Edinburgh based plus size style and fat positive blogger AmandaApparel unpacks a theory about the 2017 Met Gala and discusses patriarchal pressures placed on feminine bodies.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or on a secluded island far FAR away from wi-fi, I’m sure you’re well aware that the 2017 Met Gala has just taken place. What makes the Met Gala so wonderful is the annual theme and avant garde nature of the event. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be. This year's theme was Comme des Garçons to honour Rei Kawakubo as the first living designer profiled since Yves Saint Laurent in 1983.
Frustratingly, this year’s Met Gala looked like any other runway or awards ceremony. In some instances *gestures to Selena Gomez* it looked like a high school prom. Where was the drama? Why are so few thinking outside the box? In the name of investigative journalism, I took to Twitter with this theory:
We’ll get back to that theory shortly but first, a herstory lesson is in order!
Image via Vogue Archive
The herstory of Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garçons
Kawakubo is a Tokyo born creator whose designs are absolutely stunning. While she never actually studied fashion she did study fine arts, literature, and history of aesthetics (Thurman, 2007). Kawakubo founded Comme des Garçons (translated: like some boys) in 1969 and limited the company in 1973 (Bloomberg, 2017). Her designs have a tendency to be larger than life. Think BIG. Think structure. Think architecture. In these garments, the wearer has no choice but to take up space. That is where we find an interesting parallel for plus size bodies.
The “Lumps and Bumps” Collection, Commes des Garçons RTW 1997
Image via Vogue
This collection has me feeling some kind of way! I want to be known for lumps and bumps too! Can I put that on my business card? I highly recommend checking out all the looks from this collection. The garments featured are dramatically filled with padding. Now, the padding is NOTHING like the way plus size models wear padding to fit into bigger clothing (Layne, 2014). The padding is placed models’ hips, backs, shoulders, stomachs, legs, just about any body part that can be padded, and it’s not done in a traditionally “flattering” way. The garments were created to question patriarchal pressures on women’s bodies, and the silhouettes make a powerful statement. So powerful in fact that some observers recall feeling incredibly uncomfortable at the show because of the shock value from the garments (Ahmed, 2016). Can you imagine how uncomfortable they’d be if they saw me stomping down the runway?! Did you notice how the catwalk models aren't even wearing high heels? Kawakubo made this decision very intentionally, and it's ANOTHER brilliant way to visually challenge patriarchal values.
“It’s our job to question convention,” the Japanese designer
told Vogue (2017c). “If we don’t take risks, then who will?”
Taking up space as a political statement
As women we are constantly being trained to take up as little space as possible. We are taught to sit politely with our legs firmly crossed and our hands in our laps, while masculine folks have the luxury of sprawling out and making themselves comfortable (Powell, 2016). Take a ride on your local public transport and you’ll see the epidemic of manspreading. Feminine bodies are policed 24/7 and are programmed to pursue weight loss (aka literal, physical shrinking) at all costs. I used to buy into this concept as well. I absolutely used to be apologetic about taking up the space my physical form requires, but over the last five years I've managed to unlearn that. Taking up space isn’t just a body issue. Men consistently take up more space online (Stortz, 2016). Additionally, men dominate conversation in the workplace (Goudreau, 2014).
“Girls, you shouldn't check yourselves from taking up
too much room. You don't need to earn the right
to your space.” - Gould, 2016
Taking up space as a fat woman
When it comes to taking up actual physical space, women are given one of two boxes to occupy: slim or curvy. As a fat woman it's even harder to sausage your body into one of those two boxes. It's been proven several times that fat feminine bodies are significantly more marginalised and more policed than masculine bodies (Fikkan and Rothblum, 2011). Taking up space for me started with the realisation that I'm under NO obligation to lose weight. I had to learn that fatness does not equal morality. Once I realised this, I truly started living my life.
"There's an adrenaline rush that comes with denying the
common rules of society: that I should always be
trying to lose weight." - Virgie Tovar
as quoted in Baker, 2015, p. 171
As a fat woman, I understand that I have to fight for my right to take up space. When I was younger and much less confident, I too was obsessed with a slimming silhouette. I wanted to appear as slim as possible, so exclusively wore empire dresses that cut in at the waist then flared away. As we all know from What Not To Wear, Tim Gunn, Gok Wan, etc., this is the ONLY suitable option for fat women.
“A wonderful way to start the body love journey is to
wear what scares you.” Jes Baker, p. 184”
I absolutely agree with Jes. For me, it was skin tight skirts and anything that showed skin. Aside from cleavage obviously, because huge boobs are the one perk of being fat right? *yawn* If this sounds like a huge ask, don’t worry! You don’t have to dive in. You can take baby steps and slowly try on things that you don’t feel you’re allowed to wear. For me, I would wear a super tight skirt with an oversized jumper on top. Some time passed, and suddenly I was confident and happy enough to wear a tight skirt with a crop top!
Regarding all the non-physical ways we take up space, it's a matter of cutting back on saying “I’m sorry.” As women we are taught to be apologetic, even when it's completely unnecessary (Rettner, 2010). According to Sloane Crossley (2015) the apologies are taking up airtime that should be used for making logical, declarative statements, expressing opinions and relaying accurate impressions of what we want. We are allowed to express our feelings. We are allowed to confront a coworker when they make a racist "joke." We are allowed to take up space in all ways. Now say it with me, “I am allowed to take up space!” That means on the bus. Online. In the office. At the Met Gala. Wherever you need it.
Image via Vogue
Acknowledging Fearless Fashion
A lot, and I mean a LOT of the attendees who actually wore Comme des Garçons are on the Met Gala’s worst dressed lists. Can you imagine?! Because of this total disgrace I want to honour some of the women who honoured event’s theme. As I pointed out on Twitter, it’s worth noting that women of colour are the ones most willing to break through the barriers of desirable hourglass silhouettes and take up space.
Actual queen and real life angel, Solange Knowles wears Thom Browne. This is a look that you KNOW all the hipsters in Brooklyn are gonna be wearing this winter! It’s called fashion Brenda, look it up!
Model Helen Laischanh wears Comme des Garçons, and is actually mocked so much that she was turned into a meme?! #rude #disrespectful #haveseveralseats
Actress Ruth Negga looks stunning in Valentino. This look is simpler than many Comme des Garçons pieces, but the silhouette is reminiscent of Kawakubo’s Japanese roots.
Image via Vogue
Of COURSE we couldn’t have a conversation about the Met Gala without RiRi! She's another of the very few guests who wore Comme des Garçons. Every single thing about this look is sheer perfection, but I’m most obsessed with her makeup! It’s glowy and gorgeous and I am L I V I N G. I just, I don’t know what else there is to say other than 10/10 couldn’t have been better! As Amanda Richards says, "All I have to do in life is wait for death & Rihanna."
Honourable mention goes to Aja from RuPaul’s Drag Race season 9 who channeled Comme des Garçons in the Lady Gaga challenge. Work! Sashay! Shante!
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AHMED, O., 2016. Lumps and bumps at Comme des Garçons s/s97. Another Magazine [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/8174/lumps-and-bumps-at-comme-des-garcons-s-s97.
BAKER, J., 2015. Things no one will tell fat girls. Berkeley: Seal Press.
BLOOMBERG., 2017. Company overview of Comme Des Garcons Co., Ltd. Bloomberg [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=5663541.
CROSLEY, S., 2015. Why women apologise and should stop. The New York Times [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/23/opinion/when-an-apology-is-anything-but.html.
FIKKAN, J. L., and ROTHBLUM, E., D., 2011. Is fat a feminist issue? Exploring the gendered nature of weight bias. Sex Roles [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.amascriver.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Is_fat_feminist_issue.pdf.
GOUDREAU, J., 2014. Why powerful men dominate conversations while women keep quiet. Business Insider [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.businessinsider.com/men-dominate-conversations-women-keep-quiet-2014-4?IR=T.
GOULD, A., 2016. Girls, you are allowed to take up space. The Odyssey [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/girls-you-are-allowed-to-take-up-space.
LAYNE, J., 2014. Plus size models wearing fat suits to fit into larger clothing kind of proves that the whole fashion industry needs some editing, and I don’t mean photoshop. Bustle [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from: https://www.bustle.com/articles/52897-plus-size-models-wearing-fat-suits-to-fit-into-larger-clothing-kind-of-proves-that-the.
PITHERS, E., 2017. Met Gala 2017 best dressed. Vogue [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.vogue.co.uk/gallery/met-gala-2017-best-dressed.
POWELL, A., 2016. Women…why we must visibly take up space. The Huffington Post [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/alison-powell/women-taking-up-space_b_7495274.html.
RETTNER, R., 2010. Study reveals why women apologise so much. Live Science [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.livescience.com/8698-study-reveals-women-apologize.html.
STORTZ, M., 2016. Virtual manspreading: when men take up extra space online. Motherboard [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/virtual-manspreading-when-men-take-up-extra-space-online.
THURMAN, J., 2005. The Misfit. The New Yorker [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/07/04/the-misfit-3.
VOGUE., 2017a. From the archives: Comme Des Carçons in Vogue. Vogue [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.vogue.co.uk/gallery/comme-des-garcons-rei-kawakubo-in-vogue-archive.
VOGUE, 2017b. Met Gala 2017: the best dressed celebrities on the red carpet. Vogue [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/slideshow/met-gala-2017-best-dressed-celebrity-red-carpet-fashion#25.
VOGUE., 2017c. Spring 1997 ready-to-wear Comme des Garçons. Vogue [online]. [Viewed 02 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-1997-ready-to-wear/comme-des-garcons.
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