Guest Blogger Tasha Fierce: A Maxie Girl In A Barbie World

Tasha Fierce edited the amazing ‘zine Bitchcore from 1998 – 2001 and co-blogs at I Fry Mine In Butter. Her writing explores black invisibility and racism in feminist spaces, sizeism and fatphobia, black queer invisibility, and transgender issues and subverting gender roles. Also, she’s my sister – okay not blood related – but she’s my family.

I have a deep, abiding love of fashion and the various bibles that dictate the terms of such. No matter how many times I tell myself I’m not going to pick up another fashion magazine, no matter how many times I reflect on how damaging staring at anorexic-thin models in clothes I will never fit into is, and no matter how many times I cancel my subscriptions, I still eventually give in to the lure of “100 Accessories under $100 You Can’t Live Without” and buy the damn magazines again. And start another subscription, because, you know, 12 issues for $8 is a really good deal.

So since my chosen career path is “fashion/beauty editor”, and I have started my own nascent fatshion blog to hone my skills, I find myself needing to exist partially in that world that really wants nothing to do with me. At least, until the next “love your body” phase comes along and “plus size” models are all the rage — and even then, I don’t exactly have the shape or height of your typical plus size model. Loving Chanel but knowing Karl Lagerfeld is hugely fatphobic, to the point where he can’t even stand the thought of fat women wearing his diffusion line at H&M, causes serious cognitive dissonance. Writing about fashion requires looking at current runway looks and trends, and while plus size fashion has come a long way, it really pales in comparison to the variety, beauty, and creativity you find in designer clothes made for “normal size” women. It’s extremely hard to desire the amazing looks but be unable to wear them. While low end retailers are going up to larger sizes, you still need to be at the smaller end of the fat spectrum to fit into those sizes, no matter how much stretch they put in their clothing. And even those who can get with the stretch would be hard pressed to fit into the non Lycra-infused items.

All this requires me to live in the “double consciousness” described by W.E.B. DuBois, not just in the fact that I’m a black girl living in a white world, but also in the fact that I’m a fat girl desiring to live in the fashion world. DuBois describes double consciousness as such: “[…] this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” How accurate that is when applied to my relationship with a world so obsessed with being as small as possible, but that I at the same time love so much. Battling diet obsession becomes that much harder when you’re doing research by reading magazines full of stories of severe calorie restriction just to fit into a size 2. And battling self-hatred is that much harder when l’m looking at runway looks I’d love to re-create but can’t because the designers just don’t see me.

But this is the field that I love, that I feel drawn to. So it falls on me to continue to love myself in the face of if not hatred or disdain, erasure and invisibility. Because I’ve chosen this. It’s not something forced on me; this is not some other oppression. I can work to change the way the fashion world works, and thankfully there are a growing number of women doing that right now. Some may say it’s a silly world in which to try to create some kind of movement for inclusiveness, but hey, what can I say. I love beauty in all forms, and there is beauty in fashion, just like there’s beauty in fat bodies and the way we dress them. And I think, just maybe, if we can effect change in the fashion world, the larger world, which is very much influenced by fashion’s ideals, might change too. That’s the more noble purpose I strive for. And if I get to wear cuter clothes because of our success, well, I’m not going to object to that.

Another non-post

So yeah, I was off on the return date by nearly a week. Sorry about that.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve quit writing for Broadsheet — last Friday was my last day. I was a bit burned out on daily ladyblogging, and I want to get working on a new book. (No, I’m not ready to talk about specifics yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as I am.) So in theory, I’ve got more time to hang out here again, and I’m planning to. In practice, a whole week’s already gone by, in which I got a lot of writing done but never blogged. So it goes.

Right now, I’m out of town until next Saturday, attending a wedding and visiting family and old friends — so realistically, I probably won’t post much this week, either. But I wanted to say hi.


OK, bye.

Spring Break

Hey, folks, Shapely Prose is going on hiatus until on or about March 22. Everybody’s batteries are running low, and some shit’s changing behind the scenes, so it’s blogcation time. This will be an open thread unless I get pissed off and close it at some point, so… be good.

Posted in Fat

Everybody Loves a Strawman!

You can't win. You can't get even and you can't get out of the game.

As a Pop Culturalist, I’ve never found it my job to critique media I do not enjoy, nor do I give much credence to those who do. It’s really easy to pick apart even the legitimate shortcomings of media you don’t like, but it’s hardly productive. Okay, so you found all the problematic elements of content you’ve established NOT LIKING. Good for fucking you. Now here’s a barrel of fish to shoot!

You will never hear me rant about the problematic aspects of the following:

Joss Whedon’s universe
Howard Stern
Harry Potter
The Office
Reality TV

BECAUSE I DO NOT LIKE THESE THINGS. And state as much up front. No, it does mean I think who people enjoy these thing are bad people. It just means I don’t happen to share their passion for these things. I also don’t need to hear one more reason why I should be moved to partake in any of these things. Please move your foot so I can close the door. Me no like!

Besides, what would be the point? To prove I know how to pick on an easy target?

There ain’t no black people in LOTR. Booyah. I’m done. Okay, I can go out for a soda or something. Joss Whedon’s world is like Tori Amos’s world, which is like Jesus’s world. Possibly great but the followers appear to be large pains in the ass when proselytizing about their savior. Done with that one. The rest are probably self explanatory if you’ve read my blog for any appreciable length of time.

And that took – what – like a paragraph. Should I waste more of my time analyzing all the ways in which I believe these things to suck with supportive evidence of their suckery? As I say often say, I don’t know how many hours your day comes with, but mine only has 24 and I intend to use them wisely.

Honest examination of the media you actually consume means never having to say, “Omg, I can’t believe ____ said/did ____!!!” and you won’t find yourself so god damned shocked by what was in front of your face all the time. Granted, it’s a lot more difficult to unpack and examine media you find enjoyable, but it’s work that needs to happen. Ain’t no two ways about it. The alternative merely ensures it is always someone’s else’s heroes, interests or passions that are problematic and never yours.


A version of this previously appeared on Snarky’s Machine where I blog daily, and often more than that.

FYI: Clothing swap on Ning

If you haven’t been over to the SP Ning community in a while, you might be interested in the clothing swap thread Angie G just started. She noted the number of people who commented on Snarky’s recent post on wanting to get rid of clothes that don’t fit and thought that a swap might be the perfect solution. If you’re interested, pop on over to that thread (and please, everyone, abide by the honor system!). And if you are new to the Ning community, click here to register (you might have to wait a few hours for one of us to approve your membership, so please be patient).

Friday fluff: The forbidden tongue

Apparently, Randy Michaels, the CEO of Tribune Co. here in Chicago, has issued a list to the reporters on WGN, our local public radio station, containing words and phrases they must no longer speak on air. These are not dirty words, a la George Carlin, but words that sound like “newsspeak” (according to WGN news director Charlie Meyerson, who passed along the list to the article’s author). Presumably, this means sounding too much like a cliched newscaster and is not to be confused with cracking down on thoughtcrime. Some of the phrases listed probably do deserve to be retired as outworn cliches: giving 110%; mother of all (anything); senseless murder. Some of them, though, seem designed to make a reporter’s life a lot more difficult: how are you supposed to report one of those senseless murders without using the word “alleged”?

All this makes me feel a little dictatorial myself. I propose that we make a list of words and phrases that should be verboten in reporting about women’s issues, starting with the phrase “women’s issues.” Here’s a few to start our list:

  • Sex and The City references
  • reference to shoes when the article is not about shoes
  • spinster

What would you add?

Cultivate Your Inner Samuel L. Jackson

Can the owner of this many Kangol hats really be that mean?

I have no idea what Sam L Jackson is like in real life, but I sure admire the way many of his characters navigate the world. Not really feeling the excessive violence or the Pacino like shouting, but I do enjoy the indignation and the decisiveness in his responses to mellow harshers. There’s a whole lot of chow chow in our culture about politeness and decorum. Lots of noise about “not making a scene” or “stepping on toes” and all kinds of colorful ways in which folks get told to “suck it up”.

Excluding situations where not sucking it up could result in physical violence (I strongly encourage folks to suck it up until they are safely out of the situation) I can’t think of any legitimate reason one should – you know – suck it up.

People close to me often call me a “bad ass”, which while flattering is not entirely accurate. I don’t stalk the streets, narrowing my eyes and asking strangers if they’re feeling lucky and watching a movie like Silkwood just makes me tired. What they are probably observing is my directness and emotional discipline – neither of which are exactly the domain of the bad ass.

Pop psych frames verbal self defense as though we’re all outgoing, flashy extroverts, possessing heaping amounts of privilege and devoid of fear or ties to our community. Oh yeah, you can get away with their version bad assery once if you’re lucky. Ever notice how many bad asses (as framed in our society) end up chased out of town or dead?

Well, we’re not looking to become subjects of a bio-pic, portrayed by actors who complain about having to gain weight to play us. We’re looking to keep emotional bullies, Grabby Hands Christian Andersons, Concern Trolls and unrepentant close talkers from harshing our mellows.

Look, I do not cut an imposing figure. I have to get up real early in the morning if I want to spend much of it above 5’0.75 (yes that quarter inch matters). I don’t have a big booming voice or command of a lasso. And while I’m hardly shy, I am not an extrovert, flashy or outgoing. But I do a good job harnessing my inner Sam Jackson and here’s how I do it.

1. Decide

I don’t how many hours your day comes with, but mine only has 24. So at some point you really have to decide what exactly are your “Rosa Parks” moments and let the rest go. You can’t eat all the eggs or fight all the windmills.

2. Commit

okay, so you figured out where are your lines in the sand are. Great. Now own it. Don’t diminish yourself by thinking your lines are petty, picky or foolish. That might well be the case, but who cares. Hey, I blast off into outer space when people don’t use coasters. Even if the table isn’t wood! That’s just me. I own it.

3. Plan

While you’re not going in search of mellow harshing situations, you still need to come up with a response plan. Or as Nathan Muir (Redford) said in SpyGame “When did Noah build the ark? BEFORE THE FLOOD”. Grab your list of Oh no they didn’t-s and for each one write exactly how you want to behave if faced with the situation. Again, NO JUDGMENTS! Yes, walking away IS is a viable option. Write your response plan in detail, including any theatrical hand gestures or props you might need.

4. Practice

My hair. Lots of bandwidth has been used ranting about folks playing Indiana Jones in some black woman’s head. So let’s all pretend that we’ve read them and agree with the premise it’s WRONG. It doesn’t seem to matter if I’m raging home grown or store bought, people like going all ST: The Undiscovered Country on my head! I’ve done the ragey/stabby/verbal body slam thing and I’ve done the suck it up and just be all passive aggressively pissy thing. Neither worked for me.

Now if I get the question I ignore it. I ignore all its overbearing out of town relatives, well intentioned neighbors and pushy supervisors. If I feel a hand about to storm my head like Normandy, I physically MOVE the hand and give the look. It’s a cross between the look my mom used to give us when we were cutting up in church and the look DMV clerks have perfected. But it took practice. A lot of practice. At first I was still alternating between ragey/passy, but I just kept repeating steps 2 and 3 and now it’s just something I do. I don’t even think about it. And, see, it didn’t involve any shift in my personality or lots of processing with people with summer homes and dreamcatchers dangling from their office windows.

5. Consistency

Stick to the response plan. Even if you feel silly and regardless of what they do/say (with the physical violence caveat still in place). Don’t waver. See it through. Particularly with a repeat offender. You have to keep doing it every time they do that thing that you isolated on your list. The reason you practice is so it feels natural even if you don’t feel natural doing it. You know your script, you know all the blocking and you’re just giving a performance. And seriously, most of these ass clowns don’t deserve your improvised efforts! Even if the situations themselves don’t get better, most likely, you’ll feel better and that’s all we’re aiming for. Assclowns don’t stop being assclowns merely because you’ve mastered the force.

This doesn’t come with a guarantee and it won’t be applicable in a lot of situations, but hey it sure beats coffee table rings.

Okay, that was such a clown horn ending.

A Handy Guide to Not Plagiarizing

Via Hoyden About Town‘s Lauredhel* on Twitter, I just discovered this Mediaite post by Glynnis MacNicol** discussing a piece by NYT public editor Clark Hoyt*** regarding the latest plagiarism scandal to be blamed on the fast pace of blogging. Like Gerald Posner before him, Times business reporter Zachery Kouwe says his problem wasn’t that he meant to lift whole passages from other writers, but that when he was gathering information, he’d dump it all in one file, then totally forget which parts he’d written. And the real problem, if you want to know the truth, was tight online deadlines, which prevented him from carefully looking over his work for typos, awkward sentences and parts he did not write.


I mean, it’s possible they’re both that fucking stupid — I can’t rule that out. But I can tell you I’ve been blogging on deadline for some time now, and I have yet to steal substantial amounts of writing from anyone else. Sure, I could probably thank Dooce every time I use all caps for emphasis, and Sady Doyle every time I get exclamation point happy, and I don’t always correct people who credit me with coining the phrase “rack of doom,” even though I’ve explained a bunch of times that I stole it from someone on Fatshionista ages ago. I’m not saying I’m perfect. But you know what I don’t do? Copy other people’s work into my own files and then magically forget that I didn’t write it.

And you know how I don’t do that? It’s a pretty simple process.

1) I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

2) I read everything over multiple times as I’m going along, and at least twice before I hit “publish.” Even this doesn’t keep me completely typo-free or prevent me from sometimes publishing dumbassed shit. But it’s a pretty reliable way to familiarize myself with what my own writing looks like, lest I confuse it with someone else’s.

3) I link to every online source I quote, and when it’s a longer passage, I often use the fancy internet blockquote function. This also helps minimize my own natural confusion between my writing and other people’s.

Here’s an example. Felix Salmon writes:

Kouwe once wrote, in an email quoted by Teri Buhl: “Things move so quickly on the Web that citing who had it first is something that is likely going away, especially in the age of blogs.”

Anybody who can or would write such a thing has no place working on a blog. If it’s clear who had a story first, then the move into the age of blogs has made it much easier to cite who had it first: blogs and bloggers should be much more generous with their hat-tips and hyperlinks than any print reporter can be.

I did not write any of that. It really works!

4) On the rare occasion when I do hit “publish” without remembering to include an appropriate link — it happens**** — I usually notice it when I read the piece over again. Things that tip me off to missing links: The name of another writer, the name of another website, quotation marks, blockquotes, phrases like “As X at Y put it…” If you routinely include such markers when you quote another writer’s work, you will have no trouble later identifying where your own work would benefit from a link to the source.

5) Also, I don’t pretend I wrote things I didn’t write.

That’s it — my whole system for not plagiarizing! And since this blog is coming up on its three-year anniversary with exactly zero instances of a writer here being unsure of whether she wrote something or stole it, I feel confident recommending that system to others. Please feel free to pass my advice along to any veteran journalists you know who understand nothing about online communication and thus assume they won’t get caught — er, rather,  get all confuzzled by the pace of blogging and can’t remember who wrote what. Just don’t fucking forget where you found it.

*See how I credited another blogger, and included a link? Not actually hard.

**And again!

***Works for old media types with an online presence, too!

****In fact, I forgot to link to the Fatshionista Livejournal community where it’s mentioned above before I first pubbed this post. Oops!

Oscars Liveblog Tonight/A Gabby Rant

For those who have been wondering, yes, we’ll be liveblogging the Oscars tonight! Snarky’s Machine, Sweet Machine, Fillyjonk and I are all on board, though we can’t guarantee we’ll all be there from start to finish. We’ll start with the red carpet at 6 EST/5 CST/3PST 7 EST/6CST/4PST (we decided we can’t take quite THAT much merriment) and keep going until we’re bored or too drunk to type.

All this will be happening over at the brand new Shapely Prose Liveblog site, which we hope will work better than Cover It Live did for the Golden Globes. If all goes well, that’s where we’ll do all liveblogging in the future, and the archives will remain there for anyone who missed the events.

If you can’t watch on TV, here’s a list of options for watching at least some of the coverage online. (We’ll try to agree on one of those sites toward the beginning, so we’re not all talking about 5 different things.)

In the meantime, Erica Kennedy has a glorious rant about Gabourey Sidibe’s stylists over at The Feminista Files. I’m not sure I agree that Andre Leon Talley is the answer here, because I still haven’t forgiven him for Jennifer Hudson’s space bolero, but I heartily agree with this:

Now if you had read this on USA Today’s site and not on another blog that was linking to it, you would have noted, as I did, that they felt the need to put “full-sized” in quotes like it’s such a derogatory thing to say about a woman that they needed to soften the blow with… well, kinda.

She IS full-sized, mofos. She’s not ashamed of it. Stop trying to be ashamed for her! DAMN.

I’d noticed that Gabby was showing up to a lot of stuff in off-the-rack dresses — mostly ones I’d lusted after on the Saks website, so at least it wasn’t like, as Kennedy puts it, “She HAS to do the red carpet and then to have to say 100x, ‘It’s… Lane Bryant’?!” But then I was online window shopping the other day, and I stopped by SWAK Designs, which at the time had a bunch of pictures of Gabby (supposedly) in their dresses — which I think top out at $99.99 — at major events. And she’s certainly been out on the town in Igigi.

Now, I’m a fan of Igigi, and when I have semi-formal events to attend, it’s one of the first places I check. And for most of us here in the real world, those dresses ain’t cheap. But most of us here in the real world are not FUCKING OSCAR-NOMINATED ACTRESSES. Gabby is allowed step it up. Gabby is expected to step it up, in the crowds she’s now running in. Remember when I attempted to run up an imaginary tab as high as Sarah Palin’s from high-end department stores, and utterly failed? Yeah, here’s what I said then:

If a fat woman were running for office at that level, she’d still be in suits that cost under $1,000, ’cause that’s all that’s out there. Some of the career wear for fatties is very well made and plenty expensive, but if you buy the only argument in support of Palin here — that women of her stature are expected to dress a certain way, and it costs that kind of money — then a fat woman who aspired to be a woman of Palin’s stature and look the part would be shit outta luck.

And of course, it goes without saying that a woman who wears over a size 24 is already shit outta luck. Everything I’m saying here about upper-class fat women being shut out of dressing like their peers goes quadruple for fat women who are sized out of high-end department stores.

Also, is Tadashi really the only fucking designer making plus-size evening wear? (What happened to Carmen Marc Valvo’s plus line?) There are loads of dresses that cost over $1,000 in Saks’s straight size section, and some a lot more than that, but only one over $500 in “Salon Z.” Again, if fat women want to move in the circles where women blow a couple thou on a dress for one night, we don’t even have the option of dressing to the same level. We’ve got to show up to our charity events and opera openings in gowns that don’t cost much more than the average bridesmaid’s dress.

Gabby is moving in circles where women blow many more than just a couple thou on a dress for one night (or at least, are loaned/given dresses worth that much). And yet all of the above still applies. (Except that David Meister has joined Tadashi in Salon Z –more on that in a moment.) Sure, she can also have stuff made — she did for the Golden Globes, and apparently for tonight. But even though Kevan Hall, who designed the GG dress, talks a good game — “it’s all about picking the right silhouette for her shape,” he told Robin Givhan — that dress was such a fucking disappointment to me.

I think the color’s gorgeous, but the sleeves are bog standard Fat Girl Arm Tents, and the beading doesn’t look much more impressive than what you find on a $150 Igigi. And as for it being “the right silhouette for her shape,” um, am I the only one who can’t even find her shape under there?

Which brings me around to the other side of this rant, in which I note that sometimes, off-the-rack is not such a bad thing. This dress, which she wore to a Precious press conference in Toronto (I have no idea who it is or where she got it), is slammin’ — sleeves and all.

And as for formal gowns, in my opinion, she has yet to top this $530 David Meister.

FAT GIRL IN SHINY FABRIC WITH BARE ARMS! THE HORROR! And yet, if you can get past that (and okay, the wrinkles at the bottom), she looks a lot younger and prettier than she did at the Golden Globes. There’s that.

As long as she looks like the beautiful, confident twentysomething it girl she is, I really don’t give a shit if her clothes were a dollar a pound at Goodwill. Sharon Stone wore Gap to the Oscars, and everyone found it charming. But the difference is, Sharon Stone had a bazillion other options. Her Gap top was seen as a conscious rejection of the pressure to princess out for Hollywood’s annual circle jerk, and hooray for that. But the problem for Gabby is, you can’t consciously reject things they won’t let you have in the first place.

And my big problem with Gabby’s event wardrobe is not that it’s cheap, comparatively  — as I said, some of her off-the-rack dresses have made me swoon —  it’s that it shows such a stunning failure of imagination on the part of whatever stylist(s) she’s working with. People who get paid a lot of money to make her look her absolute best apparently default all too often to the fashion approach ordinary fat women are all too familiar with: If it fits, it’ll do.

We all deserve a hell of a lot more than that, but an Oscar-nominated fat woman attending A-list events left and right not only deserves it, she should be able to get it easily. So if her stylists can’t be bothered to think outside the Salon Z, and designers can’t be bothered to cut more fabric for a hot, young, highly visible actress, we’ve got a problem. Not that that’s a surprise, but still.

Anyway! Here’s hoping Gabby looks more gorgeous than ever tonight.  If she doesn’t, I am going to be making this face all night.

See you at the liveblog.