The Self-Defeating Myth Of “Pulling It Off”

Illustration by Lindsay Hattrick

Face it: Skinny girl privilege is real

If you’ve looked at a fashion trend in the past five years or so and felt it radiating an overwhelming sense of hostility toward everything about you as a person, not only are you not too sensitive, but you’re exactly correct.

In 2014, normcore entered the popular lexicon—mom jeans and crewneck sweatshirts in tow—and you can draw a through line from there to the shape-abnegating parkas, high-necked floral dresses, and mammothly oversized sneakers of Demna Gvasalia’s current work at Vetements and Balenciaga. Tiny sunglasses, which make everyone look like they’re wearing a bad Matrix Halloween costume many years too late, are now inescapable, as are culottes, bucket hats, Birkenstocks, and fanny packs. In 2018, the fashion industry isn’t so much providing women with the aesthetic tools to go confidently out into the world as it is setting forth a challenge: Are you hot enough to prevail over a garment so heinous that it would make mere mortals look like total idiots?

The primary animating principle of fashion in 2018 is that, if you’re cool, clothes can’t simply be worn, they must be transcended. That the garments in question are ugly isn’t incidental to the phenomenon, nor is it simply a matter of taste. Ugliness is inherent to the idea, as are the notions of beauty it stands in opposition to. Normcore and its descendants all ask fashion consumers not to simply wear their garments, but to be the kind of person whose beauty transforms them into something aspirational. If you can’t do it, you’re a sister wife or a time traveler sent to Earth from one of the early seasons of Seinfeld. Which way this goes depends heavily on how well your body conforms to traditional standards of beauty, especially thinness. In fashion, even in 2018, thinness always matters most. The industry doesn’t believe—and has never believed—that how much you love yourself matters at all.

I got in a little trouble last week for pointing out that prairie dresses, currently an emerging trend in fashion-conscious circles, fit this dynamic pretty squarely. Twitter beef isn’t interesting, often not even to the people involved in it, but that’s what happened. The Cut had published an article by Lindsay Peoples that encouraged readers to try the look, including a range of pre-selected options that adhered to the prairie aesthetic with varying levels of fidelity. The article itself only bothered me insofar as it reminded me that prairie dresses exist, and that the purest distillation of the trend (long, waistless, high-necked, frilly, floral, maybe even puff-sleeved) seems designed to tell me that a person with my body is not welcome in the fashion industry. The more a garment is a true prairie dress, the more offensive it is to modern ideas of aesthetic taste, and at a size 20, I’m not the type of person who gets to feel affirmed for taking a fashion risk.

The story included a couple options that came in plus sizes, which I appreciated, but none of them were all that similar to the actual trend, probably because there were scant options for Peoples to choose from in plus sizes in the first place. Instead, they were short party dresses with nipped waists, but with high necks or bib ruffle details that hinted at the actual trend—a clear reminder that, if you already have the temerity to be fat, you shouldn’t attempt any further deviation from the beauty standard because you’re already challenging enough to look at, according to the fashion industry. In my initial comments on the trend, I said that only thin people get to be praised for dressing like jackasses. The Cut’s editor-in-chief, Stella Bugbee, took issue with me for asserting that it’s possible to dress like a jackass at all, which belies my real point: that purposeful ugliness has been the dominant idea in much of fashion for nearly half a decade, but only some people have cultural permission to stare into that particular abyss. Understanding that point is crucial to understanding why those trends exist in the first place.

When you live in a fat body, well-meaning people love to tell you that the only barrier between you and whatever you want to wear is your own self-confidence. That’s incorrect, but I understand why people say it—it’s convenient to believe that the only barriers for others are in their own heads, partly because it means fixing the problem might be simple, but also because it allows anyone who has never been plus size to neatly abdicate their complicity in how the world treats fat women and obscure the gap in their own empathy. In reality, there are two phases of choosing to do anything, including choosing what to wear: deciding there’s a thing you want to do, and deciding that doing it is an option reasonably available to you.

This is where the experience of living in a fat body deviates from that of someone who’s simply always been, like, 15 pounds away from being an Instagram influencer, or who experienced having a different body while pregnant; even if I decide I want to put a true, waist-free, ankle-length prairie dress on my size 20 body, I have to think about how much worse I’ll be treated by the people I encounter because I failed to conform to the harsh standards of ultra-femininity we impose on fat women, as well as whether anyone has even bothered to manufacture such a garment in my size. My own desires don’t tell the full story of the choices available to me.

Even if I decide the potential cruelty is worth it—people can react very badly to fat women who have the gall to present themselves in a way that isn’t as small as possible—the fashion industry may have already decided to materially exclude me before I had the opportunity to decide for myself. Beauty standards make everyone feel bad, but it’s disingenuous to pretend that the effects don’t increase in severity in a fairly linear way as your body cleaves further and further from the established, obedient norm. For fat women, wearing clothes that purposefully make us look larger in the same way that a thin woman would, can mean stereotypes about people like us—that we’re stupid, or lazy, or dirty—are magnified or easier to believe. Assumptions like that are how people get passed over for promotions, denied medical care, or closed out of social circles. They also, on a micro level, just get you treated like shit in everyday life. 

Not only are these narrow expectations enforced socially, but they are enforced on a practical level, too. The majority of American women are plus size—a size 14 or above—but even on the mass market, most clothing lines top out at a 14 or 16. In the fashion-forward luxury spaces, that generally have their trends covered by cultural media, that’s lowered to a 10 or 12. The rah-rah girl power of wearing whatever you want and being unapologetically you doesn’t take into account the ways fashion excludes people based on their bodies, which go well beyond a couple quiet snickers at a fat girl in an ugly dress.

A big part of being a plus size person who works in fashion is wondering if anyone else will mention the elephant in the room, or bother to see the elephant in the room, or even acknowledge that elephants are real animals that exist in the world and not mythical beasts like unicorns and dragons, only found in the fictional accounts of people inclined toward flights of fancy. Do any of them believe me when I say my experience is different? Do they look at me, an otherwise delusionally confident person, and genuinely think all I want is a pity party, or to make them feel bad for being thin, when I explain what it’s like to live in my body in the world?

To a straight-size person, I’m sure this sounds histrionic, because hey, it’s just a dress or a pair of mom jeans, right? And, well, it is. For you. Fat women are playing a game with wildly different stakes. Five years ago, I lost a good bit of weight, putting me just below 200 lbs (the weight that Bugbee cites as the upper limit of her own experience) for the first time in my adult life. It was a strange experience in many ways, but the most heartbreaking part of it was realizing how much nicer people are to you in everyday life, the smaller you are. I wasn’t even close to thin by any popular beauty standard, but the difference was stark, even between being a larger plus size person and a smaller one. There is an entire industry dedicated to the aesthetics of the body and how we present ourselves to the world that doesn’t want to contend with these topics in a meaningful way, and how critical we are when we write about trends, their origins and what they mean is the perfect place to start changing that. But first, we have to be honest with ourselves about what’s really in fashion.

Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images

Sounds fake, but okay

In a new interview for Australian Vogue, Kendall Jenner makes the claim that being associated with the Kardashian name was a setback in her modeling career. Hmmm, that's funny, because power and influence usually works in their holder's favor.

In the interview, Jenner addresses skeptics who doubted that she would make it as a professional model. "A lot of people assumed that because I came from a 'name' that it was a lot easier for me to get to where I got, but actually it's the completely opposite," she says.

"I've always been the person to prove [critics] wrong, even when I was younger," she says. "I've always been a hard worker: that's in my blood. My parents raised me and my little sister to be that way and the rest of my sisters, too." In the profile, it's revealed that Jenner used to attend castings "simply as 'K' or 'Kendall' to distinguish herself from her famous family."

But keeping her name off her portfolio wasn't going to fool anyone, really. Her face has been on television for years, and it seems unlikely that a casting agent wouldn't know who she was even if Kendall didn't come out and say it. Perhaps Jenner was more closely examined and more readily criticized by people who doubted her, but I'm not sure I believe that she had a harder time gaining a modeling platform or booking big jobs, even if she didn't use her last name.

After all, Jenner was likely able to get into those big casting rooms right away because of her family's connections, and she was able to devote her time to pursuing that career because of the wealth they have. She would've had a much harder time making a name for herself if she didn't come from an influential family. She probably wouldn't get to be so selective about which shows she walks, and she definitely wouldn't be the highest paid model in the world.

Screenshot via Hulu

Introspection is not a bad thing

In Look Back at It, we revisit pop culture gems of the past and see if they're still relevant and worthy of their designated icon status in our now wildly different world.

"It just seems like you agree to have a certain personality or something, for no reason. Just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think about it, I mean, how do you know it's even you?"

Iconic '90s show My So-Called Life is filled with existential questions and observations like this, with many, if not all of them, voiced by high school sophomore Angela Chase (Claire Danes). They're delivered with a familiarly annoyed tone, as if Angela can't believe things are the way they are, and that they're unlikely to change.

Angela lives with her parents and sister in a comfortable home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and spends her time navigating the social scene of Liberty High School. She's undergoing a big change, having switched friend groups and fallen in with a cooler crew, namely Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer) and Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz). Thanks to them, Angela dyed her hair from blonde to a "Crimson Glow," and is encouraged to indulge in her obsession with Jordan Catalano (a pre-Gucci Jared Leto), the kind of guy who's constantly applying Visine and has a limited chance of actively graduating.

From the first moment of the first episode, Angela's voice is pure, unadulterated teen angst. The melodrama can, when watching as an adult, feel like it's too much. And then there's other times, like when Angela talks about the agony of Sunday evenings, that it feels unnerving to relate so much to a 15-year-old:

"There's something about Sunday night that really makes you want to kill yourself, especially if you've just been totally made a fool of by the only person you'll ever love, and you have a geometry midterm on Monday, which you still haven't studied for because you can't, because Brian Krakow has your textbook, and you're too embarrassed to even deal with it. And your little sister's completely finished with her homework, which is just, like, so simple and mindless a child could do it. And that creepy 60 Minutes watch that sounds like your whole life ticking away."

Angela is nothing if not an over-thinker, preoccupied with very teenage problems like zits and gossip and who to talk to at parties; her thoughts on the most simple of relationships are extreme, like when she thinks about how she felt before she became friends with Rayanne and Rickie: "it seemed like if I didn't, I would die or something."

Sometimes, her melodrama feels suffocating—particularly when related to Jordan Catalano (it's imperative to say both his names). Angela wonders: "Huge events take place on this earth every day. Earthquakes, hurricanes... even glaciers move. So why couldn't he just look at me?"

As an adult, it's easy to think that, of course, Jordan should look at her: She's smart, witty, open-hearted, pretty, has good taste in music. But then, there's no way to make sense of how crushes work. As a sophomore in high school, I also pined after guys who I felt were out of my league, and after the only girls who were out... but who were dating each other. My thoughts probably (definitely) sounded a lot like Angela's, and I was similarly dissatisfied with my life.

At the time, that dissatisfaction felt oppressive—and I wouldn't want to relive it entirely. But that introspection was also what saved me. By questioning what was around me and interrogating how I really felt, I was able to reject the trappings of my conservative town, figure out my own politics, and accept my own queerness. My teenage dissatisfaction with the way things actually are made me grow as a person, and it shaped me into who I am. Thinking about Angela now, and how her angst fueled her, reminds me that I should also let myself indulge in some teen angst—even as an adult.

In one of the show's final episodes, Angela pauses to reflect on the value of her overthinking. She's ringing in the New Year with her friends and decides her resolution could be "to stop getting so caught up in my own thoughts, because I'm like way too introspective… I think." But she decides against that idea, because "what if not thinking turns me into this really shallow person?" Same, Angela. Same.

Courtesy of HBO

Thanks, I hate it

In an interview today with The Cut, Vanderpump Rules star Stassi Schroeder blessed readers with some of her thoughts on HBO's Game of Thrones, and since we can't get enough GoT talk, we were excited to see what Schroeder had to say.

And, in case you're wondering if Schroeder is a fan of GoT, don't: She's actually such a massive fan that she refers to her fans Khaleesis, and they call her Khaleesi right back. So!

Anyway, after the wide range of responses to Daenerys' fiery mayhem in the show's penultimate episode, The Cut wanted to check in to see how Schroeder was faring, and ask what she thought of it all. While Schroeder's opinion on Dany is mixed (she found the Dragon Queen's "crazy" actions to be relatable, but she didn't think it followed Dany's character arc), it wasn't, like, a bad opinion, just a bit muddled, if not so different than those of the majority of viewers.

Schroeder's real hot take, though—what we feel comfortable calling the worst GoT opinion we've heard—is about another character altogether: Arya Stark. Here's what Schroeder had to say about our favorite blacksmith-banging, Night King-killing, proposal-denying assassin in all the Seven Kingdoms: "Arya, I feel like she probably should have just married whats-his-name [Ed. note: Gendry! His name is Gendry!!]. What's wrong with being a lady and a badass at the same time? You don't have to choose just one."

And, like, sure, you don't have to choose just one, but Arya would never choose to be a lady. That's not her! So, if we're still talking about characters behaving inconsistently, Arya saying yes to a proposal (a rushed one at that) would have been absolutely bonkers. Arya's not about to change her entire personality just because some dude drops down on one knee and proposes, and to want her to do so would be like wanting Dany to act like a sheep, instead of a dragon.

All to say, you know nothing, Stassi Schroeder.

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hoto by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Civic Entertainment Group

Our favorite grouchy girl died today

Today is a sad day, because it is the day Grumpy Cat died. Also known as my personal favorite feline celebrity, Grumpy Cat died from complications following a urinary tract infection. The super relatable cat—real name, Tardar Sauce—was only seven years old.

Grumpy Cat was first introduced to the world in 2011, back when LOLcats were everywhere. Grumpy Cat's downturned face (the result of feline dwarfism, according to her owners) was the subject of a huge amount of memes—she was even the 2013 Meme of the Year at the Webby Awards—and was the subject of her own Lifetime movie, in which she was voiced by the Grumpy Cat of actresses, Aubrey Plaza. But, though we loved her for the memes, we loved her even more because we related to her mood.

Grumpy Cat was so relatable because, like us, she was completely over everyone's bullshit. Unlike us, Grumpy Cat didn't hide her feelings with a smile. And while that was because Grumpy Cat literally couldn't do that, we like to think that she also just didn't want to do the emotional labor. Which is why, in honor of Grumpy Cat, have the courage to roll your eyes at someone today, instead of forcing a fake grin. And just think about how Grumpy Cat's probably frowning at us from some sort of kitty afterlife, utterly annoyed that everyone is mourning her death.

Screenshot via YouTube

And I need to see the rest ASAP

As excited as we already are for Olivia Wilde's directorial debut, Booksmart, to hit theaters next week, we just got even more desperate to see it. Why? Well, the first six minutes of the film were just released, and every minute is incredible.

The film opens on Molly (Beanie Feldstein) meditating and listening to a motivational tape telling her she's better than everyone else, and to "fuck those losers." Her room is decorated with pictures of Michelle Obama and RBG, so we know her head is in the right place. We learn she's the class president when she arrives at school with her best friend, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever).

It's there that we get a glimpse of the social hierarchy in which Molly and Amy exist—but somewhere down near the bottom, way below the popular kids, the theater nerds, the stoners, and even the annoying class clown.

The film officially hits theaters on May 23, but Annapurna Pictures is holding advanced screenings across the country today, May 17—we're actually holding two of them! So, if you're in L.A. or New York, check them out.

But also, you can watch the first six minutes of the film, below, and prepare yourself to watch the whole movie in a week.

BOOKSMART | Uncut First 6 Minutes