In mid-July of this year, two separate social media posts went semi-viral for the same reason. They called attention to the idea that fat bodies are inherently regarded as less fashionable, even when the same clothes are praised on thin bodies. The first post, a TikTok by user @senorapattinson, is the most popular iteration of a series the creator has dubbed “Skinny or Fashionable”. In it, we see Hailey Bieber in two separate outfits and Bella Hadid in a third. Bieber’s first outfit, a cropped button-up sweater with jeans and a belt, gets awarded “actually fashionable” but her crop-top-and-low-rise-jeans ensemble and Bella’s “unfashionable mom” street style are both condemned. Yes, the models are beautiful but they are also a major part of the standard all women are held to. When we look at their outfits, we don’t only see the clothing. We see the definition of Hailey’s abs, the taper of her jeans, the designer label on Bella’s handbag.
The second post, a Twitter thread by user @raynefq, went live about a week later. The author published the thread in response to a since-deleted post that mocked two women, both wearing mid-length shorts, graphic tees and chunky sneakers. They’re walking in a crowd; one carries a purse and a bottle of Coke, the other a rolled-up magazine. Based on style and setting alone, they sound like quintessential Gen Z-ers. However, both women are fat.
On paper, those two anonymous women checked all the boxes. Fashion has always been heavy with irony – oversized t-shirts, dad sneakers and awkward-length shorts have all had their moments on the past decade’s runways. However, fashion models are pretty much unilaterally sizes 0-4. When the bodies that introduce a trend to the world aren’t diverse, it only makes cognitive sense to associate being thin with being stylish. That bias isn’t the fault of any one particular person or group but it is up to each individual to acknowledge and fight against it. Skinny fashion is merely another example of “thin privilege”, an unconscious belief in Western culture that fat people are inherently less hardworking, healthy or deserving. When skinny people wear medium wash denim and touristy t-shirts, cornerstone pieces of the “Walmart aesthetic,” they’re much more likely to read as trendy. It’s like they’re in on the joke – what they’re wearing is so ugly that they look good in it. However, on a fat body those same normcore clothes seem earnest. It all ties back to class too – thin privilege is where we associate thinness with success and fatness with poverty. Several of the replies to Rayne’s thread state that the women look “racist,” reflexively associating class with cruelty and a lack of education.
Prejudices don’t exist in a vacuum, either. The stigma around fat bodies has roots in racism, sexism, classism and ableism. “Fat” feels like a bad word and many times it’s uncomfortable even to type in reference to somebody’s body. It isn’t inherently evil, though. Instead, it’s a meaningless descriptor that high fashion has equated time after time with undesirable. There is no moral value associated with anyone’s weight and it doesn’t make you immoral to recognize that the bias is present in your own mind. Rather, we all need to actively notice ourselves and others making judgments based on weight. Both of these social media posts hold their audiences accountable and that alone is the first step in making changes.