Written by Kristine Hassell, Twitter Administrator and President of the Board
Fat. It’s such a small word, right? For such a small word, it carries so much baggage and let’s face it, it’s rarely used positively. Even if someone chooses to use plump or pudgy, chubby or chunky, stout or solid, their meaning is inferred. Fat has become this pejorative term, a way to mock someone, or define their value based on their size. Equating someone’s worth because of their size happens often in our society and fat-shaming has become one of the last socially acceptable forms of discrimination.
GeekGirlCon design manager (and I’m proud to say, friend) Rachelle Abellar had enough. As a proud fat girl and self-proclaimed fat activist, she wanted to create a safe space for people of size to celebrate their bodies, have fun, get inspired, find support, and connect with others.
After Rachelle participated in the “Fat Girl: Fan Girl panel” at GeekGirlCon ’13, she spoke with many women who felt like their struggle with being fat and geeky was a lonely one. Many felt intimidated to be fashionable, let alone cosplay for fear of criticism and fat-shaming. It wasn’t until attending that panel that many of them realized they weren’t alone, and these women voiced a desire to continue the discussion and find support in person. Despite Seattle’s progressive views, there was not much in the way of a fat-positive community so she decided to take things into her own hands.
In December of 2013, Rachelle created PNW Fattitude – a fat-positive community with events would be open to all self-identified fats. PNW Fattitude welcomes people of all genders, including those who do not identify with any gender. A couple months after the group began, their inaugural fat fashion swap kicked off on February 1st! The fat fashion swap was going to be a day of body positivity, support, and taking back fat.
It was a typical grey winter day in Seattle – the kind of chilly day where you really would prefer to hibernate while marathoning something on Netflix. But folks didn’t hibernate and when I arrived early to assist with set-up at the Phinney Centre, there were already several women waiting in the lobby, all with overflowing bags of clothing to swap! The excitement was palpable and once the event began, the room teemed with women of all shapes and sizes.
There were swag bags for the first 50 folks and a lovely table laden with nibbles to keep us energized while we sorted and shopped our way through stacks of clothes. Some women found armfuls of stuff immediately and gleefully traded for their new goodies.
Throughout the event, I kept overhearing unsolicited and genuine compliments given freely to the women who were trying on clothing and you know what? It was pretty damned awesome. It didn’t take long to notice the women who cared not one iota about their VBOs as they tested out pencil skirts or dresses with ruffles. I saw women who rocked sleeveless shirts and tank tops without fear of showing their upper arms to the world. And there were women beautifully sporting horizontal stripes proudly!
You see, when you’re fat, you don’t really see yourself represented anywhere, much less in geek culture. When you do see a plus-sized female character, they tend fall into comic relief roles that centres around weight-based jokes at their expense. They aren’t defined by their humanity and after a while, the negativity feels insurmountable. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog piece…
I was proud when Rachelle asked me to write this blog posting to cover the event. In those short few hours, I met people that didn’t judge me (or anyone else) based on my jeans size. I was able to sift through clothes at my leisure and find some really beautiful retro dresses. My swag bag was chock full of amazing items and the whole day was spent with folks who were supportive of everyone’s sizes and shapes. New friends were made and I left in such a good mood that I realized why Rachelle did what she did. I like to think that every person who attended the swap, left with a tremendous boost to their ego like I did.
At the end of the event, several attendees stuck around afterward to help separate clothing into two piles: professional clothing items for the Seattle chapter of Dress for Success and the remainder divided among local thrift stores. My VW was packed to the roof with bags full of clothing earmarked for Value Village. It felt good knowing that plus-sized women might discover some sweet discounted items on their thrifting outing.
PNW Fattitude aims to provide a safe space for people of size to celebrate their bodies, have fun, get inspired, find support, and connect with others. If you want to get involved, find them on Facebook or tumblr! Definitely stay tuned for the next event. I’ll be there, for sure.