Recently, reading an article by Marie Southard Ospina in Dazed about hyperfemininity in the plus size community, I started to have a think about the various obstacles that we all find in our way and the different battles that we have to fight. For most people it can be tricky negotiating the tension between what you want and feel is right, and what the rest of the world says is the correct way to do things, but add something like a mental health condition (for example) into the mix and you can feel like you are drowning under the weight of society’s expectations and demands to conform.
As plus sized women, so the article discusses, we have to put in effort well above and beyond that of out thinner counterparts in order to be considered attractive (or at least not ugly). We are effectively excluded from some of the easier, less conformative fashion trends because, in my opinion, they are themselves a challenge to the norm and, in a society that struggles to accept such a rebellious act as daring to be fat, performing multiple rebellious acts, such as being simultaneously fat and alternative, can be more than most people are willing to process. It doesn’t surprise me really that, in the face of this lack of acceptance, most plus size women remain uncontroversial.
However, constantly conforming to society’s expectations when they’re contrary to your own desires or personality can be just as damaging, if not more. If you are having always to deny a part of your personality to the outside world, then it is bound to have a profound impact on your mental health and your sense of self-worth. This is true even in the case of such seemingly asinine areas as personal style – it you’re a bit of a tomboy, stylistically, dressing in a hyper-feminine style can go beyond extremely uncomfortable into being downright problematic.
So, how do you stay sane and balance your own desires against society’s expectations? Well, what I try to do is to pick my battles. That isn’t to say that I think you should completely disregard any or all of the things that make you you in favour of what is dictated to you, quite the opposite. What I am actually advocating is that you prioritise – figure out which elements of your personality, appearance etc. you feel are more fundamental and would be more damaging to you if you denied them and put those things first. After that, if you still have the capacity to fight more at the moment, maybe look at some of the less fundamental things that you would just like to be able to do/look like/express, and so on until you think that your mental load is at a comfortable limit. Then, in the future, you may be more able to look again at the other battles that you’ve set aside for the moment and see if you have the capacity to fight those without compromising your health.
For me, an example of a fight that I can’t leave is style. I am trying at the moment to best figure out my personal style after years of feeling adrift. I need to do this because I feel like I have lost track of part of my personality in the last few years, the part of me that I expressed sartorially, and this has had a profound effect on my sense of self. This is a fight for me because I’m not that girly. Certainly I have some girly days, but the current, hyperfeminine, ’50s pin-up aesthetic with it’s wiggle dresses, cinched waists, victory rolls and perfect makeup is far removed from me on even the most girly days. So in order to feel more like me, I have to carve a path that is less travelled (though not completely untravelled, thankfully), which will always be a tougher journey, but one I hope will be very much worthwhile.
On the other hand, a fight that I have decided is safer for me set aside is the issue of body hair, especially facial hair. Something that I have yet to really discuss on here is the fact that I have PCOS (which I will discuss in greater depth in another post), a condition that can mean, amongst things, that I have excessive body hair, most notably (for me at least) a growing patch on my neck and more-obvious-than-normal upper lip hair. Now women have body hair, the same as men, and it’s more obvious on some women than others (again, the same as with men, as my ginger fiancé can attest), and there is absolutely nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but society has deemed that women should be virtually hairless, and facial hair is especially taboo. I really dislike having my face and neck waxed, it’s a bit physically uncomfortable but more I find it a very vulnerable thing, even though the lady I see is lovely, but this dislike is far outweighed by how self-conscious I feel when I think about the possibility of other people noticing my neck beard. So, for me, this is not a battle I am currently in a position to fight. And that’s ok.
Other women have embraced their facial and bodily hair, fully accepting it as a part of them, regardless of society’s general attitude. Harnaam Kaur, a freelance body confidence and anti-bullying advocate, has a full beard that she accepts and embraces as part of what makes her her. She didn’t always feel this way and, at an early age underwent painful beauty treatments to attempt to remove her facial hair, as well as facing extreme bullying. For Harnaam, embracing her beard was a battle worth fighting, and one she has won spectacularly, and she gives me hope that, one day, I will also be in a position to fight this battle.
So have a think, which are the battles that are worth fighting right now? And which can be left for another time so you don’t overwhelm yourself right now? Don’t think that by prioritising you have in any way failed, you are a lot more likely to progress if you don’t try and fight every battle all at once. And who knows, maybe one day society will realise that we’re all different and that it’s ok to do what feels best for you.
In the meantime, have a quick listen to this song that Ray Blk did live on one of the BBC Glastonbury shows last month, it felt so appropriate right now…