking about athletic wear, and as a business must is doing what is takes to reign them all in. It’s that simple — Nike’s business is active in all senses.
Yes, thank goodness for our parks, walkers in salwars and shoes, and sometimes people’s abilities to make do with what they have. But all bodies must be thought of as needing comfortable clothing to work out in, and sometimes it is the lack of this that keeps people from accessing places most effective for their training. Plus-sized mannequins wearing XXL clothing could very well be a step forward in reimagining that ‘athletic body’.
That said, and move welcomed, it is sad that fatphobia is paving the path to have to defend large corporations such as Nike for its deeds, and dictating a binary good move-bad move conversation that glosses over sweatshop labour. Never ever forget with positive PR. Especially when there is negative PR.
In a world that is constantly telling women that they must not take up too much space, but looks through fat people, desexualising and dehumanising them, ‘Fat’ continues to be a feminist issue’, even 40 years on since Susie Orbach published her book.
The writer is a city-based activist, in-your-face feminist and a media glutton