Welcome to the Learning curve, a monthly column where we unwrap the complicated experience of coming to terms with your own body in a world that just doesn’t seem to want you to. This month, in our very first post, Editor-in-Chief Nicola Dall’Asen questions the lack of fat people in beauty campaigns – and the industry in general.
The zippers rarely reached the top of the zipper. The size 13 jeans, the largest in the store, came up so high in my crotch that I could taste the denim. The fabric of the T-shirt was stretched over my stomach and the back fat still hanging over the belts. Due to the lack of plus sizes at mainstream girls’ and women’s retailers, this has happened almost everywhere I have purchased clothes – but never, ever in the beauty aisles.
I was lucky to have discovered the magical world of beauty products from an early age, around the age of 10. My height never dictated whether or not I could curl my hair with my coveted Mary-Kate and Ashley curling iron or spray myself with Viva La Juicy (forgive me, that was in the early 2000s). I could swatch dozens of eyeliner, without unflattering lighting in the locker room – and would be for the rest of my life until I became a beauty journalist. When I bought these things in person, I could see other customers around me who had bodies like mine shopping alongside those who had bigger and smaller ones as well. Surrounded by beauty products, I finally felt accepted, hoping that fashion could catch up one day.
It’s a story familiar to many obese people, especially women. “Beauty was a way for me to feel beautiful when I didn’t have clothes that I could afford or that fit, so I always used makeup as a way to express myself,” says Jessica torres, beauty and fashion content creator and co-host of the Fat Girl Club podcast. “Once I found out about lipstick, I literally wore it all the time. I was like, Wow, it makes me feel sexy and powerful, and I can do whatever I want.” I have heard a lot of similar feelings from other fat girls throughout my life.
With that in mind, consider all the beauty commercials that you have seen in your life and combine them into one picture. What do you imagine? This is what I see: a thin, white woman. Her skin is tight, tanned and free from blemishes, stretch marks and scars. She gives either a “grow” or fortunately displays virtually flawless teeth. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being white and thin, but when you consider the purpose of a beauty advertisement – for a brand to convince you that their product will make you look better – we run into a problem. Because when you are constantly taught to believe that the only definition of beauty is white and thin (or proportioned in a very specific way), it can really ruin a person’s self-image if it doesn’t fit. this mold (and many, many people don’t fit into that mold). Meanwhile, the people who actually buy these products represent the full range of body sizes and shapes.